Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Life as an Oaxaca Receptionist

As I write in the depths of this dark room that one day I shall call a cyber-center, the sound from my fingers is not a detectivesque typewriter –ripping the night ever so sharpy–, but the clunky plastic of a keyboard timewarped from the late nineties. Yes, much of this equipment is painfully dated, but I can say that ten years of desktop headaches have made me intimately familiar with these 2004 machines. From a room full of lost cables, dirt and dinosaur technology I have raised a clean office space soon to be used by businessmen and tourists; neatly organized in four fully operational stations, one of which I am using right now, as I am about to narrate the course of events here in Oaxaca.

Life is fantastic with hot showers, unlimited internet and delicious food all around!
The few days following my business proposal I not only familiarized myself with the hostel and Javier, its attentive caretaker, but washed away some of my nomadic grit. My luggage soon moved into my new room, and hot morning showers became every day's blessing. Each night during that first week I spent some time wondering in my bed, looking out into the void, asking myself how this kind of lucky circumstances keep happening around me. Mister Mooney, back in Petaluma, described these miracles as "Migueluck" back then when I landed an affordable cottage in Woodside, found a rare '87 Mercedes 300TD locally, and created my dream job at Burlingame Motors. This string of Migueluck kept going with the opportunity to host an online car show from Kansas, and now, despite the unfortunate exile from the US, the last-minute vehicle discovery and preparations for the long PanAmerican journey.

My life is slowly falling into a comfortable routine. Every day I wake up at 7am, allowing for a few minutes to prepare myself mentally before I spring into the shower. Between 7.30am and 9am I guard the place, sometimes browsing my computer at the reception desk, sometimes staring at the huge potential of the future ciber-room and making lists with equipment and prices. At 8.55am one of the cleaning ladies arrives, and that allows me to walk to the Children's Center.

Main patio at the Centro de Esperanza Infantil "Oxaca Streetchildren Grassroots".
The whole crowd at the Children's Center; Yesenia (manager) is the third one on the left.
Two out of my three hours I spend in the kitchen with a 5-foot-tall Mixtecan woman called Juanita. Together we prepare traditional Mexican lunches for more than 30 children, which entails dicing dozens of vegetables, and stirring close to three gallons of natural flavor water. Juanita mainly speaks Mixtecan; sometimes Spanish when she needs to give directions –however, she never learned to write or read in her village. Somehow, given my Castilian accent and my pale skin, she still believes I am an American, so she does a lot of hand gestures to describe the precise duties of the day. Together we have a blast telling jokes about tomatoes running away from us, lemonade being sour enough for adults only, or cooking misbehaving children in the large pots. My shift usually ends with a cup of freshly stirred flavored water –lemon, melon, watermelon, horchata, jamaica– and a broad, thankful smile from Juanita and her other helpers.

Juanita in her natural habitat: a deliciously-smelling cavalcade of pots, pans and buckets.

Yours Truly! The big pot above my head is 30-40 people's servings of fresh lemonade.
Ground chile to spice up the mole rojo (meat and corn stew). The resulting goo is filtered and added to the pot!

Somewhere in between my two hours in the kitchen I get out to tutor my student, Evaristo, in English. Evaristo is a 16-year-old kid with bright black eyes, crooked teeth and neatly gelled hair; and much like myself when I was 16, he seems pretty clueless. His personality is quiet and reserved, quite mumbly actually; and he, just like the children in the Mexican educational system, has been taught to be quiet in class and not ask questions. Evaristo's English teacher is just plain awful: not only he blurts out the lesson at too fast of a pace, but does not bother to correct each kid's assignments on their textbook. All I see, exercise by exercise, is a big tick on top of each question to prove that they have laid their pencil on the paper, that they have written something, anything, right or wrong. Evaristo is one of the many victims of these careless teachers and textbooks full of mistakes, so I do my best to give him lists of useful vocabulary and practical examples, often using colorful metaphors that he remembers better than words like lexicon, attributive or adverbial. I am proud to see his curiosity spark back to life when he realizes he can identify words in a popular song, or when he discovers little details about other volunteers through questions he asks in English. It will be a long road for him with a lot to learn together, but it will be a rich and fruitful one, and I sincerely hope he continues it after I leave to resume my travels.

