Walking on sunshine in Oaxaca


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North America » Mexico » Oaxaca » Oaxaca
May 24th 2016
Published: August 5th 2016
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HE SAID...
Today we were leaving Puebla and travelling southeast to Oaxaca City.

After spending the morning in Puebla’s historic centre, we made our way back to Hotel Puebla Plaza, grabbed our packs, checked out and jumped into a taxi at midday. We were heading to Puebla’s bus station, as we had a four and a half hour trip to Oaxaca ahead, and our luxury ADO bus was leaving at 1pm. After speeding through the maze of outer suburban streets, we arrived at the bus station at 12:30pm, picked up our tickets and made our way to the waiting lounge. We had about 20 minutes before we left, which was a lucky break for me, as my stomach bug had returned, and I didn’t want to spend too much time in the tiny bus toilet.

We left Puebla at 1pm and slowly made our way out of the city. The built-up urban sprawl slowly gave way to winding mountain roads, deep gorges and vast expanses of uninhabited terrain, with ubiquitous tall cacti stretching as far as the eye could see. An imposing mountain range was barely visible on the horizon, and the further we drove, the more desolate and rocky the terrain became. The state of Oaxaca is 90% mountainous, which I found to be a remarkable statistic (given I wasn’t expecting to be travelling through such incredible terrain). A less remarkable and poignant statistic involves the standard of living – the state of Oaxaca has the highest level of poverty in Mexico.

We descended into Oaxaca City at 6pm. After retrieving our luggage from the undercarriage of the bus, we jumped into a taxi and sped (at hyper speed) through the city’s narrow cobblestone streets to Oaxaca Real Hotel, where we were greeted with a refreshing mezcal and orange juice cocktail. We checked in, dropped our bags in our very large room and headed out on an orientation walk around the city.

We walked past the picturesque Templo de Santo Domingo and then headed to the Zocalo. There was a demonstration in the heart of the city, and the Zocalo was serving as a temporary sit-in tent site. We navigated the tents, protesters and the bustling Mercado Benito Juarez on our way to Mercado 20 de Noviembre, our dinner destination for the night (which, incidentally, had featured on Peter Kuruvita’s Mexican Fiesta, a critical part of our research for this trip).

We settled on a long metal table at one of the market stalls – La Abuelita – and ordered a tlayuda with tasajo o chorizo (which translated on the menu as ‘grilled big tortilla with beef steak and Mexican pig sausage’). The massive tortilla was served like a pizza and covered in bean paste, cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado, while the meat was grilled over red hot coals in the adjacent pasillo de carnes asadas (grilled meats hall). We simply pointed to the pork sausages and thin beef steaks we wanted to eat, which were then grilled as we watched and transported to the table in a large basket with chillies and onions that had been cooked underneath the meat griddle on the hot coals (giving them an incredibly smoky flavour). We loaded the meat on top of the tortilla and attempted to eat it like a pizza. While it was tasty, it was way too big and the meat was a little overcooked, so we could only manage half.

On our way back to the hotel we dropped into Mayordomo (La Casa del Chocolate) for a chocolate tasting, where we sampled a very refreshing cold chocolate drink. We then made our way up to the rooftop of Casa Crespo restaurant for mezcal and margaritas, where we listened to a great jazz band across the road while taking in the beauty of Oaxaca City at night. We began to tire around 10:30pm, so we headed back to the hotel and worked on our travel notes before crashing at 12:30am.

We woke late at 7:30am and headed out to breakfast at Casa Crespo restaurant at 9:30am. We had an incredible hot chocolate with chilli powder to start the day, and then shared three different types of tamales (which roughly translates as ‘wrapped in a leaf’). We then selected a menu for our cooking class with local chef Oscar Carrizosa. We headed out to a small market nearby to get ingredients for our traditional Oaxacan dishes (including fruits, vegetables, meats and drinks) before walking back to Casa Crespo to start cooking.

