HERE WITH THE WIND

One thing we’ve learned since our arrival in Oaxaca 3 weeks ago is – Mexicans like to make noise.

This was the case in Oaxaca City and Juchitan, where we heard beat-heavy music and bullet-like firecrackers late into the night. And it was the case in the much smaller town of Ixtepec.

Yeah, those Ixtepecans sure make a lot of noise – oh wait, is that Steph?!

IXTEPEC AND THE RAILROAD

Ixtepec was once a rather cosmopolitan place, in the late 19th/early 20th century, when it was located on two major rail routes. It used to see 50 trains a day passing through, but that has dropped to just one or two in recent years.

Most of the action these days is in the central market,

and on the train tracks, where at any given time there’s a crowd of Central and South American migrant workers camping out trying to grab passage to the U.S.

Today Ixtepec is small, sleepy and, at least in our case, very welcoming. Yet like its bigger city brethren, it can make a lot of noise.

For example, every morning we would wake up to the sound of steady hammering on metal – we had no idea who was doing it or what they could possibly be trying to build at that hour, and with such tenacity.

In the middle of the afternoon, we would hear emotive love ballads blaring from the dark, cave-like cantina across the street. This particular cantina seemed to be exactly the kind of place where Malcolm Lowry must have been hanging out when writing Under the Volcano.

The interior was a chaos of plastic tables, chairs and discarded items. Overstuffed room followed overstuffed room, stretching back seemingly forever. Worn men were stooped over their Corona, tequila or mezcal barely talking to one another, staring off into space or watching a soccer game.

Other than the blaring music, however, this grim scene was far removed from the rest of our experience in Ixtepec, where we met a warm, close-knit community.

AN ENERGY CO-OP

Our guides in Ixtepec were Vicente and his lovely wife Dalya, who struck us as Mexican versions of our own parents, minus the crippling neuroses and, come to think of it, pretty much everything else. (Ok, basically they’re nothing like our parents except for being about the same age.)

Vicente is one of the organizers of the collective that is trying to develop a wind energy project that would be owned by the community. Unlike in the U.S.. much of the land in southern Mexico is owned communally, sort of like a New York City apartment co-op, if you will.

While this can make developing industrial projects complicated – as it requires approval of the majority — it also, the theory goes, brings the community together as it engages in debate.

The wind farm project is now up for tender, and the community collective is up against a handful of other private proposals. The area can only handle one additional project at this time, and it’s unclear whether the Ixtepec community will win. Its proposal is less competitive from a financial point of view, and the government as of yet isn’t taking into account possible social benefits.

PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE (Who’s afraid of Karl Marx?)

The question of whether a community-led energy project would benefit the community more than a privately funded project – this is what Steph is pondering as a potential dissertation project, at least at this point in time. (Please note, Duke Cultural Anthropology faculty: research topics are subject to change.)

Very generously, Vicente agreed to take us on an afternoon tour of the site where the community would set up its project if it wins the tender.

He swung by our house in his truck, which had only two spots up front. Steph squeezed in the middle, allowing Ivan luxurious artistic freedom to take video/pictures in the window seat (gosh he’s a lucky guy!).

This meant that poor Bart had to sit in the open-air flatbed back as we tromped over potholls and speed bumps. He was a good sport about it, as he clutched for dear life.

We started out in the center of town, but as we got further out, the roads got more and more rustic. Finally we found ourselves on a dirt path passing cows, goats, sheep, stray dogs, horse-drawn carts, and for some reason, a hair salon. (Hey, everyone needs a new ‘do once in a while.)

Thinking we were arriving at the site, we got out of the truck and saw a veritable river crossing our path. With Hurricane Carlota having just passed through, this was a reminder that we arrived just at the beginning of the rainy season. (The other season, let it be noted, is called the windy season.)

THE FINAL STRETCH

To venture forth despite the risks, or pay the 28 pesos to go back to where we started and take the highway route? That was the question.

