My trip to Mexico, May 2004

y mas! Click here for the 2005 sequel!

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My visits to a local Irish pub on Friday nights allow me both an opportunity to hear genuine Irish tunes in their original pub-fashion, and meet people who enjoy same. In late summer of '03 I met a woman there whose accent wasn't Irish, but clearly was not local. In fact she was from Carolina, just in town briefly but seeking out Irish music for her great enjoyment. She mentioned a concert there the following week, and I agreed to try and meet here there. It was a bit of a challenge, but I was able to join Annie for a great evening with some very talented musicians. She told me she would soon be moving down to Mexico, where she taught informally to some young people who were learning English as their third language - Zapotec natives in the Oaxaca state far in the south of the country. She mentioned that anyone with a good topic was welcome to drop in and be a guest lecturer. Almost instantly I computed the astronomical possibilities, and dangled the thought that I might be interested in making a visit some day. At around 20 degrees latitude, an entirely new piece of sky would be available that is invisible to Oregonians, and I dearly wished to see the Southern Cross, eta Carinae and other southern showpieces. We exchanged e-mail addresses and agreed to continue the conversation in the future.

In late October 'Ana' was settled in her new homeland, and I began further inquiries about a sky-talk with her class. Early plans were incredibly vague, with no date in mind, and I thought often about how I would communicate so much hard science in an English-tutorial fashion. (It still sounds daunting as I write this!) I began to look for a small telescope that would be easy to carry south, and early in 2004 I found a discounted 4-inch 'scope in an online clearance store.

Real Plans
In February I began to more closely scrutinize the realities of such a trip. I picked up a Mexico travel guide and began to learn about Oaxaca and Mexico. I began to check the online prices of a flight in late May, hoping to use the Memorial Day weekend to advantage. For a little over $650 it could be done, with prices getting steeper when the holiday was included. Ana told me that was Oaxaca's dry and hot season, perhaps lousy for tourists - but it sounded great for stargazing! She suggested that I would save money by flying to Mexico City then taking the bus to Oaxaca; that indeed saved money but cost nearly a day in each direction for bus travel. It sounded intriguing, but saving time was as important to me as saving money. I went to work on my taxes and discovered that a goodly return would be heading my way. That steered me toward the flight option, but I kept exploring both. The main problem was Mexican websites for bus travel didn't quite tell me what I needed to know! Somewhere in here a third option appeared briefly: flying to Acapulco and taking the bus had some appeal, but the bus trip appeared unwieldy and just as long as from MEX so I reluctantly abandoned the beach route.

In mid-March I began exploring again in earnest. I had hoped the tax return would appear before I paid for tickets, but time was getting short and prices were crawling upward! Ana was about to visit family in the states, and she planned to bus to Mexico City for a cheaper flight. Her note in late March sealed the deal: after a six-hour bus ride the cab driver intimidated her into a steep charge with few options. She was no longer enchanted by the bus option, and that very night I began finalizing things. I sought the best possible price by air to Oaxaca, shifting the dates by a few days to find the best price. With midweek fares clearly a bit cheaper I settled on May 20-26, abandoning Memorial Day weekend but relishing the thought that I could use it to unwind just two days after the trip ended. I then shifted to other online dealers and beat the best previous price by nearly $50 - it pays to shop even in virtual mode! The price had slowly climbed during that month of indecision, but it was still slightly under $700 for airfare. I made the reservation and e-mailed Ana with the news: the trip is on!

Final Preparations!
My high-school language courses were German, at which I received good grades in school and a passing grade in 2001 while in Germany. I knew very little Spanish except for items in local restaurants, so I picked up a small travel dictionary and started to work. I focused especially on numbers, and how to say "excuse me / I'm sorry" - clearly I knew that my Spanish would be rough with less than two months to prepare!

