Trip Start Jul 29, 2012
Trip End Aug 01, 2013

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Where I stayed
Hotel Manta Raya

Flag of Mexico  , Oaxaca,
Saturday, April 13, 2013

Walking home from school yesterday, Micah said to me, "Dad, in Oaxaca, I think Spring is like Summer, Summer is like Fall, Fall is like Winter, and Winter is like Spring." It is April, and it is HOT and dry.  Today's forecast is for a high of 97, with a 0% chance of precipitation.  In June, things will cool off with the return of rain.  Daily showers will continue through September.  The coolest months of the year will be October to January.  February and March temperatures can fluctuate quite a bit, always trending toward warmer weather.  I could see where he was coming from. 
While the weather was changing, our family was on a wild ride of our own, highlighted by visits from friends and family, medical issues, professional opportunity, and Mother Nature. 

On the morning of Wednesday, March 20, Leah headed off to Reno to be on the plenary panel at a conference.   Later that night, I welcomed our friends Alice and Philip and their daughter Jasmine, who had come all the way from Copenhagen for a ten day Oaxaca visit.  When Leah arrived in San Francisco to catch her connecting flight to Reno, she was told that the flight had been cancelled and that, because of weather issues, the airline couldn’t get her to Reno until Friday.  Out of her control.  There were no other good options to get to Reno.  She would miss her panel.  She spent a night in San Francisco and flew back to Oaxaca on Thursday.  Her only souvenir was a left ear that never popped when the airplane descended.  It stayed with her for two weeks.
The silver lining of getting turned back was that she got to see Alice, Philip, and Jasmine two days earlier than she had expected.  Great conversation, lots of laughter, Alice’s amazing Thai and Indian cooking (she had brought spices with her), swimming, market-going, more delicious food, art projects …  Micah, Zola, and Jasmine played together like they had been best friends forever.  On Sunday, March 24, Leone and Vin (Leah’s mom and step-dad), arrived for an overlapping visit.  A big highlight for all of us was a cooking class given to us by our friend and celebrated chef Alejandro Ruiz.  We spent the morning with Alejandro coming up with a menu and buying all of the ingredients at the bustling Abastos market.  Then, we donned aprons and prepared a delicious three course meal, taking breaks to sip hibiscus juice and mezcalinis.  Our product: corn broth soup with fresh kale, pork tenderloin and almond mole, and cooked coconut strips in a passion fruit glaze.  Every part of the experience was incredible.   Special thanks to Philip, who spent the day at home with the kids, swimming up a storm.
Unfortunately, Vin doesn’t remember much of that day.  Early the next morning (Leah's 43rd birthday), we got a call from Leone, who asked us to rush over to their hotel and get Vin an ambulance.  Now, Vin is an incredibly healthy, youthful, and vibrant 80-year-old.  But, he had had his first ever grand mal seizures during the night.  Two of them.  An ambulance whisked Vin, Leone, and Leah to a private hospital in downtown Oaxaca, where he had a cat scan and began consulting with doctors, Leah translating all the while.  She was both complementary and critical of how relaxed everyone was at the hospital.  Vin was exhausted and had amnesia, which is common.  The cat scan revealed that there had been no stroke and no hemorrhaging, and that there was no brain tumor.  All great news.  The doctors were unable to determine the cause of the seizures and advised Vin to consult with his doctors upon his return to Minneapolis.  There seemed to be no urgency.  After a night in the hospital, and taking anti-seizure medication, Vin left the hospital and spent an afternoon on the town, taking in an Easter procession while his memory started coming back to him.   Needless to say, the entire event was much more emotion-filled than what my re-telling would have you believe.  Scary, stressful, draining … It was amazing how quickly everyone bounced back. 
Four days later, Easter Morning, Micah, Zola, and Jasmine awoke to discover that the Easter Bunny had visited our house.  Only, the Easter Bunny hadn’t hidden eggs and candies in a traditional fashion.  He/she (is the Easter Bunny male or female?) had hidden treats scavenger-hunt-style, with clues leading to more clues, leading finally to the freezer in the kitchen, where the kids found chocolate covered raisins for each of them.  We enjoyed an Easter brunch of fresh fruit (pineapple, watermelon, papaya, cantaloupe, strawberries, and mango are regularly on our table these days), eggs, homemade banana bread, and freshly squeezed orange juice.  Good coffee, tea, and Alice’s chai were nice treats as well.  Then, feeling like the week had gone by in a flash, Leone, Vin, Leah, Micah, Zola, and I loaded up our car and began our drive to the beach.  We bid farewell to Alice, Philip, and Jasmine, who spent another night at our house before they flew back to Copenhagen. 

