Leaving San Miguel and History as some know it.

Hierve de Agua with Zubin and Ciela
Hierve de Agua
Me and Captain Nibbles, my Xmas present
Wall art, Oaxaca City


Hotel Delphinus seconds as a stray dog shelter.
Chahue Beach in Huatulco
My baby after a bath
Turtle release in Puerto Escondido
Textile Exhibit outside Oaxaca City

We left San Miguel de Allende in early December and en route to Oaxaca spent several days in the magical capital city of Mexico. With a population hovering around 21 million, it’s the fourth largest in the world, and the grayish stained skies remind us every day of the impact of growing populations everywhere. Yet Mexico seems to have an infrastructure that somewhat sustains the masses, and like New York, city segments are separated into boroughs or neighborhoods, where one can live in a small region with few reminders of the surrounding chaos.

Mexico City has beautiful architecture, and a main park several times the size of New York’s Central park. It has amazing food, museums, and dedicated art and creativity that extend through the city. It also has amazing wealth and poverty, and like so many big, metropolitan cities, a chasm between the classes that only grows.  We visited the murals of Diego Rivera at the Palacio de Bellas Artes depicting the history and struggle of Mexico through the ages. We visited the floating markets of Xochimilco, now a busy weekend draw for tourists and Mexican families out for a Sunday picnic. The miles of canals are bogged with brightly colored barges carrying families, young lovers, teenage drinkers, interested tourists, singings bards and vendors of random food items. Next day we made our way to the spectacular pyramids of Teotihuacan, whose fall is still little understood. Increasingly, our guide told us, its fall is thought to have been caused by internal conflict (and certainly not external domination by Spaniards) and climate disruption. Change of rainfall patterns certainly were impacted by cutting all the trees, but there’s more. Originally set near a lake controlled by smartly placed dykes that controlled annual flooding, the Spaniards didn’t understand the native system of flood control and nor did they like the floods. So with little foresight, they drained the lake. No water, no life.  Sound familiar? We’ve seen this evidence throughout Mexico.
The amazing Monte Alban
While we’re talking about history, here’s a brief aside: Outside San Miguel there are roughly 1400 archeological sites that have been registered but have yet to be excavated. There is no telling how many people once lived and flourished in this region but according to the new book “1491; New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus” by Charles Mann, there could have been more than 25 million people in the Central Mexican plateau alone, more populous than Spain and Portugal combined. Another way to look at it, writes Mann, is that by the time Columbus arrived, there were more people living in the Americas than in Europe, with epidemics wiping out a great majority. The book is amazing, by the way, and reminds how little we actually know about our own history, and how subjective (read: so very Eurocentric) that history is.
From there we flew down to Oaxaca city, very recently known more for teacher protests turned violent, including the death of a Mexican Journalist covering the protests. It’s also an extraordinary region divided into 7 different geographic regions with dozens of indigenous communities and languages. It’s know for food, traditional crafts and as far as I could tell, a deep sense of rebellion against authoritarian rule and corruption. It’s my kind of place. We spent a lot of time simply trying to connect with some other expat families, but mostly in vain, oddly enough. We befriended some Mexican families, but mostly wandered the streets of central Oaxaca trying to get a sense of what life might be like on a day to day basis. Despite it’s reputation as a food haven, I didn’t find a favorite spot, though we did find a great Italian ice cream stand where we spent many, many hours. But after a wonderful month, made far better by visiting friends from home, I left feeling isolated. I also felt that extended time there might increase that feeling of isolation, despite the warmth of the people we met. The high point was feeling clarity about my need for community and connection regardless the place. Anyone living abroad has to eventually form a community and has to feel confident that that community will be supportive and embracing. But I never fully felt that possibility. Despite it’s enriching culture and beauty, I’m not sure Oaxaca is for me long term.
Puerto Escondido
But perhaps its beaches are? We decided to actually take a “vacation” and head to the southern beaches of Mexico, along the Oaxacan coast. Highly recommended from our travel agent were the calm bays of Huatulco, known as a resort destination with some nods toward sustainability. I say nods because resort and sustainability do not mix. Ever. No matter how many little signs management puts up for guests to consider water usage before asking daily for fresh towels. That, while the gardener is pouring literally hundreds of gallons of water on a small patch of grass so guests can experience bright green upon entry. Sorry, but resort and sustainable do not go together.
I found our hotel by accident. I was surfing various option while discussing details with the agent. I tried to merely bookmark something that was remotely in my price range, and discovered the booking could not be cancelled. We were going to hotel Delphinus – wherever that was. It turned out Delphinus was a bit of both heaven and hell on the coast. Doubling as a dog sanctuary, we discovered a small room with 9 small but extraordinarily beautiful puppies set off the main entryway. We were indeed in heaven. Bless them for allowing dogs and for doing the work to help strays, but the owners had two devil dogs of their own who barked morning, noon and night. Every day. Every hour. Brutal. I changed rooms only once, and at least was able to partly sleep through the night before heading off. Still, it was worth it to be able to see those sweet little faces every day.  It also helped that the beach directly off our hotel was the finest, funnest beach around. In fact, had we not paid in full at our next hotel in Puerto Escondido, I would immediately head back for more. But alas, one decision always negates another. This, I learn every day. That darn road not taken… story of my life.
From Huatulco we took a taxi west. Aiden was feeling sick and I was feeling lazy and sick, so a taxi seemed a minor price to pay for comfort and speed.
Puerto Escondido is pretty much what I thought it would be – but bigger. I was hoping for a dusty, overrun surf town, where fruit smoothies and yoga studios dotted every corner. Instead, it’s a tourist-laden, messy place with lots of drinking and smoking and dangerous beaches. We’re set apart, having to walk or take a taxi to any restaurant, fruit stand or even swimmable beach. We’re blessed with a great hotel pool, but no internet access, and a growing feeling of being trapped. (How did we live before internet, I can’t recall?) Puerto Escondido, even moreso than Oaxaca City, is probably not for me. So process of elimination might be working well in terms of determining our next year.

But it’s all about decisions, and in this case, having too many. Choosing anywhere or anything possible—within financial reach, that is. And in the big scheme of things, considering the world’s poverty, our reach is far.  Which makes decisions all the more difficult.

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