Over a four hour period, we prepared, cooked and consumed the following traditional Oaxacan dishes:
• Nixtamal (making corn masa)
• Tortillas de masa fresca (tortillas made with fresh masa)
• Salsas (roasted tomato with agave worm, avocado leaf, and cumin seed)
• Crema de aguacate (cream of avocado soup)
• Chiles rellenos (stuffed poblano chillies)
• Amarillo mole (pronounced mo-lay) served with chicken, beans and potato
• Mole de fiesta (party mole) served with chicken
• Horchata de almendra (almond horchata) with cactus fruit and cantaloupe
• Helado de chocolate Oaxaqueno (Oaxacan chocolate ice cream)
• Sorbete de mezcal (mezcal sorbet).

It was a great way to spend a morning in Oaxaca City, and we enjoyed a selection of local fruits as we prepared the feast. Apart from the horchata which was watery and tasteless (possibly due to the fact that we didn’t soak the rice overnight), the dishes were reasonable. We prepared three different salsas which we soaked up with fresh tortillas of varying shapes and thicknesses, and they tasted great. The stuffed poblano chillies were fabulous (but very filling), while a copious quantity of the Fiesta mole was used to submerge my solitary piece of chicken. There was so much food! We managed to struggle through the normal sized portions of the Oaxacan chocolate ice cream and mezal sorbet, and we finished the meal with a glass of smoky mezcal. Phew… 😊

Our cooking class chef was amiable enough, but for the most part he was (at best) disinterested and aloof. There is a stage when you slip into auto-pilot as a teacher, and it seems poor old Oscar slipped into auto-pilot many years ago.

We rolled out of Casa Crespo around 3pm and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the paved streets of this captivating old city. We re-visited the Zocalo and explored the Cathedral (on one side of the Zocalo) and the Mercado de Artesanias. We then visited the Templo de Santo Domingo, which we had walked past many times but not yet entered. By 5pm we were exhausted, so we made our way back to the hotel and crashed. After a rejuvenating power nap, we headed out at 7pm to continue our exploration of the old city’s streetscape.

We watched a captivating (but ultimately disorganised) street procession on Calle Macedonio Alcala, where music, dancing and giant puppets were conveying a political message that was lost in translation for us but certainly wasn’t lost on the scores of Oaxacans lining the streets. We also explored some interesting art in Galleria 910 before making our way to Comala at 8pm. With dusk falling around us, we soaked in the incredible vista of the Templo de Santo Domingo from the cafe’s rooftop terrace. I accidently ordered (and secretly enjoyed) a tequila sunrise, which I followed with a margarita and plate of hot chips. Yummo! Ren refreshed with a rum cocktail with jugo de guanabana, jugo de pina and a crema de coco y limon.

It was a fantastic atmosphere. Construction workers on the roof opposite were taking a break, sitting on the thinnest of ledges as they watched people in the street below. We were relaxed and carefree, but the long day of eating and walking was slowly catching up with us, so we left around 10:30pm – just as two musicians started to set up in front us. I apologised and they politely smiled. We ambled back to the hotel, scribbled a few notes and crashed at 11:30pm.



SHE SAID...
We caught taxis to the bus station in Puebla, as we were catching an ADO bus to Oaxaca City in the state of Oaxaca (pronounced wah-HAH-kah) in the afternoon.

Andrew hadn’t been feeling well again that morning, so it wasn’t a very comfortable start to the bus trip. I was very thankful when the drugs kicked in and Andrew was able to settle into the trip. The four hour drive was otherwise uneventful and I wrote for a while, but when the road became too windy, I chilled out and watched the sights of Mexican countryside slowly scroll past – taking turns at being desolate cacti filled gorges, or vibrant and lively little villages.

