Okay, I don’t know which is more misleading, the word “fancy” or the word “guide.” But during my time here I’ve asked the internet lots of things, like “How far is the beach” and “Calories in mole negro” and “Tarot readings Oaxaca esoterica psychic,” and got about 50/50 helpful answers/crap. So I figured I may as well post some of the things that the internet couldn’t satisfactorily tell me, since I’ve stumbled around the city for a while and it’s rare I get a chance to share my knowledge because it’s rare I have shareable knowledge. (In part because I often get confused between what I “know” and what I “think.” Like the time I accidentally told a lot of customers that Caffe Dolce used to be a bank. “Yeah,” I said to everyone, “all those rooms downstairs used to be vaults!” False. It was never anything but Caffe Dolce. The building was constructed specifically to be Caffe Dolce. Which I found out when a fellow waitress mentioned there was a crazy rumor going around that it used to be a bank. “Wait, it didn’t?” I said. And lost all my cred forever and ever amen.)
1. How far is the beach? (From Oaxaca City, that is.)
I don’t know in terms of concrete measurements, but when I asked the internet I learned you can take an expensive ADO bus to Puerto Escondido and it will take you 13 hours, which is why I never did it. ORRRR you can take a cheap van that will take you 6 hours!!! Which of those sounds like the better option to you? I found out about the van too late, but you can learn from my mistake. When you’re in Oaxaca city, just ask everyone you see where the vans to Puerto Escondido are, and someone will tell you, and then you can find them and be at the beach in 6 hours; a trip that would be completely worth it not least because if you tell a Mexican you spent 2 1/2 months in Oaxaca without going to the beach they will look at you like you’re a chewed-up piece of gum that was orphaned at a young age. (Disgust/sympathy, if that simile confused you.)
2. How many calories in Mole Negro?
Lots and lots!!! It has almonds, chocolate, sugar and raisins, to name a few of the thousand ingredients. Think about if you blended up a huge bag of trail mix and added a ton of oil and chile for good measure… that’s about the calorie content. I’m not a regular calorie-counter but Mole Negro tastes so good I just knew it had to be terrible for me. It’s got some healthy stuff in it (see: almonds), so if you’re a health freak just concentrate on those protein-packed little darlings while you furtively lick your plate.
3. Tarot readings Oaxaca esoterica psychic
The internet was not helpful on this front. And I only recently noticed there are signs all over the city with a phone number for Tarot readings, but I never called because a) The sign is really confusing, it says “All types of work guaranteed, you don’t pay until you see results!” which doesn’t make sense for me, Tarot-wise. I’m not a results-based reader, and as I’ve never had a professional reading, I don’t know if such a businesslike attitude is normal, but anyway, it freaked me out and I didn’t call. And b) I cannot speak Spanish on the phone. Face-to-face I’m great, but get me on the phone and I talk like a really loud two year-old. Heriberto’s mom called the other day while he was out and I foolishly answered and said something along the lines of, “HERIBERTO IS A HOUSE. SORRY, HERIBERTO IS NOT A HOUSE.”
But if you want a Tarot reading in Oaxaca, keep your eyes out for those signs. Also there are signs in shop windows, in the kinds of stores that sells magical religious soaps and amulets, yet the Tarot reader is never there, and you’ll have to use the phone to find them, so, nope, couldn’t do it. However, if you’re into it, they sell spells here in the markets and the stores. I think they’re little sachets of herbs with some instructions. I didn’t try any because they all seem sort of mean-hearted and against code. Like there’s one called TapaBocas to shut people up, especially girls, I guess. Look.
Mexico City is where the real magic happens, it seems. Speaking of…
4. Mexico City
The internet didn’t warn me that everyone calls Mexico City either “Mexico,” or “el D.F.,” which is very confusing when you first arrive. Because you’re like, “What, aren’t we already in Mexico?” Or you’re like, “Who the heck is el Jefe?” because you think it’s one poorly-pronounced word and don’t realize that it’s actually an abbreviation for Distrito Federal. Now you know!
If you want to go to Mexico City, well, this is how I did it. I took the ADO GL, which is a $20 step above the standard ADO OCC. (ADO is a bus company.) If you’re fancy like moi, you too should take the GL, because it has lots of leg room for us long-legged bitches, and they give you a bottle of water and instant coffee packets although you should NOT drink the unbottled water on the bus because I am pretty sure that’s what gave me horrific food poisoning two weeks ago! (See “Food poisoning,” below.) And if you’re fancier than I am (I know, is that even possible?) you can take the platinum line. But if you’re just a normal sorry sack of unfancy working gal, you can take the OCC and you’ll be okay. It takes around 6 or 7 hours and they will entertain you with terrible movies. You should bring lots of snacks if you like eating when you’re bored (as I do).
Once you’re in Mexico City, as far as I’m concerned you’re on your own. This is a guide to Oaxaca. Jesus.
