Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Now I Walk in Beauty in Chacahua

Getting to the end of the world is not easy, but it is not exactly hard either. It just takes careful navigation of what from the outside may seem to be a complicated system, but from the inside is a highly organized flow of transportation. From Zipolite to Chacahua, it took 6 hours and 7 forms of transportation, but never once did I feel stressed or confused. I woke up at 6am in Zipolite. From Zipolite to the main highway, I took a collective taxi. On the main highway, I grabbed a bus to Puerto Escondido. In Puerto I met up with my friend Nikki and together we took a surbuan to Rio Grande. In Rio, a camioneta was waiting for us and took us on to the collective taxi stand halfway to the next town. There, he shuffled our stuff onto a taxi which took us to Zapatolito, the town on the interior edge of the laguna. We got there around 9:45, just as a boat full of surfers was returning to land. We learned that the place to eat in Chacahua was Franco y Janet’s place and the place to sleep was with Carlos. We also learned that the "swell" was moving on, so many surfers were as well. Nikki and I decided we could do without the swell, and waited the hour and a half necessary for the boat to take us in. The boat took us across the laguna, which resembles a mix of the Amazon and the boundary waters and is full of salt water. On the other side, another camioneta was waiting and drove us 20 minutes down a dirt road through the national park to a town called Chacahua. There may be a more efficient way, but this way, everyone got their cut, and the traveler gets an advIf I thought Mazunte and Zipolite were paradise, Chacahua is heaven on earth.

I will start with my only grievance. Rudolpho (Rudy), the rooster who lived in the yard next to our cabaña who begins crowing around 4am and never stops. Rudy is my least favorite part of Chacahua, even worse than the hour of mosquitoes that begins when the sunsets and takes you to dinner time. It is not just that Rudy crows. That would be enough, but it is the way he crows. Just when you are getting used to his crow’s rhythm and tone and using it to lull you back to sleep, he lets out one that sounds like he is choking on a gumball. Something like, “ROO-RA-ROO-A-DOOGARAGAGACA.” I have tried imagining it as the sound Rudy will make when I kill him, which I really feel the urge to do. I am trying to channel on the meditative practices I have learned on my journey to overcome that urge.

But, beyond that grievance, Chacahua has been not a detail short of amazing. The lack of internet and fancy hotels only adds to the majesty. The town is still a community that has not yet been shifted to completely cater to tourists. The men are fishermen. There is a community center that is more for the locals than tourists that hosted a lively gathering of youth and adults playing music together on Saturday night. The main beach is long and has something for everyone. A calm area to swim, big waves for surfers, solitude for skinny dipping if you go for a walk. The natural landscape is a combination of pristine beaches, mountains, and a saltwater lagoon full of mangrove trees and secret tunnels constructed by the fishermen. If you cross the lagoon to the “otro lado,” you get your very own beach. Nikki and I did a little bit of everything. The first day was spent settling in, the second with the beaches, the third with the lagoon. The entire trip felt like a constant bath of beauty. I caught myself drifting into a song I would sing with my friends in college, taught to us by my friend Rebecca. To be sung in rounds with hand movements and harmony:

Now I walk in beauty,
Beauty is before me,
Beauty is behind me,
Above and below me.

Day 2 looked like this...

Skinny Dipping, Chacahua
Surfers from the Point, Chacahua

Yoga, Otro Lado, Chacahua

Pacific Coast, Chacahua

This is Real, Chacahua
Music and Youth Development, Chacahua
Day 3 was the day with the Lagoon. The sign to Pavel’s place says, “Hostel, Menu 60, Kayaks, Mezcal” painted in white on drift wood as all the signs in Chacahua seem to be—that or on surf boards. When we inquired about kayak prices Friday night, he said it would be $150 pesos each for a half day or $250 pesos for a full day including kayaking, all our meals and a night time tour of the plankton. We did not consult long to decide to dive into the full day experience. At 8 am, we arrived to Pavel’s. As things go in Mexico, Pavel had not yet bought the ingredients for the breakfast, so together we went to the store. We proceeded to squeeze fresh orange juice while Julian and Celine, two Argentinians staying at Pavel's, played instruments from around the world. Pavel made delicious huevos Mexicana (scrambled eggs with onion, tomatoes, and jalapeños) with tortillas and coffee. Julian and Celine passed their mate gourd around and taught us proper mate etiquette. It was the kind of morning that truly gets you ready for the day. Like a good long stretch. After two hours of shopping, cooking, relaxing, it was time to head out to the kayaks.

