Oaxaca and San Christóbal, Mexico – Every time I hear the word “Oaxaca” I think of Rick Bayless, the Mexican food chef and, of course, food. So, naturally, we were excited to eat when we arrived in Oaxaca after a six hour bus ride from Mexico City. As expected, the food was good (and the hot chocolate was to-die-for) but there is so much more than that to Oaxaca.
First, the city is just so lively. There always seemed to be a parade, or protest, or celebration in the streets. People celebrating a wedding or anniversary dance through the streets following huge bride and groom puppets. The town Zòcalo was always bustling with people and there is a huge Saturday market.
Oaxaca also has one of the most beautiful churches we have seen in Mexico. The Templo de Santo Domingo is covered inside with beautiful 3-D reliefs. We had seen a lot of churches in our six weeks but this church definitely was the most beautiful by far. It was made even more impressive when we caught a glimpse of a bride and groom later that evening at the alter during a candlelit ceremony. Clearly they were a very rich and important couple.
There is some cool stuff to do around Oaxaca, too. We spent one day at the ruins of Monte Albàn, a 25 minute bus ride outside the city. The ruins sit on top of a hill and offer great views of the surrounding valley.
We also took a bus and then a collectivo to Hierve de Agua, which means “the water boils”. It’s actually a cold mineral spring where, the water bubbles from the ground and appears to boil. The spring created these stunning clear blue pools of water. You can swim in them if you can brave the cold water. There are also “petrified waterfalls”, called so because the minerals in the water, after millennia of trickling of the side of a cliff, have collected on cliff and now look like a waterfall frozen in time. It was quite impressive, and apparently there are only two places where you can see something like this – the other is in Turkey (guess we have to go there, too!).
After our visit to the Hierve de Agua, we hopped on our first Mexican night bus of the trip going to San Cristóbal de las Casas. From past experiences on night buses in other countries, we knew we cold be in for a long, sleepless night of loud TVs, freezing cold air conditioning and the bus drivers constant honking of the bus horn. But, our previous experience on buses in Mexico lead us to believe that this ride wouldn’t be so bad – and we were right. There were headphone jacks for the TVs, but they even turned them off after a few hours, the driver didn’t honk the horn and we were quite comfortable.
We were, however, rudely awoken at 3am when security officials boarded the bus and banged on the floors, roof and walls of the bus to make sure nothing was being smuggled. They seem to be pretty serious about this stuff in Mexico, FYI, in case you were thinking of getting into the business of gun running or drug smuggling. The bus company also came through the bus when we first boarded and videotaped all of us in our seats.
San Cristóbal is pretty much like every other city we visited in Mexico, town square, cathedral, colonial architecture and some museums. But it also has a little “backpacker” vibe thrown in – just enough cafes and cheap eats to make it fun, but not overly touristy. I’d say about 98% of the food we have been eating in Mexico was Mexican, so we were super excited to enjoy a really great authentic Thai meal in San Cristóbal – the cook was from Thailand and she used her families recipes.
We visited a pretty interesting Amber Museum where we watched a video on how the local people shine and shape amber. Part of the process involves rubbing it with styrofoam – so glad that this horrible, non biodegradable product has another use! Send your styrofoam to San Cristóbal!