Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Road to Oaxaca

Now that was a trip.

I don't have much time before I must drop everything and start packing up our apartment to move back to the States so brace yourself for a rapid fire cell phone picture and delightful anecdote deluge. This will not be a well thought out post, perhaps one of the most slapdash endeavors in the history of posting, but come hell or high water, words and pictures will find their way onto this blog.

Our grand finale road trip through southern Mexico encompassed seven cities and seven Mayan ruins. It began with our driver, Mario, pulling up in front of our building in the pre-dawn early morning hours with an apprehensive "oh shit" kind of look on his face. Too late to back out now, Mario, you're with us for the next three weeks, for better or worse, and it was even your idea.

Mario drove us the six hours southeast to our first stop, Oaxaca. Our Mexico City friends, Seattle Hat Mom and Dad, decided to join us for the first leg of our trip. We waved maniacally between cars as we caravaned down the highway.

The drive was surprisingly beautiful. I had imagined the south of Mexico to be an arid desert-like kind of place but it is instead lush and green and mountainous. Stunning. As you get further away from Mexico City, you also see things like oxen plowing fields and carts on the road being pulled by burros.

Mexicans do this amazing thing when driving on one-lane highways. They drive all the way over to the right, almost entirely onto the shoulder, so those who want to pass can do so much more safely.

Even more, some people pass the passers. There were many times where one slow guy would be on the shoulder on the far right, someone would be passing him in the regular right-hand lane, and another person (usually us, Mario is a speed demon) would be passing the passer in the oncoming traffic's lane to the left, sometimes all the way onto the left lane's shoulder.

It was a mesmerizing weaving of cars with lots of signals at each other involving hazard lights and turn signals and the brights of headlights. Sometimes these signals seemed to mean "move over" but other times they seemed to be an "I'm slowing down suddenly" warning or a "There's something up ahead that should concern you" warning and other times a "Thank you" after someone scooted over to let another pass. It was a seemingly effortless blending of merging cars and blinky lights and I took great comfort in the fact Mario knew what the hell was going on because I sure as hell didn't.

Oaxaca is a stunning city; the myriads of people who told us it's a "must see" before we leave Mexico were not lying.

Soaking up Oaxaca from an old convent
which is now a museum
that was closing in half an hour when we arrived.
So we RAN and pointed out things quickly,
things we made up because there was no time to read, 
such as,
"this is where the nuns played their cutthroat soccer tourneys."

Evening street parade with giant puppets.
Those things could really bust a move,
impressive given their cumbersome size.

All our kids on a giant "A."
Giant signs will be a recurring theme on the road trip.

This one is courtesy of our friend, Seattle Hat Mom.
It looks romantic
but Alex's nose was actually in my eyeball
and I was saying "ow."

We had a lot of laughs with our friends but also soon remembered being somewhere with five kids is not a "vacation," it is merely a "trip." It is tense, keeping track of five kids who seem to have no sense of themselves in relation to other people and things. They can suddenly spin around to talk to you and run into a brick wall. They can suddenly jump out of their chair in a restaurant and cut off a waiter carrying a full tray. They can take off into a crowd assuming you're right behind them but not take the time to actually confirm that.

Given we were in Oaxaca during the very popular and very crowded Guelaguetza traditional Mexican dance festival, we lost the children often so panicked often. There was a lot of yelling back and forth, "Have you seen Kid A?" "Yeah, he's in that fountain over there but what about Kid C?" "I think he's in that tent sampling tequila but has anyone seen Kid E?" "Nope, sorry, haven't seen her in days, good luck and God bless."

It's a miracle we left the place in fully assembled family groups.

This float, in the Guelaguetza parade,
was called "the float of the virgins." 
I don't even want to know.

We took a double decker bus tour of Oaxaca and chose to sit on the open air second floor. We didn't realize we were flirting with DANGER until the bus began careening through low-hanging tree branches and electrical wires. As we ducked continuously, we yelled to each other, "How is this even legal?" Alex kept his cool better than anybody else, just said, "This is a very Mexican tour" and ducked without fuss.

My friend Seattle Hat Mom, two rows ahead, getting walloped by some tree branches.
Mario is directly in front of me ducking impressively.
He is agile like a cat.

We loved Oaxaca thoroughly but there was a downside -- at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, cathedral bells start bonging loudly in your ears, sometimes over 40 times in succession. Since we were there during a festival time, the fireworks began soon thereafter. Bells and booms are your alarm clock in Oaxaca. This is actually not an isolated incident; we've encountered the clanging booming wake-up calls in several towns in Mexico, most notably San Miguel de Allende with my parents. Mexico is noisy. 

Our friends said goodbye, wished us luck on the rest of our adventure and drove back to CDMX while we headed for our first ruins site of the trip, Monte Alban outside Oaxaca. 

