Breaking News: Pocket Gypsy Roams Oaxaca, Disguised as Zapotec Woman [OAX: Part 1]
So it turns out that I can pass for an indigenous woman in Mexico, which is a huge compliment considering the high standard for awesome upheld by every single Oaxacan person that I met.
For someone so well-traveled, it’s a bit ridiculous that I had overlooked Mexico in my previous international travels, especially considering its proximity and incredible influence on Californian culture. I started to remedy that slight on this unexpected but well-needed 11-day jaunt. I went into the country having done some degree of preliminary research, but otherwise not really knowing what to expect (an approach somewhat shaping up to be my golden ratio) and I would like to say: Oaxaca should be on your bucket list if it isn’t already.
Because I’m having insane writer’s block (when am I not?), I’m going to succumb to writing several mini-stories rather than one cohesive article. But, that being said, that might actually be what you want… so you’re welcome, readers. I present to you: the Buzzfeed version of my vacation in Oaxaca, part 1.
Just The Facts, M’am.
On February 14, I flew into Oaxaca City (OAX – Xoxocotlán International Airport) from San Francisco, with an all-too-brief layover in Mexico City. A roundtrip ticket with Aeromexico cost me $386, which seemed pretty reasonable to fly to another country (albeit expensive compared to European standards – but at least I didn’t have to deal with Ryanair). From boarding at SFO to landing in OAX, the journey there took about 7.5 hours (which you might observe is a bit tight considering there was a layover in between. That story can be found in “The Problem with Flying”). Returning on February 25 was a bit longer, at about 9.5 hours, but after 11 days of beautiful 80 – 90˚ F weather, it seems petty to complain.
After my boyfriend and I met up in the Mexico City airport and by a hair made it to Oaxaca, we spent four days at the beautiful Posada del Centro in Oaxaca City before renting a car and driving three hours to our serene cabin at La Puesta del Sol in the mountain town of San José del Pacífico. We stayed there one night before driving another three hours through the jungle to the beach community of Zipolite, where we checked into the luxurious Casa Vista d’Oro for two nights. By this point, we realized we probably should downgrade our “glamorous” traveling, so we moved to the slightly less expensive but equally relaxing Hotel Nude. (The name is – and the people are – quite revealing, but to my relief, nudity isn’t a requirement.) After enjoying one night there, we returned to our mountain home at La Puesta del Sol for another night, then back to a simpler room at Posada del Centro for our remaining two nights.
February 14 – 18: Posada del Centro ($725 MXN / night; double room w/ bathroom)
February 18 – 19: La Puesta del Sol ($550 MXN / night; simple cabin w/ bathroom)
February 19 – 21: Casa Vista d’Oro ($1200 MXN / night; double room w/bathroom)
February 21 – 22: Hotel Nude ($800 MXN / night; double room w/ bathroom)
February 22 – 23: La Puesta del Sol ($550 MXN / night; simple cabin w/ bathroom)
February 23 – 25: Posada del Centro ($350 MXN / night; double room w/o bathroom)
Money? Yes, We Used Some.
All things considered, this wasn’t a splurge trip. True, my per-diem was certainly higher than it was in, say, Southeast Asia. But it’s important to note that Mexico also is economically thriving more so than its counterparts in SEA (ex. Mexico v. Thailand), so keeping costs down was actually somewhat difficult. In total, we spent just shy of $1500 USD between the two of us, which breaks down to a per-diem of only…
$68.15 per person per day!
Considering we spent two nights waking up to an infinity pool and the sounds of breaking waves, and the rest of the time in beautiful nature or strategically located in town, the accommodation is one area of bloat that I definitely do not regret.
Another thing I don’t regret? Keeping track of our spending on 3′ x 5′ cards and creating this awesome infogram. Check this shit out – I am way too
nerdy proud of this for people to not take a closer look, so I’m going to go ahead and post the link twice.
Two Vegetarians in Mexico (A.K.A. How Many Eggs Can A Vegetarian Eat In One Week?)