Evaristo learns what the words "Tomato" and "Potato" mean, and giggles in the process.
Once I am out of the center I go back to my desk and wait to report my progress to Don Lino, the man who hired me. I tell him about the software updates, the materials I need and the neat distribution of the equipment. After checking the hostel, sometimes we drive up to his four-star resort and I help him with the computers over there; and very often talk for a good while. He loves remembering the days in which he was involved in Oaxaca politics in the Department of Education, Public Works, Agriculture, Tourism and Public Order. He fondly tells me about his days in Brussels, the New York UN, and Israel, where he took note on their advanced methods of farming. He originally studied industrial enginering and was given a scholarship for UC San Diego, from there he worked part time as a teacher and began to become involved in local politics and business. "Politics are there to be enjoyed, not to bring affliction", he says with a calm pace, along with one of the most memorable sentences I have heard in a good, good while: "Life gives you the tools, college gives you the language. Don't let them tell you otherwise". We discuss life, our experiences abroad and general business ethics. Every time we talk I become quiet because he has a lot to say, and I want to hear all of it without interruption: I learn, I am inspired, and relate to much to what he has been through. In these last weeks we have been growing very close: to me he no longer feels like a boss, as to him I no longer feel like an employee. I have been to his house several times and he has invited to the baptism of his grandson. The long evenings that I spend fixing computers are no longer about honoring our deal, but about honoring our friendship and genuinely wanting his hostel to thrive.

A very Almodovar-eque scene in this traditionally Catholic ceremony, a child's baptism.
Don Roberto (left), secretary to Don Lino (right). Good people in a happy setting!
I made these cupcakes WITH MY BARE HANDS.
Mini-Lino, the life of the party!

When it's time to return to the hostel, I hop into the wagon, turn the key without hesitation and roll down the cobblestone hill, overlooking downtown and its glimmering lights. I wheel slowly past the pothole-filled streets that cram with buses during the day, and arrive to the hostel, where Javier has reserved my parking spot with two folding chairs. I take the rest of the shift and close the doors, proud of what I have done that day, and the excellent people who have let me into their life.

In the middle of September I had a very special visit: Bernard and Scott from Central America Overland Expeditions, a professional offroading company touring the middle of the Continent. They caught me lunching in the kitchen, but not without enthusiasm, nevertheless. "Are you Miguel?", asked Bernard to the tall guy with half a taco in his mouth. The second day of their stay we toured the historic district of Oaxaca looking for an early dinner, and we had an empanada seller hit on Bernard. We settled for some empanada, 1/3 of a tamal, fries, pig head tacos, and it was all good. The next morning I introduced these two brave expeditionaries to Garmin open-source maps and waved them goodbye on their way to Tuxtepec.

Careful, we got three dangers over here! Scott (left), Yours Truly (center) and Bernard (right).
I know, no colonial church shots in this entry. There will be time to walk around Oaxaca and take some beautiful shots of this monumental diamond in the rough, but for now my camera, my writing and my energies are with all these remarkable human beings. Anyone can take pictures with little effort, but it takes dedication to build friendships this meaningful and inspiring. It is this kind of company –rich or poor, well-traveled or illiterate, young and old– that truly makes you feel like part of the big brotherhood of Man, that truly taps into the common thread that links us all. This is the kind of experiences one lives for, and my pen will tell more than a thousand photographs.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Road of Good Intentions

The morning of the 8th of September I was waken up by the warmth of sunlight, filtering timidly through the thick curtains of my room. My shower was long and boiling hot on purpose; the simple pleasure of cleanliness has become immensely enjoyable since the beginning of the journey: the steam filling the room; my hair being soft and my scalp being relaxed; the ever-so-light revitalization of my eyelids; the smoothness of a close shave as I run my fingers down my jaw. Whoever said that cleanliness was next to godliness, understood the transcendental relief, the exhilarating peace of this aquatic refreshment.

