Our bus pulled in sometime before 07:00 if I recall correctly, we loitered at the bus station (ok, so by loitered we found a chair and sat) until about half past, then began the wander to our pre-booked hostel as we understood reception was open from 08:00.
After one wrong turn, we regained our bearings and it was just after the hour we were pressing the buzzer to our hostel door.
A young boy eventually answered, advised us that check-in wouldn’t be possible until 10:00am, but showed us where we could leave our packs for the morning.
We were both pretty fatigued, but figured we’d best explore for a bit so we could both stay awake, as well as see a bit of the town.
The town’s main Zocalo was actually pretty disappointing from a viewing perspective, as it looked closer to a refugee camp rather than an historical plaza.
Tents and tarpaulins were the order of the day, and we later learned it was all part of a teachers protest, however not knowing the ins and outs of the situation, we’re unable to really comment any further (although we do have a lot of time for teachers, who give so much and work in a damn difficult profession).
Sarah munched on some Saladitas (salted biscuits) whilst I had a snooze on a bench outside the Templo de Santo Domingo, a grand church sporting an impressive interior.
We’d earlier checked it out, and it was, with its ceiling a particular highlight, a very impressive place indeed.
Apparently part of the ceiling actually forms a family tree, however it wasn’t something that we honestly noticed at the time!
With over an hour still to pass, we looked for any option to pass the time, eventually settling on the Museo de Textil de Oaxaca (the Oaxacan Textile Museum).
It was mainly the price (entry is free) as well as the proximity to our hostel that sold us on it, but it was an interesting enough place, looking at different textile patterns, and the native communities they represented throughout Oaxaca state.
Sadly however, it didn’t take up much time, so it was still a drag to get to that 10:00am check-in time… which when we did finally get back to the hostel we learned was an error (he should have said 12:00)!
Still, we were able to hang around, so took advantage of some Wi-Fi and played on the net for a bit.
We were eventually able to check-in a little early sometime just after 11:00…
And pretty soon it was time for lunch (with us being up at an early hour, it also meant we were ready for our midday meal earlier than usual), so we figured somewhere serving local fare would be perfect. After all, Oaxaca is referred to as the culinary capital of Mexico.
During our search we spied a curious sight.
Several ATM’s had incredibly long queues, which had us initially fearful there was some sort of financial doom (at least in Oaxaca) approaching!
We later discovered that apparently much of the Mexican population distrusts banks, so that shortly after pay day, they will withdraw all they have (I’m assuming to stuff under huge mattresses somewhere).
Unfortunately our first experience with Oaxacan food was also a disappointment, with us failing to finish two of the three dishes we ordered (we were still pretty weak from our time in Papantla, so it prompted a nice and safe dinner of pasta that night)!
We shopped around a little with tour prices to Mitla and Hierve el Agua (all the operators had the same tours at identical prices), eventually just booking one through our hostel for the following day.
After a quick hostel breakfast, we were on our way (in case you hadn’t realised, this was the following morning), with the first stop apparently a big tree?
Okay, so it turns out it is a little more than it sounds. Whilst not the tallest, this behemoth we were off to see is in fact the worlds thickest single tree (is it fitting that the country traditionally home to the worlds fattest man has the fattest tree)!?
There was a 20 peso fee to get a bit closer to the tree, but we figured if it helps keep this thing alive, then it’s a price worth paying!
Our itinerary for the day was revised slightly by our drivers due to the prospect of inclement weather (the order we visited a few locations rather than us actually missing any) so next stop was the small town of Mitla, home to some interesting pre-Hispanic ruins.
The combined ruins of Mitla and Yagul (another site in the same valley) are UNESCO World Heritage listed (together rather than individually) so there is obviously significant historical and cultural importance attached to the place.
On arrival, the ruins looked pretty impressive… almost too impressive, as though they had been completely rebuilt or restored.
We were later advised that the structures we could see were in fact all original, which made the place even more impressive.
