Vacation is pre-ruined!
T - 36 hours
AeroMéxico: We are calling to let you know your flight has been cancelled!
Assana: What?? When did this happen?
AeroMéxico: May 2nd!
Assana: As in more than 2 months ago?
Assana: Why didn't you let me know sooner?
AeroMéxico: We are letting you know now!
We end up on a red-eye to DF…departing at 12:01 am. Our only hope is to purchase upgrades at the airport, and fortunately they seem to support for-purchase upgrades… but where there any left?
Assana: Are there any more upgrades available?
Gal at the counter: Ummm… hold on!
She walks away and whispers something to some other gal who then turns around and visually inspects us from head to toe, then tells a third person, who also take a long look at us. Fortunately we passed his inspection and are allowed to purchase upgrades.
Bandits? No! We are finally on our way to Puebla after the Hertz gal goes over every single spec of dust on this crappy little car to make sure it is dust and not a ding. The highway to Puebla is beautiful, extremely well maintained, not crowded at all, and has water wells every 0.5 kilometers! According to our aunt Tara we are supposed to be mugged. We look for bandits. Don't find any. Maybe 6-lane highways are not their things. We keep high hopes for the Puebla-Oaxaca portion.
Imaginary Volcano On our way to Puebla we stop by Chalula with one goal: to visit the muy famous church that is on the cover of most guide-books, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. We eventually find it. It has been painted from the stark white it used to be to mustard, which is quite unfortunate. And the volcano, we never quite figure out where to stand to take this famous picture. Once we stand at the correct angle to the church, all we see behind the church is sky. Either way, the volcano is shrouded in clouds anyways. We climb to the church where the views are wonderful. What astonishes us most is the sheer number of churches we can see, all with beautiful ornate tile covered domes. I'm gonna take a wild guess and say México, she is religious!
Lost We braille our way to our hotel. As we meander in the narrow cobble stone roads we get more and more anxious about parking. Fortunately for us, the hotel is expecting us! Within seconds of us pulling up to the entrance our luggage is out of the car and the car is gone. We are so happy not to have to look for parking that it doesn't even dawn on us that the guy taking our car away might be some random dude on the sidewalk and not the valet! (He was the valet).
Alley of the toads Puebla is lovely. It has narrow cobble stone roads with small shops and restaurants. The buildings are either brightly colored, or have beautiful tile work on their facad. Some streets have fun names (our hotel's street translated to Alley of the Toads!) Like any good ol' colonial town, it has an El Zócalo, and like any good ol' El Zócalo, it is tree lined, has a massive cathedral, lots of cafés all around, it is always full of crowds. And it seems like no matter which direction we walk, or where our destination, we always end up at El Zócalo! We walk into most of the churches we come across - mainly because they are such a defining aspect of the town. They are all so beautiful and so painstakingly restored. The Jesus statues are not just there for show. They are gory and are there to fully convey the message!
- Why are the Jesuses so morbid?
- Cuz you can't have a chipper Jesus!
At a church orphanage we are asked to sign some sort of petition. We do… even though we have no idea what we signed… hopefully not to kick out the orphans!
Then we end up on the candy-store street (Dulces de Santa Clara): an entire street where every store, back-to-back, sells pastries and candy. Oh my! We buy the most amazing treat: candied tangy lime filled with coconuts. Yummm-mmmy! That day, on the way back to El Zócalo, we walk by the locksmith row, the Jesus row, the toilet row (ironically, right next to the Jesuses), the butchers, the scales, the tiaras (yes, as in "I want to be a princess"), etc. Very interesting, and we continue to wonder about the reason of such clumping of industries.
Talavera One of the highlights of our time in Puebla was visiting a true Talavera pottery factory. We saw the clay that makes the dishes, molds that hold the pieces, the oven that bakes them, the artists who patiently paint them, etc. And then, of course, the store! We can't help but buy a piece.
One more thing about Puebla: we found the one restaurant in the entire country that was out of Margaritas! How is that even possible?!
