Conseuela and Carlos are a lovely little old couple who run the bnb that i've booked. They have twinkling eyes, grey hair and hug me with great warmth on my arrival. They don't speak any English but i'm gradually getting by with my Spanish and the Mexicans are very patient with my Argentinian pronounciation! Carlos heaves the 'bastard” onto his shoulders and I follow him up a winding little staircase in the middle of a huge open courtyard with a large tree growing in the middle of it.
My bedroom is at the top with ensuite bathroom and even an English book on the bedside to read. Outside on the balcony (more of a roof with a sheer drop onto the courtyard below!) there is a little wooden writing table and a bird cage with two bright red love birds inside – pecking and bothering each other, like lovers do.
There is also an enormous cockroach in the toilet bowl. I end up peeing standing up. Oh well its good for my quads. I don't feel too guilty - if they can survive a nuclear holocaust then he can survive me peeing on its head.
Downstairs there is a huge Toucan that solemnly observes me down his long banana shaped beak with a doleful green eye.
There are too many bars here for my liking that are hiding this beauty. I'm not a fan of birdcages literal or metaphorical....
Breakfast is home cooked by Consuela – and consists of tortillas, green beans refried beans and scrambled eggs. They sit down and join me and after watching me try and eat a tortilla with knife and fork (how British!) Carlos demonstrates how I should eat it with my hands.
Oaxaca is a beautiful little town, filled with cobblestone streets and pretty churches leading down into the main Zocolo. Its raining huge drops and the streets are filled with tents of teachers protesting for more pay (more protesting!) In the evening fireworks light up the stones and I can hear the music from an open air concert in the hills.
I go on a day excursion to Mitla and am joined by a San Franciscan called Susie who is tanned with great teeth (like all Americans) and mad staring blue eyes. She is a counsellor who specialises in post traumatic stress disorder. She informs me that traumatic events have now been renamed and are called "adverse life events."
Can it really be healthy to rename the truly terrible things that shatter our lives
"yeah it was awful, my lover left me, my house burnt down and then I had a road accident"
"Oh really, i'm sorry to hear that how... adverse..."
Then again, words are very powerful. Maybe choosing a less impactful term dilutes the impact of the event itself. I don't know - my internal jury is out.
Mitla means "City of the Dead" and was inhabited by the Zapotec tribe – an indigenous people -from perhaps as early as 900BC until at as late as the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in the region and is typified by the ornate and intricate mosaic tile work on its friezes.
We see a 2000 year old Tula tree with a 42 metre diameter and also watch a carpet weaving demonstration given by an old Teuluan woman, slowly spinning wool like an ancient sleeping beauty on her wheel. The tour guide demonstrates how they make the red dye – cochineal - through crushing the shell of the insects that live on the cacti – and then change the colour to vivid lilacs or burnt umbers through adding lime stones or lemon juice.
We go to a Mezcal distillery to learn how the smoky tequila based liquor is extracted from the agave cacti – and then do a tasting of different flavoured shots inluding easily downable cappuccino and strawberry flavours that leaves us all a little half cut. The traditional way to do the shot is a ritual with a slice of lime rolled in crunched up worm mixed with chilli. Like anything rolled in spices and salt and downed with almost neat alcohol - the worm tastes great!
And then we visit my favourite place of all –Hierve el Agua (literally Boiling water) ..... High up in the mountains, bubbling calcium rich springs have toppled over and calcified to give the appearance of petrfied waterfalls. The view over the misty mountain tops is cool and calm and ever so tranquil. Leading down to the cliff tops where the frozen salt streams cascade - - are bone white honey combed dips and shallows where litte pools of water have collected. An american kid takes of his socks and sits down to cool off his feet. People gravitate to the edge and then sit. This is a place to just sit and contemplate. A bride and groom are having their photos take, she froths out her veil and watches as the wind picks it up and blows it out behind her.
We go for lunch where they are servingsome traditonal Mexican delicacies. Susan and the Colombian student she's been joined by have just decided to have beer as they can't afford the lunch. I fill up my plate with cactus salad , tacos and their crunchy pickled accompaniement.
"I've brought back some extra grasshoppers" I say –
" in case you want to try them." She looks horrified.
They taste like all pickled things- a bit briny only with more legs. I was hoping for more of a peanut butter flavored crunch but they are not unpleasant.
We leave late in the day. Our tour guide Manuela berates us for being late (again.) We are all a little bit drunk still from the many different flavoured mezcal shots and i'm ashamed to say it but we really don't care.