Soon after cleansing body and soul, I devoured my continental breakfast and jolted up to my room to finish up the last Mexico City entry; then closed the laptop and checked out at reception. I asked for a "safe taxi", which is a very sensible thing to do in Mexico: a few, very unfortunate cabs down here operate fake licenses to gain some bait for fruitful kidnappings. For that reason, the safest thing to do is to run to the closest taxi stop (clearly marked and supervised) or to ask for one out of the central through the closest business. Hailing one from the street is always a gamble, especially if you are hauling a backpack, wearing shades, and look pale, clueless and clean-shaven.

You know you are in good hands when...
The bill for replacing both flex discs, the carrier bearing and its support amounted a little over $200, including driveshaft rebalancing and painting (!), plus an immense peace of mind. As soon as I arrived I was asked if I wanted a pressure wash for free, and in a few minutes my car turned from a soiled dirt color to a nice factory yellow. In the meanwhile, we talked about my plans in Oaxaca and some of the mechanics' stories, including a Catalan customer who refused to be called Spanish, or some of the cars they had worked on. Surprisingly enough, the head mechanic knew what a Buick Reatta and a Fiat 2300S were! I am glad he was the one to work on my car, despite the unfortunate timing of having to leave the USA in a rush. The manager let me snap a couple pictures, and we waved each other goodbye with a broad smile and the best wishes for the future. I absolutely recommend this shop: Afinaciones Cientificas Castillo.


Being back on the road felt like true heaven. The grip on the steering wheel, the seat beads salvaged from Tyler's Ford Crown Victoria, the purr of the diesel engine at 55mph, the neatly austere instruments ahead of me. Every click, every smell, every whisper of the car brought me back home in this machine, been cobbled together to support my life for the following months.

Just outside of Mexico lie some of the most monumental ruins of the New World: the spiritual complex of Teotihuacán. The story talks about the two gods who sacrificed themselves by diving into a bonfire, to be reincarnated as the Sun and the Moon. This sacred city boasts their respective pyramids, the tallest being 75m and the smallest being a not-so-modest 43m.

I had to take this photo on my own personal conquest of the pyramids!
The entire complex is crowded by little souvenir stores, sweaty overworked tourists and insistent vendors that shuffle towards you as if triggered by motion. Amongst the tourists, one can distinguish those of Anglo-Saxon origin (US, Britain), with their work-it-all attire consisting on running shoes, sunglasses and shorts. The ones from Spanish origin dress in cream/toasted tones, many a time in hippie organic fashion, and curse obliviously anywhere they go. And then, there are some of Mexican origin that have not bothered to change their everyday attire for the toil of climbing...

Props to this woman (in the foreground) for climbing 75m in high heels. The descent was hilarious to watch.
The complex itself was breathtaking, literally and figuratively. I arrived to the top of the Sun pyramid and collapsed on one corner, but I stayed up there for close to an hour, admiring the greatness of the whole complex and the surrounding landscapes in complete awe.

Nothing like a small-scale warm-up first at the Moon Pyramid.
Splendid! That wasn't that hard, wasn't it?
This is the moment in which you confront the scale of what you are about to do...
Hello, Moon pyramid! I think I like the views from your big sister a little better...

What a wonderful morning, what a wonderful day! And since I had the wonderful feeling everything was going my way, I decided to push on to Puebla and get dinner there before sunset. The drive was 120km, which lasted a couple hours with the respective share of potholes, speed bumps and extreme jaywalkers across the interstate. This decision did not disappoint.

I arrived to the heart of Puebla at 5.45pm, just in time to eat a couple tacos árabes (the meat is cut off a cylinder resembling a döner-kebab) and scout for a safe location to spend the night. I hit the jackpot with both choices, and parked about a block of the town's Starbucks in a über-safe neighborhood where I would be assured to annoy someone if I stayed for too long (see the trend?). I snuggled in my improvised tent and had a pleasant night back in the memory foam mattress.