I also got sucked into the movie that was screening – A Little Bit of Heaven. Not a film I’d normally watch, but here I was, unable to look away from a tear-jerking melodrama/romantic comedy about a young woman (Kate Hudson) who has just been diagnosed with ‘arse cancer’ (her words, not mine). At least I got to watch the end of the film this time! On our bus trip from Mexico City to Puebla, I had started watching Still Alice – a beautiful film starring Julianne Moore about a woman who has just been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Annoyingly, the bus journey ended before the film, and I was left with that slightly uneasy feeling of unfinished business for the rest of the day. I wonder why ADO choose such ‘uplifting’ films for their bus trips… 😊

Oaxaca is the capital of the southwestern state of the same name, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city was founded in 1521 by Hernan Cortes in a valley where Zapotec and Mixtec people had lived for thousands of years. It remains home to more than fourteen ethnic groups whose influence is very evident in the culture. Oaxaca is famous for its pre-Hispanic ruins, colonial architecture and, of course, its cuisine! It seems to be the self-appointed gastronomic capital of Mexico. Even though Puebla is home to mole poblano (mole is pronounced mo-lay), Oaxaca is known as ‘the land of seven moles’, and I was looking forward to trying a few of them.

Our hotel – Oaxaca Real Hotel – was a beautiful hotel, but we got a room that stepped directly out into the pool area. Under normal circumstances this would have been lovely, but it really didn’t help that there was a bunch of near-naked old Australian men being idiots around the pool, and a very loud woman from the same group making a phone call just outside our door while looking into our room. Not even my standing at the door and staring back at her made any difference. I know far more private details about that obnoxious woman than anyone should ever need to know. She kept asking someone on the other end of the phone to give her a kiss, but they were clearly refusing – half their luck that they could hang up and not hear her bogan nasal whiney voice carrying on and on! They were a rowdy and rude lot who were really old enough to know better.

On our first evening, Fernando took us on an orientation walk around the town. The evening light was beautifully mellow, which seemed to cast a dusky spell on everything. The city centre was a beautiful collection of colonial architecture buildings and cobblestone streets, with a distinct indigenous aspect to it. I was immediately in love with this city.

I loved cobblestoned Garcia Vigil Street which our hotel was on (one street away from the grand Templo de Santo Domingo), but unfortunately they were doing plumbing work on the road and the entire street was being dug up right outside out hotel. It was a total dust bowl and it caused Andrew to have an uncomfortable case of hay fever for our entire stay.

Our orientation walk led us down Alcala Street – a very beautiful pedestrian-only street just around the corner from our hotel. The street starts at the Templo de Santo Domingo and ends in the Zocalo (Central Square) area. The Zocalo was right in front of the beautifully ornate Catedral and the government buildings. It was tree filled and surrounded by beautiful arcades with cafes. It was so full of energy at all times of the day, and I especially liked the atmosphere created by the marimba and brass bands. Of course, it was a given that there were also hawkers and other touts trying to get our attention, but none of them were annoying. However, our use of this area was very much hampered by the large demonstration and sit-in protests that had taken up the entire Zocalo and entrance to all the buildings, shops and markets in the area.

Our orientation walk had us weaving through the protesters and their tent city into Oaxaca’s renowned markets – Benito Juarez and the 20 de Noviembre. We walked through the very crowded Mercado Benito Juarez first, which is a typical Mexican market containing handicrafts plus stalls with fresh produce, herbs, mezcal, pinatas, household goods and clothing. There were a few food vendors at the entrances and inside the market, and it was packed full of locals and tourists. It was a riot of aromas, colour and sounds.

The market was a good introduction to some distinct regional specialties, from cactus fruit to chapulines (spicy fried grasshoppers), to the very famous queso Oaxaca or quesillo! I had been looking forward to Oaxaca, because I knew they were famous for their cheese (and I LOVE cheese).

Quesillo is a Oaxacan white semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, made from kneaded and stretched curds. It has a stringy texture when wet but turns mozzarella-like melty when heated. We had tasted it in its melted form on our quesadillas in Mexico City, but the fresh quesillo version in the market tasted very different. The stall Fernando stopped at was four deep with locals hustling to be served by the three very busy staff behind the small counter. The string cheese is sold in balls of varying sizes that are rolled and salted. I’d expected it to taste like mozzerella, but it was milder and saltier than I thought it would be, but also surprisingly earthy and deliciously buttery. I seriously loved the flavour of the fresh quesillo. The colourful and bustling market made the experience of tasting new food all the more exciting.

