Friday, March 6, 2009

The Adventure to the Beach: An Epic Saga

So, last night around 10 pm Heather, Amanda, and I began our trip to Puerto Escondito. The bus left without a hitch at 11 for our 10 hour journey. The beach is only about 200 miles, but its over windy mountains and far away. At about 3:30 am the bus stops, thinking the driver had to go to the bathroom or take a break I got back into my dramamine-induced sleep. At 4 am he turns on the lights and says "Hubo un accidente, tenemos que esperar un rato". Translation: There was an accident and we're going to have to wait for a while. We all fell back asleep sort of, listening to people walking around outside in the dark. When the sun came up around 6 we decided to take a look outside to see what was going on. At this point many of the people on the bus (who were mostly Mexican) were taking their luggage and walking. We were in the middle of the mountains in who-knows-where-Mexico at 6:30 am. As we're standing thinking of whether to risk just walking down this road, which is stopped up with at least 20 busses full of people and 50 flat bed trucks carrying cargo through Oaxaca's mountains to the shore, two girls come ask us in broken English what is going on. They were two German girls who did not speak Spanish and were very confused. We told them they could stick with us. We walked about a mile until we reached the accident, passed several trucks and busses. Amanda was wearing healed flip-flops, and all of us were in sort of a sleepy haze. A 18-wheeler gas truck had flipped over covering the whole road. Since we were in the middle of no where, there was no alternative way around except walking. Once we got around we were able to get a taxi to take us to the nearest town (which cost about $120 pesos--pretty expensive for a Mexican Taxi), after squeezing 5 of us into it with all of our luggage, we took off for Tehuantepec. About 25 minutes later we arrived, and the driver dropped us off on the side of the road tellling us we had to then take another bus to get to a bus station where we could get a bus to get to Puerto. That bus arrived and took us to Salina Cruz where the first class bus station was. Another 200 pesos later we were on a bus to Puerto Escondito--at about 8:45 am. By this time we should have already been there. 5 hours later we arrived at the beach...but the long journey definitely made everything seem much better.

Friday, February 27, 2009

10 Taco Night

Wednesday night is an awesome night because is 2 for 1 tacos at Pastor Cito, a restaurant right near my house. 10 tacos cost 30 pesos, and with today's exchange rate that's $2 for dinner. The tacos are awesome, and you also get as much guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa verde y roja that you want. Its a great adventure. Probably the best part is when the make the tacos. They have the big piece of meat on a roaster with a pineapple on top. For every taco they cut the meat into the tortillas and then from a piece of pineapple that sits above the meat, they cut a piece off with the knife and catch it with the taco. The best part about 10 taco night (besides getting to eat 10 tacos), is you get to watch them do it 10 times. Each taco is served with pastor (meat), cilantro, onions, and pineapple.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Beach Weekend 2

The beach this weekend was an awesome break from being in Oaxaca, and it turns out we missed the "cold" weather they had here. It was about 90 degrees all three days we were there, and the water in the ocean was perfect. We tried a new beach this time, called Bahía de Chagué. Huatulco has 9 bays with over 33 beachs, and many of them are not accessible by car or foot, and you have to take a boat to them. However, when you're there on the weekend, Huatulco is a tourist location for many people in the country of Mexico. Since Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in the country, most Oaxacans do not get to go on vacation, and their resorts fill up with out of staters. We chose this beach because it was quiet and had awesome surf. The waves were about 3-4 feet and would crash right on the shore.

The bus ride is always fun, and this time sitting in the front row I could see the roads we were travelling on. Oaxaca's mountaineous terrain and poor infastructure makes traveling to this beach, only about 160 miles take over 7 1/2 hours. It is literally 7.5 hours of driving down back country roads, like Firetown Road in Granby. It got its nickname from last years group "the Vomit Comet" from those who forgot to take their dramamine before leaving Oaxaca. The drivers don't make it any better of a ride since they know the roads well, and fly around the corners in the middle of the night making it an exciting and scary ride.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Running/Mexican Drivers

Running here is an adventure. In Mexico there are no rules about pedestrians, and cars can basically do whatever they want, if that means run you over, then they will. Running here has been really nice because in the mornings it is 70 degrees, but it is very dangerous. When crossing a street, even if its one way you have to look the other direction because you never know who is coming. It is also a little tricky running in some places due to the cobblestone roads, and the huge hill that I have to run up to get home. The other hazard are other people. Its like no one here has ever seen some exercise before. Many times I have to stop and walk out in the road (where I then might get hit) because people won't move. Its sort of a every man for himself out there.