Eager to show us the site, Vicente decided to return home, switch cars, and go the fast and safe way on the newly built trans-Isthmus Express.

Outward bound wind farm adventures!

Bart in action

After about 15 minutes on the highway, in the distance we got our first glimpse of those sleek metal behemoths – a wind farm owned by a Mexican telecom magnate named Carlos Slim. (You may have heard of him – he was just named the richest man in the world.)

Truth be told, we have mixed feelings about the aesthetics of wind turbines. Do they possess a classic grandeur – windmills in modern armor? Are they truly going to help us preserve the integrity of our natural environment, as wind energy proponents claim? Or do they signify yet another violence?

Optimus Prime — or Darth Vader??? (We’re not actually sure if that comparison makes any sense…)

As if reading our thoughts, the road presented us vestiges of game-changing development projects from various generations past – train tracks, farming equipment, telephone lines, highways, roads, etc.

Briefly, we stopped at an underpass on the highway, where a man in a sombrero rode up on a horse. It seemed like he had just stepped out of Poncho Villa’s band of roaming revolutionaries.

He happily stopped to chat with Vicente, as Ivan eagerly snapped up photos. He informed Vicente of recent cow thefts on the communal land. He said there was also a strange guy taking photos back on the dirt road, who he said looked suspiciously similar to Ivan.

As it turned out, it was Ivan. The man had spotted him when we had returned to town to switch cars.

But was Ivan the one stealing cows? The world may never know.

WILD IS THE WIND

At long last, we reached the site of Vicente’s proposed wind farm. It is a flat plot, bordered by mountains, a highway, railroad tracks and the aforementioned wind farm built by Carlos Slim.

It’s pretty clear that there will be a wind farm on this land one way or another, as it really can’t be used for much else.

The question is, while the end product will likely resemble the wind farms already there, can the future project be developed in a way that actually helps this community – instead of taking the land from the people while sending the profits to corporate headquarters?

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MEET BART (Or how Steph and Ivan challenged gender norms in Comitancillo)

Before heading out of Juchitan, our cab driver and trusted guide Rolando had the great idea to take us to the local fish market. We knew instinctively that this was an opportunity not to be missed, even though we had to get there at the crack of dawn.

Walking the jagged streets, lined with stands with piles of glistening fish and women in traditional Zapotec dress made famous by Frida Kahlo…

…it looked like a scene from another time — or was that our own romanticized projection of a normal, everyday market?

Rolando then took us to Ixtepec, about a 30 minute drive from Juchitan.

Steph had the utmost confidence in Rolando’s driving ability

Through Steph’s research in wind energy projects in the area, we had a hookup for a place to stay. We heard it was going to be a bit rustic, but we really had no clue what to expect.

And we certainly didn’t expect this…

Goedemorgen!

MEET BART

A master’s student from Holland also studying renewable energy, Bart was staying at the house when we arrived. He was slim, handsome, and, as we would soon learn, had a head endearingly in the clouds.

This was the fifth time he’d lived in Mexico, and he’d already been in Ixtepec two weeks. Yet, when we went on an excursion to the town center, he looked at us and asked us which way to go. We started to wonder how in the world he had survived in Mexico so long.

Any guide book about Mexico will strongly advise against drinking the tap water, or even using it to brush your teeth. Once we saw Bart brushing straight from the tap, and when we asked him about it, he said, “Oh it’s fine. Where do you think we are — Guatemala!”

Come to think of it, we are pretty close to Guatemala…

MEET ALAN

Bart wasn’t the only guy staying in the house with us. There was also Alan, but we didn’t see much of him.

Alan is an ornithologist, and he was here on a project to study the living patterns of an endemic bird species. He got up every morning around 5am and headed out of town to the mountains in order to track the birds’ movements — rain or shine. (Let’s just say there was a little more rain than shine, this time of year.)