I started thinking about gear to carry with me - especially astronomy gear. The new telescope was very shaky on a camera tripod, and I had no time to create anything fancier; I reluctantly put the new telescope down and picked up my 16x70mm binoculars. I had seen many objects well in them, and they were substantially lighter than the telescope. I asked Ana to seek a tripod in the village so that mine could stay at home, and someone kindly offered her one shortly before I left. Astronomically, the late-May date was looking downright prophetic: it was likely that Two comets would be visible to the unaided eye, and the brighter one was too far south to be seen well from Portland! Also the moon would be a thin crescent, three planets would be near it, and Jupiter would be - well, Straight Up! Even stranger to me, the sun would also be straight up during the day!! It would indeed be an adventure, both culturally and astronomically.

We spoke by phone while Ana was stateside, and she asked me to check for Irish songbooks in Portland. I found a few that seemed suitable, and also found a bargain-priced planetarium computer program and a good star atlas. I was able to reduce my pack size when the tripod was confirmed, so in the end I had my large daypack and one fanny pack with everything I needed for a week away from home. I repacked a few times in that last week, and watched the Internet for weather trends. This year the wet season appeared to be getting an early start, with afternoon showers a common event in Oaxaca. At her end Ana was spoiling me big-time, having found me what may have been the best bungalow in the village, complete with refrigerator and stone-tile bathroom! She borrowed a phone in town and called me one last time, just to be sure everything was in order. Finally the calendar wound its inevitable way to late May, and it was time for the Big Trip!

Day One
I have never liked flying - see my backpacking pages to learn my preferred mode of travel! To reach Oaxaca, though, options become limited, so by 8AM I was checking myself in at the airport. My trip had to be made in three steps whatever the route; I settled on a commute via Los Angeles to avoid springtime in Texas and its unreliable weather, and would then lay over again in Mexico City before reaching Oaxaca just after 10PM. [Another complication is that Ana's village generally disregarded daylight time, so her watch said 9PM instead.] Clouds covered the mountains in Oregon and most of California, and the windows were shut for the movie "Peter Pan" on the way to Mexico City; still I was able to see the 18000-foot volcano Popocatepetl from the airport as twilight fell. The commute went pretty well until the last leg, when the plane reached the terminal just 20 minutes before the scheduled takeoff. That put us behind in Oaxaca, but not by much. I eagerly scanned the skies for new stars from the air, but only one star was visible and it turned out to be Vega, an easy sight from Portland. Thankfully Ana and her cab-friend Carlos were waiting for me, so soon we were off (over rain-soaked streets). We caught up on a few things along the way, and out her window and through the shredded clouds I soon spied my astronomical Prime Objectives: the Southern Cross and Alpha / Beta Centauri revealed themselves to me for the first time! It felt like a great start to the trip despite my exhaustion. Ana took me to Alicia's beautiful guest-house, which I barely explored before turning in and falling swiftly to sleep.

Popocateletl looms over Mexico City

Day Two
I awoke to bright sunshine, and found that Ana had stocked my place with fruit, veggies and two liters of purified water. Her hospitality was too good to be true; I only hoped that my sky-talk would be suitable reward for all her efforts. I saw a woman outside whom I presumed to be Alicia; I went out to greet her and stumbled through my minimal Spanish. She knew even less English, so our conversation was short and awkward, but well meaning. Ana told me the way to the morning public market, so by 9AM I was at the town square to met her, seeking another pale-skinned individual in a world of well-tanned Zapotec. Along the way I greeted everyone I met (just the people, not the many burros oxen or dogs) with a 'Buenos dias'. Faces immediately brightened and they cheerfully responded; later Ana told me that Zapotec villagers are well known for their greetings when they pass friends and strangers alike. When she appeared we found each other easy to spot, being a good foot taller than the average in that village! I then followed her around as she shopped for atole (a drink derived from corn, to which she claims she is addicted), tortillas, fruit and vegetables. An older woman spoke to me incomprehensibly for a while, even tweaking my moustache twice; Ana was busy and had not noticed. It turns out that many women beg for coins at the market for a post-shopping shot of mezcal, a cactus-based liquor closely related to tequila, and that is what this woman was doing.. at least Ana was not addicted to that! We then wandered back to my bungalow (where we discovered that several eggs had cracked along the way) and dropped off more food. A spare straw hat was sitting in the house for my use, and that vertical sunshine made its value clear in a hurry. This day was scheduled for a visit to the Dainzu ruins near the main highway; we caught rides to the junction and then hiked about a mile to reach them. These are relatively unexcavated (compared to Mitla and Monte Alban), and we wandered among the stones in awe. A man came from a nearby building and requested our fee; we were not sure if we would even be seen there, much less charged, but it was worth the small price of admission. Although relatively undeveloped, the ruins showed many interesting features and stone carvings. We returned to the highway, caught a bus and sat in the back of a passing pickup for a ride back to the village. We picked up Ana's "loot" that I brought from Portland, then stopped at the Internet shop, where I posted a note or two reassuring family and friends that I was safely on the ground again. We then went to Ana's home and I met the family.

