Sundays are the big rest day in much of Latin America. Shops are closed, restaurants keep their doors locked, and people stay at home, visit with family, or get their God on.
This of course is a broad generalization and depends on the size of the city. But normally, Sunday is the time to chill, and it’s normally the day I take off from work.
This past Sunday in Oaxaca was no exception. I had a strange urge to head to Paseo Juarez (known locally as El Llano), a two-block green square I noticed on my tourist map. I didn’t know what went on there or what it was like, but I was itching to get out of my apartment and so I headed straight there shortly after waking up.
I left my purse at home, with just my keys and a pocketful of pesos in my jeans. I just wanted to observe and enjoy the city and not feel hindered by a heavy purse or distracted by a camera, a notebook, or a book.
The walk was long, about 15 blocks through mostly deserted streets. There was a lingerer or two on each street, a drastic difference to the mass of humanity seen during the week. The only sounds came from a couple of cantinas, emitting the unmistakable smell of stale beer and woeful Mexican tunes which provided the ambiance. The traffic noise was absent, making for a pleasant if not a tad bit eerie journey.
When El Llano came into view, I got a bit of a shock. A magnificent (yes, I did say magnificent) park unfolded before me filled with the massive trees that Oaxaca is known for.
It was also comparatively busy. The first thing that caught my attention was a (fairly) synchronized set of older women dressed in workout gear gyrating their hips in salsa motions. Their instructor was an energetic man standing on top of a podium, overemphasizing the movement of his arms, legs, and hips Richard Simmons style so those in the back could see.
The women in the front were obviously regulars. They predicted most of the move changes before he announced them and helped lead the way for those in the back, whose coordination skills paled in comparison.
Midway through the park between two fountains were several sets of tables lined up selling cheap books in Spanish. Further along, a cluster of around 15 teenagers marched in formation, arms swinging in the controlled manner taught in the army. A man was shouting commands, scrutinizing their technique.
I finished the loop around the park to the back, past one of the many beautiful tan-colored colonial churches spread throughout the city. I settled on a bench near the aerobics class to watch. Behind me, an older man lingered next to his shoeshine chair, waiting for the next customer. Another walked past selling churros off a silver tray. A group of scouts approached, greeting me enthusiastically and offering their treats for sale. After I declined, they congregated on a ledge nearby, giggling and playfully following the dance moves of the instructor.
A group of three settled on the bench next to me, huddling around a pink iPad. The internet connection wasn’t picking up (parks in Mexico have free wifi), and after several attempts, one of the girls made a call for help (probably to her dad). Shortly after, they scattered to try to pick up the signal elsewhere. A toddler teetered by, pointing out random things in the park to her young, well-dressed mother.
I’ve spent a lot of the past year and a half in the parks of Latin America. There are few places that offer the limitless people watching opportunities that they do.
I think I just found my new hangout in Oaxaca.