Agaves in the centre of Oaxaca
After my long stay in Mexico City I continued my journey to Oaxaca. Tourists value the city for its historic old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With 16 different ethnic groups, the state of the same name is one of the most culturally diverse in Mexico.
The city is located in southern Mexico. After about 7 hours driving time I reached my destination together with my company from Mexico City. Her friend welcomed us. She has a big house nearby, in which we could stay 2 nights. The dachshund lover runs an Italian restaurant in Oaxaca, is also an artist and tattoo artist. In the morning she prepared an excellent breakfast with many fruits. Furthermore she helped me to book the bus ticket for my next trip because my European credit card was not accepted by the bus company.
A nightmare for Germans
For 2 more nights I had booked an Airbnb apartment at an artists couple. In general, many artists feel at home in Oaxaca. There are many studios and museums of artists. There are also countless bars and restaurants, some of which even have a roof terrace. The centre of the city also houses many old buildings and the Zócalo, this is how the main square is called in Central America. Not only culturally Oaxaca offers a lot, also in terms of gastronomy Oaxaca is known all over the country. Whether because of its large tortillas (the Tlayudas), its sauces (called moles) or its Mezcal, related to the well-known tequila, see below.
Tlayudas are very large, thin, partly fried or toasted tortillas (corn pancakes). They are filled with dark bean purée, Oaxaca cheese and optionally vegetables or meat. The Moles are also famous in Oaxaca. Thus the Mexicans call the federal state also land of the seven mole. The locals like to eat a black sauce (Mole negro) with rice and chicken. It is made from unsweetened chocolate, many spices and, as a special ingredient, Mexican leaf pepper.
On the way to the center we took a taxi. Here collective taxis are very often used. This means you share the taxi and the fare with other people. That alone was something new for me. I was much more surprised when the taxi with 5 seats was actually already full, but nevertheless stopped to collect a sixth person.
Where should this person be sitting? Exactly! On the already occupied co-driver's seat! In the end, two complete strangers shared the co-driver's seat. For Germans this would be a nightmare. They would never want to sit in a vehicle so close to a stranger, probably not even a family member. But I was in Mexico, here I wouldn't have been surprised if another person had somehow squeezed himself into the taxi haha
The downside of Oaxaca
Oaxaca is unfortunately one of the poorest states in Mexico. Many people have very little money, most of them try to make their money with tourists. As a result, you can't sit quietly in the picturesque centre for a minute without being approached by salesmen who want to sell you their craftsmanship.
The state is also known for its striking teachers. In 2006 mainly indigenous teachers occupy the capital Oaxaca for 5 months. The police tried to break up the peaceful protests by force, so that the protest ended with at least 17 fatalities. The conflict still swells today. During the last 2 days of my stay the centre of the city was occupied by protesting teachers who had set up camp there.
Apart from the centre, however, the city itself has not much to offer, the outskirts of the city are less beautiful to look at. Oaxaca is in my opinion a beautiful, but not the best city in Mexico. Three instead of four nights here would have been enough.
On the trail of the Zapotecs in Monte Albán
Other interesting places can be found just outside of Oaxaca. On the first day I drove with the two Mexican girls to Monte Albán, an archaeological site.
This prehistoric town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located on an artificially flattened hilltop. Between 300 and 1200 AD the Zapotec tribe lived here and built up its capital with step pyramids, similar to the tribes in Teotihuacán.
The thickest tree in the world
On the last day I booked a tour to the beautiful surroundings of Oaxaca.
The first stop of the tour was Árbol del Tule, the thickest tree in the world with a circumference of 42 meters and a diameter of 14 meters.
Trees have "sex appeal" in Oaxaca anyway. In 2018, some Mexican women were seriously marrying trees from the state of Oaxaca. Given the size of the Árbol del Tule I think he'll soon get a happy Mexican wife haha
Mexican women marry trees in Oaxaca
Coloured wool in Teotitlan del Valle
Then we went to an indigenous village called Teotitlan del Valle, where we could learn something about making carpets. In addition, the locals showed how such bright colours can be produced.
It was then shown how the wool is put together to form complicated patterns. Afterwards there was some time to stroll around in the souvenir shop, which offers everything from huge carpets to bags, purses and toys.
In between the bus stopped for lunch, which was not included in the price and comparatively expensive, but you had no choice. There was a buffet.
Mezcal liquor as a refreshment drink
Next, the bus stopped for the Mezcal tasting. Mezcal is the superordinate term for all agave spirits. This is the same plant from which the Tequila is made.
Tequila is the best known variety of Mezcal and is made only from blue agaves. During the production process, the pineapple-shaped core of the plant is first boiled and then placed in a pit full of stones and covered with palm leaves. Afterwards the agave seeds rest for 1 week and are crushed by means of a millstone and then the distillation and fermentation process is started. Typically, the resulting product contains 40% alcohol by volume.
However, I didn't like the pure Mezcal best, but the fruit liqueurs with Mezcal. In the tour you could try some of them.
Mitla, the place of the dead
Mitla was the penultimate stop of our tour, in the language of the locals this means the place of the dead. This place is not known for its dead, but much more for its pre-Columbian buildings with wall ornaments unique in Mesoamerica.
The palace walls are decorated with distinctive geometric mosaics, in some cases with up to 100,000 separate, precision-manufactured stones. It is the second most important archaeological site of the Zapotecs after Monte Albán in the state Oaxaca. While Monte Albán was the most important political centre of Zapotec culture, religious ceremonies took place in Mitla.
Magnificent panorama in boiling water
Then followed the long awaited last stop of the tour: Hierve el Agua ("The water boils" in English). It is a series of natural rock formations whose shape is reminiscent of waterfalls. To get there, it went along a long mountainous and unpaved road.
These unusual formations are caused by fresh water springs whose water is saturated with minerals. Water flowing over the cliffs leads to deposits of excess minerals and formations, similar to stalactites in caves.
Additionally you will find some artificial and natural pools here. The most famous of them is located directly near the abyss and offers a magnificent panorama of the surrounding countryside. But I didn't want to go into the water anymore. Of all things, it wasn't 38° C in Oaxaca as usual in May but just like 20 ° C and it was very cloudy. Only the locals dared to go into the water.