Pavel's Place, Chacahua
Nikki making Orange Juice, Chacahua
Morning Music, Chacahua
When we got to his double kayak on the lagoon, we needed to take it to get his other one that he would be using, which naturally he had not collected together the night before. This gave us the opportunity to swim the kayak down the coast of the lagoon with snorkeling goggles on. In the swim, we passed giant blue fish with white polka dots, colorful striped fish, and little yellow ones. The water was clear and calm in the lagoon but still salt water. A pretty rare swimming experience. It turned out Pavel’s other kayak had been rented out. So, the three of us squeezed onto the two person kayak and were off on our adventure through the lagoon and mangrove trees. Really it is unlike any place I have ever been. The tunnels of the mangrove trees fulfilled my always present love of secret passageways. The fishermen have cut routes through the roots of the trees making magical tunnels of dripping roots and colorful crabs. We snaked our kayak through the tunnels, watching birds weave in and out, carefully attempting not to bump our heads and paddles against the elegant ambiance.

Pavel, Chacahua
Secret Tunnels, Chacahua
Our initial stop was at the spa of the laguna, an area of bubbling, gurgling water that smells strongly of sulphur. My first reaction was to get the hell out of there, but Pavel stepped off the boat, so it seemed we were staying. I carefully and daintitly stuck my foot in the muddy bottom and sank to my knees. Pavel demonstrated crawling like an alligator deeper into the bed. He rolled in it and covered his head. Nikki delighted in the pit of minerals. Quickly covering herself in it and wearing the contentment in a big smile. I, I tried to enjoy it. I remembered the big dirt patch in our backyard growing up that we used to fill with water and slip and slide into. How much fun it was to get dirty. Yet, as I held my breath, trying not to swallow the putrid smelling air, I was having trouble remembering that child. I have been enjoying a Dalai Llama quote lately that a fellow traveler imparted to me, “Be childlike, not childish.” If there was ever an opportunity to exercise my childlikeness, it was rolling in the mud in the laguna. So, little by little I surrendered to the experience and then I reveled in it. I made a facemask of mud. I pretended to eat it. I caked my arms and chest and massaged it into my knee imagining it had healing powers.

Mud Mask, Chacahua
After 30 minutes at the spa, we paddled around the laguna some more and then found our way back to Pavel's. There, we cooked octopus tacos from freshly caught octopus. Nikki and I chopped vegetables while watching the waves roll in and were schooled in how to cut an octopus and the proper order to combine the ingredients when sautéing them. Pavel was struggling with a minor or maybe major foot infection, but insisted we drink beers and relax. So, we did. We ate a feast right on the beach and then succumbed to the afternoon heat. We gathered out books in hand as we settled into our hammocks, but more as a guise for the real intention to sleep. After napping, we went back to the home of Pablo where we had left our stuff and boats to gear up for our nighttime adventure into the lagoon. Pablo was not there to give us our backpack which he had been storing there, but we were assured he would be back “ahorita”, in English the equivalent would be “a bit”, an arbitrary amount of time that means nothing. We decided to wait. His home is on the laguna and feels like art. He has designed the plants and buildings with attention to detail. You feel the specialness of each handmade shell wind chime. He later explained that he loves recycling and using trash for art. He has masterfully arranged blue sky vodka bottles around his garden as decorative elements. We sat in his hammock area that looks out over the laguna and just took in the beauty. It literally felt like the beauty was being showered upon us. I was moved to do some yoga, and get dirty once again. Why do we get so freaked out about getting dirty?

