Week 06, La Crucecita, Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Diary of a Globetrotting Family: First travel lesson, art of the dead, Día de Muertos, and a secret mission on Oaxaca’s seas were the finale to our time in Mexico

During a month and a half in Mexico, our traveling family fully transitioned into full-time traveling. We pulled together as a family of four, looking out for each other, handling challenges together, and above all, having fun together.

Still, our time in Mexico was coming to an end. Southeast Asia was beckoning—Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore. Yet La Crucecita had threaded itself into the tapestry of our hearts. It was going to be hard to leave here. The kids very much wanted to come back. So did we.

Yet as the week began, we also had a lot to look forward to. This was the week we had actually built this entire part of the trip around.

Día de Muertos. The Day of the Dead. But first, we needed a few things from the local mercado.

The first thing to remember about lessons is they have to be learned.

Three things to remember about travel lessons

Right before we left the USA, one of my shirts ripped. At La Crucecita’s Mercado, I found a new one. How do you like the red?

A traveler’s first lesson is to always keep awareness of their most important possessions, such as their passport, money, and phone. But the first thing to remember about lessons is they have to be learned.

“Dondé esta el baño? Y baño para hombres. Soy chico. Gracias.”

During our month and a half in Mexico, my long-haired son has gotten very good at asking where the toilets are. And the men’s toilets, thank you, because Connor knows that with the long, straight brown hair that cascades down his back, people are prone to mistaking him for a girl.

After wandering the aisles of La Crucecita’s Mercado Tres de Mayo one Sunday afternoon, I’d found a new shirt, Aster had picked out a necklace, and Jodie had gotten a new wee coin purse, perfect for a pocket and for carrying just cash and coins. As we made our way to the back of the market, Connor gave five pesos to the attendant outside the restrooms and walked through the open doorway, where sinks and stalls awaited.

On the counter across from the stalls, Connor had set down his blue water bottle shoulder sling and his green bum bag. Now those wee items were out of his sight.

Inside his bum bag? His wallet. Which he now had no awareness of.

And that brings us to the second thing about lessons: They have to be taught.

Cacti in the forest above the ocean waterline on the Oaxaca coast.

I ducked into the restroom, picked up the carrier and the bum bag, and stepped back out. Wandering down a few meters, I stopped where the narrow aisles opened into a broad, high, open passage that connects the mercado’s two opposing entrances and exits. I had no interest in waiting right outside the bathroom doorways, like an obstacle to be stumbled over. Jodie and Aster looked around the shirts, dresses, beachwear, jewelry, and drinking chocolate along more of the vendor booths. I watched people wander by on the street outside the mercado, or wondered what people at a stall might pick out for a souvenir, a gift, or something useful during their time in Huatulco.

Now and again, I glanced to my left, down the aisle toward the restroom area. I tucked Connor’s things behind my body, out of sight so that whenever he saw me, he wouldn’t see his things. When he came out of the stall and realized his water bottle and his bum bag were gone, how would he react?

Connor walked out of the restroom. His head turned to one side and then the other. Concern and hope shifted around his face, each vying for dominance. Yet he didn’t dash toward me or Jodie. Panic didn’t pale his face or have him looking around frantically.

Then he saw me, and started walking toward me. When he got to me, he held out his hand.

“Thanks, Daddy.”

I handed over the bum bag and the water bottle carrier.

“Did you see me holding them?”

“No,” he replied. Any panic in his face had faded, replaced by the calm visage of trust. “But I figured you had gotten them for me.”

“You’re right,” I said. “And I’m really glad you knew that.” I leaned in a little toward him, and kept my voice soft and kind. “However, it just as easily could have been someone else who got them. Can you make sure you always know where your things are? Especially something like your bum bag, with your wallet in it. When we’re out and about, you don’t want that out of your sight. Most people are kind. But sometimes there are people who will steal.”

“Oh. Sorry, Daddy.”

“It’s okay. Just one of those things we all learn when we travel. Shall we find your mom and your sister?”

