23 November 2007

36 Hours in Oaxaca

For those of you planning to visit this year, Beth Greenfield offers her suggestions on how to spend 36 hours in Oaxaca.

We hope you'll stay longer than a day and a half, and we've assembled this alternative itinerary, tailored to those earning pesos instead of dollars.

For a taste of authentic Mexico right out of the gate, we'll head up to our old neighborhood, Colonia Reforma, for tacos al pastor (4 pesos each, or roughly 40 cents) at a streetside table in front of Tacomiendo on Manuel Ruiz. A stroll on the Alcala will certainly be in order afterward, to take in all the street activity and vibrant culture regularly on display in front of Santo Domingo or down in the zocalo. A nightcap perhaps on the quiet rooftop of Tapas y Pisto overlooking the city? Sounds great, especially because they almost always have a 2 for 1 running on some variety of cocktail or beer.

While the rough and raucous Abastos market is certainly the place to find whatever you're looking for at bargain rates, we prefer to stay a little closer to home, shopping at our neighborhood mercado Juarez at the corner of Aldama and Flores Magdon. Here you'll find crafts, flowers, vegetables, raw meats and fresh fish, not to mention some of the best quesillo we've tried since we got to Oaxaca.

Many nights of the week there's music for free in the city center, or try a free show at cineclub el Pochote. Some nights they show movies in English, but we've recently had the opportunity to see films in Chinese and Hindi, respectively, with subtitles en espanol. A must-do for the immersion thirsty traveler.

Pochote is also the site of a small, organic farmers' market every Friday and Saturday during the day. A favorite lunch stop, you may never know for sure what you end up with on your plate but you can bet it will be delicious. Afterwards, try a cup of the cafe oscura, rich and dark, from one of two local highlands coffee farms, before sampling (and buying--these make great housewarming gifts!) hand crafted mescals available in cups of bored-out sugarcane, conveniently located along the aquaduct on your way out of the garden.

Thus fortified, the galleries and museums of Oaxaca open themselves as elaborate treasure troves, complete with unexpected alcoves, hidden gardens and sweeping staircases in the colonial fashion. Just don't forget that Oaxaca's artwork also comes alive in some of the most cluttered, crowded, and out of the way boutiques and craft stands.

It's true that you have to taste the moles while you're here in Oaxaca, and this is one area not to skimp. We heartily recommend dinner at La Olla, on Reforma, or La Biznaga, on Garcia Vigil. If it's La Olla, make sure someone at the table orders the chile relleno; if you should find yourself at La Biznaga, don't miss the house michelada, a cold beer (Victoria or Indio, please) served over salsa pica, limon, and ice in a salt-and-chile rimmed glass. And don't forget dessert at either location; the fruit and chocolate plates are not to be missed.

Well, that's a rough guide to the first 36 hours of your trip. Thus acclimated, the city will only begin to feel more comfortable, inviting, and, dare I say, familiar. We look forward to your visit!