Laguna view, Chacahua
Wind Chime, Pablo's Place, Chacahua
Incredibly, the best was yet to come. Once the sunset and we made it through mosquito hour of hell, it was time to go back out. Pavel's infection was still a bit inflamed, so Pablo offered to take us out on his motor boat instead of kayaking. We were fine with this change as it was getting a bit cooler and it was quite dark. He took us out to the middle of the lagoon in an expansive place that appeared to have land on all sides. In the dark, the milk way subtley cloaked the sky. Below us, was another milky way. With every disturbance of the water, it lit up like flittering christmas lights. Pavel encouraged us to jump in and swim with the plankton. As we spun our bodies through the water, it was hard not to imagine we were mermaids in a fantasy land of magic spells and secret truths. When you splashed the water in the air, drops of light dripped down your face and arms. The water maintained the heat of the day allowing us to comfortably swirl with the plankton for what felt like hours but was probably more like minutes. On our way back to land, we watched the fish dart through the water creating streaks of moving light. And then, suddenly the fish started to jump everywhere around us. As if there was a big celebration under water that they just had to share. I was mesmerized by the electricity of the water, the jumping fish, the star-filled sky, and then... a fish jumped directly into our boat. Seriously. A keeper at that. Pablo and Pavel regaled in their luck of having so seemlessly caught dinner and joyously chanted, "otra, otra, otra," in hopes more fish would follow. 

Day 4 we woke up with the sun and Rudy's incessant crow. Ate a final breakfast at Franco and Janet's and reveled in the magic of the night before. We left with more to do. Dreams of playing music with the locals, learning to surf, learning the names and the calls of the birds. But, we left full. Full of gratitude. Full of vitality. Full of beauty.

Sunrise, main beach, Chacahua

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Went Back

Playa de Ventanilla, Mexico
I'm settling into my fifth night back in Zipolite. It is hard to believe I have already been back with the sea for five nights. But that is how this place goes. Being here is a long embrace. The kind that suspends time and space and demands complete surrender. I am staying at Lo Cosmico again. I am watching sunsets and eating tacos. I am doing yoga with my favorite teacher. Still, it is different than the first time. The waves are more ferocious. The tide is higher. My cabana has a porch. There are less nudists on the beach. Jen and Steve from Australia are not here, but Jen and Bruce from Portland are. George (and) Michael are no longer playing chess, but Tomas is here from Norway and Elena and Daniel have come from Spain. The taco vendors are now old friends; we greet each other with kisses and end the night saying, "hasta manana." Antonio and I get on like family.

This time in Zipolite has included new adventures, like my trip to Ventanilla, an ecotourism project that protects the turtle population and rehabilitates animals. There, I climbed in trees, saw crocs, and released baby turtles into the sea. It was incredible to watch the baby turtles in the first day on earth so valiantly march toward the waves. The same waves that earlier made a very clear statement to me that they did not want any visitors. The guide said that only 2-3 out of 100 turtles survive their first days. We each got to choose one and cheer it on. Below is mine.

The Survivor, Ventanilla, Mexico
Five more days in Zipolite was perfect. Now, I am moving on tomorrow to meet up with my friend Nikki and find the Lagunas de Chacahua for three more nights on the beach in what is said to be paradise. Only a pick up truck, small bus, big bus, collective taxi, and boat ride away. Just a normal trip "to the end of the world" as my family loves to embark on. Then it is back to Oaxaca City for my two final days in Chicago. The trip is winding down, but my love affair with Mexico has certainly just begun.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dear Spanish

Querida Español,

As of last Friday, I had decided I would write you an official break-up letter. Resigning from my position as a Spanish learner, and retreating back into a proud uni-lingual American. Quite frankly I had had enough of you making a fool out of me. The constant struggle to find the word, la palabra, to match my thoughts, mis pensados. The inability to understand, entender, the majority of my interactions with people, only ever getting a brush stroke of their life stories, the details trickling through the cracks of my synapses. The mush-like substance you have been turning my brain into. The muteness with which I greet most social situations. Like any relationship, como alguna relaciõn, where one partner is constantly feeling inferior, I felt it would do both of us a service if I just let go, solto. In the past seven weeks, siete semanas, you have built walls in my brain and my heart. You have teased me into thinking I was getting you and then just as suddenly left me all alone. You have made me doubt, me has hecho dudar, whether it is true that I am a good student who learns quickly and with ease. After years of conquering many difficult subjects, my academic ego has built a healthy self-perception. Then you come along, and shove me to the ground. You have built multiple identities in my heard, so that in any conversation I am actually having three… I am thinking in English, I am attempting to speak in Spanish, and I am simultaneously telling myself I do not know shit, no sabes nada, and I should probably just stop trying, para tratar, and what the hell is that person thinking I am saying when they give me that confused look, estas estupido?! But, as I said, my intent to resign, was just that, an intent. One thing you have taught me, una cosa me has ensañado, is how not to succeed at my intentions. And so, once again, otra vez, you win.

