For someone who talks the big talk about traveling everywhere, I really haven't been to many places. Sure, I've driven through half of the states in the U.S. but really, I've only been to two countries: the U.S. and Mexico.
Ah to be able to visit Europe and see the great Roman Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower, and Big Ben. Or go to Asia and walk the Great Wall of China.
So far, these are just dreams I have. Because, frankly, I have very little money to travel, almost no time, and there is that little fear I have of flying.
That hasn't stopped me from seeing some amazing places in the towns where I've set foot, and Oaxaca was no exception.
I went to Oaxaca for the 4th annual FilmFest as an officially selected screenwriter. Oh yeah, in case you missed it, or, as the kids say these days ICYMI, I'm a full-fledged screenwriter now. The baby that I've been carrying and slowly bringing up these past God-knows-how-many years is ready to see the world. So I submitted the script to competitions and film festivals and Oaxaca FilmFest was one of the first to pat me on the back and say, "You did a good job."
My initial plan was to take a week in Vallarta to relax, maybe grab a family member who wasn't too buys, and head to Oaxaca in week two. Lady Luck had other plans, however, and a month before my trip, I got a call from Clear Channel telling me I've won a weekend in Las Vegas.
I KNOW, RIGHT?!
I shit you not, I started to think that maybe God was sending me a sign that I shouldn't go to Oaxaca because Death was waiting for me. You see, I've inherited a bit of paranoia and it's a wonder I still leave my house every morning.
So now my plans were to drive to Vegas, enjoy two free days of concert-going and a free hotel room, drive back to Phoenix, pack, get on a bus and head South. I was to leave Phoenix late Sunday afternoon and get to Oaxaca early Tuesday afternoon.
Yeah, that did not happen. I want to interject here to say that the buses in Mexico are top-notch, luxury buses. This is no Greyhound. This is a plane on wheels. Totally comfy, with built-in WiFi, and televisions. I dare any airline to present me with a better seat at the same price.
The problem occurred once I was deep into Mexican territory. Puebla, to be exact. It was here, three hours from my destination, that the teachers' strike decided to close off the toll road. We were stopped, that means the driver actually sat with us and watched a movie, for three hours. Then we were detoured another three hours. After the smooth sailing I had experienced for almost two days, we have to climb up one of the highest mountains I've ever been on and face the aforementioned Death straight in the eyes. Holy fuckballs those are some scary curves at some insane heights. Our driver was frustrated, we were tired, hungry, and a little frightened. Luckily, we arrived in one piece.
NO ONE WANTS YOUR AMERICAN MONEY!
Jesus, I made a total mistake not exchanging money at the border. Because, guess what, no one would take my dollars. I think everyone in Mexico knew the U.S. government was about to shut down and just basically said, "Yeah, let's not get involved." A very wonderful woman agreed to exchange $20.00 for me and I could not have been more grateful to her. Because of her I could pay a taxi to get to my hotel and pay for my dinner that night. I learned from her something that would prove true in the next five days: The people of Oaxaca are incredibly kind and generous. All of them.
It was finally time, six hours after I was supposed to arrive, to relax. But wait, the festival was going on. I'd already missed three events and if I'd stayed in, I'd have missed half of the events. So I decided to get out there and start shaking hands.
From the moment my script was chosen as an official selection to the festival, I started getting help from the organizers. They were helpful, professional, and extremely nice. When I arrived at the hotel, there was a package waiting for me with a map, itinerary, and my badge. Everything was organized down to the last detail.
That night I walked over to a bar where the shorts were being featured and the mezcal was running free. Yes, it was literally free. You don't want free mezcal. It's dangerous.
I made some good friends that first night. But I learned two things: One, I'm getting old and can't stay up past midnight anymore; and two, mezcal doesn't hit you 'til later. Plus, I wanted to explore Oaxaca in the morning and you can't do that tired and with a hangover.
Anyone who knows me knows that Puerto Vallarta is, to me, the most beautiful place in the world. That's because it's my home and it'll always be that small port where we caught fireflies and baby iguanas; the place where we'd spend Sundays out on the beach with a roasted chicken for a picnic; the place where my mom's childhood memories mix in with mine. Vallarta is no longer that place, unfortunately. It remains a small town only in my memory, because investors have come in and demolished the foliage and built their condos along the beach and into the sky. It's a tragedy, really. But this is the price of progress, I guess.