Bart, Steph and in the center — Rambo

The first time we met Alan he was wearing army fatigues and a bandana on his head, holding in place his long, flowing hair. A few times we saw him from the other room doing an elaborate yoga routine, seeming to flex every perfectly formed muscle in his well-honed physique. (We’ll just say Steph didn’t mind this particular house guest.)

Telling us about some of his extreme nature adventures over the years, Alan jokingly referred to himself as Rambo. And indeed, he was the Mexican Rambo!

On the last day of Alan’s stay, when we were dropping him off at the bus station, we made some reference to our Jewishness, to which Alan burst out laughing and said, “If you’re Jewish, I’m a Muslim!”

When we told him we were actually Jewish and not making a joke, he quickly went silent. Everyone in the car felt very awkward — except Bart, who was sitting next to Alan giggling like a little school girl.

MAKING A HOUSE HOME

Bart quickly became our friend and constant companion. We became three peas in a very rustic, leaky, sometimes flooding pod. Bart informed us that he grew up with parents who at times practiced nudism, so the fact that the house had virtually no inside doors didn’t trouble him.

Our rustic but beloved house in Ixtepec

A little flooding doesn’t hurt anybody

Our fort: mosquito netting and all

Sleeping beauty

FIESTA TIME

Not only does Bart love Mexican culture — he particularly loves Mexican women. This was, we learned, the main reason why he agreed to accompany us to a town party — dedicated to a saint we can’t remember — in nearby Comitancillo.

This party has been one of the highlights of our trip so far. It really captured the beautiful colors and the warm, welcoming nature of the people in this part of Mexico. Words don’t do it justice…

Words also don’t do justice to Bart’s ability on the dance floor.

Or our ability, for that matter.

Bart was trying to make inroads on one woman — not sure he was so successful!

Beauty and the Bart

But Bart and Ivan were very successful with two other woman. In the spirit of the open nature of gender roles and sexuality in this region, the age difference didn’t seem to be such an obstacle.
And in this same vein, Steph didn’t do so bad herself!

The parties here are called Velas, which translate as something like Candlelight.

There is a very elaborate system of gift-giving. Back in the day, they would hand out local fruits and prepared foods.

Today, things are a little different. Plastic pasta strainers, refuse buckets, bars of soap, hand towels — even toilet paper. As gifts were only given to women (except, of course, for beers, which are handed out literally like candy), Steph made out like a bandit.

Our hosts were very excited for us to take photos of the Muxe (pronounced “Mooshay”) — the Zapotec word for men who take on feminine characteristics. At parties like this, they wear traditional medallion necklaces that mark their identity.

Don’t think this means that traditional gender roles don’t hold in this region, or that machismo is out of fashion, as evidenced by these two pictures (the bottom one obviously the universal ideal of masculinity).

To be perfectly honest, we’re still trying to figure out the gender landscape here, and dare we say it, coming to question our own…

Ok, maybe not entirely, but in any case we’ll keep you posted on our findings.

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JUCHITAN — J.A.P.-KILLER

Our road from Oaxaca City to Juchitan was only a little less bumpy than our ride to Mitla. For some reason we still can’t fathom, we opted for a 7am bus ticket, necessitating our waking at the ungodly hour of 5am. (Well, Ivan got up at 5; Steph, err — we’ll just say closer to 6…)

At the bus station, which was already crowded when we arrived, one of us (not naming any names, Ivan) was in a foul mood and just sat there with a frowny face the whole time, though Steph did everything in her power to make him happy, as usual. She even waited in line at the Mexican equivalent of Starbucks. But when she got to the front of the line, they informed her they didn’t have change for her 200 peso note — what kind of place was this?! So she had to go wait in a line at another shop to get change, then came back to learn they didn’t serve drip coffee — they only had espesso drinks! So the line took forever. But that didn’t bother Steph — much. If Ivan didn’t get his morning Joe, who do you think would be the one to suffer?

