Kicking Back in Oaxaca

Trip Start Jul 04, 2010
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Trip End May 10, 2011


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Where I stayed
Hostal Don Antonio

Flag of Mexico  , Oaxaca,
Monday, December 6, 2010


Eight Days in Oaxaca: December 6 to December 14

Oaxaca is almost 500 kilometers south of Mexico City. It has been a major milestone for us as we go deeper into Mexico. And now we finally made it! We visited Oaxaca in 2004 and did not have a plan re-visit the big attractions again. But, it is our last big city in Mexico to see on our journey south. We decided to chill here for awhile because it is such a nice place. 

Highlights:
- Chillin' at Café los Cuiles
- Visiting the small village of Zaachila on Market Day
- Meeting up with Jason again
- Staying in a hostel that is popular with Japanese backpackers.
- and, last but not least, Michelle's 2nd quarterly cancer screening, (She passed again!)

We were satisfied with our simple private clean room incl. hot water and wifi, at 'Hostal Don Antonio' (250 pesos). The owners are super friendly and helpful.Their 3 fat little dogs Monique,Thomas and Cookie make all the guests feel wanted and welcome too. They let us park our bikes in the hallway downstairs. It's only 2 blocks from the Zocolo, the heart of the city and lined with inviting sidewalk cafes and restaurants. 

On the south side is the Palacio de Gobierno (State Government Palace.) Inside the stairway is a mural by Arturo Garcia Bustos depicting the history of Oaxaca and its culture. The Cathedral on the north side has beautiful baroque carvings . It is a great place to wile away the time in a shady spot, people watching, reading or buying souvenirs from the many vendors with sprawled out wares: jewelry, colorful pottery, scarfs, woolen hats, straw hats, embroidered clothes, hand woven carpets and always the ladies with the gigantic bunches of colorful balloons. 

We oriented ourselves again and quickly got the hang of the layout of the city and found Alex's Restaurant for a delicious big breakfast with bottomless cups of coffee. Oaxaca is known for its great food. Wonderful sauces (moles), usually served over chicken or pork. Tlayudas are a specialty; crispy large (14"-16") tortilla covered like a pizza crust. Beans, salsa, cabbage, shredded Oaxacan cheese (quesillo), avocado, or a thin slab of grilled beef can be added. We skipped the fried chapulines (grass hoppers) but sampled calabasas-flowers, beans, and cheese on a flour tortilla folded in half. The Oaxacan moles (sauces) can include cocoa, tomato, chili and cinnamon typically served on chicken or pork. There are seven main variants. Dave grubbs on the Qaxacan moles. Mescal is also unique to this area of Mexico. But from what I can tell, it is made with the same agave plant and manufacturing steps as tequila, except with more "home brew" variants and less factory uniformity. Places selling 3 gallon gas cans of the stuff were common. Some things are a bit more expensive in Oaxaca state, our fresh squeezed juices have gone from 10 pesos a liter (+/_ quart) to 25 pesos for 1/2 liter
 
We received an email from Jason saying that he is in Oaxaca and we'll get together tomorrow. We didn't pin down a time...too much planning!! We met Tsuru, a Japanese guy who had stayed in the dorm for several weeks, which he mostly had to himself. He has been traveling for 2 years. He's a juggler/street performer and makes a little money here and there to support his trip. He was off to Mexico City the next day

The sky doesn't have a cloud in it and by 11 am it is quite warm. Before then, it actually feels chilly. Our day outing to Zaachila for the Thursday market was fun. We like to visit markets to see everyday life of the indigenous inhabitants. Zaachilla is a town of 12000 people located 15km south of Oaxaca. We started the day making an appointment with the OBGYN for Michelle's three month check up. Then we caught a local bus (5 pesos each) from the 2nd class station which took forever because they stopped for every soul on the road who wanted a ride. As we arrived in Zaachila, the buses PA system was playing a US rap song that droned on with a chorus ',,, licky licky licky, dicky dicky, dicky, licky licky licky pussy pussy...' We were a bit wide eyed and bemused, but of course nobody on the bus had any idea what was said in the English language rap that went on way too long. I guess the lyrics in Dylan's iconic rap predecessor 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' were a bit racy when it came out too..... 

The bus ended its route in dusty parking lot near the market. We walked with the others into the hustle and bustle of the market scene. We went to the food stall area in the market for an old favorite, chivo (goat stew) tacos. These were tender goat meat and a rich sauce rolled in a tortilla that was really yummy, especially when we added the guacamole salsa. Turkeys were sold in another corner, one of which dirtied Michelle's shirt with a poop squirt which got a big laugh from the ladies. Honey and flowers, socks, belts, cowboys hats, tee shirts, meat, herbs, fruits and vegetables, home brew, Chinese electronics and all the rest were on display and for sale. We were the only gringos there at the time but we did see a few Mexican tourists with cameras! Just up the road from the market was a grinding and mixing business where women go to grind their own moles(sauces) and chocolate drink mixes. You can bring your ingredients or buy them bulk at the little attached store: cocoa beans, cinnamon, sugar, almonds, coconut, and who knows what else, and mix them to your own recipe. It smelled delicious.  Check out some of our pics....

