Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Still In Love With Oaxaca

I've been back for a week since the end of our summer travels, yet I haven't been to the zocalo yet, nor had mezcal, or even been to a shop. But I'm not jaded, I could never be. It's just that daily life has taken precedence over being able to settle in slowly and appreciate all Oaxaca has to offer. We're starting our seventh year in the city of Oaxaca, a year full of changes for certain.

Max decided to try 7th grade in the United States (which you couldn't pay me to do, not when it went so poorly the first time). He's enjoying the suburban life of skateboarding, not to mention his first experience of attending school fully in English.

Geni is enrolled in 2nd grade at Colegio Stanley Hall, a tiny, beautiful school a couple blocks from the famous Tule tree. Hers is a village school, with weekly lessons in Zapotec and a PE curriculum that consists of learning Oaxaca's regional dances. So, perfect.

For the first time in my freelancing career, I hit home with a giant contract. So much writing to do, and on a topic I love: 65,000 words. The downside: Due in October.

Steve succumbed to his lifelong attachment to screenprinting and brought himself a little machine and some water-based ink.

So, what's to love in this very domestic return to Oaxaca? Primarily, how gorgeous everything is. We have a September rainy season, by the looks of it, and the mountaintops are shrouded in fantasy novel-level fog. In fact, we will navigate through that this weekend as Geni has requested a camping trip as her birthday present. But the city is so beautiful too, with the green cantera stone almost glowing in the diffused light of afternoon.

So I haven't made it to some of the more famous Oaxaca spots yet, but I did go to a village comedor and the tlayuda came with local mushrooms that were divine! And the used clothing stands at my neighborhood tianguis are more hopping than ever: all denim 25 pesos.

I've also managed to get to two outdoor Zumba classes and had the requisite killer margarita at La Biznaga. Some of the most fun was going to the tiny papeleria in my neighborhood to get Geni's schools supplies, because I now know how to work the 35-item list rather than just handing it over to the clerks at the Provedora Escolar school supply warehouse. No archaeological sites yet, but a great visit to the Hecho en Oaxaca show with murals and mixed media pieces by Dr. Lakra, Swoon, and The Date Farmers.

Through all of this laid-back life, there is the constant of missing my little boy. I know he's happy, though, and that means everything. He sees the California suburbs as something other and fascinating, just the kind of experience I yearned to escape. He skateboards on sidewalks and through cul-de-sacs. He meets friends at the mall or to play video games. When I ask him about his school day (7th grade! In English! All new people! So very far away!), he tells me, "I hung out and talked to my friends." So there it is, the beauty of his daily life. Cheers, Maxito!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Ecotouring Oaxaca: Cuajimoloyas

We've stayed at a lot of little cabins in the woods in Oaxaca, including the major ecotourism sites of Ixtlan de Juarez and Apoala, as well as the lesser-visited spots of Llano Grande and, most recently, Cuajimaloyas.

Last weekend, we met with 17 others people to trek around and explore Cuajimoloyas. This place is distinctive. You enter through the little pueblo which, for us, meant cutting through thick, gorgeous fog that left dewdrops clinging to young pine trees and vines. A roadside wood building houses the local agency where you sign in and pay for your access fee. Here is where you can also pay for guides to take you on the five-hour hike or the three-hour hike, as well as a few others. There is a zip line over a canyon for 200 pesos, or a shorter zip line in the forest for 40 pesos. Because we were with Oaxacans who know the area, we chose no guide and to stay in the more accessible part of the forest, which held cabins and even little wood shack comedors with women cooking blue-corn quesadillas and brewing Oaxacan hot chocolate (and even good coffee, I'm told).

Everyone sat down for breakfast in the midst of what felt like a relatively young forest--I'm guessing that we were in "recovering from clear-cut" territory. The kids discovered a series of pools feeding into each other, the classic sign of river trout breeding.

I sat in the kitchen with the woman working the comal. She told me she and her daughter walk an hour with all their supplies to reach the forest and cook at Comedor B-- (Bocadillo? Boquita?). And then she told me something brilliant. She said, "In two weeks, the first wild mushrooms will be ready to pick in the forest. Come back and I will make you trout stuffed with them." Indeed, Cuajimaloyas is the site of the annual Feria de Hongos Silvestres. People pour into the forest to spend the weekend, which is usually in July or August (during rainy season), to go on guided walks with experts that identify the different types of mushrooms and which ones are safe to consume.

Then her 10-year-old son ran up. He had been playing with my children and now wanted to show all of us the waterfall. We now had a guide, whether we had wanted one or not, but it felt lucky to have a local boy the same age as our children, taking us, stopping to play, call to animals, catch bugs, and point out sources of pure drinking water along the way. And I spied the beginnings of some near-fluorescent orange mushrooms, like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

We cut across pastures and saw bulls charging around playfully. Bright green frogs and tiny brown spiders hopped between tall grass and rocks. The kids played catch and release with grasshoppers. The walk ended with us sliding down a muddy mountainside to a modest waterfall, with just enough mossy boulders to bring out your inner mountain goat. The children insisted on getting as muddy as possible, and all pompis were good and wet upon our exit up the slope.

Sure it's beautiful and a grand departure from the more established ecotourism sites with their conference rooms and their adventure playgrounds, but what also make Cuajimaloyas special is also its incredible accessibility. We reached the site in barely over an hour's drive and were in the midst of the forest almost immediately. Our adventure was an incredible break from the urban life of downtown Oaxaca and a chance to see the impact of the early rainy season in all its brilliant green, flashy orange, and mushy brown.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Write Write Bang Bang!

On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of my switch to full time freelance writing, I can officially say that the worrying never stops. Today was my first day of not having an assignment in months and, though I had prepared mentally for this day, I found myself thinking, "Is this it? Perhaps I've filed my last story or seen my last accepted pitch."

Today, I kept waiting for the magical email or Facebook message that never came. I checked all my recently completed assignments and assignments to come and stalked all my favorite writing sites, but there was no incredible convergence that resulted in a magical gig landing in front of me.

Until 2:17pm. A project manager offered me an editing gig for the rest of the week. Which is why I really must say right here, right now, that it takes a kind of thick-skinned, roll-with-it, Zen master of a personality to be a freelance writer, and I have learned to pretend to be that kind of person.

It turns out that freelance writing and editing demand a good amount of pretending.

Like pretending to take a picture of my precious son when I'm really photographing something right behind him that I need for a story.

Or saying I spoke to someone who said I could do this or go there or take that--oh, it wasn't you? Then it must have been your boss.

Something I never find the need to lie about, though, is the unglamorous nature of my chosen career. I've filed stories from the dark bathroom of a Tucson Motel 6 and from a video poker parlor at a Virginia truck stop. I've said yes to wild deadlines, like ghostwriting three chapters of a technical book in three days. In fact, the wilder the deadline, the better I seem to perform, that little anxiety pumping down my arms and to my fingertips as I type.

So I'd like to think five years of having my own freelance writing business means I have some kind of proof that I can do this, that it means it's a viable choice for the next five years. But the days of slow work prompt me to wonder about making it for even the next five days.

Then there is the deeper question: Does that little bit of fear keep me hungry? Without the fear perhaps I'd be without the gigs. I'll ruminate on this and let you know what I think on the six year anniversary of my freelance career.