Ok, so while in the states I’d heard it over and over again from other travelers. If you’re going through Mexico, you have to swing through Oaxaca. The food was supposedly incredible which I had no doubt in mind as I love Mexican cuisine but Mezcal was handcrafted here and also a happening spirit in San Diego. Having visited some places in Mexico yet still unfamiliar with this place I figured it was the new trendy off-the-beaten-path destination as many travelers like to keep it fresh while at the helm of new discovery.
Check out wuhawka, I remember scribbling in my moleskin, as a reminder to investigate the buzz. After messing with a few other ways of spelling as I’d only known the audible name, I seamed to finally find the correct pronunciation, verifying through a youtube soundbite.
While Bia and I were rough-drafting our Mexico route, we jotted down states we would pass through with the idea of researching along the way with local advice towards the best of the best.
Oaxaca is of decent size state, just slightly less than 300 miles south-east of Mexico City. Oaxaca de Juárez or just Oaxaca is the state capitol and sits at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountain range and at 5100 feet above sea level can really put you up in the clouds. Well actually since we’ve been here there has barely been a cloud in the sky, and the nights being desert like and chilly at 50’f heated quickly to 82’f during the day and with little to no breeze. It’s definitely was an adjustment but we decided to stick around for five or so days and explore the lands before kicking off towards Puerto Escondido.
We bussed from Puebla to Oaxaca’s capitol with ADO for about $30 USD a ticket and around 5 hours of twists and turns through the scenic mountain passes before arriving. Through Airbnb we found a beautiful rental in El Bajio, a neighborhood just over a mile from the city center and for $12 USD a night couldn’t be beat. Now since 2018 Uber has been cut out of Oaxaca, while they do have taxis we decided to just hike the short distance.
Our Airbnb had all of the standard accommodations plus a hammock stretched across the main living room, a couple of puppies to play with and the whole place immaculately clean. Something we’re starting to look for in rentals as we’re quite organized and tidy. We also were a room away from an awesome second Mochileiro or backpacker who was making her way around the world.
Our first night out Bia, myself and Jenny, the other traveler popped into a tiny taco shop a few doors down. On the wall they advertised 2×1 tacos as the days special. We were handed menus which advertised the same thing. Between Bia and myself we ate twelve. We love food and they were insane delicious, the chicken slow-cooked in a sort of BBQ sauce, red onion and pineapple with salsa-roja on the side. When our check came we were charged for the regular price as we hadn’t ordered in sets of five? A wake up call again as we know better but a reminder to ask all of the questions before ordering. The same with taxis anywhere in Mexico, setting your price before hand and such. Not that it was expensive but more of the employees taking advantage. None the less we reiterated the fact that the tacos were absolutely mouthwatering but the pricing wasn’t correct before heading to a local market to pick up some more supplies for the next few days before calling it a night.
Something we’ve held on to while traveling is hitting the local markets, finding new and interesting foods for a few days and cooking two of our three main meals. We can usually keep our costs to $1.50 USD a person when cooking at home-base leaving us with ample budget to find a cool local spot and taste the local chef’s plate renditions. Oatmeal, eggs, and fruit have been pretty solid for breakfast stuff. For dinner rice, a protein, salad and tortillas with local spices has been sufficient.
The first couple of days Bia was catching the last bits of sickness most likely from the yellow-fever vaccines we received a week prior in Mexico City (yellow fever vaccine or fiebre amarillo is a required vaccination to enter or leave certain countries throughout Central and South America) so we laid low around the neighborhood shopping the mercados, or local markets. The vendor presence seemed a little higher than even some of Mexico City with everybody and anyone selling a bit of everything. As cool as it all was, we’re pretty maxed out on weight for our backpacks so most of our shopping has been for cooking and for the sight-seeing experience while getting to know the locals.
At the house we’ve had a great spot on the roof where the laundry dries and we lie out under the sun as well as get a little workout in. In order to somewhat keep ourselves active beyond the constant exploring, we’ve built a workout routine that we attempt to keep in good habit. Bright and early, 6:35 is run time, 7am for a workout before a little yoga and meditation all before a shower and breakfast at 8am. Now we’ve modified it a little since being here and the workouts have been more around 10 but at least something to sustain a little core strength as gym memberships aren’t practical as of now.
A little more on actual Oaxaca was finally able to be experienced beyond the mile or so we’d been walking. So far we had seen the local scene which really is some of the best in my opinion. It doesn’t deter the experience from trying to immerse to being a total touristic market where everything is marked-up and catered to the visitors.
Bia and I walked all throughout the Centro or the central neighborhood of the historic downtown area. As we made way closer, the streets became more and more taken care of. The buildings were well maintained and the trees and cacti better manicured, as in any city center. From where we were staying just it had been mostly a local atmosphere. A 45 minute walking distance and we were now a pretty even mix of now tourists. That wasn’t a big let-down by any means as they were all doing exactly what we were but you did see prices on everything go up and a bit of catering towards travelers, but still absolutely stunning architecture and more-so, the pastel colors of each building taking on another. The hand carved bowls, woven baskets, braided belts and craft jewelry filled the streets. So much art everywhere. Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman was the first cathedral we came upon with many more following. Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus, Iglesia de St. Augustine and Nuestra Señora de la Soledad were a few more with the latter historically being a convent, a school and then a prison before becoming a public city center. After a little more walking and with hunger kicking in we swung into a tiny two table restaurant, La Oaxaqueña and had possibly the best Tinga (shredded chicken in tomato, chipotle and onion) tortas of my life.
Satisfied we made our way through the continued festivities along the narrow sidewalks under the hot sun back towards our abode for the time being. Later in the evening we joined Jenny on an outing to a couple local cervezerias, Tierra Blanca and La Mezcalerita around the Centro area for some delicious local crafted beer and mezcal. To close up the evening we grabbed a couple tacos al pastor shaved from the trompo topped with pineapple and of course salsa.
Just one more day of great tastes through the rustic centuries old center area while shuffling our way here and there before venturing off to the southern Oaxaca coast.
Oaxaca is a definite gem. The food, mezcal, art and handcrafted goods and of course the people and the culture won’t be forgotten and will be a place to revisit down the road. If you have the time, definitely make this a stop in Mexico and take the advice that I was given as it was even better than expected.