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3/6/19 – 3/10/19
By the time we rolled into Oaxaca I felt like I had a knife in my gut. We were fortunate that despite the headwinds, the last forty kilometers dropped close to one thousand meters. Central planning in Mexico appears to be quite calculated. With the entering of each city you roll through the same rings of commercialization. The hinterlands are typically highlighted by a makeshift dump. These are the saddest areas. There is always a scrappy dog picking through trash blown around in the wind and an even scrappier human sifting through the rubble for god knows what. Industrial centers and the water filtration plant accompanied by a potpourri of atrocious smells are next. Then heavy commercial warehouses followed by big box retail and then smaller commercial and retail. Just before you reach the centro there will probably a block or two of young women that are dressed in rather tight evening attire at all hours of the day. If it is early enough and my brain isn’t quite firing on all cylinders I sometimes wonder if they are all in line to audition for a role in a telenovela.
Oaxaca is a strange place. It offers a nice balance between the scrappiness of Mexico and five dollar craft beers served with artisan cheeses and hand stuffed chorizos. Little indigenous folks sell snake oil and strange trinkets designed to fend off nefarious spirits to American girls with degrees in communications and “Woke” tattooed on their wrists in cursive while their boyfriends with man buns and bohemian pants pay ten dollars for shots of mezcal that the locals sell to one another for a buck and a handful of crickets.
We check into a hotel. Our room is on the third floor and we have to leave our bikes in the lobby. After moving to Utah from Detroit I remember being shocked at how many Caucasians there were. Our hotel provided a similar feeling after meandering through the pueblos for months. Younger tourists tend to congratulate themselves for visiting areas like this. They purchase useless ornaments that will be thrown away or perhaps given to a niece or nephew in order to escape the personal burden of feeling as if they’d bought something with absolutely no utility and say to themselves, “It sure is good for these poor people that I’m here to bolster their economy.” As I reach the top of the stairs there is a young lad in Birkenstocks, cutoff jean shorts, an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, and a top hat. The whole ensemble is pulled together by a gas station mustache and a hemp necklace with a glass mushroom as the center piece.
I overhear a few conversations about modern portfolio theory. The mustached lad is on the phone with his mother asking her to put some money in his bank account. I didn’t want to feel left out. I flipped a quarter to the cleaner and made a phone call to a guy whom I had once drank too much with and somehow ended up partnering in a property deal that now involved a non-profit development agency and a semi-governmental department shrouded in mystery and accusations of top heavy compensation and self-dealing. The call went straight to voicemail, but as a show of force and masculinity to everyone else on the balcony I screamed “I want results dammit,” into the receiver and threw my phone into our room before putting my feet up for a nice mezcal under an umbrella.
In an attempt of self-discovery, I decide to take a stroll to the lab in hopes that a stool sample could bring some clarity to my gut issues. The woman behind the counter hands you this little cup. She then holds up a small ball of clay to illustrate the minimum amount that you need to deposit. There are multiple levels of investigation. I told her that I wanted “mas completo.” Unfortunately after a few days of hell, I had nothing left to offer at the moment and promised her that I would return the next day with a filled container.
The vibration of the cobbled streets had taken its toll on my bike. I wander the town looking for a hardware store to repair my pannier. I tell a man that I am looking for a screw (tornillo in Spanish) and he directs me to the line of women auditioning for the TV show. He and his friends get a good laugh. Eventually I find the part I need and make the necessary repairs.
It is ten in the morning and there are men walking around with gasoline jugs that they claim are filled with mezcal. I passed on this but decided to stop at a bakery to get some carrot bread with apples, pecans, little bits of dried fruit, and cacao nibs. It may have been the second best piece of bread that I’d ever consumed. The best was served to me in California, in the home of the Spaniard. He’d flown me out there “to bump heads and work collaboratively in ways that can be beneficial for both of our businesses,” as he put it. It was some kind of seeded German rye. If Mexico could match the hand churned butter made from organic milk sustainably harvested from Californian bovine that wander the lush hills of grass fertilized only by symbiotic permaculture chicken shit and earth worms, that bread could have matched its California competitor.
In the plaza you will find tourists drinking $4 coffees in Italian cafes discussing the horrors of income inequality. Surrounding them are locals hoping to shine enough shoes or sell enough hand woven sarongs to make ten bucks for the day. I stop to watch a graffiti artist spray layer upon layer of Krylon over a piece of cardboard, dry it occasionally with a blow torch, and then scrape the layers back to reveal incredible futuristic cityscapes. The paintings were beautiful and the speed and showmanship with which he created them was something to be seen. Thinking back to what my attorney had told me about genius I ask him to make me one and paid him double what he asked me for it.
Tony and Karen had gotten to town a few days before us. Our first night there overlapped with their last and we went out for dinner. Tony described the city quite eloquently, "It's a shithole compared to most of the other towns we've been to but the food is amazing and there are a couple of beautiful churches." And that was it. It was no Zacatecas or Sombrerete in terms of architecture. It was over run with tourists. But the food the drink and the human culture…. The black molé, the red molé, the bakeries. Crickets, crepes, chocolate, and mezcal.
At some point I retrieved the results of my stool test, which were inconclusive. On the morning of the tenth we left for Hierve el Agua.
Like what we're doing here? Tell a friend or throw us some bread. It keeps tires on the bikes and food in our bellies!