Missing Bandits The road from Puebla to Oaxaca is 319 kilometers of a 2-lane well maintained highway (highway 150? or is 135? 190? We don't quite firgure it out!). We take the toll road and, boy, they are serious about their tolls! We pass 7 toll booths, complete with armed guards whose level of armed-ness signifies our distance from civilization! Oddly enough, except for junctions this highway has no exits! Just one long road connecting Puebla to Oaxaca! And one of the most diverse roads we have ever driven on. It start off by going thru corn fields, then into a seriously rocky landscape, then a cactus forest, sandy fields, and red rock canyons. Amazing change of scenery in the span of 300 kilometers. After another successful brailing episode we find our hotel and its pool is music to our we've-been-driving-all-day ears! Ahhh.
All Méxican As we leave Puebla, our concierge at the hotel tells us that Oaxaca is her favorite city. She said, "You'll see, Oaxaca is a Méxican city. It is the most Méxican city in México." We don't quite get what she means until we arrive in Oaxaca. It is so true that it is a Méxican city, with Méxican people an Méxican tourist. This beautiful old colonial city is lived in. It is not for show. There are tons of churches, which we of course visit, and the historic streets are clean and well kept (though we did see some graffiti on the 400 year old aqueduct!).
Botanical Gardens? No! Centro Cultural Santo Domingo is a former monastery that hosts one of the prettiest churches, Iglesia de Santo Domingo. It also has a museum full of pre-columbian artifacts and a gorgeous botanical garden that we have to force our way into:
D&A: We'd like to purchase tickets for the garden.
Gatekeeper: No! You can only go on a tour.
D&A: When is the tour?
Gatekeeper: No more English tour until Sunday.
D&A: But we will be gone by Sunday.
D&A: How about if we go on the Spanish tour that started 10 minutes ago.
D&A: Why not?
Vatever. We show up at 4:30 for the 5:00pm spanish tour. She has no more excuses! We win!
Oaxaca gives us a lot more rain than Puebla, but for some reason the temperature or humidity never changes. It could be pouring, or sunny, day or night, and it is always pleasant! We love. And talking of rain, our dinner at Casa Oaxaca is interesting: we are dressed up (well, one of us is), and it is absolutely pouring rain. We have one of those parasol-sized umbrellas so we stay dry. But the restaurant has an open air center. So as we sit inside the restaurant it is pouring in the center of the dining room. Very fun! Another fun raining dinner experience is watching the Alameda from our second-floor dinner table during a monsoon-like rain. Did I mention that the temperature never really changes?
Funeral Thursday Having a car in Oaxaca pays off. We spend a day heading east towards Mitla stopping by Santa Maria del Tule, the gigantic 2000 year old tree, San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya, where we find ourselves in the middle of a funeral while taking pictures of the beautiful ornate church, and Teotitlán del Valle, a Zapotec village where we get a tour of a rug weaving workshop. The nice gentleman shows us the natural wool, all of his natural dyes, explains what makes what color and how they weave. We buy, after appropriately haggling, a beautiful runner that we are going to hang over the stairs.
We arrive to the town of Mitla, and next thing we know we are once again in the middle of a funeral. This time with our car! The town is just a nice small town. The ruins are very interesting. Once again, the christians built a church right on top of the beautiful pre-columbian building. Kind'a sad.
Another road trip takes us to Monte Albán, an amazing giant Zapotec city. Fortunately the Spaniards didn't really find it, hence doesn't have a church built on top of it. The view back down to the valley is breathtaking.
Haggling On the last day we realize that we don't have room to pack our shoppings! Off we go to find a basket to carry our souvenirs, and in Oaxaca, you can find a street vendor for everything. And do find the perfect basket that fits the bill... at a street vendor, no less! And by now we are perfecting our haggling techniques: Pretty basket, she is ours for less than 20 bucks!
Flying nursery AeroMéxico pisses us off on the way back too by giving us the run-around about business upgrades. First we hear that none is available. Then we hear there's one. And finally, once on the plane, we see plenty of empty business seats while we were packed at the back of the plane with a million kids and babies.
Hate AeroMéxico. But, our trip, she is a success. México, we love you. And we'll be back soon... maybe to Riviera Maya? Or to see the Monorch butterflies?