It gives me great pleasure to introduce the first of many guest posts by Intrepid Den. Den is on an adventure of a lifetime travelling through Central and South America and has asked me if I will post her diary entries on my blog, and why wouldn't I? She is, of course, an excellent writer, and you will no doubt be entertained by her writing and anecdotes, it runs in the family you know. So here's the first dairy entries, Day 1 and 2 in Oaxaca.
Day 1 Oaxaca
like a hammock in the hills, high above the Sierra Madre of Mexico, lies the
tiny city of Oaxaca. It's so remote,
that when Cortez and the Conquistadors came to the Americas looking for gold
and found non in Oaxaca, they left it alone and it was allowed to carry on as
it always had done. Today, it is quiet,
respectful, regal and in total harmony with the surrounding nature. It still has a soul untouched by the ravages
of consumerism and the diseases of the West.
No one smokes, no one drinks and no one is fat. They still have their own dialects and no one
is the town I arrived it on my first trip to Mexico, part of 3 month trip that
will take me to the Pacific beaches of Mexico, the towns and Caribbean beaches
of Columbia, both the oceans of Costa Rica and finally, to the metropolis of
the Western world which is New York.
late at night, I was dropped off by collective mini-van at my hostel Zipolite
in the southern part of town. I was
shown to my barren room by a really helpful girl – it had no more than a table,
chair and a bed but that was all I needed.
After travelling for nearly 24 hours, all I wanted to do was sleep!
coffee, is the way I like to start my day, so the following morning I went to
search for it. There were no coffee
shops, but what there was, was a street stall with 3 enormous vats; one of hot
chocolate – the locals favourite, one of “coffee” and one of thick hot white
stuff. I'm dairy intolerant so didn't
want milk (what my alternatives might be hadn't really registered – usually
it's soya milk) but as I speak not a word of Spanish, I stood there in the
early morning, mooing like a cow. What
they thought they were looking at seemed to be something really amusing to them
and with big smiles, they shook their heads – no it was not milk. What it was, I still have no idea, but I
bought one of both for next to no money and headed back to my room to imbibe –
interesting, but not like any coffee I'd ever had before.
I wanted to log on to my super new, super mini laptop, to let those who care
know that I'd arrived. I'd packed and
planned in a hurry – this time last month, I wasn't going anywhere. And now here I was! I dug out my adaptor plug I'd last used in
India. I looked at the round pins on the
plug and then I looked at the straight holes in the wall. It was never going to work and bearing in
mind I had an entire bag of chargers for phones, cameras and everything else
you could think of, including hair
straightners without which, my hair has all the sophistication of a 10 year
old's, all plans of sight seeing were void.
I had to sort the plug situation and sort it fast.
serveral hours and many miles on foot going this way and then that and this way
again (clearly lost) and passing the same bemused people again and again, I
found the tourist booth where someone did in fact speak english and within
minutes, I'd found an adaptor. I was so
happy, I wanted to kiss her. She had no
idea what it meant to me!
and re-invigorated, I set out to see the city – I can never relate the scale of
a map to real life, but Oaxaca is really tiny and everything is within one mile
– all the churches, markets, shops and restaurants – magnificent! There are churches everywhere which proves
that where Cortez failed, priests didn't – they weren't looking for gold, they
were there to give it, in the words of God.
And what a legacy they left – the churches are breathtaking. The ornate facades have crumbled slightly,
but inside, they are so beautiful, even I would wonder at the existence of an
Almighty! Santo Domingo de Guzman in
particular, is a building of sheer masonic majesty and has stood there for over
in Oaxaca is supposed to be unique and the street stalls come highly
recommended. I had no idea what to try
from the myriad on offer so allowed myself to be enticed by a smiling, plucky,
young girl – how often do we just need a helping hand? She showed me minced beef which yes, I could
eat, but seemed disconbobulated when I pointed at the tacos etc and shook my
head (I have a wheat and grain intolerance as well – not much fun in a land
most anywhere). She smiled beatifically
and then she bade me sit down. She set
to work frying the mince and then ladelling swathes of yellow stuff that looked
like piped play dough all over it and then brought it over, (with the
obligatory tacos) and yes, you've guessed it – cheese, but not like cheese any
of us would know and which of course I can't eat.... So there I sat, at a taco stall, trying to
pick the beef out of what seemed like wallpaper paste AND she over charged
me! I know they're poor and in
comparison, I am rich, but I'm on a sparse budget! Luckily, afterwards, when still trying to
find real coffee and once again, failing, I met a local man who seemed beguiled
by me and my plug story and he treated me to a bowl of “coffee” which was
mostly “milk” with only enough instant coffee to change its colour....