5. Food poisoning (okay, the internet could probably tell you all about this one.)
My recent bout of food poisoning was, unfortunately, well-deserved. I’ve spent years bragging about my stomach of steel and how I not-so-secretly believe I’m immune to all toxins (based on the fact that years ago it took three separate occasions of ingesting LSD for it to have any effect on me, but anyway don’t do drugs!!!!!!!!!!) and swearing that I could eat a deconstructed rancid taco off a dirty bathroom floor and be FINE, and then I’d joke, “I’m probably jinxing myself, huh?” before knocking on wood. But I guess I forgot to knock on wood about two weeks ago, because right after I got back from el D.F. I spent seven whole days unable to eat anything but bananas and jello.
Luckily I recovered just as Nicole and Robby came into town! It was good timing, all said and done.
I’m pretty sure I got it from drinking the “tap” water provided on the bus for tea. Or maybe it was a tuna empanada (I get nauseous just writing those words, what was I thinking). The moral of this story is, even superhumans such as I can be struck down by illness. Eat everything everywhere, but take normal preventative measures like don’t drink any unbottled/unboiled water and wash your fruits and vegetables and don’t eat fucking tuna empanadas ugggggh.
I got over it just fine, although for a minute there I was pretty sure I’d never be able to stand up or chew food again. I didn’t take any medication until the 7th day, and then it was just some over-the-counter slow-down-your-bowels stuff so I could run around without worrying about bathroom visits (TMI sorry). My doctor provided me with a super-strong antibiotic to take in case of food poisoning, but it’s an antibiotic that really frightens me (Ciprofloxocin, google it, or don’t if you want to sleep at night) and I would never ever take it unless I was in the most dire of straits. I didn’t look at the package when she prescribed it because I’m a sheep and usually just do what doctors tell me. But from now on I’m going to pay more attention.
6. Hierve el Aguas
Go to here. It’s a petrified waterfall with a naturally-occurring infinity pool that looks out over endless mountains, and it’s gorrrrrgeous. I went twice; once with Heri and Sara, on a weekday when almost nobody was there but us (that’s me and Sara in the picture above), and then again with Robby and Nicole, on the first Monday of Semana Santa (also Robby’s birthday). There were, no exaggeration, probably over 5 million people there. Okay, slight exaggeration. But it was packed. A very different experience, but no less fun. We got touristy and drank these things called Piña Locas, which is an entire pineapple cut up and put back in itself, plus orange juice and mescal and, of course, chile. I’m including a picture because have you ever seen a more I’m-on-vacation drink in your life?
Hierve el Aguas is about two hours outside the city, and there’s a few ways of getting there. One is taking a tour that leaves from a hotel and also stops at some other very worthy places along the way (Tule, Tlacolula, and Mitla), but I realllllly don’t recommend taking the tour. For one, those towns are all worth visits on their own, and for another, it’s way, way more expensive than what you’d pay if you figure out the transportation yourself. All you have to do is take a colectivo from the Central de Abastos (see below) to Mitla, and then from Mitla take a camioneta to Hierve el Aguas. The colectivo is a shared taxi where you’ll be sweatily squished up against strangers and so can make some friends, and the camioneta is a truck with jury-rigged seats and a roof. They are easy to catch, and leave at all hours of the day. Go early, and don’t stay at Hierve el Aguas past 5pm or else transportation will be trickier and I can’t promise you won’t have to sleep by the side of the road cuddling a burro for warmth.
7. La Central de Abastos
This is where you can catch all the busses and colectivos your little heart could ever desire. Plus taxis. It’s a sprawling jungle of a place, and the colectivo/bus/transportation area is in front of the biggest, most confusing market in Oaxaca. From where the colectivos are, just walk straight up Calle Trujano for like ten minutes and you’re at the Zócalo, which I will not be addressing here since googling “Oaxaca Zócalo” will tell you much more than I can. If you can’t find Trujano just ask everyone until someone tells you.
8. Slow Walkers
Oaxaqueñ@s walk sooooooo slowly. They are short, and relaxed. I am tall and anxious. A slim, five-foot Oaxaqueñ@ can somehow magically manage to take up a whole wide sidewalk and the fast walkers among us are forced to do a frustrated little shuffle-in-place dance behind them until the traffic stops whizzing by for long enough to dart out into the street and pass them. It was a good lesson in patience. I mean, let’s be real: I don’t have a job, I don’t have anywhere to be, why the hell do I feel the need to run everywhere?
(Nevertheless, I feel the need to run everywhere. So was often filled with impotent fast-walking American rage.)
Children, don’t do what I have done. Just bring one. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to want space in your suitcase for buying cheap and beautiful handmade gifts for everyone you know. Though it gets cool at night, it is unspeakably hot here during the day: I promise you won’t need a cardigan, two wool sweaters, a sweatshirt, and a down vest. (This is what happens when you pack for summer during a snowstorm.) At the very most, bring a cardigan and a sweatshirt. If I could do-over that’s what I wouldn’t over-do.
