Well, I have been remiss in sending off the last installment of Mexico. In the meantime, I have spent 3 weeks in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, driving back and forth. This was my third visit to SB. It does call to me. I did a lot of research there, looked at many commercial buildings and a few houses. One house spoke to me – so I talked with it. I have put in an offer on it and am currently in negotiations to buy it. Last fall, I found the website www.findyourspot.com. It offers a questionnaire about many attributes one would consider in relocating. Mine came up Vermont and Wisconsin. At about the same time, I had a dream that showed me the town I was supposed to live in, including my house. The dream did not include an address. So, I have been in search of this place and my house.
In February, I drove 900 miles in a loop around New England. In April, I drove 6400 miles around the country, ending up in Sturgeon Bay before heading back to Seattle. In July, I drove the 2200 miles to Sturgeon Bay and back again. This house and this town say “yes” to me. The house deal still could fall
through, but I don’t think it will. It is an affordable place where I can have my business downstairs, live upstairs and travel 2-3 months during the winter. Compared to Seattle rents and housing prices, SB is an incredible bargain. It makes my ideal lifestyle possible. And, it is the closest I have come to my dream vision. So, we will see what happens next!
Also, finally, here is my final installment on Mexico. I hope you enjoy my vicarious travels. There are more adventures to come!
Much love to you all,
Mexico 7 – The final phase…2007
Air travel in Mexico is quite expensive. It was just about the same price from Merida to Oaxaca as Oaxaca to Seattle! The option was about 16 hours on a bus. I opted for the plane. It seems that all flights go through Mexico City. Flying over “De Efe” (as it is known here, much like DC in the States), you can see the gigantic sprawl of that city. It is intimidating even from the air! 19.2 million people in the urban area. Many people choose to move elsewhere due to the unbridled crime…. Not my first choice of places to visit
My hotel in Oaxaca was beautiful. It is about 10 blocks from the Zocolo, in a remodeled grand home. There are 3 terraces with rooms encircling beautiful, mature gardens. The breakfast café is located in the top garden with flowers, vines and birds greeting the guests in the morning sun. My room is large and lovely. All this and mid-range in price too!
Oaxaca is a very different place from the Yucatan. It has had some unrest in the past year, and I found out it ranks 2nd with the worst social conditions in the country - second only to Chiapas. One third of the population of the state is indigenous, and basically disenfranchised. I found some pretty horrifying statistics about living conditions here. The difficulties show in the faces and attitudes of the people. Oaxaca City is an international tourist town. It is a beautiful place, with fine old colonial buildings and plazas and
surrounded by green-velvet covered mountains. It is full of art, food and craft. There are also a lot of indigenous beggars and hawkers here. The hawkers have no joy in their eyes. They see the tourists only as people with the money they don’t have. They are incredibly persistent and do not take a “no thank you” lightly. This is so different than the Yucatan, where the joy of life is everywhere.
I took a trip to Monte Alban, a ruin site just outside the city. It was a Zapotec ceremonial city, with the “people” living on the hillsides servicing the city. It was occupied continuously for 13 centuries. It has a remarkable strategic situation that overlooks 360 degrees of the surrounding valleys and mountains. It is very beautiful and impressive. I met some hawkers there too. The old men of the family walk the hillsides, scratching the surface (or a bit deeper) for artifacts. With so much history in the area, apparently they are not hard to find. I talked with them because I wanted to see what they had found. They carry them discretely in shoulder bags, wrapped in scraps of paper. One man I talked with for quite a while. He had some truly remarkable things. When I told him I was from Seattle, his face lit up. He has a “friend”, a doctor from Seattle who is a collector of his special pieces. This fellow buys primarily jade, but other things if they are special. The man showed me some of the pieces he was sort of saving for his Seattle doctor. One was a hatchet type piece of carved, perfectly clear crystal. I did end up buying a couple of small pieces from him. I have no idea if they are really what they seem. It will be interesting to find out more about them.
One is a small Olmec face carved out of stone. The other is a jade amulet of sorts with a carved hand at one end and a bird head at the other.
I went to so many museums, learning about the Zapotec and the history of the area. One truly incredible museum is the Ruffino Tamaya (I think that is it) Collection. He was a famous Mexican artist who started collecting ancient artifacts, primarily ceramics, in the early part of the 20th century. He died in the 90’s and left his extensive collection to the City/State of Oaxaca. The types of work he collected were aesthetically pleasing to him, and they truly reflect the artists who made them. Some of them are amazingly whimsical,
surprising even a modern sensibility. The collection is more impressive than anything I saw in all of my
travels. In another museum, the Cultural Museum of Oaxaca, they exhibited a number of fine Zapotec pieces. I kept looking for anything resembling the items I purchased on Monte Alban. I did find one bird head that was the same, but I can’t remember the dates. The city shut down about 1300, so the
bird head was probably somewhere between 1100 and 1250 AD or so.
