Boiling Water and Beerfests
Somehow by the grace of God I've survived another week in Mexico without an AR-15. I thought about packing a few large rocks for defense but figured I could find some when I arrived. I was definitely right about that one. After all the free, unsolicited advice I received before stepping off, I was mentally prepared for multiple gunshot wounds by this point. The gauze, quick-clot, and medical tape remain unbloodied in my backpack. Obviously I'm knocking on wood like a mailman right now, but there's no way things could have been as bad as advertised.
Mexico is the second most deadly country in the world - second to Syria - according to recent studies conducted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and that sentiment has been chorused by certain individuals and groups in public life. Then again, the fan keeping me cool and the mosquitoes away, the coffee I drank this morning with no cream or sugar, the headphones blasting Duane Allman shredding previously unknown musical notes into my ears, will all give me cancer even though I'm drinking cucumber, blueberry, kale, magnesium, probiotic, deer piss. I haven't seen a clean kitchen outside of my AirBNB and still I'm having less diarrhea than in the States. That was a long way of saying take a deep breath, bring your hands to your heart, find your happy place, and rest assured: the world is not over yet. The sun still rises. Your family still loves you (maybe). The news on T.V is still full of shit. Mexico is just another place that's actually a lot better than many places I've been to (several places on the drive between Fayetteville, NC and Atlanta, GA come to mind) and full of some amazing people.
I was in the back of a pickup truck - not on the way to the hospital - with a group of fellow Anglo-Saxons riding through the shrubs, cacti, and dust-scape of the Oaxacan countryside. We were so far into the boondocks that outhouses didn't have walls, trash lacked a canned companion, and dust was synonymous for fresh air. A half naked baby played with handed-me-down-hand-me-down toys in a dirt box and seemed relatively satisfied with his place on Earth. Our ride equated to a very basic version of Mexican economy class - there's no legal equivalent in the United States. Two metal benches bolted, welded, or duct-taped (not entirely sure) to the bed of the truck, approximately seven feet in length, just wide enough to cut into your butt cheeks in depth, and facing each other lengthwise like the back of a Land Rover Defender from the the early Eighties, housed ten people on fourteen feet of space. That's about 1.4 feet per ass. Sara sat in a metal jump seat facing out the back of the vehicle, supported by chains running at a 45 degree diagonal from the steel bed, below the window looking into the cab of the pickup. I rested the upper half of my body in an L-shape on the top of the cab like a man grasping his way from a hole of quicksand, searching for a comfortable position. Metal bars served as the back rest and entropically located new places on my back to dig into until it reached a state of homeostatic pain throughout. A canvas sheet roofed us in and would be the only separation from the ground if the truck rolled over the edge of the unsurvivable cliffs sheering our left and right. Unfortunately, I could see where we were heading and watched as we perilously dodged traffic screaming downhill. All I could think of was the discomfort of riding turbulence in the back of a C-130 in the middle of the night: bladder full of urine, parachute harness chaffing, wanting to jump out of the airplane with or without the main parachute attached to the static line cable just to escape the medieval cylinder of torture.
After 45 minutes the truck deposited us at Hierve el Agua (Spanish for "the water boils"): several calcified waterfalls originating from cold, natural spring water, heavily saturated with calcium carbonate, bubbling up from the ground, depositing into a series of swimmable pools, and cascading over the cliff's edge. The water is stripped of it's mineral content along the journey down the rock face, leaving patterns of newly furnished rock resembling waterfalls. If you have ever seen stalactites in a cave or noticed the strange yellow-white ring around the mouth of a water fountain then you've witnessed this principle of chemistry. We walked through 600 meters of food, beer, and Michelada carts in route to the mineral pools and the trails along the cliffs. On this particular trip two Brits staying in the same AirBNB tagged along and turned out to be the perfect travel companions. When the carts ended, the view opened up with mountains in every direction and several pools twenty feet in front of us. Before noon, no tourists arriving yet, the pools mostly vacant, shone various colors depending on the source of their water.