We then walked to the less crowded but very interesting 20 de Noviembre market which is full of food stalls. One of the first things I noticed were the stalls selling bread – bread of every size, from small dinner rolls to loaves bigger than a small child, all beautifully stacked. The main culinary attraction of this market are the comedore (restaurants) that serve typical Oaxacan food and its famous pasillo de carnes asadas (grilled meats hall). In a large hallway there were stalls on either side with rows upon rows of fresh meats sold by the kilo, and you could purchase any selection of meat and have it cooked on grills over red-hot coals in the same stall. They also provided extras such as salsas and grilled vegetables.

This was such a unique set up that we had to try it. Our freshly purchased meat from Comedor Akio y Gaby – tasajo (thin beef steaks) and chorizo (pork sausages) – was put on the grill, and our sides of white onion and jalapeno chiles were cooked directly in the coals, turning them into a delicious charred mess. It was very atmospheric – the smoke from the many grills dimmed the already dimly lit market, and the whole area filled with the smell of barbecuing meat. This was, by its nature, a vegetarian-free space!

We ordered the rest of our meal from Comedor La Abelita. We were having our grilled meats on a tlayuda. Tlayudas are large thin toasted white-corn tortillas, and these ones came with refried beans, asiento (unrefined pork lard), lettuce, guacamole, quesillo and salsa. We added the grilled meat, charred onions and jalapeno chiles to make what looked very much like a crispy based pizza. I loved the idea of the pasillo de carnes asadas, but the tasajo was overcooked and slightly chewy for my taste, and even though Andrew loved the chorizo, it was too salty for me. I did love the tlayudas though, especially the guacamole and quesillo that came with it. Andrew and I shared one tlayuda and we still couldn’t finish the whole thing!

Chocolate is a food steeped in Mexican history and spirituality, but for whatever reason it had lost its place in Mexican agriculture and production. However, I have been reading about a revival of cacao production in recent years, and it made me regret that we hadn’t made the time to visit a cacao plantation on this trip. Much to my delight, the cult of chocolate was very much alive and well in Oaxaca. Just south of the 20 de Noviembre market sits Mina Street, which is renowned for its chocolate shops. After dinner Balam took us to an outlet of the chain Mayordomo, where we watched cocoa beans ground with various combinations of spices for specific chocolate drinks or moles.

Oaxacan chocolate is spiced and has a distinct bittersweet flavour that is vastly different to mass produced chocolate. The most popular cocoa bean paste mix is with sugar, almonds and cinnamon to make the traditional Oaxacan chocolate paste. We got to sample different chocolate drinks, including malteado (a chocolate malted powder mixed with cold milk) and a hot chocolate made in the traditional way by frothing milk and chocolate paste in a pitcher with a traditional wooden whisk called a molinillo. We also got to taste a still-warm delicious chocolate paste with a hint of chile, and a very sweet chocolate powder. It wasn’t great quality chocolate, but given their products were for cooking or drinking, it didn’t matter that much. The air in the shop was thick with the heavy sweet aroma of warm chocolate, and I could still smell it in my hair and on my skin for a few hours afterwards. 😊

We were very tempted to buy some fresh chocolate pastes or the hardened chocolate tablets, but we were already carrying Guatemalan chocolate from Antigua which wasn’t faring well in my pack, so we decided against it. I have a feeling we will regret this decision…on a cold winter night when we think of the warming spiced Oaxacan chocolate we could have been having!

As we walked back to our hotel along our still-dusty street, we realised that the maintenance work was a 24 hour thing. We thanked our lucky stars at not getting a room with street frontage (I’ll take loud drunk Australians around the pool – who eventually pass out – over machinery and construction noise that goes ALL night).

We ducked out for a quick nightcap with Logan, Christine and Gary to a rooftop bar we’d seen on our orientation walk. The Casa Crespo rooftop bar was on Allende Street – a gorgeous little street that led to the Templo de Santo Domingo which was stunningly lit up at night. We sat at a little table with upturned red buckets as lamp shades and drank frozen margaritas (me) and mezcals (Andrew) while we talked about food and travel – two of our favourite topics. 😊

After a solid night of sleep, a bit of a sleep-in and a trace of a guilty conscience that I was really letting my travel writing slide, we got ready for a morning and afternoon at a cooking class. We gathered at the hotel’s reception and walked back to Casa Crespo to meet Oscar Carrizosa – the chef. Casa Crespo was set in a beautiful old terrace house and contained a rooftop bar (that we’d already tried), a restaurant, cooking school and chocolate shop.

We were treated to a traditional Oaxacan breakfast that started with delicious cups of hot chocolate with added chile, and porous sweet bread for dunking in the hot chocolate. We were then served three types of tamales (corn masa dough with a filling, wrapped in a corn husk and steamed) with queso (cheese) and jalapeno chile, yellow mole and chicken, and black mole and chicken. The tamales were also made with different types of corn dough, but I was too busy scoffing my face to catch the details. The black mole and chicken tamale was my favourite.

Oscar discussed the cooking class menu over breakfast. We got to pick three Oaxacan classic main dishes, two desserts and a traditional drink. The picking process was a little difficult, as we had no point of reference to begin with, and Oscar kept rattling off the recipes for any dish that anyone mentioned. After a bit of too-ing and fro-ing, we collectively decided on horchata de almendra (milky drink of rice, almonds and cinnamon), chiles rellenos (stuffed poblano chillies), amarillo mole (yellow mole), mole de fiesta (a dark festival mole), helado de chocolate oaxaqueno (oaxacan chocolate ice cream) and sorbete de mezcal (mezcal sorbet). Also on the menu were three types of tortillas de masa fresca (tortillas made with fresh masa), three flavours of salsa de jitomate asado (roasted tomato salsa) and a cold crema de aguacate (cream of avocado soup).

We started by boiling soaked maize and lime (a process called nixtamalization where the lime solution makes the maize easier to grind and more digestible). We then took the boiled corn to the neighbourhood mill where it was ground into masa (corn dough, the base for corn tortillas). We kept walking to Mercado Sanchez Pascuas to buy all our ingredients for the day. We were already familiar with a lot of the produce in the market, but it was an interesting introduction to Oaxacan herbs and cactus fruits.

We returned to Casa Crespo and started prepping the ingredients. The kitchen staff kept bringing out platters of the fruit we had bought at the market, and I was torn between eating and prepping! We sampled chico zapote (the fruit of the chicle gum tree, also known as sapodilla) and mamey fruit, which we’d already tasted in Mexico City. We also tasted miniature mangoes (a local species of mango which I fell in love with), grandilla (yellow passionfruit) and two types of tuna (prickly pear cactus fruit) –a red fleshed black seeded one (much like dragon fruit but with a slightly sweet, almost watermelon taste) and a pale green fleshed one (that had a tartness that tasted like under-ripe berries).

We then sampled the tejate drink that Oscar has also bought at the market. It’s an Oaxacan traditional drink of Zapotec royalty, made with masa, cacao, the flowers and pit of the mamey fruit and peanuts. It looked like watery iced chocolate, and I was immediately disappointed as it didn’t taste like chocolate at all. However, once I got over my expectations of chocolate, I rather enjoyed the flavour of the drink, but the texture of the slightly frothy/curdled masa was still a bit odd to me.

Then the cooking class began in earnest… (warning: vague list of recipes below, skip ahead to the eating part if you wish) 😊

Horchata: To make the horchata de almendra, rice that had been soaking while we were at the market was blended with almonds, cinnamon, sugar and tuna (prickly pear cactus fruit); the thick mixture was then strained, more water added and cooled. It was served over ice with diced cantaloupe and pecans. I have been a big fan of horchata on this whole trip, but to my surprise, this was my least favourite thing at the cooking class. The addition of the slightly sour cactus fruit gave it an odd flavour (and a childish bright pink colour), and the fresh fruit and chopped nuts gave it an odd crunchy consistency.

