sábado 12 marzo

So here I am, on the plane home.  I probably won’t get home until after midnight, and unfortunately, it is the spring forward weekend and I will lose an hour with my wonderful family tomorrow. L  Someday I think it would be wonderful to take my children and husband to Oaxca, or maybe even Puebla.  Would I go on this trip again?  No.  Will I travel with students again?  Not unless I have the role of chaperone.  There was so much drama on the trip.  I didn’t let it overshadow my good time, but it certainly affected it.  Many of the students, whether young (18-22) or older (35 and 57, respectively), created a lot of problems for themselves and the group as a whole, and it’s not something I want to deal with if I am spending a bunch of money and ten days away from my family.  I saw wonderful culture and history, I learned about myself, and I improved my Spanish quite a bit.  It was a good learning experience – both for what I would do and not do again when I travel.

Here ends my story.

11 de marzo, viernes

Last day!  We were told we would go to the UDLAP and then Choulala and be back by 1 or 1:30.  Ha ha.  I knew that would never work out.

                So the bus left early, about 8:15 for the university.  We had a very long tour.  It was fine, but visiting wasn’t that interesting for me.  The UDLAP was pretty much like any other college campus of about 8000 students, so while it was okay to visit, I wasn’t horribly impressed or agog at anything.  It was fine.  Just that.  I know the visit was to recruit more international students, and that’s fine.  I would even consider teaching there (they want/need international instructors), but I’m not doing anything like that while my kids are still at home.

                After the UDLAP we took a short bus ride into Choulala proper.  It seemed like a cute town.  Tim said it has about 200,000, but it didn’t feel as big as Oaxaca.  Anyway, we ended up eating lunch in an old favorite hangout of Tim’s.  The Mexican food looked good, but I ended up having broasted chicken, rice, french fries, and salad with guacamole.  I was impressed with neither the service nor the food.

                We started a tour of the pyramid with Porfino, an old guy who I guess works on only tips.  Or something.  Anyway, he took us first to the museum and then up the hill to the church.  To get up to the church we climbed 196 stairs, I believe.  Or maybe it was 251.  At any rate, it was a lot.  The view was pretty and so was the church, even if it was a bit creepy.  Not being Catholic, I just don’t understand the religion.  It seems to be so much about wealth, power, control, and getting wealth, power and control through violence, yet it remains the most popular religion in the world.  And I know  a lot of religions are like that – probably because people are naturally like that, but I just don’t see how a place can be considered so wonderful and holy when it crushed an entire religious mecca and built a church of its own after knocking down another religious temple.  That, and the shops selling pop and ice cream in the shadow of the church’s doorway.  After the church, Porfino took the group to the courtyard of altars.  It was pretty cool.

                As expected, we didn’t get home until 4 pm.  So no free time for us.  We met quick to fill out evaluations, then Sue and I went swimming for a few minutes.  We got ready and proceeded out as a large group – Betsy, Anne, Bridget, Janet, Sue, Sandy, Josie (a student) and I.  We went inside the cathedral in the zocalo – once again, a ridiculuously ornate church most likely built on the blood, sweat, tears, and money of the most poor.  After that, we did a bit of shopping and had a slightly uncomfortable moment where Sue and Sandy decided to break off and go to dinner – Sandy is used to eating early. We continued down candy street to find the artisans shops, but were side-tracked by an interesting looking restaurant called Entre Tierra.  It turned out to be the best meal I had all trip, so that was kind of awesome.  I decided, that since I had a bit of extra cash, I was going to treat myself to an excellent dinner.  I had a gin and tonic, escargot, a yummy spinach salad with fried brie, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes, candied apples and a kind of sweet balsamic vinagrette dressing, and a fettucini alfredo made with a gorgonzola sauce and giant shrimp.  Also, Anne and I split a bottle of wine.  With tip, the meal came to about $55 US, and I was happy to spend every cent of it.  It was just a really fun meal, and I had a great time with all the girls (except, having Josie there – a student – made me a bit uncomfortable.  Besides the fact that she’s very immature, it was tiring to be around her and watch her vie for attention all the time).