Instead of resigning, I have decided to change, he decidido cambiar, the terms of our relationship. When I planned to come to Mexico, you were definitely one of the reasons I came, but you were not the whole reason. I told myself, me dije, I would be looking outward and inward on this trip. That I wanted to practice my Spanish, practicar mi Español, but I also wanted to do yoga and write and relax. I wanted to have a casual relationship with you, more of the friends-with-benefits type. Yet, at the same time, I wanted to learn you, aprenderte, to understand you, entenderte, to walk away from this experience feeling like we had built a solid foundation. I realize now, that my expectations did not meet my commitment. I do not regret the approach I have taken to our relationship, but I do recognize that this approach has limited my ability to fully grow with you, crecer contigo. I realize that what I have gotten out of this relationship is casual returns. We have hade some great flirtation, but not a budding partnership. Everyday, I feel a click in some new sentence structure, but just as soon the one from the day before retreats. I have given you just enough of my time to continue to matter to me, but not enough to change me. So here we are, entonces aqui estamos.

I refuse to break-up with you forever. I still want you in my life, todavia te quiero en mi vida. I still want to understand you. But, my expectations have changed. I know now that if I really want to embody you, I must fully commit to you. I must dive in and give you all my attention, and even then, you will be hard for me. Some people say that when they learned a language, it felt like a past life was coming back to them. I am not that person. You exist nowhere in my past lives, no existas en mis pasadas vidas. I also understand now that if we are going to find a way to live together, I have to get a lot more comfortable with being wrong. I thought art would be the beast that would most challenge the perfectionist in me. But, I was wrong. It is you, estas tu. Words are my medium, and knowing that when I use your words I almost always, casi siempre, do not express my ideas as I intend silences me. I think this is going to be a long process. Slowly, slowly. Poco a poco.

I do not know what our relationship will look like when I leave Mexico., no sabes que nuestra relacion va a mirar como cuando salgo de Mexico. Will I give you any time in the states? Will I bury you deep within and reject any progress that we made? Will I plan a future getaway just for you? No matter what, you have taught me something about myself and about you. As all relationships do. So, no, I am not breaking up with you, no estoy rompiendo contigo. I am humbled by you and am willing to accept a bit of a defeat this time. But, luckily we still have more time, pero, afortunadamente, todavia tenemos mas tiempo. Maybe, by the time I am 80, I will finally know you, ya voy a saberte. Meanwhile, you can expect many confused love letters as our relationship continues to grow and change, continua crecer y cambiar. I hate that I know that many of my Spanish translations in this letter are even wrong. You really irritate me.

Muchas gracias por todo mi amor,

Sunday, March 11, 2012


As a kid, I enjoyed art camp and musical camp. I wrote plays with my friend Roxanne. I painted rocks and sold them to my neighbors. The norm. Then, when I was in 6th grade, I overheard Ms. Gross refer to my artwork as “junk” with a dismissive flit of her hand. Our relationship had already been tense, but with that comment, art became the first class I plotted to skip. I would find myself called to my duties as student council president when art day would arrive or I would conveniently have to leave school early for a skating event. Being a straight ‘A’ student since I arrived in this world, art and creativity became my nemesis. Since the day my work was labeled junk, I built an identity around my non-artistness. Friends of mine hung up pieces of my artwork, not for their esthetic beauty, but instead for their comic value. My artistic talent had notoriety. I stood by as my singing, acting, flute phases slipped away. I wanted to take creative writing in high school, but that would have hurt my GPA, so writing even went to the side. Figure skating was the one area I held onto, but I would label myself an “athletic” skater, not an artistic one, and then I tore my ACL and that was gone too.