During our e-mail conversations through the winter I learned a bit about the rustic life that Ana was living here on the edge of the civilized world. She had more of the early pioneer spirit than I, and I knew it. Her house was very comfortable, was made up of one room, and had the kitchen outside under a tin roof with bamboo walls. Running water was available but other facilities were absent. It was essentially a permanent campsite with the sturdiest possible tent! Hers was probably pretty fancy by village standards, but she blended in as well as a gringo could. The family consisted of her dog Mayapple and new kittens Bonzo and 'Letta (both securely hidden in a bookcase when I arrived, but they came out soon). The heat of the day was getting strong, so we did the minimum for the rest of the afternoon. This night was my 'lecture' night, so we spoke a little about how I should proceed. A solid hour of rain came and went, followed by a few cloud breaks that offered hope that the binoculars would get some use. Before I arrived, Ana thought we could use the field near my bungalow for the sky tour, but ironically enough a Circus had come to town for that very weekend, taken over the field and strung up some lights! The odds on that were pretty astronomical, but it was true nonetheless. We ate tortillas with avocado, cilantro and other produce on top for dinner - simple and quite tasty!

By dusk the clouds were hanging tough, but regardless of weather it was time to give my talk - so off we went to the classroom. About ten pre-teen kids awaited us, and we began asking each other questions on random topics. Introductions, home towns and the like followed first, then a few about astronomy (Ana had been preparing them for a few weeks, so some of my topic was fresh in their minds). I confess my course did not go too well, as I skipped among objects without much coherence and not enough feedback. I was getting a headache, from either heat or the 6000-foot altitude, and only clear skies would rekindle their interest in what I was saying. We decided to climb up the hill behind town for dark skies, and in about fifteen minutes I was set up, looking for planets in the mostly-cloudy sky. Venus had already set, but the crescent Moon and Saturn took turns revealing themselves. Jupiter's position was awkward but we gazed at that too. Still more irony revealed itself in the form of a pickup truck and two workers, who had driven up the hill after dark for the sole purpose of fixing the burned-out streetlight right next to us!! The odds against that happening might be even higher than a circus visit, but for both to happen the same night was mind-boggling. We finally dispersed, and Fidel drove me home for a good night's rest.

