Category Archives: Trip to Juquila

Cerro Hermoso, Ghost Town, Oaxaca

On the way to Puerto Escondido, which is a “tourist trap” according to my daughter and Conan, we stop to visit the Reformas’ and stay at a hotel right by the beach.  Yes, the one where the crab climbs the wall in my room.

We spend an afternoon on the beach, Cerro Hermoso, {Beautiful Hill}, relaxing in the shade of a thatched roof, with ocean breeze, cold drinks and more food.  Here we are.

{Yes, a flash on this picture would have been nice.  But it sure shows how well shaded we were!}

Looking back, I realize that I’m a bit cranky by the time we get to the beach.  The journey up had been challenging.  Lunch at the Reforma’s was great, and completely outside my comfort zone.  We hadn’t checked into our hotel yet ~ and the whole time I was there, I never knew what was going to happen next, and ~

Yeah.  I might have been feeling a bit cranky.

As soon as we get to the beach, i race to the edge of the water and walk for a few minutes.  That helps .  One wave out runs me, and soaks me to the thighs – but it’s still too hot to stay out there for long.

Senor Reforma strings this hammock up for me and suggests I relax and watch the ocean.   Oh, yes, thank you.

I ignore the conversation at the other end of the hut ~ which I don’t understand anyhow.  I lose myself in the roar of the waves, the ocean smell, the gentle rock of the hammock…


When it gets cooler, Paulina and I go for a walk on the beach, climb the rock jetties at each end of the area, and pick up a couple of shells.   She shows me some kind of little crabs, almost invisible in the sand, that run like mad when you step near them.

She talks a little bit, and I only catch a few words, but it doesn’t matter.

The sun is starting to go down ~ even though you can’t tell here.

That’s Arturo in the middle, Paulina on one side, Senor Reforma on the other.  Huge, beautiful waves in the background.

This is me, Arturo, Lucia, Paulina, and Julia.

The waves are too big to swim in, and I didn’t bring a bathing suit anyhow.  But the hotel has a lovely pool.

The next morning. I enjoy a cup of coffee, with milk, just the way I like it, in the hotel dining room.

Notice anything unusual about these pictures?


There’s no people.

We have the beach to ourselves.  No one at the pool.   There are other restaurants and stores, but they all look like this ~ chairs tilted against the table, empty, or actually closed.  How strange…  where are the people?

Eventually, I ask.

Senor Reforma and Arturo explain. They say, this used to be a thriving resort area.   Surfers in the beach, and a recessed area where the water came in and created a swimming area with “soft” waves, gentle enough for children.  Lots of tourists, stores, restaurants and two hotels.

In 2003, they say, the government started a project to “improve the beach.”  I’m not clear on what they mean.  But   rock jetties were built on either side of the bay.

The area that had been safe for children, disappears.  The water no longer fills it.  Now, it’s just sand.

And the waves in the other part of the beach are too strong for swimming or surfing.

Arturo and Senor Refomra are angry with the government for not fixing it back.

So is the author of this blog site, who has a video/slide show about it, and a description, in Spanish.  I did an on-line translation of the written part, you can read that at the end of this post.***

There are pictures from 2004 on this site.

But it seems like the government must have had some benign cause in mind when they started the project.  Dee and I try to piece together information from the internet.  I learn this about Cerro Hermoso:

There are about 166 people, 82 men, 84  women.  Seventy-seven are minors, six are over 60 years old.

Six of the residents speak an indigenous language as well as Spanish.

There are about 44 households, 28 of them have an indoor bathroom.   One is connected to public water.   Thirty-eight of the homes do not have floors.  About 24 of them have one room only.  36 have access to electricity.

None of them have a computer, 7 have a washing machine, and a whopping 23 households have one or more televisions.

Twenty-two people 15 years or older never went to school; 57 didn’t finish school.  Ten residents have some college education.  The medium education level is 5 years of school.