Finally, we boarded the bus, but our peace and quiet didn’t last long. First of all, they immediately put on this horrible movie about a high school for super heroes, starring Kurt Russell. And though the bus was supposedly First Class, it jerked back and forth through the mountain roads, tossing us around like popcorn. Your loyal travelers were not happy!

But we were thrilled when the bus stopped at a little village — for we could get breakfast.

The restaurant next to the restaurant we went to. Notice the dog…

We cheerfully sat down at a little restaurant and tried to order eggs and toast. The young waitress looked at us blankly and informed us that they lacked toast. On top of that, either the poor waitress couldn’t understand our espanol (entirely possible), or felt man can’t live by eggs alone (which we refuse to believe), but in any case somehow we ended up with plates piled high not only with scrambled eggs, but with beans and rice as well.

Let me tell you, this inconvenience did not improve Ivan’s mood, and he was less than pleased when Steph insisted on starting a conversation with our busmate, a young Chiapan guy with a baseball hat. It turned out this guy had actually lived in North Carolina, not too far from us. But our shared experience ended there. Sadly, he had failed to receive his immigration papers and had to leave the country, though he had children and a wife still living there. Point taken: there are worse things in life than getting served beans and rice when you didn’t order them. Or is there?

There was one silver lining to the bus trip. In the middle of a beautiful mountain setting, out the window there was a rainbow. Not just a couple beams of color, but a full-blown rainbow. The whole arch, from start to finish. You could literally almost see the pot of gold.

Steph has a hazy recollection of this trip because, true to form, she popped a dramomine after breakfast, among god knows what other pills she has lying around her bag. So she passed the F- out and didn’t wake up until we literally pulled up at the bus station in Juchitan.

Now you’re probably asking yourself, why did they go to Juchitan? Or even, where in the world is Juchitan? In fact, many Oaxacans looked at us very strangely when we told them our plans. The best we got was: “They really know how to party down in Juchitan.”

Central Square, Juchitan

A Chaos of Humanity

We can tell you now — that is very true. Juchitan is an insane place. But a little research showed us some other items of note about this remote destination.First of all, Juchitan is probably most famous for supposedly having a matriarchy family structure.

The Women of Juchitan

What we can tell you about this is, while the town boasts some very strong-willed women – one of whom literally tried to convince Ivan to give her his camera – it’s not really clear that it’s a matriarchy. As one local told us, the men do work in the ungodly hours of the morning, before any foreigner can actually see them. Funny enough, this is usually what Ivan says when Steph asks him to do house work!

Juchitan Man Hard at Work

What is true about Juchitan — and most of the Isthmus — is that it’s exceptionally accepting of homosexuality. Families pride themselves on having at least one gay son. One reason for this, we were told, is that having a gay son nearly makes certain that parents will have someone to take care of them in their old age. For, as we all know, heterosexuals tend to be, how to put it, a little on the self-absorbed side (present company excluded, of course.)

But our trip to Juchitan had nothing to do with its special family structure or views on sexuality, interesting as those be. What drew us to this very remote corner of our planet was — wind. Or rather, wind farms.

Along with having very hot, humid weather, Juchitan has an exceptionally steady wind flow — one of the most steady on the planet, in fact. Thus, it has traditionally not counted among Mexico’s prime real estate locations, for who wants to live in the middle of a wind tunnel? But with the rise of wind energy — well, now at least there are a slew of wealthy international corporations that are exploiting the local people in order to get cheap energy. The mighty hand of Capitalism can even thrive here!

But we weren’t thinking about energy when we got to Juchitan. We weren’t thinking at all. The heat and humidity was simply unbearable. Ivan, of course, had the brilliant idea to go around and take pictures, but when Steph heard that, it took all her strength not to slap him. She had had enough. She put her foot down, as her stomach gurgled and turned in violent circles. No, she wouldn’t — couldn’t — go anywhere.