Day Three
Much to my disappointment, the day dawned clear and bright - now when did that happen, and what stars had I missed while it was happening? (Ana told me later that she had awakened early and saw quite a few stars in a clear sky.) I dined on the bananas, mangos and bread that she had provided, then began wandering through town on the way to her place. She also had a headache, probably from the sunshine at Dainzu, so this day was spent in slow motion as we both mended ourselves. I sent a few more e-mails from the internet shop, since several relatives had already responded to the previous day's note. Ana explored her new music and astronomy loot while I tried out her cool hammock and watched the kittens playfully beat each other up. Occasionally I heard a brass band playing; Ana said a wedding was taking place, which has many amazing rituals that take an entire week! A small brass band plays and processes along the streets, with the couple fully dressed in their wedding clothes at the back. This goes on for several days and ends at a home with a brightly-tarped pavilion, where food has been prepared for partygoers to take home to their families. The band plays often throughout the day - and as it later proved, until well past 10PM on a few nights! While I was in town at least three weddings were taking place, which led to the odd sensation of passing from one band's music to another as one wandered through the town. Who would have thought this small village could have three bands available for weddings?!? Ana noted that many of the roosters I had been hearing at 3AM would be part of the wedding feast - the village would be a little quieter until the next generation found their voices!

This evening we went into town for a meal at Alicia's restaurant - the same woman who rented me the room. I had met her there earlier and spoke with her, and at first she did not recognize me (even though I was wearing her hat from the bungalow). When our stilted conversation got around to the bungalow she gasped, giggled and repeated "lo siento" several times. I knew that one, since I'd been practicing it for months: "excuse me / I'm sorry"! At dinner she mentioned it to Ana also, and we all laughed about it. The enchiladas suiza were excellent, and we split a bottle of Negra Modelo.

Later that evening I recalled those clear skies that appeared each morning, so I set my alarm to let me catch the clearest part of the night. I was awake at 3 and scanned the skies unsuccessfully. Thankfully I didn't feel bad, since around 10PM I was also awake, and skies cleared in the south long enough for me to break out the binoculars and catch another great prize: Omega Cenatauri, one of the two best globular star clusters in the sky. When I found it I could not believe how large it looked; I turned to another clear patch and found M5, one of the best ones visible from Oregon. It was no contest - Omega was over twice the size of M5, a real monster! I also saw the Southern Cross again and its Jewel Box cluster, but thin clouds masked its true beauty. Once again, though, the skies refused to reveal the two bright comets that were getting higher but fainter each night.

Day Four
This day we were ready to travel again, and it was Sunday. That means the BIG regional market was in Tlacolula, and Ana suggested that I continue to Mitla from there while she returned home. Her suggestions so far had all been good ones, so that's what we did. Tlacolula had another advantage, an ATM machine; my funds were getting low and Alicia would need to be paid soon, so we found the machine and refilled our coffers. I then bought a nice straw hat of my very own and a lufa sponge while Ana resupplied her stocks. We then parted for a while as I continued to Mitla and its ornate Zapotec / Mixtec religious center.

Once off the bus in the town of Mitla I passed several linen shirt shops, and successfully spoke with the family about designs and colors before settling on a nice shirt (hoped for verde, nearly took the azl, settled on marron). The ruins at Mitla were fascinating, and here I learned the definition of 'stifling'. I climbed and crawled into a tomb that was filled to the rim with hot, humid, motionless air; I nearly passed out when I stood up, and couldn't scramble out to the warm, humid, slow-moving air fast enough! After wandering in amazement through the site for a while, I exited and found myself at the informal market that can be found wherever tour-buses gather. After buying water and wandering about, I found a neat clay sun-moon figure for my wall, which I picked up at a bargain price. I then wandered back to the non-tourist bus stop, grabbed the next bus and soon was back at my bungalow. I switched into my new shirt and hat before going to Ana's just for the shock value. Sure, I was still a gringo, but I felt like I fit in a little better.

Along the way I passed Alicia's restaurant to pay her for the bungalow, but she was surrounded by a table of family and friends. She saw me retreating and drew me into the friendly circle, where mescal shots were being served! I learned (and promptly forgot..) the Zapotec word for "down the hatch", followed by "salud"; she then asked me for the US version? I gave them two - "cheers", then "slainte" from my Irish heritage! I made my way to Ana's at last; she liked the new less-gringo look, then made more good suggestions - including my staying an extra night for a follow-up astronomy class. Since I felt I had done a poor job the first time, I welcomed another chance; besides, the weather seemed to be improving so perhaps more objects would be visible! It did mean less time in the town of Oaxaca, and a visit to the ancient Zapotec capital of Monte Alban might be rushed.. but again I trusted her advice and was well rewarded. Ana walked with me into the village as I returned to my place, but we detoured at the sound of lively music nearby. Sure enough, another wedding party was in full swing. What a week for weddings!