On the subject of cars, Mexican drivers are pretty ridiculous, they honk a lot, and are generally bad drivers (no blinkers, drive way to fast in places they shouldn't, cut people off, run read lights, go the wrong way down one way streets, etc.) They also honk a lot. Many times its at girls, other times its at other cars, and my favorite is at inanimate objects such as construction sites, because if you honk enough the huge hole in the middle of the road will fill itself up so they can get through. Its also a chain reaction, once one person starts honking at the hole in the middle of the road, everyone else does too--the more honking the better. A couple days a go I had my favorite Mexican driving experience. I walk home from school on a 2 way road that has a lane for people to parallel park. There was a lane of cars parked, and 2 large 18 wheelers that were delivering Coronas, leaving one lane open for people to go both ways. Two cars approached going different directions, and both advanced into this one lane section. When the reached the middle and could not move because there was no space, they began to honk at each other. More cars followed suit so there was a huge gridlock because no one could go anywhere. It was just a big honkfest.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Beach

We went to the beach in Hualtulco last weekend. Its not too far from Oaxaca mileage wise, but you have to go over mountains. We left at 11:00 at night and got in around 5:30 in the morning. It is a really windy ride, but I was able to fall asleep. The bus gets its nickname, The Vomit Comet, because of its fast speed around these mountains and switchbacks. We got to the beach and went to our hotel and slept until 10. After that we walked to the beach, like a block from the hotel. It was a nice day about 90 degrees. The beach is line with restaurants and all the store owners are very agressive about getting you to come sit at their restaurant. They all think that by talking to you in English you are more likely to sit down in their restaurant. Most of the people only know the words of what they sell in English. Later that day Tamara and I went Jet Skiing which was a ton of fun--once you got out of the bay, the waves got big so it was totally worth it.
We went back to the beach on Sunday and went on the Banana Boat which is a long inflatable banana shapped thing you sit on, and the motor boat pulls you along quickly. They also flip you over into the ocean which is pretty fun. We left on Saturday night at 11:15 and got back to Oaxaca at 5:00 am. It was tough doing the over night busses but it was totally worth it.

Here are some pictures:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Metro Ride

Our last day in Mexico City we took a ride on the subway called: Sistemo de Transporte Collectivo Metro Ride. It was quite and experience. The system is fairly new built in 1969 and is the second largest train network in North America (after New York). It also has the 5th in greatest number of people transported. It is a rubber tired metro system, as you can see in the pictures. Each station we went to was crowded like one of the el stations after a White Sox game. Chicago could learn something from the organization of the Metro, the Mexican's really have it down. Each train ride costs 2 pesos which is the equilavent of about 14 cents with today's exchange rate. Each train is like the Metro in DC, they are all automated, except the catch in Mexico is that the doors are automated as well, so you have to quickly move in and out of the train. We learned this the hard way when getting on for the first time and having half our group stuck on the platform and the door closing on my back. Some Mexican teenagers find it cool to stick their feet in the doors and try to hold them open. Rather than have the train wait for people the people have to wait for the train which makes everything move more effieciently. If you've ever thought you've been packed into a train car, this was like ten times as bad as anything in Chicago. We were getting on, which everyone does in a mob so they can make it on the train before the doors closed. The train looked packed, I heard the doors closing sound and all of a sudden I felt a huge shove from the people behind me, the force pushing me on to the train. It was like everyone had to suck in for us to get on. It was pretty fun.

