Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Magical Day in Mexico

Some days seem to be under a magic spell cast by a master planner. This one started out with a cool, blue-sky morning as we loaded ourselves and our luggage into a short cab ride to the Puerto Escondido airport.
Ready to fly
 A man with a phone and a plane -- That’s how Carlos Vega was introduced to us when we started figuring out how to get to and from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido. Because all the “normal” airlines were booked, we wound up taking the twisty, seven-hour bus trip through the spectacular Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountains to Puerto Escondido. We were delighted with the trip but thought one, long bus trip was enough.

To get back to Oaxaca, Bette found Carlos Vega and we called him and he said to meet him at the airport. No reservations, no tickets, no money exchanged … just “meet me there.” We didn’t know what to expect but we went to the airport, sat at the “restaurant on the left” like he told us to, and waited. Promptly, about the time we thought we should call him to make sure everything was on track, he walked up and led us through security and into a six-seater, twin engine plane. About 30 minutes later we landed at the Oaxaca airport. Next time, we’re going both directions with Carlos … phone number: 954-588-0062, in case you want to call him. 
Goodbye Puerto Escondido
Sierra Madre Sur
Detail from airport painting
Bathroom breaks and art -- When I landed in Oaxaca two weeks ago, I was on a mission and sped straight through the airport into a waiting cab. After the short flight from Puerto Escondido, we wanted a bathroom break before the cab ride. Bette went first and while I watched the bags, I started exploring a stunning painting but couldn’t find the artist’s name. When we exited the building, we saw a series of what looked like giant, metal alebrijes (fantasy creatures, usually wooden). We waived off the taxi driver and spent several minutes taking pictures of the delightful sculptures, which looked like the work of the same artist as the painting inside. 

Finally, I found the artist’s name: Fernando Andriacci and he found a new devoted fan. His work also turned up later in the day.

Old money breakfast and synchronicity —  Lisa Sonora, creator of Art House Oaxaca, where I’ll be staying for the coming week, met us for breakfast at Vieja Lira (old money), a small Italian cafe in Oaxaca central. Talk flowed freely and then Bette and I decided to do a short walk to give her a feel for the area before we were to meet Linda Hanna, folk art tour guide and Oaxaca co-ordinator for Feria Maestros del Arte. Linda had invited us to her bed and breakfast, Casa Linda, for comida (mid-day main meal) and was planning to pick us up at 2 pm so we had about three hours to wander.

We had just gotten oriented when Bette spied a shop that looked inviting. As we crossed the street, about half a block away from us, we saw a woman waving in our direction. We’re in the middle of Oaxaca. I don’t know anyone, but the woman looks familiar. Suddenly we realize, it’s Linda. She’s going into a meeting and tells us she’ll be out in an hour and could give us a mini-tour before we have to go to lunch. “Just some of my favorites,” she tells us. We’re delighted. 

El Templo San Jerónimo Tlacocha- huaya — When we entered the sixteenth century church, an organ was playing, creating a musical backdrop to a most unusual church. I didn’t know it at the time, but the organ is around 300 years old. The church is one of Linda favorites because of the extensive indigenous art work, primarily flowers. Built as a meditation and contemplation center for the Dominicans, it has a warm, inviting energy that made me just want to sit there quietly. Maybe next time. 
For scale, see the man in lower right.
Note tree on left ... big?
El Tule -- When I was creating my Google Map for this trip, one of the “must sees” was a tree Wikipedia states has the “stoutest trunk of any tree in the world.” In spite of my love for trees, it was beginning to look like this must-see would not happen this trip … until Linda mentioned it as one of the many things we could see in the two hours we had before comida. 

I jumped at the opportunity to see the ancient tree (age estimates between 1,200 - 3,000 years with 1,600 being the most agreed upon) and we were off to the village of Santa María del Tule.  
Note the person at the bottom right.
More people at bottom right.
I’ve seen big trees: the giant sequoias are overwhelming in their grandeur, and I’ve seen old trees: the twisted bristlecone pines in the eastern Sierra are mind-bogglingly old, with at least a couple dating back five thousand years. However, El Tule has it’s own way of stealing your breath away. It is massive in the way a mountain is massive and its trunk meanders rather than maintaining the expected round trunk shape, creating walls of textures and burl flowers.
This is not a close up.

Technically El Tule (named for the tule grasses growing from this naturally wet area) is a Montezuma cypress or ahuehuete (meaning "old man of the water" in Nahuatl). Mythically, the local Zapotec legend holds that it was planted about 1,400 years ago by Pecocha, a priest of Ehecatl, the Aztec wind god. All of that aside, it was humbling to stand in the shadows of this incredibly beautiful living being.
The artist Fernando Andriacci has two pieces of art close to the tule tree and the church. This one gives you another sense of scale of the tree and church.
Note tree and church in background.
Casa Linda — I had heard tales about Linda’s folk-art-filled bed and breakfast, but still wasn’t prepared. Nestled on a beautiful, half-acre of trees, rocks and a creek in the village of San Andres Huayapam, five miles from central Oaxaca, this is a little piece of paradise. Linda is a weaver who came to Oaxaca sixteen years ago, and stayed. She now leads folk-art tours and shares her love of indigenous art and the villages of Oaxaca.
Dining room mural.
The above photo from Linda's website shows an incredible mural in her dining room and is better than any photo I was able to take in my beauty-stunned state. For more photos, please check out

Not only did we get to feast on the incredible beauty and variety of the folk art displayed, her friend, Chef Sam, fed us royally.

And the beat goes on — By the time Bette and I were returned to Art House Oaxaca we were stuffed, with food, beauty, culture and inspiration. We had an hour or so to rest before time for Bette to catch a taxi for her flight home. We crashed in my room and it wasn’t long before we heard the distant sounds of band music. We wondered what it was, but not enough to get up and find out.

Walking the half block to the corner got Bette's taxi made me realize what an incredibly beautiful evening it was … and I could still hear the music, so, once Bette was on her way, I followed the music and found bands and mojigangas (large puppets) celebrating a wedding in Santo Domingo Plaza. I followed them for awhile and then ran into a similar parade for a quinceanera. The birthday woman was beautiful so I joined her parade, taking futile pictures in the dark with my iPhone but enjoying the music, dancing and conviviality. 

At some point, a guy handed me a thimble full of a clear liquid (presumably mezcal), the first sip of which burned for a block and a half. The gesture of inclusion seemed to be a perfect note on which to end this incredible day.  

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