I waited until after my program officially ended to travel to the forbidden city of Oaxaca. Back in August (seems so long ago) at the orientation in Mexico City, some Fulbrighters had to be reassigned to a new city because of uprisings against teachers. Throughout my 4 months, there was nothing that I heard about that situation, but that does not mean it could still be dangerous in some parts of the State of Oaxaca.
I was there only a few days, but the experience was worth wait. First of all, the weather during the last week of December was perfect sun and shorts weather. I insisted on wearing my linen shorts everyday because when I get to New York tomorrow, my tanned legs won’t see those shorts until mid-June.
Oaxaca has many historical places outside the city, such as the Mayan Ruins of Monte Alban and the “frozen waterfall”. Both of these places were impressive because of their (respectively) historical significance and natural beauty. Within the city, there are museums. However, I felt that I had just spent the past 4 months visiting what feels like close to 20 museums and I was saturated. I loved every museum I visited, but the few in Oaxaca will have to wait until my next visit.
What’s actually good here are the artisan crafts and the food. I liked the woven woolen rugs and the intricately painted wooden menagerie of animals. I was able to squeak into a morning cooking class on Thursday (as there was one more space to make a group of 10!) to experience the complicated process of making Black Mole. Now I know that about 30 ingredients go into the making of that sauce and it’s not only chocolate that gives it that flavorful depth and complexity . It took several hours, but the meal was worth the group effort at the end. Also, I will just buy a jar of Black Mole and call it good.
Visiting Mérida was like a going back to the 1800’s. The glorious mansions that line the Pasejo de Montejo are still there, reminding us that this was an important town that governed the Yucatán Peninsula, or at least the northwestern part of it during the Caste Wars. That information I will safe for a later post. What you can experience in Mérida is heat. The best times to be outside are before 10 am and after about 3 pm. Be warned and stay inside from 10 am until about 3 pm.
One of my Fulbright research friends, Shalanda, took me on a great evening walking tour from around Pasejo de Montejo to Calle 60, which is Mérida’s 5th Avenue (in NYC). We ate the best mole covered mushrooms at a small cafe. Later, we happened upon a book launching of community stories, too. The book is a compilation of stories that are from the Yucatán. I bought one for myself and one for students. I am sure these stories will enhance their understanding of the people from this area, especially the students who made videos of their communities in Maxcanú. It was all very serendipitous.
Did you know that there is a growing community of expats in Mérida? The weather and low cost lifestyle are what has fueled this town’s growth. I thought for 10 minutes about spending more time here, but the heat would really drive me away. To keep cool, the men here wear the traditional guayaberas which are shirts made of light fabrics like linen (local and Italian), cotton, and others. I bought one, probably overpriced, to wear during some blistering hot New York summers. The main industries here were logging (of palo tinto, or red cedar, used for English textiles) and henequen, a fabric made from the stately maguey plant. There is a great museum here dedicated to the yucatecan music and ballad singers from the 1930’s to 60’s. A must-hear for anyone who visits Mérida.
Near my apartment, on my way to and from the metro station, I pass a green grocer who rotates an appetizing selection of seasonal fruits that can be irresistible, along with the staples needed for breakfast or a snack.
I suggest getting fresh(er) eggs at the green grocers rather than the supermarket. They just taste better. I will miss the avocados, which I can barely afford to eat daily in New York City when you get 3 small ones at Trader Joe’s for about US$4.00. Ugh. Here, they are about US$0.25 each. You might get better pricing from the supermarket, but knowing the small staff over the counter at the grocer’s is worth it.
The Seasonal Fruits
I am usually waited on by Marco, who is always excited to alert me to the fruit in season. I mentioned to him early on that I am interested to eat every new fruit in Mexico. They round out a great breakfast as well as being packed with vitamins. Mostly, they are delicious. As my adventure unfolds, I will add to the blogpost when I encounter fruits that I consider exotic.
El Palacio de las Bellas Artes
We were all in for a real treat to see national folk dancing in the beautiful building. This is the link to the government website! Everything was beautiful and “on point”, even through it wasn’t a ballet. The best performance was a modern dance version of a deer dying. It took forever, but the performer had to be an amazing gymnast to be able to perform those athletic jumps to avoid the hunter, then suffer for a good while before dying in several intermittent spasmodic fits.
It would have been better if I had “studied” the program before watching so that I could associate the dancing with the state in Mexico where they originate. The performances were similar to the Peruvian folk dancing that I saw in Lima with the Fulbright-Hays group.
La Casona (restaurante)
One of the best foods in Mexico has to be molé! They make several types, but they are all good. I hear that it takes a special chile from Oaxaca to make the recipe authentic to the discerning diner. And there could be up to 30 ingredients!
It was Shalanda Baker’s idea to eat at La Casona. She’s a Fulbrighter this year, too. Her project is related to the recent energy reforms in Mexico and its effects on indigenous populations. I would be interested to know what she discovers… On another gastronomic adventure, Shalanda and I ate at La Bajio, a restaurant in a shopping mall. Pretty good.
Mexican cuisine is award-winning. It is considered a UNESCO world heritage and cultural patrimony, par excellence, which means “they beat us!” in French.
You don’t have to go to the very best restaurant to get excellent Mexican food. I found excellent home-style dishes for lunch at neighborhood “hole in the wall” places in Mexico City called “comida corrida”. This literally means “running food”, but it actually means something like prixe fixe meal that includes a soup, rice, entree, maybe dessert, and endless refills on the fruit juice of the day. I have paid from MX$ 55 up to MX$ 70 and got to taste the various dishes that exists on the home-cooked level.
I have not tried the street stands, despite the daily probiotics I take. After a serious bout with amebae in Guatemala over a decade ago, of which I have vivid memories of how the amebae almost won, I just have an appetite for street food in Mexico–no matter how much others have raved about it.
I intend to share some examples of what I’ve eaten at comida corridas by updating this blog post. Bon appétit!
My first weekend in Mexico! Manolo is a friend who lives in Mexico City working in advertising. He is from Puebla. He took me around Coyoacán.
This place seemed like a microcosm of Mexico at first glance. The neighborhood is well-laid out with the ubiquitous square where people gather on weekends like today. Was this a town that was independent before the spread of Mexico City from the Centro’s main Zócalo (main square)?
From the photos I took today, I can tell that balloons are popular as are street hawkers. I loved the fresh coconut that was machete’d opened for me for MX$35 (US$1.84), which was slightly more expensive than what you can get in Sri Lanka! This smart vendor was poised across the street from the long line going into Frida’s blue house. I decided to forget Frida and drink the coconut juice instead.
Manolo led me to some artisan shops, which I might pass through at the end of my stay in Mexico; maybe… He took me to a popular coffee seller’s shop that sold amazing coffee. In a small restaurant he gave me a quick explanation of the different types of tacos. All I remember was that the names of the tacos (pastor, gringa) depended on the size and content. I didn’t bother memorizing this all because EVERYTHING looked delicious. The coal-roasted corn slathered with hot and juicy toppings were fun to look at, but I passed. What a great first weekend!