After nearly 3 months of staying in Airbnbs and guesthouses, we shifted gears into the realm of Workaway. Workaway is a global network that connects hosts with workers through its website. Each host has their own set of guidelines and expectations for how their arrangements are set up, but the generally accepted parameters for a Workaway stint are that the worker puts in 5 hours of labor per day, 5 days a week in exchange for accommodations and food during their stay with the host, with no money exchanged. Workaway is similar to its predecessor, WWOOF, but where WWOOF is primarily focused on placing workers on organic farms and other sustainable agriculture projects, Workaway is much broader in it’s scope. A Workaway host may request a wide variety of tasks to be performed, from farming to construction to language teaching to child care to helping out in a hostel, and any number of other odd jobs.
This was our first Workaway experience of many to come. We have 3 lined up in Slovenia this summer, and we’re working on setting up a few more in Croatia and Montenegro. Besides being an ideal vehicle for sharing our skills and also picking up new skill sets, it’s an excellent way to extend our travels, as virtually all of our basic expenses are covered. And after 3 months of not working at all, it feels good to get our hands dirty again, not to mention the satisfaction of getting something productive done. A 25 hour work week with 2 days off gives us plenty of time to explore the area, which is why we choose Workaways in regions that are beautiful, interesting and ripe with exploration opportunities. And certainly Valle De Bravo fits that description perfectly.
As we wind down our last week in Mexico, I’d like to reflect on some of the incredible street food we experienced over the past 2 1/2 months. This is by no means a comprehensive guide to all street food in Mexico, as it would take years to explore all that this country has to offer. Rather, this is a greatest hits of some of the tasty treasures we discovered on our journey. Many travelers feel that it is risky to eat street food here, but I think it’s as safe or even safer than restaurant food as long as it’s hot and the cooking area is generally clean. On the street you have the advantage of seeing exactly what’s going on, whereas you have no idea what kind of sketchy shit might be happening in a closed restaurant kitchen. And a lot of the time I found that food on the street just tastes better than comparable dishes in a restaurant. Street food is also extremely affordable. For a frame of reference, one dollar was worth between 19 and 20 pesos during our time here.
Years ago, our dear friend, Carol Hewitt introduced us to the concept of ‘Slow Money‘… an ingenuitive alternative to conventional money lending from banks. ‘Slow Money’ is driven by private citizens who sponsor local projects, often in the realms of farming and food by providing loans to be paid off slowly over time with low interest rates. Indeed ‘Slow Money’ enabled us to purchase a walk-behind tractor which gave a huge boost to our farm business and especially our rice growing project at the time. And certainly ‘Slow Money’ played in beautifully with the ‘Slow Food’ nature of Edible Earthscapes. ‘Slow Food‘ blossomed into an international movement over 30 years ago as a counterpoint to the fast food industry’s increasing presence around the globe. ‘Slow Food’ as an organization, provides education and support for businesses like Edible Earthscapes in what is literally a food revolution to take back our food systems. It represents a return to a more traditional and certainly slowed down approach to producing, preparing and consuming food.
As Edible Earthscapes evolves from a farm/edible landscaping biz and into a 2 person, global traveling crew, we carry on with the values of ‘Slow Money’ and ‘Slow Food’, and embrace all things ‘Slow’. ‘Slow’, as we see it implies mindfulness within everything we do, and it turns travel into a deep, contemplative and fully conscious experience. In the past when we embarked upon lengthy travels, it was about covering as much ground as possible and squeezing as many sights and experiences as we could into any given country. This time around, our focus is on delving deep into each location we visit, cultivating relationships with the people we meet and absorbing the fine nuances of the cuisines and the cultures of each magical spot we happen upon…. Slow Travel.
Our short stay in Puebla was a mixed bag. On the one hand, this big, bustling city is full of color and creativity around almost every corner, and the cuisine here is some of the tastiest in the whole country. On the other hand, there is an undeniable accumulation of poverty and filth throughout the city, and at least for us, there was a large dollop of misinformation. Never in my life have I encountered so much false information in one place by so many different people in such a short period of time. None of these cases did us any real harm, and I doubt that any of these people had any ill intentions, but so many different folks all over the city fed us stories that soon after we got the information, we were able to confirm it as complete nonsense. Haruka and I now affectionately refer to Puebla as ‘The City of Misinformation’.
After a week of healing our weary bellies on the white sand beaches of Playa Estacahuite, we were ready for a change of pace. For the past two weeks, Oaxaca has been giving that to us in abundance. I find this place to have a very unique energy. It’s lively yet mellow, gritty but safe. It’s steeped in tradition, but it’s on the cutting edge of cool, and it’s food and drink are legendary. For us, it was the culinary delights that drew us in and kept us anything but bored during our stay here. There are multitudes of restaurants and street food vendors, and it would take years to discover them all. We made a decent dent over our relatively short visit, but what really impressed us and kept sucking us back in day after day, deeper each time, were the markets.
Oaxaca has at least eight major mercados spread out all over the city, but for geographical reasons, we focused our attention primarily on three of those. By far the largest market in the city is Mercado De Abastos. You can find anything here from high heels to iguanas, toasted grasshoppers to sofas, cell phones to bicycles and everything in between. A great deal of this market focuses on wholesale, and seems to be more geared toward locals than travelers. That and the fact that it’s on the exact opposite side of town from our stylish, little Airbnb made it not one of our mainstay markets.
One of the first things we do when we land in a developing country is to secure our drinking water. Most countries like Guatemala do not filter their tap water so it can be full of parasites and bacteria. We need to use filtered water even to brush our teeth and remember to close our mouth when taking a shower.
During the dry season in Guatemala, it doesn’t really rain for six months. Farmers pump water from the lake to water their crops and there are water basins holding water to clean dishes and clothes with.
I think about how it is a luxury and a privilege to be able to twist the tap and have fresh clean water gushing out into the sink.
It saddens me that even though we are connected by the web and have brilliant people working with high technology we still lack access to clean water for millions of people around the world.
Our entry into Mexico started with a week in the quaint, small city of San Cristobal De Las Casas. This artisan center offers a colorful smorgasbord of art, crafts and food within a gorgeous valley setting that is punctuated each morning and evening by luscious sunrises and sunsets. The walled grid of cobblestone streets provides a rich playground for exploration, and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this city.
Our home base for the week was an Airbnb in a modest home on a steep hillside overlooking farmland in a lively neighborhood on the East side of town. Our hosts Sophie and Lalo were very accommodating and generous. Sophie works with a local indigenous community, finding ways to enrich their lives and Lalo recently purchased a plot of land outside of town where he is building the permaculture homestead of his dreams. One day, Lalo took us to his land to see the progress on his homestead. It was a joy to walk the land with him, dreaming and scheming about the possibilities and offering some pro-bono consultation, which he soaked up like a sponge.