Oaxaca - A dose of culture

Trip Start Feb 14, 2009
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Trip End Dec 20, 2009


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Where I stayed
Hostal Paulina

Flag of Mexico  , Pacific Coast,
Friday, March 20, 2009

We were the only foreigners on the minibus to Qaxaca City. It was a seven hour trip that wound through the montains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, and ended up in Oaxaca city at 1500 metres in altitude. Even with that altitude, Oaxaca is acutally on the bottom of a large valley, which gives an idea of the scale of the surrounding mountains. Organising things and getting around had gone really well for us to that point, we were wondering if we would cruise through the trip without any of those crazy travel stories when a few things don't go as planned. Being a bit tired and disorientated after the bus ride, I followed instructions in our guide book to catch a public bus from our bus station to the centre of town. This didn't work at all and the bus took us right back out of town and down some dirt roads through a small village, where it parked up in a slum. We had been on the bus nearly an hour, everyone was staring at us, and we had little to no idea where we were. Eventually, after getting reassurance from the bus driver that we were going back, we headed back to the main road into town. The bus driver then insisted that it would be faster if he dropped us off and we got a taxi. So he dropped us off on the side of the road, still six kilometres out of town. We hailed a taxi and he drove us into the city. It took our taxi driver a while to find our hostal, and when we finally got there he was confronted by some kind of policeman. Clare had noticed him hide some kind of taxi license card under a blanket on his dashboard. It seems he was out of his district. Right in front of us he reached under the blanket, grabbed some cash and tried and underhand it to the cop, but the cop didn't have a bar of it. At this stage we grabbed our bags and got out of there and sorted out our accommodation.

Once we got over our public transport debacle and went for a walk around town, we liked Oaxaca instantly. The cobbled streets were in a grid, it was tidy, there was a massive centre plaza with a large cathedral. Oaxaca was great for food (it's the culinary capital of mexico), chocolate (where it all began, the cacao plant was cultivated by the zapotecs and mayans who lived in the area for 2500 years), history and politics (it has produced both Mexico's most favoured and least favoured Presidents) and Mezcal (the older cousin of Tequllia). We have had no rain on our travels so far, and water was the hot topic in Oaxaca. We were in the middle of the dry season, there hadn't been any decet rain for months in the region. While we were in the main zoclao (plaza), it clogged up with protesting farmers and workers complaining about the lack of government support. Many of the farmers are forced to travel illegally to the United States, to work on farms so they can send money home to their families.

We visited the impressive hilltop ruins of Monte Alban, on the egde of the city. The pyramids were mostly intact, and we wowed at the size and this 2500 year old history of the Zapotec people who once ruled the region from Monte Alban. The city contained ball courts, a cosmology building, larger tmples and a network of tunnels linking it all. The pyramids were steep. An American woman fell and broke her arm while we were there. Luckily there was another American in our group who happened to be a doctor. Later on the same day we visted a 17th century convent which now contained the history muesem where a lot of the gold that was found in the tombs was on show.

The food was great. Tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, tomales, tortas, all good. We did a cooking course and made our own tortillas, salsa, moles, soups, and ice cream. Oscar, our teacher, was very particular and fussy and showed us the Oaxaquena way to cook. He took us to his local market to get the supplies and then showed us how it is done. A teacher by day, by night he runs one of the finest restaurants in Oacxaca, and charges US$60 per head which is extremely expensive as far as Mexican restaurants go. He said that the New York Times had been to visit and are currently doing a write up on his establishment. Hot chocalates were all the rage in Oaxaca too. Chocolate caliente con leche was the way to go, from a place called Mayordomo, where they make the chocolate straight from the cacoa right in front of you. We bought some for the road.

We boarded an overnight bus to Tuxtla Gutierrez on the 20th.
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