Inspecting a couple of old tombs and the remains of a former palace or at least important residence, we were able to further admire the stonework in this place, remarkable for its resilience given the combination of age, the earthquake prone nature of the country, and the fact that it was all constructed using no mortar!
About 45 minutes to an hour later saw us at Hierve el Agua, a set of natural mineral pools in a most stunning location.
Perched atop a high cliff top, the views were pretty stunning indeed!
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t perfect for us (a little rain blew past), but it didn’t stop me having a dip whilst Sarah assumed the photo duties.
Whilst I paddled, chatted with a French traveller, and a small posse from our bus (who hailed from Tijuana in Mexicos north), Sarah wandered off and took in the sights, which were pretty spectacular.
What followed was a very late lunch where we were deposited at a restaurant on the outskirts of Mitla where there was a ridiculously priced buffet on offer (one of those all you can eat affairs where you’ll never eat the $120.00 peso value you hand over).
Suitably unimpressed, we banded together with a Japanese tourist and an English speaking Mexican (another one from Tijuana), wandered up the highway a little bit and found a restaurant of our own!
To round off the afternoon, there was a tour through (complemented with tastings) a Mezcal distillery, conveniently enough, it was also the place where they’d tried to push the buffet lunch on us.
This wasn’t of great interest to us, especially after our experiences already with a tour to Tequila.
The final stop was a little better, a weaving co-operative in the town of Teotitlan.
Here we were talked through the weaving process, shown the looms, and shown the incredible colours they are able to produce (to dye the yarn), simply from natural products, such as moss, insects, rocks, etc.
Some of the pieces on display truly tempted us, but still inside the first 3 months of our trip, and having only recently sent a parcel back home to Australia, a lovely rug or carpet wasn’t really something we fancied hauling around with us.
Not prepared to yet give up on Oaxacan cuisine, we decided that evening (on what was in fact a pretty wet and miserable night) to loosen the purse strings a little and try a local place recommended in our guidebook.
Feeling adventurous, I went all out and ordered the De la Milpa (Chicken breast with Grasshopper, Quesillo & Corn in a Squash blossom sauce), whilst Sarah opted for the Guelaguetza (Chicken breast marinated with Purslane, Cactus & Sweet Potato chips in a black Mole).
They were both pretty tasty, the only disappointment being the overly salty cheese (I thought this at least) used to stuff my chicken.
We also made sure we left room for dessert as well, to make it a truly indulgent dinner experience!
A few side trips (which will be covered in subsequent posts) and other random adventures rounded out our Oaxaca experience.
On the way back from one such side trip to Yagul, I indulged in my first haircut of the trip (to try and combat the onset of an 80’s style mullet), and for the princely sum of $30.00 pesos, it was a pretty decent job (next job is for a barber to attack 3 months of beard growth…)
Oaxaca City also banks a bit of tourist trade on the back of its chocolate industry, so we decided to investigate some of the area for ourselves.
It was pretty different to the processed stuff we’re used to, but pretty tasty all the same (probably just a lot grainier in texture).
We were able to watch them blend a chocolate mix to order (a bit like coffee really), before we indulged in a chocolate Malteadas (milkshake). Lightly spiced with a hint of cinnamon, it didn’t disappoint!
Our next destination hadn’t been abundantly clear to us (we’d suspected it would be San Cristobal) when one morning at our hostel breakfast we got chatting to a Kiwi (New Zealander) couple, Tabitha and Mikey who were on their way to a Spanish language school in Puerto Escondido.
A couple of emails later and it was decided.
We were off to Puerto Escondido for a week ourselves!
* These trips to both Mitla and Hierve el Agua can be made independently, however for the $150.00 pesos per person, we enjoyed the lack of hassle, as well as the extra stops this tour afforded.
* Ours was arranged through our hostel, however all of the tour operators in town seem to run the same tour at exactly the same price (we hunted around for some time trying to better it)