Thursday, October 22, 2009

Trip Report: Oaxaca 2009

We're back, plumped up and already in our daily grind, so over the next couple of days I'll be making a few posts about Oaxaca. The posts will include a general lay of the land for potential visitors, many restaurant reviews, and then finally why I think the Oaxaca food scene may be exaggerated...ouch!...there, I said it. And with that little snippet aside, know that we loved Oaxaca, and highly recommend folks to visit.

First, we stayed at the top rated hotel in the city - Camino Real. No, we didn't really have $400 a night to spend on a nice mattress, but we had a plethora of reward points which allowed us to have some pretty nice accommodations.

"As you might already know, the five star Camino Real Oaxaca is unique in all of México. We are honored to be housed in this former convent of Santa Catalina with 91 rooms on two floors. Built in 1576, it is a grand colonial property, meticulously restored to retain its former grace. Spanish Baroque architecture and authentic colonial touches will take you back to earlier times in Oaxaca.

Walk down our long tiled corridors with their fading original frescoes and you can hear the faint sound of Gregorian chant in the air as you discover our several sun-splashed courtyards and flower filled patios and gardens. Explore our courtyards and walkways that are bursting with bougainvillea; archways with the warm morning sun glistening through them; gardens with fountains that quietly trickle - echoing the bird song you'll hear throughout the hotel. The setting is peaceful, relaxed and exudes a natural tranquillity and elegance."

Just a couple of short blocks away you'll find the former convent of Santo Domingo which still houses an amazing church, and holds the regional museum. The museum was really quite impressive even to me, a person who races through museums, and is housed in a remarkable building.

That's Tyler in his market purchased hat which became a pretty decent deal. Heading toward the center of town is the zócalo.

This truly is the center of town life. No matter what day or time, the zócalo was bustling with vendors, teenage makeout artists, and hipster gawkers...and tourists. We didn't spend much time there since its not our scene, but we passed through many, many times.

There's something unique going on in this region related to community organizing. I didn't see so much traditional/US/Obama organizing, but I did see a lot of guerrilla organizing. We saw this quite a bit in the traditional arts (weaving, potter, woodwork), but also in the graffiti. Tyler captured many more images, but the graffiti was quite focused and thoughtful.

The other thing that was fun for us was festival chasing. It became a joke that every time we heard loud music we would race out the door, sprinting up a street trying to find the latest festival. Really. They were almost every day and on Sunday there were a few in a day. Some were church based, others tradition based, and others...well, I'll get to that. Here is a traditional dance festival going on in the zócalo.

Mostly these were young kids from the surrounding villages and the event reminded me of our pow wows in the Southwest.

The church festivals seemed to focus on big headed, awkward dancing puppets with lots of people standing around them.

And sometimes what we thought to be church festivals, actually turned out to be communist protests for higher wages with many, many people...including two very tall white dudes taking lots of pictures (not to be confused with any CIA members on the sidelines).

And every now and then we would get a really special treat like when we were up in Teotitlan del Valle. We were inside enjoying a nice meal and all of a sudden I commented that the stereo sounded so loud that it could have been right outside...Quick! Grab your camera and race out the door! Festival!

Actually, it was a traditional wedding. Just like in small towns everywhere, in Teotitlan del Valle the newlyweds process through the town announcing their pride and joy. The bride and groom are preceded by a raucous band, then followed by family, then guests, and finally a truck filled with furniture - the gifts from everyone to help them start their new home. Much nicer than in Silver City where they just honk their horns.

We didn't get to as many outlying historic sites as we might have wanted, but we did get to the big one - Monte Albán. This is one of the first new world cities founding about 500 years bc and continued until around 750 ad. It was the capital of the Zapotec (cloud people). A very cool site and not terribly ruined by modern pillaging and development.

But for us the visit became an opportunity to see the sleestaks!

You know, the slowly moving monsters in Land of the Lost! Okay, no disrespect intended, but there are a handful of sanctioned vendors who are allowed to sell traditional crafts on the grounds, and they are very, very old and slow. And after a while you get tired of saying "no, gracias," and so you just start to veer away from them before they can catch up to you.

But, of course, for me this visit was about the food! The rest of my posts will focus on the restaurants, but I wanted to share some finds in the various markets and stores.

Bambi is the oldest and biggest pastry shop. I went because its in my blood, but after a few bites of typical dry Mexican breads, I had enough. However, I walked out with 10 pastries for less than $3US.

The mercados were much more fun and interesting. I'll try to recall which was which, but I seem to remember most enjoying the market to the southeast of downtown - much quieter with all the same stuff, and more friendly. The one on the southwest of town by the 2nd class bus terminal was also a lot of fun but very overwhelming.

I was on the lookout for Oaxaceño foods such as there famous cheese. I loved this cheese that comes either in string form wrapped into a ball, or fresco - you'll see lots of it in our food pictures at the restaurants. Tyler just found it salty.

I also was looking for some new peppers to bring home and try out. There was a pretty good selection.

And lots of amaranth, which I have never used but I know a lot of celiacs enjoy it. I bought a bar covered with chocolate and nuts - that'll make anything taste good.

But those oh man! Here's Tyler walking through one of the many, many meat aisles.

And yes, the meat was open air and fly laden. But just 30 minutes later it was time for mid-day meal - the big meal of the day, and woosh! Flames roared up in the meat aisles!

The smoke was overpowering and Tyler's 3rd world country roots kicked in and he was salivating.

I'll stop there and get to work. Later I'll post the first round of restaurant reviews.

1 comment:

oaxaca mexico said...

Very informative post. Mexico is a 18 megadiverse countries in the world, most diverse fauna and flora species in the world. Oaxaca is a constituent state of Mexico.Oaxaca has the biggest bird reserve in Mexico. Birding tourism in Oaxaca is Oaxaca Valley, Cloud Forest, Sierra Sur, Pacific Costal Lowlands there are many Other birds spotted in Oaxaca.