There’s Always More: A Writer & Photographer's Week in Oaxaca

Inspired by Alice Walker’s “A Thousand Words: A Writer’s Pictures of China”

A picture of gorgeous hickory-glazed ceramics, the mugs freshly filled with hot cocoa we didn’t have to ask for. The staff just knew, somehow, that the perfect day starts with something sweet and rich and made from scratch with love. See, I thought I knew what hospitality was before coming to Oaxaca. I was wrong. I also thought I knew a decent amount about the depth and diversity of Mexican cuisine. And again, Oaxaca laughed in my face, kindly moved me aside, and whispered, “sostenga mi cerveza.” 

On our first full day, around 7 am, I tiptoed through the corridor of our casa to catch the last slice of sunrise, the night’s blue humbly bowing to soft beams of gold and bronze. There was a long wooden table near the front, above it, a canopy of vines and violet blossoms curling into an orange tree, and to the far left sat the casa’s restaurant, Criollo, where a few staff, in all black, were prepping for service with the relaxed concentration of monks in morning prayer. The air brimmed with birds perching and chirping, faint cracks of fire being stoked, and the steady, gentle raking of fallen flowers. 

I spread my things in the middle of the table, pulling out a notebook and ink pen to take a few notes: This place is something out of a movie. Seriously. We’re really on our “Eat, Pray, Love” shit right now...

A few sentences later, my friend Makenzie met me outside. She sat across from me, setting down her journal with the same intention to take notes. We wrote for a few silent seconds before it became too rude to ignore nature’s beauty, the joy, and ridiculousness of it all, after being confined to the familiar four walls of our cars, homes, and local grocery stores, for over a year. We looked around, then at each other, shook our heads, and laughed, blinking long and deep to make sure we weren’t dreaming.

A petite man in black, with low-cut hair the color of molasses, spotted us through the cactus fence dividing our table from the restaurant. He rounded the corner, warmly wished us good morning, then asked, “cafe o chocolate caliente?” and for our choice of milk. We ordered both, because life is meant to be lived, and an extra hot chocolate for my sister, who joined mid-decision. He turned to leave, and two men in matching midnight aprons brushed by, carrying the drinks we’d ordered. 

Our first sips sent us into a tailspin, our tongues desperately trying and failing to talk flavors that could only be tasted. Next came an assortment of newly baked bread: pan dusted with cocoa, infused with vanilla. Then fruit: bananas, papaya, juicy figs, and mango, all lightly garnished with mint leaves. We were dusting the crumbs off our chins when the petite man in black returned. He cleared the carcass of cups and bowls, asking if we were ready for our next course. In shock and synchrony, we asked, “there’s more?!” Unable to comprehend that more deliciousness, more indulgence, more abundance was possible. 

He smiled, balancing a mountain of ceramics on a single black disc. 

“There’s always more,” he said, without hesitation. 

What a lesson to start the trip, I scribbled that evening,
In this life, there’s always more.

Substack family! I’m back and finally have access to wifi. I’m introducing this short series about my trip to Oaxaca inspired by Alice Walker’s “A Thousand Words: A Writer’s Pictures of China.” I loved the mental “snapshots” she took while traveling and decided to do something similar (but of course incorporate photos because I love them). I get my film back from the trip next week and can’t wait to share.

I’ll continue “There’s Always More: A Writer & Photographer’s Week in Oaxaca” next Sunday for all subscribers along with the next installment of Airport Confessions + audio extras for paid subscribers.

Have a lovely Sunday, beauties.