I knew when winter was upon us that I wanted to return to Mexico, but Oaxaca or somewhere else, I wasn’t sure. One issue was the difficulty finding decent flights, could I do 3 again with a late night departure and little sleep, or the alternative, a very long layover in Houston. But when I discussed other options, other cities with a knowledgeable online group, no other place sounded quite as good.
As I tried to work through the issues, one aspect became clear, something that had steered me all the decades I’d been making decisions about where I’d rest my head, but hadn’t realized until now. I crave hills. Flat won’t work if I have a choice. When I got a job in Paris in the mid '60s it was on the mountain, Montmartre, I chose to live. In Denver it was uphill in Golden, all the years in Arizona my home perched on the side of a mountain canyon. One of the possibilities I’d considered in Mexico was Merida. But when I looked at pictures and asked on the forum, as one poster said, “flat as a pancake”. Instant discomfort. So it was clear that it was Oaxaca where I belonged.
When I feel an affinity for a place I realize I’ll most likely be returning and my intent will shift from doing all I can in the time I have, to reconnaissance and the pleasure of the hunt for a part of town or specific accommodation that might be home for a longer stay. That was how my first visit to Oaxaca evolved and so while I struggled a bit to find a place to love, I wasn’t overly concerned but, instead, sought to find somewhere that would please me next time. It was no contest. After walking miles around the city I knew I’d be looking for a place in Xochimilco.
Located just north of the colonial area known as Centro, Xochimilco (so-chi-MIL-ko) is the oldest neighborhood in Oaxaca. Centro is on a mostly gentle slope, uphill from south to north. There’s a 4 lane road that divides the northern edge from Xochimilco where there’s a distinct change. The traffic disappears, it becomes more hilly and there’s a village atmosphere that, for me, is the selling point. Almost everyone you pass gives a greeting and a smile and the lady in the tiny store around the corner is a friend from first visit. And teaches me words for the thing I buy (aguacate).
My first favorite coffee stop was close by, Antique Café. The staff of 2 were the loveliest of people and pretty soon I was wishing with all my heart that the coffee was better, I liked them so much. They had a daily 4 course special for 55 pesos, about US$3, which must have been the best deal in town. Neighborhood ladies would call ahead and pick up dinner for the family. But the coffee….
So I moved on to another place, just a bit farther away, more ambiance, more variety on the menu and great coffee. And my favorite drink on the planet, fresh-squeezed orange juice. This was A.M. Siempre Café. I’d found them on the Airbnb website when I was looking for a place to stay. They had 2 rooms upstairs above the restaurant which I discussed with the owner at the register one day as I paid my bill, but both rooms were occupied and I forgot to go back when he said I could look. But that’s okay, I had my room at Michael’s and who knows what I’ll find next time.
A.M. Siempre Café
The traditional occupation in Xochimilco is weaving. I’m sure there used to be more weavers than now but, still, as I walked around the neighborhood I could hear the thumping-clacking sound of looms. I ventured to the door of one and was shown into the small shop inside on the patio. I didn’t find a lot I wanted but later in my visit I came back with my Canadian friend, Sandy, in tow to make up for it, she bought a nice pile of things and I was glad.
A Walk Around the 'Hood
Close to Home
Next week, my home for a month, Michael’s modern house
in Oaxaca’s oldest neighborhood.
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.