Tortillas: We used the masa from the mill to make three types of tortillas (plain, with zucchini flowers, and with mashed plantain) using a tortilla press. I got the hang of the press very quickly, until I went a bit too quickly and forgot to use the cling wrap barrier on one and ended up with a big sticky mess! 😊

Salsas: The basic salsa was made from blending charred tomatoes, chiles and garlic, which was then turned into three different flavours by adding avocado leaves, agave worms, and cumin. They were all smoky and delicious, but I think the avocado leaf one was my favourite. The smoked and salted agave worm salsa was also quite nice, but more for the very distinct smoky agave aroma than for any specific flavour.

Crema de aguacate: The cold crema de aguacate was delicious and probably the easiest to make – avocados, garlic, serrano chiles, chicken stock and coriander leaves/cilantro were blended and set aside in the fridge to cool before adding the cream. It tasted like a light tomato-less gazpacho soup with avocados. 😉

Chiles rellenos: The biggest part of the chiles rellenos dish was making the very involved stuffing – it took forever. The poblano chiles were easy to prepare – charred on all sides and put into a plastic bag to sweat, then the skin and seeds were removed. The stuffing took about ten times longer! The ingredients (beef chunks, pork chunks, garlic, onion, tomatoes, potato, apple, plantain, pineapple, almonds, raisins, clove, peppercorns, cinnamon, thyme and oregano) were prepped, fried individually and then cooked together with broth until pasty. The cooled chiles were stuffed and put in the oven to warm through (however, our cooking class notes suggest flouring and dipping them in an egg mixture before frying). Even though the fruit in the stuffing made it a tad too sweet, I liked this dish and really enjoyed it with the avocado leaf salsa.

Amarillo mole (yellow mole): The making of a mole is normally a long and arduous process, but we learnt to make a quick version of it when we made the amarillo mole. We started with grilling guajillo chiles and ancho chiles and then soaking them in boiling water to soften; next onion, garlic, green tomato and tomatillos were also charred, then peeled and put in a blender with the chiles, black peppercorns and cloves. The puree was pushed through a sieve and cooked in lard. Masa was mixed with water and whisked into the cooking mole until it cooked and thickened. While it was a fiddly dish, it certainly wasn’t hard to make and could be replicated at home with certain substitutions (I think!). 😊

Fiesta mole: This mole was far more involved! From what I have read, it’s a cross between the Oaxacan mole negro (black mole) and mole rojo (red mole), but with different chiles. The process was similar to the amarillo mole, but the list of ingredients was very very long – Mexican pasilla chilies, mulato chilies, raisins, almonds, pecans, shelled pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, plantains, tomatoes, garlic, onion, peppercorns, cloves, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, pork lard and Oaxacan chocolate! There was a lengthy process of frying each ingredient separately, and then blending them together with chicken broth. To be honest, I was a bit distracted by the many many steps in this mole, and luckily for us, Oscar’s kitchen staff took over to ‘cook and constantly stir the mole for an hour’ until it became a thick paste; at which point the chocolate was added with more broth to turn it into a saucey consistency.

Helado de chocolate oaxaqueno: Making the chocolate ice cream was definitely more my kind of cooking! I volunteered to do this while others were breaking their backs over the Fiesta mole. I blended evaporated milk, Oaxacan chocolate paste (which is sweetened), thick crema, vanilla and a dash of chile powder together and poured it into the ice cream maker! Like I said, my kind of cooking. 😄

Sorbete de mezcal: The mezcal sorbet took a little longer than the ice cream – water and sugar were brought to the boil and stirred until the sugar dissolved; the cooled sugar syrup was combined with grated orange rind, fresh orange juice and mezcal and then poured into an ice cream maker.

That was about it in terms of the cooking part of the class. We then retired to the beautiful rooftop with drinks while the kitchen staff finished off all the dishes. It had been fun to recreate some traditional Oaxacan dishes (even if some of them weren’t fabulous recreations). Now armed with new information on the nuanced blend of ingredients, and an insight into the techniques that make mole such a treasured sauce, I think I could make most of the dishes at home.

