poco a poco
At the end of December, Sonia and I packed up all of our belongings in a Uhaul truck and drove to our new place in New Mexico. We left Chicago in the cold rain, and unpacked the truck in t-shirts in Santa Fe. After a few days to settle in, we celebrated the new year, recycled all of our moving boxes and then packed our suitcases for Mexico.
We flew into Oaxaca in the early evening as the sun went down, and took a car into the city. Sonia and I have been working on a collaborative writing and art project "STRATA" and we applied to the creative residency pocoapoco to work on our project for a few weeks in Oaxaca. We decided to go in January, as soon as the big cross country move was finished and we could try to unwind and refocus in the sun. I think it was the best idea we've ever had. We'd both been going nonstop all year with work and getting married and moving. If we'd stayed in New Mexico, we would have both jumped straight into work immediately, and wouldn't have been able to set aside any time to chill out and work on our joint project. The name of the residency "pocoapoco", meaning "little by little" is an accurate description of our hopes for and the actuality of our time there.
I had been here once before, to Oaxaca, and to pocoapoco. In early 2016, I went to the first iteration of the residency, a week long group residency. We stayed in a cute B+B around the corner from pocoapoco's current home. It was a jam packed week of getting to know the city and surrounding area, making new friends, eating tacos from every taco stand we could find, drinking all of the mezcal. I had come right after I had first started dating Sonia, and when the wifi was working I wrote a lot emails. Sonia is good at writing emails, something that is nice to learn early on... I always knew I wanted to come back here one day with her. And so it seemed only fitting to be here, two years later, just in time to celebrate our anniversary.
Jessica Chrastil moved from NYC to Oaxaca, where she now runs the residency in Oaxaca. She welcomed us upon our arrival, opening the large door, ushering us into a large plant-filled courtyard. The door to her apartment was open, and we met her friends and a fellow painter + resident. There were a few other studios and small apartments off of the courtyard which housed a communal kitchen and the other longer term residents. Pictured above is the beautiful ceramic arrangement that graced our two-room apartment for our stay.
Having moved to New Mexico blindly, without visiting first, arriving in Oaxaca was a relief in its familiarity. In New Mexico, Sonia is my guide, and here in Oaxaca, I could be a guide for a bit. I was relieved that my bearings came back immediately, finding everything again in relation to the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman or the Zocalo.
We dropped off our things and then wandered out in search of dinner, ending up in courtyard restaurant, which as soon as we sat down, I recognized from my previous visit. The nights in January are a lot colder then they are in February, even a few weeks make all the difference at night. I wore my scarf everywhere, indoors and out, as often the temperature is the same. Jessica told us later that one of the biggest things that she misses about the US is the baths, especially in winter. Most houses don't have heat or bathtubs, since it's only cold for a short period of time, and the days warm up fast.
Most days, Sonia and I made coffee in our little kitchen and brought it out into the courtyard to drink, and write or draw or paint. Though I'll admit that Sonia was usually up before me to run at Llano park or up the stairs that lead to the mountain path by our place. But she's always up before me. We decided before coming that we wouldn't try to do too much sightseeing, that we'd pick a few day trips and spend the rest of our time wandering in the city and spending afternoons with watercolors in the courtyard. The sun, a constant all day, felt amazing.
We went to Museo Textil de Oaxaca, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca, Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca, Centro de las Artes de San Agustin, and Jardín Etnobotánico. We decided to take the tour of the Jardín in Spanish, since I had been before, and there were more times available. Shortly into the tour, we realized how bad our Spanish skills truly were. The tour guide spoke at quite a clip, offering up the history of the garden, Santo Domingo, and all of the plants. For most of the trip, we'd been able to understand most of our conversations, and get by fairly well. On the Spanish tour of the garden however, we realized that this was because, as tourists, everyone had been speaking really slowly to us.
Though we had decided to stay in the city for most of our time in Oaxaca, there was one place that I really wanted to travel to: Hierve el Agua. I had learned about it on my previous trip, but didn't have enough time to get there, going instead to Monte Albán (which was AMAZING). Hierve el Agua is a natural rock formation on the side of a cliff. At the top are natural pools of water, and the rock formations resemble a cascading waterfall. It was about a two hour drive from the city, so we hired a driver to take us there (the buses don't go all the way there, and neither of us wanted to attempt driving on our own). A friend recommended getting there on the early side, so we left first thing. The drive took us through the mezcal corridor, past Yagul, and into the mountains. We drove through two small towns on the mountainside before arriving just as Hierve el Agua was just opening. We had worn our swimsuits just in case, but it was still chilly early on in the day. There was a small path beyond the vendors that were setting up for the day, and we began walking down to see pools. We even walked past some artificial and empty pools that must get a lot of use in the warmer months.
First thing in the morning really is the time to go to Hierve el Agua. As we came down the path, another couple was just leaving, and they said "enjoy" + "it's all yours". There was no one else in sight. There we were, at the edge of rock pools on the side of the mountain, with amazing views in all directions. It was like standing at the edge of the world. All was quiet and still.
It was too cold for a swim, so we walked down the paths on either side of it. One of them took us down to another ledge with smaller pools of water, and similar rock formations. It also provided an amazing view of the waterfall rocks. We hung out here for a while, working on our sunburns, and then slowly made the trip back. By the time we were back at the main pools, lots of other people had arrived, and were busy taking selfies with the view. The calm had left, and we felt okay about saying goodbye.
See you again soon, Oaxaca.