Driving to Oaxaca
Our 5 1/2 drive to Oaxaca took about 8 hours, and this is partially because of the 156,798 topes (speed bumps) that cover the libre (free) roads, strategically placed at the entrances to restaurants and shops in small towns. Some are perfectly camouflaged rendering our shocks shocked if driving even 1k above 20k. But on this trip we didn’t get robbed, so, it’s all good. As a matter of fact, there is really nothing to report at all about the drive except it was stunningly gorgeous. EYE TACO. In the states of Puebla we saw lush, green mountains, curious gargantuan cacti (whose names are actually Cactus Gigante or Pachycereus Weberi) that resembled, in shape, bunches of flowers (if you use your imagination). Oaxaca was a dreamy trip on the yellow brick road with layers of distant indigo mountains and rich, red, clay that screamed out, “make pottery out of me!” We passed through charming little towns all centered around crisp chapels and natural stone churches with cornflower blue sky backdrops. All in all, a very easy drive.
Essential road trip food: bananas (we find these at random roadside stands), PB sandwiches (always carry a container of PB and a loaf of bread), nuts (usually those spicy peanuts we find almost everywhere), and papas, which are probably one of my all time favorite things.
A Week in Ciudad de Oaxaca
Oaxaca (pronounced Wha-Hawk-Ah) is quite a large city. Conflicting reports put the population numbers between 250,000 and 500,000. I presume the higher number includes surrounding villages.
We loved our little apartment here in Oaxaca. It’s the Casa Del Barrio in the Jalatlaco neighborhood. The address is 203 Calle Aldama. It’s bigger than what we needed (3 bedrooms/3 bathroom) but with the 25% discount special Ricardo, the landlord, was offering, it was a deal we couldn’t pass up. The price (very good), the location (perfect), the layout (modern and spacious), and the comfort (so awesome to have a kitchen for preparing meals, a big table to do work, a TV with movies for chillin’ out, and comfy bedrooms with fans for good sleeping). I highly recommend this place for anyone coming to Oaxaca City for more than 5 days as that’s the minimum time needed to rent Casa del Barrio.
Monday, October 7, 2013
Today marks one year since we began our Mexican adventure. I was going to be cliché and write time flies, but it doesn’t really fly, it bounces. Words cannot describe the outrageous awesome year we’ve had, so hopefully the pictures suffice.
We set out in the morning with Stella exploring the city on foot. Starting out each new place in this manner gives us an opportunity to get a feel for the layout of the city and helps us more easily navigate a plan de tourista. Stella was the belle of the ball getting attention from every fourth person. One little boy at the Zócalo spent nearly 15 minutes smothering her with love and attention. Many passersby exclaimed, “bonita!”. Refreshing.
Our jaunt today led us to El Llano Park aka Parque Benito Juarez, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Catedral de Oaxaca), the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán (Church of Santo Domingo), and La Merced Market. The last stop had a more practical objective – fruits and veggies for our new and temporary home.
|Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption – Located on Valdivieso in el Centro. Its facade constructed of green cantera stone (common in Oaxacan architecture), and the interior is in Neoclassical style. All of this according to Wikipedia.|
|This was one of the most stunning altars I’ve ever seen. The main figure is a statue of Our Lady of the Assumption (Nuestra Señora de al Asunción) which was made in Italy during the Porfirio era.|
I inhaled my sopa flora de calabaza (squash flower soup) and tlayuda sin asiento (without lard), and Scott devoured his mole coloradita with Oaxacan tortilla soup. All recommended dishes according to my extensive research. And by extensive, I mean Google. Unfortunately the server forgot to mention fried grasshoppers are a staple ingredient in the Oaxacan tortilla soup. Most were picked out, but I think a couple accidentally hopped in Scott’s mouth. We spent the last 4 months rescuing grasshoppers from our casa in San Miguel, and here, in Oaxaca, one can see them on every street corner – fried in chili sauce. Such a dichotomy.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Jardín Etnobotánico y Museo de Las Culturas de Oaxaca
What a delight to connect with two friends from the states, Annie B and Krissy, this week! We started our explorations du jour with a tour of the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca – located in Centro Historico and attached to Templo Santo Domingo. For 100 pesos, I received more than my dinero’s worth. While the docent went into more detail than I needed, I appreciated the history she provided in relationship to the garden and the plants.Guided tours in English are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 11:00 and 1:00. The Spanish tours are more frequent and less money (50 pesos).
