Discovering Oaxaca’s Intangible Magic
Originally published on PassionPassport.com
In 1991, Ana Paula Fuentes (@anadelcamino) visited Oaxaca, Mexico, on a day-trip with her family. She fell in love.
After finding excuse after excuse to return — volunteer work, research, social service for university — Ana moved to Oaxaca in 2005. It wasn’t the Oaxaca she fell in love with 14 years earlier; it was simply different, and she grew to love the city more with every day that passed.
Now, Ana is the director of the CADA Foundation, works with the Rubin Foundation on projects with local artisans, and still often works as a tour guide for Traditions Mexico. The city itself has become part of her lifestyle.
“Every person has a particular interest in certain things,” Ana said. “I’ve been guiding for many, many years and have spent time with hundreds of tourists here in Oaxaca, and every time is different. It changes because of the person you are experiencing the city with.”
In July 2017, Patrick Kolts (@patrickkolts) was the person Ana experienced the city with.
Ana was tasked with showing Pat Oaxaca from a local’s point of view. He met Ana at the Oaxaca Airport on Monday morning, and they set out to explore the city for the following two days.
Pat and Ana were surprised at how well the trip came together— and how easily they got along, like the way you’d reunite with a longtime friend.
After checking in at the hotel, they set out to see Oaxaca. Their first task was to find something to eat.
Over lunch at a local market, they chatted about Pat’s life in New York City with his wife and daughter, Ana’s life in Oaxaca, photography, and the nature of travel. An intimate conversation right in the middle of chaos — as tourists and locals swarmed around them and vendors called out about their wares.
Then Ana showed Pat her city. They ogled architecture, sampled street food, visited museums and monuments, explored markets, and chatted with other Oaxaca residents.
Since Ana was friends with everyone, Pat felt as though he was getting a VIP tour. She knew the man who founded the Botanical Gardens, the people who owned the library, and everyone at the Textile Museum (which she had helped establish). But she wasn’t a tour guide, rather, a friend excitedly showing him around her city.
They ate soup with a friendly woman after hand-grinding corn in her kitchen. It was delicious and simple — with huge pieces of onion, chicken, and tomatoes, and whole jalapenos in the broth. They learned about natural dyes from an artist on the side of the road. They watched potters sculpt beautiful red-clay creations in an all-women studio.
Experiencing Oaxaca with Pat reiterated to Ana why her city is the best in the world. She rediscovered its intangible magic, seeing it through the eyes of a storyteller and new friend.
It was a quick trip — only a few days — but Pat and Ana have stayed in touch since, often messaging back and forth about the photos they’re posting or trying to figure out the names of things they saw and people they met.
Ana might find herself in New York City for work sometime in the next year.
Pat hopes she does.
He wants to repay her by showing her around his home city.