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We're heading out on a year long trip!  We're looking for adventure, time together, to learn from each other, to see other parts of this great big world, and to slow life down a little bit. 

Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico

Hola de Oaxaca! Feliz 2019!

I can’t believe it’s already 2019 and we are halfway through our BT journey. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been traveling for seven months, but we have been. Our Oaxaca chapter is about to come to a close and, like most places we’ve been on the BT, it did not disappoint. I know all of us will look back on our time here with fondness.

So, where are we exactly? We are living in Oaxaca, Mexico. And, to be exact, we are living in the city of Oaxaca, which is located in the state of Oaxaca, which is located in Southeastern Mexico. The city of Oaxaca is nestled in the mountains at about 5,000 feet. Three different mountain ranges come together here and the elevations in the state of Oaxaca range from sea level to over 12,000 feet.  The weather is warm during the day, in the 70’s or low 80’s, and cool at night, in the 40’s and 50’s. We are about six to seven hours from the coast.

John and the girls

John and the girls

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been living in Oaxaca, Mexico for almost two months! Time is flying by and with each day we become more and more accustomed to living in a city and the Oaxacan way of life. Oaxaca no longer feels foreign and intimidating, like it did during our first several days or even weeks here.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  Now life here feels quite easy, and simple, and we’ve learned how to navigate our day-to-day and weekly routine with ease.

When we arrived in Oaxaca we spent the first ten days or so settling into our house and our new surroundings.  Everyday we set out, mostly on foot, to seek and discover information about our village, San Felipe del Agua, and the city of Oaxaca itself.  At first, everything seemed so overwhelming and unknown, but slowly, each day, we learned more and more about the area and have since been able to create a simple routine and a fun way of life for ourselves. In San Felipe del Agua we have a great tienda (small market) where we can buy staples, fresh veggies, and even meat.  On Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays there is a “mercado” (like a farmer’s market) where we can buy delicious fresh produce, tamales, chili rellenos, meat, tortillas, fresh flowers, and more.  There is always someone cooking at the mercado, so we can order tlyaudas (a traditional Oaxaca dish consisting of a crunchy tortilla covered with a spread of refried beans, lettuce or cabbage, avocado, meat, and oaxacan cheese), quesadillas, empanadas, memelitas, tacos and other dishes.  If we need to buy more then what we can find in our village, we can take a cab or a bus (or even walk) to (large) grocery store where we can round out the rest.  We have several restaurants and stores in our village, and we even have a few small hotels.  Our village is somewhat sleepy, when compared to the Centro or other neighborhoods.  At first, we weren’t sure if it was the right place for us.  But since then, San Felipe del Agua has grown on us, and we now enjoy the tranquility and smallness of our village, especially after being in the hustle and bustle of the city for the day.  One of the things we like the most about our village, is that the village feels safe.  This has allowed John and I to sometimes venture out to the mercado or tienda on our own, leaving the girls behind.  Stealing a few moments alone has been fun for us and the girls enjoy their time lounging at the house together.  About a month ago the girls even suggested we go out on a “date night”! They said they would stay home and watch a movie while we went out!!  So, of course, we took them up on the offer and it was great!  The girls have also gained the confidence to venture into “town” on their own as well, giving them a sense of autonomy, and a feeling of maturity and independence.

One of the stalls at our farmer’s market

One of the stalls at our farmer’s market

One of the food stalls at the market. We love their avocado chili!

One of the food stalls at the market. We love their avocado chili!

Fresh flowers are always available and beautiful at the market in San Felipe del Agua

Fresh flowers are always available and beautiful at the market in San Felipe del Agua

A sample of veggies from the market - this, plus seven tamales was about $4.00 US!

A sample of veggies from the market - this, plus seven tamales was about $4.00 US!

Getting from San Felipe del Agua into the heart of the city is an easy 25 minute bus ride (or even quicker by taxi).  A bus leaves from our village, heading south into the Centro (the beautiful historic district), every 15 minutes.  The bus stop (as well as the tienda and the mercado in San Felipe del Agua) is about an 7 minute walk from the house.  It took us a few days to build up the courage to take the bus for the first time, but once we did we were hooked!  The bus ride into the Centro is a straight shot and only costs 8 pesos!  The girls love taking the bus and enjoying paying the driver themselves. Like many things in Mexico, taking the bus is its own experience!  At times the bus is completely full, and we have to stand in the aisle, holding on for dear life as the bus barrels through the streets.  Other times, when we get on the bus in our village, it’s almost empty, and we can sit together in any seat we choose.  All the local buses in Oaxaca have to be at least 35 years old!  They sputter out fumes, and squeak and groan, as the drivers maneuver through the busy city streets and jam on the brakes.  There are times when John and I feel uneasy about the speed at which the bus is going/flying through the streets and we are holding on with white knuckles! This is when the girls find the bus the most fun, likes its some sort of roller coaster ride! I guess this contrast shows my age! Like most vehicles in Mexico, shocks are non-existent, and most tires at bald!  The same is true for every commercial bus!  Like I said, it’s an experience!  Everyday on the bus, we sit amongst the locals who are venturing to and from work, or home, or school.  We are usually the only fair-skinned (gringos) on the bus.  Sometimes Mexican music is blasting from the speakers, sometimes the buses are adorned with decorations, but almost always the drivers are talking or texting on their phones!  Safety first!  The girls like keeping track of whether we’ve ridden a particular bus before based on it's adornments and every ride seems be really fun for them!!  As for me, I love riding the bus as well, it’s a true taste of Mexico and I love mixing with the locals.

Our first ten days here were pretty busy, and we researched many, many things.  In addition to investigating grocery stores, local markets and where to buy food in San Felipe del Agua, we also spent time locating parks for the girls to play in and places where we could play basketball or soccer.  We met with the directors of a couple Spanish language schools and found out about their programs.  We toured athletic “facilities” and found pools where we could swim (swim laps).  We looked into Zumba classes and other activities that the girls could get involved in.  We read about restaurants and what to do and see in the area.  We learned about the taxis, the bus system, and the collectivos (shared taxis).  And, on top of all of that, we also looked at other houses and apartments in the Centro and in various neighborhoods to see where we wanted to live after our two weeks were up in the the house in San Felipe Del Agua. 

The parks aren’t quite the same as in the states - but we have fun anyway!

The parks aren’t quite the same as in the states - but we have fun anyway!

This bouncy blow up “thing” is always up and running at Llano Park in the Centro. The girls love it and play on it a couple times a week.

This bouncy blow up “thing” is always up and running at Llano Park in the Centro. The girls love it and play on it a couple times a week.

Before we arrived in Mexico, we rented our house (which we now call Casa Amarillo) in San Felipe del Agua for two weeks.  We didn't know which neighborhood was going to be the best for us, so we didn’t want to be locked into anything for too long.  Two weeks felt like enough time to check out other neighborhoods and other apartments/houses without feeling a time crunch. It also felt like enough time to get a sense of San Felipe del Agua, and our house, in case we wanted to stay.  Researching apartments was a great way to kick start our Spanish skills (mostly John’s) because all our negotiations, appointments, texts, and conversations took place in Spanish!  By the end of our second week, we had our housing covered through our entire stay in Oaxaca (which we think will be until mid-January).  Selecting where we wanted to live was definitely a family decision and the girl’s thoughts and feelings were not taken lightly.  What we decided to do, in the end, was stay in Casa Amarillo for a month.  We decided that after that month, we would move into the city, into a beautiful apartment, right in the heart of the Centro for two weeks. Then, from there, we would move back out to San Felipe del Agua.  Our time in the city apartment went by quickly and we are already back in for the second time. This time, however, we are staying in our landlord’s house which is located right next to Casa Amarillo!

Casa Amarillo was a great house, with lots of space and a pool, and it felt good to spread out after living in the camper for almost six months.  We had a great kitchen, living room, a big outdoor covered deck, and two bedrooms and two bathrooms.  It seemed so big!!  We all swam and played in the (heated) pool almost everyday.  The pool hovered around 80 degrees, not too shabby!  We got into playing family “Marco Polo”, swimming laps, and we even came up with a new game of underwater charades! The pool was an absolute godsend, because the girls could play and be active almost anytime!  Although the house was really great, it did have two shortcomings!  While we were there we had to deal with what we called, “the wild kingdom”.  Meaning, our house was visited by large spiders that scurried very quickly along the walls and scorpions that visited us both inside and outside of the house! Our landlord was super attentive to our issue and fumigated to alleviate the problem, but it didn’t really do much. We still had scorpions in the house. It may seem trivial, but the bug situation was really quite intense at times, and John and I seriously contemplated moving out (you can read more about the bugs in Ellie’s account in her blog post - it will be posted soon). The second short-coming, which only happened once, thankfully, was the gas oven blew up while Isla and I were cooking breakfast one morning.  And, when I say “blew up” I do mean BLEW UP! Isla and I were very lucky and we did not get terribly hurt. None of us are really sure what happened, but there were two explosions that were extremely loud, and startling, that sent John running to our safety and Isla and I screaming and running from the kitchen.  Isla singed some hair around her face, burnt her favorite pajamas, and her eyelashes were reduced too half their length (and were stuck together).  I singed the hair around my face and lost chunks of hair that had been burned. I lost part of my eyebrows and all the facial fuzz on my face. All the hair on my arms was burnt off and I had a superficial burn up my entire right arm. Isla was so frightened and startled by the incident, she asked me several times, “Mom, are we dead?”.  It was a heartbreaking and an unfortunate scare for all of us.  Luckily, it did not take Isla long to bounce back. As for me, I did not bounce back as quickly.  I was really shaken up, and shed lots of tears as I processed what had happened and how lucky we had been.

