Despite being the month of my birthday, January is not my favorite. After a snowy early winter, things melted in the last few weeks, to the point that I went to work with no coat one day, and saw damp, green grass peeking out from under the disappearing foot of snow in my yard. I received my seed catalogs – it’s hard not to get excited looking at exotic varieties of peppers and potatoes, dreaming of the days of fresh tomatoes again. My mom gave me some gorgeous flowers for my birthday, which I keep staring at, wishing for spring outside as well. But today the high temperature is in the very low single digits — a good day to stay inside all day long, maybe even turn on that insanely hyped Packer game. Good Wisconsinites know winter drags on through April most years anyway. With the holidays over, the busiest time at my job long gone, and many months until real spring, it’s hard not to become seasonally affected.
Which is why the last few years, I have planned a trip, to keep hope alive, so to speak. Last year I returned from Mexico on Christmas Eve after 10 days with Fermin only to immediately want to leave the country again, to get back to somewhere warm, to escape the long, cold, northern winter. After a few weeks figuring out how I could possibly afford it – financially and vacation-time-wise, I booked us a trip to hot, glorious Acapulco at the end of February. We stayed on the Mexican side of town and enjoyed the sun, the swimming, the flowers, the seafood, walking across the hilly town to see the legendary divers of La Quebrada.
With the new freedoms of a lawful permanent resident, Fermin went to Mexico in November, but it didn’t make sense for me to go along for a short trip when he would be occupied navigating Mexican bureaucracy and looking at pieces of land. Then I was jealous from the day he left all the way until he returned, and knew that by January and into agonizing February I was going to be aching for some time away.
I started up with my thorn tree trolling and kayak-ing, searching for flight prices and considering all the wonderful places neither of us have yet to visit – Guanajuato, Oaxaca, Merida, etc. After finding round-trip tickets from Chicago for $300 (oh, how I love living an hour from O’Hare) I knew we were going somewhere. A week or so later I was working an event with my friend Britta, who owns her own personal chef business and is a world traveler in her own right. She had been talking about Thailand, and I said I couldn’t go because I was planning a trip to Mexico in February. You should go with us, I said. And a few weeks later, that was the plan. I used to dream about bringing my family and some of my closest friends to Mexico. But times change. Most of my closest friends are engaged or married and aren’t able to prioritize international travel. I don’t blame them, it’s just that I’ve prioritized travel over other things for a long time, and it’s great to know someone like Britta, who in some ways feels the same.
After we bought the tickets, the quasi-planning began. Not exactly planning, because in my travel style nothing is worse than set itineraries and schedules, but I love to do trip research. I like to read stories of people’s adventures in discovering different culture, and find it immensely satisfying to arrive in a new place with at least a decent outsider’s understanding, yet still know that every day there will be some sort of discovery. We decided to spend most of our time in Oaxaca — Fermin and I have always wanted to go there, and it’s the indisputable food capital of Mexico. With Britta along, this trip will more than ever be a culinary adventure. We’ll spend a few days with my mother-in-law, visiting and hopefully making tortillas and perhaps mole poblano, then on to Oaxaca where we’ll visit the markets, sample as many new things as possible and hopefully score some impromptu lessons on Oaxacan cuisine.
I have been lucky to make use of my online contacts to get a lot of help with this trip. Through immigrate2us.net I met a woman who is living in Oaxaca while waiting through her I-601 waiver process, and she happens to have a sister we can stay with and another sister who works for an eco-tourism start-up in Oaxaca state. In the meantime I had been sharing information with an acquaintance from Thorn Tree on the immigrant visa process in Ciudad Juarez when he mentioned something I had posted about visiting the Oaxacan coast at the end of our trip. It turns out he actually met his fiancee (now wife actually – as they got their visa successfully) on the Oaxacan coast and has traveled in the area where we plan to spend the last few days of our trip extensively. These two contacts have helped me immensely, but with lodging and transportation. Staying with my friend’s family in Oaxaca is going to help us save money, for sure, but it also allows us the chance to spend time with a Mexican family, to sample their food and learn from their knowledge about the city and hopefully make some new international friends.
In two weeks we’ll be in Libres. I can’t wait.