April 2010

I hate the laundry.  In America I didn’t hate doing the laundry; in fact, it was a reminder of the luxury of life in the United States.  Every time I did the laundry I was reminded of just how easy life was for us there.

We mentioned in a long ago post how our first apartment in Ireland had a washer/dryer in the kitchen, and it sounded like a jet plane about to take off.  The washer and dryer in our second apartment was out in a separate building, and was shared with two other properties, so it was less noisy but often occupied and not always convenient.

Here in Mexico, though, and often when we’re on the road, we simply have to turn our wash over to someone else.  Our apartment doesn’t have a washer we can use, and there are no self-service washers in town that we know of (actually, they seem pretty rare in every country we’ve visited), so we go to a lavanderia.  It might sound nice not to have to deal with the laundry but it isn’t. Let me use our current situation to explain why.

When we drop off the laundry, it’s usually ready the next day, but it can take up to two days before it’s done.  With last week being Semana Santa (Holy Week) many shops, including our lavanderia, shut down from Thursday on, so to be sure we got our clothes back before they left on holiday, we had to get our last batch of clothes in on Monday of last week and we weren’t able to get anything washed for a week.  For many of you a week without washing clothes is no great inconvenience, but we travel light — I own five pair of pants, about that many t-shirts, and two button-up shirts.  Since I can’t exactly deliver the dirty clothes naked, at least some of our clothes are not able to go for a wash at any one time, and so a week without being able to wash is a problem.

I dropped off clothes Monday morning, and miracle of miracle, they promised they would be done that afternoon.  Unfortunately, when I went to pick it all up, the smallest bill I had was a 200 peso bill (about $16) and they couldn’t make change for the 72 peso charge.  So, our desperately needed clothing was done, but I couldn’t get it because I didn’t have the right size bills.  Luckily, when Amy got home she had some smaller bills and was able to pick up the clean clothes.

Today, though, when Amy went to pick up another load, she had a 50 peso bill and the charge was 42 pesos.  The 8 pesos in change is about 65 cents.  The woman working at the lavanderia laughed as she looked at her till, because she barely had enough change, with Amy cleaning her out.  We discovered upon Amy’s return home that she was actually short-changed one peso, however, so the lavaderia wasn’t actually able to make 8 pesos in change.  Our earlier post about the difficulty of making change is applicable here in Mexico – one store is so averse to giving change, the owners have a sign saying they won’t accept bills, which means the largest denomination they’ll accept is a 10 peso coin, or about 80 U.S. cents.  It can be maddening to be in a country that often requires exact change but by that same token never gives you any.


This year, Pat and I celebrated Easter in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.  Although I don’t know much about the Catholic religion, I am certain that they incorporate more ceremony and pageantry around the Easter season than what I grew up with as a Southern Baptist in Texas.

Although we were traveling with our friend during the first few days of Semana Santa, there were still many processions and events to experience.  As a matter of fact, there were so many events that there was a formal talk with flow charts and maps to help the everyday gringo navigate all the celebrations.  There were events and processions every day.  In addition to the large processions through centro, many of the neighborhood churches had their own processions.

Here are some images of this past week’s events.

A procession on Tuesday in our neighborhood, Colonia Guadalupe.

This procession is known as the Sacred Encounter.  On Good Friday, this 18th Century statue was taken to the Parroquia, a very ornate church in the main square, and when facing a statue of the Virgin Mary he lifts his head and acknowledges her.

The Holy Burial procession on Good Friday had around 2,000 participants.  The young girls in all of the processions wore white dresses with purple sashes, and are supposed to represent angels.  It was a very solemn occasion.  There were crowds and crowds of people, and everyone was very serious and respectful.  No cheering, no laughing, no talking on cell phones.

After a sombre week of processions, on Easter Sunday everyone gathers in the Jardín to blow up a bunch of paper maché Judases.  There were 24 mannequins for the occasion.  According to a friend of mine, they are supposed to represent various villains and unliked politicians.  Last year they blew up George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein.  I think pyrotechnics and explosions trump plastic Easter eggs.  What do you think?

After our time in Zipolite, we headed for the city of Oaxaca.  To get there, we took a 20 minute taxi ride to Pochutla where we caught a bus north.  Unfortunately, the information at the Lyoban Hostel in Zipolite was not accurate, so we got to the bus station about an hour earlier than necessary, and the only buses available until that night were second class buses.  First class buses in Mexico are pretty plush, sometimes with only three seat across (two on one side, one on the other), with drinks, snacks, and a bathroom.  Second class buses, while generally okay (though far less comfortable overall), don’t have a bathroom.  The bus stopped only once, after about 2.5 hours, so we had nearly 6 hours on the bus without a break or a bathroom.  Bring your Depends.

This was our first trip to Oaxaca, and with only a couple of days to see it, we know we’ll be back.  Oaxaca is known for its food, especially its mole (pronounced MOE-lay), so we decided to take a cooking class at Casa Crespo.  There we were joined by another cooking student, Zack, from New Mexico, and our teacher, Oscar.  Oscar listed our choices and we settled on Mango agua fresca, salsa roja, salsa verde, guacamole, quesadillas con flor de calabaza, sopa azteca, rajas con queso y crema, fruit mole on chicken, and chocolate ice cream.  Oscar walked us to a nearby market where we bought many of the ingredients, and even tried the dried grasshoppers (very salty).

