Phillip Smith

Mexico: Week one, a slow start in Oaxaca.

Red Wall, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo: Phillip Smith

As you no doubt know from personal experience, having a head cold when the sun is shining and the weather is hot really, really sucks.

Nonetheless, the week was not without some adventures, for instance:

There was the cultural experience of a trip to one of the local mobile phone companies – Moviestar – to get a local phone number. Similar to Buenos Aires, it feels like there’s an peculiar level of bureaucracy required for such a straightforward transaction, i.e.: buy the SIM card from one person, stand in line to see the next person who can swap the full-size SIM for a micro SIM, wait for a third person to activate the SIM, and back to the first person again to add credit to the SIM so it can actually be used. Ninety minutes later I have a working mobile phone with 3G Internet. It is no big surprise to me that I have felt lost without Google Maps, and it feels great to have it working again for care-free city exploring. (Bizarrely, I managed to get by in Mexico City with a paper map of all things. Go figure.)

The terrible boredom of the next few days – mostly sneezing fits and watery eyes – was punctuated by several trips to the taqueria just a few steps down the street for their tasty chicken and vegetable soup with lots of yummy avocado. Another of the week’s “highlights” was a trip to Chedraui, the local equivalent of Walmart. Clearly, this week got off to a slow start.

On Thursday I was starting to feel a bit better, so Dave lured me out to one of the culinary treasures of Oaxaca city, La Biznaga. This place deserves all of the praise that it receives for being an oasis in an oasis; between the food and the open-air ambiance, it’s hard to say which one was better. Following dinner, a quick trip to the local hipster bar Txalaparta for another of Roberto’s never-ending despedidas.

The world gets smaller, again. As I talk to Roberto’s friend, Tonto, we discover that we’re both connected to Chocosol in Toronto, Tonto through his work with chocolate and me through the Toronto Awesome Foundation (we gave them a grant in October, I believe, to upgrade their off-the-grid, mobile chocolate factory).

The whole time I’m furiously writing down the recommendations and advice of any and every person within earshot that’s willing to submit to my questions: breakfast joints, health food shops, yoga studios, bicycle shops – by the end of the week I have a list a mile long. Now I have a reason to live!

El Hub, Oaxaca

On Friday I manage a visit El Hub Oaxaca, the local node of the global network of “Hub” spaces. The gregarious Gregorio gives a tour and tells us about El Hub’s focus on supporting local social justice activists, social entrepreneurs, and a variety of other non-profit initiatives. It feels strikingly similar to the early days of the Center for Social Innovation in Toronto: a bit dusty and rough around the edges, but filled with passionate and creative people. I must have liked it, by Monday I have a desk there.

I’ve recovered enough by Sunday night that I’m able to meet up with Nelly and Amber again. They’re on their way back from a few days in Puerto Escondido and Mazunte and just passing through on route back to Mexico City. We grab a bite at the Casa de la Abuela overlooking the Zocalo, but skip the opportunity to try the local delicacy, fried grasshoppers.

After dinner, we meet Dave at the church of Santo Domingo de Guzman for an evening of dancing puppets, fireworks, and a Burning Man-esque tower of pyrotechnics.

All in all, for a quiet week, it worked out pretty nicely.


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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