So, when I walked into Armando’s studio last week to do art, I really had no idea where to begin. He had a long list of many different types of art I could try out. I decided to start with the most basic, drawing. He sat me down at my own table, propped up a picture of a Mexican woman holding a baby upside down, and told me to draw it without looking at my paper and without lifting my pencil. I twiddled the pencil in my hand and looked to my right where an older retired Canadian woman was sculpting a woman’s body to be a candleholder. I listened as she babbled to her brother on her cell phone. She had to work all day last Friday with Armando because the clay was drying too quickly. And now the sculpture seemed to be cracking because she had made it too top heavy. She worried it would not survive the kiln. Beside her was another older woman lost in her painting. I began to think maybe I should just come back in 40 years. Playing artist could be a project for another time. But, I had my station set up.

After about 15 minutes, Armando came back to check on me. I was quite proud of my upside down Mexican woman. She really resembled the image. But, Armando let out a sigh and gave me a disapproving shake of the head. He knew. I mean did he really want me to not look at the paper at all? And, lifting the pencil was necessary to draw the face! Fine, I admit it; I cheated. That straight ‘A’ student was afraid of failing, and hence failed. He turned the book around and put my pencil in my left hand. He told me again, with a serious tone I could not hide from, to draw it with my left hand, without looking at my paper, and without lifting the pencil. I obliged. This time when he returned he was extremely pleased with what to me looked like a jumbled mess of lines made by that same 6th grader whose artwork was junk. When I finally got to draw it with all my faculties in order, a decent image appeared on the paper in front of me. I walked away from day 1 feeling a flittering spark and a small bit of shame, vowing not to cheat the next day.
Mexican Woman and Baby, Left handed, No Sight

On day 2, as Armando was getting me situated, I asked him, “Tengo una pregunta, Creas que todas personas pueden dibujar y estar artistas?” In english, “I have a question, do you believe that everyone can draw and be artists?”
Without hesitating, he replied, “si.” I contested, but he said that is probably because someone told me I could not be an artist. Hmph. He said that the majority of his time teaching art is spent fighting the demons of artists’ past. Really he is more of a therapist than an art teacher. So, I guess I was in therapy. Day 2, I did the same exercises without cheating creating some of the most ugly works of art I have ever made. Then, I was granted the honor of using oil pastels. I copied an image of a naked woman hung upside down. I got lost in the drawing, enjoying the smooth nature of the medium. I was excited to turn it over and reveal my great work. In the end, the woman had thighs the size of Texas and Rhode Island for a head, but I still loved her.

Naked Woman, Day 2
On Day 3, I had been beaten up by Spanish pretty badly, and was not really feeling like doing art. I sped through my warm-up exercises, excited to get to my pastel time. I worked for an hour when one of Armando’s apprentices came over, a big guy with dreads who listened to big headphones and was tearing apart a computer for a piece in his upcoming exposition. He complimented my work and showed me how to layer my colors. I felt like we were colleagues. The space that Armando has created in the back of a Spanish colonial courtyard manages to simultaneously inspire, ease, and challenge those who enter it. I only did 3 days with Armando, though I considered staying in the city another week just to do more time there. Still, in three days, I felt that 6th grader’s junk drifting away from my identity. On Friday, I bought a sketchbook and my own set of pastels.

Woman Washing Clothes, Day 3
It is no coincidence that I took art classes in Oaxaca. Oaxaca is a place that oozes art and culture. You can hardly walk down a street without taking in original artwork, a handcrafted textile, and crowds of sculptures. Try not to be inspired. Through the weeks I have spent in Oaxaca, I have been trying to take the art in little by little:

Whether it has been in my walks down graffiti covered lanes, stops into museums with Mexican painters new and old, the exquisite photography gallery, the anarchist print gallery, 

my day trip to San Bartolo Cayotopec where they have a fantastic art museum showing local crafts and the famous barro negro (black pottery), 

or my amazing afternoon participating with Nikki’s Theater of the Oppressed workshop for teenage girls. People are unapologetically artists in Oaxaca, and they seem to be celebrated for that. On the walk from Nikki’s apartment to Spanish school, I would pass an artist’s gallery that offered drawing classes, a dance studio with salsa classes for young and old, a small studio offering singing classes with the appropriate screeching “ooooo” emanating from it, and without a doubt some group of friends gathered around a guitar singing “Rolling in the Deep.” And somehow, all this art exists in a way that is not pretentious, but inviting.