Master bedroom

Master bedroom

The girl’s room - it didn’t take them long to blow up, spread out, and get messy!

The girl’s room - it didn’t take them long to blow up, spread out, and get messy!

Living room with the kitchen in the far distance

Living room with the kitchen in the far distance

Part of our outside living space

Part of our outside living space

The pool! That’s Isla in the air!

The pool! That’s Isla in the air!

A picture from when I was out on a run from the house. Looking to the north you see the hills and undeveloped land.

A picture from when I was out on a run from the house. Looking to the north you see the hills and undeveloped land.

Looking to the south you can see (part of) the city of Oaxaca

Looking to the south you can see (part of) the city of Oaxaca

Our first weeks in Oaxaca were not all “business”, however, and we took some time to do some “touristy” things as well.  We walked up and down Calle de Macedonia Alcala (the main pedestrian street that runs through Oaxaca’s Centro) during the day and at night.  Along this street there are many shops, galleries, restaurants, hotels, and street vendors.  This is also where we’ve seen the most “gringos” or tourists (which has increased dramatically over the holidays).  Alcala connects two main attractions, the Church of Santo Domingo and the Zocolo.  The Zocolo is the main square in the Centro that is surrounded by restaurants, street vendors, shops, and some historic buildings.  We’ve enjoyed many walks in this area checking out restaurants, galleries, cafes and more. We also took a bus to Monte Alban, which is an archeological site just outside of the city of Oaxaca.  Monte Alban was the capital of the Zapotec civilization and its construction began in 500 BC.  We also took a collectivo (a shared taxi) to the most well known market outside of the city called, Tlacolula where we spent the morning sampling food and checking out the artisan crafts. 

A view of Alcala - the pedestrian street

A view of Alcala - the pedestrian street

Another pic of Alcala - at night the street is lit up with string lights

Another pic of Alcala - at night the street is lit up with string lights

The Church of Santo Domingo in the background

The Church of Santo Domingo in the background

Monte Alban

Monte Alban

Monte Alban

Monte Alban

A view of Oaxaca from Monte Alban

A view of Oaxaca from Monte Alban

At the Tlacolula Market

At the Tlacolula Market

Dry goods like sugar, chilis, and beans for sale in bulk

Dry goods like sugar, chilis, and beans for sale in bulk

I love how “pretty” the fruits and vegetables look in the markets

I love how “pretty” the fruits and vegetables look in the markets

Eating fresh pineapple is one of our favorite things to do!

Eating fresh pineapple is one of our favorite things to do!

The meat section of the market

The meat section of the market

There is always so much good food to eat at the markets

There is always so much good food to eat at the markets

Our taxi in Tlacolula

Our taxi in Tlacolula

Oaxaca has a professional baseball team that is very popular

Oaxaca has a professional baseball team that is very popular

The art in Oaxaca is endless, from wall murals like this, to galleries, to artisan shops, and more

The art in Oaxaca is endless, from wall murals like this, to galleries, to artisan shops, and more

Galleries and art of all kinds abound throughout the city.

Galleries and art of all kinds abound throughout the city.

This mural is made up of bottle caps of varying colors!

This mural is made up of bottle caps of varying colors!

More amazing street art!

More amazing street art!

We found churros, but nothing compares to the churros in Spain!

We found churros, but nothing compares to the churros in Spain!

It didn’t take us long to find a rooftop restaurant with great margaritas, great views, and good food!

It didn’t take us long to find a rooftop restaurant with great margaritas, great views, and good food!

There are so many things I LOVE about Mexico, like coming across this knife sharpener in the Zocolo!

There are so many things I LOVE about Mexico, like coming across this knife sharpener in the Zocolo!

Markets or “mercados” are a big part of Mexican culture, but Oaxaca is a market lovers dream!  Oaxaca is uniquely rich with indigenous culture and one can easily find one-of-a-kind artisan crafts, locally harvested food, mezcal and so much more at any of the markets, but each market is known for its unique craft or food. Mercado Benito Juarez (named after the first indigenous president of the country) is one of the most popular indoor markets located in the heart of Oaxaca near the Zocolo. This market features everything from artisen crafts, to food, clothing, coffee, chocolate, baskets, restaurants, and so much more. Mercado 20 de Noviembre is just down the street from Mercado Benito Juarez and one of our favorite things to do in this market is to eat in the Paso de humo (the hall of smoke). We have shopped in the Mercado La Merced, found great U.S. products (like nutritional yeast) in Mercado Organic El Pochote, and explored endless other markets. In addition to market exploring we have also taken trips to other places outside of the city like Etla, Mitla, Tule, Hierve el Agau, Ocotlan, and Teotitlan de Valle. The village of Teotitilan de Valle, which is rooted in the Zapotec culture and is most well known for it’s weaving and mezcal production, and Mitla were two of my favorite villages outside of Oaxaca..

Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua

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The “waterfall” at Hierve el Agua. It’s not water, but mineral deposits from water that is over saturated with calcium carbonate and other minerals.

The “waterfall” at Hierve el Agua. It’s not water, but mineral deposits from water that is over saturated with calcium carbonate and other minerals.

Me an the girls

Me an the girls

Isla

Isla

Yarn and the natural plants, herbs, flowers, and minerals used to dye to yarn these colors. WE learned so much from a family of weavers we visited in Teotitilan de Valle.

Yarn and the natural plants, herbs, flowers, and minerals used to dye to yarn these colors. WE learned so much from a family of weavers we visited in Teotitilan de Valle.

We all took a turn spinning the wool, it was really hard!

We all took a turn spinning the wool, it was really hard!

The area where the yarn is dyed and dried

The area where the yarn is dyed and dried

A loom. The weavers in this family weave for eight hours a day! You can see the start of the blue rug underneath

A loom. The weavers in this family weave for eight hours a day! You can see the start of the blue rug underneath

Mitla was a great little village we all loved!

Mitla was a great little village we all loved!

The fam at some ruins in Mitla. Mitla has the second most important archeological site in Oaxaca and the most important for the Zapotec culture

The fam at some ruins in Mitla. Mitla has the second most important archeological site in Oaxaca and the most important for the Zapotec culture

Arbol de Tule - A cypress tree with a 138 ft circumference and 46 ft diameter.. Its estimated to be about 1400 years old!

Arbol de Tule - A cypress tree with a 138 ft circumference and 46 ft diameter.. Its estimated to be about 1400 years old!

We started taking Spanish lessons after our first two weeks here.  We enrolled in a Spanish language school, called “Spanish Magic”.  The owner, Flor, has been nothing short of amazing and has been so generous and kind to our family.  Because we all have varying Spanish language skills, we have different teachers (the girls are together with one teacher), but she was able to organize it so we could all take our lessons at the same time.  Our experiences at Spanish Magic have been great and we have all learned so much!  We completed three solid weeks of Spanish class before we decided to take a break, allowing our brains to rest and let all of what we learned sink in! After Christmas we just started up again and we will continue to take classes until we leave Oaxaca in mid-January.

The girls at their Spanish lesson

The girls at their Spanish lesson

Oaxacan cuisine is uniquely different and it took some getting used to.  Known for its mole (seven different types of mole, in fact), tasajo (meat), chapulines (grasshoppers), and mezcal, we found ourselves, when we first arrived, seeking out street tacos and/or chips and guacamole in a place where that wasn’t the “main” food.  At first we were bummed about the food, but once we accepted that the food was different here, we have not been disappointed and I have grown to love many Oaxacan favorites!  The city is inundated with restaurants across the board from budget to five star, and of ocurse, there are many street vendors selling tejate, esquites, tlyudas, memelas, empanadas and more.  In fact, some of our most delicious food has been eaten at the food stalls or “hole in the wall” places. Many restaurants serve variations of traditional Oaxaca cuisine, some of which I mentioned above, but there is also no shortage of amazing Italian, Indian, and American fare.  With local coffee gown in the surrounding hills and mountains, there is a cafe on almost on every corner!  Great coffee is never hard to find, and since most Oaxacans start their days with a cafe (coffee) and pan (bread) there is also no shortage of good bakeries either.  

An array of “chapulines” (grasshoppers) for sale in varying sizes to munch on!

An array of “chapulines” (grasshoppers) for sale in varying sizes to munch on!

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Cafe para llevar - coffee to go. I love how the glass bottles are reused!

Cafe para llevar - coffee to go. I love how the glass bottles are reused!

John trying his “chapuline" grasshopper - a Oaxaca delicacy! Everyone in the family has tried them, if you’re wondering, we’re not fans!

John trying his “chapuline" grasshopper - a Oaxaca delicacy! Everyone in the family has tried them, if you’re wondering, we’re not fans!

Many Oaxacan dishes are cooked on a clay “comal”

Many Oaxacan dishes are cooked on a clay “comal”

I think we had the most delicious food of the entire trip at this place! John’s “puerco frito con salsa” was delicious!

I think we had the most delicious food of the entire trip at this place! John’s “puerco frito con salsa” was delicious!

Trying new food at the fair

Trying new food at the fair

We found a great taco place on our bus route

We found a great taco place on our bus route

Chocolate is also another important ingredient in Oaxaca culture.  It is used in moles, but even more so, it is used in beverages.  Cocao beans are ground and then mixed with sugar, almonds, and cinnamon to form pastes or bars which is then mixed with water or milk (hot or cold) and served as a drink.  It is also used in tejate (a traditional drink of Oaxaca made with miaz and cacao).