The following photos are from the Ethnobotanical Garden tour:
Mayans honor the Ya’axche or Ceiba Tree as an energy connection with the Cosmos, Earth, and the Underworld; ever present in ceremonies and as a medicine plant, this beautiful tree is were the Maya Gods abide, and so do may forest supernatural creatures and energies. Young Ceiba trees have exotic looking thorny green trunks. ~Source: Yucatanadventure.com
The Pochote or Kapok tree is considered the Mayan Tree of Life. The roots are believed to go down into the underworld, and it represents the structure of the universe. The story goes that Mixtec Gods shot arrows into the tree and it split. Out emerged a woman then a man. Note, the woman came out first. All parts of this tree were useful: The fibers of the Pochote tree seedpods produce a light, water resistant fiber that has various uses including mattress stuffing, and the wood was once used for making canoes (because these trees grow into monstrosities). Now the wood is used in the wood carvings characteristic for this region, and the sap resin makes for a delightful incense. To learn more click here.
Lunch at La Biznaga, the Spanish words for the barrel cactus. Yum. The courtyard appeal of this restaurant lent itself to long, casual conversations. It was warm and authentic. The company (friends and hubby) was superb, and the prices were fair. But most importantly, we tried Pulque, another regional fare. This one alcoholic, but only slightly. Dating back to Mexoamerica, pulque comes from the fermented sap of the maguey (agave) plant. I found it refreshing, a good summer drink. There’s an awesome store in this restaurant that displays various handicrafts from local artisans.
Museo de Las Culturas de Oaxaca – 57 pesos The enchanting and must-see-with-more-time monastery, which is now Museo de Las Culturas, is in the building adjoining the Iglesia de Santo Domingo. One of the best regional museums in Mexico, this takes you right through the history and cultures of Oaxaca state up to the present day. Unfortunately for us, all the plaques and other written items were all in Spanish.*I picked up the best map of the city at this Museo – libre.
We ended the day with drinks and table-made salsa y guacamole con chips de maize on the rooftop terrace of Casa Oaxaca
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Exploring Local Villages Artesanos
This was one of my all-time favorite Mexico days – fun and culturally illuminating. Annie, Krissy, and I, in the care of an amazing and knowledgeable guide, Linda Hanna (Folk Art Tours). Linda drove us to four small artisanal villages, and she introduced us to the local artisan families who create clay figurines, textiles (backstrap looming), wood carving (alebrijes), and the stunning black pottery.
Ocotlan de Morelos
Our first stop was the town of Ocotlan, birthplace and later home of Rodolfo Morales.Known for his surrealist style and collage work, Rodolfo Morales was a Zapotec who returned to Ocotlan to restore buildings and the cultural heritage of Oaxaca. Of the many restorations, the Convent of Santo Domingo, in Ocotlán, Oaxaca which was converted into a municipal complex and houses his famous cylindrical art. Woman are often the focus of his art. Is it, perhaps, because they are the carriers of culture in Mexico and his experience since a young boy was influenced by woman? Morales was gay. Did his sexual orientation have anything to do with the focus of females in his art? All of these unanswered questions and more.
Ocotlan de Morelos
THE AGUILAR FAMILY
Just a few minutes from the church in Ocotlan, we took a step back in time at Josefina Aguilar’s casa as well as the casas of her other family members who make stunning and unique clay figures. Their houses, simple and functional, are a cultural experience all to themselves. But the art, that is incredible. Josefina is possibly the most famous artist in this area for pottery figurines.
Santo Tomas Jalieza
THE NAVARRO GÓMEZ FAMILY
Only 25 kilometers from Oaxaca, the next village we visited was Santo Tomas Jalieza, a lovely spot famous for its textiles. We spent our entire visit at Benito Juarez #42 – the Textiles de Algodon en Telar de Cintura – Crispina Navarro Gomez y Familia. Muy precioso! I treasured every moment at the Navarro Gómez home.
Famous for their backstrap looming skills, the Navarro Gómez family is hospitable and downright lovely. They ooze authentic kindness and warmth. Their home, with dirt floors and outdoor WC, is simple and decorated by nature – flowering plants, tall shade trees and turkeys. Their products are of exceptionally high quality at very reasonable prices. I suppose because we were the only people there and each of us bought a bag of goodies, the family sat us down and fed us plain Tlayudas and Chapiles (I didn’t spell this correctly, but it was an herb with squash) with Aveno tea (oats, cinnamon, sugar). I entertained the notion of moving in with them. Two of the sisters walked us to the door as if we were company leaving their home. How can one not hug and kiss such hospitable people? One cannot not.
San Martin Tilcajete
JACOBO and MARIA ANGELES OJEDA FAMILY
Carved Wood Alebrijes
Our first stop in San Martin Tilcajete was here (above photo) we headed off to the Angeles Ojeda family home.Using the soft Copal wood and taking what may be up to a year to dry the carved piece (and clear it of bugs) and painting with natural colors, Jacobo Ojeda is a master of his trade, Carved Wood Alebrijes. Jacobo’s home, gorgeous with enclaves of painters (using natural paint) working on various pieces – owls or catrinas or some other unique form, his beautiful, bright, and inviting. One not only finds herself surprised and enamored to see the artist walking around hugging new visitors, but to know she is actually at his establishment (employing 50+ people including his Aunt who cooks for everyone) that produces this world-class work.
