Observations and Openings in Oaxaca

by Ekua on October 20, 2010 in Mexico

In the late morning, armed with a map of Oaxaca’s central area, I headed out to discover the town. I walked over to the Zocalo (the main square), and before I reached it, I came across protesters who were occupying the square and some of the surrounding streets. At the beginning of my trip, in Mexico City I’d seen that protests in Mexico were not necessarily the massive marches and rallies I’d expected when people told me about them. The weeks long protest in Oaxaca that I came across was pretty mellow. The protesters were camping out in the Zocalo and had put up banners with their messages and strung up tarps as protection from sun and rain.

Squares in Latin America are great for people watching and getting a deeper sense of where you are. I sat down and observed. The air smelled of plastic—balloons, inflatable plastic toys and the tarps of the protesters. A mother was sitting across the walkway from me with her two children. They had the separated parts of a whole cooked chicken in a bag and it was covered in a red sauce. It looked like it could be a cumbersome meal to eat while sitting on a bench, but no utensils or plates were necessary because they had tortillas which served as both. The woman’s son finished the food he had in his hand and then rummaged through the bag of chicken for his next helping. He pulled out a drumstick and held it up. It wasn’t what he wanted. He put it back, searched some more through the bag, and found what he was looking for—chicken feet.

It was a Sunday, and all around the Zocalo there were people who looked like they had been hanging out for hours, and would continue to hang out there for several more hours doing nothing but enjoying the day and the sunshine. A man in a cowboy hat and boots walked by, holding the hand of a toddler who was dressed as a miniature version of him. The toddler stumbled alongside the man, appearing to be challenged by both walking and walking in clunky cowboy boots. Another toddler rode an inflatable plastic horse with wheels on it and his parents pulled and pushed him along. A group of kids played and fought and got dirty like kids do until someone’s mother momentarily abandoned her vending booth to scold all of them.

Back at the hostel, I headed up to the roof for the barbecue I’d signed up for before I went to wander around Oaxaca. When I arrived, there weren’t many people there yet. It felt a bit awkward. But as more people showed up and we dined on chorizo and tortillas and quesillo Oaxaca, the atmosphere became looser, more festive, more social.

The gathering did not end as the rain began; it just shifted with the direction of the wind so we could get a little less wet while we continued to chat away. We talked until the brothers who run the hostel sadly informed us that we had entered quiet hours. We returned to our respective dorms and I thought, “I’m gonna like it here.”

This day was the day Oaxaca opened up to me; it was a day of letting go. I resettled into hostel living and let go of feeling like I was done with dorms and small spaces and shared bathrooms. I let go of being annoyed that the hostel had just four hours of hot water per day. If you’re open to it, travel can help you more clearly define “need” and “want”. Extra shower time was definitely not needed. Loneliness was pushed aside to make room for new travel friends and the numerous shades of Oaxaca. As I let go of my hangups, Oaxaca responded and let me in.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Abi from Inside the Travel Lab October 20, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Beautiful, atmospheric piece.

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Ekua October 23, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Thanks πŸ™‚

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Globetrottergirls October 21, 2010 at 1:44 pm

What a beautiful post – you have a way of describing the atmosphere in Oaxaca perfectly!! It was one of our favorite places in Mexico and we were just re-living our time there through your post πŸ™‚

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Ekua October 23, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Thanks! I am reliving my time there as well through these posts πŸ˜‰

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Mary November 12, 2010 at 8:36 am

Thank you. One of the few bloggers who actually gets Oaxaca. Especially enjoyed the graffiti.
Just a month ago I was there to celebrate my birthday(my 9th visit to the city of my heart). Looking out at a cold, snowy day this morning with warm memories revived by your words and photos.

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Ekua November 13, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Thanks for your kind words. I hope I get to visit Oaxaca as many times as you have! It’s such a great place for observation and just being…

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