Monday, January 28, 2008

Voy a Mexico

As of right now, I'm planning on joining the others on the trip to Mexico City, and hopefully that's not going to fall through at the last minute. Thanks for all your sympathies.

Sorry I didn't get beach thoughts up before leaving! Here is a picture to hold you over:

Sunday, January 27, 2008


The trip was fine; the beach was great; I took lots of pictures and wrote some blog entries to type up--

--but right now I wish that my stomach was not attached to my body and I'm having trouble holding my head up. Given my current state, my beach-thoughts will have to wait, until Friday, assuming I go to Mexico City tomorrow. If I don't, I may make an appearance here tomorrow.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pretty picture

To make up for my depressing last post, here are some pictures for you to enjoy (as always, click for bigger!):

Another flower from the mountains

Martina, our crazy dog

More balloons for sale in the Zocalo

Friends, eating nachos and paletas

Dominican architecture at Cuilapam

Updates will be spare for the next week; I'll post on Sunday when I return from the beach, but then I'll be in Mexico City from Monday morning until next Friday night.


Okay, forget being content and comfortable: these past couple of days have been filled with stress. We had a final today, and even though I think it went pretty well (and it's over either way), I don't feel relieved.
I've also spent the past couple days making travel arrangements for myself and ten other people--and I'll readily admit that no one asked me do it; I chose to be the organizer because I wasn't happy with the pricers the previous person had been coming up with. But, things kept changing and I've been handling/spending a lot of money which always makes me anxious--not because I'm worried about misplacing it, but just...worrying about money stresses me out.

Consequently, I've been in a cruddy mood, and cranky, and just really NOT excited about going to the beach this weekend. I don't even like beaches! Why am I planning a trip to one?

Ah well. My role as organizer allowed me to take this photo:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Another day in Oaxaca

Not too much to report today, except perhaps that I got mild sunburn on my shoulders today while we were out on our archaeological excursion (that's what I get for trying to even out my tan lines). So instead, it's time for a little reflection:

One of the things I wrote in my essay about why I should be allowed to do this program was I was looking forward to discovering daily life in a foreign place and living there long enough to develop my own routine that is presumably different from my typical routines at home in Chicago. Now, if the transitions from high school to college and dorm life to apartment life are any indication, I adapt well to new lifestyle. I must admit that I expected it to be a little more difficult here, given that I'm in a country where people speak a language other than my own and I look different from pretty much everyone around me.

But--and happily, I suppose--I seem to have settled in pretty well. I've gotten used to getting up before 9 and eating a huge breakfast, then not eating lunch until 3 or 3:30. I can understand people pretty well and usually make myself understood. I walk at least 40 minutes a day, almost always more (about an hour and forty minutes today, for example). And perhaps I'm just not giving myself enough credit, but part of me wonders what I'm doing wrong for it to be this easy.

In the end, I don't think I can "blame" myself for not taking the transition to life in Oaxaca harder than I have. After all, I'm living in a city with basically all the modern conveniences I'm used to (aside from not being able to flush toilet paper, anyway); so there really weren't a whole lot of extreme adjustments. I'd be lying if I said that having regular access to internet allows me a piece of home that I wasn't expecting to have (being able to read my blogs and my comics daily is really nice). The whole looking-different-from-everyone-else-ie-being-white doesn't really come up in a way that affects me much, and the language barrier isn't that much of a language barrier since I'm able to communicate successfully most of the time.

So, I guess I should just be satisfied, and perhaps even proud of myself, rather than being suspicious that I haven't been pushing myself enough.

Granted, I could probably do more to integrate myself... I could get a job tutoring local kids like Tyler, or go hang out with random musicians I met in the square like Christina, or maybe even just go more places by myself instead of always doing things with other people. But hey, I haven't even been here three whole weeks yet (as hard as that is to believe), so I've still got time.

Have other people had similar thoughts about life transitions/life in new places?

Oh, and here's a picture:

Monday, January 21, 2008

In case you were curious

Here is an example of why I feel lucky every time I cross a street without getting run over:

The gate you can kind of make out behind the bus that is turning right is the entrance to my school grounds. Meaning that I cross this intersection multiple times a day (actually, the only real trouble with this intersection is that right turn lane, because the other cars usually obey the traffic signals...right-turners never do).

And here is where I live:

The door from my room out onto the patio is the one above the house numbers.

Today I thought to myself, "What would I most like to do after a weekend full of difficult hiking? How about a couple more hours of walking?" Actually, it was something more along the lines of "I don't have any homework I have to do tonight, and I haven't been to the Zocalo recently and don't feel like sitting at home," so I went with Tyler to question airlines about how much it would cost to fly to Chichen Itza during our break. Turns out it would cost too much. Oh well. (By the way, I'm going to the beach at Puerto Escondido this coming weekend. That's right, Chicagoans, I'm going to go surfing and work on my tan.)