Oaxaca is still feels untouched by this. Or maybe it's because there is too much history that the town has been engulfed in protection. This is, after all, the place where the Zapotecs built their pyramids and where Benito Juarez was born. Though I doubt money-making scum have ever cared to crack open a history book, I'm grateful they've been left out of here. A woman at the market told me that they've fought to keep supermarkets and large companies out of the downtown area. Imagine a WalMart next to a 300 year-old church?
With a good pair of shoes and some change in your pocket, you can see all of the historic part of Oaxaca in a few days. My favorite place, of course, was the market. Walk in through the front entrance and stacks and stacks of bread cloud your vision. The women offered me several samples and, at first, I thought it to be too dry. As you continue to walk you're met by men and women showing you their menus and proclaiming that their spot is the best to eat at. I didn't doubt it for a second. I wish I could've eaten at all of the locations.
I tried three diners on separate occasions and the food was well-served, delicious, and made of fresh ingredients. All of them served me either cafe de olla, which is coffee made in a pot, or hot, foamy chocolate and a side of that dry bread which is delicious once dunked.
Sidenote: my mouth is watering at this very moment at the thought of such goodness.
Even the seafood cocktail I had was over-the-top fresh and delicious, I say this with amazement because we were at a six-hour drive away from the ocean.
The side entrances to the market are, well, a sausage fest :-) There were meats of every cut out on display and ready to be cooked to your specifications. Sausages, chorizo, whole chickens, etc. All of them just there for the taking. Perhaps a normal person would ask, "What about bacteria? Are there any sanitation inspectors here?"
I have no idea. I do know that around lunch time there were people lined up at all of the meat market posts buying. So I think it was all okay.
I can't express enough how good the food was in Oaxaca. My luggage was about 10 pounds heavier from all of the chocolate and mole I lugged back with me.
The festival itself was wonderful. The day after I arrived I dressed in my brand-spanking new business suit and pitched my script. It was nerve-racking.
About an hour before I was to pitch, I was informed that the video could only be 3 minutes long. I had researched for hours, taken down several notes, and prepared a 7 minute pitch. Luckily, I was one of the last people to go so I managed to trim it down.
We were told that we could look at our video and re-shoot if we wanted. I imagine myself sweating profusely, shaking uncontrollably, and outright mumbling for 3 minutes. So I opted for not seeing it and sending it off to the powers that be.
My pitch was the only thing I "had to do" during the festival. So the rest of my days were spent watching movies, making new friends, drinking, and talking about movies.
I absolutely love film festivals. It's the place where you can get together with other people who love films and the art of films and you geek out for days talking your film geekery.
I met directors, producers, and many of my fellow writers. There's no way the film industry will ever die if we give all of these brilliant people a chance to make their movie.
Among the people I met is a writer-director who presented his first full-length film at the festival. We are currently discussing how to bring my script to the big screen.
Totally worth the trip.
My cousin arrived two days after I did and we immediately decided that we were going to live in Oaxaca and never return to the States.
Right up until it was time to go, of course.
Maybe we'll still do it someday.
I love the fact that I had some family with me during the trip. We walked, we talked, we ate, and we partied together. I even got to play tour guide at Monte Alban, because I had been there the day before. Also, I got to take pictures after not being able to the because of stupid camera issues!
The final night was in a packed movie theater. Throughout the week, the event never felt like a competition. We were encouraged to see each other's films and talk to one another as colleagues, not competitors. I did meet a couple of the judges during my pitch, but other than that day, they were just people enjoying the festival with us.
So, needless to say, I was pretty shocked when they called my name for an award :-o
Yes, my first film festival and I won the award for Best Original Idea. That was quite a big, tasty cherry on top of my sundae.
And...like a big fat loser, I went back to my room right away. One, because I was wearing heels that hurt my feet, and two, I had to get up early to catch my bus.
I woke up early my last day in Oaxaca and ate breakfast in the Zocalo's plaza. The streets were quiet and the sun was shining. That's how I like to remember Oaxaca, happy and peaceful.