We had done our research about the options for driving from the City of Oaxaca to the Pacific Ocean near Huatulco.  The most direct route was a winding 160 miles up and over the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range.  Some travel sites warned against this route, citing the many hairpin turns as a surefire way to get carsick.  An alternative route involved driving 260 miles on a less-winding road.  Both options were projected to take 6 hours.  Our solution: driving halfway on the winding road one day, spending a night at some cabins in the mountains, and driving the remaining three hours to the beach the next day.  It worked like a charm (with a little help from Dramamine for our passengers most concerned about motion sickness).  We spent a wonderful night near San Jose del Pacifico, a beautiful town perched atop a sharp mountain ridge.  The road runs down the spine of the ridge and buildings line each side of the road.  If you walk out the back door of some buildings, you’d fall down a steep mountain slope.  The town is also known for its hallucinogenic mushrooms.  No, I never asked how frequently hallucinating people step off into the abyss. 

As we neared the coast, we could feel and smell the ocean in the air.  Humidity.  A pleasant contrast to Oaxaca’s dry air.  Around every turn and over every hump, we tried to spot the water.  The curvaceous mountain road straightened out as we drove by sandy dunes and coconut stands.  The words, “Well, if I don’t see a sign for Hotel Manta Raya soon, we may need to stop and ask someone,” had just come out of my mouth when we saw the small sign directing us toward the beach.  A short while later, we pulled up to the hotel.  Leah’s sister, Anna, brother-in-law, Jim, and nephew and niece, Victor and Olympia, were waiting to greet us.  The boutique hotel was delightful in every way – a great pool, wonderful food, contemporary-Oaxacan-designed rooms overlooking the ocean, a pleasant staff… and we had the hotel almost entirely to ourselves. 
Shortly after our arrival, Leone, Victor, and I walked down the beach to do some snorkeling.  While a lot of fun, it was by no means a prime snorkeling spot.  Too much wave action stirred up particles in the water and prohibited swimming in shallow areas.  The highlight for me was getting to see a variety of small rays skirting across the ocean floor.   Leone was in her element. 

Late the next morning, Leone, Vin, Jim, and Victor took a walk to scout out another secluded snorkeling bay they had heard about.  The rest of us hung around the hotel pool.  After we had placed our lunch orders, Jim came running in his flip flops down the dusty road to the hotel, distressed.  Leone had fallen and hurt her ankle.  It was bad.  In rescue mode once again, we drove to a rutted out road that led to the beach where Leone had fallen.  After running the remaining 200 meters to the cove, we found Leone sitting in a plastic chair, her ankle the size of a grapefruit.  Some locals enjoying a day at the beach had come to the rescue and carried her to their awning.  They helped us load Leone into their huge truck (Dodge 1960?) and drove her out to where our car was parked.  First back to the hotel for a few things, then Leah, Leone, Vin and the hotel manager sped into Pochutla, a nearby city of 50,000.

My cell phone didn’t have reception where we were, so we got updates via the hotel office phone.  X-ray in a simple concrete hut with an open-air waiting room … outdated x-ray machine … hair dryer used to develop the negatives … x-ray assistant in tight, black cocktail dress and high heels … Leone wheeled around on an office chair … drive from the x-ray hut to the local clinic … initial pain meds administered by a big needle in the butt … ankle likely broken in multiple places … surgery needed … doc stabilized and wrapped the ankle … no crutches available … concern about the circulation in the foot.  As there was no trauma doc in the area, the family doc urged Leah to get Leone to a specialist the next day.   Back at the hotel, Anna and I debated whether to send Leone to Mexico City or try to get her back to the States.  Eventually, with Leone and Vin's go-ahead, we booked them tickets to Minneapolis, leaving at 10:30am the next morning from Huatulco, about a twenty-five minute drive from the hotel.  Wheelchairs would greet Leone at stops in Mexico City and Dallas.  We crossed our fingers that her pain would be bearable.