Later this evening, I met up with a bunch of folks at a restaurant down the street called Las Arracheras (arrachera is approximately skirt steak). They have delicious tacos for only 7 pesos each. Tonight I tried a tlayuda, which is a large tortilla, spread with black bean sauce, topped with meat, quesillo, lettuce, and salsa, and then folded over. Man, I'm getting hungry for another one just writing about it. "Tlayuda" is also just fun to say. After dinner, a few of us went over to Hui Lin's house and watched a bootleg copy of Stardust. Fun times.

Our final archaeological excursion (in Oaxaca, anyway, as next week is the Mexico City trip); we're visiting a site as well as the lab where the magic happens. W00t.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


I have returned from hiking in the mountains, and man am I exhausted/sore. We headed out from the Mercado de Abastos early Saturday morning, arrived at Llano Grande in the Sierra Norte mountains around 11am, ate some lunch, and proceeded to hike for about 4 hours. After dinner, we headed to our brick cabins (with beds and running water!), and roasted marshmallows in the fireplace and chatted before sleeping quite poorly because, well, it's rather cold in the mountains. We departed at about 8:45 the next morning after eating breakfast and hiked to Benito Juarez (everything here is named that) for about three hours (6.6 Km or so). We then ate lunch and caught a bus back to Oaxaca.

I don't think I truly appreciated the fact that Oaxaca is situated in the Valley of Oaxaca until this trip; on the bus ride I gazed around us at all the surrounding mountains and was faced with undeniability of it. The majority of our hike, especially the part on Sunday, was either extremely uphill or downhill. At the pinnacle of our altitude, we were almost 10,000 feet up (by the way, Oaxaca is 5,000 fee above sea level already). My ankle is killing me from all the rocks I tripped over, and I'm going to have a hard time standing tomorrow. But it was worth it; the views and the flora were incredible.

Look, evidence! Click for larger pictures:

I don't know if you can appreciate from these pictures just how high up we were, but I hope that you can.

My favorite part of the trip must have been these plants:

It looks like something out of Dr. Seuss for sure, but it's even cool in actuality: it is the flower of the spikey maguey plant you can see at the bottom of the photo (one variety of which is used to make mezcal). These giants magueys grow for about 25 years before flowering once and then dying within the year. So, these tall, ridiculously-shaped and -colored stalks are actually the sign that the plant is near death. It's delightfully romantic.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Local flavor

I don't usually go in for hard liquor, but last night found me sampling shots of mezcal, a local specialty, made from the maguey plant (much like tequila). I don't like tequila, but I have enjoyed the mezcal I've tried. The first kind I tried, sometime last week, was smoother than tequila, and it has less of a bite when mixed with other things. We tried two different kinds last night--a golden-colored variety that had a flavor very similar to smoked whiskey, and a clear kind that was much harsher and I didn't really care for.

These drinks were complimentary at an event we went to last night at a nearby art gallery/bar called Coatl (Aztec for "serpent;" you may have heard of Quetzelcoatl, the feathered-serpent god). They were having an opening of a new exhibit of works by an artist named R. Xadany; they were brightly colored paintings featuring bird people, fruit, and disembodied eyes, and I liked them a lot. The place was set up much like a large one-room restaurant, with tables and chairs arranged around the room. The paints were displayed on the walls around the room. Coatl also features a jukebox, pool table, air hockey table, and foozeball table, as well as several large screens that at first displayed the latest videos from MTV jams before switching over to a slideshow of the paintings. Once the show officially opened, a live band played for about an hour, three guys with guitars who sang in harmony; it was really fun.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Todo el mundo manejan un beetle

On the way to school today, Jasmine and I counted 48 old-style Volkswagon beetles, like the one above. 22 of the 48 were white, like the one above.
The apparent reason for their abundance is that they were still being produced here until 1992, but that was 16 years ago. Anyway, there's your interesting note for the day.

We had, essentially, fried chicken and mashed potatoes for lunch. But the chicken was pressed very thin, and I ate mine with avocado and salsa on top. Mmm.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Drabble Twenty-Six

When they say that the biggest safety risk in Oaxaca is the traffic, believe it. Stoplights are viewed as helpful suggestions, lanes are illusory, and pedestrians don’t have the right the way. I fear for my life every time I cross the street. The traffic is only half of it, though—the streets are far more dangerous than I was led to believe. The first time I witnessed an accident, and the mangled, bloodied victim proceeded to peel himself off the pavement, moan hungrily, and stumble away, I realized I had more to fear than a face full of asphalt.

