Why I’m Grateful to the Oaxaca Sun

 

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Playa Boquilla

04:30 min read

When I was eight years old and we were sitting on that striped Amazigh blanket on the sand, my mother told me about a woman who swam into the ocean, then laid on her back and closed her eyes. The ocean slowly and carefully carried her out into its belly, when she opened her eyes she could not find any piece of earth above the water.

When I was eight years old I wanted to be this woman. Not because I wanted to disappear into the blue but because I knew she had survived. I knew for certain she was alive.

When I was floating in the calm pool-like waters of Playa Boquilla, an obscure beach that took 45 minutes to get to, and a part of my 23 year old self wanted to close my eyes on top the waves and be carried away. Not because I have any particular nihilistic desire but because I wanted to know what it’s like to feel safe enough to keep your eyes closed long enough to be swallowed by the sea.

Sometimes there’s not enough words to describe the fullness of knowing you can take care of yourself. It’s a knowing that you can, finally, trust yourself. Similar to being small in a big ocean, you’re there floating, and no part of you is too big or too strange for the vastness around you. You are being held by a force or being that has been there for a millennia before you and will exist long after your kind die out. So let’s say an ocean opened up inside me on this trip to Mexico (with a brief stint in Costa Rica).

Learning to say no when something doesn’t feel right to leave room for better things has been a lesson on repeat for me on this trip. My first day and a half in the beachtown of Mazunte in the state of Oaxaca was somewhat lonely. I had just left the huge Mexico City where walking around solo and anonymously was the norm. Here in this small beach town, everybody stared and wondered what I was doing here on my own (or at least this is what I imagined). On top of that, not speaking Spanish well enough left me feeling isolated and unable to use my usual charm and wit to find a new friend or two. Let’s just say I really began to appreciate the power of a small talk at that point. I arrived on Thursday and by Friday I was bored enough to see what was going on in Zipolite, the next beach town farther south on the coast line.

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On the way to the Mazunte beach

As I was waiting for a taxi on the road out of town, I decided at the last minute to stick out my thumb and hitchhike since there seemed to be few taxi colectivos going in the direction I wanted. Lo and behold a small dark blue Volkswagen stops and two guys ask where I´m going. When I said Zipolite, they said hop in. I sensed the situation was fine so I got in. We arrived in the next small town of Zipolite and the driver, a man in his late 30´s, told me about a precious little mezcal place right on the beach in Zipolite. I was already bored so I joined them for a taste of mezcal, some with scorpion soaking in it, others with cannabis, and the ones I tried with orange and one with lavender. I wasn’t having that much fun but I was still interacting with someone. Plus this guy was paying for all my drinks. Not that I drink that much. But the conversation got weird when the guy told me that he owned a bunch of hotels in Mexico. And the last straw was when he casually said he was going to visit his friends in Israel next month. I decided it was time to leave and I would rather spend another quiet night wandering solo on the beach than hang out with this clusterfuck of entitlement.

It was at this point in my trip that I was beginning to feel the power in saying “no this is not for me”. This would prove very useful to me later when I arrived in San Jose at Casa and find myself in a not so ideal situation. I left Zipolite to head back to the hostel in Mazunte and call it a night.

This was when I met Rodolfo and Carlos. Two friends who would make the rest of my night and next days extremely playful and adventurous in Mazunte. They had checked in to the hostel that night and just when I had settled into the hammock for a quiet night I thought it might be a good idea to strike up conversation. Rodolfo and Carlos are just as adventurous as I am with a propensity for late night star gazing and philosophical conversations that can just as easily devolve into daredevil shenanigans like skinny dipping in the sea under the moonlight.

It was in Mazunte that I fell in love with Mexico and its people. Mostly, I think I appreciated how much I trusted myself to connect with the right people. Gama and Esther who run the Hostal El Manguito were super generous and friendly, inviting me to join them for dinner or a hike to the natural jacuzzi. It’s this sense of extending companionship with all other human beings around you, with ease and not with forced extroversion, that I love about Mexico.

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Above the natural jacuzzi waters

The point is that I learned how to say no this is not for me, and open space up for possibilities. I did not feel blocked in my need to find another route to what I wanted or needed. I learned that I can take care of myself. Even though I had planned on staying in San Jose, Costa Rica for 3 weeks, I left and switched the course of my entire trip because I felt that I did not need to be there. I honored my intuition and made my way back to Mexico where I had connected with people and felt a lot more at home. I really wanted to be in Mexico as I have had a lifelong crush on this country and culture, but it took a roundabout way for me realize this. I am grateful for the Oaxaca sun for not carrying me away into the ocean and for letting me realize the power of listening to my inner voice, she knows, like the ocean, what I really need and want. 

 

Cubanos: The Art and Expression

There is a gallery in la Habana near Aguacate and Amargura called “Galleria Experimentale” with some incredible art that has impactful social commentary. I’ve noticed that a lot of art in Cuba seems to hold a clear message. It is once again very self-aware, it is not searching for a meaning but directly confronts the paradox of human life which it seeks to explore. In another gallery we wandered into on a quiet shaded street in the Old City, there were paintings in pastel colors which from far appeared as splotches ofblue with traces of red or orange, then upon closer focus you can see distinct feminine figures barely traced in red, hair hanging heavy over the face or no eyes. I felt a profound representation of women’s quiet, subdued suffering in patriarchial dominated spaces, that almost blends in the background which most women can recognize. I did not stay long enough to note the artist.

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On Aguacate in the Old City

Back to the experimental gallery, the prints of political cartoonist Ares struck me so entirely with their direct and simple message. One cartoon in particular which was not hanging up but I found in a little art book, was a human figure with two arms and a small head. One arm was dark brown and lay on a wooden chopping block, the other, raising an axe above its head, was white, ready to swing down and chop. Simple as that. The type of image that sends shivers down your back as your mind makes a thousand clicks. As it happened one of the gallery curators was sitting next to us and saw me looking at it. He said, “yes, I love this one… very powerful. It’s crazy what they do, it’s completely against the cosmos.” If we want to understand what this means it is the white and Western people’s exploitation and destruction of brown people’s of this earth is like metaphorically cutting off your arm and eating it for lunch. Then again, that sounds like a movie someone might actually come up with in Hollywood about a man who survived by chopping off his own arm and eating it, given that in the U.S. survival at all costs seems to be the dominant narrative and survival of the fittest is how to justify their own separation and destruction of the planet. I digress, can you tell how much I don’t want to go back to the U.S.? Lucky for me there is a whole world and I am excited to love, experience, and appreciate it. It seems to me Cuban art blends the real, lived world and the world of expression and symbolism and breaks down the medium between appreciating art about life and living life so that they become one and the same thing. You experience the art as if you are living it. I appreciate art that does this. Art that comes to you where you are, or where the regular person is, and reaches your emotions with its message.

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Italian artist Michaelangelo Pistoletto’s art is featured in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. One of the first installations is a room of mirrors with images, photographs of real life in la Habana, juxtaposed onto the surface, making it so that you feel as if you are part of the images as your reflection becomes part of the art. A lot of his art plays with mirrors and the idea of recreating the present moment with the viewer. It plays with your being in the space, having no meaning without anyone in there to have their reflection present in the art. Another piece is a room full of gigantic wall-length mirrors, each cracked revealing a color seeping through underneath titled “Thirteen Less One.” The piece is described as “the breaking of each framed mirror is like a small galactic explosion that multiplies the particles of reflection, and remains in the exhibition as the memory of a precise instant of the past ceaselessly reflected in the present,” as if to say check yourself out in this fragmented piece of reality.