We travelled west from Chiapas to Oaxaca City.
Oaxaca is famous for its markets and street food. The food, the culture, the art, the music, the smiles, the laughter, the people filled my soul to bursting point. This city took over my senses in about every way imaginable. IT IS MENTAL!
I’ll take you through one day to set the scene.
A Day in Oaxaca
After breakfast at the hostel we made our way into the city to investigate its markets. The city is quite small – more like a town, and the Zocalo (city square) is at its heart. Craft stalls, food vendors, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, churches all line the perimeters, whilst in the centre, demonstrators have their tents pitched, reminding locals and tourists alike of the nation’s political and economical hardships that must not be forgotten. It’s a tiny pedestrian square where, if you sit still for long enough and pay attention, everything seems to happen.
There is a famous indoor market – Mercado 20 de Noviembre. In we went.
Crossing through the busy narrow market lanes I inhaled the sights, smells and sounds of everything – hundreds of bottles of mezcal and tequila, giant sacks of dried, blood-red chillies, grasshoppers, the toxic smell of hundreds of colourful plastic toys mixed with the sweet smell of chocolate, piñatas, balloons, decorations, fruit, flowers…
Circles of flashing fairy lights – blinked wildly in every direction – each programmed to play a traditional Christmas song. It reminded me of running into a toy store when I was a kid and setting off all the electronic toys at the same time and then running away.
It was bonkers!
Something tempted me into a busy lane that led into a separate room filled with smoke – illuminated by the sun coming in through the skylights. Something was cooking!
A man to my left handed me a huge wicker basket with a large spring onion inside it. He asked me hurriedly in Spanish if I wanted chillies. I looked at Seamus. Seamus looked at me. We both looked at the man. We stared at him in silence, conscious of a queue growing behind us, trying to conjure any Spanish words that translated into “I’m really sorry, I don’t now what the fuck is going on, could you possibly say that again a little bit slower please?” The man pointed down the busy lane and said more Spanish words, a million times faster than he had done previously. He was in a rush – the queue was growing. Were we about to get food to eat? Were we even hungry?
We panicked, nodded yes for chillies and were promptly shoved on our way into the smoke. There was no turning back.
We saw a meat stall with a ton of hanging chorizo and who knows what else. Were we in the right place?
We stepped forward with our giant basket with its giant spring onion and chilli inside – like Oliver Twist, “for two people please, sir!” Another man directed us to a table and took our basket away. We sat on the edge of these uncomfortable seats that must have been made for the worlds tinniest bums. Old ladies passed, hands held communally in front of them, faces crinkled, begging for small change. Small children placed nik-naks, crappy crafts, and cheap jewellery on the table in front of us for us to buy.
Another man approached us and asked if we wanted a drink. I asked for a coke. He winked at me and said something in Spanish, quickly and quietly. No, I really don’t want COKE..ha ha ha…hmmm.
ANOTHER man came to us with a tray filled with sauces, pickles, chillies and salads. A few minutes later a woman asked us how many tortillas we might like. “Four” we said. “Five?” she asked… OK.
Our drinks, basket of chilli, spring onion and meat was returned to us. We threw everything into the tortilla wraps. IT WAS DELICIOUS!
We paid everyone who was involved in this incredible and mental service and made our way out of the market into another square.
At least 4 brass bands stood playing at each corner.
Each tune was different, there was nothing particularly structured about how it was played and it was all played at the same time. Mexican men’s cheeks flared up like blow fish as they blew into their trumpets, competing with the other trumpet players across the square from them.
What night is this Seamus? Tuesday, I think.
A man wearing yeti trousers stood up from the bench beside us and put on a devil mask and made his way to the centre of the square and started dancing wildly with a woman dressed up as Heidi. Groups of women in traditional dress danced their own dance to a tune that wasn’t even playing and people stood excited and happy, posing for photos.
Giant puppets were being carried across the streets on people’s shoulders, men dressed up as promotional toys outside of stores also joined in the festivities.
As we walked on through the city in an attempt to slip away from the madness, we passed couples ballroom dancing in the middle of the road, completely synchronised, like a professional group performing a flash mob for television.
Ladies and gentlemen – Oaxaca.
Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.