Start: December 13, Cholula
Finish: December 19, San Cristobal de las Casas
Oaxacan Recipes Learned: 6
Types of Tortillas Made: 2
Crickets Eaten: A few
Ancient Ruins Explored: 1
World's Stoutest Trees Seen: 1
For the pronunciation-impaired, Oaxaca sounds like 'wah-ha-kah' not 'oh-axe-ah-ka'. It's a state in southern Mexico, with a capital city bearing the same name. There are more indigenous cultures and peoples in this area than anywhere else in the country. For example, we spoke with a friendly policeman who had to learn Spanish before he could move to the city to find work.
All told we spent four days in and around the city of Oaxaca, camped in a noisy RV park, the only one still open in the area. Traffic in the city is terrible, but the food, markets and charm of the historic city center more than made up for it.
The drive from Puebla to Oaxaca took about five hours. We passed through mountains and a bit of high desert, stopping after two hours to visit a town famous for marble and onyx carving. I bought my first Mexican souvenir, a mask made of a dozen different kinds of rocks. We all agreed that our house would be full of marble dishes, sinks and carvings if we lived nearby.
We rolled up to Oaxaca late afternoon to find our first choice of campground recently closed to short-term campers. The only other option was a less-than-ideal spot in a noisy residential area, a 30 minute walk from the center of town. The cockroaches visited us nightly.
As you can see, the campground went to great lengths to provide a secure area for its guests. Shards of glass lined the top of the wall surrounding the property, something we haven't seen since Africa.
Our first full day in Oaxaca we walked downtown. The first sight we came across was the Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church.
Definitely the most impressive Catholic church we've seen yet, the detailed interior rivals European cathedrals.
After stopping for a cup of coffee in the central square, we walked a few blocks south to the main market. Kobus does his best Vanna White impersonation in front of a few giant piles of dried peppers. The market is huge, covering two city blocks with hundreds of stalls selling clothes, food, leather goods and local beverages.
Day two took us to Monte Albán, a pre-Columbian ruin that sits atop a mountain about 15 minutes outside of Oaxaca. Monte Albán was inhabited for two thousand years starting in 500 BC. It was at it's peak as a Zapotec capital city around 200 AD and was one of the largest Mesoamerican cities at that time.
Click the above image for a larger panoramic view. The main plaza area of Monte Albán is huge, ringed by a variety of tombs and religious palaces with two large platforms at the north and south ends. The above photos were taken from the north platform, high above the main plaza. Several buildings in the center of the plaza are oriented to match the rise and fall of the sun, one has a small gap that fills with sunlight two times a year to mark the equinox.
One the way back from Monte Albán we stopped at an overlook along the highway to take a shot of the city from above the valley. The large building in the center of the photo is the Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church that we visited the day before.
Aren't they cute? On our third day in Oaxaca we decided to sign up for a cooking class at a restaurant called Casa Crespo near the center of town. Class started at 10 and we were told we'd learn to make two types of tortillas, three types of salsa, three Oaxacan dishes and a desert. We were not disappointed!
Our knowledgeable teacher of Oaxacan culinary delights, Oscar, started the day with a trip to the local market. We spent an hour walking through the stalls as he explained local herbs, vegetables and of course, peppers. He bought some fresh produce that used later in our dishes.
Crickets are a popular snack that we've seen in quite a few markets in Mexico. Lots of different shapes and sizes, but the idea is the same: remove the guts, roast them, cover with chili powder and add a dash of lime. I tried a few, they didn't taste bad, but picking bug parts out of your teeth takes a bit of getting used to.
At the start of our feast I eyeball our tortillas and the guacamole. All told it took us three or four hours to prepare the food so by the afternoon we were all starving.
There were 10 of us in the group, two Canadian couples, a couple from London and the three of us. Coincidentally one of the Canadians was actually a South African in disguise and had lived very close to Kobus' home town in a little place called Irene.
As we left Oaxaca the following day we made a quick stop by the town of Tule, home of the world's widest tree.
Árbol del Tule is a cypress tree and has a circumference of 119 feet. To put that in perspective, you can see Jessica and I standing about 15 feet behind the tree on the left of the picture.
Up next: Mayan ruins in the jungles of Palenque and Christmas on the gulf coast.