Day Five
A few more adventures awaited before heading to the big city and home! Ana knew of a nearby canyon that was worth exploring, so just after sunrise we beat the heat by taking an early bus and another pickup-bed ride to the 'trailhead'. Within an hour we were among colorful rocks and cacti, enjoying the dry canyon to the tune of many birds and the hum of insects that sounded like a cross between a buzzsaw and a steam whistle. It was a pretty spot with great acoustics for the wildlife, and in the shade it was even slightly cool! We savored the beautiful area for a while and took turns shooting each other with my camera before returning to civilization. We visited with some of Ana's friends, then awaited the bus to Santa Marie del Tule and its famous tree. Somehow we found ourselves on the topic of the Meyers-Briggs personality test; turns out I am not the only INFP on planet Earth! [We're rare, but we're special.] A bus soon appeared that dropped us in fromt of the famous Arbol del Tule, an impossibly large tree that's nearly as old as the Zapotec ruins in the area.. amazing. It is also its own wildlife refuge: the sound of the birds flitting among the branches was incredible! We dined on fresh quesadillas near the tree and test-sipped a mocha-flavored mezcal. It reminded me of Irish cream in a subtle way, and it was a bargain - so I bought a small bottle. Later that day we visited Teotitlan del Valle and its insanely pretty wool rugs; here too I injected money into the local economy and picked up several items for myself and my family. We endured a rain shower, but were well rewarded with a brilliant rainbow that hovered near the church. While there I found some loose threads at one of the weavers' shops in several bright colors; I wove these around the thin black thread on my hat and made a stylish and far more colorful hatband!

It was time to return home and prepare for the second sky talk, and the weather was cooperating with fewer clouds; however it was now getting hazy / smoky in the valley, so some objects would still be challenging. This time we set up the binoculars on the roof of the classroom so we could observe longer without walking first - and no streetlight-changers would intervene this time! This second talk went much more smoothly, and the kids were able to tell me what they remembered from Friday. The moon and planets had changed position since then, and we talked about how they had changed, and why. I also relocated Omega Centauri and showed them their first views of a million-star cluster; they liked that a lot. Their favorite view was of the crescent Venus as it set through the haze, which tinted it a deep scarlet and actually made it dimmer and easier to see! One of the cloudiest spots persisted in the southwest near the star Sirius, and therefore my last chance to capture comet LINEAR from Mexico was unsuccessful. We then went into the classroom and I showed them images from my astronomy magazines. They could see different nebulae, galaxies, and views of Jupiter and Saturn. I even showed them a shot of Meridiani Planum, and a few of them knew by the rusty color that it was a picture from Mars! Through our resident interpreter, several class members thanked me for coming and hoped that one day I would return to them; that was good to hear! After class Ana and I stayed up a little longer and showed other family members a few things in the sky before putting the binoculars away. It had gone well, and Ana felt repaid for all her efforts to make me comfy. I still felt I was in her debt, but in either case I was pleased with how it went, and was glad I had stayed another night whatever the cost to my plans in Oaxaca. The music from one wedding or another was still going on as I prepared for bed at 10PM; I put in earplugs just as the Chicken Dance began to play (an Oktoberfest favorite in the mountains of Mexico?!?) and soon drifted off to sleep.