Approaching midnight the next day, Leone and Vin were picked up by an ambulance at the MSP airport and rushed to the hospital.  Remarkably, it had all worked out.  (Fast forward to April 12 - Leone needed to wait nine days to let the swelling go down before she could have surgery.  She had her surgery this morning and it went well.  We suspect she will be planning her next adventure during her recovery.  The docs still don’t know what caused Vin’s seizures.  He is having further tests while he goes about his normal daily life.)
We all missed Leone and Vin during our remaining three days at the beach.  The kids spent hours and hours in the pool, exploring the beach and playing in the sand.  Olympia and Jim went horseback riding.  Jim and I each had a go at boogie boarding and body surfing.  Lots of reading.  One of the highlights was our evening meal.  The dinner menu changed daily and included two starters and two main dishes.  The seafood options were fresh – dorado, shrimp, octopus, red snapper...  Leah and I settled into a routine of ordering one of each option so that we could share and taste everything.  Candles lit, waves crashing in the background, great company.  Delightful.  Each night, Micah and Zola fell asleep moments after their heads hit the pillows.
We did our return drive through the mountains in one shot and it was as smooth as could be.  Our house had been cleaned while we were away.  Walking into a clean, empty house felt calming.  What an emotion-filled, almost surreal, vacation.  We were ready to get back into our routines – the kids at school, Leah writing, and me working on my Spanish and managing our daily lives. 

Less than a week after our return to Oaxaca, Leah made official something that had been swirling over our heads since February.  She accepted a job offer from Amherst College in Western Massachusetts, effective July 1, 2014 (The delayed start date is due to Leah being under contract to return to MSU for a year after her sabbatical).  While gut-wrenching, our decision was clear to both of us.  Amherst represents the attainment of Leah’s long-time dream of teaching at a top liberal arts school (it’s no Swarthmore, but… :-)).   It is a joint position in Sociology and Latino Studies.  She’ll enter as a tenured professor and will be eligible to become a full professor within three years.  Small class sizes, exceptional students, a diverse student body, excellent salary and benefits, generous funding for research, beautiful facilities, close to (but not in) a big city … Leah’s dream job.  When it came down to it, Leah said that if she turned down the Amherst offer she would probably always feel regret.  Enough said.

For me, this feels like a wonderful new adventure, full of potential for all of us.  The Amherst area is beautiful and is home to abundant outdoor activities, a strong local food movement, five universities, forests and rolling hills (hmm…, it might take me a little while to start calling them mountains after having lived out west), great public schools, new employment opportunities for me, Fall colors, maple syrup, great running trails, and inviting winters.  Our real estate dreams have begun, unencumbered, as of yet, by reality.  A nice piece of land for gardens and chickens, and room for a dog to run around; a house much like what we have in Bozeman – simple, contemporary, practical, efficient, light, close to parks and trails and downtown, with a fireplace and guest space; root cellar, workshop, sauna, masonry oven, greenhouse, fruit trees, raspberry bushes … ok, so we’re dreaming.

Micah and Zola have warmed to the idea of moving, though it will no doubt be difficult when the time actually arrives.  We’re all excited to get to spend one more year in Bozeman, a place we love, filled with people we love.  With the wheels clearly turning inside his head, Micah recently asked whether he could still consider himself a Montanan after we move.  We said yes.  Again, I could see where he was coming from. 
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Tio B on

Great post - what a wild ride you've had since your last entry. We're so proud of Tia Leah for her new position at Fancy Pants U. It is fantastic to see you all poised for more adventures together!

Hunt on

Another great blog Steve , I called Leon wed and got her report . What an awful trip back from Huatalco that was . In MSP now at my sons Glad you willbe ibBZN at least for a year.

Patricia on

Whew! So glad Leone and Vin are OK, but what a crazy trip. Thanks for sharing! The rest looks fun and beautiful and of course I'm partial to your move back East. Amherst is only about an hour away! Looking forward to see everyone.

Jennie on

Wow--Vin and Leone seemed cursed that trip! Glad to hear everything turned out okay, and you're continuing to have amazing adventures there. We're so glad to have you back in Bozeman for another year, and someday I'll forgive you for leaving! Just kidding--we're so happy for the opportunities ahead for you--it's a great decision.

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