We met back up with Jodie and Aster, and looked through the market a little longer. I thought more about that interaction with Connor. He definitely had not seen me holding his things. But he had known, with near-total certainty, that I had picked up his water bottle and bum bag for him for safekeeping.

Was it important to be aware of your things, and do what you could to prevent them from slipping away? Of course. Losing a passport, your money, your phone, your tickets—those things could really mess up a trip. Perhaps even ruin it.

And yet.

That wasn’t the most important lesson of the day. It was also important to know who you could trust. And above all, to trust them.

Connor had trusted me. Was he now more mindful of his things? Sure. But more importantly, he knew that he was with people he could rely on.

The third thing about lessons, is that even when you teach you, you can learn from them too.

We sometimes have to be wary. It’s like the expression “trust in god, but lock your car.” It’s easy to focus only on the second part and forget about the first. Yes, we are careful. But when we know who we can trust, we need to trust them, and to let them trust us in return.

Art of the dead

Look closely and you can make out the seeds, grains, and other materials in this incredible art.

One day, we didn’t go out. The next day, dancing skulls were all over town.

And just so we’re clear, this isn’t about death. This little missive is about art. Just like Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, isn’t actually about death.

Spanning not only the width but the length of street after street around La Crucecita’s zócalo, the rectangular banners fluttered in bright blue, purple, orange, pink, and black. Cutout designs formed stylish skulls and skeletons, mirthful bones ready for their day of the dead.

Throughout La Crucecita, Día de Muertos decor and ofrendas seemed to pop up just about everywhere we turned. As a guide later explained to us, what Christmas is to many Americans, Día de Muertos is to many Mexicans, and especially to many Oaxacans. In a state where long-standing indigenous cultures are vibrant and alive today, Día de Muertos runs not only through post-Hispanic Oaxaca, but down deep into the people’s indigenous roots, be they Aztec, Zapotec, Mixtec, or more.

I loved the flags flying above the streets. A couple of blocks up from our apartment, the weaving collective whose large looms we walked past most days also sported a decorated skeleton. But if the decor combines mirth and death, the ofrenda, or altar to the departed, is what brings together respectful remembrance with the joy of knowing that this person once lived, and loved, and was loved.

In cultures where death and grief too often can be shut-away, hushed affairs, Día de Muertos can seem an odd morbidity. The name translates to Day of the Dead, but that’s because those who have departed are the guests of honor. People remember those who have gone before. And wherever one’s spiritual bent lies, the Day of the Dead also is when the worlds of the dead and living can commingle, and the dead can, in whatever way you want to think of it, be among those they left behind.

The bright colors and whimsy of the decorations remind us that even in death, love, connection, friends, and family, are beautiful and worth paying attention to.

I’m getting away from myself though. As I said, this little missive is isn’t about death. It’s about art.

The day after Halloween, we wandered to the zócalo in the evening, a little after sundown. Just as Día de Muertos can be that time when the dead can be among the living, twilight is that moment, all the briefer this much closer to the equator, when daylight and darkness can, so briefly, combine. On the eve of tomorrow’s day of the dead, the zócalo had come alive earlier than usual. Little kids dashed and toddled about, dressed as a rabbit, Elsa from Frozen, or a devil.

Connor and Aster had picked out a couple of treats from a cart in the zócalo: a tamarind shave ice for Connor, and a nuez y limon, or walnut and lime, nieve for Aster. Then, all around the gazebo in the center of the zócalo, we saw them, on canvases of plywood sheets, lying at the edge of the walkway where it met the hedges or grass. No paint or pencil or charcoal made this art though. Instead, each arrangement was made with combinations of wood shavings, dyed orange, pink, yellow, blue, or purple. Dried rice, corn, or black beans. Each element was laid out to form skulls, or a guitar, or on one plywood canvas, even a wee dog. Elements of life, sustenance, and shelter, beautifully presenting death.

About a dozen plywood canvases had been placed around the zócalo, each, as far as we could tell, made by classes of local schoolkids. Each piece of art had some sort of numbering system, presumably meant for voting, but we never ascertained exactly how that worked.

And while set and final, sometimes the medium is its own victim too. A couple of pieces had areas that looked ruffled or picked through, likely the work of squirrels or birds who clearly were lacking in their appreciation of art or occasion. The vibrant art didn’t only give us a preview of tomorrow’s Día de Muertos. It brought home to us the meaning of the day.

Honor the dead. Celebrate being alive.

And you know what? While you’re at it, make something beautiful.

The non-halloween Halloween

Ready to help the souls of the departed find their way back to their loved ones.

What do you do when a holiday you celebrate at home isn’t observed where you’re visiting?

At home, Halloween is one of our favorite holidays. The costumes. The candy. The strolling around our neighborhood, seeing incredible decorations, feeling the excitement in the air: Halloween is a time of celebration, and we revel in it.

The costumes are one of our favorite parts. There are years where the kids have opted for store-bought costumes, such as 2021’s sister and brother Zelda and Link combo. However, Jodie has sewn most of the children’s Halloween getups. Aster has wowed as a cat and a vampire. Connor has sometimes opted for a little tech in his trick or treat, such as years where he’s dressed up as a lit-up flashlight (great for knowing where he was in the dark), a robot with various diodes, and one favorite, a Minecraft Enderman, complete with purple LED eyes and glowing purple End Particles.

Unfortunately, we know we also live in a time where many families prefer trunk or treats in parking lots, group events, and mall walkarounds. Our own street gets only a few trick or treaters. We usually have an early dinner, hand out a bit of candy, but then we leave our quiet street for a nearby Halloween bonanza. That street is lit up, done up, and glammed out for Halloween. People flock there, and laughters resounds down the street, past fog machines, spotlights, and incredible front yard displays.

But we knew that when we started traveling, Halloween would be one of the things we wouldn’t celebrate for a while. As much as our family loves Halloween in the USA, it’s not really observed in Mexico (a teeny bit for little kids, but that’s about it). Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is far more important here, as people use this time to remember and honor loved ones who have died.

On Halloween itself, we took an evening stroll up to the zócalo. Over the last couple of days people had been begun decorating La Crucecita for Día de Muertos, from ofrendas, or altars, at the fronts of shops and restaurants, to skull flags and skeleton status all over town. In the zócalo itself, a few families meandered, while their costumed little kids dashed about, dressed as animals (such as a very adorable wee girl with rabbit ears, a tail, and whisker makeup), Disney characters, and various superheroes or other fanciful figures.

For us, though, we had planned a low-key, at-home Halloween. Stopping by Alejandro’s Panedería for some Halloween sweet treats, we wandered back home. Halloween would be different this year, for sure, but we would still have a little something, in our own way.

We set out a simple cheese board for dinner, with a couple of Oaxacan cheeses, crackers, a sliced baguette from the Panedería, watermelon, pickled olives, and sliced sweet bell peppers. Over the day, we’d talked some about Halloweens past, whether just us, or times we’d trick-or-treated with various friends and family.

Settling in with cold juice and hot tea, we introduced to kids to Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid, and Jodie didn’t remember ever watching it (though the Toad ride at Disneyland is a favorite of hers). We had watched Disney’s The Muppets Haunted Mansion last year, and had considered watching it again. Instead, though, the kids asked if we could watch Hocus Pocus, which none of us had seen, but was getting lots of attention after the release of the new sequel.

A very different Halloween from our usual? Sure. But still fun. Plus, a relaxing Halloween was just the thing we needed. It’s one thing to adapt when a holiday isn’t a big deal in the place you’re visiting. But we consider it more important to immerse ourselves in the holidays they do celebrate.

That’s why, the day after the day after Halloween, we’d be having a very different night out, to be part of Oaxaca as the entire area took part in Día de Muertos.

One day, we too will be memories, stories, a bit of love carried in the heart.

Day of the Dead

The ofrenda, or altar, at the family home where we learned about Día de Muertos.

While Jodie and the kids painted watercolor mattes that would frame the photos of our dead grandmothers, fifty yellow and orange butterflies flew past the windows on a warm, sunny Day of the Dead. Then, a few hours later, we found ourselves roaming through a graveyard, at night, on Día de Muertos.