The cacao, cinnamon, almonds and sugar being ground and mixed for our “cacao molienda”

The cacao, cinnamon, almonds and sugar being ground and mixed for our “cacao molienda”

Getting some “tejate” - at first we were a little intimidated to try it, but its delicious!

Getting some “tejate” - at first we were a little intimidated to try it, but its delicious!

One of the biggest reasons for “settling” down and staying in one area for a while, was to get a consistent school routine going for the girls.  I’m happy to say, that we have succeeded with that!  For the last month and a half we have been diligent about doing school four mornings a week.  The girls have made great progress and my stress level, in regard to school, has gone way down.  In fact, the girls just took their mid-year assessment and did really well - phew! With school for the girls in the morning, and Spanish lessons for all of us in the afternoon, our “school” days were quite structured. It was a welcomed change for me and Ellie, as we are both more comfortable navigating a day with routine and structure. Nevertheless, after about a month I started to get the itch for adventure and the need to branch out from our daily routine and the city limits of Oaxaca. It was around then that we decided it would be best for all of us to take a break from ALL school for two weeks. This would allow us full days for exploration, adventure, hanging out, and whatever else we felt like doing!

Since we arrived in November we have celebrated three significant holidays here: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Although we have been far from home for these celebrations we have not spent them feeling lonely! On Thanksgiving we enjoyed a mellow day and a simple meal at our house in San Felipe del Agua, followed by an intimate and memorable discussion and activity about gratitude. Two days later we celebrated “Thanksgiving” again with a family from Seattle who is also living in Oaxaca.  We were connected with them through the owner of “Spanish Magic”.  We had never met them before we showed up to their wonderful Thanksgiving feast (complete with a delicious roasted turkey and cranberry sauce), but we all had a great time getting to know them while sharing a meal and a celebration together. Since then our families have gotten together on and off for meals, swimming in our pool, playdates at the park, and sleepovers. We also met up to watch the Nutcracker together before Christmas, which was performed by a Russian Ballet group in the beautiful Teatro Macedonio Alcala..

Our US/Oaxaca crew - Elliot, Tasha, me, John, Harlie, Isla, Louis, and Ellie at our house

Our US/Oaxaca crew - Elliot, Tasha, me, John, Harlie, Isla, Louis, and Ellie at our house

Louis, Ellie, Harlie and Isla on the play structure at our house in San Felipe del Agua

Louis, Ellie, Harlie and Isla on the play structure at our house in San Felipe del Agua

Inside the theatre where we saw the ballet. The theatre is over 110 years old and is beautiful both inside and out. The girls had never seen a theatre like it before.

Inside the theatre where we saw the ballet. The theatre is over 110 years old and is beautiful both inside and out. The girls had never seen a theatre like it before.

In mid-December we moved from our San Felipe del Agua house into our city apartment. We were excited about the change, because the city was becoming more and more geared up for the holidays. Living in the apartment meant we would be in walking distance to everything (shops, restaurants, galleries, etc), and we would easily be able to experience all the festivities that revolved around the important days of celebration (Virgin Guadalupe, Noche Buena, and Navidad, to name a few). And, it was also exciting because we planned NOT to do school (U.S. school or Spanish school) during this time, so we had two weeks of “free time” to spend in and out of the city!!  We planned to take some day trips to some of the villages, possibly hike from one pueblo to another in the mountains (and stay in some cabins), and just generally get out and about as “tourists” and meanderers in the city. But unfortunately, I ended up on a plane to Scottsdale, AZ three days after we moved into our city apartment and missed the city “chapter” of the trip.

I need do a quick back peddle here to say that on the VERY FIRST morning we were in Oaxaca I received a text from my sister telling me my mom had fallen and hit her head.  In short, my mother fainted while playing pickle ball and smacked her head resulting in a concussion and brain bleed.  My sister flew to Arizona that afternoon.  When I asked if I should fly home, both my sister and dad said to sit tight and see.  During her time in the hospital the doctors discovered she had “atrial flutter” (a common abnormal heart rhythm associated with a fast heart rate), which might have been what caused her to pass out. My mother spent four or five days in the hospital and when she proved she was well enough to go home, they let her leave. She was put on medication for the atrial flutter and was told she could get back to her day-to-day as soon as she was feeling up to it. As for her head injury, the prescription was to take it easy and rest and hopefully her body would absorb the left over blood and fluid in her brain. Again, she was told she could get back to “life” and activities when she felt good. She left the hospital with follow up appointments with her heart doctor and neuro doctor in the coming weeks. It was really difficult to be in Oaxaca while all this was going on, but I talked with my mom everyday to check-in. She seemed to be getting better each day and there was no need for me to go to Arizona.