Here are the pictures I was able to snap without looking like a terrorist threat:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mexico City Day 2

Today we took the bus out to Teotihuacan, home of the Teotihucanos. Teotihuacan was the biggest Mesoamerican site, and had a population of about 150,000-200,000 and the 2nd largest pyramid in the western hemisphere called the Pyramid of the Sun, which we climbed. The site is spectacular and huge. Only parts of it have been saved as the actually site, and there are many houses built over the rest of the city, but for the most part you could see it. It was amazing how big these pyramids were. I'll put up pictures soon that show them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mexico City Day 1

Today we left Oaxaca at 9 on our own bus to come to Mexico City. It is only about 180 miles away but the bus ride takes about 6-7 hours. I'll put up pictures later of the bus ride, but it goes through mountains and windy roads, then once you get into Mexico City it took about an hour and a half pushing through traffic to get to our hotel.

The honking is ridiculous here. Its sort of like a chain reaction, one person starts and everyone else goes. Its not just for a friendly reminder to go, or to warn someone they're going to get hit, Mexicans honk at everything, for example construction sites like they're going to magically get up and move out of the way so they can get through.

Mexico City is huge, as we drove in you can see the urban sprawl, its like nothing I've ever seen before--I saw it when I landed in Mexico City a couple weeks ago. All of this sprawl is covered in smog, and as we got closer and closer you could smell the city on the bus. Today once we got here we walked around a little bit and then went out to dinner as a group. Dinner was at an awesome restaurant, and we all had a lot of fun.

Tomorrow we go to Teotihuacan, one of the biggest urban centers back in the day. Its supposed to be in the low 90s so it should be a nice day to walk around.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


We were able to convince our professors to have class on Tuesday so we could watch the inauguration. We went to a restaurant that had CNN in English to watch. It was pretty fun to watch with a mixed group of Americans and Mexicans (they also had CNN in spanish). Besides Obama being inaugurated, the loudest clapping and cheering was when Bush took off in the helicopter.

Here are some pictures

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Weekend

Besides studying for the quiz that we were supposed to have on Monday, my host family and I went up to a mountain over looking the city of Oaxaca where we could see the city at night. While we were there, there was a car accident, so we got to see the ambulance and tow trucks come (there are pictures posted).
Here are the pictures:

Also, I went to a grocery store called Soriana which is like there version of WalMart - without all the issues of WalMart. They sold everything from tires, to clothes, to food. It was interesting to see the different selections. My host mom had asked me if I would cook "American" food for them one night, so I did. They had almost everything in the store, the one thing that was hard to find was spagetti sauce. There was maybe a foot of shelf space designated for it, and all of it had mushrooms in it. One thing that was interesting about the supermarket was the fact that the isles were basically laid out in the same way as Stop & Shop at home--there's definitely some science behind it.
The pictures are here of me with my host mom and family cooking:

Monday, January 19, 2009

More height issues...

Today when I was working on our take home essays, yes, I studied all day on Sunday for the exam today and when we got to class the professor decided we were going to have a take home exam instead of an exam in class, we were in the Italian Coffee Company which is like the Oaxacan Starbucks. I went to go use the bathroom, and on my way out I looked at the mirror and you could see from my chest down--it was a pretty big mirror, you could see down to my knees. I then when back out into the main area of the coffee shop where there are computers for people to use. They are up on higher tables with normal size chairs, so they are meant for someone with a Michael Phelps torso...go figure.

Excursion 2

We went on a 2nd excursion last week on Tuesday, but I just had a chance to upload the pictures. We went to 4 different archaeological sites in Oaxaca Valley, Dainzú, Lambityeco, Mitla, and Yagul. All of these were occupied betwen about 200 CE to 1200 CE and even to the conquest in 1521. They all have different examples of post classic and classic Mesoamerica things, like temples, patios, alters, palaces, ritualistic areas. Some highlights include going into the Tombs at Yagul and Mitla (there was one in Mitla I couldn't fit into), rock climbing at Yagul and ending up way higher than the rest of the class, and my lunch (which is in the pictures) at Mitla which was an awesome Tostada that cost about 80 cents...the exchange rate here is awesome!