As Jodie and I planned our time in Mexico, we wanted to be certain that we would be there for Día de Muertos. Observed by cultures throughout the area, from Aztecs to Zapotecs, Día de Muertos has evolved over the centuries. The day has taken on more significance over the past few decades. Yet in whatever form and in whatever time, Día de Muertos is to many people in Mexico what Christmas is to many people in the USA. It is one of the most important days of the year. Especially in Oaxaca, Día de Muertos takes on even more significance. And for us, it got pretty personal.

Jodie had connected with a local tour leader in Huatulco who offers a special Día de Muertos small group tour. Our driver, who is of Aztec descent, talked with us about Día de Muertos as our comfy van left La Crucecita for a nearby town. Everywhere we passed, signs of celebration met us. Artful skeletons, painted in bright colors. Flags with skull designs, both intense and whimsical.

Santa Maria Huatulco prides itself on a long Aztec heritage, and those traditions, our guide explained, would be part of the style of ofrenda we would be seeing. As we drove, the guide pointed out the sky, and how Saturn would be visible with tonight’s half moon. The Aztecs practiced advanced astronomical observation, and in this region in particular, the people also understood their plants: which were tasty, which were medicinal, and which could be deadly. That wisdom and understanding, that deep respect, of the local plant life, gave the area its name. Huatulco is from an Aztec word that means “place where people venerate plants and trees.”

“When white flowers cover the jungle,” our guide explained, “that was a sign that the rainy season was ending in Huatulco, and it would be coming time for Día de Muertos.”

Our tour would have two main stops. The first? A home in our tour leader’s own family. They work with our tour leader to open their home, invite us in, and talk with us about the significance of Día de Muertos and how they observe it. As we arrived, some of the family gave Connor and Aster bright orange marigold petals. As we walked inside, the kids sprinkled petals to the ground. The scent and color are said to help guide the souls of the dead as they make their way back to their loved ones in the realm of the living.

Inside the house, chairs had been arranged around the ofrenda. The multi-tiered altar was strewn with marigold garlands, and paths of petals led to the ofrenda. On the shelves were photos of loved ones, surrounded by things they loved in life: chocolate, spicy candies, a bottle of beer. On the ofrenda were photos of people, usually people who had been older, but occasionally some who had passed on as young adults. But Día de Muertos could carry a bitter sting too, when what you saw on an ofrenda was candy, next to a photo of a child.

As we settled into our chairs, one of the relatives paced in front of the ofrenda. They gently waved a brass burner, about the size of a soup can, full of a black incense called copal. The woody, floral, heady, thick smoke wafted through the respectful air. About a dozen of us sat around the ofrenda, breathing in the smoke, thinking of those we had lost over the years, and thanking the family for allowing us to share this day with them.

We love you, Grandmas.

Over the last couple of years, Jodie has lost two grandmothers, and just a couple of months prior I had lost one too. When we set up the tour, our guide had told us we were welcome to add photos to the ofrenda as part of the remembrance and celebration of their lives.

We had printed photos of each departed grandmother. The morning of Día de Muertos, Jodie and the kids got out watercolors and watercolor paper, and painted little mattes for us to attach the photos to. Now, we rose and set each photo on a spot on the ofrenda. One of the relatives handed a goblet of smoking copal incense to Aster, and asked her to wave the goblet near the photos of the grandmothers. The understanding was clear: Just as we were guests in their home, so too could our departed grandmothers be guests at the ofrenda.

Día de Muertos, they explained, was not just about death. It was a time when people could sit with the coexistence of life and death, and how much nearer those states can be than it is sometimes easy for us to admit. But Día de Muertos was also about life, the joy of knowing that someone had lived, and that you got to honor their memory, just as, you hoped, someday someone would honor yours.

