Life in Oaxaca

Our official address is the Oaxaca Trailer Park, located in a beautiful residential neighbourhood in north-central Oaxaca.  Colonia Reforma is near enough to everything we want and need, including a 15 minute walk to the Berlitz Language Centre.  20 minutes more, and you’re at the Zócalo, where there’s always something going on.

Oaxaca-76

Like we’ve always said, we’re not changing our way of life – just our where of life.  We get up in the morning, do our household chores, watch TV in the evenings, visit with friends …all just like we used to do in Kamloops.  Only we usually get up a little later, there’s less bus-work to do but it seems to take longer on Mexican time,  most of our TV programs come with subtitles and our friends visit via computer.  We’ve made many new friends, some who live in Oaxaca and we can visit face-to-face, and others who have passed through our trailer park and we contact through the wonders of the Internet.  I firmly assert that I’m  not retired: I’m working in a new profession with fewer hours and making less money.  But the flip side is it’s cheaper to live here and the biggest decision I have most days is what to wear to school.  Even Calvin has been working lately, overhauling computers and cars, our own and others’.

In so many ways our life in Oaxaca is Ordinary, but we have had some ExtraOrdinary experiences that haven’t yet been reported on the blog.  In the following posts, I hope to entertain with somethings out of the Ordinary.

Ain’t no bull

From our home base in Oaxaca one of our adventures took us into the Sierra Juárez in the northeast of Oaxaca state, to celebrate the Fiesta of the Virgen del Carmen in San Andrés Solaga. We’d been invited to share in this week-long party by our new friend Inmaculada, who had been there since May observing the local secondary school as part of her Masters Degree studies. With much anticipation, we arranged for time off from work, recruited Theresa to bus-and-cat sit, Calvin prepped and packed the Thing and we made a getaway plan with our travelling companions. It was Calvin and his international harem: Ima (Spain) would ride with us to guide our way, Adriana (Italy) and her mom, Gabriella (visiting from Rome) and of course me, the token Canadian and güera (literally “white girl”) of the pack.

We have come to know Adriana and Ima as well-intentioned and independent, but typically the fates play havoc with their plans. Or maybe it’s our continuing linguistic gap that leaves us wondering how what we think is happening, doesn’t. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that our 10 a.m. Tuesday group departure became early morning Wednesday instead, then deteriorated to Calvin and I going solo mid-day Wednesday. To be certain we weren’t off-track, we phoned Solaga to confirm with Ima that she was indeed there to receive us; our telephone tag with the local caseta operator and Adriana in Oaxaca confirmed that Ima had come to Oaxaca during the night to be with us for the drive, but we’d have to delay until mid-afternoon Wednesday. And, by the way, Adriana and Gabriella were on again.

Once on the road, leaving Oaxaca rush-hour traffic behind us, I relaxed to enjoy the ride, which seemed to me to be a bit manic with the three “girls” in the backseat of the Thing, gabbing variously in Spanish, Italian and English. It put me in mind of the first half of the Italian movie “Life is Beautiful”, driving down winding roads in the country with beautiful Italian women.

Ima, who had travelled the route many times, offered to show us a good place to stop off for hot chocolate and pan dulce, so within 40 minutes of the city, we were laughing and chatting, dunking the sweet bread into steaming bowls of chocolate, looking over a fruit-tree-filled valley. It was here that Calvin checked and adjusted the clutch cable on the Thing, as he had felt it acting up.

Gabriella and Adriana enjoy hot chocolate with us

Ima, Gabriella and Adriana enjoy hot chocolate with us

Back on the road, we continued climbing into mountains through a grey drizzle and eventually the clouds that carried it. At Ixtlán, we turned off the main highway into the heart of the Sierra Juárez, on a serpentine secondary road featuring hills (topes) and valleys (potholes) of its own. Through tiny roadside towns of Natividad, Capulalpam, La Trinidad…really, we were only about 100 km from Oaxaca but we were hours and worlds away. All the while, Calvin nursed the clutch, a driving skill honed from years of off-road and on-road experience. We took a break at an unmarked mirador, stretching our legs and admiring the magnificent view of forested mountains below us.

When I thought my stomach couldn’t take any more of the winding and climbing, Ima pointed out Solaga across the valley. We continued driving for awhile longer on our side of the valley, a section that reminded me of the approach to Lillooet BC, where you see the town across the valley for a half hour before you cross the river to get to it. At Zoogocho, we detoured through town, zig-zagging

High in the Sierra Juarez

High in the Sierra Juarez

rapidly into the valley bottom, where a creek invited us to explore. With Solaga so close, we didn’t stay long, and began the equally steep and winding ascent on a rough red-dirt road. On one of the switchbacks, we encountered The Rock.

