10 Steps to Finding the Pueblo
So you are on a hunt for beautiful, locally handmade artwork and handicrafts in Mexico. You want the best prices, the best stuff, and you want it directly from the artist. Oh how lovely that sounds. This was our goal and we quickly realized that purchasing directly from the artist is an adventure. In some areas it’s quite near impossible as artists are not necessarily salespeople and so they sell their work to distributors, stores, and other community members to do the selling for them. But in some areas, you actually can purchase items from the artist. But you won’t be able to do it in the city center, where you are staying. Nope, you’ll have to venture to one of the outlying pueblos, or small villages, which often specialize in a certain craft. They are often quaint, charming, and modest. And while each one is unique and different, the roads towards them are somewhat similar, and always an adventure…
10 Steps to Finding the Pueblo
1. Close the laptop, put the iphone away. You won’t find accurate information on how to get to a pueblo online (unless you want to hire an expensive tour bus and see 5 in one day…actually, we totally should have done this). Well, assuming you don’t hire a tour bus, but decide to do it the “local” way, ask your Airbnb host where the “colectivos” are for the pueblo you are trying to reach. If you don’t have an Airbnb host, head to the city center, muster up the courage to use your Spanish, and ask a store owner. Colectivos are shared taxis or vans that have a fixed route, usually between the city center and one or more outlying villages. The cost is typically anywhere from 10-25 pesos (about a buck) per person for a 20-45 minute ride. This is the primary mode of transportation for the vast majority of locals. It’s actually quite brilliant.
2. After following the Airbnb host’s/store owner’s directions, which were quite vague, you may get lucky and arrive at a large group of shared taxis and you will breathe a sigh of relief. That was easy! Not so fast though. This group of colectivos are going to a different pueblo. Darn! Tell one of the drivers who are waiting around where you want to go and he will then point down the street, “todo derecho” (straight, that way).
3. Walk straight until you see another group of colectivos, ask a driver again for your pueblo, he will shake his head again point and say “todo derecho”. Repeat 3 or 4 times. (Note: you may have noticed that I keep using “he” for the drivers. We have yet to see a female colectivo or taxi driver in Mexico and most other Latin American countries we visited. Jon and I had a long discussion about why this must be- safety reasons? cultural reasons? gender norms? The jury is still out.)
4. Finally you arrive at the correct group of colectivo taxis for your destination! Hop aboard and verify with the passengers around you that they are also going to your pueblo (just to make sure). While you’re at it, also ask them how much it costs. Asking other passengers is a good way to ensure you don’t get charged a “tourist tax” by the driver. Sit in your seat patiently for the colectivo to leave. Wait for about 20 to 30 minutes actually. It won’t leave until it is full with passengers, which can sometimes take a while. This is a good time to take a photo, because once there are other people in the car, you won’t have the guts to take a selfie in a taxi. I mean who does that!?…
5. While you are waiting, buy the peanuts, tamales, gum, and coconut water from the young boys walking around selling to passengers waiting in the colectivos in the heat. It is going to be a long ride and who knows what the selection of food will be like at your destination. Just don’t drink too much because pee stops don’t exist.
6. Once you finally get going, enjoy the scenery around you- the fields of corn, the homes spread throughout the vast countryside with children running around barefoot, the groups of people sitting on red plastic chairs under a tin or palm roof with sodas or beers, enjoying life. Look at the cattle, horse, and sheep grazing about. Try to distract yourself from the old man coughing up a storm behind you. Instead look at the cute little baby sitting in front of you and be amazed that she doesn’t cry or make a fuss the entire time!
7. When the colectivo stops, don’t get out. You are in the middle of nowhere. This is not your pueblo. The driver is picking up someone who was walking along the road miles from any civilization who wanted a ride to the pueblo.
8. When the colectivo stops again and you see a cute zocolo (central park), colorful paper decorations, and a beautiful church, you’ve reached the pueblo! Hooray! Pay the driver and enjoy the town. You may be the only “gringo” or tourist around and catch the eye of every indigenous person who stare and sometimes smile at you. But just smile back and go about your business. Check out the cute little market with women sitting on the ground surrounded by neatly organized piles of fruits and veggies. Head to the artesania (handicraft) area where local artists sell their work in little booths, very nicely displayed with set prices. Bargaining doesn’t usually take place here since the prices reflect the artists’ value of their work. This means that sometimes the prices can be cheaper than buying them in the city (you are not paying a transportation or seller’s fee) or that it can be more expensive (often these items are higher quality and there is not much competition to drive down the prices). You may decide to purchase some items here and some back in the city. Before heading back, sit down and enjoy some tacos and soda at the corner restaurant.
9. When you are finished shopping for handicrafts, head back to the area where you were dropped off. Finding the colectivos back is easy because the pueblo is small and all of the taxis have the same destination- the city center.
10. Hop aboard, take out those peanuts you bought earlier, and enjoy the bumpy yet pleasant ride back to the city.
Today on the ride home from the pueblo of Mitla in Oaxaca I thought about how fun it is to be in a strange place that is so different from what we are used to back home. Each small, everyday thing, is an adventure. While I am looking forward to the ease and convenience of being in the USofA, I think I will miss these little challenges, bumps, and adventures which have made me feel just so alive and present in each moment, not taking any small, every day thing for granted. Sigh.
Location update: We are currently in Oaxaca City after a few lovely days in Zipolite (remember we were here for 2 months back in October/November!) with our dear friends Lindsey and Edgar. More pictures from that trip soon.