Home / Journal / Ancient ruins, mezcal and wrenching


(Continuing where we left off in cataloging our 2.5 months in Mexico)

We left Pachuca on October 30 with plans to return at some point in the near future and spend more time exploring the area. The next stop for our trio (as we were still riding with Gary) was an overnight stay in Tehuacan, where we were first introduced to the tradition of costumed children going from shop-to-shop trick-or-treating for candy and/or pesos. It was our first experience with American Halloween customs south of the border.

When we were first approached by the kids (while we were sitting down to a quick bite at a cafe in the town center), we sadly told them we didn’t have any candy until we realized that coins were generally given in its stead. It was a bustling square that night, with many families ambling about with shy kids toting bags and buckets along with vendors selling street food and knick-knacks. It was the rich slice of life we had been craving amidst our harried days spent trying to make time on our way to Oaxaca for Dia de Muertos.

The next morning we chatted with curious housekeepers and the hotel manager, trading Facebook likes and swapping photos of each other: them sitting on our bikes and us posing in front of their hotel.

Anyi, the manager of our hotel in Tehuacan, gives Britt’s bike a try

Ehren, Brittany and Gary in front of the exquisite palm tree that erupts from the hotel parking lot

It was a pleasant send-off as we embarked on destination day to Oaxaca. A scenic ride in and of itself, we approached the city from the northwest along Mex 135D. After a being held up a few minutes at the tollbooth entering town, where we discovered a caseta takeover was in play demanding 50 pesos from us (they let us through without paying a centavo after Ehren patted the side of his pants and claimed, “No peso,” much to their disappointment), we made our way downtown to Gary’s hotel first before circling back to find our Airbnb, La Calera.

Our studio apartment lodgings at La Calera

An installation in the main factory building, part of the La Calera complex

It makes us sound really hip to say we stayed in an Airbnb, but we must admit it was our first experience with the home-sharing app. And La Calera certainly set the bar high for our future bookings. An old lime processing plant that has been converted to apartments and studio spaces by the grandson of the original plant owner, it is now a thriving visual and performing arts center. A new glassblowing workshop is located between the two smoke stacks of the old factory. Many other structures of the original complex remain on the property (with some modern reinforcement), making up the main gallery space and furnishing the multiple Airbnb units on site.

Ehren finds the glassblowing process fascinating. This was our second time in a glassblowing studio: our first was during a visit to Venice while backpacking Europe in 2008. We took a water taxi to the island of Murano, which is famous for their glassworks.

The completed piece, looking very complex indeed

Much of the furniture and decor was made using parts of the old factory. In our room the tables were made of old shafts and gears with giant bearings. The lights were old crankshafts from engines and even the planter was made from a giant oil pan. Many of the supports for tables were old ice molds and all of the handrails and steps were made of old steel beams and grates.

An oil pan planter was one of many recycled industrial items on display

Ehren was in love with this lamp

Good omens from the bookshelf

We had initially planned to stay about a week in Oaxaca to experience Dia de Muertos, explore the area and catch up on some bike maintenance but we ended up extending our stay to 10 days. You can read more about our impressions of Dia de Muertos in a previous entry.

Meeting up with fellow travelers (including a reunion with David and Raquel of Lost for Days!) in the zocalo before heading to the cemeteries of Xoxocotlan to experience the traditions of Dia de Muertos

Brittany and Raquel pose with some lively company in the cemetery (this is David’s photo)

A family altar set up along a factory wall at La Calera; it is in memory of the owner’s father and grandfather, the latter being the person who opened the original lime factory

In the days following Dia de Muertos, we got to work on some of the things we’d fallen behind with. Ehren befriended one of the glass blowing artists, Diego, who helped us by hooking us up with a friend of his named Fernando, who was a local engineer and fabricator. Fernando was willing to let us use his welder to fix a muffler mount on Ehren’s bike. While at his shop he showed us many of the projects he had completed or was in the process of completing for the city: bus shelters, benches, etc.

With the mount welded up, it was on to another maintenance check: the camshaft belts and bearings. Upon inspection, we realized both bikes were burning up the camshaft bearings; the one on Brittany’s bike was already seized up. We were certainly going to need a few new bearings before too long as we only carried two for replacement. We replaced the ones on Brittany’s bike and the rest were repacked with grease so they could make it to a point where we could restock with new bearings. We also were forced to change Brittany’s belts as the old ones had some wear on them.

An alteration we made to our belt covers to increase airflow and decrease heat, as we believed the camshaft tensioner bearings had gotten hot enough to melt the grease out of them, causing them to fail. Pro tip: cheap metal strainers from Walmart work great for making mesh panels

We befriended another man who lived within the complex. His name was John and he ran a mezcal business. Mezcal is made from the cores of the agave plant. Agave comes in many different variations and some liquors are associated to specific plants such as tequila. Mezcal can be made from many varieties although the more expensive mezcal found is made from plants that are harvested in nature. John not only grew the agave but also manufactured the mezcal. Over time he became one of the largest importers of mezcal to the United States. We had dinner with John and his work associate Martha. Although they invited us to see their agave farm and mezcal plant we unfortunately weren’t able to take them up on their offer this time as our schedules just didn’t work out. This just means we’ll definitely be returning one day!

One of our goals while in this area was to check out the ruins of the Zapotec city of Monte Alban, one of the earliest settlements of Mesoamerica. Located just to the west of Oaxaca City, Monte Alban was the largest city in the region during the time of the Zapotecs. The city was built on top of a large hill, a very good defensible position. Although Monte Alban pales in comparison (size-wise) to places like Teotihuacan, the history of the complex is just as great and spans millennia. The site itself consists of two major platforms, one to the north and the other at the southern end. Between the platforms lie several temples, a few ball courts, an observatory, and a palace or two. As our first ruins visit of the trip, it did not disappoint!

One of the first structures you come upon when you enter the site is this ball court; the tarp covers damage done by the recent earthquakes in Oaxaca state

Ehren stands with the steps leading up to the southern platform in the distance

Britt on the steps. There were not as many steps as there originally looked to be, but they were quite steep

Stones bearing carvings of ‘Los Danzantes’ – The Dancers

Overview of Monte Alban from the northern platform

The city of Oaxaca stretches out to fill the valley below

After 10 days in Oaxaca, we decided we needed to get moving again. Instead of heading south like many of our fellow travelers had done, our plan was to make our way back north and west to see some of the places we had missed on our expedited way down to Oaxaca including Mexico City, the monarch butterflies in Michoacan state and revisiting Pachuca.

—Ehren and Brittany



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *