Wednesday, September 29, 2010

La Maquina Que Mueve El Mundo

The plaza next to us never ceases to offer entertainment.

After a few hours of hearing music I decided to head over and check out what all the excitement was about. Low and behold, La Maquina Que Mueve El Mundo was performing for about 200 people, including dozens of clowns (there seems to be an abundance of clowns here). Many people were dancing cumbia or salsa as the performers on stage serenaded them. It was so fun to watch, and inspiring too! Maybe we will come back with some new dancing skills!

Just another Wednesday night in Oaxaca.


In previous posts we have eluded to a preschool where I have been volunteering. The program is located in Colonia Estrella, about a 15-20 minute bus ride up one of the mountains surrounding the city, and then a 3 minute walk straight up a dirt road. Capulli, pronounced ka-pooh-yeah, is a non-governmental group that provides not only the 2nd and 3rd year preschool program (there are aparently 3 years of preschool before kinder), but also some computer classes for families and primary students, tutoring for students in 1st-6th grades, and free breakfast/lunch to program participants. The goals of the program are pretty clear - create an safe and caring educational space for children, where their rights are respected to the utmost. After a conversation with the director today I think I have better sense of what they mean by "rights": right to food, right to not be hit, right to education, right to health, etc. At the forefront of all interactions is amor y carino (love and affection) for children as human beings.

I go in three times a week from 9 - 1:30 and assist the 3rd year preschool teacher. We have anywhere from 19 - 23 students in the classroom on a given day. The routine for the morning starts with a screamed "Buenos dias, ma-es-tras," from the kids (Good morning, teachers!). Then we move right into some teaching and an activity that invariably involves resistol (glue). At 10:15 we begin a process of hand washing before an always delicious meal for almuerzo (lunch). I have to say this thrice weekly exposure to traditional Oaxacan recipes is a definite treat. That an the tortillas and aguas (water, but really juice - hibiscus, tamarind, lime). Then we head back downstairs and all the kids brush their teeth and we start a different activity. At 12:30 we take the kids upstairs to the small play area and await parents who come to pick them up.

So far I have been around for the teaching of different bits of Mexican independence, geometric shapes, and now colors. I am learning so much about working with younger kids and how to be a bit more relaxed in the classroom. I can honestly say I would comfortably give a classroom of preschoolers scissors, crepe paper and glue, some simple directions and let them go crazy - which is really letting loose based on my old classroom. Additionally, I have to say that I am embracing my role as an assistant, letting another adult take the lead teaching and leading activities, being able to leave at the end of the day with much less stress.

That said, my work at Capulli has given me lots to think about: the cultural differences and expectations for behavior in school, teacher professional development, balancing love and care for the kids (which clearly ALWAYS needs to happen) with making sure that they are learning content, social skills education, constructivist education, the impacts of poverty on education, family involvement (one of my favorite themes), pedagogy, early literacy, and the limitations of my Spanish when it comes to breaking up the mini lucha libres that break out among the little boys. (Reminder: lucha libre is the professional wrestling that is HUGE here) As my time at the program continues I hope to talk about more and more of these things with the director, the teacher I assist, other teachers and the cooks.

Enough of my pondering. Let's get to the good stuff - the adorable children. In this picture we have Diego and Salvador hard a work making little balls out of crepe paper to fill in the shapes on their papers. (Diego, on the left, can't pull the paper in to smaller strips so he has to use scissors. Amazing!) Diego, you will also notice, is in a lovely army green suit jacket. The army reference is intentional, as Diego is part of the class flag bearer group. On Mondays, all the preK students gather to salute the flag that Diego and 5 other friends, similarly uniformed, march around with. That is all I have for now. I will try and get some others in the next weeks.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wet and Safe

There has been a few days of rain here in the city and throughout the state. In more rural areas there has been some fatal mudslides. In the city we are safe, but wet. Just wanted to let everyone know....

We will be heading out soon to check out some of the local museums near our apartment - on pre-colonial, another of local Oaxacan painters. Later we might even venture out for a run up the crazy steps of Fortin.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Una Cancion

I've been trying to do a lot with music while we're down here - reading a little on basic music theory, playing guitar almost every day, and (luckily) playing piano some too. Can't say I'm anxious to upload any actual singing, but I have been working on a translation of a pretty famous American song that I thought I should share.

"Cacahuate encontre"
(sung to the tune of "Found a Peanut")

Cacahuate, cacahuate, cacahuate encontre
Anoche cacahuate, cacahuate encontre

Fue podrido, fue podrido, fue podrido lo que encontre
Anoche fue podrido, fue podrido lo que encontre

Si lo comi, si lo comi, si lo comi, lo hice
Anoche si lo comi, si lo comi, lo hice

.... It goes on, but I haven't worked out the right words for the rhythm yet in the later versus. Ha ha. (Erica didn't think it was very funny when I sang it to her, but for some reason it cracks me up to do it. For those translating at home, "encontre" should have a tilde over the final e, "aun" over the u - I think - and "comi" and "si" over the i, but I'm not sure how to do it here.)