The town was full of TukTuks. They looked pretty new so it must be something they added in the last few years. We know we did not see any in 2004 when we last visited the area. We bought some mint and limes for mojitos, now Michelle's favorite drink. 
 
In Oaxaca, on the way back from the bus station, we stopped at the mountain bike and hiking tour company: "Pedro Martinez" for some information on cycling to the coast. Pedro couldn't have been more helpful. He let us take pictures of a much more detailed map of Oaxaca state and basically told us about the road conditions on Hw 131 and suggested we ride till Sola de Vega. That's where the real serious mountains start and gnarly narrow steep windy roads and the people drive like maniacs. (They don't call it suicide road for nothing) Then we should catch a bus 100 km to Juquila on Hy 176. From there, a strenuous climb to highest point before enjoying a thrilling downhill to Rio Grande on the coast. Plenty of cycling while skipping most of the tortuous sections sounded like a plan for us.

Back at the hostel, we played cards and enjoyed the mojitos. Jason tapped on our door with a beautiful flower for Michelle. We caught up with what we all had been doing since we last saw each other in Guadalajara in September. Jason had taken a route passing north of Mexico City then south through Pueblo along freeways. We had gone south then diagonaled southeast along smaller roads and towns to Oaxaca. From Oaxaca, we all planned to go to Puerto Escondido, We poured over maps of the alternative ways. Big mountains if you head due south. So Jason planned to go southeast and stay at lower elevations then turn west and follow the coast back up from the south, taking a route twice as far to reach PE. We planned to stick with the cycle bus ride combo plan worked out with Pedro Martinez. Together, we went out grazing at the food stands near the Zocolo sampling ponche, tlayudas, fried bananas, and Mescal tasting. It was a very cold night and we went back to the hostel about 10:30 and continued our visit until midnight. Jason planned to get out of Oaxaca in the next day or two but promised drop by again before he leaves town. He rode off into the cold dark night. 

Michelle's appointment with a Blue Cross approved Doctor was at 5:30 pm on Friday at a clinic not far from our hostel. While waiting to be seen, she went to the bathroom. Michelle was blown away that it had NO toilet-seat. Not that she cannot manage to squat or hover, but in clinic we expected, in addition to a spotless rest-room, to see a toilet seat. But clean it was. She saw Dr Garcia, an OBGYN, who had his daughter present, also a Dr., there to translate. He did not want to examine Michelle, saying that reviewing an ultrasound is a more thorough cancer screen. He made the appointment for the ultrasound, right then and there, at a clinic about 10 minutes away by taxi. Dr Garcia's daughter helped us get a taxi. The office where we went for the ultrasound was a lot swankier. It has bathrooms with toilet seats! Doctor Gonzalez did the ultrasound himself and gave a play by play narrative of the results. A lot better than in the States where a technician usually does the ultrasound and he or she is as tight-lipped about the results as if it is a state secret. In any case, Michelle got a clean bill of health, great news!

We began a new habit of spending the mornings at Café los Cuiles, a small gringo oriented cafe near Plazueta Lavastilia where the painter set up their easels. We enjoyed good Oaxacan coffee and solid breakfasts in a nice atmosphere with good music and free wifi. We would chat with the other customers and hear their travel adventures and plans. But mostly we would blog, email, skype and plan our next moves. We would be lucky to get out of there by one or two. A young local girl, only 8 or 9 years old, came into selling gum and candy. She was a cutie so we bought a chocolate bar. She was too shy to let us take her picture. A day or two later, she was there again. Dave said he would buy a bar if she would let him take a picture. She said okay but she wanted the money first. 
 
















 


On Saturday, we walked the streets again. It was well after dark when we got back to Don Antonio's. And who did we see hanging on the balcony??? JASON! He had checked the hostel's dorm with the intent of writing a photo book for his family about his recent 6 months of travel in the US and Mexico. He had until midnight the next day in order to meet Blurb's Christmas delivery deadline. Up until then, he had some ideas and photos but almost nothing inputed into the Booksmart program yet. Amazingly, he was able to write stories and edit pictures for a 40 page book within 24 hours. It turned out great and we are sure his family will be pleased and impressed. We had Mojitos and shot the bull for awhile in the dorm with Jason and Jordan (a 20 something year old backpacker from Portland Oregon). They would pop into our tiny room for more conversation or to offer us some of their food at other times. It was very "gezellig" as Michelle would say.

A fourth cyclist had also checked into the hostel's dorm. We first saw his sparkling clean lime green bike parked in the lobby behind our bikes. It was so clean, we concluded he must be starting his trip from right there. Later in evening, we finally meet the tall, blood type O, Japanese man from Osaka, Aki. He works as a model in Japan and had done long distance cycling from Hong Kong to Indonesia in the past. He started this cycling trip from Mexico City and made it to Oaxaca in very good time. He will see Oaxaca for one more day before continuing his 3 month trip to Panama. 
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Comments

Sharon Jenewein on

David and Mi - what a wonderful adventure and thank you for sharing. These entries I use to brighten my day at work when I need a break.

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