This month, Bo and I got the chance to take our first trip outside of the city- to Oaxaca. We got the chance to visit and stay with our friend Dan who was one of our fellow volunteers through La Esperanza Granada in Nicaragua.
The first thing you’ll want to know if you plan to travel from Mexico City to Oaxaca is about transportation. We went through the bus company ADO ( http://ado.com.mx/ado/index.jsp ) and I would recommend it. Bear in mind the website can be fickle and tickets can only be purchased online via a Mexican credit card. So Bo and I just used the site to find the schedule we wanted and then went directly to one of the ADO ticket offices in the city to buy them directly.
These are nice buses, very different from the retired school buses we had gotten used to in Granada! Instead, these are similar to Greyhound style buses and the ticket prices through ADO allow for different levels of luxury. Typically if you are willing to drive through the night, you’ll be able to get the cheapest rate. On the bus we had, the seats reclined, movies were shown (majority of which were in Spanish), headphones and a bottled drink were provided before boarding. There is also a bathroom onboard. I didn’t have a problem with the a/c but many of the reviews we read about ADO before traveling included a note about packing a jacket for the changing climate inside the bus, so keep that in mind as well. The ride to Oaxaca ended up being longer than our itinerary listed. ADO said it would take about 6 hours, but it was a little over 7 hours each way.
When you arrive at the station, taxis are readily available outside to take you to where you need to go. Our destination was only about 8 minutes away and cost 50 pesos, which Dan explained is a pretty standard rate.
Once we were in town, we spent the days visiting several of the magnificent cathedrals, wandering the market, and checking out various bars and restaurants. One of the things you must try in Oaxaca is to visit the marketplace and head into the stalls that are grilling meats – you choose your meats from one of the vendors and take a seat. Then different vendors for all the other items will come up to your table to sell everything individually to you – salsas, to grilled onions, to tortillas, and drinks – everything you need to complete your meal.
Oaxaca is also known for their artists and one item in particular – colorful Oaxacan wood carvings. My dad collected these beautiful, detailed pieces of art before he passed away. While I have inherited a few of his pieces, I knew no trip to Oaxaca would be complete without buying a carving directly from the city. My dad raised birds (chickens, pheasants, peacocks, turkeys, and guinea fowl) so when I saw bird carvings, I knew they were the ones I would buy to remember him and this trip.
Walking outside of the cathedral one afternoon, we got to witness a wedding parade – the bride, groom, and all the guests left the cathedral following behind a band and two huge costumed dancing bride and groom puppets. Another day in the same location, I was asked by two students for an interview for their university about why I traveled to Oaxaca, along with questions about my favorite places in the U.S. and what I considered our most important museum!
On Saturday evening we sampled delicious Oaxacan delicacies at Los Danzantes (http://www.losdanzantes.com/) on Dan’s excellent recommendation. We shared 3 different menu items (pictured below) – the arrachera steak and grilled veggies with guacamole, mini ahi tuna tostados (my favorite!) with a vinaigrette of soy sauce, serrano chile, sesame seeds and guacamole, and a “huarache de quesillo fundido” – a nopal (cactus) base material filled with cheese. The green outside was paper thin and actually contained grasshoppers (which I learned later!) and had the flavor of anise. Unique and like nothing else I’d tried before. The restaurant has a beautiful atmosphere – grand, while relaxing and elegant at the same time. Worth a visit, even just for an appetizer on your way to drinks, to see the dining room.
After dinner, we knew it was time to hit the bars and sample two of the drinks that Oaxaca is known for – mezcal and pulque. Both drinks contain alcohol and are derived from the agave plant. Pulque is fermented and looks milky and tastes a bit sour. A lot of bars and restaurants flavor their pulque with fruit to make it more palatable. Mezcal is traditionally served without any mix-ins (although there are many mezcal cocktails, especially in D.F.) and it has a strong smoky flavor. It is not a shot, but meant to be savored or “kissed” as Dan taught us, in slow sips. I tasted both drinks, but opted for mojitos for the evening. 🙂
Our trip went too fast, arriving on a late Friday afternoon and leaving Sunday, but it was a perfect way to leave us wanting to return one day again.