Day Six
It was time to bid farewell to mia amiga and her quiet village (quiet when the bands weren't playing) and head back to the city of Oaxaca. It was hard to believe the trip was nearly over! I visited Ana one last time, said goodbye and thanked her profusely, caught the bus at the town square, and soon was in the chaos of the big city. And chaos sums it up well: huge traffic jams, a lurching ride down a dirt road, and in the end the bus stopped nowhere near any place that I would consider a 'terminal'. I shouldered my load and walked 'derecho' to where I could catch more buses, but the jam-up only got worse. Presuming to know which way took me to the part of town with quieter hotels I headed east, finally seeing a large church looming over the busy streets. I stopped there, failed to connect at an Internet cafe (they charged 2 pesos for the priviledge of failing.. if only I knew more Spanish!) and bought a drink. I gestured to the church and asked the proprietor 'catedral'?, and heard back 'no, Iglesia de Soledad'. That was still good news, as that church was on my travel map; thus reoriented I went north and east, finally finding myself in the right part of town. As I passed near the zocalo I encountered several blocks of interconnected tarps, whose connecting ropes were about five feet off the ground; I therefore hurried through this area and missed what was supposed to be a cool part of town, ducking and sweating under the tarps. (It turned out that the local teachers were on strike, and this was their way of making a point.)

The rest of this day would find me within one block of my intended goal on several occasions! I was seeking specific places to stay, and during later walks I discovered that had I turned the other way at intersections I would have found them swiftly. Nevertheless after failing to find two motels I found a nice place in the same area for a decent price, dropped my pack for nearly the last time and took a cool shower. The hotel counter had brochures for Monte Alban tours, so I still had a chance to get there despite it now being early afternoon. I was willing to pay for the $p180 tour, but the clerk brought out another paper showing self-guided trips for only the busfare of $p24! She marked the map and handed it to me, and off I went again through the maze of Oaxaca. First though I stopped at the Cafe Gecko, which I had passed while seeking a motel, and did some e-mail work and had a quesadilla con pollo for lunch. I then headed south for the hotel where buses left for the ruins. Along the way I stumbled into a music shop, and eager for a bargain mandolin I failed to get quite the information I needed. When I left there I was convinced the price was $p580 (under $60 US!) but when I visited later it sounded more like $580 US.. so no mandolin came home with me. Along the way I also wandered through the huge tarp city again, then came to a pharmacy. I'd had a sore throat all day (just in time for the plane trip.. the Europe 2001 trip ended the same way!), and I sought Sudafed, or any decongestant. Instead I found benzocaine tablets to soothe the pain, which helped but didn't solve the problem. I consulted the map in search of the hotel, marked with a star by the clerk. After losing time and patience walking along the street I noticed the hotel address on the map, and after learning the numbers I walked to the hotel - it was next door to the pharmacy I had stopped at 15 minutes before! And 15 minutes later I was on the bus to Monte Alban.

The road winds steeply up the local hill where the old Zapotec capital sits. I stepped out into a sunny, hot afternoon in a city that's about 2500 years old and high on a mountaintop that was leveled and rebuilt for occupation. Amazing! While the place was not very crowded, I began by going right to follow fewer people. In the end I saw it all, but someone commented as I ended where they began; I believe the word 'regreso' was used, implying I was either going backward or perhaps returning the way I came. Guess I'm not very good at following instructions in any language! On such a hot day, finding shade seemed like a good idea; that's what the vendors thought too, as from each shadow a man emerged with a trinket of some sort for sale. I liked what one man had, but I was kinda running low on cash again ('kinda' because I had a 500-peso note but such a large bill was proving hard to break - and now it was tentatively earmarked for that mandolin!). I viewed a few tombs but had to pass the man again; he asked for 250 pesos but I only had 100. He inquired about American money, which I had about $20. In the end we struck a deal for the pesos plus some US money, and I moved on. As I strolled around the immense hilltop, several other vendors appeared; I spent a few more US and then simply said "no mas pesos, no mas dolares" to anyone who greeted me like a vendor. I climbed the high stone steps, took pictures from many angles, and read the boards that described what I saw in English, Spanish and Zapotec. I then retreated to the visitors center, where my last bits of change went into a bottle of water. The bus-ride to town left me with the long walk toward the Santo Domingo church, so I took a different path through the tarps. I worked my way to an ATM and pulled out enough for the mandolin plus a little extra. I found yet another music shop, this one with $p1100 mandolins; that was a good price but I still believed I could beat it. Ten minutes later I was proven wrong, as the quoted price went from pesos to dollars.. ah well. My question then became "how could this shop charge either half or five times the amount of the other shop for a mondolin?". How odd! As I reached my block I decided to try the restaurant across the street; I had chicken cooked in garlic and lime with a mole sauce on the side. I also had a cervesa and a shot of mezcal for good measure. The meal was excellent, and I would have taken the sauce home but wasn't sure if salsa products were considered vegetables at the US border. I went back to my hot room, took a second shower, then watched a hilarious Simpsons episode in Spanish. While I caught less than half the humor, the topic was perfect: Bart discovered a comet, which crashed into Springfield! With all the comets buzzing about , it was yet another astronomical coincidence to top off the week.