The mineral springs bubbled from the ground, rolling R's, gargling G's, and probably looked something like whatever inspired the Jacuzzi Family during their development of the hot tub. We walked around the pools - after changing into swim wear - and took a dip in the cool green-blue water. The sun blasted down unforgivably and the cool 75 degree water quenched the heat of the day burning upon our skin; a perceivable sigh emanated from our pores. The water, having just risen from below the ground, smelled clean, like the rocks in a cold mountain stream or lichen covered boulders in the woods after an afternoon shower or the brief freshness of the city after the summer rain washes away the smog and haziness that built all day. Youth and vitality resurrected from the warm and weary, we dried off, drank a beer, ate some tacos, and returned to Mitla in a much more comfortable 15 passenger van with at least three feet per ass.
During our first craft beer experience in Oaxaca, on the second day of our visit, the bartender at La Santisima Flor de Lupulo told us about a craft beer festival happening in Oaxaca. Two weeks later we were walking with our new friend Rene towards the Templo de San Matias Jalatlaco nearby Tierra Blanca. After our extensive searching for said brewery the previous week, familiarity significantly understates the vivid picture of every block etched into my memory. We walked that same broken street with sleeping dogs appearing dead until you nearly stepped on them. We passed the buildings and their inhabitants recovering from the interactions with ghosts.
Outside a red, stuccoed building, there were still decorations from The Day of the Dead and music flowed from the door, drawing my eyes to the right and through the doorway to a table five feet inside. Upon the table sat three beer glasses calling our names; orange script painted them in some kind of letters I couldn't read. We took note of the location and moved towards the town square marking the X we had been given two weeks before. There was nothing in the square so we returned to the red stuccoed building. Before walking in I observed a mural directly across the street painting the wall in American Flag patterned red, white, and blue. There were skulls on the stripes and for the stars.
Inside there were at least 20 carts touting home brew and craft beer. It was how I imagined the birth of craft brew to be: lots of excitement, enthusiasm, and effort. Everything inside was local and craft. The music, a seven man band, combined strings, brass, percussion, and vocals into a wave carrying our afternoon buzz from brew to brew. By two in the afternoon, with music and beers, we settled into an evening state of mind where eyes glossed, feet beat, and shoulders started to rock. We wasted no time getting more beer into our glasses.
Every brewer insisted on trying their IPA (pronounced as the word "ip-pa" versus the acronym). To be honest, during the first two hours I tried almost every brewery's version of the Ip-pa or Pale Ale and nothing really stood out. There was so much enthusiasm though! Oaxacans want to and are ready to brew great beer, I just don't think they've found what their pixie dust is yet. There was a single exception in the Pale Ale category: Rey-o-baby. It was a perfect representation of a well balanced American Pale Ale: citrus, grass, and bread balanced on the nose; crisp and sharp initially on the palate, smoothed out by slight fruity esters and toasty malt finishing with a clean, refreshing bitterness. It was the first and only beer that I wanted a second helping of. Absolutely no perceivable off flavors. It brought me back to to a sunny spring day happily sipping a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in anticipation for longer days and warmer weather. I was so excited about the discovery that everyone I talked to received an enthusiastic spiel on what they were missing out on by not having their plastic cup full of Rey-o-baby. My strategy actually worked against my own consumption: one hour after first sipping the nectar they ran out.
I moved onto Mezcal, a drink I've been convinced by every Oaxacan does not give you hangovers. To quote the professional Mezcal drinker at the distillery outside of town: "It's all natural. Nothing added. You won't wake up with a hangover, but don't worry, you will still get very drunk. That's important." It is important, I wasn't worried, and yes, you get really drunk. During his speech I noticed the red of his eyes shared a resemblance to ketchup. Hangover? No way! Ganja? Possibly - and, most importantly, "all-naturally" got him high as a kite. One final note on Oaxacan beer: I think that once they hone in the process a bit they will produce some truly exceptional beers and if I was a betting man I'd wager that you'll see some very interesting Mole-inspired porters and stouts. Being the home of Mole (chili-chocolate greatness) it's a natural fit into those styles and readily available within arms reach at every corner in Oaxaca City.
It must have been the beer, because I definitely woke up with a hangover. In our room a fan blew the fresh morning air upon our sleeping skin while weights pressed down on my eyelids. Somewhere behind my eyeballs the aching pushed and pulled. Our room is simple. If we use the cardinal directions for orientation, the west is occupied by a sliding closet. There are two parts to that closet. On the left (or south) side there are three shelves. I have the top, Sara has the middle and on the bottom we place a bunch of crap. On the floor our shoes rest. The right side of the closet is rarely explored but we do hang some clothes over there and our backpacks sit on the ground, waiting for the next adventure.