10 de marzo, jueves

It’s been a whole week since we have been here in Mexico.  Today is a travel day to Puebla.  We got up at the yucky hotel this morning and walked to the good hotel for free breakfast since we were kicked out of a day early.  On the bus at 11:30, which is where I am right now, typing away.  Having a day and a half in Puebla will be fun, but I think many people (including me), are rather really ready to go home.  I’ll have to see what the rest of the day brings, and get my royal blog up to speed later!

                So I’m back – it’s Saturday and I’m on the plane home.  Here’s the dealio:  We got to the hotel on Thursday about 4:30.  It’s right in downtown Puebla and about three blocks from the zocalo.  We had a short meeting and then a group of us left to explore.  When we arrived in the zocalo, we were immediately met by an old Pueblan man. He said he was a retired history teacher, and he told us about the cathedral in the zócalo.  It took over a 100 yrs. to build and had lots of gold.  That’s what I could understand of it anyway.  He wanted us to follow him to another church, and we all kind of balked at it.  We didn’t know if he wanted us to follow him, pay him, or what.  He seemed pretty harmless – but we didn’t want to go with him anyway.  So we backed off and split into two groups.  Sandy wanted to eat right away so Sue stayed with her.  Me, Betsy, Anne, Bridget, and Janet all wandered around the zocalo, then a few blocks from the zócalo, and happened upon candy street.  By that time, I had to go to the bathroom so badly that I couldn’t enjoy the shopping.  Betsy found a public bathroom and loaned me 4 pesos (40 cents) so I could use it.  God, I felt like a new person after!

                We ended up eating at a place called Hotel Royalty, which was recommended by the woman working in the tourism office.  It really wasn’t that good – we all thought the food was okay, but nothing spectacular.  I had a Victoria beer, a beef filet, and some potatoes.  I will say that the Mexicans do NOT know how to make a good steak.  Or maybe it’s because their cows have tough meat from eating cacti and tumbleweeds.  Anyhoo, the maitre’d at the restaurant apparently developed an instant crush on Janet, and we tried to make her flirt with him, but no go.  So we went home to bed.

9 de marzo, miércoles

We left about 9:30 in the morning today for the girls’ orphanage.  It was a bit different than the boys’.  The girls were horribly shy overall – very understandable – and they did not dive into the toys and grab things like the boys.  I had a hard time getting a few girls to make sock puppets with me.  Alejandra and Mareli  both 8 yrs. old -were very cute and shy.  They did not want to play with my camera, but we did make a few cute sock puppets and I helped Alejandra – who was a bit more talkative – make a second little project.  We were there about 2 ½ hours – it went by fairly quickly – and the girls sang and sang and sang for us before we left. 

After we back, Sandy and Sue and I had a quick lunch at a little dive in the wall called Flore de Loto.  It was a quick lunch – and cheap – the glasses and silverware were dirty, but the food was awesome.  Then we had to move from Hotel Canastica to the Casa de las Flores because the GOOD hotel had been overbooked.  It wasn’t the end of the world, but it created a lot of extra work and stress for us.  It seems as though better planning through the travel agency or hotel could have helped avoid this.  The hotel looked nice, but there were only two beds, and it wasn’t nearly as user friendly or comfortable as our first hotel.  No pool or bar or courtyard either.  I’m glad it was just for one night and I hope our hotel in Puebla is better. 

Sue and I had just enough time to get to our most amazing experience ever – a Tezmacal massage.  Here’s how it went:  Wearing bathing suits, we crawled into a ‘womb’.  It looked like a little round  brick oven that would fit about five people on  little stone benches.  There was a stone sauna stove, candles, and we were to drink hibiscus tea while beating bundles of rosemary, basil, and rude on ourselves and dumping cool water on our heads.  We were in there about 40 min., then when we crawled out of the womb, we were reborn!!  After, we received a wonderful massage for an hour to finish up. It was 600 pesos – 700 with tip.  It was worth every centime (yes, that’s French, but I don’t know the right Spanish word).  I must say, I did feel one with the earth when I was done.

