Oaxaca (wah-HA-kah) bound - Jan 6 - 15
From San Cristóbal, it's a two- or three-day drive south and west, then north and west to get to Oaxaca. Part of the trip is a tad challenging if the winds are heavy. The road travels close to the Gulf of Tehuantepec (Pacific side) which crosses the narrowest portion of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. It was clear that there must sometimes be very high winds when we saw the hundreds and hundreds of wind generators along the highway. Fortunately, we had very low to no winds whereas other travellers we talked with reported extremely high winds and tough driving. We stopped at a Pemex and asked about wind and the attendant said "Hoy es muy tranquilo" ... Today it is very tranquile. Whew!!
Hogar Infantil, Ocozocoautla (try saying that quickly!!)
We had a very short day of travel getting to this location which was just west of Tuxtla Gutierrez and only about 2 hours from San Cristóbal (at our usual turtle pace). Founded by an American expat in 1963, this orphanage houses children up to the age of about 20. Some children are truly orphans while others have families who are unable, for a variety of reasons, to care for them. This orphanage is one of many throughout Mexico helping children with their education (including college or university), giving them a sense of family and belonging, and helping them to develop a sense of responsibility to their community. Our very talented daughter-in-law, Jamey, created and copied a few hundred drawings that she made, and included crayons and pencil crayons for us to give away along the road. Until now, we had no idea who might need them ... so I'm glad we saved them until now as they were much appreciated. We were not permitted to take pictures, but you can find out more at their website: www.hogarinfantile.org.
No fee, we donated 200 pesos. GPS: 16.77606, -93.38394
Balneario Ojo de Agua
This spot came highly recommended and we can see why. A Balneario is typically a swimming spot with one or more pools, sometimes a natural pool and other times an actual pool made out of concrete. They often have amenities like washrooms, a restaurant, gift shops etc. The water comes from underground springs or is city water that is piped in; it is always deliciously refreshing. Although this Balneario was not the best in terms of camping, it was excellent for swimming and cooling off after a long day of driving. It was delightful to see aged abuelas (grandmothers) with their long braids and traditional clothing relaxing in a hammock in the shade. Since many Mexicans cannot swim, the water was about chest high and the frolicking was full of fun and laughter. It would be a very busy spot on the weekends.
Unfortunately, the camping was in a dusty, windy area that also had a constant door of things being burned. We had passed the garbage dump on the road to the Balneario, so we can only wonder what was wafting through the air toward us. Although a great swimming spot, we all agreed that we'd stay only one night and push on to Oaxaca.
Fee: 60-100 MX depending on who is at the gate. GPS: 16.53569, -95.20145
Oaxaca ... I could easily spend a month here!!
What a great city!! I fell in love with it and can see why so many people spend the winter here. At an elevation of 5100 feet, it's 2000 feet lower than San Cristóbal and quite a bit warmer. Daytime temperatures averaged in the mid-20s and cooled down to about 8C at night. Perfect!
Since the campsite in town, the Oaxaca Trailer Park, is now closed, we opted to stay in an apartment for a week instead of camping. Although there is a great spot about 20 minutes out of town in Tule where we spent one night (Overlander Oasis), it's a colectivo or bus ride into town. We wanted to experience the night life, enjoy dinners out and not have to fumble around in the dark in order to get home. With a bit of research, I found an AirBnB ground-floor apartment very near Centro where we could also park our rig. At a rate of 550MX per night, it was excellent.
Our hosts in Oaxaca, Delfino and his wife Alicia (about our age), were very sweet and always available. Although neither spoke any English, they were very gracious and Victor's Spanish was a real help!! Delfino has lived in the location all of his life and is an auto mechanic (like his father). He very kindly helped Victor make a few repairs to our rig (nothing major) and would not accept any payment, so Victor did a little concert for them one night. Since Delfino has many spots to park vehicles needing repair, we were able to pull our rig off of the street, into one of his secure spots and plug it in!! This saved is 100MX a night and gave us access to all of our "stuff."
Oaxaca attracts visitors who are interested in learning Spanish; they have a number of language schools. As well, there are some excellent museums, restaurants and attractions close by to keep anyone happy. One of my museum highlights was the Museo Rofino Tamayo. This is a top-notch pre-Hispanic art museum with some truly beautiful pieces. For anyone interested in plants, the Jardin Etnobotánico was phenomenal. English tours are every Tuesday at 11; our guide, Carol, was an absolute wealth of information. Her 2-hour tour whizzed by and I'd do it again without hesitation. The Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca (housed in the monastery buildings of the Templo de Santo Domingo) was HUGE and not one sign in English. Sooo, it was interesting, but could have been so much more if I had known that they also rent English audio guides.
Two of the absolute highlights of our visit to Oaxaca were meeting up with Jean and reconnecting with Martha. Victor met Jean two years ago when they were both taking Spanish lessons in Oaxaca. Also, both Victor and Jean had been billeted with Martha. Jean is an absolute wealth of information about Oaxaca and is a gracious, friendly woman. She toured us around for a couple of days and her tips were invaluable.
Martha, an elementary school principal is quite charming. Although she speaks no English, her Spanish is clear, slow and quite understandable, thank goodness., She was delighted to hear that we were in Oaxaca and wanted to tour us around on our first day. We treated Martha and her daughter Paulina to a big lunch on Sunday and then she invited us all to her home for a family birthday on the day before we left. Our visit with her was truly special.
Another highlight not to be missed is the Danzon on Wednesday nights. This dance form originated in Cuba and is a slow, sensual dance that older Oaxaqueños have perfected. Starting at 6:30 pm between the cathedral and zocalo, the live band adds to the magic. Single men scour the crowd for a woman to ask to dance. I wish I could post a video; alas, I can't seem to do it. However, if you want to see a bit, there is a YouTube of a couple who are quite good: search YouTube for "Danzon los abuelas en Oaxaca." Check out the middle section of the video when the music speeds up. Pretty good dancing for an older couple.
Oaxaca ... We will be back!!
AirBnB: Centrico y Historico, Erick Ernesto (on Los Libres and Calle de Murguia)
GPS: 17.062431, -96.719387