The very thing that saved us from overheating in an overloaded Thing proved to be our undoing, and when we hit The Rock, the aftermarket aluminum oil reservoir took the brunt of it. We did not realize the extent of the damage until we got out to see a waterfall near the entrance to Solaga.

“Get back in the car”, Calvin barked as he quickly assessed the situation. We leaked oil for the next couple of kilometers as we sped up the hill, miraculously turning the corner at the outskirts of town as the clutch cable snapped. We had arrived, and the oil spill marked our final resting place.

Our impressive arrival in Solaga

Our impressive arrival in Solaga

Everyone in town was in fiesta mode, so there was nothing to be done that night except enjoy. We were able to get the Thing backed down the hill and well over to the side of the road, then packed out our gear to Ima’s boarding house, a ten-minute walk along Solaga’s main street.

Along the way we were greeted by townsfolk who knew Ima, and had several offers of food and drink for the weary travellers. The town square was busy with the beginnings of a stage going up, the basketball and bullriding done for the day. At Señora Velina’s we left our belongings in Ima’s room, then accepted a bowl of hot caldo and cups of cafe de olla and atole from our hostess in her adobe kitchen. Such warmth and atmosphere at her long dining table, where Señora Velina continued to heap hot corn tortillas as her friendly English-speaking son Taurino explained the history of Benito Juárez.

After supper, the orchestras who had performed that day were wrapping up in the square, and preparing to send off one group from a neighbouring village. We joined the parade to the edge of town, where there were speeches and final riffs. Spontaneous dancing broke out with the local “Solaga Spin” that looked easy enough to catch onto. After the Despedida, we killed time until the night’s dancing with a few games of foosball, enjoying mariachi music and a few cervezas before the main event. Duelling live bands played ranchera music, an oom-pah-pah to a latin beat that I’ve never been really fond of, so we oldsters called it quits early. Who knows what time Ima and Adriana strolled in.

Calvin was up early Thursday morning, concerned about the necessary repairs and uncertain about the availability of parts. In a country crawling with VW Beetles, he figured there must be some used parts lying in somebody’s backyard or farmer’s field. He also considered straightening the oil filter cap before reinstalling it, and constructing a clutch cable from wire available at the town ferreteria. In consultation with locals, we decided the best option was to phone the mechanic at the nearest auto shop…an hour away in La Trinidad. Yes, he had the right parts and would arrive at four that afternoon with them. Adriana made the call for us, but we forgot to ask her to explain that Calvin could do the repairs himself. While we waited, we went for breakfast at the community centre, an appetite-stimulating hike up a hilly side street, where we were rewarded with a filling meal and spectacular views.

Cafe de olla was the only morning beverage, so I had no choice but to savour the rich taste of organic Oaxacan coffee laced with rummy panela, the local version of brown cane sugar. There was no cutlery on the tables so we scooped up the egg-and-green bean scramble with pieces torn from the big corn tortillas the men served. I commented to Calvin that our years of eating chicken pot pies with potato chips was finally paying off. Ima informed us that everyone in Solaga contributed in some way to the fiesta, from hosting visitors, donating food, cooking and serving meals, to organizing the entertainment and events, so that all was complimentary and for the enjoyment of their guests.

After breakfast, the harem split up to enjoy various concurrent events. Calvin and I went to buy some oil to refill the Thing once the repairs were done. He walked up the hill to leave the oil at the Thing and I waited for him at the zocalo.Solaga077

I people-watched from a vantage point at the crossroads of the bullring and churchyard – the town was out in full force.  Eventually, I saw Calvin approaching me. From across the square, I noticed the dirt patches on his shirt and that he was carrying the first aid kit from the Thing ( I assumed he did not want to leave any valuables in the unattended car) but I did not notice the blood until he was right in front of me.

He was still agitated from his encounter with the bull on the road by the Thing. There had been two groups of four men holding ropes looped around the bull’s horns, one group leading from the front, the other holding him back from behind. The rope had snagged on the back bumper of a truck parked across the road from our Thing, and the bull had done some damage to the sides and rear of the truck before someone was able to get the rope freed. Calvin had been standing well away from the animal show, as the men had motioned him to step back, but he had a clear view as the bull, now loosed from the truck, wrested the rope from the remaining group of men, and sideswiped our Thing. After the bull had shoved the Thing  sideways, denting the passenger doors and leaving deep gouges from his horns, he had charged the next loose thing he saw, which was Calvin. With only a few feet between them, Calvin had chosen to dive off the road over a cliff, keeping low in hopes that if the bull followed he would land further below him. Fortunately a date palm had broken his fall and had kept him from plummeting further down the bank. The bull stayed on the road above and was recaptured by the men. Sorry, no photo available.

