Finding Oaxaca, with Clowns


Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato, 2009. So many clowns, so little time.

My college friend Carolyn, with whom I almost got into lots of trouble many moons ago, recently visited Oaxaca for the first time with her husband Tom. She reminded me of the off-the-charts emails that I used to send select friends who I thought wouldn’t freak out and try to airlift me out of Mexico after reading them, which turned out to be a fairly small number. I actually have a whole file of emails and notes marked “Mexico Book Chapters.” Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of how I ended up in Oaxaca:


Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato: Mundo bizarro and a whole heck of a lot of fun

October 2009

As it turns out, I lost my wallet, had an intruder in my house, got swine flu and hooked up with the travel companion from hell, all in one week — so the way I look at it, I should be in for smooth sailing from here on out.


With Señor Condon, the spokesperson for safe sex in Mexico

Left Guanajuato reluctantly after a final smashing couple of weeks of the Cervantino cultural festival, though I stayed out too late and hung around with clowns to the detriment of my freelance work. That’s me with Señor Condon (Mr. Condom), the spokesperson for safe sex in Mexico. It’s a wearable outfit, sort of like the Oscar Meyer wiener suit. Clowns everywhere, plus Don Quixote.

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Don Quixote at Cervantino Festival

The intruder came into my rented apartment in Guanajuato the last week I was there, when I had left the front door open (there was a second locked gate to the street, so I thought it was OK in the stifling heat). He had apparently jumped onto the terrace from the roof above, lifted my purse off the bedpost and dropped it in the middle of the floor when I screamed. The wallet was just a stupid mistake in an unzipped backpack – with the end story that a local woman found it and called my language school (whose card was in the wallet). Got back the whole deal, minus the cash, but with all of my other ID.


The woman who found my lost wallet

I had impulsively agreed to meet a classmate from last spring in Guanajuato to go celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca (way down south, with palm trees and mountains), and what I remembered as a pleasant guy turned out to be Mr. Negative Attitude with No Energy. This is precisely why I think internet dating is a bad idea: he who sounds all fun and positive online can turn out to be a veritable vortex of negative energy, just like John (not his real name, but close enough).

Missed my plane connection to Oaxaca in Mexico City and woke up my first day here with a nasty case of the swine flu. I didn’t get officially diagnosed, but a 24-year-old girlfriend who got sick the same night as me in Guanajuato did, and she spent some time in the hospital. I think my age lessoned the severity of it, but it was bad enough. I managed to get to the pharmacy and doctor and negotiate meds and a shot in Spanish.


My Oaxaca posada, $10 a night in 2009

I also had a divine appointment with the one other person who missed my Oaxaca flight with me. He was bold enough to ask me if I was willing to hear a message that God had prompted him to deliver . . . to me . . . specifically. And yes, it was relevant. And private. That was my entrée to Oaxaca: sick with the swine flu (and glowing on the heat monitor coming in to the airport), missing my flight but making up for it by having a personal heavenly message delivered by a bold stranger, rolling in at 10 p.m. to darkened courtyard where I woke up to . . .a hummingbird trapped on one of the rooms that none of the three men could get out with brooms to the ceiling, but that I managed to lure out the open door with a branch of bougainvilla. And got called a hummingbird savior.

All I can say is: when I first came down with the flu and couldn’t get out of bed, and hadn’t eaten in 24 hours, I had to depend on John, who I had known for exactly one week in language school six months earlier, to get me something to eat. He’d had a bad day in the hard chair at school, so he had to lie down first before he could check out the food situation for me. Seriously.

zipoff pants

What I don’t like about John: All the wrinkles on the forehead aren’t a good sign; he frowns and looks quizzical a lot, that expression of “what can you do?” complete with upturned hands. Wears those convertible pants that he can IMMEDIATELY unzip into shorts. Crosses his legs at the knees like a woman. In fact, acts like an old woman: fussy, complaining, critical, unwilling to try anything new. Wears his passport and keeps his extra cash in a neck pouch on his person at all times. Afraid to take the bus by himself and sure as hell doesn’t want to go anywhere that would require TWO bus changes. Likes to find one place to eat and go there every day.


Inherently intemporate in Guanajuato

And he thinks I’m “inherently intemperate.” Well yeah. Hearing that, Harold (the east coast professor with elbow patches on his corduroy blazer who dubbed me the hummingbird savior) raised a glass of wine to me and said, “Let’s hear it for intemperate women.”

Anyway, none of those negative things can spoil beautiful Oaxaca for me — it’s gorgeous, full of art, and there are certainly other people to enjoy. I’m staying at this weird little hippie commune of a posada, populated with eccentric but interesting people — he who is not my travel companion is just another person who happens to stay at the same place.


In disfraz for Día de los Muertos, first week in Oaxaca, November 1, 2009

I’ll be here for a couple more weeks, then it’s back to Dallas for the holidays. I plan to return to Oaxaca early in the new year and it may extend to the foreseeable future. I already love Oaxaca in a way that may not quite be rational, as falling in love often isn’t.

 Oaxaca, March 2017. Still isn’t quite rational. Still love it.

— Susan Bean Aycock,

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