Also, here's a picture from our dinner - Gerardo took it, so you can't see him, but Andres and Jorge appear in living color. I look sad because for some reason I don' t have any pizza.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A whole new flavor

The cooks at Erica's preschool served a bean dish for lunch that she really liked, so she talked to them about how to make it. Turns out one of the key ingredients is dried avocado leaf! She gave it a try tonight, using some leftover black beans and it was most excellent. Such a surprising flavor from the leaves - subtly unique, somewhat akin to licorice or anise, but not so strong. Makes us optimistic for our return to Boston, where an avocado tree or two await.

Of course, by the looks of it, we might have enough of them left over that we could just pack some home with us.

Friday, September 24, 2010


After so much food last night, it seemed time to try a run again today. Oh, man. Not only is Oaxaca about a mile above sea level - which makes running tough anyway - but the best running route we have is to go immediately uphill from our apartment to the Escaleras del Fortin, then onward into the park that winds around the top of Cerro del Fortin. So that means, about a half mile of steep uphill, 206 steps up the side of a mini-mountain (I counted on the way down, because it was too hard to think on the way up), then an even steeper uphill climb once you get to the top. So today, there were quite a few breaks along the way. Maybe, before we leave, we'll make it the whole way without stopping. Maybe not...

Also, I noticed today that I'm developing a pretty decent farmer tan. Dress here is so much more conservative than I expected, so there haven't been any opportunities to soak up some full-body rays. By the time we make it to the beach, I should have a really stunning two-toned look going for me. As if I don't already stand out!

La Cena

We had some friends over for dinner last night - Andres, the talented chef at the Centro de Aprendizaje; Jorge; and Gerardo, another student we've met. We had hoped Omar and Adrian could come too, but they both had to get ready for tests/work tomorrow and couldn't make it.

It was fun shopping for all the ingredients at Abastos and fun to really put our kitchen to the test. (Andres deserves great thanks for lending us some yeast - levadura - which is somewhat hard to find down here.) We started with guacamole, vegetables and tortilla chips (we bought those, let's not get carried away with homemade...) and then had three kinds of pizza - chipotle chicken with caramelized white onions, chopped red onions, cilantro and quesillo (a little like mexican string cheese, that comes wrapped up like a ball of yarn); chorizo with ancho chile tomato sauce, poblanos and queso (a moist, crumbly cheese similar to feta); and ground beef with white onions, jalapeƱos and mozzarella. The salty, stringy quesillo actually works pretty well on pizza, and the queso is mild enough in flavor to let other flavors stand out.

It took a bit to figure out the oven's pizza-personality, and we definitely missed having our pizza stone to crisp up the crust nicely. But, starting the pies on a baking sheet then transferring them, pan-less, onto the oven rack seemed to do the trick and we both felt like it was a respectable first effort at serious cooking here. We also had jugo de jamaica, which I think we'll both miss a lot once we leave. Erica had planned to make chocolate sauce for dessert, but we were all so full after three pizzas (and extra chicken!) that nobody could manage to whip up desire even for ice cream. Ah well, another night. We did eat some churros, though, sans ice cream and chocolate sauce, which no one seemed to mind. (Churros are a delectable treat of fried dough in a stick sort of shape that is then dipped in cinnamon sugar. They can also be bought filled with things like chocolate, fruit, or cream made from sweetened condensed milk.)

Jorge snapped a bunch of pictures, so hopefully we'll grab some from him to post later. There seemed to be a certain fascination with capturing us all hard at work eating or displaying the pizzas. Besides photos, the night was also filled with instruction in informal Spanish phrases meant to help us fight better. For example, "Si me busques, me encuentras" - "If you come looking for me, you will find me..." And, "cuando quieras" - basically a rejoinder along the lines of, "I'm ready when you are." We had a great time trying them out, much to the entertainment of our guests.

The chicken might have been the star of the night! Our guests couldn't seem to get enough of it! While it was great for a pizza, some of the thighs and legs disappeared before the first pizza made it out of the oven. Maybe some of you might be interested in the recipe? It's really easy to do if you have a food processor or blender, and it is spicy and delicious.

Start with a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (we reconstituted dried chipotles then blended with water, a few cloves of garlic, about 2 tbsp of oregano, 1 tsp of cumin seeds and a little oil - if you want a thicker sauce add equal parts oil and flour then cook in a sauce pan for a few minutes). Puree the peppers and sauce with a few cloves of garlic, a quarter to a half cup of soy sauce (it's hard to over-salt chicken), about a quarter cup of olive oil and black pepper to taste. Then just coat chicken pieces liberally and let marinate for as long as you want - from a few hours to a few days - the longer you wait, the spicier the chicken will be. Once that's done, cook the chicken in the marinade at 350 for roughly an hour. That's it! Typically we leave the skin on for cooking, then discard it afterwards - I've read in reputable sources that this adds minimal fat while helping keep the chicken moist.

All the amounts seem to be extremely flexible, so you can add more liquid to stretch the peppers thinner (probably even water or stock, if you want to cut down on sodium or fat), or more peppers if you really want to heat things up.