Relatives came around with pitchers of hot, fresh, fragrant chocolate, which could be drunk mixed with hot water or hot milk. We took chunks of pan de yema, or yolk bread, from a platter, dipped each yellow-crumbed, brown-crusted square in our chocolate, and ate it. Traditional Oaxacan mole negro tamales, wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed with chicken, masa, and deep, smoky dark chile sauce, made their way around. Mole negro has chile flavor, but only a little chile heat. Yet for the first time, Connor tucked into his tamale, and ate the entire thing, sweet chile, gentle heat, and all.

Made from a local wild agave, a jug of mezcal found itself increasingly lighter. The relatives led us in gentle toasts, little cups raised toward the ofrenda and hearts raised to those we love. The cups were small, thankfully, since I felt I could not refuse our hosts gentle insistence to refill mine not just once, but twice.

Let’s just say I wanted to be sure that each of the three grandmothers got their own toast.

Yet in Oaxaca, Día de Muertos only begins at the ofrenda. Soon after, under a half moon, we joined thousands of people inside the walls of the largest cemetery in the region. Kids dashed by, decked out in costumes and makeup. Purple, black, and orange flags fluttered overhead, strung on streamers spanning the width of the street, and columned like a regiment all the way to the gates of the cemetery. Inside the walls, candles flickered. Music played. Marigold petals glowed orange on gray stone slabs. Around grave after grave, people remembered those they had loved and lost. Many people would be there all night, remembering the dead, celebrating life, and honoring the lives those loved ones had made possible.

In one crypt, a man sat on a stool, surrounded by colored flashing lights, a microphone, and a PA. Our guide told us that the man would be there all night, singing. Fireworks popped into the air, adding sparks of silver and gold to the orange glows of petals and candles.

Día de Muertos was somber, and celebratory, and it was one of the most beautiful, touching times we’ve ever had. It turns out, it was also a little something worth learning.

Our guide led us on a slow walk through the cemetery’s main paths, and along narrows ways amongst the headstones, crosses, and crypts. We wished fond wishes to people we passed. They not only returned the wishes, but sometimes they would make sure Jodie, the kids, and I had enough light to safely pass through the narrow paths.

The crypt in our guide’s family was strewn with hanging garlands of marigolds. We stopped there. Jodie and I reflected on our grandmothers who had passed on, and others we’ve known who had died over the years. We squeezed the children’s hands, and snuggled them a little closer. After all, Jodie and I know that one day, we too will be memories, stories, a bit of love carried in the heart. Día de Muertos is the day of the dead, but it’s a day for the living. It reminds us to honor those who came before, to cherish where we are now, and to live not just for today but for tomorrow, so those who come after us have things better and brighter as they make their own way through the dark and winding paths of a difficult world.

After, as we returned to the bright lights beyond the cemetery walls, we got some snacks and drinks. Horchata, a sweet rice drink with a touch of cinnamon—not to mention floral cacao flower notes, like tejate, which Connor picked up on too (the bravery of his palate, I’ve noticed, has really come alive during our travels). Before returning to the van to head back to La Crucecita, we snagged two little bags of churros, and had one bag drizzled in caramel, and the other in chocolate. Then we drove back.

At the apartment, Connor was a little grumpy about the graveyard. In part because he was tired, but really, and mainly, because of death.

“Why did we go on this?” he asked us. “Why is that something you thought we should do?”

He had really immersed himself in this evening, asking questions and helping with the observations. But Connor is old enough to know that the world has some hard truths, and the thing about hard truths, is they don’t exactly come with any squishy sense of comfort.

“One of the hard things about being a parent,” I said, “is giving your child what they need even when they don’t know they need it.”

“Death isn’t something I know,” Connor replied. “I haven’t lost someone close to me.”

“That’s true. You haven’t yet,” I said. And my mind went back to those I’ve lost. “But someday you will. What we did and learned tonight wasn’t for tonight. It’s for the day when you do need it.”

He didn’t say anything else. But the hard, grumpy look in his eye faded. Like maybe, just maybe, the crazy adults tonight had been onto something after all. He turned away, but I’m pretty sure my heart’s eye could see him tucking tonight away for the time when he would, indeed, need what he had learned on Día de Muertos.

