Oaxaca Welcome

It is March, the Jacaranda are in bloom, and I am in Oaxaca (wah-HAH-kah), the capital city of the southern Mexican state of the same name. To get oriented in Oaxaca, I have walked all over town, found its many museums, tasted its famous foods, figured out the transportation system, and ventured out into the surrounding countryside.

Zocalo Musician

Nightly music in the Plaza de la Constitución

To start, I located Plaza de la Constitución, the heart of Oaxaca, where people come to meet throughout the day. On my long walks, the plaza is like a magnet inviting me to sit with a cold drink on a shady park bench, and watch the world go by.

Tourist town

Oaxaca night life, Plaza Santo Domingo

As I observe life in Oaxaca, I have seen a lot of foreign English-speaking residents and visitors. Like me, they probably came for the warm dry winter weather and plentiful educational travel opportunities. Oaxaca is widely considered the most gastronomic, and biologically and culturally diverse region of Mexico.

Tony Grilling

Antonio “Tony” grilling my carne asada at Tlacolula Sunday Market

Gastronomically, Oaxaca is known as the “Land of Seven Moles”, not a pack of blind rats, but sauces made from roasted ingredients ground together and slow simmered. The local food and drink includes all sorts of herbs and spices, meat and vegetarian dishes, white stringy cheese, homegrown coffee, chocolate, and mescal, and even native grasshoppers and grubs.

Biodiversity Garden

Biodiverse Oaxaca, Jardín Etnobotánico

Biologically, verdant Oaxaca is home to the most endemic plant species in Mexico. For an introduction to the plants of Oaxaca, I followed an excellent two-hour English language tour of the Jardín Etnobotánico, the only public botanical garden in the state of Oaxaca.

Zapotec Woman

Zapotec woman selling her produce at the Tlacolula Sunday Market

Culturally, Oaxaca includes 16 separate indigenous groups, mostly of Zapotec and Mixteca heritage. Due to its indigenous and rural character, and corresponding illiteracy, unemployment, and lack of basic services, Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s poorest states.

Rugs

Woven and dyed products from the weaving village of Teotitlán del Valle

Surrounding the state capital of Oaxaca, the small towns and villages scratch out a living. I visited weekly markets at Tlacolula and Etna, where the villagers trade their local goods and handicrafts. The overflowing produce and foodstuffs are fresh and tempting, and the quality of the artistic handmade products is excellent.

Second Class Bus

Second Class Bus Station, Oaxaca

As an independent traveler, reaching these small villages required some trial-and-error. The more comfortable method of transport is by second-class bus. These buses come with all the basics, including a maniacal driver, blaring music, squeaky brakes, and worn-out shock absorbers.

Collectivos

Collectivos, Oaxaca

To get to the smaller villages I had to use the collectivos, a hive of beat up taxi cabs with their destinations printed on the windshield. The driver doesn’t leave until he has squeezed at least five passengers into his tiny car. On my first ride, this 6’3” (1.90 meter) tall gringo had to straddle the stick shift.

Monte Alban

Monte Albán, Oaxaca

Oaxaca is the hub of the Central Valleys region, where three valleys come together in the shape of a large capital “Y”. For an overlook of the three valleys, and to absorb the ancient history of the area, I visited the nearby archeological site of Monte Albán. Here on a mountaintop high above Oaxaca, the Zapotecs built one of the oldest and most important cities of Mesoamerica.

Colorful Corner

Oaxaca Street Scene

After my first week here, I have walked all over the city, visited many interesting museums, tapped the madcap transportation options, traveled to several small surrounding villages, and even munched on a few grasshoppers. So far, I am alive and well, and enjoying the area’s personality and charm, as I get myself oriented in welcoming Oaxaca.

Jacaranda Monte Alban

Jacaranda in Bloom, Monte Albán, Oaxaca

 

Feature Image: Twin Domes of Santo Domingo de Guzman

 

12 thoughts on “Oaxaca Welcome

  1. Oh, my heart! Your pictures and descriptions have transported me back to Oaxaca. The Zocalo looks just as I remember – lots of music and people-watching. The pedestrian walkway by the stone arches of the old aqueduct (my favorite coffee shop was there) is made even more lovely – if that’s possible – by the flowering trees. The magnificence of Monte Alban. I hope to see more posts about your stay in Oaxaca so I can imagine myself back there.

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    • I know what a special place Oaxaca is for you and your husband. I have been thinking of you and your recommendations, as I travel around this beautiful city and region. I can now understand why you are so enamored with this place and all of its charms.

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    • Thank you, Marty. The “real” Mexico is easy to find here in Oaxaca, especially if you ride the second class buses. In the collectivos you literally rub shoulders with the local people. – Joe

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    • Hi Sue & Dave, Knowing how much you enjoy new and interesting cuisines, I think that Oaxaca would be an excellent choice for a Mexico trip. Traveling alone, I haven’t done much dining out, but many of the restaurants I walk by look very appealing.

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  2. Oaxaca looks so colorful and interesting! I’m sorry to hear that the transportation leaves a bit to be desired, although I guess that is a way to experience it more as the locals do. But making it to the small villages sounds worth the struggle. I have to say, I’m really enjoying this series on your travels in Mexico….

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    • Thank you very much, Ann. I am so happy you are finding my Mexico stories entertaining. I really don’t mind the limited transportation options. I try not to be in a hurry and just enjoy the journey. The villages are definitely worth the effort, and their unique handicrafts are quite beautiful.

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  3. So nice to see that you are actually getting the essence of the place and not just being a typical tourist who prefers to hold on to all the luxuries. Local mode of transport , local cuisine (grasshopper eh..) , local markets… how else can you truly imbibe that place into you? Really happy for you Joe.

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