We bought an entire chicken for last night - head, neck, feet, gizzards and all - nicely cut up by the chicken butcher. (Chicken seems to always be sold at its own stand, with beef, pork and chorizo sold together by other vendors.) I wish I had had a camera when Erica was unpacking the bag in our kitchen. She's actually killed and cleaned chickens before, but something about pulling the parts out of the bag, the surprise of what might come next, maybe, really had her going. (If I may interject here (this is Erica), I was just totally shocked to find about half the head intact and attached to part of the neck of the bird. I could see the eyes and optic nerves. In my defense, when I butchered chickens before, we took the head clean off.) I hear that the feet add a lot of flavor to stocks, so we'll try that out with the leftovers.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Today was a lovely day of relaxing and reading. We enjoyed our front patio for a large part of the afternoon.

I was a little busier in the late morning with some errands. I was on a hunt for pipe cleaners or twisty ties for a project I want to try out at the preschool where I am volunteering. (More on that in a different post.) What better place to look than at the supermarket/Mexican WalMart that is conveniently located right down the street? I ended up having to buy two boxes of trash bags to get enough twisties, but the search was half the fun. They have everything at this place, just like those mega-stores in the US. The store is called Soriana and, like similar stores, they have their own brand of products. Interestingly the items they sell are labeled in both Spanish and English.

Yes, I did bring my camera to Soriana to take a picture of random aisles of stuff. I didn't want anyone thinking that markets were the only places where people bought stuff in Oaxaca.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Tonight we experienced our first Oaxacan moles! Mole, pronounced moe-lay, is a traditional sauce used in cooking. There are over six different types - coloradito (red), negro (black) and estofado (don't know) are the three sweet ones and verde (green), amarillo (yellow) and chichilo (again, I don't know) are the savory ones. They often have many many ingredients, upwards of dozens, and are prepared over days. We have seen them sold in a paste form in lots of the markets we have been through, but we had yet to sample. Oaxaca is famous for it's moles so the time had come for us to try it out.

Under the cover of our umbrella we walked the short blocks to Los Pacos, a restaurant that guaranteed a sampler of moles on the house. The place was deserted, but we didn't let that stop us. We confessed to the waiter right away that we hadn't tried mole and he suggested that we wait for the sample before we ordered our entree. Along with the sampler we ordered an appetizer of memelitas, which we were curious about because we saw a sign outside of a restaurant requesting a woman who could make tortillas and memelitas. The moles arrived first, along with 4 piping hot tortillas. We made our way through our tour of moles, trying to comment on the flavors of each one, but mostly lost in how extremely tasty and complex they each were. Rory immediately gravitated toward the most common, negro, and we both enjoyed the savory verde. Next came the memelitas, covered in mole negro and queso (a crumbly style of cheese). Memelitas seem to be smaller and thicker than average tortillas, giving you a bit more of something to bite into. Everything was delicious and we had yet to order a main course.

After further contemplation of the menu we felt ready. I got enchilada type things called enmolados (covered in mole) negro. Each tortilla came with a different filling, one quesillo (a stringy, salty type of cheese), one with chicken, and another with picadillo (wonderfully flavorful beef, pork and chicken mix). And true to the name they were SMOTHERED in mole negro! Rory ordered chilaquiles de amarillo con tasajo. Though he was expecting something different, having ordered chilaquiles from a restaurant we like in Boston, he was not disappointed. What arrived was a plate topped with tortilla chips that kind of tasted like fritos, covered in mole amarillo, with a side of thinly sliced grilled beef. There is not much we can really say other than it was fantastic, deliciously filled with flavors we have never experienced. I was quoted as saying "there is no going back," at one point during the meal. Even Rory had to admit it was worth getting a little wet on the walk over!

Needless to say dessert was unnecessary.

Que sabroso! How flavorful!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tianguis de Tlacolula

We decided to check out the Tianguis - the big weekly market - in Tlacolula today. The town isn't known for any particular crafts, but there artisans of other towns are said to bring their wares to Tlacolula on Sundays.

It was a pretty bus ride out and back, about an hour each way, with most of the hour back taken up trying to understand a rather drunk gentleman across the aisle. He partly wanted to talk to some gringos (he spent some time in Arizona a while back, I guess), but mostly he wanted to trade some of his moonshine for some of our mezcal. If Mexican Spanish is hard to understand in general because of the speed and slurring, it doesn't hold a candle to drunken Mexican Spanish.

Unfortunately there wasn't much in the way of unique crafts at the market, although it was fun to wander around. Erica checked out a few leather satchels and was interested by some colorful woven shopping bags, but didn't settle on anything today. There was also some black and green pottery from regional towns and some beautifully painted gourds and bowls, but nothing that really grabbed us. We had been hoping to see weaving, but will have to go to the source, I guess.

We did see a lovely cathedral, the interior of which was completely covered with painted wooden carvings, trim and statutes. And we picked up some different mezcal from the Pensamiento ("Contemplation")
distillery that has been operating outside Tlacolula for over 70 years. After many taste tests, including joven (un-aged), coco (coconut), cafe (coffee), granadilla (passion fruit), manzana (apple), and frutas (kind of a fruit punch), we settled on a bottle of joven, a mini bottle of frutas and a bottle of anejo (aged) which has a lot of smoky flavor to it. Interestingly, they also sold a flavor called Viagra, which had herbs of undisclosed origin in the bottle and which in smaller sizes was labeled "afrodisiaco." This type of mezcal, the vendor assured us, has all the same properties as the little blue pills.

