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June 20, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: A Cuppa Gratitude

When I first saw this café along one of the pretty pedestrian walkways in Oaxaca, I, of course, had to stop for a cup of coffee and to take a few pictures.

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Comida que hace bien

(Food that is made well)

Therapia y Cocina, con Alma y Corazon

(Therapy and Cooking, with Heart and Soul)

 

Not only was I grateful for the smile this café served me along with my coffee, I was doubly grateful that it included a side helping of a GratiTuesday post.

El secreto en Gratitud es hacer las cosas con amor

(The secret to gratitude is to do things with love)

 

Yes.

By the way, did you notice the menu board out front in the first picture? Least you think they were charging $20 US dollars for a Café Americano or a Café Expreso, or $30 US dollars for a Cappuccino, the current peso to US dollar conversion rate is about 18.9 to one. The price of those coffees is around $1.06 and $1.59… that is something to be grateful for!

June 18, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Oaxacan Celebrations

Although the timing of our recent stay in Oaxaca didn’t coincide with any of the large festivals that city is famous for, there was no lack of celebratory events. And, lucky for us, many of these festivities took place in public so we could experience the magic, color, music, and joy of an Oaxacan celebration.

We had no idea what this parade was for, but we were happy to join in!

Whether it was a wedding, graduation, quinceanera, or a religious celebration of unknown (to us) origin, the cobblestone streets were often filled with revelry and processions. What I especially liked about these celebrations is that they weren’t arranged by the chamber of commerce or designed to entertain tourists. Instead, they were authentic and steeped in ritual. That we were there to witness the festivities was fine, but the celebration was for the invited guests, the citizens of Oaxaca, and for those who roots run deep in its culture and traditions.

Many of Oaxaca’s festivals trace their origin to indigenous rituals that were later combined with Catholicism, brought to the region by Spanish conquistadores. One such holiday, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), is celebrated on the same day as All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). Unlike the solemn rituals surrounding these Catholic holidays, Dia de los Muertos is marked with festivals, parades, and celebrations. The holiday and its rituals recognize death as a natural part of the human experience. The departed are seen as part of the community and on these days, they are awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.

During the Day of the Dead celebrations, this cemetery will be filled with people and flowers.

Other festivals that are tempting us for a return visit include the huge Fiesta Guelaguetza, held in July, and the many festivals surrounding the Christmas season including Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes), which brings people from all over the valley into the city center to display their homegrown radishes that have been carved into imaginative sculptures .

Whether they are remembering their departed loved ones, marking a religious holiday, or observing part of their ancient culture, the people of Oaxaca are creative and artistic, exuberant and friendly. They know how to celebrate and, best of all, we are all welcome to join in.

June 13, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: Building bridges, not walls

We had several choices of airlines and flights when we booked our travel to Oaxaca. Several of the major U.S. airlines offer flights, but all of them required stops in between and planes changes along the way. Fortunately for us, we were able to book our flight on a Mexican airline that offered a non-stop flight from the Tijuana International Airport to Oaxaca. By flying out of Tijuana rather than our city’s airport, our flight was quicker, cheaper, and only required a 5-minute walk across the border over a 390-foot-long bridge to reach the airport.

The picture is a little blurry, but so were we as we set off to board our 1:10 am flight to Oaxaca.

The Cross Border Xpress (CBX) terminal and bridge was financed by private U.S. and Mexican investors. Since its opening in 2015, an average of 4,800 passengers walk over the enclosed pedestrian skywalk each day to catch flights originating in Tijuana or return from trips to Mexico. It is believed to be to only such cross-border facility in the world.

This was the second time we have taken advantage of the CBX Bridge to fly domestically from Tijuana to another city in Mexico. Our first experience, when we flew to La Paz a year ago, went so smoothly – even with our limited Spanish language skills – that we did not hesitate to travel that way again.

