Oaxaca, capitol of the state by the same name in Mexico. A city full of brilliant colors, rich cultural history, fantastic food and many very cool people. From the moment I rolled into town, I was struck by the many beautiful and provocative murals that fill the city streets. This one reads, “Life begins where reality ends.”
What was once a plain stairwell at one point became an explosion of color, light and imagery.
“Women raising style…”
The range of artistic expression stretches far outside the city streets and into the outlying countryside.
Even the public service signs were a little more creative and different than I’d come across, “If you don’t find a trashcan, keep it in your pocket until you find one. If he could he would.”
I rolled directing into the welcoming home of the Wiskind family, cousins of my Sister’s husband, who’d taken a year from their lives in the Bay Area to explore life in Oaxaca. Adam, Meg, and their sweet daughter Graciela are truly spectacular. They made me feel like I was a member of their home from the moment I entered the door. It was a true gift to spend a month getting to know each of them individually and share the magic they create as a family. It was the perfect place for me to pause and regroup from so much continuous travel. We saw great music, ate amazing food, danced to live music, and had many intense and inspired conversations. What a gift.
I’d never spent so much time around one child continuously. Graciela is a warm, friendly, and joyous child, and it was inspiring to see how quickly she had adjusted to life in Mexico including attending an all Spanish preschool! We laughed and played every day. I miss her already!
Adam and Meg kindly invited me to share meals with some sweet neighbors up the street. Judit and Roman were amazing in their own right, graciously inviting another group of transcontinental cyclist friends of mine to stay in their small apartment. Perhaps you remember Karl, Marie and their daughter Kayla who have ridden down from Alaska over the last year as well. We just keep running into each other!
Exploring the city streets, I came across almost daily parades with enormous puppets depicting the event of the day. This day was in celebration of the local high school graduation.
Streets often full of people dancing to various street bands.
Oaxaca also has a very vibrant bike culture. From large group night rides through the city streets to promote bike awareness to youth cycling groups to the many mountain biking clubs around town, I quickly connected with some great bike friendly people. This photo was taken during a Friday night critical mass ride I did with Nici and Philip from Austria.
Even the little kids are out there riding the streets.
Graciela wasn’t quite ready to be hitting the city streets on her own bike, but Meg would ride her to school on a tag along.
Given all the bike advocacy, I was invited on 2 different occasions to give presentations about my journey. Quite a feat to choose an hour worth of photos from a collection of over 10,000 so far. Good practice really, as I’d previously put many a host to sleep with my endless collection of unorganized photos. Now I have a good representation of highlights for future presentations, should the opportunity arise…
Among my favorite aspects of Oaxaca were the seemingly endless possible excursions to explore outside of the greater metro area. Within 10 minutes of riding, I joined bike tourist friends Nici and Philip to explore the Zapotec City of Monte Alban, which sits atop a large mountain overlooking the city.
On many occasions I joined various local mountain bike clubs for rides through the large systems of trails which surround the city. Amazing variety of terrain from buff tacky dirt single track to loose rocky sections to very technical boulder descents. I probably went on 15-20 trail rides while in town, and managed to find new sections of trail each time. Not bad, Oaxaca!
A couple of the Madrugandos, a before-work bike club that rides trail at 6am every day. I peeled myself out of bed for 3 of their rides, always worth it once the wheels start spinning.
Adam, Philip and I took an exploratory ride up into the nearby mountains one day. Always a pleasure to share new (to me) trail with good people. I also just love seeing Philip’s tricked out touring bike off-road in the woods!
I took a few overnight trips out of the city while staying there. One was to the cloud forest villages known as the Pueblos Mancomunados, which hover above Oaxaca at about 10,000’ of elevation. On the way up the 5000’ climb to the pueblos on a lone dirt road, I came across this man and his strange apparatus. He was recording specific bird calls for a research project through a local institute. My memory was piqued as serendipity had struck like lightening. A certain bird call had followed me from the high tundra of Northern Alaska, through all of Canada, the US, and most of the Baja Peninsula. I can sing/whistle the call easily from memory because i’ve heard it so much. I always hoped that someday along the journey I’d run into a bird researcher who’d be able to identify the call… So after telling him the whole story, I whistled the call to him…
“Seguro que es un sparrow, “ he said, “posible un white throated sparrow.” He drew out his smartphone and quickly retrieved a recording of the call. It wasn’t quite right. Very close, but fundamentally different melody. I described the differences in detail.
“AH, ok! Entonces es un white-crowned sparrow!” He played the recording to this call and it was eerily accurate. A year long mystery solved with the magic of serendipity and the technology of the smartphone.
Up above 10,000 feet these 7 villages are all connected through the mountains via a beautiful and well maintained trail system. I was able to find a few of the trails, but most require a guide to avoid getting lost.
“Welcome to the Lungs of the Earth”
A full day of climbing and riding between a few of the towns left me very tired. Then, the rain came. Hard. A sprinkle to a drizzle to a steady rain to a torrential downpour. I was soaked and quite cold. When I came across a set of very cheap cabanas in the 3rd town, I went for it, knowing I needed to get warm and dry immediately. Good reminder about high elevation rain: hypothermia comes in slow and steady, and similarly takes a while to resolve. I was shivering under the covers for a good hour before I felt normal again!
The following morning, I headed out early onto the trail system outside of the pueblo. Super fun little windy trail through the high pine forest with a few ramps and jumps built!
Lovely single track route through old growth pines back toward Oaxaca via the small pueblo of La Cumbre.
A few days later, I got the itch to check out a well-known local attraction called Hierve el Agua. Rumor had it there were some hot springs atop some cliffs with solidified waterfalls of sediment falling down the mountainside below. A must see I heard… On the route there were countless signs attracting visiting tourists along the Ruta Mezcal, where those interested could visit a number of artisanal mezcal distilleries for which Oaxaca has become internationally famous.
One of the big distilleries, Benevá. Mezcal is made from fermenting and processing the hearts or piñas of various species of maguey (a type of agave plant, shown in the foreground). Tequila is made through a similar process but specifically uses the blue agave plant.
Long beautiful climb up into the mountains to reach the hot springs…
A 2000’ climb up a dirt road and 20 pesos will get you into Hierve el Agua. Those “waterfalls” are a couple hundred feet tall, but are bone dry. Many years of heavily sedimented spring water running over a cliff’s edge formed this beautiful site.
Not a bad place to take a soak, eh?
Another few days around Oaxaca and I needed to get back to the quiet of nature. I have a tradition of sorts to spend my birthdays alone in the wild, its silent symphony often inspires important reflections. This year was no different. A 30 mile ride out of Oaxaca led me to a quiet lake in the hills, my own private campground, and a perfect put in for the packraft.
I spent the afternoon floating around the lake, whisked about by the shifting wind, watching the clouds drift by. Appreciating yet again how lucky I am to take this time to see so much of the world’s beauty.
My month in Oaxaca was a fantastic shift in experience from the constant movement of riding though mainland Mexico. It reminded me of the beauty of stability, of face to face conversations with fantastic and inspiring humans that could continue and develop over days and weeks. I got to dip my toe in the waters of offering bodywork again due to the moral support of Meg and Adam Wiskind, and the interest of many ex-pats around Oaxaca. It was lovely to feel specifically helpful to some people again. More to come I think. Oaxaca is a special city, and I hope to return someday. But it is time to continue… Next stop, the Pacific Ocean along the Oaxacan coast: beaches, rivers, and a whole lot of heat…