Of course, we also bought some bread - all the essentials!

And as an added bonus.... Lucha Libre! Last night we could hear some sort of announcing taking place in the plaza of the church next door. We wandered over and, sure enough, inside a temporary wrestling ring two co-ed pairs of masked wrestlers were mixing it up for a crowd of relatively subdued adults and extremely excited kids. The kids in particular seemed to love to hate one of the male wrestlers, who wore a white mask with a red mohawk and long white tassles. None of the action shots came out all that well, unfortunately. (In the picture, the white-masked wrestler is kicking - well, pretending to kick - his buddy, much to the dismay of the young 'uns.)

By the way, this is the church, the Basilica de la Soledad. It's famous for the appearance on a box within its walls of the image of the Virgin Mary. The box is still housed inside. Really beautiful and intricate carvings on the facade, not done justice at all by the photograph.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Not sure if we've mentioned tlayudas, but I think so. Jorge sent us some pictures that he took of us eating at the late-night restaurant near where he lives. They give a little bit of a sense of how big these amalgamations of tortilla, beans, lettuce, salsa and meat actually are.

Also, we tried patitas this same night - boiled then pickled pigs feet. Not bad, actually.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sep. 15, 16, 17 - Independencia y el Puente

So September 15 was the 200th anniversary of the Mexico's independence from Spain. Just like in the United States, the years are counted not from the end of the war, or the establishment of a permanent domestic government, but from a call to action. Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (for whom Avenue Hidalgo in Ciudad de Oaxaca is named, and about whom a major motion picture is scheduled for release) had planned an insurrection with a Spanish army captain named Ignacio Allende, but the authorities were tipped off and Hidalgo had to rally the people ahead of schedule. Accordingly, he issued his now-famous Grito de Dolores, inspiring his parishioners and others to rise up against the Spanish forces. The initial uprising reached the outskirts of Mexico City, but no further, and Father Hidalgo and Allende quarreled, separated and were eventually both captured and executed.

Nevertheless, their actions precipitated the struggle that would lead to the ejectment of Spain from Mexico and a fully independent Mexican state. In honor of this, the Grito de Dolores is reenacted - at least, in some capacity, as the exact words of the cry are uncertain - in city
centers throughout Mexico on September 15. This includes Oaxaca, where in addition to the Grito, fireworks, music and food, there were ceremonial (well, kind of) fights with cans of pressurized foam. We had intended to stay on the sidelines of these, but after I took an entirely unprovoked dousing, Jorge and Omar rushed to our defense with many, many cans. The results speak for themselves, and everyone seemed to have a really good time.

Thursday, everything seemed to be closed down, as the celebration continued at a more relaxed pace. Of course, this meant that our attempted trip to several museums fell short, but there's plenty of time to make good. And Friday? Friday is el Puente - the bridge from the holiday to the weekend, when you're supposed to take the day off, even though there isn't an official reason to. Of course, Erica, being a dedicated volunteer, went in for an extra long day, complete with her first P.E. class and her first staff meeting.

I took the morning to go back to Abastos, which is far less insane, apparently, when it isn't Saturday. I wandered a bit, and found live hens, roosters and turkeys for sale - all quite docile, actually, as they resignedly awaited their fate - as well as some apparently quite fresh fish. I was feeling good about all I bought and about finding my way with ease, until I came out a totally unexpected exit and had to wander for 5 or 10 minutes before I finally figured out my bearings. That it was cloudy and that Abastos is tucked among quite a few different hills didn't help much (normally, finding North is as easy as finding the biggest mountains). But, never fear, I made it back home in time to make sure the beans didn't overcook and to prepare a copious batch of granola. By the way, raisins are know as pasas. For some reason, uvas secas (dry grapes) didn't get me very far without some additional explanation/inquiry.

After that, a leisurely afternoon, then a really excellent concert by two young classical guitarists at the Casa de la Cultura Oaxaquena (where I'll also get to practice piano). The music was beautiful and the speed they could move their fingers was amazing. Some pieces, it honestly looked like their hands were somehow liquid. All the songs were good, but we particularly liked Milonga, by Jorge Cardozo, Snowflight, by Andrew York, and Koyunbaba, by Carlo Domeniconi.

There's a stage up in the Zocalo with music and dancing, so we're headed out that way. Happy weekend!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monte Alban

Today we made our first trek into the area surrounding Oaxaca City. At about 11:30 this morning we caught a tourist bus (a 15 seat van) up about three miles west of the city to Monte Alban, the ruins of a Zapotec town. Half the adventure really was the ride up the mountain as we avoided or drove slowly through massive potholes, wound around hairpin turns, or careened off the road to bypass oncoming traffic. Along the way we picked up some passengers who were headed to the sight to sell jewelry, food, or hats to tourists. The bus let us off in a parking lot just below the site. After a short walk uphill we got to the museum and paid our entrance fee of about 4 dollars. We started at the museum and got some more basic information about the excavation of the site, which has been ongoing for about 90 years. There were also various artifacts on display, from rather large monoliths of the "danzantes," dancers, to much smaller fare like pottery and different depictions of deities. The Zapotec people populated Mte. Alban between 500 B.C. to about 750 A.D. so the artifacts span different periods within the heyday of the city, with some more obvious intricacies in the work closer to the later days.