I am so grateful to those with the vision – and the finances – to imagine bridges across borders rather than envision walls. Although I understand that countries have to protect their borders, by working together and extending a hand of friendship and support, mutually beneficial outcomes can be realized. The CBX Bridge is an example of collaborative thinking and long-term planning. Just what we need more of these days.

June 11, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Oaxaca’s Street Markets

The tianguis, or open-air street market, is much more than a place to buy and sell merchandise. Throughout Mexico – and maybe especially in Oaxaca – markets are a fundamental element of the cultural structure. They are where people meet and catch up on news and gossip, new babies are shown off, and young romances are kindled. Market day is a ritual that has been celebrated every week – virtually unchanged – for thousands of years. These markets are not set up for the tourists (although tourists certainly can be found there – often with their cameras, like me), they are an important component in the day-to-day lives of many of the citizens.

We were able to enjoy amazing fruit every day.

The city of Oaxaca has several tianguis that are open each day. Mercado Sanchez Pasqua, located very close to our house, was our go-to source for fruits and vegetables, as well as freshly made tamales. Just about every day, we stopped by on our way home to purchase delicious, just-picked avocados, mangos, and bananas.

Oaxaca’s original and best known market, Mercado Juarez, is housed in a huge, warehouse-like building. The energy and chaotic mix of sounds, colors, smells, textures, and shapes is an experience not to be missed. Among the multitude of stalls selling merchandise, one can find fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, mezcal, sauces, beef, chicken, and seafood. Other stalls tempt buyers with displays of brightly colored clothing, crafts, woven bags, shoes, and blankets.

 

In addition to the markets in the city center, the Valley of Oaxaca is famous for the tianguis that each of the surrounding villages set up one day a week (each village has its designated day). These local markets not only sell the usual food, flowers, and clothing, but they also feature items that their particular village is known for, such as weavings, cheese, or wooden furniture.

Don’t forget to pick up your Chapulines (fried grasshoppers). And, yes, I tried them.

As unique and exciting as these markets are, there is some worry that they might eventually become a victim of our global society. Oaxaca now has two Walmarts and several large grocery/department stores called Chedraui (all, mercifully, outside the city center). Amazon deliveries are also available. While I understand the ease and time-savings of going to a single location for all ones needs, I fear this convenience will someday lead to the demise of the traditional street markets. A ritual that has been around for thousands of years could be made irrelevant in a few years by big box stores and the internet. That would be an unimaginatively sad and irretrievable loss.

June 8, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Slow Travel

Since we both retired, my husband and I have done quite a bit of traveling. Sometimes we take a quick drive somewhere close, other times we are away for several weeks or even a month.

Two years ago, a month-long road trip took us through several western and midwestern states, and included a journey along a good portion of Route 66. Last year, we flew to Montreal, rented a car, and traveled through parts of south eastern Canada, and the north eastern United States.

Although we thoroughly enjoyed these trips and relished visiting a lot of different places, each time we moved on we regretted not being able to stay longer and experience all that a specific location had to offer.

This time, we decided to travel in a different way, one that allowed us to slow down, breathe, and relax into life in a foreign country. For a little over five weeks, we rented a private home in Oaxaca, Mexico and enjoyed the luxury of unpacking our bags just once. The house was within walking distance to the central area: close to activity, shops, and restaurants, but far enough away to provide us with a place to enjoy our own company and recharge our batteries.

Our oasis came with a private garden.

By staying in one location for an extended period, we found that our pace slowed and our appreciation for this beautiful city and its culture was allowed to deepen and grow.  Because we weren’t on a tight schedule, we started to match – at least somewhat – our rhythm to that of the city around us.

Santa Domingo at twilight.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t take a few tours or enjoy other “touristy” pursuits – we did. But, because we knew that we had a lot of time to engage and explore, we also could make discoveries that most short-term visitors would probably miss.

What type of travel do we enjoy more? Our answer is that it really depends: it depends on the location, it depends on our curiosity level, and it depends on the time we have to devote to a particular trip.

