“NO BOYS ALLOWED.”
This was the first thing Dora said to me as she showed me the room for rent in the upstairs portion of her house. “I don’t even know any boys,” I told her, truthfully, regrettably. It was an interesting declaration, although, in a way this place is a bit of a girl’s boarding house and no men are allowed upstairs. House rules. Fair enough.
I liked it. It was a small room but large enough for one. Best of all, it had a writing desk, a closet, a lock on the door and it was mine. I got the end unit with a large window, a slightly larger room than the windowless digs in the middle of the hall. It measures 13 x 11.5 Mexican floor tiles. From the hallway, up half a floor, there was a hot plate, one cooking pot and a small counter top, all to be shared with the other tenants, of which I think there might only be two. Continuing up another half floor brought me to a rooftop complete with solar panels, affording an incredible view of the surrounding mountains. This very spot, I would soon
discover, turned out to be the most fabulous place to hang out during upcoming thunderstorms, which were many that summer. The house was located in a residential neighborhood, far from any foreigners, and never did I hear English spoken on the streets. Good – this will be a perfect place to perfect my Spanish
, I thought to myself. Or at least, at that point, perfect my extremely basic
knowledge of the language. My future landlady trusted I would come back and promised to keep the room for me.
I moved out of my first rental apartment the following week, a place where I had lived for the past month and a half. Dora kept her word and didn’t rent the room to anyone else during this time and I found myself moving in on July 1st, paying her in cash, in full, $90 US for the first month’s rent. I stayed there almost two months, making it nearly four months in total living in Oaxaca. The city is alive, vibrant, full of green parks and wonderful local Mexican food joints and it kept me quite occupied during this time period, although admittedly, I spent a good majority
of the time “catching up,” as I find myself doing quite a bit of lately. I think the longer someone lives on the road the way I do, the more time is needed to catch up on writing, photos editing, and everything else that just stacks up on a daily basis if left alone too long. I can’t say I always have the time and energy - or desire - to keep up with it, and thus it piles up rather quickly. I couldn’t, however, have asked for a better city in which to settle down for a few months.
Before I found the initial apartment complex, I had already been in Mexico a little over a month, volunteering, staying with random friends in random cities, Couch Surfing and making new friends in new random cities. I decided I liked the country and needed a place to hang my sombrero for a bit. I chose Oaxaca, mainly because I liked the name; also because people had told me it was a pretty darn good place to live. I found an ad in the paper and set upon getting my own studio apartment in a pretty
central location of town. It was conveniently located to many comedores (local eateries with my kinds of prices) as well as a supermarket, and since I had my own kitchen I set about learning to cook. I got much work done, made a concerted effort to start learning Spanish, made new friends but after one and a half months the place was getting too expensive for this budget traveler, and although it was secure, modern and colorful in that Mexican way - with super-cool tenants to boot - it was time to move on. I must say I will miss the rooftop views, the comfy hammock and the small garden and fountain in the courtyard. This is when I found Dora. Lovely, amiable, roly-poly Dora. With less knowledge of English than my knowledge of Spanish (which, let me assure you, isn’t much) we somehow muddled through and effectively communicated; it was not always an easy feat, but always done so with a smile and loads of patience.
Any hour of the day one can hear noises from any Mexican window, rooftop or bedroom. “Gaaaaaaaaaasssss….” Ah yes, the unmistakable sound of the man selling gas. Propane tanks, to
This is not to be confused with the guy who sounds his cow horn. That’s a horn that sounds like a cow mooing. Imagine that. This is a competing gas company.
There is a jangle of what I thought were jingly bells of some sort but after close inspection one morning, I noticed it was yet a third gas guy. He drives his truck with propane tanks in the back and dangling from but attached on both sides of his fender is a chain with some steel cylindrical objects gathered in the center. These bounce along the cobbled streets as the truck ambles by, eliminating the need to yell out what it is he is selling, thus saving his voice box for something else.
This is not to be confused with the shrill whistle. That, my friends, is the hombre with the wheelie cart of corn.
Then there is the elderly man with the kid’s bicycle horn. He’s my favorite: the ice cream man.
Fire crackers? Absolutely. For no apparent reason, other than possibly boys being boys, firecrackers are shot off at any
hour of the day or night (this of course includes the middle of the night). There doesn’t have to be a festival, a wedding or any sort of celebration. I think it gives some people something to do, without giving a toss about anyone else who might not appreciate being woken at 3:30am.
Today, July 26, 2012, after much slaving for many weeks, I finally finished editing all my photos from last year. This was a huge project and now it’s time to celebrate. What did I do? Why, I treated myself to lunch, naturally. Any cause to celebrate had better revolve around food, at least in my world.
I went to a restaurant -- with a tablecloth! I know, can you believe it!?! A tablecloth! There were two per table, actually. The tablecloths on a number of the tables were inside out, there was a crooked framed painting on the wall, and the drapes were tied back with twisted plastic bags. But, this place served chips and a delicious guacamole, and that more than made up for the obscurities. There were no other patrons the entire time I was in the restaurant.
I ordered an 89 Peso mole estafado, praying that the taste had better be good. I didn’t order any drinks, no matter the celebration, because once a cheapskate, always a cheapskate. This was not comida corrida with an inexpensive menu del dia (menu of the day), and the meals were definitely at tourist prices, but I deserved it, after all I had put myself through this past month. I worked hard and now I will reap in the culinary pleasures of my reward to myself.
There were five employees in the front of the restaurant and at least three ladies in the kitchen. Here is what I noticed with the folks in the front of the house: one (F) to take the money (she was sitting at a little desk by a back door, but never once got up from her chair, although she wasn’t helping anyone the entire time I was there), one (F) girl sweeping and mopping the floor, a (M) waiter and a (M) boy to see if I wanted something to drink and one (M) man to stare at me. Not really, actually, although he did sneak many-a-glance my way when
An 89 Peso Lunch Treat
About $6.50, much more than I usually spend
he thought I wasn’t looking. But, you see, I have much practice noticing the unwanted attentions of foreign men without letting on. I’m sure my sensors are on high alert from all the traveling I have done, especially in Indonesia and India, where days are filled with attention overload. My sensor goes on and I either go ballistic (although only when I have had it “up to here”) or ignore them. More often than not it is the ignoring one that prevails; I find this is better for the blood pressure.
At the restaurant I ate two tortillas, all the fried chips (wow, were they ever good!), two stone bowls of guacamole and took home the majority of the chicken, sauce, and 1/3 of the rice. OMG, despite this being a carb heavy meal, it was so, so, so tasty! But, at 89 Pesos (about $6.50), it was definitely a treat for me, a luxury I can't afford to do too often.
The man in the dining room thought I was mad to recycle my formerly used (but I assure you, clean) Styrofoam containers and tried repeatedly to assure me they would be able
to put my leftover food in one of their containers, but when he returned with my meal in my take-away containers and my
well-used grocery bag, he seemed pleased that I recycle. Maybe I’m doing my part in helping others see the point in recycling, when it really takes such little effort. I agree, I can be a bit obsessive about it, but in the end, I believe it all helps, no matter how little.
Ah well, I don’t mind; I am one person doing what I can to save the planet, one take-away container at a time. Ok, now off to get a wonderful fresh cup of Mexican coffee. You guessed it, with my recycled and well-used plastic cup!
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