Then it was on to the actual ruins. What a sight to behold. The stone work just rises out of the lush undergrowth and manicured lawns, the yellow, grays, blacks, and reds of the stones a stark contrast to the green, and later the grey-blue clouds. It is a pretty huge place, the main plaza measuring 1,000 feet by 666 feet (2/3rds of the length) begins to give a sense of the size, but the areas surround the main plaza are also developed making the place feel even bigger. We started at the I-shaped ball court that was dug out of the ground 20 feet. The walls were smoothed when it was in use, ensuring a sure bounce. Apparently knees, elbows, and hips were used to play the game, the outcome of which decided business transactions, celebrated holidays, or settled disputes. Next we were on to a series of ruins which, honestly, started to blend together. Some of them were homes with tombs in the middle (a common practice), others were main palaces/elite residences with many rooms. There were temples that had step stairs up to fantastic vantage points. There were even hidden tunnels between homes and temples that we were informed of, but not allowed to enter. We did get to see an obelisk whose noon-time shadow marked the solstices. There was also the very intriguing J building that was oriented southwest, versus north-south like everything else, whose purpose in the city remains a mystery.

The Zapotec people who lived in Monte Alban enjoyed an almost 1,300 year hold on the area. To build their city they constructed and reconstructed walls, plazas, and staircases one over the other in layers. The remains of the earliest days of the stronghold revealed a highly developed culture with gods, permanent temples, a priesthood, a written language, numerals and a calendar, as well as a multi-leveled society. At its apex, around 300 - 750 AD, the city had a population of about 40,000! The people cultivated beans, chiles, corn, fruits, and squash in the adjacent valleys and sometimes feasted on deer and small game. Tributes were also paid by surrounding towns, enriching the ruling classes, as well as the artisans and farmers. The rulers of that time left intricate details in the stonework, from corniced walls and monumental carvings to hieroglyph-inscribed stones depicting gods, kings, and heroic scenes of battle. A brief word about the often-mentioned Danzantes. The contorted figures that appear to be dancing are actually rival kings who suffered mutilated testicles as part of their defeat. The stones were lined up in one of the buildings to tell of victories or to warn folks who doubted the grandness of their leaders. By about 1,000 AD the city was virtually abandoned, the reasons remain unknown. (Much of this is from the Moon Handbooks Oaxaca guidebook, or did you think I just remembered all this from today?)

And now some pictures, from left to right, top to bottom.
-A burial urn for a woman, her head peering out of the mouth of Jaguar.
-The ball court
-Yours truly looking on top of the South Platform
-The Building J, that one shaped sort of like a boat
-Don't recall what this one was of, but it gives a sense of the majesty.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Una Lista

I have lots of random things to write about so I am choosing a list format for this post

1. There is a cat that lives in our apartment complex. Her name is Marta and she is mostly sweet, except when she is hungry. A few nights ago we were entertained by her hunting the limited number of cockroaches roaming our apartment. (We have also been informed that she eats mice and scorpions, not that there has been any sign of either.) A few nights before that she sat with Rory in the love seat while we watched a movie.

2. I know there are some of you out there who may be concerned about my fixation and mild addiction to peanut butter. You may have been asking yourselves, "How has she survived this long without it??" Worry not dear friends and family! I made some yesterday! I spent some time in the afternoon taking the papery skin off the peanuts Rory roasted. Then I tossed them in the handy mini-prep in the the apartment and added a little oil and salt. Voila! Mani de cacahuate (peanut butter). It isn't perfect, but I just ate some on some crackers and it was very satisfying. It has been a blast to experiment with all the "raw" ingredients that we can get our hands on here. Next up, maybe: making our own soy milk.

3. Soccer Sundays! It seems like we might get into the routine of meeting our friend Jorge and others in El Llano, on of the main parks in town, in the afternoon on Sundays. We play on the stone plaza area that is elevated slightly - the area in front of the fountain that you see in this picture. It makes for a faster game! (If any of you remember those days when indoor soccer was played on the thinnest layer of astro-turf possible, it is sort of like that.) It is a complete blast! Not only do we get in some good exercise playing one of our favorite sports, we have the added challenge of avoiding kids playing with balls, kids riding bikes, kids driving those motorized mini-cars that every kid wants, as well as puppies, fountains, vendors, and folks just passing through. Rory practices his skillz while I try not to trip over my own feet as I attempt dribbling. Again, it is a complete blast.

5. On Wednesday we will here the cry of "Independencia" y "Viva Mexico" as the 200 anniversary of Mexican independence is celebrated. We are pretty unclear about what festivities this will entail, but we will certainly let you know. Additionally, this holiday is not to be confused with the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. I am trying to get some of this history down, but it gets a little jumbled in my head.

