Mitla Magic

The confluence of two conversations with women I admire led me on a solo half-day sojourn to Mitla, not with a tour group (as I have previously done during these past three weeks in Mexico), but on my own.

The first conversation was by text message with a friend, M, whom I haven’t seen in almost three years. Her intuition and connection to spirit has always impressed me, so when she advised that I meditate at the ruins, I made a mental note to do so.

The second conversation was with my American expat neighbor, K, who lives in Oaxaca City. She suggested I take one of the local buses, which I had vowed not to do because they looked terrifying: crowded, noisy, and fast-moving. In spite of these factors, K gently encouraged me do this thing that would most certainly build character. A part of me wondered: “Isn’t coming to Mexico on my own more than enough?” Nevertheless, I like a good challenge, so I decided to heed K’s advice and ride with the locals.

I learned that there was a bus that picked up in front of the Chedraui (which is a huge shopping mart akin to, say, Target in the U.S.), only a few blocks from my apartment. I’d barely been at the stop 10 seconds when I saw a man standing in the doorway of a bus 50 feet away, calling out “Mitla! Mitla!” at the top of his lungs. I rushed to the bus, having heard that buses will simply drive away if you’re not quick about it. I was lucky to find a window seat. In the stops to follow, more people piled on and many had to stand. I’m used to doing this at rush hour in Brooklyn, but at least those buses are air-conditioned.

Curving around mountain highways at what felt like 100 miles per hour, I was glad that my stomach was mostly empty. We made stops at several points between Oaxaca and Mitla, arriving at our destination perhaps an hour later, sweaty but intact. My neighbor, K, had been right: taking the local bus had been worthwhile in the sense that it made me feel less like a clueless gringa tourist and more like someone capable of finding her way around the state of Oaxaca using public transportation.

Mitla is composed of approximately 11,000 residents. The name comes from a Spanish adaptation of the Nahuatl name Mictlán, which means “land of the underworld.” Every day, some 500 tourists come in by bus or taxi to see the colorful Spanish Colonial architecture and Zapotec ruins, which were deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.  

I had been here once already, about two weeks ago with a tour group, but I was glad to be back on my own and therefore, able to explore the village and its impressive ruins at my own pace. I strolled through Mitla’s charming streets until I arrived at the ancient Zapotec site, whereby I bought a ticket in the taquilla (ticket booth) and made my way to do some ‘tatin before the rains came. At this time of year, the rains descend like clockwork in the late afternoon and stay for an hour or so.

While I didn’t have any outright mystical experiences, I did capture some magical (in the strictly metaphorical sense of the word) pictures, which you will find below. ¡Hasta luego!

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