I am not the best artist. I will never be. But, most people will never be. And, art is not really about being the best, is it? I am constantly in admiration of the courage it takes to be creative. It is much easier to do what we are told and follow paths tread before us. To risk failure and ugliness and embarrassment is all part of what happens when you embrace creativity. But, I am starting to feel like there might be no other way to really live. For years, I rejected being “artistic” because I could not draw or sing and I did not do theater. Now, I am seeing, that being an artist or maybe more easier to own, being creative, is so much more than any one skill set you possess. As Joseph Chilton Pearce said, “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” And then I would add, act on it. Maybe that is all it is. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Weeks 5 and 6 in Photos: Around Oaxaca

Caving Ecoturismo, Calpulalpan

Night Landscape, Calpulalpan

Cafe Americano, Oaxaca

Mi Maestro Espanol, Oaxaca

Inside Santo Domingo, Oaxaca
Barro Negro, San Bartolo

Colorful Street, Oaxaca

Hotel Construction, Oaxaca

Hiereve El Agua

Sulfur Spring, Hierve El Agua

Hierve El Agua

Hierve El Agua

Swimming in Sulfur Springs, Hierve El Agua

Elementary School, Outside Oaxaca

Woman's Day, Oaxaca

Street Art, Oaxaca

Maestro de Arte, Armando, Oaxaca
 Just a little street side entertainment

Monday, March 5, 2012

Upheaval and Commitment

Traveling is not all fun. It puts you in situations that are new and unknown. It throws challenges at you that would be difficult in the comfort of your own home, but are amplified by a foreign context. Often once overcome, those challenges fill you with a sense of accomplishment and usually a good story. Still, traveling is not all fun.

These past few days have been those days. It is a combination of things, as it always is. I am entering into my final couple of weeks of travel, finding myself drifting a bit more often into "the future," stressed a bit by how to "make the most" of my last two and a half weeks, frustrated that the peace of the beach is already so hard to keep present, oh and the bed bugs or fleas that invaded my deeply personal space. Sometimes, it is just a bug bite that you need to push you over the edge...

So Friday, I moved out of my friend's apartment, my planned base for my remaining time in Mexico and cried a lot. I cried walking down the street. I cried in Spanish class. Every emotion that had just poked at the surface over the last several weeks, was ripe and ready to flow. Maybe it was all the scratching of my bites. More pores for feelings to flow through. Whatever it was, I was off-kilter, tripping on sidewalk cracks and stumbling down stairs. By the end of the day, I moved into a hotel that was recommended to me by a few people, and was starting to feel a bit more at ease. That is until 7am the next morning.

I woke up to drilling and nonstop hammering above my head. And there the tears were again, as if they had been waiting at the door for just that knock. When I asked about the construction, it became clear it was not going to stop any time soon. I had already paid two nights, but I would have to move again on Sunday. I sat down to eat breakfast in my hotel Saturday morning, obsessing over my bad luck, when I looked up and saw Regula eating her breakfast. Regula is one of the owners of Lo Cosmico, the hotel I stayed at in Zipolite. What were the chances? We caught each other's eyes and quickly embraced. She was on her way back from dropping her daughter off at school, and was staying a few nights in Oaxaca. Maybe this was a sign I should go back to Zipolite before I leave, or a reminder that even when you feel really bad,  you are never alone, or just coincidence. Regardless, it pulled me out of my misery momentarily, allowing one of those smiles from deep within to emerge. The kind of smile that you try to deny, but is just too strong and persistent. The kind of smile that connects us to our humanity.

I got through Saturday with some church sitting, market going, and delicious food. Then, Sunday was the day that really brought me back. I reconnected with a friend I had made on the beach and we went to Hierve el Agua. A 2-hour adventure to get there, making friends with Roberto, a farmer from the Mixtec region, and two teenage couples taking the opportunity to get away from the city for a day of making out and photo ops. It was well worth it. As trite as the words can be, Hierve el Agua is truly a beautiful and magnificent place. There are two sulfur springs you can swim in on the edge of a mountain with water the color of paradise. And all around the springs have created unique rock forms known as petrified waterfalls unlike anything I have ever seen. We hiked around all the petrified waterfalls for hours taking in the vistas, the birds, and the water formations forever stuck in mid-drip. There was something marvelous about the idea of a frozen waterfall. Waterfalls are usually in such a hurry to get down from the mountain. The defiance of these structures against being what they are supposed to be was inspiring for a YOOTer like me. The day culminated with a swim on the edge of a cliff. The sensation of swimming in fresh spring water while looking at 270 degrees of mountain is etched deep into me. Elation does not even begin to explain what I felt.