This is on the way to the beach, next to the hotel.

In my internet roaming, I also find this:

In Cerro Hermoso, there is a bocana (river mouth) where the sea exchanges waters with the lagoon. Due to the presence of a seawall, a giant salt water pool is formed where you can enjoy a good swim without danger.

So that was the pool they were talking about, the one that isn’t there anymore.   Here’s where the pool used to be:

Dee and I are speculating that maybe the government built the jetties to keep the sea water from going into the river?  Dee says you wouldn’t want sea water in the river, and that makes sense, I think, but  I don’t know.

If you know more about it, or decide to research it and find something that explains it, let me know.  What I know is that the tourists are gone, leaving 166 residents, a hotel, restaurants and some stores in a Ghost Town Beach.


*** {Here’s a poor translation of what the Professor says on the website:

In 2003, through deceit, they were built in the bays of Cerro Hermoso Tututepec Oaxaca, a few stone jetties, dial a project of Government that benificiaria to all the inhabitants of that place, but they were not built according to the project, or with the approval of all the inhabitants, but that aprovechandose of political power and alliance of some few corrupt place, did his misdeed… took maybe a year or a little more, but after this Bay is cerro, leaving instead of water only sand… that triztesa that to date the Government has not supported for open bar… and coming new elections and certainly began campaigning, deceptions and promises…    Author: Prof.  P.S.

Wild Things of Oaxaca

Conan was so funny ~ driving along, we’d see a dog on the road, or cows on the side of the road, and he would say, “Wild dog,” or “Wild cows.”  Since the animal in question looked like it would stand in place for the rest of its life, it cracked me up.  Like the “wild horse” grazing happily outside my bedroom window.

Here he ~ or she ~ is again.

At a rest stop, we see a dog that Conan is taken with ~ I know this because I have 5 pictures of this particular dog.

Although there were lots of dogs wandering around on their own, most of them appeared adequately fed.  Often the cows looked skinnier than the dogs.

Here’s one of those dogs that lays in the road until Luis gets real close.

Here’s a wild donkey, strolling along.

A wild bicyclist

Notice he’s riding barefoot ~ and keep in mind what the roads are like!  Going down would be fun, going up, maybe not so much.

Wild women weaving something with rushes – some kind of mats maybe?

Here’s a wild bus, coming around the corner toward us.

Here are some wild children.

And here.

Here’s a wild man.

Yes, that’s wild man, Conan, loving it.  Yes, it’s a sheer drop on the other side of the wall.

Here’s my favorite though.  We’re on the way back to Oaxaca City and we see an adorable little boy and his dog in the truck in front of us.  Conan says, “Quick, give me the camera, I want to take a picture of them.”

I hand the camera up to him, but it’s too late.  They’ve turned away and are no longer incredibly adorable.  We ride in disappointed silence for a minute, then Conan sticks his head out the window.

“Hey!  Muchito!” he says ~ literally “little muchness ~ “Hey~  turn back around, I want to take your picture with your dog.”  {Only, you know, he said it in Spanish.}

Grinning, the little boy and his dog turned and posed, looking just like they had when we first saw them.

The Virgin of Juquila

In 1633, the church in Juquila caught fire.  The Virgin ~ represented by this statue ~ did NOT burn.

Clearly, it was a miracle.

People noticed that prayers made through her were answered.  As the word spread of her miraculous powers, people began to make pilgrimages to her.  And Juquila became a tourist town.

The church in Juquila is dedicated to her, of course.  It’s a beautiful church (although I failed to get a picture of the outside of it.)  Here is one of the chapels inside.

I didn’t take a close-up of the main altar, nor of the people approaching it on their knees.  Here is the scene from a distance.

People approaching a shrine on their knees is not so common in the US, at least I don’t think I’ve seen it.  It’s not unusual in Mexico and I vaguely remember it from  my childhood visit.   There is something immensely touching about it.

