Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil

Arriving in San Sebastian Etla

March 8th, 2013 | Posted by Brianna in Mexico | Speedbumps | The Places We've Been

A week ago today we left Guanajuato and began the 10 hour drive southeast to Oaxaca where we will spend the month of March. Oaxaca (pronounced wa-hawk-a) is one of the two southernmost states in Mexico and is known for its indigenous population and culture. Its capital, Oaxaca de Juarez (often simply called Oaxaca), was repeatedly recommended to us by expats and Mexican nationals alike. Having just departed a very lively and compact city though, we opted to stay slightly north of town in the more rural Etla region where we found a lovely little house to rent on airbnb.

In typical fashion, we didn’t think about getting an exact address or having proper directions until the day before we were to arrive. I emailed Lucy, our sweet host, who wrote back promptly asking which direction we would be coming in so that she might give us the best idea where to go. That night before bed, I answered her question, and unfortunately, she didn’t respond until after we had hit the road the next morning.

Not to worry, we thought. Our airbnb confirmation showed a marker on a map that we could shoot for with some help from Google Maps, and we’d see what we could do once we arrived. To be honest, the optimist in me kind of expected to roll onto the street and just recognize it (though in retrospect, we didn’t have any photos of the front of the property, so…). After some stop and go traffic in Guanajuato and a small detour at Silao, we were happy campers as we drove by Querrétero, around the north side of Mexico City, through Puebla, and safely into San Sebastian Etla. In fact, we made it all the way to our dot on the map. It’s always such a good feeling, arriving where you intended to without the pushy guidance of a gps holding your hand the whole way. That sense of achievement in having correctly navigated your way to a brand new destination with your handy map-and-direction-reading skills is fleeting, however, when you look proudly over at your husband who is driving and realize that he is waiting for you to tell him where to go next.

“That’s all I know,” I said.

“So… what then?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied happily, still quite satisfied with myself.

Yes friends, that is my version of sweet success. In an early morning move of genius though, I had remembered to jot down the phone number on Lucy’s airbnb profile, so we tried to call her. No answer. Second try. No answer. Text. While we waited, I decided to hop out of the car and see if anything looked like it might be Lucy’s house. Naturally, my supportive, but logical travel buddy opted to wait in the car while I searched for an unknown. I found the unknown in the form of an internet cafe, where we wandered in to try to connect with Lucy as the lightless streets grew dark.

Lucy had indeed written to us with an address, a place at which we could call her to meet us, and instructions to drive all the way to her house if we wanted, whichever was best for us. I’m telling you, she’s wonderfully accommodating. Plugging the address into Google Maps, we quickly discovered that we were either way off course or Google maps did not actually know where Lucy lived (which can sometimes be the case in Mexico). Okay, we’ll call her. She’d given us a second number, so we were all set. But suddenly our phone had no signal. I tried walking back out into the street where we had been able to call her other number the first two times, but alas, the signal seemed out for the count. We decided that if we could find one of the two places Lucy had directed us to, either the convenience store meeting place or her street, then we could pay someone to let us make a local call from there. Asking the woman running the internet cafe though, as much as she might have wanted to help, was almost a step in the opposite direction. That street is really far away she told us. And she had no idea where the convenience store was.

I asked the woman if we could use her phone, which she gladly agreed to until I told her the number. Apparently cell phones don’t count as local calls. We decided that we were just going to have to go somewhere else, whether to ask directions or to use a phone or just to stop for the night. Worst case scenario, we could stay in a hotel in the city for the evening and start our search again the next day. We’d keep trying, but at least we had a plan H if it came to that. Good thing we were wearing our positive pants that day! As I thanked the woman and we began to shut down our browser, she asked us who we were looking for.

“Lucy Santiago,” I told her.

“Wait here,” she told us, leaving the empty internet cafe and heading down the street.

She returned with two women who asked us why we need Lucy Santiago and what we were looking for. I told them what we knew. We were renting a house for the month. I thought her husband’s name was Sergio. Lucy said they lived on Zaragoza. And then, as if the power had just come on after a black out, the women lit up.

“Oh you’re the ones renting the place!”

Wait, what? Was this happening ? “Yes! That’s us! Do you know where she lives?!”

They laughed at us. Of course they did. After they explained to the woman who ran the internet cafe where we were trying to go and she displayed embarrassment for not having realized in the first place, one of the women commanded that I follow her. Ian paid our 5 peso internet tab, and we walked around the corner and up the block to our house that wasn’t 100 yards further from where we had originally stopped. Sweet Lucy answered the door with two cell phones in hand, having been trying to call us back for some time and quite relieved that we had found her.

It was a perfect beginning to our time here and an incredible insight to the small community that sits very close to Oaxaca state’s largest city. Phrases such as “tight nit neighbors,” “intertwined village,” and “directionally confused” feel like cheap and generic descriptions of the wonderful town we’ve landed in, but I hope that the story of our arrival can offer an illumination that labels cannot.

“It’s okay! This is alright! We can figure this out!”

Etla Sunset

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