Oaxaca welcomed me with its open arms, wrapped me in its colors, enchanted me with its coffee, fed me its lip-smacking food, tried my culinary limits offering me chapulines and mezcal worms, sat me on shaded benches and made me look at its gracious architecture, pushed me gently into its churches to connect with the Divine, subtly took some of my money by luring me in its artisan markets and showed me its social struggles by organizing a huge protest while I was there. We got along well and we found out our personalities match.
I would walk for hours on the colorful streets, passing by rectangular colonial buildings with incredibly tall windows that aligned quietly along cobblestone streets. I loved getting lost on tiny alleys and discovering hidden corners of the historic center. Once outside the touristic perimeter, the buildings lost their shine, they became dustier, a tad more decrepit, with cracked walls or peeling paint. The ratio of tourist to locals decreased, but the city maintained its charm, it became more real, like a beautiful woman without her makeup.
The streets of Oaxaca were always surprising – they always threw something fun my way, like the tiny boutique where locals were selling their home made, natural lotions and soaps, or the galleries that exposed local art, jewelry or textiles in carefully arranged rooms, that enchanted the eye with their perfect graceful design. I never knew there were so many colors until I arrived in Oaxaca. On evenings, I would almost always run into a procession, led by a local music band and followed by dance groups in traditional clothes, trailed by a crowd of onlookers. On weekends, I liked to hang out around Plaza Santo Domingo to see the beautiful Oaxacan dancers accompanying wedding parties from the church to the reception hall. I loved the women’s braids wrapped in silky ribbons that fell heavy to their waist and the immense, brightly embroidered skirts that would swirl like waves and open like winds while the women were dancing.
Street food in Oaxaca is not only varied, but really good. Between the street carts and the mercado, it almost does not make sense eat at a restaurant. In the morning I would wait for the carts with avenas and empanadas – de mole, de carne, de rajas. In the afternoon, when it was hot and I was thirsty, I could chose from various drinks – tejate, champurrado, tepache and snack on preserved fruits. And when I really wanted to cool off, there were the nieves de Oaxaca, local icecreams that came in dozens of flavors from caramel to rose petals to burnt milk, mezcal or eggnog, some bearing alluring names like Serenata de Amor or Beso de Angel. I enjoyed the most the creameries next to Basilica Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, dedicated to la Virgen de la Soledad, protector of the city. A place of recollection and indulgence at the same time. Although a bit of a walk from the center, it was well worth the effort for the taste and the view: behind, the elegant baroque style church from late 1600s with its unique L-shaped entrance, and in front, a magnificent panorama of the hills surrounding the city. By night, the carts selling elote and epazote would take over the streets, and especially the Zocalo. I always went for the epazote, corn kernels served in an aromatic soup topped with mayo, cheese and chilli. For a late evening snack, I search the streets for the carts making marquesitas yucatecas, a calorie-bomb hard crepe filled with nutela, dulce de leche, fruits and topped with cheeze. Yep, that Nutella and cheese combination was hitting the spot every time!