At the church, there is also a place where people “go under the cape” of Mary as part of the ritual.  In preparation for that, they wash and tidy themselves carefully, and then ascend here.

I didn’t do that, and I didn’t take pictures of them preparing or lighting candles before this phase.  It just seemed too invasive.  They were there in a sincere belief that their illness would be cured, their desire for a child, for education, for other needs would be fulfilled.  It seemed rude to take pictures as a spectator ~ and I didn’t see other “tourists” there.

In addition to the church, there is a shrine to the Virgin of Juquila, about a half hour’s drive outside of town. Conan’s friend ~ the one whose father does the beautiful woodworking ~ took us there.

Outside the shrine, I’m holding the flowers I bought from the most persistent of young saleswomen.

Here is the entrance to the little church

You take the flowers inside and leave them.

And I can’t resist taking a picture of the chicken between the pews.

But there are additional steps if you have a request for the Virgin of Juquila.  You have to make a symbolic representation of your request in clay.  So if you want a baby, you mold a baby in a cradle.  A book, a house, a vehicle ~ whatever your particular need , you make a clay figure to represent it, and leave it there.

When you leave, you are supposed to act as if your request has already been granted.  So if you want a baby, you leave singing a lullaby, a herd of goats, and you leave whistling for them to follow you.  I guess you have to be creative to act out some of the requests, but you get the idea.

The scenery, of course, is gorgeous, and we are truly up in the clouds.

It’s really difficult to get a good picture of just scenery, it’s so vast.  Here’s a panoramic view from my bedroom window.

And a closer shot of the horse I sometimes saw right outside my window.

In the town of Juquila, there are countless little stalls with souvenirs of the shrine and the church.  I don’t have pictures of them, because it just seemed intrusive.  But here’s a picture of some people selling containers for holy water outside the church.

I know lots of people who would laugh at this, scoff at the whole idea of making a pilgrimage to Juquila, maybe part of it on your knees, creating the clay image, and so on.  I can’t laugh.  I have such mixed feelings, I’m not sure how to express them.

I don’t believe that God, if there is a God, works like that ~ kind of like Santa Claus, right?  But there is something powerful and sacred about the space where people believe so strongly, with deep sincerity, in something beyond themselves.

Laughing at it would feel so cynical,  but it would be easier in a way.  Instead, it makes my heart ache for them, the wants and needs they bring with such trust and devotion.  I hope that they all get what they want, that all their dreams come true.

Welcome to Oaxaca

After the rainy landing at the airport, I stand in line with every one else to turn in my papers and have my passport stamped, which doesn’t really take vary long.

I collect my luggage and manage to move it to the conveyor belt, where they scan it. I pull it all back off the conveyor belt (yes, all hundred and fifty pounds) and an official comes over and helps me with the last one. Then ~ I have to push a button.

If it’s green, I’ll get to go on right away.

If it’s red, they’ll have to go through my luggage.

Drum roll ~~~~  what will it be, what will it be?

It’s GREEN! Yay!

In the meantime ~~ when I made the reservations for my hotel, I also made arrangements for a shuttle to the hotel. We didn’t know what the plan to get me to Juquila would be exactly. We knew that Conan and his friend Luis would pick me up, but it was all kind of vague in terms of timing. So I reserved the shuttle.

The day before my flight, Julia let me know that Conan and Luis would meet me at the airport. But it was too late to get my money back for the shuttle, so I didn’t cancel it. I figured that way, if something happened and Conan and Luis couldn’t make it, the shuttle would be my back up plan.

So when I get off the plane, and make my way through customs, Conan and Luis are waiting for me ~ and I’m glad to see them.

The man from the shuttle is waiting too. He’s not so happy. I’m his only reservation tonight, and Conan has already told him that I’m going with them. I’m not sure why he cares, since I’ve already paid, but I figure maybe HE only gets paid if he delivers.