The next morning I opened my eyes and heard nothing. Everything was absolutely silent: no traffic, no birds, no shouts in the distance. It was eerie, even: it felt as if my wagon had been blasted into deep space. I opened the door of my very own Apollo XII, and I could not believe the lunar landscape before my eyes: all buildings around the car had been leveled to the ground: some were oozing water from the broken plumbing, others were still in flames; not a soul was in sight. I walked to what I remembered as being the nearest avenue, just to see the dimensions of the damage, and why my Mercedes, despite this destructive blast, had been the only unscathed object for hundreds of meters. While I would like to brag about the toughness of my vehicle, it is not the time to do so. It took me a while to walk to the main street, completely empty.

The night before this street was lined with cars! Where were they? What is going on?!
I finally saw some –very confused- people near the Financial District. Some of them had burns.
And if you have read this far, relax: I have been kidding all this time. The only true statements in that pile of apocalyptic gibberish were the fact that the morning was dead silent, and the main street being completely empty. I walked to the local Starbucks called by nature, and there I found out that every Sunday, the town of Puebla cuts off traffic to allow for people to cycle and jog. Now, isn't that cool? As I walked down the avenue I saw several officers stopping the crossing traffic to allow for cyclists to roam freely. I went back to the wagon and this is the actual landscape surrounding it:

Now, much better than I described, isn't it? The road condition honors the description, though.
Because my point-and-shoot was running low in battery and I have not found a charger yet, I grabbed my big Canon 60D, a camera that means business. I am incredibly glad, as the subject being photographed was well worth it, in every corner and every nook. Read on, and find out the marvels that I found that day, on a quiet Sunday in the streets of Puebla...

This formerly abandoned mansion was being rehabbed as a luxurious office for a psychologist.
You just walked into the real of Technicolor: welcome to Puebla.
Calle Reforma, the thin line between touristy and authentic.
The Zocalo. In the background there was a loud preacher commenting on the wonders of being alive.
Lively dancers, restless children, curious tourists, happy gluttons... the maelstrom of mankind!
The Zocalo fountain angel, with the Cathedral as a backdrop.
I do have to very important points to make about Puebla. The first one is the large amount of gorgeous abandoned architecture: while there are many imposing 19th century gems and Art Decó constructions that never fail to please the eye, there is always some incredibly detailed building that has broken windows, crumbling concrete and well... smells of pee. My entrepreneurial self reeks his mind thinking of the many possibilities, from hostels to little academies like my grandfather started his business... The second point is the extreme contrast between the areas that are touristy and the ones that are used by the locals. It is as easy as making a right or a left on Avenida Reforma. First, I went for some travel magazine shots to get them out of the way...

Rejoice in the historic charm of colonial times!
What better place to celebrate a unique anniversary with that special someone? Visit Puebla!
Thinking of work? Puebla offers a unique, multinational setting for the world-class businessman!
Are you a lover of the arts? The local architecture near the Zócalo will fail to disappoint!
Relax and shop in the many cheap souvenir shops along these overly colorful buildings!
Oh, my! Witness the fusion of East and West in this arabesque arch I found by total accident!
Okay, okay. Enough with the travel brochure shots. Let's get it on with the true nit and grit of Puebla, walking alongside the locals, people who would never think of spending $1000 on a camera! Getting to the true commercial quarter is as easy as walking a few blocks north, from the point in which you start feeling crowded amongst jaywalking locals, to the point in which you feel mildly threatened because you know you are sticking like a sore thumb. And somehow, everywhere I have traveled, I have a constant: to pass a few things that look pretty good, keep walking, start doubting, start thinking of returning, doubt some more, and, suddenly, discover something off the chart before the regret of walking too far has settled entirely. Yes, that's how everything in life –not only sightseeing- seems to work for me.

The first thing I did was to snoop around the stores surrounding the lesser churches. Soon enough I found a stream of older women pouring into a very humble-looking business. It happened to be an ancient Cerería, a business dedicated to the sole purpose of selling candles of all shapes, sizes and durations. As soon as the women were gone, the owner kindly welcomed me to take as many pictures as I wished, and even let me pass on to the very back.

