The First Two Days in Oaxaca, Mexico

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Thanks for your interest in my recent nine day trip to Oaxaca City, Mexico. I’ve broken the trip into eight parts loosely organized by the central activity of the day. Want to see the other posts? Browse the Oaxaca category.

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Our flight to Oaxaca was shorter than I expected: three and a half hours to Mexico City then under an hour to our destination. OAX Aeropuerto Internacional is small, a single runway facility where people disembark Beatles-style through rollable stairs and an outdoor stroll.

The airport has a set of outdoor bleachers near the gates that might be for cheering the arrivals. They were empty.

Getting to town was easiest through collectivos, the shared ride vans waiting outside. Tickets were 51 pesos ($5) per person.

On the ride into town, J-Dawg and I craned and strained to take in the scenery. Our heads were those of paranoid birds.

Immediately, I was struck with a feeling of familiarity. Despite it being my first visit to Mexico, a variety of details were reminiscent of other places I’d seen.

The landscape was tropical, lush in the rainy season like Thailand or Hawaii or Vietnam. The scenery along the road was chaotic like India or Cambodia, with random pedestrians, potholes, flying dust, car honking, daring maneuvers, and roadside animal obstacles. Buildings were varied from shanties of scrap wood and metal to Thai style utilitarian open air concrete structures with the business on bottom and homes on top. Buildings were colorfully painted with signage like in India. Like Thailand, there were numerous unfinished concrete skeletons. Big box stores were the same blight as back home, and the older parts of town were quaintly influenced by the bloodthirsty and bossy Spaniards of the past.

We checked into our bed and breakfast, Casa de las Bugambilias ($85-115 per night, plus staff tips), dropped our bags, and immediately started exploring. We had no goals, so we started in the old aqueduct neighborhood (Arcos de Oachimilco) on the north side of town.

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Colorful walls and colorful woman.

Santo Domingo Church.
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The lavish interior.
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Old doorway.
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Walking down a cobblestone street near the arcos.
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Using bottles to prevent cars from parking.
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Collapsing roof and patchwork wall.
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Underpass.
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An unsettling amount of pigeons.
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Retro.

Along the way, I stumbled through ordering some mysterious food.

“What are this?” I asked in Spanish as I pointed to the food being prepared.

“Tacos,” the smiling cook replied.

Face palm. Dos, por favor.

Looping back to the hotel, we came across a set of steps leading up the hillside to the Auditorio Guelaguetza amphitheater. We ascended, crossed under a large road and were treated to a wonderful view of the valley.

Later, we read that the Escaleras del Fortín have been the location of armed muggings.

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Color bars.
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Escaleras del Fortin.
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Near the top of the stairs, looking down.
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Right turn only.
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Wandering along a pedestrian street at the top of the hill.
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The menacing pedestrian tunnel under Cerro del Fortin road.
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I can only assume Guelaguetza amphitheater was under construction.
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Looking east over town.
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Another view looking south towards Mercado de Abasto and the second class bus station.
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Girl walking into town.
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My childhood dream cars are all over town: the VW Thing.
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Permanent bench.
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Falcore.
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The large courtyard of the Basilica de la Soledad.
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Sitting man.
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Motors.
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Mobile snack vendor fights traffic.
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Woman matches building color scheme.
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Another storefront.
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Meats.
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Various sizes of fried, seasoned grasshoppers.
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Stuffed animals.
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Old windows.
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Parking instructions.
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The secret garden.

That afternoon it started raining. It would do that same every afternoon. We headed back to nap.

For dinner, we were lazy and decided on going to the well respected La Olla restaurant attached to the front of the hotel. It was our first dose of excellent Oaxacan black mole.

Savvy tip: Mole isn’t made from moles, at least not the popular kinds.
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Mole negro with chicken.

Afterward we went to the restaurant’s rooftop deck. Booming fireworks launched from the surrounding churches, but none made colorful explosions. On the roof of the bathroom store across the street, three dogs kept guard. On the neighboring roof, three monkeys played in their cage.
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Roof dogs.
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Out oasis above the city on the roof of La Olla.

On our first full day in town, we enjoyed breakfast and then went on a walk to the largest market in town, Mercado de Abasto. This spawning complex near the second class bus station and river has any Mexican food or goods you could possibly need. We wandered through towering displays of fruit, busy produce corridors, through containers, farming gear, eggs, meat, and miscellany.

We purchased a bag from one of the roving bag and matches ladies, then two papayas, a bunch of manilla mangoes, some bread, a bunch of non cavendish bananas, and a meaty fruit called mammy. The bolsa was heavy.

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Paseo Juarez el Llano.
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Newsstand.
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Gate to tropical fortress.
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The arcos de Xochimilco, part of the now non functioning old aqueduct.
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One of many houses under the aqueduct.
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Face address.
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Layers of signs.
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J on a hot bench.
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Flowering tree.
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Peeled cactus fruit for sale.
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A herbalist demos his wares.
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Bike powered grinder.
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High tension wire warning sign.
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The river on the southwest side of town.
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More roof dogs.
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Scrap metal wall.
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Door made from wood and sheets of reject bottle cap metal.
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Chilies for sale.
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A mother and child ponder paying for mangos that litter the ground in town.
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Pineapple delivery.
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Basura.
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When life gives you limes, sell them.
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Mangos by the crate.
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A woman safe from vampires.
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Sack of chocolate beans.
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Fruit.
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Red, white, and blue. God bless Oaxaca!
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Wall of watermelons.
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Our banana man.
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I hear for Menudo’s next album, they are getting more literal.
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Chickens on a counter.

On the way home, we stopped at the ice cream vendor area at the Basílica de Soledad and tried a few flavors like coconut and burnt milk.

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Captain Electronics.
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Oaxaca has serious water problems, and most people have to supplement their municipal water with these trucks. This water is safe for bathing and showers, but drinking water still has to be delivered in 5 gallon bottles.
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J trying her first Oaxacan ice-cream near the basilica.
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Old door.

Papaya and nap time.

Our first more adventurous dinner was at a restaurant called Bicho Pobre in the Jalatlaco neighborhood. It was a festive atmosphere and both floors were full of locals. Two traveling guitarists sung while we tried pork enchiladas and more black mole. The free chips and variety of salsas were excellent. There was no vomiting or diarrhea involved.

After dinner we went for a stroll, got coffee, laughed at me using the women’s restroom by mistake, and played a thousand point game of rummy.
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J’s porch enchilada plate at El Bicho Pobre.
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Green room.
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What better place for bumper cars and carnival rides that right next to San Matias church?

It was early when we went to bed, and I felt joy over all I had seen in the first two days. I was comfortable there, like it was already an old friend or sweat encrusted favorite sweater.

I’m not trying to discredit Oaxaca, rather this melting pot feeling made it feel like a dream.

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