Thanks to Elizabeth for inspiration!

200th post!

So, that's pretty exciting.

Otherwise, not too much to report today. I finished my work early this evening and then had a tasty quesadilla, and now I'm contemplating trying to work on some fiction. But, this weekend I am going on an overnight hike in a cloud forest, so that's pretty cool.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dainzú, Lambityeco, Mitla, Yagul

The above are the names of the four archaeological sites we visited today for class, all of them really just outside Oaxaca and dating from the Classic to the late post-Classic era (so, 500 BCE to 1500 CE or so? Don't quote me). The most famous of these site is Mitla:

What you can see in this picture is one of the many examples of the Spanish conquerers being dicks and constructing their buildings on top of and out of materials taken from ancient sites. Mitla was actually still occupied at the time of the European conquests.

At Yagul, we got to climb inside some actual tombs (subterranean); that experience compared to our experience of climbing pyramids at other sites prompted the question, "If these ancient people were so short (such low ceilings!) why did were their stairs so tall?" We also saw this statue:

Is it a jaguar or a frog? You tell me!

We also climbed up to the top of a mountain at Yagul to see the remains of a fortress, and we ended up basically on top of the world, as you can see:

This dude is Tyler, by the way. He's also from Missouri!

As we were heading down the mountain, it became known that our professor has never seen the Indiana Jones movies. Presented with this information, one girl from our program asked, "Why did you become an archaeologist, then?'

Monday, January 14, 2008


We don't do laundry here--we get our laundry done, at a conveniently-located lavanderia named Mr. Klyn. You pay by the kilo; it cost me around $6.50 USD to get my week and a half worth of clothes washed. I think it's the only thing that's more expensive here than it is for me at home. But, your laundry does get returned to you looking like this:

All folded, neat and tidy. Personally, I'd rather save money and fold my own clothes, but this is the only option, and it's not actually that expensive.

An attempt was made this evening to figure out what the deal is with Cine Bars--bars that occasionally show movies. I have yet to understand what exactly this entails. We returned to La Divina, the bar I went to on Friday, but it turns out that their sign outside lies(!) and they only show movies on Sundays. I actually wasn't that disappointed, given that the bar smelled like a bathroom.

Needing something else to do, we wandered over to the Cafe Brujula (compass) which had been recommended. They have awesome smoothies for excellent prices, but (perhaps because the guy at the Instituto recommends it) it felt very American...half of the menu was in English. So, I'd pop back in for a smoothie, but I probably won't hang out there.

When I had almost reached home again, I caught up with a bunch of other students who were eating at a restaurant just south of my neighborhood. I had two taquitos de arrachera (skirt steak) with pica de gallo and guacamole, and a bottle of Sol (a beer much like Corona), all of which cost me under $3 USD.

The highlight of my day was definitely an adorable little kitten playing outside a shop on my way to school and coming home from the cafe. It wa about the size of my foot! So tiny! I stopped to take a photo this evening and got to pet it, and let it play with my camera strap. The picture turned out kind of dark; I will try to get another one sometime so you can get a better idea of the cuteness:

Oh, and for lunch today we had pozole, which was is a soup made with hominy, spices, and some kind of meat (usually pork but we had chicken). I am going to learn to make it so I can have it back in Chicago.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A couple more general notes

In Spanish, or perhaps just here, limes are called "limones" and lemons are called "limas," which is rather counter intuitive. But limes are awesome on everything, so I get many opportunities to get in the habit of calling them the right thing.

Making out in public = the thing to do in Mexico. It's just what ya do. It's part of the scenery, it doesn't phase anybody. The reason is apparently because it is socially unacceptable for young people of opposite genders to have each other over to their houses. Where else are you going to snog? Why, at the Cathedral, of course! After all, everyone else is doing it.

The most colorful lunch ever:

Clockwise from top left: tostaditas, lettuce, frijoles (beans), salchicha (sausage), quesillo (Oaxacan cheese), and avacados. The salchicha is the most delightful shade of bright magenta.

Behold, my tostada:

Oh noes, I forgot avacado!