The pictures are here:

There are 2 things that at all the sites/in Oaxaca that are important to note:
1. The stairs--they are either really steep with skinny places to put your feet, so they are very far apart. If you look at the pictures from Monte Albán you can see the stairs up to the platforms, some times they are cracked. Most of the times they are very hard to walk up, so the Zapotecs who lived here must have had long legs and small feet.
2. Height--Most of the tombs and tunnels that are found are probably about 3-4 feet tall, not meant for a 6' 1" male. Many of them are hard to fit into, and I can't in some of them, or I have to crawl. In general, throughout the city of Oaxaca I have noticed that everything is built for smaller people. I have to watch my head all the time, as door enterances are 6' and there are sometimes sloped roofs out over the sidewalks that are low enough so I can smack my head. When we go out at night, I'm usually the tallest person at any of the places we go, unless there are other Americans there. Its a city built for short people.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Real Guacamole

It was all lies, TGIFridays, Chiles, even that real mexican place in Hartford!

The guacamole here is totally different, it is like avocado water with limes. It has the consistnacy of pudding. It is actually really good, but just not what I was expecting. They use it for tacos, and for eating shrimp, and just about everything. My host mom makes it in the blender and puts in water, limes, and avocados and blends it up. No tostidos here to dip in the guac. Its amazing how many different things we call "Mexican" are not really Mexican at all.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wild Dogs

I wish I had my camera when I was walking home the other day, there were maybe 10 wild dogs walking around together. Oaxaca is full of wild dogs, they don't have collars and they're not spayed and neutered. They just run around and follow people wherever they go. Its a little scary because you don't know if they have rabies or not, and my host family says that a lot of them do. They are almost as dumb as my dog Ben, they walk out into the middle of the road when cars are coming, and with the way people drive here, I'm surprised they don't get hit. I've been followed home a couple times by them, but most of the time they are pretty friendly and are more scared of you then you are of them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hierve de Agua

On Saturday we took a trip in a van we rented up to Hierve de Agua. Translated literally into English it means boiling of the water. It got its name not from the water being warm, but the water coming up from an underground spring (see the pictures) and it looked as if it was boiling. The water was probably about 65/70 degrees, but it was only about 75 out when we were there (cold to the Oaxqueños). We did go swimming though. The water has iron and salt in it which makes these pools and gives the edges a reddish tint. In the time of Mesoamerica, people tried to plant and use the water, but it was unuseful due to the minerals within it. It does however, create a great tourist location. We had my mini ipod speakers and just hung out, since no one else was there because it is "winter" here.

Since I've heard a lot about how bad the winter in Chicago has been so far, I've been trying to explain to my family how the weather here is not cold. It gets down into the 50s at night which is great sleeping weather, but during the day it gets up into the 80s and 90s. I walked downstairs the other morning, and according to the thermometer on my travel alarm clock, the temperature in the house was about 64, and she was cooking breakfast with a down jacket, scarf and mittens on. They are definitely accustomed to a different climate.

The pictures from the trip are posted here:

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Classic Picture

Mark and I had Lauren take this picture of us leaning on Building J at Monte Albán, and it actually worked...we figured since we couldn't do it with the Eiffel Tower, we should do it here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Monte Albán

Yesterday we took an excursion to visit Monte Albán, an archeological site that was around from about 500 BCE to 1521 when the Hispanic invaded Mexico. The main portions that you see, however, were built during the Classic Period which was from about 250 CE to 700 CE. Monte Albán is up on a high hill in the Oaxaca Valley, and was the most powerful city during its time there. It took a lot of man hours to level everything off and to build the huge pyramids.

I put up photos of the different it here:

Monday, January 5, 2009

I made it!

So I made it to Oaxaca after a day of flying having flight attendants talk to me in Spanish even though I didn't understand them. My family picked me up from the airport in their Jeep, where we put all my luggage on top of their car. It was heavy but I got it up there.

Some first thoughts:
1. People here drive like maniacs, crossing the street is like a game and a death sentence all in one
2. The women are very subordinate and the men never enter the kitchen. The women clean, cook, and take care of the kids all day. Clearing your plate here is offensive to the mom. If only my house was like that...
3. The air is very polluted, and it gets pretty hazy
4. Their temperature scale is on a completely different level. The first morning here my host father told me he had to go warm up the car (it was probably 75 degrees out)
5. The food is nothing like taco bell...or even the authentic mexican restaurants we eat at at home