Written by Casa Machaya on 06 Nov, 2008
If visitors to Oaxacan cooking school La Casa de los Sabores came away with nothing more than great recipes and a gastronomic meal rich in unique herb- and spice-accented flavor combinations that are the hallmark of Oaxacan cuisine, they would leave fully satisfied. But a…Read More
If visitors to Oaxacan cooking school La Casa de los Sabores came away with nothing more than great recipes and a gastronomic meal rich in unique herb- and spice-accented flavor combinations that are the hallmark of Oaxacan cuisine, they would leave fully satisfied. But a visit with owner and chef extraordinaire Pilar Cabrera also inspires and sates travelers with a sensual day-long immersion into sights, sounds, smells and, yes, tastes and time-tested recipes of southern Mexico. As always, a recent culinary odyssey with Pili, as she is known, began at La Casa de los Sabores first thing in the morning – at 9:30 a.m. Over the next few hours, she introduced me and the others in the class to the wisdom and experience of her great matriarchal culinary tradition. Pili learned the basics and the subtleties, including the mysteries of the famed seven moles, from her grandmother, who learned from her grandmother before her. She is a Oaxaca-born master of southern Mexico cookery as well as international epicurean trends, capable of sharing the secrets of preparing the most multifarious meal with novice and expert alike – in English and in Spanish. Our day began with Pili's informal talk about the menu and the foods she was going to introduce us to in one of Oaxaca’s colorful markets. The extra attention to the key ingredients of Oaxacan cuisine kept us spellbound. "What we will achieve today with the chilis," she told us, "is hot and tropical … with the Chile de agua, you will see we use it not only for flavor but color as well, and I will teach you how we keep this beautiful, brilliant green."Once prepared with this knowledge, we all embarked on a shopping trip to the well-known marketplace, Mercado de La Merced, armed with multihued bolsas – market bags – to carry the compras – purchases. Pili had readied a partial shopping list, but, she advised us, she always adds "surprises," such as fresh foodstuffs which peasant women from the mountains sometimes bring down. "When you have a chance to find something real special or unusual, you buy and incorporate into the comida," she explained. "Today, for instance, we look for mushrooms, because they grow so beautifully in the rainy season. Also, we will see what kind of fresh fruit we can use for the dessert."Her insights into the unique stores and small factories enriched the short walk to the market. A rich bouquet drew us into a mill that was making chocolate from scratch. As Pilar told us about the ingredients – cacao, cinnamon, almonds and sugar – the owner welcomed us with, "do you want to taste?" The lesson began in earnest when Pilar began methodically searching through the indoor and outdoor portions of the marketplace and exchanging pesos for its plethora of fresh produce. "Look at that lady sitting there, what she has in those bowls," she said. "She just brought those raspberries and blackberries from the Sierra Juarez. We can use them for the dessert. Notice how fresh and beautiful. The mushrooms beside them, see the size, how big and the bright orange color … this is the time of year, but not for our recipe today … Over here, we don’t buy the big green tomatillos. I prefer the little ones grown locally because they are not acidy like the others, and they have much more flavor, perfect for the salsa we are preparing today." She encouraged us to smell the herbs as she explained their use in particular Oaxacan dishes. "Today we use this hierba santa for the mole," she said as she was examining samples of the fragrant leaf until she'd found the best and freshest for storage in one of our bolsas. "But we also use it to wrap fish and make tamales." Lynet who had been in Puerto Escondido on the Oaxacan coast for six months, expressed the wish of many as she lamented, "I wish I’d been in this class at the beginning of our trip."Our enthusiasm and our appetites grew once we returned to Doña Pili’s well-equipped, spacious kitchen. Its wide counters, food preparation island and eight-burner gas stove opening onto the lush courtyard dining area made this cocina into an ideal classroom. While we were reviewing printed recipe sheets for the dishes we were about to prepare, she displayed our purchases in baskets filled with the components of each recipe to help us learn why we bought what. Then we spent the next two hours preparing a sumptuous four-course meal. Mary, her sous-chef, did preparatory work such as halving limes, slicing chilies and preparing chicken stock and poultry for the mole, freeing Pili to teach us the rituals and secrets of Oaxacan culinary seduction. Sparks from Pilar’s hearth of experience ignited even the most learned in the class as she pointed, touched, and passed around each item we purchased, telling us how it would be incorporated into the meal. Once the actual cooking began, she put her bilingualism to good use, giving instructions and asking questions in one language, then repeating it in the other, as required by some of her visitors. "Necesito otro ayudante para quesillo, I need another helper for the cheese." Pilar might as well be a Maestra de Español, a Spanish teacher to boot. Everyone learned each task and participated in the preparation of virtually all menu items. And as the group peeled, diced and sautéd, Pili's gems of information flowed on. We learned much more than how to achieve flavor. Pilar taught us techniques on how to attain desired tones and textures: "A lot of people ask me about cleaning mushrooms," she said at one point, demonstrating the correct technique. "Now watch to see how we clean and seed this kind of chili," she pointed out while preparing chile guajillo for the mole. "Once we start cooking these chile de agua, we need to remember to always check them and turn them constantly.""Look for the hot part of the comal … now this is when you know when to turn it over," she said while demonstrating the art and science of making tortillas.Every once in a while a new recipe rolled off the tip of her tongue as we worked … other dishes we could prepare with this particular mole; different fillings for the quesadillas such as potato, chorizo or huitlacoche, the exotic corn mold ... the texture