Our first stop was the world’s widest tree in Santa María de Tule. You can’t get much more touristy than showing up in a van at the World’s Something-est Something. But part of what I enjoyed about the tour was getting out of the city and seeing the suburbs and little villages. The brick and adobe dwellings that bleed into each other; the corrugated tin roofs; the DIY plumbing; tiny stores; burros and goats and bat-eared mutts wandering the streets; corn and agave growing out of the sides of the mountain.
It confirmed that while downtown Oaxaca may be East/Northeast L.A., the outskirts and villages are not…what, Valencia? Palmdale? Escondido? Lodi? Julian? They are genuinely Somewhere Else.
Our second stop was a Zapotec town called Teotitlan, where they weave beautiful rugs using traditional methods—hand-spinning the wool, dying it with indigo and crushed bugs, weaving it on a hand-operated loom. It was cool to see such amazing craftsmanship and disappointing that I couldn’t afford it. It made me think that I should buy a few nice things with my money instead of 75 mediocre things at Target.
It was also cool to see how different artists make a life for themselves. And maybe it’s silly to put myself in the same category as Zapotec weavers because our lives are so different, but I couldn’t help but think how we’re both fighting to keep a tradition alive in a world of $10 everything, of video games and movies. And if I respect their efforts—and I do—then I can’t dismiss myself as being irrelevant either, just because novels aren’t as popular as they once were.
There we (meaning Pedro, our outgoing and bilingual leader) befriended Stefan and Anina, a Swiss-German couple in their mid-20s. We had lunch and, later, dinner and drinks with them. They were nice, even though I could practically feel B drooling over Anina with her Sinead O’Connor haircut all the way from Bloomington, but by that point I was feeling tired and introverted.
One of the most beautiful parts of the day was the “petrified waterfalls,” which took us up a winding mountain road—in the rain—that had me petrified, and through a tiny village to a natural spring and the giant yellow stalactites it had created. Even though a big hotel and resort had just been built there, for now it’s still secluded and quiet and rainforesty (meaning simply, nature cranked up a notch). People swam and waded in the pools and I tried the spring water. It was lightly bubbly and salty, but also tasted a bit like pennies had been soaking in it.