6. Vamos a la playa! We are going to the beach! We have found and secured an apartment in Puerto Escondido along the Oaxacan coast. Starting November 7 through November 28 we will be living it up on the third floor of an apartment building, with exclusive access to a roof deck. We will be a short walk from the main surfing beach, Playa Zicatela, which will also play host to an international surfing competition while we are there. With our beginner surfing skills, if that, we will be heading to some of the mellower beaches to practice.

6. Rory got a guitar! Hooray! Our house is filled with music again.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


We went to the big, big market yesterday - Mercado de Abastos. Saturday is the busy day there, because all of the villagers come in to buy, sell and trade as well, but it seemed like it would be fun to just plunge in headfirst, so to speak.

This market is enormous. You can find it on the map above to the southwest of the center of downtown. The stalls literally take up all of the empty space indicated. And they're all covered, under an enormous hodgepodge of corrugated iron, sheet plastic, plastic panes, tarps, etc. So once you enter, which you do by passing through really small gaps in the outer walls, you can't see anything but the market. That means that you should really keep your wits around you or by the time you take three or four turns in the rabbit-warren of paths, you might have no idea where you are. Fun, yeah? Also, this is apparently a good place to get pick-pocketed if you flash a lot of money around, so its a good idea to watch yourself a bit.

Inside, it seemed like the outer layers were clothes, music and dvds, and towards the interior were food stalls - fruit, vegetables, herbs, dried goods, and meat. But that's not all! There were hardware stands, hat stands, cheese stands, a sprawling shoe district, restaurants, knife-sellers. I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but you get the idea. And wandering through everything were people with bags of bananas, limes (which confusingly, here, are called limons - lemons are called limas), cheese, you name it, all for sale. One of the websites I've seen said it isn't uncommon to see a burro for sale, but, sadly, we didn't.

We did, however, buy a whole mess of raw peanuts (cacahuetes crudos), oats, dried morita peppers (hence the name of the post, with more to come), epazote (a herb that is considered an absolute must for cooking black beans), cilantro, some dried hisbiscus (jamaica: ha - mai - ka) various fruits and vegetables, and a small goat. No, just kidding, he's actually pretty big already. ;)

While we were under the roofs, it started to pour rain - we continue to plan a lot of our excursions for the late afternoon, for some reason - which was quite an experience. The sound was cacophonous under the corrugated roofing, and everywhere there was a gap in the tarps (mostly, cleverly, over pathways and drains) water poured in. Undeterred, we rolled up our pant-legs and soldiered on, having a fun time dodging vendors and other shoppers who were crouching in dry patches to wait it out.

With a lucky guess at the direction, we found our way to an exit pretty close to where we came in and made it back home with our prizes. So now today we're making use of them. We toasted the peanuts - 20-25 minutes at 350 does the trick, but be careful, they get really hot on account of all the oil inside - and the oats as well - same deal, but we coated them first with a mixture of honey and oil - and we made a salsa from the moritas.

To make a salsa from dried peppers, you first reconstitute them for 15 minutes or so in simmering water. You don't want to let the water boil or it will really shred the peppers and make retrieving them a bit of a pain. If you want, you can remove the seeds and veins first to reduce the spice levels. And you can toast the peppers in a hot pan first as well to bring out a smokier flavor. Just press them flat with a spatula until they're aromatic, then turn. Once they're soft from the hot water, just chop the peppers (by hand or in a food processor) add some onion, cilantro, and garlic and some lime juice and salt. Voila! Salsa!

Ours has about a cup of reconstituted moritas, a small white onion, juice from one lime (which, happily for me, have seeds down here!), four large cloves of garlic, about quarter cup chopped cilantro and about a teaspoon of salt. It's very spicy, and very delicious, with just a hint of smoke. I can't wait for all the flavors to get to know each other in the fridge overnight. And why moritas? Well, there were about a dozen varieties and you have to start somewhere...

Next up is to make a sweet-and-sour drink from the jamaica blossoms that's pretty popular at restaurants here.

Happy cooking!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Went out last night for our first real night-life experience in Oaxaca. We had thought we were going to a piano/blues bar, to satisfy a craving for live music, but after walking five blocks past where it should have been and then back, we started to feel pretty sure that a) the bar had moved, b) the address we had found was way off, or c) it was all some elaborate hoax designed to encourage blues-lovers to wander hopelessly up and down Calle 20 de Noviembre while the perpetrators laughed from some second story window. We're still trying to understand the culture here...

Anyway, what a great stroke of luck it turned out to be. We walked on up 20 de Noviembre to where it turned into Porfirio Diaz, past a number of pretty thumping dance clubs and one very noisy - yet strangely empty - bar, hoping that maybe we would see something enticing. And a few blocks up, we did. We were drawn into the front because it looked like a semi-quaint wine bar, with brightly painted tables and a few small, interconnected rooms; plus there was a lively band playing a loud mix of jazz, classic american pop and swing/ska, all at the same time - an infectious mix of drums, flute, guitar, saxophone and almost-snarky vocals. Wandering into the back, we found a small rough-concrete courtyard, with rough-hewn wooden tables and chairs, uneven floors, a diverse crowd (dress, nationalities and ages) and a mural of enormous figures on the walls that included lucha-libre wrestlers, shadowy skeleton gun-fighters and an old man in a lazy-boy. Perfecto.