There are so many ways that people can deal with death, remember loved ones who have died, and give space to grief in all its fresh and old forms. Día de Muertos, and the kind people who allowed us to share it with them, gave us something too. On the day of the dead, made special by the living, they showed us not only how to keep love and loved ones alive in the heart. They reminded us to live well, and fully, and with love for those who have passed, and love for those to come.

The turtle arced upward, then slipped back under the surface of the water. It flicked a flipper in a way that anyone could be forgiven for thinking the turtle was waving back.

Secret mission on Oaxaca’s seas

Restaurant play area.

And then, after a month and a half, our time in Mexico was nearly at an end. We still had one more big adventure to do—but its purpose also had a mission so secret, we didn’t even understand it was happening, until it was happening.

We’d had days at home and days at the beach. We’d wandered the markets and the central square. From sea turtle releases to Día de Muertos, surviving our hole in the wall to sampling a good share of La Crucecita’s food and drink, now we had to turn our attention to packing up, checking travel arrangements, and getting ready not only to leave Mexico. In just a few days, we would leave Oaxaca—but we wouldn’t be going home.

First, though, there was one more thing we very much needed to do. For all the things we had done, there was something we had not.

So at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning, we waited for a horn to honk. When it did, Jodie crutched down the three flights of stairs. Her prosthetic leg was staying put in the apartment for the day. I followed, with a small daypack that carried our GoPro cameras, accessories, snacks, and my and Jodie’s water bottles. The kids hauled a bag of beach towels and their own water bottles. Downstairs, we scrambled into the comfy, air-conditioned van waiting out front of our building. Soon our driver had taken us from the town, down toward Playa de La Cruz, but away from the calm beach. Instead, we passed a construction zone, where workers hammered and riveted about on the concrete understructure of a new convention center.

Out of the van, salty air greeted us as we made our way down a concrete ramp and onto a floating dock. There we met up with our last big adventure in Oaxaca.

For the day, we would be riding on West Coast Huatulco’s El Regalito, a 25-ft. motorboat, piloted by a captain who always kept an eye out for sea life. Crewman José made sure we had sufficient drinks from a cooler full of sodas, beers, and even, of course, a wee bottle of Oaxacan mezcal.

José grew up in Huatulco, and he has lived here his whole life.

“I live in paradise,” he told us. And today, he was going to show us a little piece of that big paradise. From Chahué Bay, we gently motored out into the blue open water, heading west and north along the curving coastline.

Aster stared out at the boat wake and shouted, “There’s a wave chasing us!”

Yellow butterflies floated by the stern. Behind the coastline, forested hills and mountains seemed not quite there in the morning’s humid haze. Down to the east, toward Chiapas state and Guatemala, proud, bright, sheer cliffs shone in the sun.

Now and again the captain would slow the boat. Sure enough, there would be a sea creature: a manta ray, a jellyfish, and even a wriggling sea snake—“very poisonous, very dangerous.”

And, above all, a turtle. Then another. And two more. (Fully grown ones too, not the baby sea turtles we had helped release recently.) One time, after spying a turtle, the kids waved at it and called good-bye. The turtle arced upward, then slipped back under the surface of the water. It flicked a flipper in a way that anyone could be forgiven for thinking the turtle was waving back.

On a fishing day trip the week before, José told us, they had caught 2 marlins and 4 mahi-mahi. It had taken nearly 2 hours of wrestling and reeling to land the fish in the boat, and afterward everyone was exhausted.

I turned to Jodie. “That reminds me of putting Connor to bed when he was a baby.”

Black dolphins with brown speckles swam by the boat for a while, leaping out of the water a couple of times, then continuing on toward, we presume, fishier waters. The boat continued along the coast. Cracked limestone hills, almost bleached white in the Oaxacan sunshine, sloped into the water. Spikes and rock formations stuck out of the water, just off the mainland. Now and again, we’d also see huge formations jutting out of the bay—including one, as José pointed out, that looked just like a reclining lion. The coastline here can be thin on beaches, opting instead for the high limestone walls, covered in forest and greenery almost all the way down to the waterline.