By the time we got back to the hotel it was almost six.  We went out to dinner about 7:30.  My hair, after sweating, having massage oil rubbed into it, and air drying, was so cutie – it was all curly!  We went to dinner at Il Panciere (yes, another Italian place).  I had a really bad mojito (I don’t really think it was a mojito at all) a bad glass of wine (just don’t get the house wine down here – ever) some yummy minestrone soup and some queso y jamon fundido (cheese and ham fondue).  Nummers – and about 250 pesos, including tip.  After dinner, Sue and I met up with Tim and Sonny and had tons of fun at an empty dance bar that had a live band playing covers.  They sang both Mexican songs and some US – No doubt and REM.  We were all just goofy – didn’t worry about what anyone else was doing.  We got back about 1 am.  Fun night!  Tomorrow we leave for Puebla.

8 de marzo, martes

Welp, this is my fifth full day here and I feel like I’m becoming more accustomed to the downtown Oaxaca area, and I’m enjoying trying to speak Spanish with the locals.  Everyone has been very nice and patient, not like when I was attempting to speak French in Paris and all the locals would just cut me off and make me speak English.  I have appreciated the fact that I am experiencing Mexican culture that is off a resort.  So here’s what we did today:

  1.  The bus was late because Gabriela (the tour guide) was mugged last night two blocks from his home.
  2. We went first to Mitla, a zapotec church/high priest/temple area.  We saw the high priests house, some tombs (emptied by vandals years before) and went to ANOTHER market.  I was tough though, and stuck to me lowest price for some silver and turquoise earrings that match the necklace I bought in Monte Alban.  (150 pesos – $15).
  3. Then we went to Culupa, a master weaver’s shop.  I forget his name, but he uses all natural materials, such as the cuchinile bug, moss, indigo stones, limestone and lime juice to create beautiful colors for the rugs he hand-weaves.  Some rugs can take more than six months to make.  He and his wife, collect the wool (or buy it) and spin it using a Laura Ingalls type spinning wheel to create the skeins for weaving.  How he comes up with the designs I have no idea.  Anyway, the rugs cost $20 for a table coaster size patch to $15.000.  I did not buy anything there.
  4. Finally, we went to El Tule, which is the widest (not the tallest) tree in the world.  It’s in the zócalo of a little village a few miles outside Oaxaca.  As with just about everything on this trip, it’s hard to describe what it’s actually like, and pictures don’t do it justice.  Um, let’s see… it’s big, green, and has a lot of bark.  It has a little son (also a very big tree) about  yards from it.  I think the Tree of Life in the Disney Animal Kingdom might be based on it. 
  5. We went back to the hotel about 5 pm.  We were supposed to hear a social activist speaker but he couldn’t make it.  At that point, it was fine because we were all fagged (and I mean tired) out from our day.  Dinner was to be in the hotel that night at 8:30 – free because they messed up on the reservation.  So a few of us went dress shopping.  It was really fun.  I got a new t-shirt for 100 pesos, and we stopped in a store in the zócalo to pick up some wine and mezcal.  I then went with Betsy to pick up some t-shirts for all my boys.  I hope they like them!
  6. Dinner was free because of the hotel move.  We had asparagus/poblano soup (the best part of the meal), some kind of roast pot roast with cheesy noodles, and lime  cheesecake thing.  It was good – and it was free.  We just went to bed after I skyped Ricky (the best part of my day).