San Bartolo Coyotepec
MATEO HERNANDEZ FAMILY
Barro Negro Pottery
Abraham Mateo Hernandez is adorable. Celebrating his 79th birthday, we sang Happy Birthday to him in perfect Spanglish. His family is famous for the black pottery. We received a most complete demonstration with his son making a bowl in less than 15 minutes and his daughter (or maybe granddaughter?) cutting the designs freehand. Quite impressive.
Abraham using quartz to polish the pottery. The black color comes from the smoke in the special kiln.Because our guide, Linda, is friendly and familiar with these families, we were welcomed into their homes and were even offered food and beverages. Most impressive to me is the kindness and generosity of these different families. The prices, for you shoppers, were very reasonable and sometimes incredible, and the cultural experience, for those of you seeking a local flavor and feel, was absolutely memorable…divine.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
To get there: take a bus or colectivo
Get the driver who hangs out in front of Hotel Rivera del Angel (Calle Mina #518). His name is Gerardo -he’ll charge 25 pesos one way or less if business is slow.
Ticket to Monte Albán: 57 pesos
From 300 – 500 AD, Monte Albán, one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica, is also considered the pre-eminent Zapotec socio-political and economic center. I’d like to write more about this awesome place, but I’m tired. Maybe at a future time. You can read more about it on Wikipedia. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the photos of this extraordinary place with the staggering views.
Dinner was at Las Quince Letras (The 15 Letters) at 300 Abasolo in El Centro. Lovely courtyard atmosphere and muy delicioso food. Finally, we were able to get the Chiles en Nogada. A seasonal dish from Puebla, this is hard to get as it is usually just available the month of September. Chiles en Nogada is made with a Poplano chile topped with walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. Traditionally it is made with a variety of meat, but we were able to get a veggie version, which was magnifico. The veggies were cooked perfectly, and the dish was a tastebud delight.
Friday (October 11) and Saturday (October 12)
With several items still on our list of see and do, we will be leaving this town with unfinished business. I guess we’ll just have to return. We spent Friday exploring parts of town that were left unseen including numerous churches, and I spent Saturday exploring los mercados. Following in the footsteps of mis amigas, I went to la tienda La Niña de las Posadas de Oaxaca on Indepeendencia 405 to purchase some milagros.
We were leaving the church when this awesome young man, Angel, opened up a dialogue with us. He spoke perfect English and educated us on the church while his Mother and brother stood by, patiently.Angel told us how Benito Juarez was married in Templo de San Felipe Neri in 1843. He told us how the name Oaxaca came from the Guaje Tree and that Guejacak (the place where the Guaje Tree grows) was given the name from the Spanish. I later learned that all transpired post independence in 1821. What a delight to come across people like Angel. I only regret we didn’t explore the cemetery behind the church.
The Basilica de la Soledad stands where the image of Oaxaca’s patron saint, TheVirgin of Soledad (Virgin of Solitude), miraculously appeared (so the story goes) in1543 in a donkey’s pack. The Virgin was later adorned with enormous worldly riches. Those riches were stolen in the 1990’s by thieves who took her 2kg gold crown, a huge pearl and several hundred diamonds. But then again, what would a solitary virgin really need with all that loot?
Dinner at La Casa del Tio Guero on Garcia Vigil (#715) was only remarkable because of the 16 year old server, Giovanni. The food was tasty enough, but we were expecting an explosion of flavors. We had sopa Condé de frijol molido, con tortilla frita. Scott had the Mole Amarillo Vegetariano con arroz (rice), and I had the prehispanic Mole Chichilo Vegetariano con arroz (rice). The flavours of the mole were fabulous, especialy the Chichilo, but the veggies were overcooked. To date this week: We had FOUR of the 7 Moles of Oaxaca.
We had our Mexican night of debauchery here in Oaxaca. Well, not debauchery, exactly, we stayed out until 10:30. We’re not 20 anymore. Or even 30. And one of us isn’t even in his 40’s. But knowing this is the land of fine Mezcal, we went out in search of a good Mezcaleria. I wanted to find Cuish, but the bar was too far out of our reach. We found a Mezcaleria, well, we found many actually, but the one we chose is called Mexquite. We were looking for a rooftop vista, and that’s what we got – a beautiful view of Santo Domingo. We sampled two different mezcals and realized we wouldn’t make good Mexicans.OaxacaI fell in love with this city. Putting aside the fabulous weather (night rains included), the food, the culture, the people, the architecture, the 14 million churches, the the the…it’s a must-see place for anyone coming near Southern Mexico. Perhaps one day we’ll return…
Even More Things to do in Oaxaca
We simply didn’t have time to visit every place we wanted to see or a few of the restaurants we read about.
