“You really ought to come with me to my photography course in Oaxaca,” Cheryl announced.
“Uh, I’ll think about it…” My usual delay tactic. New ideas take some time to seep into my head, especially when I’ve got some momentum on another track. Like wanting to do another Ironman in October or November.
But I checked the participants in those late season races, and found that I might have some real competition. I knew I needed a rest, more spiritual than physical, more emotional than mental, from trying once again to be Number One at an all day endurance event. I next looked at half-Ironman races – “70.3” – and discovered that the conflicting one in Arizona was already filled.
“We can take a Spanish immersion language course – stay with a host family, and really learn Spanish. Annie and I did it 15 yers ago . She really enjoyed it, and I think you would, too.” Cheryl kept pushing. Clearly I was not going to find an easy weasel out of this. I was looking at going back to Cuba, without her, next March, and then on to Spain in April. It might actually be useful to have some practical Spanish available in my brain.
After what seemed like months of tortured delays, I finally admited I would have to go to Oaxaca. No races pulled me away. Keeping on the good side of my wife outweighed any fear I might have of foreign travel. And the weather down there promised to be, well, perfect.
Oaxaca sits in the midst of the Isthmus of Mexico, a narrowing between the Caribbean and the Pacific, where the country bends eastward after falling to the south below the Rio Grande. Set about 18 degrees above the equator, farther south than Hawaii or Cuba, Oaxaca enjoys a sumer monsoon much like the Four Corners states in the US. Winds from the east bring warm moist air which meets the mountains rising upwards of 3,000 meters (13,000 feet), causing frequent afternoon summer thundershowers to fall into the fertile valleys below, at about 5,000 feet. The storms peter out around mid-October, just about the time we would arrive. This is not the the Sonoran or the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico. The hills are verdant, with evergreens growing up their slopes; crops grow lustfully in the volcanic soil. Temperatures above 82 and below 50 are unusual at any time of year. The more I learned, the more my resignation at going became anticipation.
Cheryl’s primary motivation was Dia de Los Muertos – the Mexican Day of the Dead festival which achieves full flower in Oaxaca’s Zapotec and other indigenous communities. She had signed up for a week-long photography course centered on capturing the festivities in the village cemetaries. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a fifth wheel to that, so I begged off, and we compromised on a ten day day visit for me: three days of sightseeing, then then five days in Spanish school, plus a day of travel on either end.
One wrinkle cropped up, though. I had, for reasons still obscure to me, begun a program of daily running, hoping to make 100 days straight. This started September 2nd, and our trip was planned for October 19-28, just when I would be revving into the meat of the streak. I poured over the internet, scouting the area via Google Maps satellite view, reading reports from traveling and ex-pat runners, and wondering just how I might get from our lodgings to some place runnable.
Oaxaca, like most cities in Mexico, combines a Spanish colonial core, replete with cathedral, temple, and hacienda style closed-courtyard dwellings in the center of town, surrounded by an aggregation of metastatic growth along the valley and crawling up the hills. Streets are narrow, sidewalks sometimes blocked, houses mostly one or two story cinderblock or concrete shell – many with rebar sticking up, like multiple tiny chimneys. There really isn’t any place to run in the urbanized zone. Cars, pedestrians, buildings, and markets take up all the available space.
But I noticed just to the west and north of the Zona Turistica a park-like area, called Cerro del Fontin. A four-lane road traversed the southern edge. An observatory, planetarium, and auditorium occupied the southern section, and trails led into the brush north of there. This looked promising.
Our first morning in town, therefore, I went out at sunrise from our B&B (more of a boutique hotel) to see if I might continue my streak somewhere close. I walked uphill several blocks and found a three story parking structure, for the Auditorio Guelaguetza, just on the edge of the highway. Just as Google Street View had shown, a narrow sidewalk hugged the road, protected from the rush hour traffic by bright yellow railing. On the top of the garage, a small set of exercise machines was in use by several early morning devotees. Dog walkers, strollers, and even a few runners braved the fumes, noise, and headlights on the sidewalk. I dutifully ran from one end of this little path to the other, and garnered about 3 miles with an out and back which included a serious hill of 8-10 % for nearly a mile, smack in the middle. But the views of the city and the sunrise were uplifting.
Later that morning, Cheryl and I came back up, crossing over the highway on one of three pedestrian bridges which had clearly made life safer for the local citizens. We walked up to the planetarium, down and around the auditorio. She was entranced by the view, and vowed to come up at sunrise “in a day or two” to try her hand at early morning photography.
(to be continued)