Conan suggests that we send the luggage with the shuttle.  I’m fine with that, the driver seems ok with it, and it saves us from having to load the bags. So we set off, me in Luis’ SUV, my luggage in the van with the not-so-happy driver.

It’s not real far to the hotel, maybe 15 or 20 minutes, and the driver arrives just about the same time. He unloads the luggage. As he’s doing it, I have a quick consult with Conan about tipping.

Fifty pesos is the smallest bill I have, so even though we agree that might be excessive, I give it to him.

He takes it, looks at it, and his whole face lights up. With great warmth and enthusiasm, he says, “Welcome to Oaxaca!!”

Luis is {perhaps inordinately} amused by this. Later that evening, as we’re having a little bite to eat at the restaurant next door, he repeats the story with delight, acting out the shift from glum-faced driver to happy-happy greeter. I have to laugh too, although I don’t regret the five dollars.

Quick ups and downs of the evening ~ on the upside ~ the hotel was simple outside, beautiful inside, as you can see.

The room was large, clean and the bed comfortable enough.

Downside ~ when Conan and Luis start to go up with me, the desk clerk says, “No. They cannot go up.”

I’m taken aback, not sure what to think. My only thought~ don’t laugh ~ was that he thought I’d picked them up, or they’d picked me up, for some immoral activiity, and he wasn’t having any wild cougar stuff going on in his hotel. Really, that’s what I thought, and I was a bit offended, and maybe embarrassed, but too tired to do anything about it.

Their staff person manages to get all my luggage up to the room, (and wouldn’t take a tip) and I didn’t think too much about it. But Conan and Luis advise me later that it was because they weren’t tourists. I’m still a little confused about it all ~ there were other Mexican people staying there ~ but apparently they think it was a class thing, I’ll take their word for it.

If I’d known that at the time, maybe I’d have reacted differently, but they didn’t tell me that til much later.

In any case, we eat, I fall into bed and sleep like a log.

Next morning, I get up craving coffee, of course. But it’s too early, the restaurant next door doesn’t open til 7. So I take a shower.

A cold shower.

I can’t believe it’s cold.  I’m sure the water just needs to warm up a minute. Or I’m turning the wrong knob.

But no.

There’s no hot water.

By the time I realize, really, there is not going to be any, I am already soaped up, and it’s a little late to go complain. Brrrrrr. NOT my favorite way to start the day.

When I tell them later, they are appropriately appalled and go immediately to fix it. Yeah, whatever. I figure that’s what they do with all the one-nighters. Saves on hot water.

When I tell Conan and Luis about it, Luis just grins. “Welcome to Oaxaca,” he says.

Day 1 – Louisville to Oaxaca

The adventure begins.

5:00 a.m at the United Airline Gate.  I don’t know where the confirmation number is, I don’t know why my ticket reservation isn’t showing up.   The kind woman trying to check me in assures me we’ll figure it out.

Two bags to check, crammed with stuff Lucia and Julia and Conan couldn’t fit in their 5 bags.  Carefully weighed at home a half dozen times, one is under 50 pounds by a few ounces. The other is three pounds over.

I move the Dominos set to my carry on.  Two pounds down.  I debate ~ do all their socks weight a pound or ~~ ok, sadly, I hand Dee my shampoo and conditioner.  That does it.  But ~

“Oh!  Your flight originates at American Airlines, not here,” says the smiling attendant.  “No wonder I couldn’t find it in our system!”

Dee and I schlep the 100 pounds of luggage to-be-checked, plus the carry-on and backpack with all my stuff, to the American counter.  And whoosh, bags checked, boarding passes in hand and I’m off.

Assuming the position to be x-ray strip-search viewed through security is a little icky,  but they let me through {always a relief} and i reward myself with Starbucks, only because there is no Highlands Coffee or Heine Brothers in the airport.

On the plane at last, I lift my carry-on bag up into the storage area ~ where it doesn’t fit. Bulging with shoes in the front pocket, it’s just too fat to slide under the bar.

