It’s always night when I arrive.
The lit­tle Embraer 145 lands and shud­ders to a heav­i­ly braked stop at the end of the run­way. Then turns and taxis back toward the ter­mi­nal. Where an air-stair is wheeled up to the side of the plane and we, the pas­sen­gers, descend.
The air is warm and damp, and smells of wood smoke, jet fuel, silt, and drains.
At the bot­tom of the stairs I pick up the car­ry on lug­gage that nev­er fits in the over­head bins. Then pull my click­ing, wheeled bags across the tar­mac and onto the con­crete side­walk under a canopy beside a patch of coarse, unnat­u­ral­ly green grass.
The Arrival Hall is a flu­o­res­cent lit, eight-foot wide cor­ri­dor full of grin­gos attempt­ing to puz­zle out the immi­gra­tion form with its dense, cryp­tic, oh so for­eign instructions.
I am anoint­ed as “one who knows” not for my awful Spanish, but because of my abil­i­ty to prop­er­ly fill out this form — infor­ma­tion repeat­ed twice. Once in ample spaces at the top of the form. And then again at the bot­tom in tiny spaces bare­ly big enough for your ini­tials let alone your Appelidos and Nombres. The Immigration Officer will hand this low­er por­tion back to you with the admo­ni­tion that you must not lose it. That it must be returned on your leav­ing the coun­try or you will be fined.
Then I gath­er up my checked bags and pass along anoth­er cor­ri­dor to Aduana. Submit all of my lug­gage and my “per­son­al item”, as well as the heavy coat I am car­ry­ing to the x‑ray machine. Gather these things back up, awk­ward­ly, and smile at the Customs Officer who ges­tures to the but­ton. Press the but­ton and hope for a green walking-man to light up. I am free to leave.
There are no taxis at the Oaxaca air­port. The only way off the grounds is in a pri­vate car or one of the cam­bios, col­lec­tive mini-buses that load up with ten cus­tomers and make a zigzag across the down­town area drop­ping pas­sen­gers by ones and twos at var­i­ous hotels, guest hous­es, and B&Bs. If you’re feel­ing flush you can book a “direc­to.” Basically tak­ing up the entire cam­bio your­self, at near­ly five times the cost of the sin­gle tick­et. So maybe not.
The trip out of the air­port into the city is long, slow, bumpy, and dis­ori­ent­ing. I am once again sit­ting. A last, pas­sive hour added to the 18 that I’ve been trav­el­ing. Too much and yet, and yet. There is the sense of hav­ing arrived at the car­ni­val, in the house of mir­rors, in Wonderland.
The route is famil­iar but noth­ing is where I left it. Or maybe every­thing is where I left it, but dis­con­nect­ed from my mem­o­ry of the geog­ra­phy. It’s late and the effort to recon­nect all of the things I glimpse and bare­ly hear is too much. Flashes of col­or and lan­guage jab thor­ough the dark. A yel­low and black Bardahl’s sign on a tin shack auto repair shop. A rental shop with “todo para sus fies­tas” in bright, pink script.
Sounds that will soon be famil­iar are odd, jar­ring, and unsource­able. Loud music plays from speak­ers out­side of every kind of shop: cell phone kiosks, cloth­ing stores, the depos­i­to. The elote steam whis­tle shrills and I star­tle. The bark­ing of dogs comes from roofs. Chains that hang off of the back of a gas truck jin­gle manically.
The Casa is always the last stop. Lying as it does at the edge of down­town that is the fur­thest from the air­port. I get out of the cam­bio and the dri­ver unloads my bags onto the side­walk in front of a laven­der door set into a turquoise wall. I ring the bell. Sometimes the dri­ver gets into the minibus and dri­ves away before the door is opened. Sometimes he waits.
Eventually there’s a click and a scrape as the door is unlocked and opened. A young woman who speaks no English lets me in and rough­ly takes away my lug­gage. Insisting on car­ry­ing the bags as big as her­self along the cor­ri­dor to my room.
I find some night-clothes; brush my teeth using water from a bot­tle. Plug in my phone charger.
I fall into a bed at once famil­iar and strange, and dream of nothing.
Until the bell rings for breakfast.