Here are some first impressions since I arrived in Mexico City Tuesday and Oaxaca yesterday.

I engaged my cab driver in a conversation about teachers’ strikes in Mexico City on my way to the bus station there. He said it was both good and bad, good if conditions improved for teachers, but bad because of traffic and other breakdowns in infrastructure. I surmised that the protests must be big if traffic and other infrastructure was impacted. Maybe that would make the strikes more effective, which would be good, I implied. He agreed. By then we had reached the bus station.

The bus ride was pleasant and uneventful. We drove through fields of ubiquitos, small yellow wildflowers, saguaros, deep twisting canyons and little arroyos. I saw very few water bodies, but every time we crossed a river, I would turn and crane my neck to see the name on the sign and the condition of the stream. Some were clear, but more were muddy. At one crossing, I observed clear water below a turbid, brown little tributary adjacent to human habitation. Upstream in the main Rio Verde (the sign named it) the water was also a muddy brown but even murkier. It would make a good photo point for a waterkeeper.

My first venture out to the grocery store on Tehuatepec (a major street about two blocks from where I live) was intimidating and the checkout counter experience was awkward and flustering. But the people were friendly, and by today, I felt more comfortable striding around neighborhoods in my area. I have learned that Tehuatepec is spelled at least three different ways, and I’m guessing all three are derivations of an indigenous word that was spoken before it was written. All three spellings I’ve seen can be pronounced so that they sound mostly the same. I’ve come all the way to another country just to find Weitchpec again (a small town at the confluence of the Klamath and Trinity rivers near where I’m from in Northern California)! I have also learned that streets have three or four words each in their name, though locals shorten them to one. But it seems important to know the entire name if pressed, since multiple streets share names with only one word of difference that is frequently dropped from the nickname.

Today I walked down Calle Gral Porfirio Diaz to get to a bank and scope out the plazas at the town center. I had done due diligence with a few maps before leaving home, but I unwittingly wandered south of the plazas to Calle 20 de Noviembre and corresponding market stalls. My Spanish came back when called upon, at least in the form of some obscure vocabulary and conversational niceties: “cacahuates” (as in roasted ones), “tallas” (as in hats), “desculpa” (as in me).

After buying a bag of roasted peanuts and deferring on a hat, I purchased an empanada con chiles y cebollas. As I made my way back up the hill towards home, I was delighted to happen on a Bubble Tea shop, where I ordered Jamaica (hibiscus juice) with tapioca bubbles.

My one other observation that stands out is that there is obviously a major and refreshing cultural difference in the way painting on walls is approached in Mexico. As in our country, it is not always sanctioned. The difference, I think, is in the response. There doesn’t seem to be the same impulse to cover up and essentially censor graffiti, much less murals or political speech. There is beautiful, fascinating art on almost every wall. One less than artful message delivered in plain black spraypaint scrawl reads: “No somos teroristas, somos anarkistas.” Later, a Spanish newspaper headline at a news stand confirmed the issue as a contemporary one: “El Gobierno Responde a Anarkapunks.”

I know there has been a request for photos along with the text on this blog, and I promise to oblige soon. But let this gringa get her bearings and her toilet paper first.

Hasta pronto.