Oaxaca

Oaxaca (pronounced wa-hawk-a) is a trendy city at the foot of the mountains in southern Mexico. It has gained a reputation as being a trendy “foodie” city with many unique tastes. One example is that the tortillas used here are enormous compared to the rest of Mexico. It also happens to be in the mescal producing area which is heavily promoted everywhere you look. With its fun reputation, our excitement had been growing for weeks.

Our first stop in Oaxaca wasn’t a fancy restaurant for a local breakfast or really even a tourist destination; it was an alignment shop. Having a vehicle while traveling is a blessing and a curse but maintaining our vehicle is pretty high on our priority list. After thousands of miles through the  US and Mexico, hundreds of dirt roads in Baja and hundreds of topes, some of which we missed, it was time for an alignment. For $15, it’s cheap insurance against buying expensive new tires. We also had a lot of fun waiting for the truck to get finished. Laughlin started a new Instagram video “theme.” Check it out:

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Once again we found a great corner parking spot a few blocks from the zocalo area. We began walking streets and could see and smell the differences immediately. The streets were filled with textile and pottery stores as well as restaurants galore. We loved the colorful buildings and unique trees beginning to produce flowers.

Inside the Church of Santo Domingo:

Being on a budget, but being in an area known for its food, we decided we would eat cheap for a couple of meals and have one upscale dining experience. We tried empanadas, quesadillas, and huge tacos, all of which were fantastic! Our one fine dining experience was at Los Danzantes. Laughlin ordered a black mole tamale and I ordered a red chicken mole as Oaxaca is known for its many varieties of mole. Of course being in the mescal region we had to try some mescal. Laughlin had a smoky mescal margarita type drink and I enjoyed a house mescal straight. We finished dinner with a dulce macadamia tamale. I could have eaten 5 of everything and had another sip or two of mescal! Needless to say, we have some work to do to get our daily meals up to snuff with Oaxaca food!

After dinner on our first night we ended up walking through a huge market where almost anything you would need was for sale. Laughlin did a double take and told me she thought there were some ladies selling grasshoppers so we had to check them out. Sure enough, three ladies in a row had huge bags of grasshoppers in sizes ranging from quite small to quite large. We settled on the medium size, picked up a small bag for five pesos and tried a few with the lady selling them! Some were a little crunchy but a lot of them were somewhat squishy with a strong chile/worm salt flavor. We ate about five each and decided we had our fill of grasshoppers for the night.

As a side note, when we were in Arizona, Laughlin’s mom and I had whiskey shots during the Wyoming football game, so I figured I needed to replenish their liquor supply and picked up a couple bottles of tequila with snakes in them for her. We can’t wait to try it!

I loved this Great Dane barking at us from the rooftop:

Monte Alban Archaeological site was rated as a must see while in Oaxaca so we hopped in the truck and went to check it out. It is located on one of the few large hills right in the middle of the valley. It is believed that Monte Alban was settled in about 200 BC and abandoned near 600 AD. Although the archaeological site doesn’t occupy a large area, it was spectacular to see. Like many of the ruins we have visited in Mexico, including Teotihuacan, the reason for its abandonment is unknown. Each time we hear that these sites are abandoned for centuries and rediscovered, we think about how incredible it must have been to excavate them.

I begged, pleaded, rerouted our waypoints, and being the lucky man I am, Laughlin agreed to drive 20 miles southeast of Oaxaca to tour a mescal distillery. We learned that mescal and tequila are very similar but very different. Tequila is only made in the Mexican state of Jalisco and is made only from blue agave plants. Contrary to popular belief, the leaves are not used in the fermentation process and are actually cut off the main “trunk” and discarded. Once the leaves are removed, the main trunk is cooked in an oven, which prepares the “honey” for fermentation. After being cooked in the oven, it is crushed and placed into a fermentation vessel and then distilled. Due to this processing method, tequila can be mass produced and is the reason it tastes so much differently than mescal. Mescal is produced in small batches, which every mescal producer is proud of. The “trunk” is cooked in a preheated fire pit, where it is covered with ash and dirt where it remains for four to seven days. Next, it is crushed by a large stone wheel, usually pulled by a horse or donkey, then fermented and distilled. From this point it can be bottled immediately or aged in oak barrels. Tequila has a fairly clean taste while mescal has a varying degree of smoky flavor due to being cooked in the ground. Additionally, we learned that mescal can be made from a wide variety of agave plants. Our tour guide indicated that some of the most expensive mescal is made from agave plants that take 35 years to grow and are made from endangered plants. We both thought it was weird that an endangered plant could be made into liquor but reminded ourselves that we are in Mexico. So, to answer your question about how it tasted, it was delicious.

We camped our final night in the state of Oaxaca at the Hierve del Agua. Its name means boiling water which we interpreted to mean hot water. We quickly realized that boiling water doesn’t necessarily mean warm as we slowly dipped into water closer to the temperature of 60 degrees. As the water comes to the surface in many areas around the pools, the water bubbles furiously but it was no warmer than the pools. It made for some very interesting terrace areas right on the edge of a cliff and we got some great photos in the morning when nobody was around. During the day there were probably 250 people in and around the pool and it was very touristy, but that’s not all bad. We were able to try our first michelada at the site. We ordered a grande and the tiny Mexican lady grabbed a huge cup, put a bunch of limes and hot sauces in the cup then grabbed a 40oz bottle of Victoria beer and poured it like a champ! Laughlin and I were both impressed!

It was nearly two weeks from the time we left Manzanillo to the time we left Oaxaca and we loved the warm days and cool nights in the mountains but the hot and humid weather was calling for us whether we were ready or not. From Oaxaca we drove for two days straight and nearly 600 miles as we entered the Yucatan Peninsula.

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