Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
What have I learnt since my last post?
1) I can survive the Mexican long distance bus
2) My Spanish is so bad I’m ashamed to speak and the locals ignore Toby (I think it’s because he’s white).
3) Oaxaca is an amazing colourful city similar to Cuba.
I’ll start with our ADO “first class” class experience from Mexico City to Oaxaca City. As you know from our last post, the Greyhound in America was less than memorable. However, the ADO bus experience was completely the opposite. The bus was a nice air conditioned luxury bus showing English movies with Spanish voices the whole way on the 6 hour trip. What we recognised were Moonrise Kindgom (couldn’t remember the name so in google I just typed “weird camp movie with Bruce Willis” to get the #1 resutl); episode of Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls (google needed “crazy american adventure guy followed by cameraman”) and then most of Skyfall from James Bond. The bus arrived on time, and left on time to our surprise. The only downside was the roads had major pot holes, so now and then I would wake up to the occasional bump and sensation I was on a rollercoaster.
When we arrived at the bus stop – Liliana the director of the Spanish school we enrolled in (Oaxaca International) was there waiting for us with my name on a white piece of paper, and drove us directly to our accommodation making life easier for us as trying to explain where you want to go to a taxi driver is difficult if you don’t know any Spanish. She dropped us off at our “casa” home stay and introduced us to our host Maria. The room we are staying in has 2 bedrooms and its bigger than our tiny studio in Toronto with two rooms and three beds.
The next day we woke up to an amazing breakfast, cooked by Maria (she is the world’s best cook) consisting of eggs, ham, cheese, beans which we wrapped in tortillas (everything here seems to be wrapped in tortillas). These aren’t ordinary tortillas though. Each tortilla is individually heated up (on top of a flat pan which we think is called a comal that sits on top of a gas stove element) to make them extra crispy, and then this is wrapped up in a special sized cloth to keep them warm, similar to a tea cosy. Tasty is an understatement. Lunch is the main dish of the day in Mexico, and the locals tend to have smaller snacks for dinner. At first Maria played it safe by cooking us pizza and schnitzel until we told her in our broken Spanish that we wanted to try local food. After this we have been sampling many types of Oaxacan food such as Tamales, Cheese soup, and plenty of tortillas. Every day we can hear the words “Tamale, tamale” on loud speaker going past our house many times a day. We wanted to try this and luckily Maria bought some for us. Tamale is rice and chicken or beef wrapped up in a banana leaf sometimes with some salsa and very tasty. The best part of a home stay is speaking in our broken Spanish to Maria everyday (she is very patient) and it’s great practice; however I think sometimes I guess what she is saying and it might be completely wrong.
The best meal Maria has cooked was Mole Negro – it’s a Oaxacan specialty of rice and a meat (e.g. chicken) with chocolate sauce. It was absolutely delicious because it’s cooked for a long period of time; the chicken just melted in my mouth. Maria has said something about grasshoppers (Chapulin); though I’m a bit worried this could be on the upcoming menu.
Maria then walked us to “escuela” school. This is when Toby and I realized we were in trouble. I still think the teachers have a laugh at how bad our Spanish is every day. At least we are trying. We have enrolled to have 7 days of Spanish school (and now on day 5). Each day consists of 4 hours of lesson per day, 2 hours with two different teachers. There is just so much vocabulary to learn at the moment it’s overwhelming. However each day I understand more and more so we are going to keep at it. The teachers are great, since we are the only students in the school we receive personal attention which is great as I need to be corrected quite a lot. They also make learning fun as we got to play Guess Who against each other in Spanish which I won. The most embarrassing moment I have had in class was when instead of saying – I will study Spanish in school tomorrow “mañana” I said I will study Spanish in the “apple”(manzana) school.
After school we explore Oaxaca. Oaxaca is an amazingly colorful city, with each building painted in a bright colour it reminded me of Trinidad in Cuba. There are also many amazing cathedrals and churches. One of the best things to do is people watch in the “zocalo” (or main square). As there are musicians, military performances, vendors selling multiple things such as balloons, corn on the cob, potato chips with hot sauce.