we would want for the corn masa if we were making tamales rather than tortillas. Soon, aprons removed, we were ready to feast. But first – "now before we sit down, remember in the market I told you there were two types of gusano worm? Here they are, so who wants to try?" she asked. "Now know about mezcal. Taste this one Alvin brought, and tell us how it seems to you. Here’s another kind. What do you think is different about this one?" We sat down at a table exquisitely set with local hand-made linens, dishes and stemware. Bottles of Mexican and Chilean red wine were already breathing. The fine music of Oaxacan songstress Lila Downs serenaded us in the background. Pilar reminded us that her grandmother and other relatives usually prepare their comidas with meat and all vegetables mixed together in the mole, a plate of rice on the side, and a bowl of broth. But our meal, like all the recipes she prepares with visitors at La Casa de los Sabores, would be her modern take on all the elements and flavor combinations of the best that contemporary Oaxacan cookery has to offer.It was a celebration of every ingredient. We began with wild mushroom, onion, tomato, chili and cheese stuffing in the quesadillas de champiñones (mushroom quesadillas), complemented perfectly by smoky salsa verde asada (green sauce from the grill) served in its molcajete. Then it was time to calm our palates with bright yellow crema de flor de calabaza (cream of squash blossom soup), garnished with a drizzle of real cream, toasted calabaza seeds and indeed fresh squash blossoms. The main course or plato fuerte was mole amarillo – tender slices of chicken breast atop a sea of aromatic deep saffron-colored mole, accompanied by a medley of crunchy-fresh steamed vegetables. To conclude, arroz con leche (rice pudding), speared with a length of wild vanilla bean and crowned with berries that had been picked only the day before. I left convinced that the grandest chefs at the most trendy Manhattan beaneries would be hard-pressed to compete with this petite Oaxaqueña's ability to marry the region’s complex cooking with post-modern attention to color, texture and flare. For Pilar Cabrera, it comes naturally. For the rest of us, it comes with a visit to her home. Close
Written by Casa Machaya on 21 Feb, 2007
Porfirio Santiago is at his loom, diligently weaving a massive 2 x 3 meter rug with traditional designs, from memory, with respresentations of Zapotec diamonds, rainfall, maize, and mountains…just as his father Tomás, grandfather Ildefonso, and great grandfather before him. Wife Gloria is carding a…Read More
Porfirio Santiago is at his loom, diligently weaving a massive 2 x 3 meter rug with traditional designs, from memory, with respresentations of Zapotec diamonds, rainfall, maize, and mountains…just as his father Tomás, grandfather Ildefonso, and great grandfather before him. Wife Gloria is carding a mix of white and caramel colored raw wool. Behind them, hanging over the black wrought iron banister overlooking the sunny open courtyard, are drying batches of spun wool in tones of green, brown, red, and blue, byproducts of the use of natural dyes from the añil or indigo plant, seed pods, mosses, pecan, pomegranate zest, and of course the cochineal bug. Such ritual in Teotitlán del Valle, an ancient tribal town about a half hour’s drive from Oaxaca, has been played out continuously on a daily basis since about 1535, when Dominican bishop Juan López Dezárate arrived in the village and introduced borregos (caprine sheeplike animals yielding wool) and the first loom, shipped from Spain across the Atlantic. The use of natural dyes and weaving predate the conquest, but it was the European invasion which jump-started a cottage industry producing serapes, blankets, and tapetes (rugs). Over generations the village grew, and began specializing in solely rugs, initially used as trade and sale items within a commercial network of towns in other parts of the state, and to a lesser extent other regions of the country. With the completion of the pan-American highway connecting Oaxaca with Mexico City in the late 1940s, the market opened up. By the 1950s air travel had begun to facilitate greater export as well as a tourist industry which quickly took notice of a broad range of handcrafted items from foreign lands. Artesanias Casa Santiago is comprised of a single extended family whose main production facility, showroom, and homestead has been on the town’s main street since 1966. Then Porfirio occupied most of his working hours as a campesino in the fields, with rug production as a sideline. Over the decades he began spending fewer days working the land and more producing tapetes of both traditional Zapotec designs, and more recently based upon consumer demand, of modern patterns, reproducing themes from the masters of modern art and accepting custom orders such as the recent request for a wall hanging promoting Pentax cameras. Illustrative of the depth of this family tradition, five of Porfirio’s six siblings and their families are weavers, the other a preschool teacher. On Gloria’s side, while her siblings are members of a large well-known musical band which plays at municipal fiestas, weddings, quince años, and other rites of passage, they too are trade artisans, although more on a part-time basis. All of Porfirio and Gloria’s children work in the industry, as do their spouses. Three of four sons and their wives live on premises and work at all phases of production, with the fourth having his own taller just up the street. One son, Omar, is an architect, but is nevertheless an integral contributor to all aspects of the family business. One daughter and her husband work at the main facility, another is employed at her in-laws’ workshop and restaurant a couple of blocks away, and the last and her husband have their own home and rug business. Each child completed high school, deciding to thereafter keep the family tradition alive to the extent possible. As has been repeating for generations, the grandchildren, now 17 in number, while watching their parents and grandparents from infancy, begin learning in earnest at about 10 years of age, and by roughly 20 are proficient at all aspects of the operation. In terms of the division of labor, years ago women tended to dye, card, and spin, while the men were the weavers. Nowadays, at least in this family, each is fully capable of performing all tasks, although it’s exclusively men who work the largest looms