Pronounciation: "Wah-Ha-Ka" not "Oh-Axe-A-Car"
09.11.2015 - 20.11.2015 25 °C
We caught our best overnight bus yet - from San Cristobal to the state of Oaxaca. The road had a few bends at the start, but the second class bus was comfortable enough for a sleep for most of the 11 hour trip. We arrived, rested, in the transport hub of Pochutla and then caught a ride to Mazunte in the back of a modified pick up truck. A steady stream of these connect the beach towns with the transport hubs and are crammed with locals.
Mazunte is a relaxed beach town where we had hoped to surf. Unfortunately we didn´t see the right waves in our three days there, so we used the time to eat and relax. I booked a cabin up on the cliff above the beach which had hammocks everywhere (including in our room) and a beautiful lookout over the Pacific Ocean from the kitchen area.
However, we had mosquito repellent of insufficient quality and the mosquito net in the room was full of holes and too small to fit over the bed. Laura slept one night with her leg against the net and woke with a cluster of bites...
The first afternoon we explored the beach at Mazunte and booked a wildlife tour with some locals on the beach for the next morning. We then enjoyed the sunset from one bay over.
The next morning we went back to back - setting our alarms early for the sunrise view from the kitchen. After making breakfast we joined our wildlife tour. We saw Roca Blanca ("white rock") - alternatively named Roca Caca ("poo rock"), various turtles, the southernmost piece of land in Oaxaca, and - for a magical half hour - a pod of playful dolphins.
That night I tried a local favourite food - the tlayuda - yet another varient on the quesidilla, basically being a big BBQ´d quesidilla filled with onion, meat and cabbage.
On our final day we bussed North to the tourist mecca of Puerto Escondido, hoping again to find some beginner surf at Playa Carrizalillo. The beach was beautiful but the surf was too beginner, so we instead interspersed our dips in the water with sips on a drink (beer and coconut water). After some tacos we caught the bus home before continuing South to the beach town of Zipolite.
Laura had reasearched a top-notch restaurant and it was worth the special trip. For just NZ$15 for mains, I had premium steak medallions, while Laura ordered coconut shrimp - which was not what we think of as shrimp, but half a dozen king prawns. Mouth-watering!
Unfortunately I had already had an upset stomach all day, and although I valiantly battled through the delicious food, the next day I wasn´t any better. After watching another sunrise, we decided to begin the trip to Oaxaca city. After returning to Pochulta in a pick-up truck, we squeezed into a van through the winding mountain roads - but we planned to split the 7 hour journey in half by stopping overnight in the beautiful mountain town of San Jose.
I really wasn´t in great shape for the next day, so was greatful for the break in the cheap but beautiful mountainside cabin including a well-utilised toilet and a crackling fireplace for the cold nights (after the hot weather at the coast we were now back at altitude of 2,500m).
The town has great hiking, ziplining and, most importantly, beautiful views over the misty mountains. From our cabin I enjoyed assuming the recovery position for the great view of sunset.
The next day I did manage to go out for a hike after lunch through the forest.
We found a free way to zipline!
We enjoyed the (not sugary) local hot chocolate...
... and then settled in for another sunset, while Laura enjoyed a bottle of pineapple liquor.
After two nights recovering here, we got back in a shuttle to Oaxaca. The first night we walked around the bustling square and people watched with a beer. Although this is a city know for its great Mexican food, all I wanted was a streetfood burger (to follow two straight meals of canteen sandwhiches in San Jose). I promised myself that I would try all of the yummy food later.
The white vertical tents you can see from our table were all shoe shining stations. The main square alone had more than 20 of these stations!
Laura eating corn plus chilli, cheese and salt.
We also checked out a neat refurbished church which is now a museum / library.
When we got home we found that we had $250 of Guatemalan currency remaining in our bag... whoops! To date we still haven´t found a good rate to change this but we´re working on it.
Laura found a list of free events in town, and so we went along to a classical guitar concert at a fancy music hall. We even got our own private box!
The next day we wanted to see the "Petrified Waterfalls" at Hierve de Agua. We booked a full day tour which visited:
1. The world´s third largest tree
2. An indigenous village which uses traditional weaving methods to make carpets and rugs.
Including the traditional plants used to make all of the colours and dyes.
3. Some things we opted out of - ruins & a buffet lunch. We waited outside... and did this thing, whatever it is.
4. Hierve de Agua.
It gets its name from "boiling water" because the geothermal gasses make the water bubble up.
Unfortunately they weren´t hot pools and in fact the water was quite cool. It was worth a visit though.
5. A factory for mescal (like tequila, but not from the same plant or from the same region). We learnt about the process...
And then tasted the mescal...
And I made a friend...
The next morning we visited the Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban - and although it was a large site on top of a hill, it wasn´t much to write home about. This is fortunate because I´ve since managed to delete the photos, aside from this one, which looks back at Oaxaca.
Instead, here is a more impressive aerial from Google Images:
On the streets of Oaxaca, Laura liked the ways shops set out their wares.
We had a false start the next day - unable to find the bus to one of the surrounding indigenous towns, but instead visited a famous gold cathedral which the Spanish had ¨gifted¨Oaxaca (or rewarded themselves with - depending on your point of view). The reason for the gold cathedral was that Oaxaca had an abundance of a cactii-eating bug which was used to make red and purple dyes (Cochineal). These colours were so rare that Cochineal was worth more than silver or gold and it is still widely used today for red for food colouring or garments. Whatever the reason for its establishment, the inside of the cathedral was one of the most ornate either of us have seen.
Awe-stricken, we moved on to an informative guided tour of the gardens set up behind the church. In fact, the church and its yard were used as barracks and training grounds for soldiers until 1994, when the church was cleaned up and the gardens opened. They have an abundance of local plant types, including many cactii.
There was also a 500 year old catcus recovered from the site of a roading project.
And a piece of art with real Cochineal flowing down it - representing the blood and hard work of the local people in exploiting the international trade of Cochineal for the Spanish.
Amazingly, the type of plant used for Tequila and Mescal grows a huge flower - but only when it senses it has too much competition from the roots of other plants. It grows the 5m stalk in as little as a month and a half!
That night we borrowed bikes from our hostel (thanks Azul Cielo!) and rode (but mainly took our bikes for a walk) up the hill to a lookout near the observatory.
Our 6 hour cooking class the next day kicked off with a tour of the markets with one of the chefs. In particular there was an impressive array of chillis - and we purchased a few of them for the dishes.
We also tried the local delicacy - chillied crickets.
The class was very enjoyable - and we got lucky as it was just the two of us. Plus there was also an "open bar" of Coronas and mescal.
The table sauces included 14 chillis!
The recipe for the local favourite ¨red mole¨ also included 30 ingredients (here is us preparing).
We also enjoyed the opportunity to switch from English and try to have conversations while we were cooking in Spanish. The whole lesson (and the conversation afterwards) ended up being entirely in Spanish.
On our final day we did manage to make the day trip to the ecotourism villages for some hiking in the woods. We got a little confused as to what trail we were on, but worked it out once we found the road again.
Sadly, after the food and culture of Oaxaca, we then had to pack up and move on to our final Central American destination - Mexico City.