About three and a half weeks later I started to hear a slight change in my mom when we spoke. She was more tired and she even said she wasn’t feeling as well. I thought she was over doing it, and was not shy about letting her know that over the phone! When my parents went for the follow up appointment with the neuro doctor, a scan of her head showed that the fluid and blood was still there (and increasing) and she needed to have Burr Hole Surgery (when a doctor drills a hole into the skull and a tube is inserted through the hole to help drain the hematoma).  This was not what they wanted to hear, obviously, but at least it gave them the answer as to why my mom was so tired and still had so much pain on one side of her head. The surgery was set for four days later. When I called my mom shortly after the appointment, she told me the news, and she seemed in pretty good spirits about the surgery, considering.

Long story short, my mom went progressively down hill in the three days prior to the surgery. She became increasingly more tired, lost the ability to speak, and the ability to walk amongst other things. My father was really worried and thought she might have had a stroke and ended up taking her to the emergency room prior to her scheduled surgery.  When I made my “regular” check-in phone call I got hold of my dad while he was literally in the process of getting my mom to the ER! He couldn’t really talk and said he would call me after she was admitted and taken care of. Without really knowing what had happened or what was wrong, John started booking me on the next flight to Phoenix while I waited to hear back from my dad.

I spent eleven days in Arizona. I arrived about 24 hours after the burr hole surgery. My first five days were spent going back and forth to the hospital to be with my mom and make sure I connected with her growing medical team of doctors. In between the times at the hospital, I enjoyed the time alone with my dad hanging out and talking, grocery shopping, running errands, and getting the house ready for Christmas and for when my mom arrived back at the house. I realized I used to get more “alone” time with my dad, many moons ago, before I had a family of my own. Our time together during this trip felt different, special, and I liked it. Once my mom was released from the hospital, I booked a flight back to Oaxaca. I planned to stay for four more days, overlapping with her at the house and helping my dad. I needed to see, for myself, that my mom was doing well at home. I wanted to meet her physical therapist, occupational therapist, and speech therapist before I left. I wanted to have a good understanding of her post surgery care for her brain and post care for her heart. I wanted to make sure she didn’t overdo it. This whole episode, beginning in November, caught us all off guard and I was feeling uneasy about leaving and worried something else was going to go wrong.

Booking my flight back to Oaxaca was hard. I wanted to split myself in two so I could continue to be with my parents, but also be with my family in Oaxaca. I wanted to stay in Arizona and be a supportive daughter, but I also REALLY wanted to get back to Oaxaca to be with my own family and be home in time for Christmas. I booked my flight for December 23rd. When the 23rd came around it was a hard and tearful goodbye, for so many reasons. My flight on the 23rd ended up getting delayed, so much so I would miss my connecting flight to Oaxaca. I was called up to the gate so they could reroute me, but unfortunately, after some time, they told me that I wouldn’t be able to fly back to Oaxaca until CHRISTMAS DAY!  I was completely devastated! I called John from the airport to let him know. After a week of shedding tears of worry and sorrow over the situation with my mom, and the built up sadness about already missing most of our “free weeks” together in the city apartment, the floodgates easily opened when I heard his voice and told him that I wouldn’t be ”home” for Christmas! 

John did a great job of making Christmas feel like Christmas for the girls and when I spoke to them before I got on my first plane, they were giddy and excited about what Santa had brought and what Daddy had given them. My heart was happy. Although I was bummed about traveling on Chirstmas day, the silver lining was I got two more days with my mom and dad and I got to be with them on Christmas morning. I arrived in Oaxaca at 7:30pm and John and the girls picked me up at the airport. As soon as I saw them I burst into tears (tears of joy).  I was finally reunited with my family and I was so happy!!! When we got back to the apartment, we opened gifts together as a family. It was fun, and simple, and perfect!  John was able to extend our stay in the city apartment so I could have a few days of “city living”, which was awesome.  The next few days were spent hanging out together as a family and I enjoyed how the girls and John overflowed with stories and accounts of what they had done, and who they had met, while I was gone.  Two women in particular, Sylvia and Carolyn, who were our neighbors in the city apartment (whom I had met briefly before I left for Arizona) were really kind and sweet to John and the girls while I was away. They were aware of what was happening and were given the “blow-by-blow” from John and the girls as the “saga” unfolded.  They brought the girls treats (on several occasions), included John and the girls in a celebration of the solstice, invited them to decorate the courtyard between the apartments for Christmas, and they all went out for an early Christmas dinner at a nice restaurant before picking me up from the airport. Their kindness and friendship has continued and we have enjoyed meeting up with them on several occasions since then. They also “watched” the girls one night so John and I could have a date night. This was a real gift, for all of us, because the girls were just as excited about spending time with Carolyn and Sylvia as John and I were to get some time alone together!