requiring the greater strength and stamina. Another family convention has been the performing of important administrative duties for the town without monetary compensation, an aspect of voluntary community labor known as tequio. In 1931, Porfirio’s grandfather was mayor of the village, and more recently between 1996 and 1998, Porfirio himself was el presidente municipal. By then the job had become a 3-year unpaid post, nevertheless requiring a full-time commitment, necessitating doing the farming, raising family, and maintaining a rug business in the early morning hours or after dark. Yet the pride and sense of responsibility in serving one’s community took priority over concerns about being able to get all the work done in 24 hours that had to be completed. Even today, Porfirio on a seasonal basis splits his time between making and selling woolen products, and working the fields to supply the family with corn for making tortillas and tamales. Despite being one of the most personable families one could ever hope to happen upon in the Valley of Oaxaca, Don Porfirio et. al. don’t get the large tour buses stopping by their shop for exhibitions. Perhaps it’s the personalities of the family members which clearly doesn’t lend to the formality of onlookers seated in a gallery for a demonstration, followed by a hard sell. María Luísa and husband Jose Luís, Tomás, Hubo, and the rest of the family on hand seem to have learned from their parents to be more relaxed and engaging within a congenial informal setting. They’ll take you to see whatever galvanized metal, plastic, or clay pots happen to be in use for dyeing, and bring over a simple cardboard box to show you a half dozen or so natural substances used for coloring the wool. If Gloria isn’t available to card and spin, perhaps a daughter-in-law will shyly say that she’ll do it, smiling as she admits she’s not as good at is as her suegra. It’s a more real and honest attempt to demonstrate the way things are actually done in the Santiago family, not at all contrived, and absent any pretension whatsoever. It’s what drew me and my wife to Casa Santiago in 1993, for the purchase of our first tapete which even today continues to enhance our living room floor. It draws us back time and again for a visit, often with a spur-of-the-moment offer of a little mezcal with a botana, either alone, with friends and family visiting from Canada and the US, or with touring clients. While Casa Santiago has over time succeeded in adapting to changing domestic and international trends in terms of color tones and combinations, designs, and diversity of product (now also offering handbags, wall hangings, pillow covers, and more), it’s the longstanding, proud Zapotec custom of producing tightly woven, high quality traditional rugs which will live on through Porfirio, Gloria, and their lineage.Artensanias Casa Santiago, Av. Juarez 70, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca 70420. Tel: (951) 524-4154; (951) 524-4183. Web: http://www.artesaniascasasantiago.com.Close
Written by ext212 on 27 Oct, 2003
Back in Mexico City for the last day of our 11 day trip. We just wanted to catch up with some of the sights we had missed during the busy holiday week.
We took the Metro to the Palacio de Bellas Artes for the Luis…Read More
Back in Mexico City for the last day of our 11 day trip. We just wanted to catch up with some of the sights we had missed during the busy holiday week.
We took the Metro to the Palacio de Bellas Artes for the Luis Barragan exhibit. The New York Times featured the architect's work in their House & Home section before we left for this trip. There is also Casa Barragan, the architect's private house, which reopened for the new year but unfortunately required an appointment for a guided tour.
The Torre Latinoamericana is right outside the Bellas Artes. It has a viewing platform with telescopes on the 44th floor. We chose not to go up as we've already seen the smoggy city from Monte Alb. Around is Alameda Central, once the Aztec market and then the place of execution during the Spanish Inquisition. We missed the Museo Mural Diego Rivera at the park's west end. It houses Sueno de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central which was removed from the Hotel del Prado after the 1985 earthquake.
We did get to visit the Museo Frida Kahlo in Coyoacan. Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul or blue house is where she resided while married-slash-separated from Diego Rivera. They were remarried but lived in separate houses to allow private times with their queridas, or concubines. Frida Kahlo had an affair with Leon Trotsky, who has his own museum down the street. It has been said that Diego Rivera ran after Isamu Noguchi when he caught him with his wife.
Most of the original house plan remains intact. The kitchen still has their names in mosaic tiles. Her wheelchair is eerily parked in front of an unfinished canvas. Her bookshelf houses some of the most interesting titles. Her small bedroom is also arranged the way she left it, with photos of Communist leaders (including Mao Zedong) on the wall, some of her doll collection, a mirror on the ceiling of her bed's canopy and her plaster chest cast she painted after one of the accidents in 1951 that impaired her for the rest of her life. There is a reproduction of The Two Fridas (1939) out in the main hallway. Her journal rests inside a glass case showing some of its colorful pages. The tondo-shaped Still Life (1942), commissioned by the wife of Mexico's then-president Camacho and rejected because of its sexual references is displayed. Alongside it is Viva La Vida (1954), Long Live Life, painted before she succumbed to pulmonary embolism (or suicide, whichever you believe).
Before midnight, we checked out of Hostal Moneda and they arranged a cab ride to the airport the next morning.
All in all, Mexico was a whole new experience for us even though it's the fourth Spanish-speaking country we've visited. It's the kind of place where our being Asian did not come into play. No one cared and no one stared. We fended for ourselves using our little knowledge of Spanish. We planned what we could ahead of time and left the rest to adventure.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
10am to 8pm, P30 each
9am to 11pm, P35 to go up
Museo Mural Diego Rivera
10am to 6pm, Tuesday to Sunday
Museo Frida Kahlo or Casa Azul
Allende and Londres 247, Tuesday to Sunday for P35. No photos allowed.