A little post-snorkeling mezcal. Hurray for seeing lots of fish!

Where there are beaches, though, they are curved, gracious, spacious, and surrounded by calm water full of coral and fish. West of La Crucecita, the coastline is protected as part of the nearly 30,000 acres of Parque Nacional Huatulco. At Bahía Chachacual, this long, curving beach inside the national park is accessible only by boat. Anchoring out in the middle of the bay, we crossed into a small boat and puttered to shore, where a line of beach chairs and about 50 umbrellas waited. At the left end of the umbrellas, a couple of people sat at chairs behind a table covered in bottles and cups—a little beachside bar.

Along the rocks in the bay, we snorkeled along the coral reefs. Connor even dove down toward the bottom a couple of times, emulating José, who would bring up shells or sea urchins for us to look at. Back on the boat, we motored past a couple of more bays, and eventually anchored at Bahía San Agustín. Under the blue, clear water, dark spreads of reefs covered the sea floor. Here and there were bright, sandy pockets, where Aster and Connor could splash and play in the waves.

At Restaurante La Oaxaqueña, the limonada was tart, sweet, and big—perfect after all that sea spray and sunshine. Behind us, hammocks were strung between the pillars holding up the thatched roof, and we dug our feet into the cool sand under our tables. Shrimp empanadas steamed. Tostadas, covered in shredded lettuce, a savory, thick tomato sauce, and chunks of fresh octopus, were crunchy on every bite.

All the day long, we had relaxed on the boat, chatted with José, looked for sea creatures, and explored the snorkeling delights of blue bays.

Yet only now, as the boat left San Agustín to begin the return trip, did we realize the secret mission behind our last adventure in Oaxaca.

For most of the boat ride, we had all sat in the seating area near the stern. Yet José had told us that we were welcome to sit up at the bow of the boat too—and it was an especially good spot to be in if anyone started to feel queasy.

After lunch, the kids made their way up to the bow. Connor and Aster sat side by side the entire way back, shoulders touching. From what we could see, it looked like the kids were chatting, though of course, the noise of the engine masked any snippets of sibling conversation that might have been wafting back toward us parents.

It was only then, as the lighthouse not far from where we would re-enter Chahué Bay came into view, that Jodie and I understood.

Part of why we wanted to travel like this with the kids, for so long, to so many places, is to show them some of the world, and help them see how and where they might fit into it as adults. But there’s something else too. Jodie and I have always talked about it, planned around it, and done much in our day-to-day lives to support it. Sometimes, it’s been so integral to our work as parents, that we forget it’s even there.

But there were the kids, sitting up front, sister and brother, side by side.

That was it, after all. The real reason underlying so much of what we do as parents. We don’t just want to travel the world with our kids.

Our secret mission? We want the kids to travel the world with each other.

Odds are, the two of them will navigate life’s joys, challenges, and choices with some measure of closeness. We have always tried to reinforce that no matter what else in life, they can always have one another for support. We’ve always hoped they would have a strong sibling bond. And on a day like this, under the Oaxacan sun, we were seeing that strong, simple closeness play out, moment by moment, as Connor and Aster sat side by side at the front of the boat.

We travel the way we do because it’s a way we can help the kids build on a lifetime bond. There will come a time where they do not have us. But we hope that they will always have each other.

The boat returned to dock, and we returned to shore, albeit with that slightly wavy, rolling way your vision gets when your brain is still convinced the world around you is rocking up and down, even when it’s not anymore.

The kids were tired, and quiet, as we made our way back to the apartment. Soon, we’d be leaving Mexico. Not for home—but for Asia, where Thailand would be the first country across the Pacific we would all four get to know.

And these two siblings would meet all those new places to come. As we hoped they would meet life. Brother and sister. Sister and brother. In joy and love, despite all else, together.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

1 thought on “Week 06, La Crucecita, Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico”

  1. I can tell you first hand how good a feeling it is knowing your sibling has your back. It makes the good even better and the not so good more bearable and easier to deal with. And them knowing you feel the same way adds to the feeling. I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job along those lines.

    Love you!

Leave a Comment