so the first day was almost over and having found the only booze shop in town,
I headed home with a bottle of Chilean wine to drink and smoke in relative
peace up on the roof as the little lights of the little city came on and lit,
like a christmas tree, the surrounding hills.
slightly more normal, I took a second look at my enormous bag which could seat
2 comfortably but which had lost a wheel in Houston. The old song, if anyone remembers it, “One
wheel on my wagon, and I'm not rolling along” popped into my head. I thought:
I really prepared to lug this thing on one wheel over 5000 miles?”
and surprisingly, (the budget again) I decided not to and so out I went
again. Same streets, same bemused faces,
same tourist booth and after circumnavigating the town, I found a huge
hypermarket where I was assured, I would find exactly what I wanted. I didn't, but what I did find, was the
smallest booze section of perhaps any supermarket on earth – I bought one just
to make it worth their while... Finally,
I found a bag with 2 wheels which was perhaps a little bigger than I needed –
in fact on closer inspection, it would fit my 12 year old god daughter Rosa
in. But never mind, it would do and
choice was non-existent. And this is
where I really discovered what everyone in Oaxaca does – they work in the
service industry and Ghandi would be so proud of them! One person opened the door of the shop and
greeted me, two other people served me, another took my money and lastly,
another described to me the exact details of the item AND the guarantee even
though it was completely obvious I didn't understand a single work he
said. And it is the same in every single
shop and cafe and I am so pleased to see it – machines don't buy things they just
make more profit for the owners!!!!!!!
enormous bag on wheels safely stowed, I thought it was time I really ate
something substantial. I'd passed a bar
be que chicken shop earlier – huge racks of chickens as yellow as the sun –
that's the quality of the food in Oaxaca, and so I headed back there. I pointed to “1/4”, was waved to a table and
not long after,an enormous plate of perfect chicken, rice, salad and all manner
of chilli sauces arrived and I am not even embarassed to say, I ate like a pig. I was happy, they were happy and when I
offered them what I thought it cost – next to nothing, they even gave half of
it back to me!!! If I could eat in a
place like that every day, I would never cook again.
too full to walk, I headed back into town with my (now) fully charged camera to
really see what Oaxaca had and discovered the north of the city which is
basically the half a mile above the the main square. Today was Valentine's day. I was surprised to find that they celebrated
it but they certainly did. Everywhere,
there were women selling flowers and enormous clouds of balloons all declaring
love. There was such an innocence of
love it was simply heartening. One
couple sat on the steps of a church, the girl holding a 3ft teddy bear and they
were just so in love. I asked if I could
take their photo and it was as if this was the only decleration they needed to
proclaim what was obvious – they would spend the rest of their lives
together. It is all so uncomplicated.
then I walked and walked and walked. I
passed textiles for which Oaxaca is famous, I passed tiny old ladies selling
lace, I passed deeply lined Indian ladies who's skin was as tough as the
leather goods they sold and I passed workmen laying a new road, dressed in
straw hats and literally, hewing kerb stones
from bare rock and everyone, almost without exception, showed a simple
courtesy that would make even the worst misenthrope smile. Even back at the hostel, the girl, having realised
morning coffee was something of a problem for me, led me into the back room,
showed me a little two plate electric cooker and between us, we understood that
I could use it and in the morning, that is exactly what I did, albeit with a
sachet of instant coffee but you know what?
It was pretty perfect.
Oaxaca. What a wonderful place and even though hardly
anyone spoke English and I spoke no Spanish, I think we all had an experience
to share and I am so glad I started my Mexican adventure there.
Labels: intrepid Den, Mexico, travel in Central America, travels in Oaxaca