I liked what I saw of Oaxaca from above. With its mountainous terrain and farms and shades of browns and greens, it looked earthy and captivating. But as I stepped off the plane, I entered the reality of being in a new place. It was once again time to transition into being alone and different ways of doing things. Suddenly, Oaxaca seemed cold and dry and lonely. I took a shared taxi to my hostel and tried to settle in, but I wasn’t yet ready to let go of my previous nine days in Cuba and seek out the charms of Oaxaca.
I contacted the one person I knew of in Oaxaca, Sarah of Posa Tigres. We made plans to meet up later in Plaza Santo Domingo. I left my hostel a couple hours early in search of a good cup of coffee and a bit of Oaxaca.
I smiled my first big smile of the day as I sipped a delicious cappuccino in a lovely cafe. I smiled more at the amount of life I saw as I left the cafe and approached Plaza Santo Domingo. There was a wedding ceremony in progress in the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, but anyone could still wander around inside. Outside, there were political rallies and people just hanging out, living life outdoors in their community gathering spot. Then, a band came marching towards the square followed by men holding large flower adorned candles and dozens of women in bright attire. They were all part of the wedding procession that would follow the ceremony.
I thought I was lucky to have arrived on a unique day of events in Oaxaca, but I would soon see that such days were the norm. It wasn’t uncommon to stumble upon an array of events in the Plaza Santo Domingo or the Zocalo, especially on weekends and special days. That was just how Oaxaca was, full of celebration.
In all of the different crowds assembled in the square, a head of blond emerged. Sarah. My nervousness and excitement about meeting such an amazing writer temporarily overtook my exhaustion. Anyone who is familiar with Sarah’s work knows how awe-inducing it is. Over dinner and the darkest beer available, we chatted about life, travel and things I could do while I was in the state of Oaxaca. She was great to converse with, and meeting up with her took some of the edge off of my disorientation. Every so often, I practically jumped out of my chair at the sounds of explosions and Sarah didn’t even seem to notice. In Oaxaca, firecrackers seem to be an important component of the frequent celebrations.
I headed back to my hostel feeling good about Oaxaca, but as I got ready for bed, the tiredness from having left Cuba before dawn and my travel transition funk both returned. I laid down to go to bed and I could hear people chatting away on the roof. I just wanted to sleep. Before I left on my trip, I’d had travel doubts, and those doubts were beginning to creep up again despite my efforts to keep a rosy outlook. Why would I leave behind comfort and familiarity for the unknown when I could’ve just stayed home? Over the next couple of weeks, Oaxaca’s multiple elements of beauty would answer that question.
That night, I didn’t know that I’d start to see Oaxaca as a sort of enchanted place of folk art and cinnamon-laced chocolate. I hadn’t yet tasted the different moles and explored them on a street level. I didn’t know that I would love the prickly water-hoarding plants that emerged from the dust just as much as I loved the palm tree-covered mountains of Cuba. I didn’t know that some of the people on the roof would become part of the wacky travel family I’d acquire in Oaxaca and that I’d spend night after night up there making incredible connections that would last for a day or for a long, long time.
These were all things that were yet to be discovered. In that moment, all there was to do was sleep. I put my earplugs in and hoped that my Cuba hangover would disappear with the night.