My favorite part is all of Mexico

We knew getting to Oaxaca would be a stretch. After weeks of very deliberate packing, we woke at 4am to board an early morning flight to Mexico City. We were prepped with toys that suctioned to seatbacks, magnetic puzzles, and an Instagram-recommended snack box that doubled as a matching game. Paw Patrol had been downloaded and lollipops acquired for takeoff and landing. The first flight was long, the layover nearly five hours, and the second flight was delayed, but we made it. We were met in Oaxaca by twinkling lights. I swooped up E and told him I was so so happy we were in Mexico and we laughed and at that moment, the trip had begun.

The boutique Pug Seal hotel would be our home for the next few days, and we immediately fell in love. Despite E falling off a chair at breakfast and securing a black eye that persisted throughout the trip, I’d categorize our first breakfast as a delightful surprise. The food was superb and we had our first glimpse into Shiloh’s zest for anything edible that lay before him. Emerson embraced the swings and Shiloh tried endlessly to crawl into the water, and the staff couldn’t have been nicer, constantly accommodating Emerson’s request for freshly cut apples from the bowl he could reach.

Our tour guide Coco picked us up from the hotel to guide us through the streets of Oaxaca for our city tour. Emerson filled his cup with water as we exited the hotel, enthusiastically embracing the day… until we got outside. The streets were bustling with people, crowded, bumpy, colorful, and loud. Everything was new. Emerson’s response to the overstimulation and overwhelm was to fall fast asleep in his stroller almost immediately. Shiloh, on the other hand, had an energizing response to the sensory stimulation and refused to sleep. Oaxaca was gorgeous and bustling. We wandered through two markets, one more known for buying ingredients and the second more known for buying prepared food. We (Shiloh included, of course) tried cheese and pastries and fresh juice and tortillas. When Emerson awoke, we wandered to a mezcaleria for churros. Away from the crowds and in the oasis of quiet, Emerson finally began to come alive and Shiloh fell fast asleep.

As we continued wandering through the streets, we ran into a wedding parade in the streets. Oaxacans, Coco explained, like to celebrate publicly, loudly, and with mezcal. Coco also shared that Oaxacans love to protest publicly (presumably also loudly and with mezcal). On this day, Coco explained they were celebrating a protest that happened long ago, where field workers carved sad faces into radishes as a way to protest their pay and ruin the radishes. Today, the annual Radish Festival draws crowds to the center square where various artists work all day to carve intricate scenes into radishes to display at night. By sunset, the radishes have begun to brown and are destroyed.

As E and I sat on the swings that night, I told him that my favorite part was the way the courtyard of our hotel opened to the night sky. He said, “Not me. For me, my favorite part is all of Mexico”. By the end of the day we were fried, so ate one of the literal best meals of our lives from Levadura de Olla Restaurante as quickly as possible (typical Americans) and fell fast asleep.

Goodbye, Chiang Mai

I have been in and around Chiang Mai for about two weeks and am sad to leave but ready to move to my next destination.  Before leaving, there are a couple more sights, sounds, and smells that I want to experience.

At one stop in the Warorot Market, I have a chance to shop as the locals do. There are less wooden elephants, more practical items, and many fabrics. The colors coming from the fabric shops almost make me wish I know how to make something with it all; but instead, I am happy to realize that the clothing I already bought was sewn from those colorful rolls. When my feet began to tire, I take a break upon finding a stand selling sticky rice with mango, which I eat while watching a seemingly important Muay Thai boxing match on a television with other emotional locals. Rice, mango, Muay Thai, hot temperatures, humid weather, the smells of food from an open market, sights of cloth, and shops selling everything from kids toys to motorcycles made me feel like I am starting to better understand Chiang Mai.

Fabrics at Warorot Market

In addition, in my last 24 hours in Chiang Mai, I visit the Women’s Prison. Rumor has it that many of these women are being taught translatable skills that they can then use to get their lives back on track, and one of these skills is that of Thai massage. The money that the women earn while massaging gets put away and then is given back to them when they leave the prison as an aid in getting their lives restarted. Surprisingly, the atmosphere of this massage spa is one of the nicer I’ve experienced since away. Although the massage isn’t great, I am happy that I learned about the programs happening at the prison and had a chance to contribute a small amount while getting an extra massage in the process.

Lastly, I visit the Chiang Mai Zoo and Aquarium. The other visitors are mostly Bangkok tourists as becomes obvious when the tram driver only speaks in Thai. The zoo is a typical zoo, where the animals are placed in areas a bit too confined and many onlookers wait for the animals to do something spectacular like Mumble’s dance from Happy Feet. The Aquarium, on the other hand, I really enjoy from the fresh water tunnel to the obscure and beautiful sea creatures to the scuba diver feeding some of the larger fish. I also notice some fish, such as the stone fish and clown fish, that I had seen just several weeks ago while scuba diving in Bali. In the afternoon, sun turns to rain, everyone rushes for their cars and taxis, and back at the guest house, I do my last preparations before my sleeper bus.

Feeding at the aquarium

Stone Fish at Chiang Mai Aquarium

As with most places I’ve already visited, the people I met during these two weeks made the experience. These include the silent yet smiling other meditators at Doi Suthep, Aurelieu, my French friend, Beth, another meditator who I randomly ran into on the street after the retreat, Earl, a local from Chiang Mai, as well as those I had spent time with pre-monastery. I leave my second guest house, Grace House located on Soi 9 of the old city, watch out for any water-spraying Songkran celebrators, and make my way back to the bus station.