Day Seven, and home
I awoke from a fitful, hot slumber and prepared myself for yet another day in airports. First, though, it was time to find a meal and try to resolve that mandolin price! I wandered among the local cafes only to find they hadn't opened yet, then wandered toward the music store that not only wasn't open but had Disappeared! I had packed away the map I had marked, but surely it was two blocks south and one west.. wasn't it? I did find a Mexicana Airlines building where I could finally confirm my flight, but that too wasn't open. I finally found a cafe with huevos revueltos con jamon (my favorite!) with a balcony seat overlooking Santo Domingo - a beautiful view accompanied a great meal. I went back to the motel and set back my taxi time to 10AM before looping the area again, finally relocating the (still-closed) music store. I then verified my flight with Mexicana and returned home to finalize packing. The taxi ride went smoothly, I learned from the driver how to pronounce "Xoxocotlan" (the airport name!), and soon I had my confirmed tickets all the way to Los Angeles. I sat in the Oaxaca airport for an hour or more and bought a shot-glass with the Tule Tree's image, then began the hopscotch flight home. I had three hours at the Mexico City airport, so I ate another enchilada plate and finally broke that 500-peso note, then exchanged the change for $US before heading out. The MEX-LAX movie was much more appealing to me, much to my surprise: I knew the supporting cast for "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton" but none of the primary characters. It was cute, though, and I much preferred it to "Peter Pan" which I endured on the way south.

The connection at LA was close, thanks to only two immigration windows being open when we arrived - but a quick stroll to the opposite side of the airport reached the Alaska gate just as the boarding call went out. I called my brother-in-law to confirm my flight number with him (my chauffer), then boarded the plane with one final dream: find comet LINEAR now, or lose it in the rain and cloud-cover that was forecast for Portland the next several days. Sadly I had an aisle seat, but the next one was empty and Tanya (not pronounced like it looks!) was willing to share conversation and her window with me. On the flight home we talked on many subjects and shared views of Venus, a few stars and a gorgeous twilight, but LINEAR kept its secrets from me one last time. Soon we touched down in Portland, Dale and my nephew Sean picked me up, and soon I was resting comfortably in my own bed.

I was back at work the next day, filling in co-workers on my trip. Ana was busy down south, answering questions from the ninas and neighbors; her later note suggests that villagers are always asking where you've been or where you're going, and apparently I was quite a hit there! With luck I will visit that area again, but before I do one of my other telescopes will be made travel-ready - and I will scan the climate charts for more reliable skies!

Surprise: the 2005 trip to Oaxaca!


carved stone wall at Dainzu ruins

Ana and her menagerie

Geometric stonework at Mitla ruins

rainbow over Teotitlan del Valle

Jim in a rocky canyon

Ana in the canyon

Jim and the Big Tree

Oaxaca's Iglesia de Santo Domingo

panorama of Monte Alban

Pillar and temple at Monte Alban