Everything here seems to be served with hot sauce; Julian this is your kind of place. Toby and I learnt the hard way when there was a beer special – two beers for 35 pesos (US $3). We both didn’t understand the promotion properly and the waiter poured our beer into a glass filled with hot sauce/ ketchup mixture. It was the most disgusting thing ever and we have now learnt our lesson the hard way and never ordering this again. We later discovered this is known as a Michelada; served in a chilled glass with salt on the rim; tomato juice, freshly squeezed lime juice, and Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, or hot sauce. Toby thought this was just a “type/brand” of beer, such as Michelob, but how wrong could we be?
Speed bumps and pot holes
I have a whole new appreciation for pot holes, speed bumps and general road use since our arrival in Oaxaca. The city has around 220,000 people and was almost always full of traffic. A lot of beeping horns, a lot of impatience and a lot of bumps in the road. Personally I was thinking this was the way the city kept things looking old and traditional with many cobble stone roads. It wasn’t until a day trip to the ruins of Monte Alban that we got a real taste for how bad a rural road could be. This was only a 30 minute one way trip from the middle of Oaxaca and boy was it an adventure. Pot holes that could eat a car in one piece. Plenty of places to destroy a car suspension.
This was also our first adventure into “speed bumps” as I would call them in Australia. My normal understanding is these are intended as a safety item used in residential areas to forcefully slow down cars. This doesn’t seem to be the case in Mexico. It seems more of an item to slow down cars so the road side sellers have a chance to show you what they’re selling. Usually this is a range of fresh fruit and vegetables in all shapes and sizes.
As our school runs Monday to Friday, we had the weekend free to explore and visited Monte Alban, Arbol de Tule, Mitla and Hierve El Agua .
Monte Alban is an archaeological site the ancient capital of Zapotec civilization, with its impressive monumental architecture. The site isn’t as big or impressive as Teotihuacan, but still amazing as its high up on a hill overlooking the city, so the views were absolutely breathtaking.
On Sunday our trip was focused on Hierve el Agua. This was an organised shuttle tour from Oaxaca to visit various places including Arbol de Tule, Mitla and Hierve El Agua.
Arbol de Tule which is home to a huge tree which is over 2,000 years old – it’s one of the oldest trees in Central America and possibly the world, and is the tree with the greatest girth. Unfortunately the tour was 99% Mexican so we ended up with no translator and had no idea what was going on.
Next we visited a textile factory (which thank goodness we learnt colours the previous week so could interpret a little bit of what they were saying). All the colours came from natural products, i.e. rocks, plants. The most interesting was the red die which came from dried up insects from the prickly pear plant. We also visited a mezcal factory and got to try over 10 different flavours from about 50 they had in stock; i.e mango, pineapple, mocha, pina colada, orange, chococlate mint or even with a worm (as the worm gives it a different flavour)
Mitla was next which is well-known for its mosaic fretworks composed of thousands of individual pieces of stone to create geometrical patterns without the use of mortar. It’s amazing how much detail was carved into the walls without any machinery at that time period.
Hierve El Agua
Finally was the main destination, Hierve El Agua, which is why we took the tour. Hierve El Agua is a natural rock that looks like waterfalls and has small pools you can go swimming in. This is similar to a site in Turkey called Pamukkale that I visited when I was younger. The water was cold so we opted out of swimming and went for a hike instead that gave us an amazing view.
As we had a long day and hadn’t really eaten much after the tour we decided to get and eat the Tlayuda in the market near our house. The market is filled with older locals selling Tlayuda’s; which is a giant tortilla (where you pick your toppings) made fresh from scratch on a hot coal surface. I tried the cheese and mushroom Tlayuda while Toby had the chicken with red sauce. They were absolutely amazing so much so I need to go back and have more before we leave for our next destination.
Yesterday Liliana the school director took us for an excursion to a pottery place after class.
Its amazing how much detail is put into the artworks. For homework we had to ask 5 questions in Spanish (Toby thanks google translate for this) and then had to write the answers down. One of my questions was at what age did you learn how to make the clay artworks and her answer was from 6 years old from her mother. She also did a demonstration – in 5 minutes she made from clay the image below.
The last image is of a clay work about the same size as me which took her two months to make and is still not finished. We were lost for words on this piece.
”Hasta Luego” or until next time
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/