View from our hotel room

We checked into the Xcaanda Hotel — which, not entirely appropriately, means “My Dream” in the ancient Zapotec language. We stayed in the room sleeping in our air conditioned haven till the sun went down. Ivan didn’t argue much; at least he was able to finish the first season of “Game of Thrones.”

And that is how Juchitan got its name. Along with having a matriarchy, being tolerant of homosexuals, and having a lot of wind farms, it is a very fertile land for killing any remaining New York City J.A.P.P.Y. tendencies.

At least for a little while…

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ANCIENT RUINS / MODERN MISTAKES

This past weekend, we decided to do the tourist thing, and dropped 200 pesos per person to be guided through Oaxaca’s Central Valley.

Little did we know, our 8 hour-long excursion would not only be an introduction to the landscape, but also the history, culture, and politics of this ancient land (not to mention a few lessons on good ‘ol human nature).

After a late takeoff – due to, what else, the teachers’ strike – we boarded the camioneta with a German couple “Gertrude and Hanz” (names have been changed to protect the innocent – or to cover the fact that we never actually learned their names, focused as we were on ourselves),  a Mexican couple “Alejandra and Jose,” as well as a Mexican family that refused to speak to us the whole trip (to their credit).

FIRST STOP – THE TULE TREE

The Tule Tree

“I’m alive, don’t touch my roots”

An ancient beautiful tree, as old as Jesus Christ Himself. I mean, it was beautiful and all, but the coolest thing was this little local boy who was using a small mirror to reflect light and point out stories and images he found in the tree. He showed us a crocodile head and the face of Jesus.

The Best Tule Guide Around

Needless to say, that cute, industrious boy went home that day with a pocketful of pesos — from our tour group and many others.

NEXT — THE TALLER DE TAPETAS

At this rugged but beautiful rug workshop an hour outside the city, we were given a brief but informative lesson on this region’s ancient art of weaving.

One rug we noticed was of the ancient Zapotec god — whose name we can’t remember (you seeing a trend here?) — of wind and speech. It stood out to us because of our interest on wind energy.

As we gazed at the rug, “Jose,” our new didactic tour-mate from Mexico DF, explained that the figures could either be gods or mortals. If it was a god, the wind was a sign of renewed vitality; if mortal, it just meant he was talking too much. Time, it seems, hasn’t changed us all that much.

The weaver told us she took about 25 days to complete a rug like this.

MEZCAL MEZCAL MEZCAL!

Before arriving at our next stop, our guide explained to us that we were going to wait to have lunch until after we drove up and down a mountain later in the day. In his experience, he logically explained, it was better to do the trip on an empty stomach. This made sense to us. What didn’t make as much sense was that we were now heading to a Mezcal factory without any food in our systems.

At the plant, which seemed like something between a tire factory and a theme park, our guide gave us a sort of hackneyed history of this ancient Oaxacan tradition and showed us how the stuff was made. But what it was really all about was the tasting.

Get me some of that worm!

This is our guide.

Hola!

From this photo, I think you might be able to get a sense where this afternoon is going…

UP THE MOUNTAIN

It took nearly 40 minutes up the mountain, nearly swallowing our own vomit. Along the way we passed make-shift Mezcal factories where horses were literally using “horsepower” to distill the liquor and mashing the plant.

Finally we arrived at the beautiful – the breathtaking – Hiervas del Agua. Luckily, we brought our bathing suits. Jose and Alejandra unfortunately did not. But it didn’t matter. They just took off their clothes and went in their undies.

ALL YOU CAN EAT

The first thing you think of when you think of Mexico is probably not all you can eat buffets. That’s something we don’t even do in the States, despite our new residence in North Carolina – the self-proclaimed home of southern BBQ and apparently all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets.

Couples of the world, unite!

