day 4, 5 of mexico

got up with the plan to head to oaxaca. the night prior I ran into a total dive bar with a live rock band and a bunch of college kids who were also musicians and played me a song on their instruments (drum, guitar and some sort of 5 stringed ukelele).the ukelele guy was drunk and told me that “america was a cancer of his culture” saying that cheap western entertainment was cheapening and destroying mexican culture. a couple of cheap beers later I was on my way and ran into the first few real americans and two croatians on the roof of my hostel and hung out with them before grabbing one last street taco before bed.

the following morning I headed to the bus station (which isn’t on the edge of town, meaning you have 1-2 hours of traffic to fight through before leaving the city. got off at the wrong subway stop and a female police officer escorted me to the right one. the bus station was pretty standard by latin american standards, except that it was circular with buses docking on the outside. usually they’re one big line, or in a U where the buses park inside of what looks like a castle of transit (rio de janerio). three serious looking guys with shotguns, frowns and one with a shiny revolver showed up while I was getting pizza, and it took me a minute to realize they were there to refill the ATM machine. due to the holiday despite being at the bus station at noon, the next bus to oaxaca was at 5pm. saw some forest fires that were dangerously close to the interstate while leaving the vale. before long it got dark and the exciting trip through the mountains was largely missed. there’s a surprising lack of personal vehicles on the road and all the buses are speed limited based on their gps coordinates so you tend to travel with the same 2-3 vehicles for the entire trip. it’s interesting to see them communicating via horns, hazard lights (accident or broken down car ahead, etc). finally arrived in my new city and walked 15 blocks or so to the hostel, sometime after midnight. the city is pretty safe. it reminds me a lot of rosario, except many of the buildings are only 1 story, instead of 2 or 3. a side note about the mexican highway system – it’s about as good as I-35 between austin and dallas – which is to say, not great, but not terrible either. highway traffic is so bad that people park in the medians and then walk into the middle of the highway holding bags of anything from english muffins (i think) to fruits (3 for a dollar). People accept this as normal daily life and purchase them, stopping in the middle of the highway to conduct buisness. 200 feet up on an overpass, i was shocked to see 8 year old girls selling candy in the same manner. social norms here are wildly different than from the US.

woke up in oaxaca the next morning. the hosts here are really nice. they let me have breakfast at 10:10am, which is really late by hostel standards. i felt really bad – they had been waiting around for close to an hour to wrap up making breakfast. breakfast was an amazing omlet, bread and black beans, and all the coffee you can drink. met up with a couple from holland and another couple that were working on their foreign service exams with the US, trying to get posted to northern india.

wandered about the city for a few hours, started walking south and decided I’d gone far enough. two guys holding MP5s at another bus station asked me if i needed help. got some chocolate from a local shop (oaxaca is the home of chocolate, among other things like chewing gum, tamales and mole). walked a bit north and found a market. a proper meat market. pig’s feet, loads and loads of blood sausage, pig livers, carcasses and all sorts of random uncooked meat in red, white and brown colors. normally of strong stomach, this managed to turn my stomach a bit and I kept walking rather than stopping for a closer look. suprisingly, it was all incredibly clean, with zero flies – a welcome improvement over peru and argentina, which was always crawling with flies. sort of stumbled upon the zocalo, the city square. it was packed, and beautiful. huge, enormous green trees providing cavernous shady areas all throughout the plaza like giant caretakers of this centuries old city. ringed with restuants, at the core is a huge platform for sitting and performing from; underneath is a pay bathroom and vendors of cold drinks. probably 3,000-6,000 people were there. in one corner a brass band of 20 people played mexican songs all afternoon while shaved ice vendors made drinks for everyone. talked with a drunk who spoke suprisingly good english – apparently he used to live in Utah for some time before returning to Mexico after a divorce. Unshockingly, the topic of religion came up, and he gave me an explaintion of who Carmen was. some girls with their teacher came over to ask me some questions in english, and then i asked them some simple questions in return. they told me there was another market to the west that was worth checking out. oaxaca is full of markets and parks and plazas it turns out. tons and tons of public spaces that the community takes full advantage of – they are always full of people as meeting places and centers of activity. some little boy ran up to me trying to sell me what looked like some leaves off a shrub and possibly a basil leaf. a minute later some awe-struck little girl ran up to me and said “hola” before running off. bought a 170 year old, 15lb leatherbound spanish anatomy book for $30 – complete with color illustrations of partially disected people with don-quixote style mustaches. brilliant.

on the far side of the plaza, in front of the govenor’s mansion was a scene right out of a japanese samurai film, or western based on one. tired of long being oppressed by the govenor, the citizens form a rebellion. the govenor, intent on keeping his power, dissapears the leader of the opposition in january 2011. the body is never found. then, two months later, in march two professors from the local university are shot in broad daylight in front of the church across the plaza from the govenor’s mansion. of course, “nobody saw anything”, and there were no witnesses. this story hasn’t finished being written yet, but it’s a sad tale and certainly an interesting one close to home, in light of similar things happening in Libya and Yemen across the globe. This ties in with the Oaxaca protests I saw in the District Federal square just yesterday. As the mexican drunk in the square put it succinctly, “the governor was asking for trouble, and now he’s got it”.

wandered north and found an old (100+ year old) aquaduct that leads towards the hills. followed it north until it cut through a wealthy neighborhood and decided to turn back. realized it dumped into several (non-functional) fountains along that street (what I colloqually call “water street”). continuing south from the last fountain I came across the church of Carmen, which the (English translation) description calls a cult. The drunk mexican explained carmen as “your lawyer in heaven, after the fire and before you get in”. I’ll have to look in to this more. The more I learn about Catholicism the more sharply different it seems than protestantism and more closely resembles ancient polythiesm, and is flexible about adding additional dieties (Saints). I’ve read (but haven’t seen up close) that Mayans have adopted some form of animalism catholisism. I’ll have to look in to that more as well.

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1 Response to day 4, 5 of mexico

  1. Aaron says:

    I’ve been reading about your trip and it makes me jealous! Have you tried any of the hot chocolate?

    In regards to Catholicism in Mexico, it should be noted that many saints are cultural and regional, and not recognized saints within the greater body of the RCC. Just like any other religion, what is passed down from the teachers is often blended by the students. My understanding is that much like Haitian voodoo, indigenous beliefs and Catholic teachings are blended to appease both the ancestors and the reigning religion, Catholicism. It would be interesting to see if people who immigrate out of the rural regions of Mexico and identify themselves as Catholic in their new country still practice their “particular brand” of religion.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia has an interesting article on Mexico.

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