Anatomy of a Trip (beyond eating & drinking...mostly)

MonteAlbanWest

 

  1. I believe I mentioned, or alluded to, the fact that roaming the earth alone has lost its glow.
  2. If there’s an English language library in a foreign place, it’s a magnet for me, just to visit and admire, if not to officially patronize.

     

It sounds as though those 2 items may very well come together in Oaxaca at the Oaxaca Lending Library.  I saw references to it early on in my initial sniffing around in the guidebooks and online, and the last mention said, not surprisingly, the library is a gathering place for English-speaking ex-pats.  Then qualified…“retirees”.  Fine with me. 

 

I go back to the library website from time to time, and its walking-distance location from the Zocalo means it’ll be walking distance for me, too.  While I doubt I’ll join this trip, if there’s a next time, I imagine I’ll stay longer than 3 weeks and can put the membership fee to better use.  I will, however, be leaving any books I bring and read with them, to add to the collection or sell, at their discretion.

 

Also gleaned from various sources, I’m led to believe that the best English-language bookstore in Mexico, Amate, is in Oaxaca.

 

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I’ve seen a number of recommendations for a visit to the botanic garden, eJardÍn EtnobotÁnico de Oaxaca, a 6 block walk from mi casa.  There are 2-hour-long tours in English at 11:00 on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings and you know I’ll be there.  Fodor's entry tells me one must be on a tour to enter the walls of the garden, formerly the Convento de Santo Domingo and the first garden of it’s kind in the Americas.  Whew!  Exciting.  And one may stay to roam afterward, picture time.

 

When a place presents me with an opportunity, in the form of nice inexpensive fabrics and tailors/seamstresses to have favorite clothes copied, I try to take advantage of it.  I plan to take my favorite Thai shirt along, which I’ve had copied successfully in other places.  And, while this may be too much information, I’m not the fluffy pink night garment type and the best ones I have are those I’ve had made in ethnic fabrics in Asia.  So, more of those, too, please.

 

While looking online for a seamstress and completely unrelated to sewing, I discovered a website called Margie Barclay’s Oaxaca Calendar.  It lists events by date and also recurring opportunities for a number of activities, from the bridge group at the library to The Day of the Taxi Drivers, chamber music and Cuban-style danzÓn, described as a “stately dance”.  The announcement for danzÓn includes this proviso, “with the protestors in the ZÓcalo the location may vary - listen for the marimba music”.  Be assured, I’ll be listening, watching and, who knows, maybe dancing.  The calendar appears to be a gold mine of activities.

 

Two out-of-town day trips that seem high on the lists I’ve read of things to do while in Oaxaca are visiting ancient ruins and, my favorite of all, village markets.  They seem often to be done together, especially on group tours, as heading in various directions in the valley will get one to some of both.  It remains to be seen if archeological sites are in my future but, as an activity of which I’ve never partaken, I really should give it a go.  Two, called sights I “won’t want to miss”, which always means to me I may very well want to miss them, are Mitla and Monte AlbÁn.  A report may or may not follow, depending.

 

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Chapulines_de_Oaxaca

 

Markets, though, are a definite.  Traveling alone with the prospect of using public transport, buses, in a new place often produces a kind of inertia in me but, for markets, I’ll try to overcome my resistance.  The one I’ve heard most about is on Sundays, 30 minutes east of the city by bus in the town of Tlacolula, described as “one of the oldest in Mesoamerica” and huge.  Back to food, stewed goat, called barbacoa, is the specialty and you can bet on a report about it next month.  Mezcal distillers sell their wares there and potters sell terra cotta cooking pots, hard for me to resist.  Other area specialties include weaving and, while the recommendations are all to visit the artisans in their native habitat, doing so generally evokes in me the feeling that leaving a workshop without something tucked under my arm is frowned upon.  So I’ll look for them at the market and slip away empty handed into the crowd, if it comes to that.

 

South of the city, the Friday market of Ocotlan is on my list.  And farther south, the market at Ejutla is on Thursdays.  Village crafts in that direction include embroidery and clay figures and I suspect I’ll see enough at the markets to satisfy me.  I don’t know what it is about a market, maybe the feeling that if one specialty doesn’t appeal, there will be many more that will.  And simply the action at a busy market rarely disappoints.

 

While local buses to out-of-town locations may intimidate me, walking doesn’t.  So even if I don’t get to all the markets mentioned above, you can be sure I’ll make a beeline to any within a mile or so of the Zocalo and my room, of which there are several, an exciting prospect.

 

Closest to me will be the organic El Pochote Market at Rayon 411.  Local growers sell their organic produce and other products, including mezcal.  There’s another location in Barrio Xochimilco, to the north.  Called “massive” in the descriptions and several city blocks in size, Mercado de Abastos is across town on the outskirts of Centro and just the sound of it is thrilling. “The real deal”, Mercado 20 de November is a city block of food stalls catering to locals.  In a city known for it’s food, I cannot imagine, and won’t have to imagine, because it’s a mere 7 blocks away from where I'll be staying.  Even closer, but more touristy say the guides, Mercado Benito JuÁrez, the city’s first market will be worth a stop.  And beyond those 2, just outside the main tourist zone of Centro, the Mercado de Artesanias, will be a place to visit when my will-power is feeling formidable.

 

These are the things that have caught my eye while doing my reading.  But, if I’ve learned anything in years of travel, it’s to watch for the things I don’t yet know are there, likely to be the simple everyday wonders of exotic places, different attractions for each of us.  I intend to walk the neighborhoods of Centro and beyond and will share all on my return.  

 

 

 

Next week:  Details, Details.

 

 

 

 

Click here for links to all episodes of 'Anatomy of a Trip: Oaxaca' 

 

To read others of PortMoresby’s contributions, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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