Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ten Good Things To Do In Oaxaca Besides Watch T.V. and stuff yourself with tortillas:

1) Try some crunchy "chapulines" or grasshoppers seasoned with chile, salt, and lemon. It´s believed that if you eat one, you will return to Oaxaca one day. (We ate at least five of them each--a bit crunchy and flavorful but not as good as popcorn)

2) Go to a Mezcal "fabrica" and watch how the famous tequila-related liquor is made. Chew on the freshly fermented leaves (they taste like baked pumpkin with brown sugar). Gulp down a "gusano" worm with your shot of Mezcal. Distinguished from tequila which is made from the blue agave and produced on an industrial level, Mezcal has a hardy, smoky flavor. Many Mezcal stores also produce "Crema de Mezcal" liqueurs (coconut, almond, peach, cafe flavors) for gringos who can´t stomach the Mexican liquor straight.

3) Visit the Zapotec rug-making pueblo of Teotitlan to learn how the famous wool is dyed using natural plants and insects. "Cocchineal" is a cactus-loving worm/insect which is ground up to create a deep crimson natural dye. Compounds like lemon, salt, and water are mixed with the cocchineal to create up to 45 other colors which the Teotitlan artisans use to dye their wool and weave into exquisite designed rugs.

4) Hike in the mountains through the pine forests and through "bosques" of white moss. "Los Pueblos Mancomunados" is an excellent area of the Sierra Norte to base a multi-day trek along pre-hispanic roads and Zapotec trails which wind through villages, forests, and fields of agave, corn, and small family-run orchards and a trout farm.

5) Visit a chocolate "fabrica" and watch chocolate beans, cinnamon, and sugar being ground up to create Oaxaquenan chocolate. Order several different types of hot chocolate with straws and share with a friend!

6) Wander the "zocalo" or central plaza at night and watch for live music, salsa/flamenco/tango dancing, and local entertainment.

7) Have lunch at "El Mercado Juarez." After wandering the stalls of chocolate, mole, fruits, nuts, spices, and breads, sit down for a "pollo con mole negro," made with chocolate, nuts, chiles, and dried fruit, or try a "tlayuda," or Oaxaquenan style giant tortilla--stuffed with frijoles, carne, locally-made cheese, tomatoes, and onions--folded in half and grilled.

8) Visit any of the local ruins like Mitla or Monte Alban where the ancient human sacrificial ceremonies make "Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom" seem like a Disney movie.

9) Go to a festival. Any festival. Although Christmas is a splendid time of year to visit, with festivals occuring almost every day, each pueblo has its own celebrations throughout the year to celebrate their patron saint. Another good time to visit is during "Dia De Los Muertos" when Christianity and pagan traditions mix in a festive and wonderfully macabre celebration of life and the afterlife.

10) Eat as much as possible. Get lost in Oaxaca city late at night and buy from one of the moving "Cocinas" which appear once it gets dark. (We just discovered an eighty year old woman last night whose "cocina" appears on a street west of the plaza. Her customers have been coming to eat her "Tlayudas" for over forty years now. She has someone help her push her cart of cooking supplies to the same spot every night.

11) Visit "Hierva del Agua," a petrified waterfall and mineral hot spring, perched on the edge of the mountains with an extraordinary 270 degree view of the surrounding mountain ranges and Valle de Oaxaca. Grab some water and a Tlayuda, sit back, and breathe the warm high desert air and appreciate one of the finest views in Mesoamerica...