The Christmas “tree” in the apartment

The Christmas “tree” in the apartment

Hanging out on the roof of the apartment

Hanging out on the roof of the apartment

Celebrating the solstice with Sylvia and Carolyn (Sylvia, Isla, Carolyn, and Ellie)

Celebrating the solstice with Sylvia and Carolyn (Sylvia, Isla, Carolyn, and Ellie)

Out in town with Sylvia

Out in town with Sylvia

Senor Maurro, Señora Reina, me, Isla, Sylvia, Ellie, Carolyn, and John

Senor Maurro, Señora Reina, me, Isla, Sylvia, Ellie, Carolyn, and John

Ellie getting a singing bowl therapy treatment from the owner (Sha Brown) of the city apartment we stayed in. Sha became so much more to us then just a “landlord”. Her openness to our family, and our girls, was sincere and heartfelt form the very beginning and her generosity went above and beyond. We miss her already!

Ellie getting a singing bowl therapy treatment from the owner (Sha Brown) of the city apartment we stayed in. Sha became so much more to us then just a “landlord”. Her openness to our family, and our girls, was sincere and heartfelt form the very beginning and her generosity went above and beyond. We miss her already!

John “held down the fort” in Oaxaca while I was in Arizona.  He kept the girls busy and having fun with regular hikes up to the top of Cerro Fortin (a small peak accessible from the Centro) where there is an observatory and great views of the city.  They took a day trip to visit a few villages outside of the city, giving them a chance to learn about “alebrijes” (brightly colored folk art animals), see the Oaxacan black pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec, and have an incredible experience with a blind sculpture.  They also went to the fair, discovered new parks, and went to the Radish Fesitval. They had mini adventures just exploring Oaxaca, and ate lots of “peletas” (fruit popsicles). John registered all three of them at “Polideportivo” (the Oaxacan City Rec center), and the girls started taking dance classes and gymnastics classes while John worked out.  They befriended a fun Mexican family who was playing soccer at Polideportivo and ended up playing baseball, soccer and basketball together for hours. They all liked it so much they had a “playdate” the following weekend. The girls had a sleepover with their friends from Seattle and John got to go out for a “boys” night with Eliot!  Although it was hard to miss the two weeks of goofing off and having fun with my family, I always enjoyed hearing about these adventures.

Hiking around near the observatory

Hiking around near the observatory

The girls getting fresh squeezed orange juice after hiking up to the observatory

The girls getting fresh squeezed orange juice after hiking up to the observatory

Isla in her new “ropa tipica”

Isla in her new “ropa tipica”

Having fun finding new parks

Having fun finding new parks

Bumper cars at the fair

Bumper cars at the fair

Ellie and isla in dance class

Ellie and isla in dance class

The awesome Mexican family they met at Polideportivo

The awesome Mexican family they met at Polideportivo

Some of the folks that were staying in the apartments over the holidays

Some of the folks that were staying in the apartments over the holidays

A free dance performance near the Zocolo

A free dance performance near the Zocolo

Isla’s free dance performance in the ruins in Mitla!!!!

Isla’s free dance performance in the ruins in Mitla!!!!

Art at the Radish Festival - the hair is cilantro, the skirt is made out of lettuce, the bodies are radishes

Art at the Radish Festival - the hair is cilantro, the skirt is made out of lettuce, the bodies are radishes

A seven headed dragon at the Radish Festival - this won first place at the Festival

A seven headed dragon at the Radish Festival - this won first place at the Festival

We moved back out to San Felipe del Agua a few days after Christmas. We celebrated New Years by going out to dinner and watching a movie (we saw Mary Poppins Returns in Spanish) and then watched the entire city of Oaxaca explode with fireworks from our deck.  Although it was a loud and celebratory night, we found it wasn’t much different then any other night in Oaxaca! Believe me when I say that Oaxaca is a LOUD city! On any given night, in San Felipe del Agua or in any other barrio of Oaxaca, the city is a caucaphony of noise!  There are dogs barking, chickens squawking, donkeys braying, turkeys gobbling, music playing, horns blowing, fire crackers exploding, church bells ringing, motors running and so much more!  I had read that Oaxaca was a noisy city, and that earplugs were recommended, but we’ve been truly amazed by the noise! We’ve tried to figure out when and why firecrackers and fireworks are set off, but there’s is absolutely no knowing! They are set off in the day, at night, and even in the early hours of the morning! Calendas (which are like parades) also contribute to the Oaxacan “noise” and you can find them in the streets in the afternoon, in the evening, or even at 2 o’clock in the morning! Nevertheless, Calendas are a fundamental part of the culture here, and they are an important part of celebrating festivals and other important events. What makes a Calenda uniquely different from a “parade” are the Monos de Calendas (large paper mache puppets), the large bands with many trumpets, horns and drums, the fireworks, the dancers in native dress, and the drinking of mezcal while walking through the streets.

