We drove from the Sierra Chincua reserve with our eyes on Oaxaca City. One year may seem like a lot of time- but with 20+ countries to visit, we have to keep a brisker pace them our lolly-gagging ways prefer. With so many options- literally the world is our oyster!- each day requires making decisions- where to see, where not to see. Speaking to locals, referencing guidebooks, suggestions from friends, and following our intuition are the many ways we reach a quorum. Thru Mexico City Adam drove us, avoiding a litany of possible collisions. Charmed immediately by the Brooklyn feel to the bountiful parks, people riding their bicycles and bustling cafes- we promised each other that upon our return we will set up there for a few days to explore all we didn’t see, including the many museums and vibrant gallery scene.
Leaving Mexico City behind we drift into the hills and back into the wild…
Being inland provides a new challenge, as the ocean is not the easy go-to. A quick roadside shower provides a respite from the heat and a new perspective on the day.
Emily had visited Oaxaca in 1997, and was very excited to return to the place she had so many fond memories of. Arriving on a sunny afternoon, we parked a few blocks off of the bustling town center, the zocalo, and immediately set out on foot.
Oaxaca is a city of art: culinary arts, indigenous arts, modern arts. As one local said- they are born with art in their blood.
Each street offers another cobbled row to sample her delights, the soft light dazzling on the brightly painted buildings, the peeling corners like the rings of a tree revealing secrets of centuries past.
Hotel Azul was a lust-worthy boutique hotel boasting a lovely courtyard and rooftop terrace.
Our family trio weaved thru the streets and into the many markets for hours- stopping for a nibble on something tasty, to look at a shop selling beautifully embroidered clothing or one of the many fantastic galleries.
A food cart with precariously perched jars caught our attention, as we had no idea what half the stuff was. The vendor was peddling sweet and savory pickled fruits; accustomed to the pickled carrots/jalapeno mix (she also had pickled potatoes, mango, and onion of the savory variety), we opted for the sweet pickled fruits. We got a variety cup with the various flavors: apricots, coyoles, prunes, nanches in mescal- which is supposed to counteract the fermented odor and flavor but does not, and garbanzo beans (yes, sweet pickled garbanzo beans.) Colette loved them, Emily was ok with them, Adam was good with just one.
Adam, having eaten weird stuff the world round, had to sample the local specialty of spicy chapulines (fried grasshoppers). He ate two, tucked the bag in his pocket and said he was saving room for other stuff. When he busted them out at the mescal bar later and passed them around, he had enough liquid encouragement to have a few more. He preferred these timid critters to the large black scorpion he ate in Thailand circa 2002.
Inside the tiny gem Mezcaleria Los Amantes.
Ladies crouched curbside and in the lanes of the markets in heavily embroidered skirts with large baskets covered by hand woven towels to keep their culinary delight warm- we had chile relleno, the simplest fresh corn tamal de elotes, chicken empanada, and black bean and espasote tamale wrapped in banana leaves. From a huge glass jar we sampled tejate- a local drink that utilizes two Oaxacan of the staples- corn and chocolate. Imagine a soggy tortilla blended up with unsweetened baking chocolate, yeah it was like that… we had a few sips and discovered this combination, while unique, wasn’t our favorite and donated it to the nearest trashcan.
From the street carts we had the regional delight- tlayuda: a thin 12” round freshly grilled-till-crispy corn tortilla spread with thinned black beans, grilled carne asada, crumbled queso fresco, drizzled with a trio of guacamole, habanero salsa, and some of Oaxaca’s famous mole. The spice was offset nicely by a glass of soothing warm horchata.
When we thought we couldn’t possibly eat any more, Emily found a tiny cart selling wood roasted plantains and sweet potatoes.
Instituto de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca hosted a striking collection of modern graphic art and a fantastic arts library that had Adam and I drooling. The floor to ceiling bookcases enclosed many of the rooms in the beautiful home-come-museum.
The Trique people in 2006 declared themselves an autonomous nation from Mexico. Mexico, not-so-gracefully has declined, to acquiese. A battle has existed since and the Trinque, whose women wear their traditional red dresses, are camped out on the steps of the police department with banners and posters reminding the policia that their sovereignty must be recognized. Oaxaca is populated by 1/3 indigenous peoples, about 15 tribes- each having their own vibrant language, culture and traditions. The Oaxacan valley is a melting pot that oozes with their rich artistic histories.
Benito Juarez Mercado is a feast for every sense. The many vendors are well organized into like areas, so all the spice vendors are alongside the other spice vendors, tequila by tequila, and so on.
Homeopathic remedies have a strong presence; here teas listing the ailments they serve.
Caught sleeping on the job. He may have had a little to much of his product the night before.
The aromas of fresh tortilla mix with the marigolds, as you stroll a draft from the carnicerias mix with the seven traditional moles.
Our first night in Oaxaca, Adam said he wanted to dine the next night at carne asada row. Vegeterian Emily, proved her love and agreed to dine there. Twenty or so vendors line a small alley, each offering a similar looking assortment of carne asada or chorizo, which they will grill over charcoal.
Other vendors surround them that you assemble your meal from: a little old lady sells warm tortillas, another has an offering of green onions and spicy peppers, around the corner you find renouned Oaxacan string cheese, quesillo, wound tightly into balls, and at the end of meat alley the seating areas where they sell chopped radishes and cucumbers, ladling salsa casera and guacamole from enourmous molcajetes- volcanic mortar bowls.
We sampled many of the unique flavors of ice cream including beso Oaxaqueño- chocolate & mescal ice creams mixed with strawberry chunks and chopped pecans- the consistency, more icey than creamy. Rosas was dreamy, but we settled on the rich and earthy chocolate with the gorgeous colored tuna- as in pink prickly pear!
Colette used her “tiny spoon” taking out her portion so quickly the kind scooper offered her a little more as she shouted excitedly “more EYE-creeeem, aaahhl gone!”
Day three in Oaxaca started with a visit to Iglesia de Santo Domingo, famed as the most beautiful of Oaxaca’s churches. Earning its title by just its weight in gold, the intensely baroque haven is heavily gilted in REAL gold and nearly every surface covered in relief carving.
Our precocious Colette, all blonde hair and blue eyes, meets lots of new amigos everywhere she goes! We are not the only ones that like to photograph her. People young and old stop to touch her hair, pinch her cheeks, or grab her into their arms to squeeze and kiss her. She again earns her title “the ambassador of love and joy!”
Emily got a shower on the way into the city on the backroads, Adam crafted a shower on the back of the van and went for it in the street.
The realities of life in a van are at times hilarious, requiring much inventiveness and little need for privacy.
Monte Alban was built by the Zapotecs as a ceremonial site dating from 500 BC and is right on the outskirts of Oaxaca City.
Some of the many bas-relief stone monuments that adorn the mountaintop.
The impressive ballgame, ōllamaliztli, court in which the final result was death for the loser.
Colette was fascinated by the skeleton in the museum and put her anatomy skills to use pointing to her arm, then the calaveras’ and so on. She was particularly tickled when we found the ribs : )