Today has largely been spent resting up after a day full of walking yesterday, and doing homework. Last night, we went out to dinner and to a club for Kristen's birthday. The restaurant/bar we went to is called La Cantinita, and I think I've passed it every single day I've gone to el centro. The food was just okay, and way overpriced. Kristen got a lapdance from a dude in a luchador mask and a portable pole for dancing. Afterwards we headed to El Circo, a circus-themed club to the east. There was a life-sized giraffe model outside, and the club itself is inside a circus tent and decorated similarly. Well, if a circus was a nightclub. Much to our disappointment (especially considering the cover charge), there were no actual performers, just crappy MTV music videos and fake smoke (and plenty of real smoke as well). The drinks were ridiculously expensive; our friends ended up ordering bottles of alcohol and mixers and mixing our own drinks, but they must not have accounted for all the prices because they ended up $100 USD under when the bill came. All in all, not a great night, but not terrible, and Kristen had a terrific time.

Tomorrow, a few of us are heading back to La Divina, the bar we went to Friday night, to check out whatever movie is playing. A few bars around here show movies, and I have yet to really understand what that means/how that works.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I'll write about this evening tomorrow (not too much to say). Have a good night.

El mercado de TODO

Today I went with Jamsine, Debra, and Tyler to the Mercado de Abastos, a giant covered marketplace to the southwest that is open every Saturday. If there is something you'd be interesting in buying, they have it there (along with hundreds of things you have no interest in whatsoever). Jasmine and I had some taquitos; she bought a skirt and Debra bought a few other things. It was pretty crazy, and it was quite a long walk there, and then we spent the entire time walking around at the market, and then walked home. I'm pretty worn out, so I'm just hanging out at home until we go out later for Kristen's birthday. We're going to a pretty popular bar/restaurant for dinner and then afterwards to a bar/club that apparently has trapeze artists. Who knew?

Click the pictures to enlarge:

From left to right...
Top: fruits; taquitos with chicken, onion, salsa, and cilantro; grapefruit with chili-salt.
Middle: meats; a mountain of mole negro; dried chilies.
Bottom: headless chickens; bean necklaces; garlic.

I had a really nice time last night: Jasmine, Tyler, Clay, Ronan and I wandered around down by the Zocalo, and found our way to the basillica of Oaxaca, La Soledad. In front of the church are seven different nieverias, or ice cream stands (the word used for ice cream here is the same as the word for snow). After that we had some beers and Tyler and I had tapas at a restaurant with a balcony overlooking Santa Domingo, and we ended up at a bar down the street called La Divina which has live music three times a week and no cover charge. We arrived just as the second band started, and they played all English language songs, which as fun because everyone else in the bar, all Mexicans, knew all the lyrics.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Some general notes about life in Mexico/Oaxaca

I'm sure I'll notice more things eventually, but here the ones that come up most often:

The plumbing here sucks. Consequently, all toilet paper gets put in a trash can, never flushed. This actually didn't take too much getting used to, but sometimes the toilet won't flush all the way, which is rather annoying.

Water is scarce here, so we try to conserve as much as possible (this may explain the first note some). You pay for all the water you use (as in, every house has a tank under it, and when that tank is empty, you have to buy more water). There are a couple gorgeous fountains around here, and I noticed that they get turned off at night; once I realized that, I realized how extravagant it must be to build fountains in a place where water is such a valuable resource.

Guys whistle at girls here. I doubt this fact will surprise anyone. Personally, I haven't had any unpleasant experiences with this; mostly just honks from passing cars and and a rather cool experience yesterday on the way to school when a guy whistling a song smoothly slipped in the cliche hot girl whistle. A couple of my classmates have had slightly more invasive experiences, but nothing unfortunate. Apparently it's actually common for the subjects of the catcalls to say thank you.

As I mentioned in my first post, the traffic here really is nutso. I feel proud of myself everytime I get to other side of a street alive (which has been every time so far!). What the result of this really is, is that sometimes we attempt to use crosswalks but more often than not our routes are very opportunistic. Even if it's a red light, if there are no cars you GO FOR IT because who knows when you'll get another chance?

There are many stray dogs, and they all look quite healthy.

Lunch, or La Comida, is eaten quite late in the day; for most of group, between 3 and 4:30. It is the largest meal of the day, when the family comes together to socialize. Dinner is often skipped altogether.

As I said, I'll probably come up with more things later on, but there's a taste for you.

If anyone wants to visit me in Oaxaca... can always rent a room:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

La fin de semana

I think it's going to be nice not having classes on Fridays. Not because I'm going to go out and get crazy on Thursdays (I'm pretty sure tonight cemented my assertion that that's just not who I am), but getting to sleep in is nice, and having an extra day for explorations is awesome. Or so I anticipate.