I already mentioned these in a previous post, but that was early on in the trip and I didn’t know at the time how much these little crispy dead grasshoppers would come to mean to me. I love them so much. The best ones should be crunchy but with a little bit of inner gush to them — you can tell by looking at them if they’re too dry, because they look desiccated and brown, while the more delicious ones are red and juicy-looking. I like them with chile, but if you’re spice-averse you can get them without (whyyyy).
The best ones I found are at the market in Etla, right in front of the breakfast place there, which you should also pay a visit to!!! I don’t know if it has a name… but it’s right outside of the main everyday market and has outdoor and indoor tables and lots of fabulous old ladies cooking up a storm behind the counter. I have only sampled the vegetarian items, entomatadas (tortillas bathed in tomato sauce) and salsa de huevo (scrambled eggs bathed in tomato sauce), but they were absolutely freaking delicious, and I can only imagine the meaty items are the same. Also, every meal comes with an appetizer of fresh loaf of sweet, anise-y pan de yema (egg bread) and a cup of chocolate with water or milk, according to your preferences. (I like it with water, personally.)
Anyway, the lady selling chapulines right in front of that restaurant knows what’s up, holy shit her chapulines are soooo good. Also sometimes she has her baby with her, Max, who has the hugest cheeks I’ve ever seen. One morning Heri and Sara and I went for breakfast and Sara and I watched longingly as a steady stream of women came up and snuggled Max and kissed his miraculous fat face, and when I went to get my chapulines fix his mother must have seen straight into my soul, because she sighed and held Max up to me and said, “Do you want to kiss him?” DID I EVER. And it was everything I’d dreamed (well, a little stickier). If anybody reading this actually takes any of this advice, he’ll probably be older and not as cute by the time you see him. Sorry for your loss.
In my opinion, here is the best way to enjoy chapulines. Make a guacamole with white onion, salt, lime and avocados, and heat up a stack of corn tortillas. Fill the tortillas with guacamole and chapulines. Eat. Praise the heavens.
I made art, it’s called Selfie With Bags of Delicious Dead Bugs.
This list goes up to
11. Being Vegetarian in Oaxaca
It was really easy. I’m not very strict (obviously, I just sang gospel about grasshoppers) and I’m sure I accidentally ingested some chicken broth or something while here — and also, I eat fish! so I’m a pescetarian — but aside from a constant low-level burning desire to stuff my face with chicken tinga, I encountered no problems. When you get any kind of street food like tlayudas or memelas, just make sure they hold the “asiento,” which is pork lard. And tell whoever you’re ordering from that you don’t eat meat, and then tell them you’re a vegetarian (repeating yourself two different ways is always better than staring down a plate of beef you didn’t order). Because of tortillas, rice, mole, and the glorious triad of beans, tomatoes, and avocados, you could probably even be vegan here without much trouble, although the thought of spending time in Oaxaca without eating quesillo (a heavenly string-cheeselike food that comes rolled in a ball like yarn, called “quesillo” here but “Queso Oaxaca” everywhere else) makes me sad.
So that’s my spiel. My last piece of advice is, go to Oaxaca if you have the chance. You might not be lucky enough to have an amazingly hospitable pal like Heriberto, but you will have a fantastic time nonetheless. I will certainly be returning, and am already dream-planning my next trip to Mexico to see more of this huge/hugely interesting country.
And, as a single woman traveling alone, I have to say I felt quite safe. As always, I was as careful as I could possibly be while still doing what I wanted. Like, I didn’t take any night buses. I didn’t go near Michoacan. I didn’t stumble the streets alone at night. When traveling, I always think of my father’s motto for us when we were kids: “Safety, politeness, and critical thinking.” I keep that in my mind at all times, with the word “fun” photobombing in the background.
Next time I update this blog, I’ll be in Spain!!! In a monastery town called El Bruc, outside of Barcelona, doing a residency at a place called Can Serrat. I have a full day of travel tomorrow, then a week in the states with my family, then off again. I’m excited and grateful and guilty, like always. Godddddd I hope I write something good. Otherwise what’s the point of me? A question for the ages, that.
Ojalá que mañana yo no tenga un chingo de problemas con la pinche aduana; no mames güey, quiero pasar con los chapulines sin estar chingada por los leyes. Por lo menos no voy a estar peda esta noche y cruda mañana.
(That was my attempt to use lots of Mexican slang in one sentence. Translation: “I hope tomorrow I won’t have a fuckton of problems with fucking customs. No shit dude, I want to go through with grasshoppers without getting fucked by the law. At least I won’t be drunk tonight and hungover tomorrow.” That last bit, directly translated, means, “At least I won’t be fart tonight and raw tomorrow.” LOLLLL gross.)
Ahí nos vemos, pendej@s.