Monday, June 30, 2008


Thought we'd check in again from Oaxaca before we head to the beaches and, ultimately, back home.

If the content has been a little thin, I apologize. Truthfully I needed some time to unwind from all the traveling we'd done, so I haven't really been up for doing much here in Oaxaca. I've mostly been sitting around working on my book, playing a little bit of poker again, looking forward to coming back to Portland.

However, we've been more active in the past week or so. Oaxaca is growing on me more and more as we find new favorite places to eat and hang out.

Backing up a few weeks, here's a picture of the teachers' protest that marched down our street. When we arrived in Oaxaca, the zocalo (town center) was overtaken with striking teachers. Here's the short version of the story: The teachers have been striking every year for a long time. A few years ago (2006), the government cracked down and there was a huge riot and massacre.

Since then, little has changed. The same people are still in power in Oaxaca, and the teachers still strike every year. The march was the culmination of weeks of camping out in the zocalo, and was scheduled on the same day as the riots a few years back. Nobody knows if the government will crack down again, but for this year anyway, the march was allowed to continue in peace.

It's not as dangerous as it sounds, especially for tourists. Now the teachers are out of the zocalo and everything is back to normal. Anyway, here are some of the protesters as seen from our balcony.

One day we took a collectivo up to Tlacolula de Matamoros to do a little shopping in the market. This poor kid is going to be goat-phobic for the rest of his life.

Almost bought this.

Did buy this.

As I mentioned, Oaxaca does feel completely safe. But you do see an awful lot of dudes with giant machine guns. The picture is terrible, I know, but I didn't want to get caught taking a picture of a guy with an M-16 who probably didn't want his photo taken.

On the way back from Tlacolula we stopped in El Tule to visit the largest tree in Latin America.

It's big.

And we tried some of the nieve, which is a bit like a snow cone. A little sweet for our palates, though.

This is Marta, one of the two cats that live here. She has been acting a lot like Ash -- trying to get into our bed at night, and sleeping on our clothes in the daytime.

Dinner at the pozoleria near our apartment. I'll let wikipedia explain what pozole is:

Pozole is a traditional pre-Columbian soup or stew from Mexico. It is made from hominy, with pork (or other meat), chile, garbanzo beans and other seasonings and garnish, such as cabbage, lettuce, oregano, radish, cilantro, avocado, lime juice, etc. There are a number of variations on pozole, including blanco (white or clear), verde (green), rojo (red), de frijol (with beans), and elopozole (sweet corn, squash, and meat).

You can also see some tacos de carnitas (rolled) in the background. Altogether this meal was around $11.

Garcia Vigil, the main tourist drag, pictured on a quiet night.

A few shots from a concert and dance in the zocalo.

After the first band played (classical music), we went to get some lunch. They were showing the next band on TV live as we ate.

The biggest ants I've ever seen. Apparently these guys only come out once or twice a year, but we've been lucky enough see them twice already. They're pretty slow-moving and apparently not a threat to bite. In fact, when they do come out, people collect them by hand to eat later. Yum.

Not everything is cheap here, but limes sure are. 20 will run you about $1. Cheap limes + "Controy" (fake Mexican Cointreau) + tequila = great margaritas.

In El Chaltan, Argentina, Liz met up with Marlene (left) from Denmark. Turns out she was coming to Mexico too, and she and Liz have stayed in touch. We met up for margaritas and dinner at La Olla.

It really is a pretty town despite the graffiti, noise and pollution.

It's not uncommon to stumble upon a random dance practice out in public.

Liz knows a cool Vespa when she sees one.

She's also been volunteering a bit of time at a center for kids here. This little dude is really working hard on his watercolor.

Balloons are big here.

This is a tlayuda from the Farmer's Market.

Again, I'll let wikipedia do the honors.