Calvin was not seriously injured, just some cuts and scrapes to his knees, hands and chest, but was quite concerned about the damage done to the Thing. He said as much to the men as they helped him up the bank; he thought they were negligent in not having the vehicles moved first, or having more men to keep the bull under control. But he got quite the looks as he walked back into town to meet me at the zocalo and concerned women waiting at the church for the folkdancing to begin insisted he should go to the town’s clinic. All Calvin wanted to do was get cleaned up and tend to his own wounds with our first aid kit. But we did stop off at the government building to inform the authorities, blood and all, which made for a more impressive sight.

Bull 1 Calvin O

Bull 1 Calvin 0

Cleaned and patched up, and with the better part of the day ahead, Calvin and I settled in to enjoy the festivities while we waited for the parts to arrive. The basketball tournament had resumed and three orchestras were warming up to accompany various dance groups. At the church, we watched some dancing  which was colourful and interesting at first, but became repetitive and prolonged, so we moved on. The upper terraza of the government building afforded a good view of both the basketball court and the adjacent temporary bullring and besides, we found out the beer they served there was free to visitors, compliments of the state of Oaxaca.

Bull on the b-ball court

Bull on the b-ball court

We saw some good b-ball, and laughed at the parallel to Canadian street hockey games being interrupted by shouts of “car!” but here, the game was pre-empted by “bull!” as they led bulls in and out of the bullring. We thought we recognized Calvin’s attacker, but these bulls were for riding, so we did not have the satisfaction of seeing him properly punished for his crime against our car.

It was an idyllic way to spend a Thursday afternoon, sipping cool bevvies on a sunny patio, on sensory overload with basketballs, bulls and bands competing for our attention. Eventually we reconnected with Ima, Adriana and Gabriella and walked up the hill for a late lunch. As we ate our bowls of black beans and beef, accompanied by our tortilla eating tools, the mariachis from the previous evening came in to eat too, then insisted on having photos taken with us, the obvious visitors. We posed for a few in the dining room, then moved out to the terrace for more shots against the scenic background.

It was nearing four o’clock, and Calvin and I had to go meet the mechanic, but we couldn’t tear ourselves away when the mariachis started an impromptu concert, seemingly for us, though there were others on the terrace. It was thrilling to hear Cielito Lindo and other Mexican favourites sung up close and unplugged, with views of the beautiful Mexican landscape just over my shoulder.

"Vale mas un buen amor..."

"Vale mas un buen amor..."

We had kept the mechanic waiting – who knew he would be prompt! – and Calvin apologetically explained that we didn’t actually need a mechanic, since he could do the repairs himself. The mechanic laughed and said, “Well, I’m here now anyway,” and set to work on the oil pan while Calvin replaced the clutch cable. Within half an hour both were fixed. We expected the price to be ridiculous, since the mechanic had driven an hour to get them to us, worked on the oil pan and had an hour’s drive back. It was ridiculous – ridiculously low. Only 500 pesos, about $50CDN, for such service. But he saved the day, and after that I could relax. The following 24 hours, until we got back to Oaxaca, were much less eventful.

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Responses

  1. Hey!
    My Name is Jessica! My dad sent me thins link because he was so excited to be reading about his home town Solaga! We currently live in New York. Usually I go every year, but unfortunately this year I couldn’t make it. I’m glad you enjoyed your Stay!

  2. Oh no sorry I am wrong!
    This was last year! I was there!

  3. DEFENETLY IT WAS A BIG ADVENTURE FOR YOU GUYS TO VISIT SOLAGA MY PUEBLO I HOPE YOU CAN MAKE IT IN ANOTHER FIESTA WHEN I COULD BE THERE BEST WISHES FROM NEW YORK.

  4. omg thats where my daddy lives and i go every year there too!!! many people say its boring but it isnt if you know people you sure have fun but anyways MERRY CHRSTMAS!!!!

    • We had fun and we did not know any body. The people are great. Fantastic view.

  5. ei! it sounds like you had a lot of fun, hope you have great time now that you´re going this year!!
    really cool blog!! 😀 see you, take care

  6. hola famila nos recuerdan? somos los medicos de la risa, tenemos una peticion para ustedes pero el correo que tenemos nos lo rechaza, nos podrian enviar un correo?
    saludos <{:0)&


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