The ever-smiling owner, just about to pull some to let me smell the fresh beeswax.
How do you think a store exclusively dedicated to candles would function in the USA?
The backstore was populated by hundreds of candles dangling from the ceiling and sitting on the floor.
Thanking her, I gave her one of the devotion booklets that I got in Guadalupe, and she offered me a couple stickers from her business. The Antiguo Cereo Alarkon doesn't have an online presence, so you will have to look very hard for it between the 3th and 6th East-West streets.

The next item on my personal laundry list on things to do in Puebla was to try some of the local candy. A long time ago, when my mother used to own a travel agency, a representative of the Puebla Chamber of Commerce stopped by our town and gave us some delicious samples of Puebla candy. That memory has stuck with me for all these years, and it hasn't been until this very special day that I could reunite with these sweet confectioneries. I skimmed the streets looking for a real cave of wonders, the ancient hole-in-the-wall where the Holy Grail of Candy lives.

And I found it.

Climbing a step into what seemed a re-purposed XIX Century lodge, I spotted several bags of pork's ear, gumdrops, obleas and artisan lollipops. The only thing missing was my Indiana Jones hat, which, despite making me feel embarrassed in front of the somber countenance of the owner, would have been greatly appropriate in the face of this epic discovery.

Chile candy, gumdrops, chewy caramel, toasted almond crisps, cajeta lollipops...
As soon as the elevating music of John Williams ceased to play in my head, I asked the owner for some recommendations about some genuine Puebla sweets. He pointed right to the counter, where I saw a few bars delicately wrapped with thin plastic and simple, unpretentious labeling. I thought of the kids who I was going to teach in Oaxaca, and also ordered, for a whooping $5, a couple pounds of fruity candy squares, a favorite with a little bit of acidity, as the store owner described. With $9 spent in the big boy and the little kids, I was happy as a clam.

Notice the pink and the yellow bars at the bottom: less than $1 a piece, made of pumpkin seeds.
With a whole day's worth of walking, my legs began feeling heavy. At 4pm I thought it was a good time to sit down in one of the Starbucks couches, sip some tea and write the day away. However, on the way back from the candy store, I made yet another discovery, the one that has made Puebla satisfy every single expectation that I could ever have of a town I barely know anything about: a section in the local Chevrolet dealership, dedicated exclusively to vintage models...

All of them in mint condition. That white one in the background is a 90's Pope escort Caprice!
Darn, Puebla. Not only my thirst for beautiful architecture has been quenched today, but –who knew!–, my car-nut sense of curiosity has gotten its due reward just a few blocks from home. All these GM models were brand-new looking down to the taillight plastic, as if I had gone back in time thirty years. I wished Tyler, Mr. Roadmaster wagon, was there to witness it!

Got church? Yep, a few steps away from the shiny new GM showroom.
That street seemed to be where all the auto parts stores were at. Being a Sunday they were all closed, but they offered a colorful and shabby panorama as I walked back to the Mercedes.

An ubiquitous Mexican scene: a fonda (restaurant) and an old Volkswagen!
The Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza, or simply put, Puebla, has surprised me in every single way. Bit by bit as the day went by, I have had moment of sheer amazement combined with those of utter, unexpected awe. The day started with a pleasant realization of a city government who puts people's health before automobiles, and ended up surrounded by delicious candy –only found in this part of the world– and a blast thirty years into the past into a vintage Chevrolet dealership. That one day, simply put, has been one of the best days I have had in months.


The following day I woke up at dawn and drove for close to five hours on to Oaxaca, on my way to be a volunteer teacher for the following month. The road was reasonably well paved, and it was beyond scenic. I had my bulky SLR in the back of the car, so I could only take pictures when I had the chance to stop, in one of the terraces overlooking the valley...

A little roadside stop to take some pictures and enjoy some Puebla candy overlooking the foggy peaks!
The supervisor at the education center received me rather... coldly. She explained me the mission of the center, handed me a sheet of paper to be filled, and told me to return the next day at 9am. I recognized that she may have been buried in work, or maybe she had a so-so day. In any case, I wandered the beautiful streets of Oaxaca. I will have a month to write about its flavorful architecture, its coffee-skinned people and the many unusual dishes I have bowed to try.