7 de marzo, lunes

FREE DAY!! YAY!  This came at a good time.  We needed a break from all the bus rides, tours, and shopping.  We got up a bit later, then Bridg and I thought we would try to go to Café Nuevo Mundo, a coffee shop that comes highly recommended.  By the time we got there it was after 11 am, so we decided to go tour the public library by the zócalo.  It was a different sort of building – there was a different room for each type of literature/book.  Bridg and I stopped in the Oaxacan history room, the children’s room, and the general collection rooms upstairs.  We noticed that the entire collection, so matter which room, was very dated.  We didn’t find any books published after 1992, and the ‘computer lab’ had 10 yr. old technology and older.  The best part of the tour was talking to a really cute older librarian in the general collection room.  She was a retired social studies teacher who volunteers in the library and was pleased as punch to talk with us.  Bridg and I ate quick at Tito’s, which is kind of like Culvers, only I had enchiladas suizas instead of a butter burger.  I hiked fast to a cooking class at Le Crespo, a restaurant, but found out the owner was sick and cancelled class.  So I went back to the hotel to “work” but didn’t get much done (go figure).  Me, Tim, Sonny, Michele, Janet, Betsy, Bridg, and Anne went to dinner to the tastiest pizza place ever.  It was by Santo Domingo, and I had a small pizza with onions, green peppers, mushrooms and pumpkin blossoms.  And two beers.  It was really good – I gave a few pieces away.  I think everyone was jealous of my pizza. J    Free days feel good.

6 de marzo, domingo

Today was a very busy day, and most were exhausted by the end of it.  We went to see the cuchinile farm (little bugs that live on prickly pear cacti and are crushed to make red dye for weaving and whatnot.  But it was closed.  Nice planning.  Then we went to a teeny market and watched a short demonstration of weaving, and were encouraged to buy bags, belts, placemats, etc.  I looked around, but didn’t buy anything.  It ended up being an expensive day anyway, as after that we went to the abriejas place.  We watched another demonstration that involved how they dry, carve, and paint the sculptures.  I bought a $380 oso, a bear that is painted with all kinds of zapotec designs using not the cheap acrylic paint, but the natural stuff made from plants, clay, bugs, etc.  I could have bought something much cheaper, but I wanted some kind of really nice souvenir for the trip.  After that, we went to the black pottery (barro negro?) and saw another demonstration to see how that was made, and it was pretty cool.  I then bought a big skull for the boys, two votive holders to go on a table, and a nice vase for me and a matching one for my sister, all for $500 pesos.  Really, a good deal.  I am just nervous that all this stuff will break, so I have it packed tightly in my carryon and won’t let anyone touch it until I get home.  I hope security doesn’t go through it at the airport and mess it all up. Even after all that, we still went out to eat.  ).  We went out for dinner that night at Café Gozobi, another rooftop restaurant, and it’s been my favorite so far.  I had a delicious margarita, a yummy spinach salad with bacon and caramelized nuts, and some fettucini alfredo.  The atmosphere and the company (outside on top of a roof by Santo Domingo) with Bridg, Betsy, Janet, and Anne was just the best time ever.  After dinner, me, Lalo, Tim, Sonny, and Michele went to a patio bar on the zócalo to people watch and listen to music.  There was a band playing in support of adult education.  I discovered my new favorite after dinner drink, called Licor 43.  It looks like Grand Marinier but tastes like an orange creamsicle.  Another good night!

5 de marzo, sabado

Yes, I am very aware that I am missing the accento on the “a” for Saturday, but I can’t get it to do it on the blog like I can in MW.  Anyhoo, I have not blogged for a few days (oops) so I am going to try to get caught up.  We have had such busy days, I, in my advanced age, will try to remember all that has transpired:

On Saturday, we exhausted ourselves at Monte (another missing accent) Alban and the boys orphanage.  The zapotec site was much bigger than I had anticipated – I have been to Mayan ruins on Cozumel and also to Tulum, and while they were both awesome in their own way, they don’t really hold a candle to what I experienced today.  I still can’t figure out how those crazy zapotecs were able to level a mountain top, build a pyramid, and discover the alignment of stars to figure out a complex calendar with no advanced tools.