Now, I am staying in a youth hostel. It is the first time on my trip I am fully doing the youth hostel thing. I am cozied into a bottom bunk of a 4-bed dormitory. So far, no other women traveling alone have showed up, so at this moment it is like I have a single room. Despite my natural reprieve yesterday, I still awoke today feeling a bit consternated. Not knowing if I should stay in the youth hostel, try and find a home stay, move on from Oaxaca. So far this trip, I have prided my self with maintaining a clear and decisive inner compass. This morning, I felt the needle spinning in every direction.

Then, I heard the words of one of my favorite college professors, John Riker, in my head. He often lectured on the idea of the "freedom of commitment." I was feeling afraid to commit, afraid to make the wrong choice, and in that place of choice, felt trapped. So, I went and paid for 4 nights at the hostel. I am here. For better or worse, I committed. I am not going to say that the emotional storm passed the instant I committed, but it did start to retreat. I am excited to do the youth hostel thing for a week. I am excited to keep working on my Spanish. I am excited to go to an art class tomorrow. I am here. For at least 4 days more.

This brings me to a mantra that came to me on the beach in Zipolite and has done a lot to keep me present through my travels. When I am here, I am everywhere. When I am everywhere, I am never here. O en espanol, Cuando estoy aqui, estoy dondesea. Cuando dondesea, nunca estoy aqui.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

El Mercado

I walked down Calle de Armenta y Lopez for what seemed like an hour. By the time I found the buses that would take me to the community that makes the black pottery, it was already 4 'o clock. I decided that trip would be better for another day. So what to do on the far south side of town at 4pm?

Obviously, go find the big market that I have heard so much about. Oaxaca is more or less a grid, yet I still manage to get lost here. On my search for the big market, I found a mini art market that left me uninspired, then walked past a nudie movie theater, and finally found myself on prostitute row. Like any good traveler, I tried not to gawk and kept walking perhaps with a brisker pace. Eventually I found my way into the "big market" as Nikki has referred to it. Big does not even begin to describe it.

I braced myself as I entered, not sure what to expect. After strolling around a few rows and understanding that at least to my analytical capabilities, the market appears to have no clear order, I just dove in. Hoping to spend most of my time in the area with lots of crafts, every once in a while, I found myself in the middle of one of many seafood sections. Trying not to inhale, I would quickly work my way out in search of more painted animals. In my five weeks in Mexico, I had bought zero gifts or crafts for myself. In the market, I was determined to crack the seal.

It seems that older Mexican women are my soft spot. I can easily refuse a man trying to sell me shirts or a young woman with straw baskets. But, the old ladies with painted animals and woven napkins had me at hola. Though, I did manage to resist the old lady selling fried grasshoppers. When I first resisted, she seemed shocked, and thought maybe I did not realize that she also had the small grasshopper variety. Pushing the platter of grasshoppers into my face, she raised her voice and tried again with a worried look as if I had not really heard her the first time, "Chicitos, chicitos?!" I held out this time, but I am sure during my next visit to the market, I will be eating mini grasshoppers.

I only had an hour of market vigor in me, but I left energized for more. As I strolled home, I passed a dilapidated church. I stopped inside to rest my soul and soles. These past few days, I have been struggling with the transition from my beach life back to city life. I am still doing yoga and writing, but something has felt missing. Yesterday, sitting in the church with the other retired people who seem to spend their days in the churches, I felt a spark.

At the beach, I spent countless hours with the waves and the sunsets and the fellow travelers. Here in Oaxaca, there are other treasures to surrender to. It's the mountains, the markets, the churches, the colors, the art, my Spanish teacher who I adore. Neither place is better or worse, and both can inspire great joy if I can keep paying attention.