Tlayudas, sometimes spelled Clayuda (IPA /kla'ʝuð̞a/), is a part of Mexican Cuisine, consisting of a big crunchy tortilla covered with a spread of refried beans, asiento (unrefined pork lard), lettuce, meat (usually shredded chicken, beef tenderloin and/or pork), Oaxaca cheese or other cheese, and salsa. They are a popular antojito, or snack food, in Oaxaca, particularly around Oaxaca City.

Here's where we get flowers every week.

Liz with her Spanish teacher.

A few shots from a nearby museum. I didn't go. I just find it hard to get enthused about another museum or waterfall or cultural event at this point. But apparently it was quite scenic.

One thing I am enthused about: mezcal. I wrote a little about it in the previous post, but basically it's a variant of tequila that they produce in the Oaxaca region. I've tried probably eight or nine different varieties and haven't been disappointed yet. Like tequila, it's made from blue agave cactus (maguey en espanol).

Not sure if these are blue agave cactii or not, but they sure look like it.

And here's the best mezcal I've tried so far. It only costs $5.85 for a liter, but I think it tastes better than Patron or Don Julio.

And it has a worm!

That's all I've got for now. We're heading to tomorrow, and our friend Jenny arrives on Saturday. So the next update should be even more action-packed. Until then...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Home Stretch

San Cristobal was a gorgeous little town. If it weren't for the rain -- and the projectile vomiting -- I would have enjoyed spending more time there.

A few shots from one of the clear days.

I hope these weren't the tacos that made me sick, because they were delicious.

Argentina has their dog-head mannequins; Mexico has... this.

Colorful local market in San Cristobal. We wandered right into the crowded, stinking depths of this thing. It's remarkable how similar it felt to the markets in Asia. They even had pig faces for sale.

Here's how it looked most of the time in San Cristobal.

Finally, I recovered enough to handle a night bus and we made it to Oaxaca. Our apartment is incredible. It's right off one of the busiest roads in town -- only three blocks from the zocalo -- but so peaceful and relaxing on the inside.

Look at those ceilings... you could fit a basketball court in there!

Perfect spot to really hunker down and work on my book. As you can see.

The shared courtyard.

And our own little breakfast nook.

The view from our balcony. This was some kind of graduation parade. About a week later we had another giant parade down the same street, this time a major protest against the local government.

Wish I could remember what this was called. The guacamole mellowed out the crisp, savory tortillas and carmelized topping perfectly.

Marta, one of the two cats that live here. Pictured capturing the largest moth I've ever seen. Honestly, it was almost like a bat.

Oaxaca is a little bigger and more polluted than I expected it to be. But the city is overflowing with character.

They repaint the buildings frequently to keep on top of graffiti.

Fresh corn tortillas, still hot from the oven. $0.80 for a kilo.

We are finally doing a better job living frugally and cooking most of our meals at home. Still, we plan on taking advantage of the world-renowned culinary scene here.

Here's the famous black mole.

And the red mole, with a side of white beans that were out of this world.

Another new favorite: mezcal. It's Oaxaca State's answer to tequila -- a strong alcoholic beverage made from blue agave. But we're finding that you get a little bit more for your money with mezcal than you do with tequila. Even the cheapest mezcals taste as complex and -- I'm not sure what the right word is... peaty? -- as more expensive tequilas.

In other news, the Spanish-speaking and book-writing, respectively, are going pretty well. Liz is studying with a private instructor about 15 hours a week, and I'm nearly achieving my goal of 1,000 words a day on the book.

The basketball-playing, however, is going poorly. If I walk 20 minutes to a rotting old court with no nets I can usually get a game of 1 on 1 going against a 4'11" guy. It's exercise, I guess (we're at 2,000 meters here so I always get winded), but it gets old really fast when you can literally block every single shot your opponent takes and score 100% of the time on them. I have to take it super easy on people just to stay interested in the game, and that's no fun.

We have about 4 more weeks here in our apartment, and then we'll head to the Oaxacan coast with a few of Liz's friends that are coming down to visit.

And then we'll be just about done with the trip. Catch up with you again soon!