Everyone has told me, “You must go to Oaxaca! It’s amazing!’ So finally we went. And it was.
Our “excuse,” if we needed one, was to take intensive Spanish classes. Each of us had two teachers — one in the morning and one in the afternoon. That’s right, 1:1 for five hours a day. I found it a great way to learn and to improve my skills. My teachers, both young women, were smart, friendly, curious and patient. I think language teaching attracts similar people as language learning, — people who like to travel and who are interested in other cultures and other ways of life.
One downside of taking five hours a day of classes is lack of time and energy to explore. Who knew how absolutely exhausted I’d be after my classes? Sleeping on a soft, worn-out AirBnB bed didn’t help (nor did being on the bus route, but hey, I do travel with ear plugs). Still, at 3 p.m. when classes were done, I was done. We retreated to our apartment where we had cold drinks and a rest.
Still, despite being busy and tired, we managed to see some sights, eat some great food, and absorb the vibe of the downtown area.
An option at the Spanish school was to leave with your instructor and have class in a café, a park, a library or other location. I loved that. One, it kept me awake in the afternoons and two, I got to see more. One morning, my teacher Gris and I had class in the plaza at the Soledad church. We sat in the shade on the big concrete steps, watching people and teaching/learning. I also got to visit some nice cafés and enjoy hot and cold chocolate drinks and teas.
The Sunday before classes began, we went to the museum of Oaxaca cultures, located in an ex-convent next to the Santa Domingo church. This is a huge museum with exhibits from various eras — from prehistory to Spanish invasion to modern times. A highlight was the exhibit of artifacts (gold jewelry!) from Tomb 7 at Monte Albán.
Jesus goes vegan:
One afternoon after classes, we dragged ourselves out for the 5 p.m. tour (en español) of the botanical garden. I probably understood about 60%, which was enough. The garden is a lovely oasis but alas you can’t visit unless you’re on a tour. The plant collection contains those that have been used forever by the local people for food, clothing, dye, art, etc.
One weekend day, we took a shuttle bus out to Monte Albán, which is a lovely and uncrowded archaeological site. The view from the site is impressive too.
Oaxaca is known for its art and its food. Food-wise, we did pretty well. It’s always a challenge for me to find non-meat food when traveling. Oaxaca was more veg-friendly than most Mexican cities, which made me happy. The hours at our school were a bit problematic as we had to be in class by 9 (not many things open before that) and then our break was 11:30 to 12:30 (too short a time and too early for a proper lunch). Still, we managed.
Some things I ate/drank:
— Nieves (ice cream) in the Soledad plaza. There are about seven different ice cream cafés, each with about 100 flavors. Alas, I only tried two: mamey and coconut. Yum.
— Chocolate drinks — hot or cold, with milk or water.
— Tacos guisados assortment: calabacitas with green mole, rajas and queso and huitlacoche.
— Salad with guayabas.
— Salad with goat cheese, nuts and cranberries.
— Broccoli sandwich.
— Fried Oaxaca cheese with sides of beans and guacamole.
— Fruit and yogurt plates.
— Chilaquiles (red and green, with and without eggs)
— Tostadas with smoked marlin.
— Smoked salmon sandwich.
— Salad of nopales, olives and cheese.
— Tlayuda with beans and greens.
— Spinach and cheese raviolis.
— Vegan enchiladas in green mole.
— Mezcal cocktails.
— The crappiest French toast I’ve eaten.
Next time, for sure, I need to try the potato chips they fry fresh in street carts. And more moles.
If you’re a shopper, you will love Oaxaca. I’m not a big shopper (see my prior posts about minimalism) but even I loved all the choices. So much impressive art — rugs, ceramics, alejibres, and textiles of all possible types and descriptions.
The downtown Oaxaca area is very cosmopolitan with its zillion cafés, restaurants, bars, art galleries, museums. A few wide pedestrian streets provide respite from the cars and exhaust fumes and serve as a marketplace for street vendors. We enjoyed walking around and entertaining ourselves by people-watching, window-shopping and hanging out.