Thursday, February 6, 2020

My Mexican Journey: A first look with some pictures and thoughts

Chiles (the hot variety) from a market in Puebla, Mexico February 2020
It was for Leslie and me our longest trip away from home, certainly out of the country, that we have ever shared -- five weeks in Mexico.  We began with three days in Mexico City, which for me is my favorite city in the world for its immense size, its vitality, history and of course its amazing street food.  Celebrating New Years' Eve until 2 a.m. (I rarely make it to midnight) with a church friend from Mexico and her husband was a great way to ring in 2020. 

Why Mexico for part of my sabbatical?  As my journey in faith began nearly 37 years ago on a beach in South America when I first felt the presence of Jesus, it was been true ever sense that when I want to rekindle, refresh and remember the roots of my vocation and faith, I must return to Latin America.  I need to drink from the well that first inspired me to say "yes" to a way and a life that at the moment I had absolutely no idea where it would lead.  The region has been my Holy Land since 1983. And Mexico is one of the giants of Latin America, with its history, culture, its many vibrant indigenous peoples and languages, food, cinema and its proximity to the United States -- making it for me a nation that I have long been drawn to. Mexican people are open and friendly, making it an easy place for traveling gringos. 

In exchange for free accommodations in the rectory in Oaxaca City, a significant travel destination in southern Mexico, the trade off was that I would preach and preside for five Sundays at Holy Trinity Episcopal/Anglican Church.  Leslie and I fared quite well with a small chapel area as our living and dining room during the week and coped even when there was no running water for two days.  Water is a chronic problem in the desert region.   We spent four weeks total in Oaxaca City, which in the winter months is a major travel destination for foreigners.  We saw no rain and daytime temperatures were in the 80's. 

The exchange rate and the power of the U.S. dollar allows ex-pats and other travelers to live and eat very well: high-end restaurants with elaborate tasting menus and expertly trained chefs abound.  That brings its own internal issues and conflicts, as one can not walk a block without being confronted with the crushing poverty of so many.  I would fill my pocket with peso coins each time I would venture out, unable to look away or deny giving something when I could.  (That is probably a topic of a longer blog post.) 
Enjoying some tamales with parishioners after Sunday service on the patio on our last Sunday 

One of my five Sunday homilies that shall we say were very much off the cuff 

The "little" church around the corner from the rectory.  La Soledad
Oaxaca is a city of surprises.  Known for its colonial architecture and its deep indigenous roots, we found new neighborhoods each day as we ventured further out.  The church itself is located on a very busy street for bus and taxi traffic, making the clouds of exhaust and toxic fumes at times unbearable (the trees were black).  

Not far outside the city many treasures awaited us.  The ruins of Monte Alban, the original settlement in the Valley of the Zapotec peoples going back to 1200 B.C. was massive, inspiring and hot.  Mitla was another destination. 
The Main Plaza of Monte Alban 

With Leslie in nearby Tula is the largest tree in Latin America estimated to be 2,000 years old 
We had the opportunity to go on a full-day tour of small mezcal producers outside the city with a local expert.  Mezcal has been the drink of Oaxaca for centuries and is made from the agave cactus.  There has been increased interest in foreign markets for this unique beverage, which in turn is employing thousands of locals who otherwise would have very little work and would often look to emigrate across the Mexican border. 
Getting ready to bury and cook the agave 
Distillation of mezcal in copper pots in a local and rural producer 
One of the other perks/duties of my Oaxaca stay was to perform a wedding for a New York City couple at the beautiful botanical gardens next to the ancient Santo Domingo Convent.  It was an amazing event that included a calenda, a parade through the streets with dancers and a band and much more.  

A traditional post wedding calenda -- amazing! 
There are many other pictures I could share.  And, since a sabbatical is also about rest, Leslie and I flew to the Oaxaca coast for four days for an early celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary (June 2).  We spent four days in paradise high atop a cliff just outside of Puerto Angel.  We promised to return. 
Pondering the mysteries -- with a view of whales and dolphins from the pool.  What a gift! 

We arrived home in New Hampshire on February 3.  More news to follow.

Thank you Christ Church Exeter for the gift of this time away.  

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