Oaxaca, which lies almost 500km southeast of Mexico City, is the capital of Oaxaca state. The part of central California I call home (for lack of a better place) has many Mixtecs, an ethnic group from the northwest part of Oaxaca state who speak neither Spanish nor English. The New York Times wrote a story about the Mixtecs and how they make do in Madera County. My favorite part of the article is where DVDs of dances back home are sold so they can see who is dancing with whom! I’ve already met a policeman here who worked in the fields in Madera. Imagine that transition.
Day of the Dead, which peaks on November 2, is an especially big holiday in Oaxaca, but a full ten days before it felt like the party was already in full swing with fireworks all day and night. Who lights fireworks in the daytime? I asked one guy running streamers through a large spinning wheel in preparation for one night’s show what the event was, but it hardly seemed to matter; something’s going on every night. Not just musicians but complete bands can be heard all over town, and there are a ton of people roaming around selling necessities like fried grasshoppers and plastic spiders. Great atmosphere.
The thing to do in Oaxaca that few do is to visit the surrounding towns on their weekly market days. I loved it. I must have set a backpacker record by going to four: Etla, Zaachila, Ocotlan and Tlacolula. (Try saying “Tlacolula” and “Oaxaca” ten times fast.) It’s a shame I saw only a smattering of other travelers as this is why I am interested in Oaxaca to begin with: to see everyone come from their villages into town wearing their colorful clothes to trade, chat, and eat.
It’s worth going just to feast. I gorged on tacos, taquitos and tlayudas (large, thin tortillas with a variety of fillings) plus whatever caught my eye: pumpkin seed and honey discs, puffed amaranth and white chocolate wafers, …….and other delectables I should really take a photo of before I consume them.
In the Tlacolula market I bought some watermelon chunks and tried to pay the woman when I felt someone tugging on my pants. I looked down and saw it was the cashier, a serious girl of maybe seven years old, no taller than my waist. I was apprehensive about paying her, but the woman gestured for me to do so, and I noticed she was wearing a money pouch. The little girl was all business. She reproached me for my hesitation by giving me a stern look and making change quickly. Confused, I looked back at the watermelon woman who gave a proud smile.
On the way to Tlacolula I saw big, bright signs for “drogadictos anonimos” and “alcoholicos anonimos”, and then, in an appropriately lonely place on the highway, “neuroticos anonimos”.
I chickened out of hitchhiking from Puebla to Oaxaca. It would have been a pain to find a good place to stand, lots of people already were hanging out by the road, plus other weak excuses. (It was hot.)
Rideshare exists in Mexico, even if it feels in its infancy. This is a ride from Mexico City to Oaxaca for only 150 pesos each way, less than half the cost of the bus. It is a website worth keeping your eye on.
I stayed at Hostal Pochon 120 pesos for a dorm bed, perfectly fine but if it is full, the dearth of bathrooms is a problem. I also stayed at the perfectly fine Hotel Posada el Chapulin (Grasshopper Hotel!) closer to town for 250 pesos for two people with bathroom, TV, wifi, etc.
My advice is to check the housing listings on Oaxaca Craigslist even if you are in town for a short time. I saw a few private apartments for the same price as a dorm bed in a hostel.
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