The place was (and is) called La Nueva Babel and the owner told us later on in the night that this was because all languages were spoken there. (We only heard English and Spanish, but then again, we weren't really there too long.) Erica had a cheap, large, potent, and delicious mezcal, served with chile and plenty of limes. I had a beer and a michelada (beer mixed with chile), and we both felt like we had found a place we could come back to.

By the way, we found out that the old man painted in the lazy-boy was a prominent supporter of social causes ranging from gay rights to the struggle of workers. His name was Carlos Monsivais, and he died earlier this year.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Bienvenidos, a nuestro departamento nuevo! We're very, very happy to have moved in - for two nights now! - to our lovely new apartment. After seeing quite a few throughout the city, this one was hands down the winner. And it is so nice to have our own space again, to lounge, to be slovenly on occasion, and to cook. So nice to cook.

We're about four blocks west of the main tourist/cultural square (the Zocalo), which has a beautiful shady plaza surrounded by restaurants, a very old cathedral, the main federal government building, and a few big food/craft markets to the south. There's a small market just
down the block that sells fruit, vegetables, flowers, cheese and meat, among other things and the enormous city market is about 7 blocks southwest. The escaleras del fortin are almost immediately north about 6 blocks, so we have easy access to running in the park too.

Otherwise, it's pretty standard - kitchen, big bedroom with a sitting area, living room, and a neat little cloister-like second bedroom. The building abuts what used to be a convent, so the wall in the second bedroom is about ten feet thick and looks a little bit like part of a castle. Lots of molded-glass skylights and thick walls, so it seems to stay pretty cool even when the days get hot.

This last picture is looking out at the garden from our patio. We have a couple chairs, a mini-hammock, and a table and despite the rain and the fountain, the mosquitos are rare. Yesterday during the rainstorm, the building cat came and sat on my lap to watch it all come down.

We're continuing to explore the city and work on our Spanish. I had a bewildering exchange at the hardware store today and eventually the employee gave up on me and just asked where I was from, but I still ended up with the epoxy I wanted (buying in some stores here can be surprisingly complicated - it was the same with our cell-phone). And now that guy thinks everybody from Boston is stupid. Anyway, it balanced out with some friendly words from the bookstore cashier, a fruitful trip to the market this morning, and an enjoyable conversation with a couple of painters on Calle Abasolo who somehow also guessed that I wasn't from around here. The painters had guessed Orlando for some reason, maybe my flip-flops (?) but were suitably impressed with Massachusetts.

Yesterday we explored an enormous museum of Mexican and Oaxacan history that is attached to a breathtaking botanical gardens and, of course, a huge cathedral. Tonight, maybe some music, and tomorrow a full day of volunteering, a movie with Jorge and co., and more.

Que vaya bien.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

For a Laugh

Rory is feeling so well that he started teaching at a dance school. Here are some of his best students....

We kid. Jorge showed us the video after a surprisingly satisfying dinner of white rice, carrots and potatoes. We are still going a little light after our stomach issues. Erica really tested the limits when she added a bit of salsa and a hard-boiled egg to her plate (Jorge's contributions to the meal).

Tomorrow is moving day! Still excited about the place but a little sad to leave the Learning Center. Everyone we have met here has been so so nice. We have plans to return in the coming days, for intercambios.

We leave you with this final clip, another keeper from Jorge.

Ahh, the wonders of youtube. What an international sensation!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Apartments, Adjusting....

I know you all have been checking back in constantly to find out if we have found an apartment. Let's not make you wait any longer. We did! It is a great place, palatial even, with a fully stocked kitchen, a guestroom (come visit!), a sitting room, and a beautiful garden and fountain right in the courtyard. We will surely post some pictures once we get settled. We are right in the middle of things - near markets, museums, and bus stops.

Saturday it rained most of the day. In the evening we ventured out to try pozole - a flavorful soup that used to only be served to emperors and high priests. After dinner we walked around with Jorge and some other guys to take in the crowds heading out the the clubs and bars. It was a pretty lively scene - lots of loud music and high heels.

Sunday and today have found us pretty mellow. Both of our stomachs are doing some "adjusting" to the food down here, as is to be expected. We are feeling on the up and up, but it meant that yesterday we did a lot of laying around and reading. We didn't really miss much in the city as Sundays are pretty quiet all around. Erica went out to run some errands and found the streets somewhat deserted. Today was more of the same except Erica had more intercambios. Also Erica went to run some errands again today (had to refill the cellular phone minutes after so many calls about apartments) and had her first run-in with someone she knows on the street! One of her intercambios, Ricardo, works at a water purification plant around the corner from the bed and breakfast. As Erica was walking to get bananas this afternoon she ran into him as he was delivering a massive bottle of water to a place on the corner. It was all very exciting and gives her the impression that she is finding her place here.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Adventures in Oaxacan Food

Our plan for the first week in Oaxaca is to stay in the bed and breakfast that is a part of the Oaxaca Learning Center. The bed and breakfast operation, as well as a small second floor apartment, is the main funding for the Learning Center. The website will do it more justice, but the basic idea for the center is to provide free tutoring for local middle and high school students. Tutoring seems to be mostly for math, physics, chemistry, and English. It is in part run by Gary, but mostly by students who have moved through the ranks at the center or the bed and breakfast. They offer classes, smaller group tutoring, a women's group and psychological services. We hope to help out some once we move out; at least continue with some intercambios (language exchanges - that help us with Spanish perhaps more than it helps students with English). Everyone we have met has been incredibly welcoming and have answered lots of questions, showed us around, and recommended restaurants.