Reads and Resources
I read Hayden Herrera's Frida Kahlo: The Paintings before my trip and brought with me Sandra Cisneros' inspiring Caramelo. As for guides, we used Footprints' Mexico Handbook and Moon's Oaxaca Guide. Google and hostelworld.com were both indispensable.Close
We gave ourselves enough time to catch our suburbanes ride back to Oaxaca City. Lunch at Restaurant Lichita in Pochutla offers simple yet flavorful home-cooked Mexican dishes that came in all sorts of orange and brown sauces. Alejandro, the owner's son, introduced himself to us…Read More
We gave ourselves enough time to catch our suburbanes ride back to Oaxaca City. Lunch at Restaurant Lichita in Pochutla offers simple yet flavorful home-cooked Mexican dishes that came in all sorts of orange and brown sauces. Alejandro, the owner's son, introduced himself to us after I asked the kitchen staff about getting my hands on one of the Lichita tote bags they had hanging near the sink. Only the best customers get the bag, but Alejandro liked my idea of taking photos of my bag all over New York City. He studied in Chicago for a year in 2000 so he spoke a little English and I promised to send him an "I Love NY" shirt in return.
Six hours, one rest stop (where I said hello to a donkey) and one police inspection in the middle of the highway later, our suburbanes pulled in its station in Oaxaca City. We checked in Hotel Francia and got ready for the 7:30pm mass in Santo Domingo. The hotel staff is extremely helpful, even lending us an iron to get our clothes ready for New Year's Eve mass.
Templo Santo Domingo glows with a wealth of art, with its ceiling covered with saints, cherubs and Bible-story paintings. Almost everything is in gold, a sign of its times. We sat through a 30 minute rosary session and an hour mass, all in Spanish.
After the mass, we walked around the public market, Mercado Juarez, to buy Mezcal, Valentina hot sauce and some chili powder to take with us back to the United States. Inside you will see booths full of fresh fruit and vegetables (try the Oaxaca bananas!) and some food stands where Les Halles New York chef Anthony Bourdain sat to eat in his TV show, A Cook's Tour.
There are a lot of outdoor tables by the Zocalo's restaurants. We sat there to welcome in the new year while watching the fireworks and drinking more Mezcal. There were a lot of street vendors selling luces (means "lights"; sparklers like you've held on Fourth of July) and egg shells filled with confetti and flour. One of the vendors gestured hitting the egg over her head when I asked what they were for. When the clock stroke midnight, strangers cracked their eggshells on our heads and soon, everybody was running around the plaza play fighting with eggs, flour, confetti, and foam sprays. Some of us got into heated battles, spending P100 for more eggs. Waiters were running around to make sure bills were paid, restaurant managers were trying to keep their party pooper customers from leaving and sorry policemen tried their best to stop those who took aim at the richer Mexicans in the balconies with prime spots and table reservations.
There was no official loud countdown or a Waterford crystal ball being dropped from a skyscraper, but our Oaxaca City new year was unlike any other we've ever experienced.
On Lazaro Cardena #79 across from Hotel Sta. Cruz. Ask for Alejandro. We ate some amazing Mexican dishes here by nodding to everything our waitress recited to us. They have excellent melon juice! Highly recommended.
20 De Noviembre 212
Oaxaca, Oaxaca 68000
$49 per night for a double room with private bath, TV, phone, and fan.
Templo Santo Domingo
Behind the Plaza Santo Domingo on Macedonia Alcala. Open daily from 7am to 1pm and 5pm until a service ends, only closed during siesta. Close
By 4am, we've checked out of Paulina Youth Hostel and cabbed to the suburbanes station for our 4:30am departure. The SUV seats eleven people and we two were the only non-Mexican passengers. We talked to a family in the back of the van who were…Read More
By 4am, we've checked out of Paulina Youth Hostel and cabbed to the suburbanes station for our 4:30am departure. The SUV seats eleven people and we two were the only non-Mexican passengers. We talked to a family in the back of the van who were curious about where we were heading. When we mentioned Mazunte, they remarked Que bonita, how pretty it is. They confirmed that there are a lot of tourists but that it shouldn't stop us from going. Nothing was stopping us at this point: we've gone very far in our adventure to get ourselves to the beach.
The drive from Oaxaca to Pochutla was equal parts awe-inspiring and horrifying. The landscape is impressive but as we entered the mountains, our driver's, shall we say, nonchalance at passing trucks on curvy roads both impressed and scared us. So when we rounded a bend and ran over a dog, we both leapt out of our seats. We looked at the other passengers and they smiled at our reaction as if to say, Couldn't be helped, with a shake of their heads. Our driver drove on like it was only a hump.
We were parked in front of the Hotel Sta. Cruz in Pochutla before 11am and made sure we were on the Oaxaca City return trip passenger list for noon four days later. As always, cab drivers solicited us to take their cabs. We've already crossed out Puerto Escondido from our list and have decided that Mazunte was going to be our destination. The Mexican store owners told us to wait for a collectivo which would take us to Mazunte or Zipolite. Collectivos are pickup trucks with makeshift rooves to cover the back. They seat about ten in the back but they are always filled as long as passengers can still stand. We stood throughout the thirty-minute ride and finally caught a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.
When the collectivo passed by Mazunte, we immediately saw a lot of tour buses and decided to stay on board to check out the scene in Zipolite. A VW minivan full of hippies (complete with dreadlocks and tie-dye shirts) drove by us in Zipolite. We decided that Mazunte full of Mexican tourists was better than Zipolite full of hippies. Later, we found out that the tour buses were only day-trippers visiting the Tortuga Museum (Turtle Museum) next to the Mazunte Beach entrance.
First order of business was to get a place to stay for three nights. Dona Porfiria was slicing vegetables in her kitchen when we asked her if she knew of any available cabana. It turned out that she owned the three blue cabana right outside and one was just vacated. Our cabanas a small studio with its own bathroom and ceiling fan for P200 a night. From reading our guidebooks, we expected a fee of about P30, but we couldn't give up what might be the only available place on the beach. We later realized that P30 only buys us space to pitch a tent or to set up a hammock! For $20 a night with our own bathroom and fan? We shouldn't even have winced at the price. Hot water? Not in 80-degree humid weather. Mosquitoes? Plenty. Our room, the middle one in a set of three, was the only one with windows. We were able to leave them open with only a bed sheet to try keep the mosquitoes out. At least we had a draft coming in at night and some light in the morning.
That afternoon happened to be when the Tortuga Museum put on a turtle release fundraiser. You can sponsor your own baby turtle for about P30 each. You then free your turtle and watch it crawl on the sand to the ocean with the other turtles. Although a hundred eggs hatch per clutch, sea turtles are still considered endangered.
Atlantida Suburbanes Station
Oficina Martiz is on La Noria No. 101. They mean SUVs when they say suburbanes. From Oaxaca to Pochutla, the earliest departure is at 4:30am. The six-hour ride cost us P120 each making our round trip ride a total of P480 for two people.
Dona Porfiria Cabana
P200 per night for a one-bedroom with private bathroom, just right for two people. Dona Porfiria also washed our dirty shirts for P25 when we ran out of clean clothes. She told us P15 but upped her "fee" when we picked up our laundry. Tiene mucho, she said. Too much. Dona Porfiria might look ninety years old but she was a true business woman.
Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga
The four-hectare complex distributes information regarding conservation and legislation for turtle protection and conduct scientific and technological research for turtle management, development and conservation. They have crazy and short hours I wish I wrote down for you. We never made it in.Close
Written by ext212 on 17 Oct, 2003
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…Read More
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.Close
Written by Marianne on 21 Nov, 2000
On the days approaching Christmas the zocalo becomes more animated. Every day the central square seems to become fuller: more balloon vendors, more traditional food stalls, more arts and craft stands, more pottery displayed on the pavement. Droves of people slowly mill around the square.…Read More
On the days approaching Christmas the zocalo becomes more animated. Every day the central square seems to become fuller: more balloon vendors, more traditional food stalls, more arts and craft stands, more pottery displayed on the pavement. Droves of people slowly mill around the square. Some sit down on the long wooden benches and order hot chocolate and buñeulos, deep fried, sweet tortillas, served in earthenware bowls, which are thrown backwards across your shoulder smashed into smithereens All day the contestants are setting up wooden tables. Preparations are in full swing. Big boxes are opened to reveal pink and white masterpieces, depicting nativity scenes complete with Joseph and Mary the donkey, the three wise men, painstakingly carved.Judges mingle with the crowd. Prizes are awarded, sculptures go back into their boxes. Everyone wanders off for dinner or samples the fares of the various vendors who have set up shop. Suddenly hundreds of bright, coloured lights in the air, the fireworks display to end the evening.Close
Artist Manuel Reyes aspires to exhibit his work in art galleries in Oaxaca and Mexico City. Give him that exposure over the next couple of years, and there’s little doubt his genius will be known in New York, Chicago, and further abroad. American, Canadian…Read More
Artist Manuel Reyes aspires to exhibit his work in art galleries in Oaxaca and Mexico City. Give him that exposure over the next couple of years, and there’s little doubt his genius will be known in New York, Chicago, and further abroad. American, Canadian and European art collectors are already tapping their Mexican networks to figure out how to make their way to his modest home and workshop in the village of Yanhuitlan, an hour and a half outside of the city of Oaxaca, to marvel at his artistry … and buy it up. Reyes was born in Mexico City (d.o.b. 20/12/72) to Oaxacan parents. He balks at any suggestion that he is not pure Oaxacan: "My parents are from the Mixteca Alta, right in this region of the state, and I’ve always considered myself a Oaxacan. That’s my heritage, my birthright. I just happen to have been born out of state. While I’ve had training from some of the grand masters of Mexican art, I’ve developed a large part of my artistic style from watching and speaking to local artists right here in the Mixteca."Reyes began studying art in 1990. He attended the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas in Xochimilco, Mexico City. He moved to Cuernavaca in 1995, where he was mentored by the likes of Roger Von Gunten, Joy Laville, Francisco Lastra and Juan Soriano. He studied predominantly seriography, sculpture and painting. In 2003 Reyes returned to the Mixteca, and has since then re-established his roots. "The lessons I learned through my formal training have been invaluable, but I gain inspiration and have adopted techniques not solely from my maestros, to whom I owe a great deal, but also from the artists and craftspeople of the Oaxacan district of Nochixtlán." Reyes works together with his wife Maricela, a gifted artist in her own right. In fact their six-year-old daughter Natalia does ceramics with her mother, and painting with Manuel. "Some of our pieces are not only inspired by Natalia, but she actually participates in their creation. Look at this oil mixed with sand on canvas, with its fanciful and childlike figures. Natalia actually began the piece, and I just brought to fruition what was in her mind and she had already begun to put to paper.""My main influences are Rufino Tamayo for my painting, and Maribel Portela for my sculpture," he continues. "But what I’ve learned from the people of my culture has been invaluable to my work … the use of a wood-burning kiln made of mud and brick, about the different kinds of clays for sculpting --- many of which are available in Oaxaca --- and how to mix different kinds of soils to create a broad range of paint colors and tones, and textures. In the end my pieces are products of my local environment, or at times made from materials I’ve sourced from other parts of the country."While Reyes obtains his clays from many different areas, most are from four main locales: a riverbed about a kilometer from his home, upstate at Huajuapan de León, the town of Santa María Cuquila, and from Zacatecas, northwest of the nation’s capital. Each compound has different qualities. His Zacatecan clay is strong and has a sandy texture, making it suitable for sculpting his large, almost life-size human figures; more utilitarian pieces such as plates and cups are made with earth from Cuquila; pieces which he intends to burnish are sculpted from clay from Huajuapan de León; and he mixes local soil with the Zacatecan earth to yield a more malleable and easily workable clay. For colors, Reyes often looks to other parts of the nation so as to enable him to obtain the variety he needs. "That painting hanging in our kitchen provides a good example of the range of colors I derive from combining different earths. Many of my paints come from the environment. I brought a kilo of clay from Chihuahua and used it to make paint for that male figure looking skyward. That white is an oxide." Indeed the breadth of colors he is able to create for use on both his sculptures and his paintings is remarkable.Manuel’s canvases are generally "mixed technique" as he refers to them, a combination of oil, acrylic and natural earth. Depending on the inspiration for a particular work, and the imagery he seeks to convey, the order and manner of application and the texture and origin of the soil applied, will vary. Reyes goes on to explain the sexual imagery captured in many pieces from his current crop of sculptures: "I’ve been doing a fair number with nude males since 2005, not initially by specific design, but rather because that’s what is often depicted in pre-Hispanic art and representations of day-to-day activities, and that’s the kind of work that I’ve enjoyed doing over the past three years. When you look at the earliest Zapotec clay figures, and in fact those dating to Olmec and earlier times, that’s what my ancestors were creating. A number of sculptures portray hope and prayer as well, so much a part of ancient times, with head looking upward to the heavens and hands raised." When questioned about the over-representation in his figures of males with dangling phalluses, Reyes points to a couple of female pieces: "Look at that female warrior over there. But notice the belt I made for her, with penises hanging from it, her trophies."Reyes readily acknowledges that this is still a business, his livelihood, and when gay male collectors began taking an interest in this phase of his artistic development, it motivated him to continue with it and further experiment with the theme of male sexuality as depicted in the codices and sculptures of earlier civilizations. But Manuel’s work also reflects his personal interests and passions, his reverence for Oaxaca’s present day rich cultural traditions, and his eclecticism whereby he’s prepared to push the outer boundary of what’s traditionally considered art, at times combining aestheticism with pure functionality: "I know a really good carpenter here in Yanhuitlan, and thought of combining our two trades, sort of as a fun project. I asked him to make me a cabinet with shelves and doors. I painted it and then put six mask tiles, each with a fair bit of relief, on the door panels. It came out really funky and a collector bought it within a couple of weeks of when I’d finished it.Reyes has begun experimenting with masks as an art form. Their use at fiestas and for parades is common practice in Oaxaca, the tradition dating back perhaps 3,000 years, when permanent settlements were first established in the region. He pays tribute to the ritualistic use of masks with one of his sculptures, a marcher holding a mask in front of his face, still a common sight at Oaxacan celebrations today. On a recent visit to Reyes’ home, the music of Lou Reed was playing. Rock, blues and other genres of the 60’s and 70’s are included in this extraordinary man’s list of delights. And of course, they are reflected in his work. He’s created clay painted figures of John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, simply as a way of paying homage to some of his rock idols. Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven was the inspiration for one of his more "traditional" sculptures, with four men each climbing up a rung of a ladder made of reinforced steel covered with twine, each step framed by horn-shaped clouds. More recently Reyes has become interested in depicting vestiges of the material culture of his indigenous forebears, combining his gift as a skilled artist with the work of an applied archaeologist. For example he recently found a potsherd with a painted design, and through extrapolation has created an entire, accurately crafted three-footed vessel. Through his art, Manuel Reyes is continually looking for new modes of self-expression, while at the same time reflecting on diverse cultures, both present-day and of the near and distant past. He’s a true renaissance man whose golden touch will undoubtedly, over time, become appreciated by an increased following. The exhibitions of his work in Huajuapan de León and at the Museo del Arte Popular in San Bartolo Coyotepec where one piece remains on permanent display, pale compared to what’s in store for Manuel … and art aficionados around the globe. Close
Written by Casa Machaya on 29 May, 2007
Oaxaca is traditionally known as an adult destination with ruins, churches, museums, and fine art tradition. But having visited the region with our daughter since 1991, and now having been living here for a few years, touring friends with children around the sites, I’m…Read More
Oaxaca is traditionally known as an adult destination with ruins, churches, museums, and fine art tradition. But having visited the region with our daughter since 1991, and now having been living here for a few years, touring friends with children around the sites, I’m confident young families contemplating a visit should set aside any trepidation regarding children’s enjoyment and parents’ ability to have a romantic getaway. Concerns might include if there will be enough sites to hold your child’s interest, being able to visit the vestiges of pre-Hispanic civilizations without the kids getting bored, if you’ll be able to fit in a couple of quiet dinners, if you’ll have to pay a premium to have a pool, and the wisdom of saving Oaxaca for another time, without the family.My suggestions are pragmatic and include where to stay, tour routes stops which will hold the interests of children and adolescents, and activities in and around the city geared to youthful vacationers. Where to stay, and swimHotel San Felipe is a change from the hustle and bustle of downtown; the pool is in a picturesque setting flecked with rural neighborhoods and hills. Friends also enjoy Holiday Inn Express downtown, but many visitors prefer a quaint lodging environment yet can’t rationalize the cost of Camino Real or Los Laureles. Most small hotels and bed and breakfasts don´t have pools. However, some have arrangements with nearby pooled hotels for their guests to attend, just ask.Each lodging should point you to alternatives to an on-site pool such as a water park. These facilities, along the highways approaching the city, have pools of varying sizes and depths, water slides, and other appurtenances to keep the kids happy an entire day. The closest are Las Brisas and La Bamba. Alternatively, you can attend one of the “balnearios” in Vista Hermosa, forty minutes out of Oaxaca, catering to entire families. During the hot season, you’ll find families around the pools, playing volleyball, or sitting under palapas eating local fare from the small comedors. Hierve el Agua, at the end of one of the out-of-town routes, consists of two pools fed by natural bubbling springs, in a spectacular mountain setting which includes petrified mineral “waterfalls.” They’re safe for kids, and large and deep enough to satisfy adult aquatic yearnings. Most tourists don’t get to Hierve el Agua. To my thinking, it’s a must for families, in particular if done with other stops en route. Oaxaca relies solely on tourism, so accommodations welcoming children should bend over to provide “the little things” such as stroller, accessorized crib, car seat, and babysitter reference for when you’re out for an evening. Hotel San Felipe provided such services when our daughter was pre-teen. You should encounter smaller hotels and guest houses that are similarly accommodating. All lodgings should have an English-speaking doctor on call in the unlikely event of an emergency. Two child-friendly tour routes1) Hierve el Agua:The promise of Hierve el Agua, at the end of our first route, will keep children in check during the first part of the day. First stop at el Tule, the 2000 year old Cyprus tree. Get a child guide dressed in a Robin Hood suit to show you images in the trunk. Have your children trade words in English and Spanish with the little Hoodettes. A key to holding the interest of young children is to let them interact with others of similar ages. It teaches cultural diversity. At Teotitlán del Valle, ask your guide to take you to where you can have a demonstration where the rug weavers’ children and grandchildren will be present. Your kids can play, while touching and attempting to spin the raw wool, and getting their hands dyed in large vats of natural vegetable material used to color the wool. While choosing a rug, let your child look for something with fanciful imagery suitable for her bedroom. Our daughter grew up visiting Casa Santiago. As Sarah got older, there were always Santiago children on hand to keep her in tow. If touring on Sunday, you’ll keep your kids in awe at the Tlacolula market, full of colors, music, sweets, live animals, and hawkers of all kinds. It takes at least an hour and a half to get through the market, so the promise of a dishful of sorbet (nieve) while in the marketplace does the trick. This route’s main ruins are Yagul and Mitla, the latter more grandiose. Each has burial caverns to intrigue young tomb raiders. However, since it’s unreasonable to compel children to attend two ruins in one day, Yagul gets my vote. Its tombs can be descended. The kids can run throughout a labyrinth, then climb a mountain pass leading up to a fortress. At the top is a stone-hewn bathtub in which they’ll enjoy fantasizing. Marvel at the enchanting vista of the valley and ruin below. En route to Hierve el Agua, your final destination, you’ll pass cattle herded along the road. Stop and encourage the kids to get out with you. Ask if it’s safe to hop on the back of one of the beasts or at least stand alongside for a photo. At Hierve el Agua let the kids swim as they please, and explore the several pathways. The ride back to the city will be peaceful, relaxing, and above all quiet.2) Crafts route:San Bartolo Coyotepec begins another day of touring. At a workshop, watch a demonstration of the ancient craft of making fine black pottery without the use of a wheel or modern tools. Attend a studio such as Doña Rosa where the artisan permits children to go off and work with clay. The children get their hands dirty, while you learn how to fashion a bowl out of freshly mined clay, water, heat, and little more. Browse both sleek and modern, and traditional pieces, while the kids look for ceramics of their favorite animals.Some workshops producing wooden carved and painted animals in nearby San Martín Tilcajete permit you to arrange for your children to select and then paint the animal of their choice. There will likely be an opportunity for the children to chase after and pet animals and play with kids of their own age.Santo Tomás Jalieza, known for production of cotton table runners, placemats, and purses using the primitive back strap loom, and bedspreads and tablecloths using larger machinery, provides a valuable cultural experience for children. They’ll notice their counterparts, from 10 years of age, helping with the family trade and its sustenance. In Ocotlán, drop by workshops of the Aguilar sisters who produce clay figures with scenes of marketplaces, religious imagery, comedic love depictions, and colorful fiestas. At least one of the workshops generally has unpainted figures on which each child can express his creativity through painting. Continue on and see Ängel Aguilar hand-forge knives and cutlery using recycled metals in a rudimentary hearth. The setting is