I am lured in by a chalkboard in front of a wine shop: Every additional glass of wine is five quetzales cheaper than the last. Tabacos y Vinos does not have an English name, sure, but it is a quintessential gringo hangout in a town full of gringo hangouts. I meet a retired archeologist (now expat), a schoolteacher from New England, a group of law students doing a two-week program, a group of guys from Arkansas in seminary school learning Spanish, and the lady working that night. There is a local on duty in case someone comes in and needs to speak Spanish. It is less a bar than wine shop in setup, with a large square table surrounded by wine bottles shelved on the walls, so it is hard not to talk to people while hanging out there.
Antigua has a ridiculous amount of language schools and lures droves of English speakers to learn Spanish the best way: cultural immersion. The only problem is that finding someone willing to speak Spanish to you is harder to come by than someone willing, or able, to speak English.
At 7:30 am I stand waiting for my van to Antigua, Guatemala. About ten to 8, my driver gives a honk and I scurry over to the van. He is a jovial man with a big belly tucked in with a bright red shirt. You always want your driver to have a cheerful disposition. He has your safety in his hands. We lumber around San Cristobal’s small colonial streets for about an hour to pick up all of our passengers. We leave city limits around 8:30. The gesture of being picked up at one’s accommodations is convenient, luxurious even, but horribly inefficient. Our driver asks each person as they board if they have their passport on them. Confused white faces timidly nod.
Outside of San Cris we traverse the beautiful mountainsides. We all lull into a daze except for the two women in the middle talking about positive energy.
San Cristobal de las Casas was deemed a “magical village” in 2003 by the Mexican board of tourism and further recognized by President Filipe Calderon as the most magical of the magical villages in 2010. I’m unsure whether state agencies or presidents have the power or prestige of mysticism to make such designations, but one can see what they mean. Here lies the cultural capital of the state of Chiapas, with many local villages, like San Juan Chamula, making significant contributions. Religious ceremony here is almost always accompanied by the local spirit, pox (pronounced poh-sh), distilled from cane sugar and corn. This strong ceremonial liquor augments that “magical” feeling Senor Presidente Calderon was talking about.
We were to take the overnight bus from Oaxaca de Juarez (Oaxaca City) to Puerto Escondido on the coast for some relaxing times. I’m obviously unaware of most the logistics of such a trip, as I don’t live in Oaxaca. I could look it up on some tourist website, but I figured going with a local would be the way to go. Well, the overnight bus never happened. My acquaintance here in the city, Daniel, was running a little late. Around 11 pm, when we were supposed to be boarding our bus, we meet up and I drop my stuff at this apartment. Do I want to go out for a drink? Sure. And then we’ll wake up early for the morning bus. Sure.
The following contains endorsements pertaining to literacy and alcohol consumption.
In front of me was a glass of mezcal and a woman named Sandra rapidly explaining in Spanish everything about what I was drinking. I caught the word horse in there. Is there horse in this? Stomach? This is from horse stomach? NO.
Oaxaca de Juarez –There are these long, skinny balloons that the kids love playing with. Hundreds of colors are available, and two sizes: a normal size, and a jumbo size. You hit one side and it goes shooting up in the air and then it floats around and changes direction. Kids can be seen chasing after them in front of the Cathedral with an enviable sense of innocent joy.