We just returned home yesterday and I have already found my pace quickening. I have hundreds of photos to go through and pages of notes to organize. Although I promise to not share everything, I do have enough post ideas, along with pictures of doors, murals, churches, architecture, archaeological sites, celebrations, and many other delights we found in this UNESCO World Heritage city, to keep me busy for a while.

May 4, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Rockabilly Style Comes to Las Vegas

There aren’t many things that would prompt my husband and me to drive 320 miles – through boring scenery and across the desert – with the final destination being a town built on gambling, excessive partying, and staying out late (none of which we are fond of). But, the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend event, the largest rockabilly festival in the world, is well worth the trip.

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People from all over the world gather for this annual event. Some come to the Rockabilly Weekend for the cars, others come for the tattoos, many come to see and be seen, or for the vintage and kitschy merchandise, or maybe the tiki pool parties, pin-up, and burlesque, but almost all come for the music.

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The car show was great (Over 1,000, pre-1963 vehicles were on display), tattoos were both colorful and plentiful (and you could add even more ink at the event), the people-watching was stellar, you could buy just about anything from parasols to pomades, and rockabilly style ranged from sweet to sexy, but it was the music and dancing that enticed my husband and me to return to Las Vegas for this year’s event.

Although this was only our second year, Viva Las Vegas was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and they – and the attendees – really put on a show. Over 60 bands played on six stages over the 3-day weekend and when they weren’t playing, the DJs kept everyone entertained. Typically, the music started around 3:00 pm and ended well after midnight (or so the schedule said, we were long asleep by then).

 

We enjoy swing dancing and, for the most part, the music gave us a lot of opportunities to get out on the dance floor. When we weren’t dancing, we were watching others far more talented than us. Although some of the dancers were older, most were young(ish) and it was nice to see the classic dance styles being preserved. Jive, Jitterbug, Balboa, Lindy, Cha-Cha, West Coast Swing, and even some Texas Two-Step and Polka: whatever dance the music inspired.

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Besides the great music and dancing opportunities, we enjoyed watching the young men and women who love the rockabilly style and dressed to impress. Many of them wore classic 1940s clothes and had their hair styled to match (although the colors were often not those found in nature). Some dressed that way just for the weekend, but others had clearly committed themselves to that look.

Whether we go next year or not, we haven’t decided. We have decided, though, to sign up for Lindy classes. It was a dance style that looked like a lot of fun and we want to be ready when the music moves us to get up and out on the floor.

May 2, 2017 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: Unexpected delights

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I traveled to Las Vegas to attend the annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend event (more on that in another post). We don’t gamble and we don’t drink a lot (especially when we are dancing) so what Las Vegas is famous for doesn’t hold a great amount of appeal for us.

The weekend event is held at a hotel off The Strip so it’s easy for us to ignore the glitz and “glamor” (but, unfortunately not the cigarette smoke), and at least attempt to eat a fairly normal diet. We were happy to find a local supermarket to buy fruit, snacks, and other items we could keep in our room.

On our first visit to the market, while we were in the produce section, I was surprised and delighted to see Elvis checking out the apples. I’m not sure I would have recognized him had he not been wearing his white jumpsuit, but I’m sure that he was the real deal.

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I wish I could have gotten a better shot, but I was too shy to ask him to pose. Unfortunately, on subsequent visits, Elvis had left the building and was nowhere to be found.

Then, on our drive back to the hotel, I came across a curious scene on the center island of the street we were on.

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I’m not sure what the back story is, but a golden lion with red eyes, surrounded by 5 pink crocodiles (or, whatever they were) has to have one… don’t you think?

Some people are wowed by the noisy crowds and flashing slot machines, others by the glitzy shows and other extravaganzas Las Vegas has to offer. Us, not so much. But I am grateful for the unexpected, silly, puzzling, delightful little encounters we often find when we travel and find ourselves off the well-beaten path.