The bus ride from Puebla to Oaxaca took about 4hrs, passing through some very nice country side, especially in the mountains as it got closer to Oaxaca. The bus approached Oaxaca on a road that is high above the city, so that I had quite a nice view as the road descended into the city. Before I arrived in Oaxaca, I wasn’t able to figure out where about the bus station was in relation to the zócalo (central plaza), so I got a little lost but managed to ask for directions. I was told that zócalo was far and I was told where I could get a bus. The bus dropped me off a few blocks from the zócalo, and I walked to the hostel from there.
I stayed in the Don Pablo hostel, just a few blocks from the centre. The hostel was an old colonial house with all of the rooms around a central courtyard. I was staying in a 10-bed dorm room, which I had to myself the whole time I was there. Everyone else in the hostel were staying in private rooms or smaller dorm rooms. Breakfast was included, and every morning a nice Mexican lady cooked breakfast for us, and it was a good opportunity to practice Spanish.
Like many cities in Mexico, Oaxaca is a colonial city, which means the city streets are arranged in a grid around a central square. Ouside of the old centre the streets are a little less straight and a quite a bit wider. The main square in Oaxaca (also known as Zócalo, probably after the main square in Mexico City) has a band stand in the middle with a lot of very large old trees that provide some good shade. While I was there the council workers were planting poinsettias (nochebuenas in Spanish) in the flower beds. These are the red and yellow flowers in the picture below.
On the south side of the main square, there are a group of native people that seem to be permanently camped out in protest against the government.
My first day in Oaxaca was a saturday and in the evening there was a stage set up in the main square with a group of young people dancing. It seems to be a common occurrence in Mexico to have free public events like this organised on the weekend evenings.
Oaxaca is known for its food and its artisans, and you can buy all kinds of local handmade things such as pottery, rugs and clothing. Oaxaca also has a very distinctive style of art that even the graffiti artists seem to use. The little figures below are called alebrijes and are brightly coloured figures that are carved from wood or made with paper mache.
Oaxaca has a few good indoor markets, and on the weekend there are market stalls setup in the the Zócalo. Its markets are a good place to buy all kinds of hand made things like pottery and textiles. A lot of the market stalls sell very similar items so some things seem to be a bit more mass produced, even if they a hand made or hand decorated. I bought a painting from one stall and the man told me that his brother painted them, but I just think he tells all of the tourists that. There are some shops in the city that sell things that are a bit more bespoke and made by local artisans, but they are more expensive.
The food market has some good fast food places that sell local dishes.
On the top of a mountain overlooking the city is an archeological site called Monte Albán. The site was the ceremonial centre of a city built by the Zapotecs and consists of a number of temples and other buildings. It is quite a large site and there is plenty to explore and there are great views in all directions.
At the site entrance there is a small museum that contains many of artifacts from the site. I think some artifacts also ended up in the museum of anthropology in Mexico City.
Food in Oaxaca
I discovered a really nice restaurant called Sazón Oaxaqueño on Calle de Cristóbal Colón, close to the hostel I stayed at. The restaurant has a limited menu the changes each day. The first time I went there I had breakfast which consisted of Enchiladas Rojos, sweet bread, fruit, orange juice and hot chocolate. I think it cost me about $40 pesos (about £2). The next time I went I had a three course mean which consisted of soup, chicken poblano, chocolate cake and some agua de limón, costing $45 pesos (about £2.25).
I had dinner at one of the fast food places in the indoor market. Since Oaxaca is known for its many different types if mole, I thought I would have a tamale with mole negra. I asked the waitress for a knife, and she took the tamale away and removed the banana leaf and then added more mole. I think she thought I was having trouble or didn’t know how to eat it or something, not just that I’m English and always use a knife to eat. Anyway, the tamale tasted very nice.
Oaxaca has a has a chain of shops called Mayordomo that make chocolate and mole. In the shops you can watch them make chocolate and mole using big machines to grind cocoa beans. You can also sit in the shop and try some of their hot chocolate served with pan de yema (about 15 pesos).
And of course I had more pozole.