As you might guess from the title, being a vegetarian in Mexico isn’t impossible, but being a vegan would be pretty damn hard. This surprised me, as we had heard prior to our trip that Oaxaca was known to be a foodie destination, and being from Berkeley, I automatically assumed that category covered vegetarians as well. However, considering one of the few highly-rated vegetarian restaurants in town had mysteriously closed and disappeared with no one knowing anything about it, it’s safe to say that vegetarians aren’t the target market.
How did I ignore this obvious fact? This is what I think happened: while researching it further, I found that Oaxaca is also world-famous for their chocolate. I obviously got super excited about the prospect of dank hot chocolate every day (check!), and so forgot to read further to confirm that most of the fanfare was in reference to the fish and meat dishes. As such, I didn’t adequately anticipate the nonstop onslaught of beans and eggs that would soon bombard my stomach, though I’m proud to say I did not get sick once!
This isn’t to say that the food was bad – far from it. In general, we found our meals – however simple or complicated – to be fresh and deliciously made. Our few truly indigenous meals (hibiscus or squash blossoms stuffed with quesillo, for example) made up for our otherwise monotonous routine of eating variations of tortilla-eggs-bean-tomato-avocado. Even the bread was light and airy, perfect to pair with the seemingly endless soups and scrambles we enjoyed.
All that said, despite our unspoken commitment to eat only Mexican food, we ended up indulging in a few other cuisines (including Indian, where the chef unexpectedly gave me a huge hug just for being the first Indian person he’d seen in a while). We also gorged ourselves on the abundance of fresh fruit, and made some of our own meals when we had access to a kitchen. It wasn’t hard to find food (especially in the mountains, where we saw several people strolling around with machetes and heavy bunches of banana), but the lack of grocery stores did make it difficult to vary the menu past a certain extent.
My recommendation for other vegetarians: If you’re seeking a culinary experience, you’d probably be better off going to the East (Thailand and India are the best, in my opinion). But if you speak Spanish and are curious experimenting, you’ll be rewarded with new tastes, textures, and combinations.
Mind Your Language!
Obviously, a majority of Mexico speaks Spanish, so speaking Spanish is undoubtedly a skill that will get you far (or at least will help avoid a terrible haircut and a swindled rental car experience, both of which I can thankfully say didn’t happen to me). My own Spanish is fairly rusty, considering my formal training ended when I was 17 and I’ve only really practiced around Spaniards, who ironically are oftentimes indecipherable themselves.
However, apparently it’s good enough that I could carry on long conversations entirely in Spanish, hash out logistics and minute details, and even make jokes (though I’m not sure if it were the joke or my structuring of it that made people laugh more). Speaking Spanish certainly allowed us to go off-route a bit, to feel confident in renting a car and setting out with little more than downloaded Google Maps and confusing/nonexistent highway signs to guide us to our destination. Speaking and being around English in Zipolite was really jarring, actually, even after just a few days of Spanish immersion. Unfortunately though, I’m still terrible at comprehension (the irony and metaphor aren’t lost on me either), so though my accent, speed, and grammar improved throughout the week, I still found myself at times nodding nonsensically, hoping that whatever was being told to me wasn’t that important.
This is where the “looking like a Oaxacan” thing proved to be a double-edged sword. People were very curious by me, unsure which of the hundred indigenous ethnicities present in Oaxaca I was. When I spoke, though, they would perk up, understanding that I wasn’t a native Spanish speaker but that I was doing a pretty good job at faking it. In their enthusiastic friendliness, they’d start chatting with me in their natural rapid-fire (to me) pace, and I’d find myself wishing I spoke less confidently just so that I wouldn’t have to cringingly ask them to repeat themselves every five minutes.
Not only did this experience remind me that 1) everyone should speak conversational Spanish, but also that 2) I speak way too quickly and verbosely for the average non-native speaker to really understand me. And if they can’t understand me, they won’t want to talk to me, which results in me being pre-screened out of a friendship. Not my M.O., so I’m looking forward to breaking that habit.