Beer recommendation: León, a Munich-style dark lager, I think.
Food recommendation: Enchiladas verdes
Transportation recommendation: taking a cab home for $2 USD

See I wasn't kidding about Popeye's

This afternoon, we spent over two hours having lunch with Viky and her aunt, Celia, who is 91 years old, has been married three times, and was, I just found out, the first woman lawyer in Oaxaca, all of which is pretty amazing. We (mostly she) talked about the origin of the word "gringo," learning foreign languages, tires in Canada, lobster, religion, our legs, and other things, I'm sure. Viky had long since gone, taking care of things around the house, and Jasmine and I didn't really know what else to do other than to keep sitting there and "platicando" (conversing). It was interesting, though, even though we heard a few stories multiple times. Celia, for being 91, is in really good shape. Her hearing is gone in one ear and she can't walk very well on her own and she repeats herself sometimes, but she has a good memory and many interesting things to say.

Tonight we're going out to dinner with other chicos, and then, who knows?

Oh, and I had a paleta de chocolate today. It was delicious, or as they say here, estuvo muy rico.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The flowers here are beautiful

Wandered around the neighborhoods around my homestay this evening with Jasmine. I'll be retracing my steps sometime soon to take more pictures; basically the neighborhood spreads up the mountains, and the views are increíble. We also headed south, past the block where our school is, to find El Pochote, a free cinema that shows international movies every night of the week except Monday at 6 and 8pm. I will definitely have to take advantage of this. As Viky's daughter Alejandra pointed out, though, all movies are pretty cheap here, about $4 USD a person, and one particular theatre has a two-for-$50 pesos deal on Wednesdays. Not bad at all.

Since I neglected to mention it yesterday, I should probably say that yesterday for la comida we had a Oaxacan specialty simply called Verde (green): a thickish soup featuring green squash, green beans (I think), and a hunk of meat on the bone. It was pretty awesome. Yesterday evening, Jasmine and I tried out El Cafe Tres Oros, a kind of modern-looking, Europeanish place above the 24-hour convenience store, and we had giant, delicious, tuna salad sandwiches and limonadas. Today, we had a soup called Ropa Vieja, or "old clothes." I remember reading about it in high school or something...anyway, it's tastier than the name implies; it's a tomato brother with some veggies and some kind of sinewy vegetable matter that I believe is what gives the soup its name.

On a completely separate note, I have started thinking about fiction again! I've got an idea for a story, based on an aspect of Olmec culture that piqued my interest during class/reading. Also, I received a rejection notice this morning for a story I submitted to Pseudopod, but I've already submitted it to another market, and I found a couple other places I'm interested in submitting to. Awesome!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Monte Albán

Today, we went here:

This is Monte Albán, the site of the Zapotec civilization from 500 BCE to 800 AD. Our professor came here in his twenties to help with later excavations, and had a hand in most of the things and signs that are in the accompanying museum, which is pretty awesome. Also interesting is the variety of theories that exist as to the foundation of the city. A power grab? A centralization of authority? A mercantile maneuver? Theories abound! In the photo above you can see several temples, but by the last era, 10,000 to 20,000 people inhabited Monte Albán.

On this slab is Zapotec writing. I can tell you that the two bars and the dot at the very bottom mean the number 11 (bars = 5 and dots = 1). This slab is part of the building you can see directly behind me in the picture below, called building J. Its orientation (which differs slightly from the strict N-S orientation of every other building) has something to do with the sun's zenith.

We were pretty high up! You can see all of Oaxaca valley below.

Lectures were not so enrapturing that I failed to notice this face in the shadow of a dried leaf:

Monday, January 7, 2008

The first day of classes...

...was alright. Not too much to report. Our history professor was delightfully grumpy yet enthusiastic about his subject. We saw some of these:

For La Comida, we had delicious lentil soup, beef and chilaquiles with tomato sauce, fresh cilantro, fresh cheese, cream, and onions. They were pretty awesome, and I'm not even exactly sure what chilaquiles are. (This photo looks pretty close to what my plate looked like, actually; the beef must be standard.) I should start bringing my camera to lunch.

After la comida, we went hat shopping, for tomorrow we are venturing to the Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán, which is high, and dry, and blazing hot. !Fotos cuando regresamos!

Jasmine, Clay, Emily, Ronan, and me

Before heading home, we stopped by the taco place I mentioned before, and I got tacos arabes lechuzas...the tortillas were slightly fluffy and they were filled with meat (grilled, not ground) and cheese). As far as I could tell, arabe and oriental refer to the type of tortilla (oriental had corn tortillas). Jasmine had arabitos, which had tortillas with harina. So, that's not as exciting as it could have been, but they were delicious:

After tacos, we had paletas at Popeye's. Yes, Popeyes. Paletas are like ice cream bars, or popsicles; Popeye's also sells hot dogs and , and is decorated with cans of spinacas. (By the way, the natives pronounce it "poe-pay-yay," and now I do, too, because it's really fun to say.)