15.08.2012 - 17.08.2012
As with Puebla, Oaxaca (pronounced wah-hah-kah) has long been on my places to visit for its food. I love Mexican food and had heard that Oaxaca was the home of some of the best dishes and of course Mezcal!
It took us about 5-6 hours to reach Oaxaca on a local bus from Puebla. It was late afternoon by the time we had checked into our hotel. We were about a 15 minute walk from the main plaza but all the surrounding streets were all filled with people, shops and restaurants so it wasn't a bad walk. We explored the city and its colonial streets and I instantly loved it.
We walked past a church and our tour guide got really excited about something. He pointed out a structure lying in front of the church and said that there must be a celebration on that night as the structure was for fireworks. After asking the guys setting it up they confirmed that it would start at 9pm. So we set off for a quick but so delicious dinner in a taco shop.
At 9pm we all headed out from our hotel just down the road to the church which had a big group of locals and a band pumping out festive tunes. The structure had been erected and stood about 15m high. First of all it started off with some standard fireworks shooting up into the sky. Then they placed some paper mache bulls with three wheels of fireworks on them. Each wheel set off at a time accumulating in a huge bang at the end. They set off about 3 of these on the road before chaos broke out. One of the locals picked up one and started running down the street towards us. I panickly looked at our guide who just yelled "run", so I did just that jumping over a wall avoiding narrowly the fireworks shooting out in every direction. The guy continued to run up and down the street swinging the bull to cause fireworks to go everywhere.
They set off another bull and then some hats with fireworks and birds with fireworks while we watched and ran for cover whenever they came close. It was quite scary but also fun and exhilarating. The structures weren't the best built things in the world either as on at least 2 occasions a wheel broke off and skittered off in all directions along the ground.
Once they were all done with almost killing us it was time for the main event, the firework structure. They set it off down the bottom where a wheel started turning causing a flower to appear that moved. Then there were birds and bulls that spun around followed by an angel and turning wheel that spelt out 'La Asuncion'. All components of the tower were made up of fireworks and moved and was an amazing sight to see. To finish it off a wheel broke off the top and spun up to the heavens symbolising the asuncion but looking like a UFO. We then had a series of normal fireworks just to finish it all off. Now I have seen a lot of firework displays in my life but this was by far the best I have ever seen.
We then all retreated back to the hotel sharing our experiences over a few beers. Luckily the worse injury was a burn mark through a shirt. These Mexicans really are crazy.
On Thursday we headed out of town to Monte Alban, the ancient Zapotec town. We walked down to the bus station via the food market where we got to sample some of the local delicacies, grasshoppers. Not perfect for breakfast especially considering the ones we tried were covered in chilli and garlic but not too bad and really just tasted like grass. We then hopped onto the bus for the hour or so journey to Monte Alban.
We hired a local guide who was indigenous to the area called Coyote who showed us around the site and explained the history and facts. There were a number of phases of Monte Alban but they believe it was occupied since 500BC. We got to see lots of friezes which showed medical procedures like cesarean sections. It was amazing looking through all the different pictures which depicted things still used in modern day. It was their medical library and showed really interesting things.
We also got to see one of the five Juego de Pelota (Ball Courts), which was built around 100 BC. It was interesting to find out about the game they use to play which was like an ancient version of basketball where players would try to get a ball in a ring not using their hands, just their hips, elbows and knees.
After exploring the site we purchased some hats from some of the vendors outside and at $30 pesos were an absolute bargain. We returned to town and had lunch at the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Alex got chorizo con frijoles and I tried a tlayuda, which is a giant tortilla covered in frijoles, meat, cheese, tomato, onions and avocado. Both were delicious. We had a look around the city and then enjoyed a hot chocolate. It was really tasty but different to the ones I'm use to. It wasn't very sweet but was flavoured with spices like cinnamon and came with a sweet bread like brioche to dip in it. The guy in the shop showed us how they crushed the cocoa beans and we got to try a bit of the bitter paste from freshly crushed beans. While we were out we also grabbed some of the famous Oaxaca cheese which is a bit like mozzarella.
That night none of us were that hungry so just returned to the awesome taco restaurant for some more tasty tacos. We then went to a bar and ordered some Mezcal to try. My shot of Mezcal came out but it was more like 100mls and almost filled an entire glass. Definitely no standard measures here. It started to pour rain while we were in the bar so we had a beer before heading to one more bar for some more drinks.
On Friday we did a tour of the surrounding area including petrified waterfalls, an ancient site, textile factory, Mezcal factory and a very old and big tree. First up was Hierve el Agua. Unfortunately just before we arrived it started raining, getting quite heavy just as we reached the falls. We managed to see the great formations just before the clouds closed in. We hid out from the rain in one of the little food stands at the sight and had hot chocolates, quesadillas and a tlayuda.
We then moved onto Mitla which is an ancient Zapotec site. It was only a small site but was interesting to have a walk around. One of the most impressive things was a few tombs that you could climb into. So Alex and I did some tomb raiding crawling through the narrow entrances to see the tombs inside.
From Mitla we moved onto a Mezcal factory. Mezcal is a spirit made from the agave cactus. The factory we visited makes it the traditional way. Alex was able to help stack the agave plants onto the fire where they are left for a few days to smoke. From there the crystallized plants are mashed, fermented and distilled before being aged. We were able to sample a wide range of the different ages and flavours of which there were dozens to try from including the one with the worm or Gusano de Maguey which is a larvae from a moth that lives on the agave plant. Of course we supported the local economy and bought a few bottles for ourselves!
The next stop was a textile factory where we were shown how rugs are made in the traditional way. The wool is made by hand and dyed only using natural dyes. It was interesting to see the process and the beautiful finished products. I was certain that we wouldn't buy anything but once we found out the very reasonable prices we did splurge and buy a small rug. Our final stop was at El Arbol de Tule. Some people say it is the biggest or oldest tree in the world. Whether that is true or not I can't really say but it was pretty impressive. On the way back to Oaxaca we had an interesting drive back through the flooded streets.
We had just enough time in Oaxaca to grab some dinner and taking a few photos of the awesome artwork on the building near our hotel before heading to the bus station. I tried the Mole Rojo which was actually really tasty and much nicer then the Puebla Mole. Then it was time for our overnight bus to San Cristobal.
Next up the colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas!