We had spent close to a week in Brisas de Zicatela without doing much. A bit of walking around the village, checking out the beaches around and eating a whole lot of artesnal food. We left Brisas in a local bus that headed for Pochutla. In that bus, racing down an empty highway along the coast, with Mexican music blaring on it’s loudspeakers, I finally got the geographical feeling of being in Mexico, halfway across the world from India!
Cabana in the Hills
It was in Pochutla that we finally hit on the Spanish language barrier. There was a short comic episode where I tried ordering some soup for breakfast and instead kept asking for ‘post’ 😑 Parul, being the amazing help that she usually is, kept laughing and shrugging her shoulders. Finally, I managed to order some scrambled eggs and Jarritos which made for a nice breakfast.
From Pochutla we took a van to San Jose del Pacifico, a small hill town mid way to Oaxaca where we were eventually headed. The route was so winding that even I, who usually does not feel the curves, started felt motion sick. Parul is much more susceptible to it so she must have been counting down the kilometers.
The town was so small that you could see one end of it from the other! We roamed a bit and found a small and basic cabana from an old Mexican lady. There was the language barrier again but we managed and paid her upfront for a night. The view from the cabana was worth every peso we had spent for it.
San Jose del Pacifico has a very strange speciality. It is known for Temazcal and mushrooms (hallucinogens and non). Tired, we did not feel like doing either that day but we did have some amazing vegetarian food cooked by a Portuguese man who had been to India a few years ago! The food was accompanied by some amusing conversation as our cook recalled the few Hindi words that he had managed to retain from his trip. The Mezcal was good. Cloudy as it had been all day, rain started drizzling and the small village got cozy.
We walked the 100 meters to the other end of the village and looked down the hillside to the green foliage and white clouds floating under us. Mountains are love in themselves.
We went back to the cabana as it got darker and saw a hummingbird darting over the flowers enroute. This was an extremely beautiful place.
Since the Coronas (the beer 😛) no longer seemed interesting enough, we walked to the center and had some hot chocolates that night. We had entered chocolate territory and out here you had to specify whether you wanted your chocolate with milk or water! We stuck to the milk and discussed how it was a shame that we were not going to spend longer here. In fact, we had skipped over a few interesting beaches along the coast as well which had come heavily recommended. Chachahua, a village where people lived off the land and planktons lit up the sea at night; Zipolite, a bohemian beach that catered to alternative lifestyles. We knew we were rushing but there was a reason for it. We needed to reach Oaxaca by the next day in order to see the beginning of La Guelaguetza, one of the few things we had decided on beforehand. We just hoped that it made up for all that we were rushing through.
We woke up at ease the next morning. The skies had cleared and we started a morning with a beautiful view. With a scenery so beautiful, you do not really mind how dilapidated the bathroom is. It is a pleasure to just stand there with a toothbrush dangling from your mouth. Beauty is a strange indulgence.
Viva La Oaxaca
We caught another van that was heading towards Oaxaca. The first half wound down the hill and I tried to sleep off the motion sickness. Once we hit the plains, the route became rather beautiful and took us all the way to Oaxaca City. Parul had already messaged our host, Fernando, and he came to pick us up from the bus station 😄 He drove us to his place which was on one end of the town. It was rather far from the Zocalo but connected by a direct bus so I did not mind. We spent the rest of the afternoon drawing up a rough plan of how to best spend our time in Oaxaca. Marianna, our hostess, joined into the planning once she was back from work and then we headed downtown for some food and drinks with them. It started raining outside as we sat talking and drinking at a cafe. Our hosts told us more about the typical food and drinks of the area and shared with us an entire list of places to go see in and around Oaxaca. There were a lot of free museums around town that they recommended highly. I was really enjoying the AirBnB experience. Not all of them had amazing hosts, but the one that did made up for the ones that did not 😄 Post dinner we parted ways with our hosts and got drenched in the rain trying to catch a bus back to the AirBnB.
The next morning we took a bus to centro and walked around. The Guelaguetza feels were slow to pick up. We had rushed here since it was the first day of the festival and we had expected it to be a lot of fun with all the various groups coming in. However, Fernando and Marianna had told us yesterday that the groups had come in over the weekend which is the unofficial start of the week long festival. This meant that we had rushed through everything before and not even reached Oaxaca on time. Brilliant 😑
Oaxaca was making up for it all though. The lanes of the town were beautiful. So colourful and unlike those of CDMX. Just walking around randomly is a treat to the eyes. There were small stalls and markets selling artesnal produces from around Oaxaca - beautiful dresses and craft items. Parul was going out of her mind for sure 😂
The festive mood picked up slowly and spread across town. We saw a few churches from the outside. Huge structures with their typical architectural splendour.
We walked into a few random museums as well. There was one which was about textile from all over the world. Another had a stamp collection! All of these were tastefully done and free to enter. Apparently some wealthy families ran these and paid for their upkeep. That was a good use of money!
We walked around the market area, buying random things to eat, enjoying the language barrier and tormenting Parul with having to select between so many options to buy 😂
While taking pictures of the Guelaguetza festivities, Parul saw a group posing for a photograph. It seemed like a closed group with a personal photographer, probaby in Oaxaca for an exhibition or something. As they stood posing, Parul just walked up next to the photographer and clicked one for herself 😂 No stealth, pure gumption! They looked a little surprised but they did not seem to mind. Things you can get away with being a tourist 😛
Towards the evening we ran into a show near the Santo Domingo church. It was a typical music and dance show that was put up by the groups participating in Guelaguetza. The official site was far away and required a pass but this was much more intimate and fun to attend. Various groups from the participating tribes of Oaxaca put up short skits where they exhibited their unique culture in the form of dances. We stood and clicked photographs, laughed and clapped till a downpour forced us to take shelter.
We ran to a cafe and spent the evening there drinking mezcal and having dinner.
The rain did not let up and we returned to our AirBnB drenched for the second day in a row 😬 The mezcal had warmed us up though and after drying ourselves up, we sat with our hosts, discussing Mexican slang and Indian customs 😂 They had been to India a couple of years back on a whim and I was curious as to how they had found our country just as they were curious about what we thought of theirs.
The next morning we went in hunt for a bus to Monte Alban. There was not much information online and it seemed like taking tours was the most popular way of doing the historical site. I wanted to try out the DIY method first though. So we headed to this vague tourist shop mentioned in one odd blog and found ourselves with a return ticket for a reasonable price.
The bus was due in a few minutes and once it reached and loaded up, we were off to Monte Alban, one of the hills that overlooked the city of Oaxaca. The ride was short and painless.
The bus driver told us to get the return bus from the same spot at the appointed hour and left to do another round. We climed a short flight of steps to the ticket counter and then entered the complex of Monte Alban.
There was a vast level area with lots of restored pyramid-like structures that we could see all around. The sun was up and shining and there was little in terms of respite from heat. An odd tree hosted a bunch of tourists seeking a break from the sun.
We walked around from structure to structure and tried reading the information on the boards set up in front of them. It was minimal and purely factual. We found the entire site lacking in narrative. There was nothing triggering the imagination for what went on out here, who these people allied with, which gods they worshipped and how, etc. The beautiful site suddenly seemed like a pile of rocks on an extremely scenic location. The restoration was just structural. The bas-reliefs were all but gone. Perhaps a guide would have made sense but a basic narrative should have been provided on the site itself. Even the museum was a disaster with barely any information.
Unimpressed, we walked around meh’ing at everything. The only consolation was that the site was beautiful and provided a nice view of the valleys around it.
In hindsight, we were glad that we had done Teotihuacan. Since there was another hour for our bus back, we thought of killing time in the cafe. But on impulse, we decided to check if we could take the early bus back. We ran to the parking and a few minutes later a bus from the same tourist company came and let us in ✌️ It dropped us back to the town center and we walked to Mercado Viente de Novembre. This was the local market which served to the needs of the entire town. We had a specific reason for coming here though - the local food!
The Mercado had been heavily recommended by both - Dahlia and Fernando. Knowing both of them to be foodies, there was little chance that things could go wrong here.
Still, I was not prepared for the amazing food that we got! It was good! Really good! I had some mole and chicken first and then gobbled down a whole Tlayuda! 😋 It was oh so delicious and, needless to say, I overate 😆 Us clearly being foreigners, we were being helped out by the locals that we shared our table with.
We returned to the AirBnB for a nap. That evening was planned with the hosts and we headed with them to a very nice theater for a show called ‘Resplendor del Istmo’. It was a cultural show from Istmo, one of the regions of Oaxaca (the state).
This, again, was great. I loved the music, the colours and the choreography. Fernando and Marianna kept telling us about the customs that were being portrayed on the stage. Strangely, most of them revolved around marriage 😂 I started thinking how these communal celebrations were essentially celebrating life 😄
The night ended with some street food, a deeper understanding of the “complicated” Mexican cuisine and a conversation that did not want to get political.
We spent the entire next day wandering in the city once again, shopping a little, hitting the mercado once again for lunch and watching another round of Guelaguetza celebrations outside the church.
That evening we walked around in the centro for a bit and witnessed some crazy party scenes 😂
Then we wandered into the Xochimilco neighbourhood and discussed how Oaxaca had so many pretty streets to get lost in. After a nice dinner, we ended the night with Mezcal. We were developing a liking for this one!
Excursion Out of Town
The next morning we semi-packed our bags and left them at our hosts’ place. We then left to find a bus for Hierve el Agua, a “petrified” waterfall outside town. The start was rather delayed and we did not know the fastest way to get there. Ended up taking a bus across town which took us back most the way we had come before departing from the town 😑
The bus dropped us at Mitla. This looked like a nice little town and staying here would have been quite beautiful in terms of nature.
We we took a slow caminoseta to the falls. The road was broken up but beautiful and we saw clouds hanging over our destination in the next valley. Parul, in her typical way, started fretting over how the entire experience would be dampened by the rains 😑
As it was raining when we reached Hierve el Agua, we decided to best use our time to have some food.
We left as soon as the rain let up and walked the short distance to the cascades. The site was unreal and beautiful! We were atop the “small” falls with it’s pools. The “big” falls could be seen in a distance and green valley enhanced the beauty of the site.
While we did have our swimming costumes with us, we limited ourselves to taking photographs and general admiration. We were short of time since we had to be back for our bus out of town later that night. It had taken unexpectedly longer than I had presumed to reach Hierve el Agua. Plus the intermittent rains had not really helped. We discussed it over and shelved the swimming and hike to “big” falls for a ‘next time’. We spent a little less than an hour at the site admiring the surreal beauty of the place.
Getting back seemed equally adventurous. The caminosetas wouldn’t start without enough people so I tried hitching a ride till Mitla. Did not work out but I got a few smiles from the locals for the Batman on my t-shirt 😂 The caminoseta eventually gathered enough people and the driver took us back to Mitla where we got a shared cab to Oaxaca.
We rushed to Fernando and Marianna’s place, packed up, said our goodbyes and rushed back to the ADO bus station. The rains were not helpful and we made it with just enough time to be comfortably seated. The bus rolled out of Oaxaca at the appointed hour and they put on a Spanish movie that I was able to follow somewhat 😎 Eventually we fell asleep in the comfortable semi-recliner seats.