In terms of the actual cooking class, it wasn’t the worst I’ve been to, but not the best either. Oscar was friendly enough, but he sometimes gave the impression he had run these classes one too many times and was on autopilot when explaining things. The menu was also far too long, and we rushed through a few things as a result.

We eventually sat down and devoured our dishes for lunch. To recap, our feast included a horchata with almonds and cactus fruit, three types of tortillas, three flavours of tomato salsa, cold cream of avocado soup, stuffed poblano chillies, yellow mole served over chicken, dark festival mole served over chicken, Oaxacan chocolate ice cream, and mezcal and orange sorbet. We were very happily full by the time we finished it all. We concluded our six hour activity (breakfast, cooking class and lunch) at Casa Crespo with shots of an Espadin (farm grown) mezcal and samples of chocolates from the chocolate shop (which I cheekily/brazenly raided after my second mezcal shot). 😊

Walking into the intense afternoon sun was made more difficult by the fact that we were tired from the cooking class and also a little tipsy from the mezcal. Yet we still managed to do quite a bit of walking over the next few hours. We walked back to the Zocalo on the pedestrian-only Alcala Street, and the beautiful bright sunny day allowed me to notice that all the beautiful limestone buildings in the town had a light green hue to their sandy colouring.

We visited the Cathedral, which we could only enter by ducking under the tarps and tent ropes of the protestors at the square. The Cathedral had an ornate stone facade but unexpectedly had an understated dark interior (especially in comparison to the other churches we’d recently been visiting). I warmed to the simple but soaring space, with a beautiful altar guarded on either side by beautiful large stained glass windows featuring St Peter and St Paul.

We also walked back to the markets we’d visited the night before. Mercado Benito Juarez was even more crowded in the daytime, and it was quite hard to move through the narrow aisles without bumping into people. We stumbled upon the section of the market that sold insects, and I was mesmerised by the piles and piles of chapulines (fried grasshoppers) sold by the kilo. They were separated by size and flavour – natural, spicy, lime or garlic. We had already tried a small number of them with a guacamole dish in Mexico City, but I was looking forward to trying them again.

We persevered through the crowds and finally made it to the third and final market (that we’d skipped the night before). I’m not sure if it was because we were quite tired by now, but we were completely underwhelmed by the Artisan Market and didn’t stay long.

The walk back to the top of town was really pleasant – so long as we hugged the shade. It even revitalised us enough to explore the Templo de Santo Domingo complex that we had been leaving until we had the proper time and energy to devote to it. Set in a gorgeous courtyard filled with cacti and desert flowering plants, the limestone exterior of the church was lovely in the bright afternoon light. When we entered the church, it was almost necessary to still keep my sunglasses on for a bit longer… in true baroque style, there was gold on everything! The level of detail in the architecture was mind blowing. We had to sit down and take it all in at a gentle pace. Personally, I thought it was more ornate, beautiful and atmospheric than the Santo Domingo church in Puebla. However, the Rosary Chapel in this church wasn’t as elaborate as the Rosary Chapel in Puebla.

We eventually made our way back to the hotel and immediately succumbed to a much needed nap. When I eventually woke up (the old Australians were at the pool again!), I realised that I had no recollection of falling asleep, and I still had my shoes on. That’s what happens when you have shots of mezcal in the afternoon! 😉

We regrouped at 7pm, but no one in the group seemed keen on going out for dinner. So Andrew, Logan and I went for an evening stroll. It had cooled down considerably, and we enjoyed watching a street parade with a brass band and giant puppets with some sort of marine theme. We couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, and were eventually driven to leave by the fact that the brass instruments weren’t very much in tune, and were starting to give me a slight headache.

We then visited the Galleria 910 art gallery that we’d been walking past since we arrived, and got to see quite a few very beautiful pieces of art by local artists. The gallery also had a small balcony that overlooked the busy Alcala Street, and we spent some time people-watching from up there.

