I’ve not travelled around the country as much as I’d hoped in the time that I’ve been in Mexico. Still not been to the coast, not been in up north at all, but I spent a few days this week visiting Oaxaca. It’s a pretty place. And hot. Kinda too hot to do much, frankly. I was there from Tuesday afternoon until Saturday lunchtime, and it was tough to have the energy in the baking-hot weather to do more than one thing a day. Normally when visiting places, I’m pretty get-up-and-go about stuff. Not in Oaxaca. It seemed to get hot around 10.30-11am, and it’d stay that way until sun down. Sight-seeing was exhausting and sweaty.
I’ve been having itchy feet recently, and when I was at the big bus station here in D.F. a few weeks ago, I really got the urge to go on a long bus journey. When I was doing my travelling around in 2008, bus journeys were something I really enjoyed. I love the feeling of having a less-abstract concept of the distance you have travelled. I could’ve paid a little bit extra and taken a one-hour flight, but that’s no fun. Six hours of Mexican landscape was what I wanted. Sadly, though, the window seat I booked was covered with a patterned part of the bus company logo.
Right, seriously, bus companies: listen up! Nobody gives a shit about your logo if it’s covering the window. The word window pretty much means something that you can look out of. If you cover that up, you are completely and utterly disrespecting your customers. So for six hours, I had to look out of a thin sliver at the front of my seat area which wasn’t covered in a dotted red pattern. For about an hour of the journey, the bus winds through some mountains. I’m not overly good with heights, and seeing just a thin sliver of very-low metal barrier in front of a huge drop did nothing for my enjoyment of the journey. I put my head down and watched an episode of Game of Thrones on my iPad and waited for flat land to re-appear.
I was visiting my friend Sam. He lives in the north of the city, up a hill with small houses painted in bleached bright colours, and narrow cobbled streets. Getting to and from the downtown area involved waiting on a corner, any corner, and hopping on a bus. As in Mexico City, the buses in Oaxaca would likely fail most road-worthiness tests in other countries. They are loud, too. Not just the vehicles, that on the cobbled uphill streets occasionally sounded like parts would fall off; but the music, too. The buses seemed to be privately owned, not part of a company that runs things. So each bus driver does what the heck he wants when following his chosen routes. That often means playing music or having loud conversations over the radio. And one time, I saw a driver using his cell phone. Nice. Plus the buses often have a salesman. Some guy who’ll sit in the front passenger side seat and shout the destination of the bus to people on the street, drumming up trade. And because these are private buses, they want as many passengers as possible. This is often frustrating if you are already on the bus. In busier parts of the city, the bus will kerb-crawl while the guy shouts out of the window, hoping for one more passenger.
What I saw of the downtown area is fairly compact. It’s pretty, too. Sam recommended a coffee shop, Café Brujula, and I began every day there. Delicious organic cappuccino, which I took to go, and would sit in the shadow of a big church, back and arse against the nice cool stone, hiding from the sun. Sight-seeing was slightly retarded by the presence of a big protest by teachers in the city centre. The whole of the Zócalo and its surrounding streets were full of people, tents, signs, and tarps strung over the roads to shade the protesters. They wanted stuff. Not sure what. They’ve been there for a week or so already, apparently. It all seemed quite sedate there, just people sat around not doing much. Mostly not teaching children. It did make it very tough, though to see what one would normally see as a visitor. It was slightly frustrating, but, y’know, the teachers and their students’ educations are more important than me missing out on seeing a nice store or museum or something.
The timing of my visit was to coincide with the Diablos Rojos, my local (and favoured) baseball team, playing a series of three games down there. I won’t go into detail, just that you can see some photos of the lovely ballpark over at Flip Flop Fly Ball.
Anyway, onto the important stuff: the stuff that went into my mouth. Food and mezcal. Oaxaca’s food was delicious. It didn’t really help the lethargy I was experiencing because of the heat, either. Big lunches every day. Mole amarillo, mole negro, mole colorado. All fantastic. calendas (spinach-y leaves stuffed with queso Oaxaca), swordfish sopes, and tacos de chapulines. That’s grasshoppers. A small plate of hundreds and hundreds of fried grasshoppers. Grab a tortilla, and a couple of spoons-worth of grasshoppers, some guacamole, some salsa. Roll that shit up and mmmm, mmmm, mmmm! Delicious.
Likewise, the Mezcal. I’m a fan anyway, but on Friday night, we went to a wonderful place called Mezcaloteca. An appointment was necessary, and duly made. When we arrived we had to ring the doorbell to be let in. Inside it was beautiful. A dark wood L-shaped counter with green bankers lights dotted along the bar, and old drug store-style shelving filled with bottles of clear or brown liquid with white labels. We were there for a mezcal tasting. For 100 pesos (£4.54/€5.62/US$6.98) we each got three shots of different mezcales. The guy stood with us the whole time, explaining which variation of the maguey plant were used for which mezcales. Our first two shots, we both had one a piece, but for our third shot, he poured two different mezcales out that we were both to try. One of them was 20 years old. The other was, I think, 15 years old. One of them, there were only 75 litres produced, the other, only 50 litres. They were both amazing. And there’s a moment when you are taking a sip of something that there is so little of in the world, a moment when I felt very honoured to be drinking it. After our three shot tasting, we wanted another drink, so he allowed us to split another three shots for extra tasting. Should you ever be in Oaxaca, I thoroughly recommend going there. It was the best thing I did while I was there.
For the homeward journey, I had a better view. I sat on the other side of the bus so I could see the mountains that I missed on the outward journey. And, it didn’t look that scary once I could see it all. It’s a beautiful place, Mexico.
(Some of the photos used above were taken with the iPod. The iPod camera is kinda shitty, thus the ropey quality. Annoyingly, though, I’m often too lazy to get my camera out of my bag when my iPod is right there in my trouser pocket.)