Following Lucien back down the tallest pyramid. 
At least Monte Alban gives you a handrail,
a safety luxury not often found at ruins
because ruins are meant to test your balance and courage.

Monte Alban is a decent set of ruins. They're well preserved/restored, you can spread out and explore a bit, you can climb some things but not everything. They are a little crowded but not overwhelmingly so. I rate them three out of five pyramids. 

I don't think the Monte Alban ruins are Mayan, maybe they're Zapotec?  It's true I have Google at my fingertips but I don't have that kind of research time, tick tock.

Immediately after this picture was taken at Monte Alban,
Coco said she was "very sick of ruins."
Ha ha, joke's on you, little girl,
six more to go in the next fourteen days.

The kids were tired when we returned from Monte Alban so Al and I left them with their Kindles in our hotel room while we went to the craft beer place next door to sample local Oaxacan brews. This one, Tierra Blanca, was the best. What a great, great beer and I miss it every day very much.

If the side of my head looks purple in this photo, it's because it is purple. 
I have some purple streaks in my hair now. 
It won't be long before I go purple all the way,
I'm just starting slowly out of fear.

Moving on. The next stop on our grand finale road trip was San Cristobal de Las Casas in the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas, bordering Guatemala. The drive was long, about 9.5 hours, but gorgeous once again. 

We stopped occasionally for breaks and bathrooms and stretches at gas stations. Whenever we did, Lucien would buy a bottle of water and pour it into plastic cups for all the stray dogs gathered in the shade panting. 

That's my dog loving, water dispensing boy.
(Logistics being too tricky, and Alex glaring at me and hissing "no" constantly,
I managed to avoid taking another dog home from this road trip, 

Now for another recurring roadtrip theme: Mexicans in trucks making me nervous.

We are flying down these highways, oftentimes approaching 100 mph,
and people are just hanging out in backs of trucks, sometimes hanging over the side
or hanging onto the back and standing on the bumper,
 like it's no big deal.

We stopped for a memorable lunch experience in a tiny little town called San Pedro Tepanatepec just before crossing into Chiapas. We soon confirmed Lucien has learned zero Spanish when he asked the server for a "spoon-o" to accompany his soup but that's neither here nor there. The real story of lunch was the set of terrible twins seated next to us, Arturo and Jose Alejandro. 

Lunch took forever to arrive. Our first clue we were going to be there for the long haul was when we noticed the one elderly man cooking over an open fire in the side yard of the restaurant. That did not look speedy. While we all waited, the twin boys, aged 6 we soon learned, seated at a nearby table wandered over to stare at us. One twin asked Alex if he was a bank robber and if the cops were after him. Alex replied, "Not in this country" and the boys' eyes grew wide.

After that, they were our constant companions. They touched Coco's blond hair, they rammed Lucien with a toy car repeatedly, they grabbed our cell phones and excitedly told their parents they were headed outside to play Pokemon Go. Alex and I followed quickly yelling, "No, no, phones stay aqui, aqui!"

They've got Al's phone and are heading for the hills.

One grabbed a handful of Coco's french fries when they finally arrived and dipped them in her blob of ketchup. The boy's grandmother noticed and eventually wandered over to get the twins in order and make some small talk. She teasingly asked Coco in Spanish, "Which one will be your boyfriend someday?" and Coco replied flatly, arms crossed, still pissed about the french fries, "I don't want either one of 'em." 

The drive to San Cristobal was long and partially hilly and intensely winding. Thanks to Dramamine, nobody vomited in the car, which may have been the greatest victory of the entire journey. Before we left for the trip, I walked the kids to the store to purchase road snacks and Dramamine. I was in a hurry so almost accidentally bought infant Dramamine instead of the older kid version. I noticed in the checkout line when I absentmindedly looked at the label and saw the dosage method listed as "suppository."

Yikes. That would probably upset the children a bit. I quickly jumped out of line and went to get the correct version, explaining to the kids as we walked that I'd nearly gotten the medicine that went up their butts. They looked suitably shocked and asked why on earth a medicine would go in your butt. I just said, "It's often the way you give medicine to little babies" and Lucien said, with a shake of his head, "Well I guess babies have way lower standards than I do."

That's all I've got today. I plan on continuing the story tomorrow with our arrival in Chiapas but we're going out for a goodbye dinner with friends tonight so I also may be in bed all day tomorrow. I'll try. I gotta ram these things out, tick tock tick tock, so much to say and so little time left.

For the record, I will never be sick of ruins,


  1. You should start a new blog called Slapdash Haberdashery. This might be one of my most favorite entries evahh...

  2. I loooove the purple hair! And that Lucien gave water to the dogs and Seattle Hat mom was wearing a hat and your pyramid ratings scale and Coco developing excellent dating standards for herself.

  3. You're such a young looking babe! Love the purple!