Viva Mexico! Settling in Oaxaca, a Cultural Mecca -The Zaia Nomading Year Continues

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Don’t miss the dance video at the end of the post! And please – I live for comments and tweets!

by Carmen

After six months on the beautiful island of Florianopolis, Brazil, we said goodbye and took three weeks at home in Austin, Texas for the Christmas holidays.  It was a wonderful opportunity to touch base with my husband and dad of our three daughters, see good friends, and catch a couple of our highschool basketball games (not to mention do taxes which I try not to think about!).  Being home was a unique experience in that we have rented part of our home this year to offset our traveling expenses and so we were sharing space with our renter and her young daughter.  It was great to get to know the two of them and the house felt full for the holidays.  We also spent time preparing two more rooms to be rented for the subsequent six months while we are in Mexico.  These rooms are rented to some amazing nomadic Eurythmy students from Brazil who stayed with us for several months last year.  It’s a win-win situation, providing them very low cost housing while they continue their studies and providing us some supplemental income for our travels.

While we were all enjoying seeing our friends and being in our own home, after three weeks we were ready for the next leg of our journey, Oaxaca.  I am rabid about getting the best available airline fares.  As a result, however, it meant we had a 9 hour layover in Mexico City. At first I braced myself for what I assumed would feel like an eternity sitting in an airport and then decided to do some research to see if Mexico City’s airport had luggage storage facilities.  To our good luck it does!  The interminable layover suddenly transformed into an opportunity to sight see Mexico’s capital.  We were able to check our luggage through to Oaxaca and store our carry ons in lockers outside of the terminal.  We then got an authorized airport taxi and headed straight for the Zocalo (approximately a 15 minute drive at midday).

The Zocalo is impressive in its grandeur and the feel of its stately government buildings, not to mention enormous cathedral.  We found it still decorated for Christmas and buzzing with activity.  This is Mexico’s bicentennial.  As part of their celebration a huge snow festival was occurring in the square.  Ice skating, tobogganing, snowman building and snowball fights were scattered about with thousands of citizens enjoying themselves for free.  What a sight to see all this snow on a balmy afternoon!  We visited the cathedral and the Templo Mayor ruins just next door.  Outside, however, the action was even more intriguing.  On one side of the cathedral was an amazing hip hop group (see video), while on the other side people were watching indigenous dancers in full feather regalia.  Our curiosity finally gave way to our stomachs and we found a nearby restaurant serving 4 course meals for the equivalent of about $3 US per person.

We spent several hours in the Zocalo and then hesitantly returned to the airport.  I was afraid of getting caught in traffic and so I wanted to get back before rush hour.  This meant that we still had a couple of hours to wait but I didn’t want to push our luck.  Our trip to Oaxaca was completed at about 11 pm and we were happy to find our beds at La Villada hostel waiting for us.

La Villada is an eco-hostel on the outskirts of Oaxaca. In addition to getting our own cabin since there were four of us, the inn also has its own restaurant, swimming pool and games.  It is very reasonably priced and so seemed a good choice for our temporary stopping point while we looked for housing.  We found the owners and staff very warm and helpful.  In fact, when I explained that my youngest daughter needed to attend school the next morning the owner offered to drive us there herself.  This came in handy as it turns out the inn is not very conveniently located to the school and I had no idea yet how to use the buses or taxis.

The next morning Mia and I got up for a Oaxacan breakfast of eggs, beans, tortillas, hot chocolate and coffee and headed straight for her new school, Colegio Teizcali.  I found this school online while reading Have You Seen the Dog Lately? a blog of another U.S. mom who has been living here and sending her son.  Serena was incredibly open to communicate about the school via email and forwarded me the email address of the principal, Daniel Martinez Nunez.  Daniel was also very inviting and welcomed Mia to the school before we even arrived.  Finding connections like these is invaluable when planning a trip sight unseen.

My next invaluable connection was about to take place.  Since I did not want to take advantage of our hostel owner and cause her to wait for me while I completed school paperwork I asked her for a taxi number for my return trip to the hostel.  My call for a taxi was promptly answered by Luis Ramirez.  Luis Ramirez became a key player in the following week.  Not just a taxi driver, Luis speaks fairly good English and has worked with foreigners quite often.  While my Spanish is passable I knew I would have difficulty communicating via telephone when looking for houses or apartments to rent.  Luis helped me to find the best newspapers with real estate ads, explained to me the layouts of the neighborhoods and even called the ads and made appointments.  We were able to see several properties in a very short amount of time.  For this service Luis charged by the hour but his rates were so reasonable and the value he provided so great it was well worth the expense.  (yes, this is a plug for Luis Ramirez – use him! He’s like gold and can be contacted at (044) 951 118 45 34).

In addition to house hunting with Luis, I also contacted an agent I had met online before our arrival, Fernando Lizardi of Oaxaca Real Estate.  Eventually, through the help of these two men, we found a furnished house within 6 days of our arrival in a good location to both Mia’s school and Casa de la Cultura where Ariana and Sophia would be taking classes to supplement their homeschooling, and within walking distance to a major grocer (key if you’re living without a car).  The house was within our budget (completely covered by the rent we are bringing in from our Austin home) and huge.  We will be able to have house guests without any space issues!  Better yet, the house is in a regular, middle class Oaxacan neighborhood so that we can really be a part of typical Oaxacan life.

We quickly shifted gears and headed for Casa de la Cultura on the last day of registration for their January/February classes.  Casa de la Cultura is a cultural institute housed in an ex-convent in the heart of Oaxaca and supplemented by government funding.  What that meant for us and for all of Oaxaca is that their is an amazing array of art, music, dance, cooking, and other classes that you can take for a very reasonable cost.  Sophia signed up for Mexican cooking and both Sophia and Ariana signed up for Portrait Drawing and Painting.  These are 8 week sessions and we are taking 14 hours of classes per week for a grand total of about $90 US. Incredible! (if you are interested in taking classes here, be prepared to jump through several steps of bureaucratic red tape.  We would never have accomplished this without Luis at our side to take us to the offices we needed to visit to complete the process.  However, the results make it worth the hoop jumping).

While our first week was a whirlwind of getting logistics into place, I am really excited that we found a house, started Mia in school, got homeschooling off the ground for Ariana and Sophia, and signed them up for supplemental classes all within 6 days!

We are very excited to be here and can already see the amazing abundance of cultural opportunity at our fingertips.  In our moments of free time (we’ve been here 2 weeks now) we have also had the opportunity to visit the rug makers of Teotitlan del Valle, see the world’s widest tree at El Tule, visit the ruins of Mitla, the market of Tlacolula and attend the celebration of the Black Christ (Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas) at the Carmen Alto Church.  I wanted to share pictures and videos of some of the sights we’ve seen so far and hope to share more in the near future.  I hope you enjoy them!

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5 responses to “Viva Mexico! Settling in Oaxaca, a Cultural Mecca -The Zaia Nomading Year Continues”

  1. well friend i think there are more good tips!

  2. Luis helped me to acquisition the best newspapers with absolute acreage ads, explained to me the layouts of the neighborhoods and even alleged the ads and fabricated appointments.

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  3. Milagro says:

    I spent 3 months last year liivng in Oaxaca and I now consider it my second home. I recommend everyone to go visit! I just became aware of The Mexico Report, and look forward to reading more about Mexico

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