No problem, quickly, I whip the shoes out of the bag, stow the bag, and cram the shoes into my backpack. There. Of course the back pack won’t zip now, but I stuff it under the seat.  Hopefully, in case of a wreck, my tennis shoes won’t actually be the debris flying around.

The plane makes some funny noises at take off, but we make into the air and back down safely.  Dallas!

The flight attendant reads off gates for some upcoming flights. Houston – B-10. I say it to myself about 30 times.

Off the plane, I rearrange my luggage and start walking. Understand, I have the carry-on. the  backpack, both about to burst at the seams, a hoodie over my arm, and a thick guidebook to Mexico in my hand, which I had to take out of the backpack to make room for the shoes. I look like I should be pushing a shopping cart.

Just as I’m wondering how far it is to Gate B10, I realize the sign is actually directing me to the Skylink.  I laugh at myself ~ almost out loud.  This is not Standiford Field, this is a massive complex.  And the Skylink is pure Jetsons.

They run every two minutes.  Up in the air, with automated doors and an almost friendly automated voice that warns us, “Hold on, the train is about to start,” and it does, with a jerk and a whoosh.  It almost does wheelies around the corners, zips up and down hills, and then floats to a stop with the reminder to “hold on, the train is stopping,”

I’m delighted.

Until I discover that I’m at the wrong terminal.  Lousville girl here, never thought there might be more than one flight to Houston leaving Dallas.

No problem.  Plenty of time ~ back to the Skylink, which still makes me smile ~ and on the right terminal.  And more Starbucks.

Another pleasant flight, my luggage fits the space exactly, my seat-mate and her young son are pleasant, and I enjoy the lift-off.

Houston is even bigger.  I start this blog post in Houston, thinking “I’m going to be here for a long time.  I’ve been here days already – ok, 5 hours, and three more to go”.

I get some money changed, wander around a bit.  Can’t find my flight on the displays for a long time, but it finally shows up, and I get to take their version of Skylink.

Check the duty free corner – not much to get excited about.  If i still smoked, i could get Marlboro’s for $35 a carton – this is a deal?  Sheesh.

Eat a Bluebell ice cream.  Wander. Work on blog post.

Realize I don’t have my cell phone.

OMG!  Instant panic.  I’ve been carrying it attached to my waist, in the little nerdy carrying holster.  It’s gone.

Not in my hoodie pocket – one empty, one has water bottle.

Ok, trying not to panic.  The dark-haired woman working the duty free kiosk shows me where to call lost and found.  While I’m waiting for them to answer, I say to her,  “But I really need someone to call my phone, maybe someone has found it and I can meet them and go get it.”

Nodding understanding, she whips out her own phone and calls the number I give her – in the meantime lost and found answers and I start to explain what happened when ~~

I hear it.  I hear my phone ringing.  Music to my ears.

I look around ~~ where? ~~ how??? OH!

In my pocket.

My hoodie pocket.  With the water bottle.

I apologize to the Lost and Found woman, and laugh with the nice woman  who’d called me, my laughter is joyful relief and a touch of  feeling foolish.

She smiles, and says with a nod at my phone, “Remember that number, the number I called you from, I’m going to call you from time to time and just check on you, see if you have your phone.  We all need someone to check on us sometimes.”

With those wise words to take with me, i wait some more, and check email, and wait and read and wait and eat dinner and wait and then they say the flight is delayed half an hour for weather, and the gate changes, and i wait and at last ~

We board the tiny plane for Oaxaca.  YAY!!

The longest flight of the trip, 2 hours and 12 minutes.  I have coffee and skip the $8 snack.  i’m so excited, and nervous and glad to almost be there!

It’s dark and pouring down rain when we land, but I don’t care.  I pull out the hat that Dee has lent me for the trip and pop it on my head.  At least my hair will be dry.

I’m in Oaxaca.

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