Market vendor - Oaxaca

Back at his cooking school, Oscar took us through the steps of preparing everything from our tortillas to the ice cream.  Oscar was a fantastic teacher, and the food was incredibly good, especially the fruit mole and chocolate ice cream (which was also surprisingly easy).

Making guacamole at Casa Crespo

We stayed in a hostel in Oaxaca, and there we met Jan and Elsie, two Englishwomen, both retired pub owners.  They are on a 7 month trip through the Americas and the Caribbean and have some amazing stories about their adventures.  To give you just a hint about them, just last year Elsie did a pole dance in a club in Thailand in front of an ever-growing crowd on the street outside.  This is particularly remarkable when you realize Elsie is 75, and Jan 60.  They’ve been taking these long trips abroad for 14 years.  We’re thinking of starting a fan club.

Mexico City was next on our schedule, and Amy and I had been there before, though it was Ciara’s first time (aside from arriving in Mexico City late Sunday and flying out to Zipolite early the next morning).  We saw Frida Kahlo’s former house, now a museum called Casa Azul, and well worth a visit.  We also went to the National Museum of Anthropology and the Zocalo, or main square in Mexico City.  The highlight of the trip was when Ciara took a picture of a clown performing for kids, and we ended up as part of the show.

Ciara and the clown

First I was offered two Mexican women for Amy and Ciara, and then the clown invited Ciara to join the kids.  The clown had the kids dance to either Michael Jackson or Shania Twain, and he found a dance partner for Ciara.  More than an hour later we were still there, watching Ciara and the others.  Not exactly what we expected but a memorable experience, to say the least.

Zipolite at sunset - photo by Ciara Baxter

Last week was spring break for OSU, so we took a little vacation to see some places we hadn’t made it to yet.  We met our friend Ciara in Mexico City Sunday night and flew to Huatulco the next morning.  Huatulco is the site of a small airport near the Pacific, in the Southern state of Oaxaca, and this was the first time any of us had been to an airport with thatched roofs.

The plan was to head to Zipolite, a small beachfront town about an hour away from the airport, and we’d seen on other blogs and websites that a taxi was probably the best way to get there.  One website said the taxi should cost 250 pesos but at the official taxi stand the actual cost was around 750 pesos.  Zipolite has a reputation for being cheap, but already we were paying three times the expected price even before arriving.

After a wild taxi ride (the expected hour travel time was cut to 45 minutes), the driver stopped us at the east end of the town, and we took a room at the Lyoban hostel.  At least the room was cheap, but the cost of everything in Zipolite was more than we’d been reading about.  A can of coke at the hostel cost 14 pesos (as compared to 8 pesos for a bottle almost twice as big in most stores in San Miguel), and all of the meals we had cost at least 60 pesos each.  That’s only around 5 U.S. dollars, so it’s not expensive, but it’s also no cheaper than many meals we can find in San Miguel, which is not known as an inexpensive locale, and the food in San Miguel is much, much better.

Had the food been good, it would have been fine, but we didn’t have a single good Mexican meal in our three days there.  We had an okay pizza one night, and our final meal in town was excellent, at La Alquimista, on the west side of the beach.  It wasn’t, however, Mexican.

Zipolite is a beach town that caters to a laid back, slightly hippy crowd (the beach is a nude beach, though the majority of people wore suits), so you’d think there would be at least some concessions to tourists.  Not really.  We had to go to five stores before finding sunscreen, for example, and there are no bank machines in town.  If you want something in Zipolite, you better bring it yourself.

We knew the beach had a reputation for dangerous currents and riptides (the name apparently means Beach of the Dead), but it also sounded like there would at least be days when it was safe to get into the water and swim.  Unfortunately the entire time we were there the red flags stayed up – no swimming.  It was relatively safe to splash around a bit in the swash (Ciara explained the swash is the area of the beach between the highest point the waves reach and the lowest point when they roll out, the area with all that sea foam), but we never swam near our hostel.  Ciara pointed out the irony of taking a cab to the next town, then hiking up and down a hill to a more secluded beach just so we could swim, when the ocean was ten yards in front of our hostel room.

The Lyoban ended up being a bit of a mixed bag, but we don’t recommend it.  The mattresses were poor and the linens threadbare and torn.  The hammocks were nice and the view was great, but almost everywhere had hammocks and equally good views.  The hostel’s showers were only open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., which would normally not be a problem except that on our last day we needed to catch a cab at 7:30, which didn’t leave us much time to get ready.  Worse, the man with the key strolled in at 7:10, though the management of the hostel had arranged our 7:30 taxi and knew we were on a tight schedule.  We just made it in time.

So it may sound like it wasn’t that great a time (bad food, more expensive than we thought, so-so rooms, and no swimming) but it was quite relaxing and not a bad way to start our trip.