We were still not hungry, so we settled into Comala’s rooftop bar for some cocktails. This bar was also on Allende Street – our favourite street for rooftop bars, as it sat right next to Templo de Santo Domingo. Logan and Andrew ordered two-for-one tequila sunrises and I had a pina colada of sorts with guanabana (soursop), rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice – it was really superb. By the time we started on the frozen margaritas, we ordered a bowl of chips, which was enough for our dinner. We had obviously knocked ourselves out with food overload at our cooking class lunch.

It had been a full-on day in Oaxaca, and there was no better way to end it than on a rooftop bar in the glow of the Templo de Santo Domingo’s lights, drinking cocktails and talking travel with Logan. Ah, happiness! 😄

We have one more day in In Oaxaca City, starting with a morning trip out of town to eat, drink and look at ruins. 😊

See you around Oaxaca City.

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6th August 2016
hot chocolates and tamales

Fabulous day in my Mexican heart home!
That cooking class was over the top, especially the Fiesta Mole--what a list of ingredients, and frying each separately--I can't even imagine! I'm going to be massively impressed if you actually end up cooking any of these dishes. When in Oaxaca, I was addicted to chile/cheese tamales sold by women with giant steaming pots who set up around the zocolo in the evenings--yum! And I must warn you, the bus films could be worse--on cheap buses, we get nothing but Sly Stallone and violence, blasted in Spanish at full volume. So glad the teachers' strike was mellow when you were there--it wasn't always. As usual, you were lucky!
7th August 2016
hot chocolates and tamales

Re: Fabulous day in my Mexican heart home!
Haha Tara, I have a general rule that I don't cook anything that takes longer than 30mins. We were lucky that all the protests and strikes we witnessed in Chiapas, Mexico City and Oaxaca were calm and peaceful. We had some loud trashy films on some buses in Guatemala, but I have to admit...if it was a Rocky or Rambo film, I would have watched with glee :D
6th August 2016

What you couldn't finish it?
Holy Cow that "tlayuda with tasajo o chorizo" looks incredible. I haven't seen something as awesome as that since the layered "Hamburger and chip pizza". I used to love the pool as a kid but travelling has made me hate them because of the exact experience you had, lets hope that woman got a good dose of sunstroke. As for the choice of movies you watch I can only assume there was no Fast and Furious movies to be seen.
7th August 2016

Re: What you couldn't finish it?
A layered hamburger and chip pizza?!? We would give it a go :) On public transport, I would take Fast and Furious over tear jerker films any day! An older woman across the aisle from us openly sobbed when Kate Hudson's character died... it was sweet but also slightly awkward :/
7th August 2016
tlayuda with tasajo and chorizo

OMG
I'm speechless.
8th August 2016
tlayuda with tasajo and chorizo

Re: OMG
So were we, while we tried to make our way through it :)
7th August 2016
tortillas

Heaven
So many tortillas, so little time. Have you made them since you got home?
8th August 2016
tortillas

Re: Heaven
We've been having winter comfort food since we got back. But come summer, if someone made the corn masa for me, I'd happily make the tortillas :)
7th August 2016
mezcal :)

There you go again
You've gotten predictable. :)
8th August 2016
mezcal :)

Re: There you go again
Haha we have, haven't we? Well then the next blog is going to be even more predictable ;)
7th August 2016

Oaxaca
A chocolate tasting....sign me up please. I'm not always in love with mole. The first time I had it was horrible so I'm always hesitant. I will have to take that cooking class. Sounds fantastic. The flavors, the spices, the vibrant colors of mexico make me want to dance. It makes one happy to be alive. I've always thought Mexican people are some of the happiest I've been exposed to. Sunset from a rooftop bar sounds good.
8th August 2016

Re: Oaxaca
The whole mole thing was funny...after having it over here I thought I LOVED mole, but then realised the mole over here is nothing like the real mole. I loved half the moles I tried in Mexico - there was so much variety! Oaxaca is the queen of rooftop bars, so it was only polite that we tried as many as we could :)

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