The traditional Spanish patio, many miles from home.
Just of of curiosity, I stopped from hostel to hostel asking for rates for a bed for one night, just to factor some budgeting for the month that I will be spending here. One of these hostels seemed rather empty; I could hear the beating of the hammer behind the reception desk. Just out of curiosity, I asked if they had any job openings available, and Javier, the receptionist, gladly called his boss to ask. He said he would visit in a couple hours, so I spent the rest of the afternoon talking to Javier about the mouth-watering food specialties of Oaxaca, and tasting some myself out in the streets.

Mr. Lino, the owner, arrived at 6 o'clock. He shook my hand with firmness and confidence, and we talked about a possible exchange of lodging/food for an online visibility package (listings, website, promotion). We agreed on another solid handshake. Now I could really experience Oaxaca like a true native, intermingling with local families, hearing their stories and helping them in the process! I was beyond glad and thankful for this strike of luck. If you feel curious, I shall be here, at the Hostal Plaza del Carmen in Matamoros Street... so come pay me a visit if you are thinking of coming to experience this gorgeous town of Oaxaca de Juarez!

- - - - - -

It's been more than 20 days since I left Wichita, forced by a government who cares more about what can be gotten out of immigrants than the whole spectrum of what they can provide by themselves. I miss my friends deeply, and somehow two visits to KFC –hush, try to understand!– have tightened this nostalgia of the United States. It's still a long road of unexpected events, with fortunes and misfortunes. However, all I can say is that the day I spent in Puebla and this pleasant surprise in Oaxaca have been the best start that I could have had for everything I have ahead.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Oh, On to Oaxaca!

My week-long stay in Mexico DF has been a fruitful one indeed. Despite spending almost two full-days sipping ice tea and doing some additional research online at Starbucks, I leave the Distrito Federal with zero regrets and the intentions not to return in a long, long time.

Bi-Centennial ornaments at the Zocalo Square.

Mexico DF follows the same pattern as Los Angeles: a smoggy, monstrous city with several independent nuclei, called colonias. For most of the time I stayed at the Colonia Del Valle, a posh, upper-middle class district with very uppity neighbors and low crime. For all that time I remained safe, yet I had two awkward encounters with the local authorities –the Policia Federal...

...the first one was an unintentional violation of Mexico City's smog law. While I had heard of vehicles not being permitted to run on certain days of the week, I wasn't sure if that would apply to a foreign plate. Sure enough, it did: I got pulled over because my license, ending in a "5", was banned from circulating on Mondays. The officer said the penalty was close to $250 and several days at the local depot... unless I wanted to try an alternative route. Aaaah, I see what you did there. A $40 tip let me off the hook with a secret "code" to circulate the rest of the afternoon. At the end of the day, and despite the sketchiness of the deal, a good amount of research later revealed I had saved myself a good amount of money. Future overlanders take note: foreign vehicles on do have to comply to smog laws, so get a custom license plate without numbers on it, just letters! Here's a link to this anti-pollution law in Mexico City.

...the second encounter happened while I was adding some input to my GPS in my usual spot. The police officer approached me with professionalism and courtesy, asked me a few personal questions and took a look at my license. He told me someone in the neighborhood had expressed concern about the car being abandoned and wanted it towed. In other words, something closer to the following line: "Please, officer, hurry; there is an unsightly, older vehicle amongst all our new imports, parked right on the street! It's ugly and I want it gone". This officer, however, perfectly understood that, while I was not rich, I wanted to stay in a secure neighborhood. In fact, he vowed to patrol my street more often to see if the car and I were doing well. Woo-hoo!