There are always women wearing traditional clothes and carrying baskets in calendar

There are always women wearing traditional clothes and carrying baskets in calendar

There was a lot of celebrating when the New Mexican President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), was sworn into office shortly after we got here. Many Mexicans have a lot of optimism about ALMO and believe he will create great change for the country.

There was a lot of celebrating when the New Mexican President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), was sworn into office shortly after we got here. Many Mexicans have a lot of optimism about ALMO and believe he will create great change for the country.

The fireworks! All of these are held by hand while they are lit and shooting off fireworks!

The fireworks! All of these are held by hand while they are lit and shooting off fireworks!

The large “puppets” in a calenda

The large “puppets” in a calenda

Mezcal is also uniquely “Oaxacan” and although we did not go on an official mezcal “tour” we have seen mezcal in the making in various stages from the road. We’ve also tasted our fair share of mezcal (John more then me) and learned so much more about what it takes to make a great bottle of mezcal. Making mezcal is labor intensive art to say the least. Driving out from the city of Oaxaca, in almost any direction, it’s easy to see agave farms, the farmers hard at work, the mills that grind the pinas, and the fermentation barrels. To make (good) mezcal the agave plants are allowed to grow (or age) for about 8-10 years, and the size of these “full grown” plants is impressive. When the plants are harvested the leaves are cut away leaving the bottom part, called the “pina”. These “pinas” are then cooked in an underground pit which is covered with banana leaves, burlap, and dirt. The pinas are then smoked and cooked for eight days. When the pinas are done they are placed in a tahona (a round base with a donkey pulling a large stone wheel around in a circle). The stone mill crushes the cooked agave, which extracts the plants juice. The Pina mulch is then put into large wooden vats and mixed with water and allowed to ferment for fifteen days to four weeks. When the liquid is ready it is distilled in clay or copper stills. To get that smokey “mezcal taste” it is aged for a year wooden barrels.

Mezcal in the making!

Mezcal in the making!

Freshly cut pinas loaded in the back of a truck

Freshly cut pinas loaded in the back of a truck

Oaxaca has been an amazing experience for our family.  There is so much art, culture, music, dance and tradition rooted in daily life, that we can’t help but leave here as more enriched human beings.  This country has always held a special place in my heart, but after living here, in a city that is still so completely Mexican, I've fallen for it even more. Initially, when I was younger, I was drawn to this country for the weather and the beaches.  But, as an adult, I have spent even more time in Mexico and I’ve realized that it’s is the warmth of the people that also draws me in.  Mexicans are so inherently kind.  They are gracious, humble, helpful, hardworking, and family oriented.  We’ve been to numerous parks while we’ve been here, and every time we’ve gone they’ve been filled with whole families playing games together, picnicking, or just hanging out.  On several occasions we’ve been invited to join these families in a game of soccer or just conversation.  It doesn’t take much, maybe a smile and “buenos dias” and then you can find yourself deep in friendly conversation (that you may not completely understand), where a feeling of connection has been felt on both sides.  John and I get so bummed when we hear that LOSER president of ours portraying Mexicans negatively, as only criminals, border jumpers, and drug dealers.  It’s true that Mexico is still a developing country, and it faces many challenges, but for a country that has so little, it’s people are rich with gratitude and happiness.  Oaxaca is (unfortunately) a great place to see this first hand because it has the fourth highest poverty rate in Mexico. Our girls were exposed to poverty in a way that they wouldn't have experienced by only living in the United States.  Early on we had many conversations, and answered a lot of questions, about poverty and what it means to be “poor”. And, over time, our girls began to (regularly) suggest giving food, or clothes, or money to the homeless people we would see on the streets - a truly heartwarming experience for us as parents.

One night we went to a Guelaguetza Dinner Show (celebrating traditional dancing and costumes of the indigenous cultures)

One night we went to a Guelaguetza Dinner Show (celebrating traditional dancing and costumes of the indigenous cultures)

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When I started writing this blog post we were still living in Oaxaca, but we have since packed up and left, with the hope of returning some day in the future. We are currently in the middle of a two week road trip that will end at the beach near Cancun.  Being in the car, and traveling in this way is very familiar, and we’ve settled into this adventure easily.  While we are accustomed to the comforts of Rigdiculous when road-tripping, we have grown pretty fond of our “trusty” white mini van!!!

As always, I send this blog post with love.  My heart feels full when I think of family and friends reading this and being a part of our journey.  Of course, I don’t actually know how many people read this, but when I write it conjures up images of familiar faces reading the blog and I somehow feel more connected to home, our friends and family, and the people we’ve met along the way - and that makes me feel good!

Besos y abrazos,

Francesca

Oaxaca Bugs

Oaxaca Bugs

The last days of Part I of the BT!

The last days of Part I of the BT!