Our best meals have come at the recommendation of Jorge, an awesome guy living at the center while he works as a teacher and returns to school for a masters. Our first night we had Tlayudas at a spot close by. When we turned the corner and entered the restaurant we were enveloped in the smoke of the meat cooking on the street. It seems the restaurant specialized in Tlayudas so there was no menu to peruse. The Tlayuda is a massive corn tortilla folded in half and filled with black beans, cheese (queso fresco), sauteed onions and peppers. The meat of your choice is cooked and placed on top of the tortilla (which really is massive, like the size of a small pizza folded in half, so big that Erica couldn't quite finish hers.) Erica ordered chorizo, mostly because she recognized it when the waiter listed off choices. Rory, got a type of marinated beef that tasted better than the chorizo and Jorge and Adrian ordered sesino, a spicy cut of pork. We washed it down with a hibiscus drink that was delicious.

Today for lunch we enjoyed another spot close to the center - Tierre del Sol. We each ordered with a vague sense of what we would be getting on the plate. Rory started with some vegetables that we mostly recognized. There was one new one that appeared to be more of a honey dew melon in looks and texture, but that turned out to be a local vegetable named chayote. Erica had some yummy rice flavored with a bit of chile and perhaps cilantro. Our meals looked similar but tasted very different. Erica had a marinated piece of meat (arrachera) with amazing chunky guacamole and tasty black beans and queso fresco. Rory's meat had more of a grilled taste and came with a salad and a whole cooked pepper (not sure what type). And, of course, it all came with fresh corn tortillas, made right before our eyes. For refreshment we had what Erica believes to be horchata, a sweet, cinamonny, rice-y drink. YUM!

Another adventure awaits us tonight. Pozole! With Jorge, no less, so it is bound to be delicious yet again....

And, while we have loved the adventures at restaurants we are both eager to have a kitchen of our own! We are close to securing a place, we think. More details when it is final.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bienvenidos a Mexico (Welcome to Mexico)

We made it!

We departed yesterday from Houston and arrived in Juarez de Oaxaca at about 10 pm last night. The trip was somewhat uneventful, despite a 6 hour layover in the airport in Mexico City. We filled our time with changing some money, reading Spanish stories (we learned the vocab word for high heels, very handy, indeed), playing chess, and trying to decipher the departures screens - for a big airport, this one seemed to be woefully lacking in monitors, so the flight listings were constantly rotating at a pace just a bit too rapid for these two travelers. Once in Oaxaca we scored a ride into town with a van service, per the directions of the bed and breakfast owner, and were ushered directly to our room for some welcome sleep.

We awoke this morning at about 9 am and headed to the main apartment to have our breakfast with Gary, the aforementioned owner, and another guest. It was fresh papaya and mangoes with granola and yogurt. (Apparently, Rory now does like papaya leaving Erica alone in her pickiness.) After getting a map from Gary and a few recommendations we set out for a day of walking around the Centro Historico. We took in some of the famous sites - the Zocolo (a main plaza area), Santo Domingo (a beautiful church), the Auditorio (at the top of about a million steps), and el Llano (a park). We didn't spend much time in each place 1) because we have 3 months to fully explore and observe and 2) we were mainly trying to get oriented and find areas were we might want to rent an apartment. During our walking tour we did manage to find the Oaxaca Lending Library, a place Erica had read about online before our arrival. It is a mixture of coffee shop and book store run by expat volunteers. It is also a great source for apartment listings and volunteer opportunities.

At about 1:30 we enjoyed our first Oaxacan meal that was muy delicioso. Then we each nodded off for a bit of siesta during the afternoon. Upon waking Erica met Lorenzo, who coordinates the English instruction for the students at the Oaxaca Learning Center, which also houses our Bed and Breakfast. With Lorenzo's encouragement we both now have intercambio (language exchange) dates with a couple of students. We are both excited about the opportunity to practice our Spanish and learn more about Oaxaca from some local residents!

Earlier in the evening we asked Jorge, a teacher who lives at the Oaxaca Learning Center/Bed and Breakfast, to suggest a place for us to go for a jog. We got a real treat because he offered to show us AND go with us. We walked back through town for about 20 minutes over to one of mountains nearby. We ended up right on the stairs that we had walked up earlier in the day and instead of walking this time we ran! Needless to say when going up that many stairs and then continuing on up a steep slope... the run did not last long. But we did get to see some beautiful views of the city and we got to see a path that in the future may be runnable - after about three months of regular uphill practice.

So there's a play by play of our first day here. Seems busier than it felt! Hopefully we will be able to share some reflections instead of just a list of what we do, but until we adjust that might be all you get....