At 11:30pm we were at the TAPO terminal with the rest of the world. Fifteen minutes before the bus was scheduled to depart, we joined the Equipaje line to check our bags in. The UNO bus is $45 for a one-way overnight bus ride to Oaxaca. It's the most expensive for two reasons: comfort and safety. We highly recommend this first-class bus. The seats recline like nobody's business. There's a footrest, a small pillow, and a blanket. There's a bathroom in the back and a kitchenette if you want some hot coffee or tea. The bus heads straight for Oaxaca so you can sleep for six hours without worrying about a thing. The driver assured us of a 6am arrival in Oaxaca. Sure enough, the elevator music started to play at 5:45am as we pulled into the Oaxaca terminal.
Our cab ride to the Paulina Youth Hostel was P25. The receptionist at Paulina let us in and stored our backpacks in the storage room. Check-in time wasn't until 11am which sucked big time; six hours to kill before we could actually settle down. Luckily, Cafe Alex across the street opened at 7am where we had an amazing breakfast of tamales and huevos rancheros under the morning sun.
Oaxaca City is definitely more beautiful than Mexico City. The cobblestone streets, the colorful houses and wrought-iron window gates give the neighborhood more character. Unfortunately after 10am, it's as smoggy as Mexico City because of the big buses belching black smoke. Walking the city before 9am is best for getting a feel for the neighborhood and the city's Zocalo.
By 9am, we had to take care of business--we want to go to the beach! Oaxaca City depends on tourism. They are very serious about helping people with questions. The Oaxaca Tourist Office is one of the most organized departments we've seen in Mexico. An older man who worked in the office laid out our options for traveling to Mazunte Beach or to Puerto Escondido. At this point, we were vying for Mazunte to avoid the big tour groups.
Our cab driver earlier that morning had told us about the suburbanes that take you to the city of Pochutla. From Pochutla, you can catch a ride to the beaches. At the suburbanes station we reserved two round-trip tickets. We scheduled the next four days at the beach. We walked back to the bus terminal and reserved UNO bus tickets back to Mexico City on January 2 at 12:30am. We also reserved our hotel rooms for when we get back to Oaxaca City from the beach. It wasn't even noon yet and we already had most things taken care of. We only have one more thing to worry about: where to sleep when we get to Mazunte.
To reward ourselves, we had lunch at El Meson and enjoyed their eat-all-you-can buffet for P48. I had the waitress write down the meals we had because they were all excellent. Plus, they had rice (insert Alleluia praises here)! We had the following: Guisado de Res which is like the Filipino Afritada and a super delicious sour green soup called Verdolagas con carne de Puevco; she told us the vegetable was called oja.
Before the sun set, we walked through the market in search of chapulines, grasshoppers that are fried in oil, salt, lime, and chili. Right next to the Mezcal booths inside the market was a lady with a basket of chapulines and for P10, you can have your own very bowl! I have no clue why you would want more than that anyway. They're a little bit more chewy than crunchy. And when you bite into them, you'll get that soft squish and get the juice. Que barbaridad! It's not the first time we've had insects but for experience's sake, we had up to about fifteen of the little suckers. We took them with us when we sat by one of the outdoor bars on the Zocalo and ordered sangritas to push them down. Sangritas, not to be confused with sangrias, are tequila shots in brandy sniffers followed by a shot of tomato juice.
For dinner, we sat at one of the street food stalls all over the Zocalo where we had more flor de calabaza and championes tortillas. They added some kind of cheese in there and oh my, they were yummy! They're bigger than the normal tacos we've been having and you can watch the vendors toast them on their flat pans.
Just a little note about taking photographs: ask for the vendors' permission before you start shooting. They are a little bit shy and would laugh at your request. Don't just take their photographs without letting them know first. You don't want a bad start before your food is served. Also watch out for people who stand too close to you when walking around the Zocalo. It was the holiday season and Oaxaca City was busier than ever. If you choose to buy jewelry from one of the street kids, be forewarned that their friends will follow you after your first purchase. It's difficult to say no but usually a simple, No, gracias, No, thank you, will do.
TAPO - Mexico City
Via Metro Linea 1 or pink line
San Lazaro stop.
Wah-ha-ka. Oaxaca City is a six-hour bus ride from Mexico City.
Paulina Youth Hostel
Trujano 321 col. Centro
Oaxaca, Oaxaca 68000
P100 deposit each person.
P180 per night for a private double room.
Check-in time is 11am.
Check-out is 1pm.
Facilities: The place is a ranch-style building with a garden. We didn't like its dorm-style setting. Your rooms don't lock so you keep your stuff locked in a safe. There are no private bathrooms, only a communal bathroom and showers. There's an open terrace with a TV but no pay phone (you have to walk two blocks away and talk with all the street noise) and no Internet access. The girls at the desk are not very friendly like at Hostal Moneda in Mexico City. But the hostel does get four pluses from us: the place is clean all the time plus there's strong water pressure and hot water for 24 hours. Also, orthopedic beds.
Our cab driver from TAPO recommended this place. They have amazing Mexican breakfasts that are not too scary for tourists. As we were eating, a lot of non-Mexicans started to walk in ordering pancakes and toast.
Oaxaca Tourist Office
Inside the Palacio Municipal on Independecia opposite the Alameda
On Hidalgo 805 from 8am to 11:30pm. How can you say no to a buffet this good? Avoid the "American" stuff. Ironically, it's what the Mexicans go for.