In the few days that I spent parked in Patricio Sanz #1249, I got to identify many of the locals. Some of them were passionate lovers that kissed for a while before waving each other goodbye; others were humble doormen who had no other occupation to clean cars at the entrance of their buildings. Yet, the most special one was the 9 o'clock tamale seller, Giovanni. Every evening, at 8.45pm, I heard the monotone recording advertising his steamy delights –Tamales Oaxaqueños, calentitos–, and only once I stopped his tricycle to buy a couple. We chatted for a while; he told me he really wanted to attend culinary school, and was currently working as a tamale seller because the job offered a lot of flexibility. "You don't live in your car, do you?". I nodded, his eyebrows raised. "I am about to go teach in Oaxaca", I told him. "Wow, that's funny; well, not funny, just... not common", he said.
As well as being a near-bum in the streets of Mexico, I visited a few places that my friend, Dani, recommended. However, upon my own insistence and much to my surprise, my native friend had never been to the world-famous Basícila de Guadalupe, a place for pilgrims only second to the Vatican. No photography was allowed inside the museum, so I have been forced to use other people's work to give you a full experience of what we saw inside...

Old Basilica of Guadalupe. The actual painting of the Virgin is located in the newer, 70's monstrosity next to it.
Exvotos (painted offerings) from people who thanked the Virgin of Guadalupe. Photo from El Pueblerino Ilustrado.
Perhaps the most important painting in all of Latin America. Photo by Joaquín Martínez.

For some reason, Dani and I were left breathless, as if the air was thinner. Elevation was not significantly higher than normal, but we were both panting at the end of our museum visit. To compensate for this tiring morning, we ate a succulent pot of Mole de Olla (a spicy meat stew) in a local restaurant, as well as the most delicious banana-bean wraps I have ever tasted.

Once my friend Dani left town, I was left on my own to explore the Anthropological Museum. I spent close to 2.5 hours driving in zigzags to avoid construction in what should have been a 40-minute route. Thankfully, and by some twist of Universal Karma, I was greeted with a free pass because it happened to be Sunday.

Modern architecture wraps thousands of years of civilization under one roof! Photo by Hanneorla.
 The first thing I have to say about this museum is that it is the most alive museum I have ever been to. Not only its pre-Hispanic collection surpasses that of the Metropolitan and the British combined in quantity and quality; but the amount of youth visiting the building was ASTOUNDING. Several families had made a day event out of knowing their people's history, and many middle and high-schoolers ran from room to room, furtively taking notes, laughing at the phali and making hilarious comments about some of the statues. I would like to join them now by saying that this one statue looks like Humphrey Bogart...

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

The Aztec calendar, said to be more accurate than our own!
Stone-by-stone transplants are also part of this incredible complex.
The second floor of the museum represents the enormous variety of typical attires, music, architecture, food and craftmanship from all corners of Mexico. It was a true delight to see the History that is still alive, built on top of its noble Mayan, Aztecan, Toltec and Olmec roots.

If you think this is breathtaking, just wait until you see the inside... Photo by Hanneorla.

At the end of the week I decided that I had been sleeping for enough (16) days in the car and that I should treat myself to a little luxury and hygiene. I found out a marvelous hostel called Casa Gonzalez, right in the heart of the Paseo de Insurgentes. For $30, I could not be wrong!

Chilling in the heart of Chapultepec, overlooking the vessel of this journey!

Before taking off for Oaxaca, I decided to do some preventive maintenance in Livingstone. I had a few driveshaft parts I didn't have the time to install in the USA, so  quickly looked up the Bosch Service Center directory and found a competent mechanic near the hotel. As soon as I showed up in the shop I was flabbergasted: not only they serviced local taxis and police cars; amongst the curiosities in their stalls there was a 1940's Packard, a 1940's Jeepster and a W108 Mercedes 220SE. I had the strong intuition I was in good hands, and left Livingstone there for day and a half.

As soon as I got out of my little hostel, I was surrounded by modern skyscrapers.
Zona Rosa, a touristy commercial neighborhood with a taste of Barcelona.
Why is most of Mexico overweight? Because candy is delicious and readily available!

In this time I wandered aimlessly throughout the area, and had the honor of tasting Pozole, a pre-Colonial stew made out of corn, chunks of diverse meat and other delicious veggies. Other than that, I have been doing lots of research through other overlander websites, writing in the "articles section" and jolting down a few very important facts and addresses on my paper journal. The road to Teotihuacan will be exciting to say the least, and I can't wait to spend a day in Puebla. I am beginning to develop some ideas for English lessons for the kids of Oaxaca, and the panorama looks very, very promising!