I lived in Michael’s house for 4 weeks. My original plan was to find myself a casita or apartment on Airbnb but immediately on finalizing my dates, all the places I’d considered suddenly vaporized and I realized I’d have to hustle to find something I liked. That’s when I found Michael, but he had no reviews. And while usually I’d be unlikely to consider a place for 4 days, let alone 4 weeks with no reviews, his face was so nice and the house looked so beautiful, not to mention the perfect location in Xochimilco, it was impossible to resist. The room with its private bathroom were expensive by Oaxaca standards but a request for a long-stay discount was answered immediately, bringing the price down to a manageable amount and I booked it. I wasn’t sorry for a moment, my best Airbnb experience ever.
The morning soundtrack for Michael’s House is the local school band. It strikes up first thing from the nearby park where it practices for an hour, playing the same marching band tune every day, without fail. Because of the acoustics of terrain, it sounded as if they were marching back and forth at the foot of my bed and while it was a shock the first couple of mornings, it grew on me until I regarded the out-of-tune serenade with (almost) affection.
Sharing a space with a stranger can be a trial but, in this case, the space was divided in a way to provide us both with privacy and Michael is, by nature, welcoming and respectful. He allowed me to use his kitchen, which I did every day because of the convenience and also the joy of buying food from local ladies and bigger markets around town. Eating out is inexpensive, but buying groceries makes the cost of eating negligible, meals for pennies. So I did both every day.
I’ve come to believe that there’s a special art-and-creativity gene exclusive to the people of Mexico. On a practical level it means there’s beauty in the most mundane of places and things everywhere. And when it comes to buildings, old and new, they’re fearless. This point is illustrated by the vivid colors used to such striking effect, exteriors and interiors. And new buildings reveal the impulse possibly even more, with architects seemingly given free rein to express themselves. This was certainly the case with Michael’s house.
Though, unusually, white inside and out, there’s no shortage of interest provided by planes and light, open space, floor to ceiling windows and the sky. The house, situated in an area of dense habitation, is private, windows oriented toward the surrounding walls and opposing walls of the house itself. The feeling is one of space and, upstairs, floating above the immediate neighborhood with hills surrounding the near distance. There are 2 terraces, one on the second floor between the 2 bedrooms, the other on the roof with 360º views.
Most days I had a leisurely breakfast at home, then lunch at A.M. Siempre Café, one of 2 places to eat in the neighborhood, or somewhere in Centro. Then off to amuse myself, usually with a quest in mind or to meet friend Sandy, or some days early to the Oaxaca Lending Library to meet the ‘Hoofing It in Oaxaca’ group to board 2 private buses that would take us out into the countryside.
It’s a satisfying hike down the hill from Michael’s house to Centro proper, then back up the hill in the late afternoon, occasionally out again for dinner but not often. It was just too good to be home in the evening and then there was that beautiful produce to eat, grown just a few miles out of town, the very same that would be almost “over the hill” and cost a fortune at the supermercado back in California. Life in Mexico is good.
Next week, a visit to a remarkable weekly market
in a big park in the heart of Oaxaca.
2017's Back to Oaxaca, all episodes.
PortMoresby's first trip to Oaxaca, Anatomy of a Trip.
To read others of PortMoresby’s contributions, click here.