fascinating, primitive, and safe. Within a few minutes, Ängel can engrave your child’s name and his choice of figure on a souvenir knife with dull blade and leather sheath, right in front of everyone. On Friday, you can wander through the Ocotlán market, similar to the Sunday Tlacolula market. Each of these routes has additional stops, but this selection highlights sites which will hold the interest of children, and make for experiences of tremendous educational value. And don’t forget the city.Many colorful fiestas occur year round, some designed for a youthful audience. Consult http://www.oaxacacalendar.com for recurring events including when the mariachis and state band perform, as well as for listings of museums and galleries. It also notes upcoming events, detailing specific celebrations and performances, when the Guerreros baseball team will be playing (a treat for all sports enthusiasts), fireworks displays, and other events. Consider the Saturday bilingual hour for children held at Oaxaca Lending Library http://www.oaxlibrary.com. It sometimes sponsors additional children’s programs. Many Spanish language schools offer a kids’ curriculum, so if contemplating learning Spanish, no need to worry about the children’s morning time being occupied. Casa de La Cultura offers courses for children. There are a number of charitable organizations where youths can assist disadvantaged local children. Speak to your tour guide for more specific suggestions for children with particular passions. Youthful visitors with an interest in fine arts might enjoy dropping by the workshops of local artists, or a tour route visiting the studio of a sculptor, a hand-made artistic paper factory and the Center for The Arts housed in an old mill. For those sensitive to environmental issues or into camping and the outdoors, consider a couple of days in a rustic mountain setting in the Sierra Norte, including hiking, biking, riding, and learning how some local factories are becoming environmentally friendly. It’s a matter of doing some homework, and then committing to a vacation dedicated in large part to your children. The result will be your own memories of the region’s richness, and a greater appreciation of the magic of Oaxaca. (William Ing photos)Close
Written by Casa Machaya on 04 Feb, 2007
From May until well past summer’s end, Oaxaca can be subject to extreme weather patterns. While we’ve all experienced torrential downpours and damaging winds, here in southern Mexico the region’s utility delivery systems—which at the best of times have lacked quality control and are now…Read More
From May until well past summer’s end, Oaxaca can be subject to extreme weather patterns. While we’ve all experienced torrential downpours and damaging winds, here in southern Mexico the region’s utility delivery systems—which at the best of times have lacked quality control and are now (mostly) outdated—make for storms which affect most of us in ways we have seldom if ever experienced. Whether you’re at an Internet café, in the comfort of your hotel room or home, on the road or in a restaurant, Oaxaca’s meteorological marvels will impact you in new and different ways.Rainwaters may wash out roadways in lower-lying areas, and as a result you may experience traffic delays. Road closures and virtually impassable conditions may dictate that you make alternate plans for or perhaps just delay a couple of days that anticipated trek up to the Sierra for a weekend ecotour. The sheer volume of precipitation flowing down steep inclines in a brief period of time coupled with the clogging effect of debris are contributing factors. Depending on wind direction, occupants of homes, offices, and retail establishments may find themselves mopping up. The use of weatherstripping is the exception rather than the norm. So be patient if the level of service you expect is not forthcoming when climatic conditions curtail the ability of your waiter or salesperson to attend to your needs. Oaxacans tend to "go with the flow," after having endured months of draught and the resultant periodic shortages of water for daily predominantly commercial consumption, and challenges to maintaining crops and gardens. It’s part of the cyclical nature of life, and we quickly become stoic about tolerating and adapting to such temporary natural occurrences…even the minor earth tremors (something different to tell the folks back home). But it’s the impact that the storms have on electricity that is stunning, both while the skies are thundering and for perhaps 12 hours after the last bolt of lightning has illuminated the cerros. One television may be out of commission while another in the same household may be working, but without sound. The computer may not come on after the fireworks have subsided, yet the lights are on. Some bulbs may be operating at full capacity, while others are not…they may function at a reduced candlelight level, or may simply flicker. One phone may work, another not. The refrigerator may be operating but not the microwave. Causes? For one, Oaxaca lacks a sophistocated regulatory framework which might otherwise control matters such as gauge of electrical wire and overloading of circuits. While "obra suspendida" notices (stop work orders) are not uncommon, they result more from a failure to submit basic drawings to the authorities than from the substance of the construction.Your reward for tolerance and understanding is the knowledge that soon all will return to normal, and when you are able to get out on the road you may be blessed with a triple rainbow…it’s all part of the magic of Oaxaca. The city will appear fresh, ultra clean, and have a green tinge to it, many buildings having been constructed of pale green cantera stone mined from local quarries, the cantera taking on deeper tones after a rain. Oaxaca has been called the City of Jade because of this phenomenon.Rains and their temporary effects on services ought not to put a damper on one’s Oaxacan travel plans for this time of year. The color of the hills and mountains changes from nondescript beige to brilliant green, the temperature range is pleasant at both extremes, and the fiestas are plentiful and filled with unmatched pageantry. Keep your vacation itinerary intact and you won’t be disappointed. For $1 you can always pick up a rain poncho on the street. Most of my pre-residency Oaxaca travel experiences were throughout the summer, and yet here I am, a Oaxacan looking forward to whatever comes my way.Alvin Starkman, M.A., LL.B., and his wife Arlene, residents of Oaxaca, operate Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ).Close