In 2002 I made a solo trip to Oaxaca for a week, around the holiday of El Día de los Muertos. As we are once more entering the season when the veil between this world and the next thins and lifts, I excerpt here a portion of my travelogue.
Mexico is on the make! I understand that they need an extra peso here and there, but every service-sector person conveniently forgets to give you change, until you ask them and feel very gringo about it all. Ah, a dollar here, a dollar there.
Memorable exchanges, hilarious for their wiliness:
The Market at Mitla
Me: I love this beaded bracelet. I’ll give you 40 pesos for it.
Seller: Okay, great.
(I give her a 50 peso bill.) I am sorry, I don’t have anything smaller.
Seller: I don’t have change. You can you pick out a crappy string bracelet with one bead on it for 10 pesos.
The Bookstore at Monte Alban
Me: I am ready to pay.
Bookstore man: Okay. That’s…. 110 pesos.
Me: (I give him 120 in notes.)
Bookstore man (handing me a receipt): Gracias for your ten pesos. I really appreciate it.
A Stop on the Tour of the Valley of Oaxaca
Alberto the Tour Guide: Okay, you all need to give me 30 pesos for, uh, fees to see this really big tree.
(Everyone in the group gives Alberto and his coworker Omar 30 pesos. But we do not see anyone collect it anywhere)
Dutch girls (grumbling): They told us that it only cost 3 pesos to see the big tree.
(Moments later, we see our tour guides Alberto and Omar exiting an ice cream shop with about 90 pesos worth of Nestle nutty cones and ice cream bars.)
Tonight I am going to the beach in the town of Pochutla – the renowned beach is called Mazunte. Oaxacans claim I misplanned my trip to miss the best part of their holiday, but I will return for November 1 and 2 when festivities are still afoot. I am sick of being hot and sweaty, and prefer to sweat if and where water is available for swimming. I don’t mind icy water but I do hate sweat-crust. Today I think I contracted heat exhaustion (this happened last year in Brazil). It seems to always happen on the third day of exposure, being a shock to the system to go from Seattle’s cool clouds to hot Latin sun. Small swirly sparkles started sucking up the air around my head and I retired to the rooftop of the hostel in Oaxaca to sleep on a chaise. No cold countries speak Spanish! Except for Spain, for whom my affection is well documented. But Mexico, in spite of their cultural failure to make change for minor purchases (as well as charging spurious fees), is coming in a close second. Why haven’t I traveled here more? And when can I come back?