So, imagine our surprise when our camioneta pulls up to a Mexican buffet! It was form-fitted for the foreign tourist wanting to try more than a bit of everything. Tacos, tameles, mole, carne asada, queso… we won’t bore you with the glories of our 3pm gorge-fest. At least we were able to restrain ourselves compared to the rest of our group – probably because of previous experiences getting food poisoning. Hans and Gertrude and Alejandra and Jose went at it. We felt somehow, at that moment, as though our stomachs failed our national stereotypes.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

In the midst of eating way beyond our needs, our conversation took a turn towards politics, the future of Mexico, and the common man. Unbeknownst to us – inundated as we are with the U.S. political circus which it turns out isn’t the center of the universe – on July 1 Mexico is to undergo possibly its most important presidential election in a generation.

Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (aka the “PRI”), which had ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000, is poised to unseat the ruling PAN party and return to power. As it happened, our tour companion Jose was as knowledgeable about politics as he was about Zapotec gods and tapestries.

Jose was an alumni of Mexico’s elite private university Ibero-American, which was the site of a recent political drama that has captivated the country’s attention. In the past month, the university was to house a presidential debate for all of the candidates. It soon came to light, however, that the campaign for the PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, was trying to bribe students at the university to clap when the cameras turned their way. Classy move!

Surprisingly, the young, idealistic students were actually pissed off at this, and they created a video that quickly went viral and has threatened Peña Nieto’s chances of winning. Although he is still favored to win, on June 10 there were a string of protests across Mexico against him.

A LITTLE FLERTEO

In the midst of this deep political discussion, one of the waiters took an instant liking to Steph. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” Steph later reported that he said to her. “Please tell me you are not married!” “Not yet,” she said, coyly, but pointed over to Ivan, who was staring blankly in the air massaging his stomach. “He is my boyfriend,” she said, resignedly.

The waiter responded in stunned amazement. “Him? That cannot be!”

He then gave Steph a disappointed kiss on the cheek and walked on… Baby’s still got her groove!

THE RISE AND FALL OF A CIVILIZATION

(IN A FEW DRUNKEN WORDS)

With this epic meal done, our guide, 2 more cervesas down, barked at us to get in the car for our final stop — the ancient Zapotec ruins at Mitla.

We drove up to Mitla on a narrow stone rode. Little market stalls spotted the streets, filled with tourist wares, ice cream and other refreshments.

Beyond the human maelstrom was an incredible, timeless, awe-inspiring monument. The beauty and serenity of this place couldn’t have contrasted more from the all-you-can-eat restaurant.

“Children – get over here!” our guide called to us as we were trying to take in this remarkable site. Taken aback, we followed him like sheep and sat down. We were excited because we thought he might have something interesting to say about this place.

He took a stick and starting drawing indecipherable markings in the sand. As he spoke, he wavered between English, Spanish, and some other language or languages we couldn’t understand — maybe ancient Zapotec. The result was that Mexicans, Germans and Americans alike — we understood basically none of it.

What our guide lacked in coherence, he made up for in emotion. It was sort of like watching a video of Mussolini.

But what he was able to communicate loud and clear was that he abhorred the Aztecs. He informed us that the Aztecs decimated the Zapotec people, exploiting local conflicts to their own advantage. Hundreds of thousands of Zapotecs were killed over the course of Aztec rule. Therefore, the Zapotecs had every justification to join forces with the Spanish when they arrived in the 1500s (though that may have led to an even worse fate).

Our guide’s eyes began to tear up — we still aren’t sure if it was due to the alcohol or the truly horrific nature of this story. We all looked at each other awkwardly, not sure what to do. We got up to see this spectacular landmark for ourselves, as our guide continued to lecture to an empty bench.

“Mexico was not, and will never be, a nation!” we heard him cry as we walked down the road.

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PROTESTING THE PROTEST

As mentioned in our previous post, our initial flight from Houston to Oaxaca had a few problems.

