Today, Oaxaca, Oaxaca is good for gastronomia, especially protein-rich “Chapulines” which are crickets. They toast them on clay cooking surfaces with garlic, lime juice and salt. Sometimes they toast up grasshoppers too, with chili. To wash it down? Mezcal, an alcohol made from the maguay plant, native to Mexico and sacred to pre-Hispanic Mexico. Elixir of the Gods with mythological roots, a lightening bolt firing from the sky, striking a maguay plant. The “piña” [heart] cooked, split open and released a nectar. Mexicans admonish it’s potency and solute “Para todo mal, Mezcal, y para todo bien, también”. “For every ill, Mezcal, and for every good, as well.” Most drink Mezcal straight. The flavor is a bit smokey.
Historic Mitla. Somewhere between 900 BC and 600 AD. Mesoamerica was one of five ancient civilizations where writing developed independently. And, as the Spanish so often did in their conquests, they conquered the people’s culture. We did not think much about this at the time, we didn’t have wifi. Or navigation. Instead, confusing roads and Mexican radio, dead ends, and driving circles until we arrived at a cathedral! El sol! It blazed unabated. A bashful middle aged lady with brown wavy shoulder-length hair and tired eyes gave us a ticket for our car parking. The parking lot had family restaurant, which had a wall armed with Mezcal. The dusty, ancient, baking streets were lined with pitched tents selling crafts and souvenirs. I bought a bowl, a water and a Victoria. The Fab 4 were on the bottle caps.
Mezcal is actually a contribution of the Spanish. They brought a supply of booze over from Europe, and inevitably, it ran out. They’d drank agave or maguey based drinks before, and took a hint. They experimented to increase the alcohol content and came out with Mezcal. Of my favorite historic attractions: The 2,000+ year old tree, on the beautifully groomed grounds of Santa Maria del Tule. Standing behind a 3ft high metal picket fence, and guarded by small fragile nuns is Árbol del Tule! It so grandly hangs its big green cypress branches shading half the church property. Children take field trips here.
Across the grass is a building with cafeteria tables segmented for 10 kitchenettes, which more or less offer the same exact food and drink. We bought two tortillas and two drinks from four different shops. We friended maybe 8 kitchen ladies, a range of ages, as we ate. In our return we stopped in a village for the Sunday market. At this hour there was mostly tripe and gizzards unsold, and more than half the vendors were already packed up. Dad quiped about the department of health. I made messy avocado sandwiches for us.
Back in the car,I passed out for about 30 min. I woke up for BEISBOL! Guerreros de Oaxaca my most favorite Mexican baseball team in the whole wide world. Hot hot dogs with peppers and chili and Tecate cans of beer. Many locals were on call to help you out for a couple bucks. Busty young Mexican gals with thick legs and big faces wore short black mini skirts. They teased the baby bird mascot, he fought back playfully.
I convinced the hotel clerk, Juego, to be my drinking buddy. Juego suggested we go to a boxing match. He was excited about a fighter. (?The son of Junior Seau, NE Patriot linebacker?) Boxing is a popular sport in Mexico, amongst Mexican-Americans too. I thought Juego meant the fight was in Oaxaca, Oaxaca. An authentic ancient city adventure in the valleys of the Sierra Madres! We began up the cobblestone path through heart of the old town, Templo del Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo.
We stopped at a bar, sat on a balcony, crushed 20x XX, watched boxing in massive LCD, surfed spotty wifi, downed mas Equis, and kicked it with a few weird gals and mad laughs. Drunk truck food. Half through the beers Juego told me he was a gang member since his days in San Diego. A story of boyhood, juvi, and deportation. I asked how he got involved, why he joined. As he described it, for the same reasons I joined a fraternity. The camaraderie and power of community. “It was fun”. He described himself as a formerly “smart, good kid” that participated in class and prided himself on his academic success. When his cousin started getting bullied in the park, things changed and Juego wound up a high school dropout, wasting days getting drunk, causally causing ruckus, and then juvenile hall and country jail. He was a fascinating fella. Something about him I understood, we were on the same level. Between growing up with three sisters, a rebel mind, a touchy temper, all in the pursuit of a good life with good friends, we saw eye to eye. I woke up feeling like my brain was left sizzling on the taco fritter all night. I desperately pulled myself together and chugged water.
We would spend the next 5 hours in the Chevy-shit-box, winding bak up into the Sierra Madres, behind chicken trucks, along cyclists, with nature’s holiness. This was the only road through..