So next time:
- Museo Casa de Juarez at 609 Garcia
- VigilManantial (Veggie Restaurant) at 303 Tinocoy Palacios
- Flor de Loto (supposedly great lunches) at 509 Morelos
- Itanoni (veggie restaurant that serves ancient Zapotec Indian dishes and is ANTI-GMO!) at 503 Belisario Dominguez
- Mitla Ruins
- Árbol del Tule
- Museo Textil de Oaxacan
- Mercado de Artesanias (lots of textiles)
- Mercado Benito Juarez (only because it’s chaotic and chock full of great people watching – otherwise if you have a need for territorial space, don’t go here)
- Mercado La Merced (lots of produce)
- Mercado Sanchez Pascuas (Tamales)
- Mercado 20 de Noviembre (Tejate and anything you could possibly need)
Food and beverages to try in Oaxaca (can all be made vegetarian)
- The 7 Moles (negro quintessential, coloradiot, rojo, amarillo, verde, chichilo, manchamantel)
- Tamales/Tamal (go to the Tamales Cande at Sanchez Pascuas Mercado)
- Mezcal – You want to try Mezcal in Oaxaca? Click here.
- Cuish at 712 Calle Diaz Ordaz
- To learn more about what to eat and drink in Oaxaca go here.
- To learn more about how to go about eat Vegan in Oaxaca go here.
More on Oaxaca
- 25 reasons we love Oaxaca (read here) by budgettraveler.com
- Facts about Oaxaca according to IcoMexico.com.
If you’d like to visit some of the villages and help provide microloans for local woman, check out www.envia.org. Envia handles transportation, lunch, and takes visitors to the women’s homes where they share about their businesses (textiles, food, etc). Your 650 peso (about $50.00 US) fee goes directly as a loan payment.
Oaxaca quickly became one of my favorite places in Mexico. The city, alone, is worthy of a full week’s visit. If you go to Oaxaca, give yourself the time to fully explore the city and all its many flavors and then give yourself some more time to explore the surrounding villages.
*Photos and stuff* Please contact me for permission to use images and text for commercial or private use.
To see more of my posts from Mexico, see below.
Mexico Post #1, Me and My Trimalleolar go to Mexico with my Husband and our Pooch, click this here
Mexico Post #2, Dos Americanos y Su Perro en Mexico, click this here
Mexico Post #3, Feliz Ano Nuevo 2013, click here
Mexico Post #4, Ballenas, Ballenas Hermosas, click here
Mexico Post #5, Una Visita Morelia, click here
Mexico Post #6, Mariposas Monarcas!, click here
Mexico Post #7, Los Pueblos de Patzcuaro, Paracho, y Tzintzuntzan, click here
Mexico Post #8, La pintoresca ciudad de San Miguel de Allende, click here
Mexico Post #9, Guanajuato, Guanajuato, click here
Mexico Post #10, Back to Sayulita and Jaime Visits!, click here
Mexico Post #11, Semana Santa y Semana Pasqua, click here
Mexico Post #12, Semana de Animales, click here
Mexico Post #13, Semana de Amigos y Amigas, click here
Mexico Post #14, Frida y Diego, click here
Mexico Post #15, Adiós Sayulita, click here
Mexico Post #16, Living and Grinning in San Miguel de Allende, click here
Mexico Post #17, Puddle Jumping in San Miguel de Allende, click here
Mexico Post #18, Guanajuato International Film Festival, click here
Mexico Post #19, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Colonia Condesa, Colonia Coyoacán, y La Casa Azul, click here
Mexico Post #20, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Chapultapec y Centro Historico, click here
Mexico Post #21, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Templo Mayor, click here
Mexico Post #22, Living the Dream in San Miguel de Allende, click here
Mexico Post #23, Viva la Independencia! click here
Mexico Post #24, Adios San Miguel, click here
Mexico Post #25, Valle de Bravo y Teploztlán, click here
THIS IS Mexico Post #26, Ciudad de Oaxaca, click here
Mexico Post #27, 50 Shades of Green: On the road from Oaxaca to Chiapas, click here
Mexico Post #28, San Cristóbal de las Casas, click here
Mexico Post #29, The Almost Halloween Edition: Dark Mountains, Foggy Cliffs, Witches, Jungles and Shamans, click here
Mexico Post #30, Veracruz, Tampico y Estados Unidos, click here