There we were sitting on the plane, getting totally psyched to spend our first night in Mexico, when the bearded, redhead, cracked-out flight attendant casually mentioned that our flight might be delayed due to volcanic ash hovering over Mexico. A moment later, he went into the pilot’s cabin, emerged, and told us there were radar problems at Oaxaca’s airport. Two seconds later, the pilot’s voice came over the loud speaker and told us the flight was not only delayed but fully cancelled.

In retrospect, this wasn’t such a bad thing, because, as mentioned earlier, we got to spend a glamorous night in America’s Best Value Inn (the secrets of which will not be disclosed here).

When we finally arrived at our hotel in Oaxaca, our kind host informed us that, most likely, the flight attendent was less than accurate. The real cause of our travel trauma was the teachers!

Every year since god knows when, Oaxaca’s public school teachers have gone on strike in May, and apparently this year they took over the airport for a hot second right when our flight was ready to take off.

At first, it made us feel better to think that at least our travails were supporting the cause of fair labor practices and the right to organize. But we quickly became aware that the this wasn’t the whole story. Each year during the strike, the teachers hold the city captive for weeks on end, occupying huge swaths of the city’s beautiful and historic center.

We have spoken to a number of locals and expats about the protest, and to our surprise they were very angry at the strikers. Not only do the strikers adversely affect the local economy, cause traffic jams, and make it generally uncomfortable to get around, but they hurt the very students they’re ostensibly fighting to teach. It has become routine that students have forego their classes throughout May, and this year even into June, in one of Mexico’s poorest academic performing states.

One woman we met told us she was actually preparing to join a protest to protest the protest, but when her friend tweeted that the teachers were armed and prepared to throw rocks at them, she decided against attending.

Obviously, all this is secondhand information, and we haven’t discussed the matter with the protesters themselves. What we have done is spend time wandering around the tarps and tents covering Oaxaca’s ancient streets. The lines holding up the tarps just happen to be around 5 feet high, forcing passersby to duck their heads while trying not to step on a sleeping protester or bump into one of the many food carts capitalizing on the huge crowd. One thing is for sure: these protesters know how not to be overlooked.

And so when we did look, what we saw was a very diverse scene. Some of the protesters sat there sunken-eyed and bored, while others were jovial and chatty. We saw women knitting and men playing cards. People were cooking and feeding their kids. There were even those sweeping the streets and cleaning up their camps, while piles of fetid garbage lay nearby, as the city’s garbage men were unable to do their usual routes. The whole scene was very surreal.

So what has this year’s Teacher’s Strike taught us so far? Change ain’t easy – either for the protesters themselves, or for the protesters protesting the protest.

To check out all our images of the protest, check out our Flickr set.

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AN EPIC FIRST DAY

After a couple blips in the travel schedule – ie, a cancelled flight and a lovely night at, quote unquote, America’s Best Value Inn in Houston (Italics ours)

In the bag are a couple of toothbrushes, deodorants and, of course, two bags of trailmix

Stranded in Houston: why the long face?

we finally arrived in Oaxaca City.

American guy off our flight, bag of Budweiser safely in hand – who needs Corona!

1st stop: El Diablo y La Sandia bed and breakfast.

el diablo y la sandilla

In desparate need of food/sustenance, we had our first truly Mexican meal at El Tipico, which turned into an overflowing table of fried pigskins (chichorones), heuvos rancheros, papaya juice, and of course diet coke.

el tipico

Walking through the streets, we noticed something awry, though not by Oaxacan standards. It was the annual Teacher’s Protest, which overflows the historic city center every May and June.

But we didn’t let the radicalism affect our material needs (some might call it materialism). Walking through the heart of the protests, in the balmy Oaxacan afternoon, we acquired two new shiny mobile phones.

After a shower, siesta and rooftop cerveza, we moseyed on over to La Biznaga for some absolutely miraculous food that we don’t remember the name of. (Thank you, Maria!)

Joined by a jovial group of Mexicans and expats, we skipped the margheritas and went straight for the heady discussions of gender violence, life choices and dietary cleanses.

It was, to say the least, a full – an epic – first day.

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