I wanted to find textiles of the region, so I had my sites on a town of Santo Tomas Jalieza. This town is know for its “faja” or sashes as well as other weavings. I tried to find a bus or collectivo (a taxi that waits for 5 riders to a destination) that would go there, but it seemed it was too far off the beaten path. I finally found a taxi that would take me there. I accepted. It turned out to be a bit expensive by Mexico terms, but it really was off the beaten path! When I arrived in time for the market, about 10 women were in the small shaded square with their weavings set up for sale. Others were hitching themselves up to a post for their back strap looms. Needless to say, it did not take me long in that market! Every one of the women looked at me as though I would buy everything. I was looking for only the finest work, and found some, but it was from only one woman. I wish I could have purchased everything to make these women happy… By the time I was finished with my purchases, a collectivo taxi and a truck were waiting for passengers to go to Ocatlan where the major market takes place. There was no one there but me for the taxi, so I took the truck for 5 pesos. The ride was really no worse than the taxis!
Ocatlan is a small village that comes alive on Fridays. It is about an hour outside of Oaxaca and is THE market for that region. It is huge. It seemed like I wandered through miles of aisles just looking at the people, the merchandise and observing the life in the market. I love markets. They are the life blood of towns. Everyone comes to eat at the stalls (which I learned how to do – I never did get sick in the 8 weeks I was in Mexico), shop almost daily for produce, meat, beans, peppers, etc. There are a lot of flowers in these markets too. The people in Ocatlan were not as dour as in Oaxaca. I also believe I was the only gringa there! I took a lot of pictures, but had to be discrete about it. They were not particularly happy with my observing. Only one old woman asked for money. I got into the habit of carrying my small camera at waist height, just clicking away without really looking. I think I did get some interesting shots. I loved the turkey sellers and the poultry sellers – especially the living “peeps”! Poor little creatures…
Another day, I took a tour to Teotitlan del Valle, a major rug weaving town. The tour was in a van with 4 other tourists – 3 from France and one from Guadalajara. Our first stop was in Tule, the home of a 2500-3000 year old cypress tree. A wonderful grand old tree. The town economy is based around this fine specimen. The tour company has a reciprocal relationship with a weaving family in Teotitlan, our next stop. They have a lovely studio and an impressive demonstration of the process of rug making. They show the raw wool in 3 colors, the cleaning, carding and spinning of it, then the natural dyes that are used. Finally they showed the weaving process itself on the fixed frame loom, and the many rugs that were finished.
Clearly, we were supposed to buy. The others were quite young and had no money for the rugs and I did not intend to buy. However, I looked over a stack of them and found one that spoke to me and I bought it.
I bought a number of things to take back as samples and to sell. I occurred to me that the region is so dependent upon tourists to buy their products. Many of them are beautiful, and all of the artists have extensive inventory on hand. My entrepreneurial mind was whirling – how can I help these people sell their
products? I still have research to do on that topic.
The tour ended at Mitla, another ancient Zapotec city. Beautiful architectural details in a small excavation from the late period of the Zapotec empire.
Back in Oaxaca, there were festivals, parades and other lively goings on – one celebrating the end of the school year and new moon with a parade that wound around the streets complete with 2 bands, huge paper mache people and dancing, drinking young people. Then there is the zocolo. The parades all end at the zocolo, or main plaza of the town. I loved to just sit and watch people. All life happens either in the zocolo
or the market. The pictures show some of the action there. People are more public in Mexico than in the USA. Here, life happens in the streets.
What did I learn from my travels?
I learned that I am very comfortable and capable traveling alone. I learned that I can connect with the
universal human element in the various locations/cultures. One person told me that if you travel 50 miles in any direction in Mexico, you will happen upon an entirely different culture. I have certainly found that to be true! From Guadalajara last year, to Veracruz, Xalapa, Campeche, Isla Mujeres, Valladolid, Chicanna and Xpujil to Oaxaca. I love it all. I am still limited by language. I know I will go back in the spring. I have that time to study Spanish and research how to engage further. I also learned that I need grounding somewhere, some place that I can regroup and return to. I don’t exactly know where that will be yet.
Next stop, Wisconsin.
Love to all,