Mexico: Colorful Mexico
I`ve kind of been all over the place since I last posted so I`m going to TRY to make this short and sweet:
Oaxaca is another state known for preserving it´s indigenous traditions and being prideful of their colorful past. I spent a couple of days in the city of Oaxaca and my visit revolved around sampling all of the food Oaxaca is well known for. Some was not so good, such as the bright red fried grasshoppers served with chili powder called Chapulines, but when else would I be able to try such a thing? Most of the food though was simply amazing. There are 7 kinds of mole sauces here, so there were plenty of varieties of each dish. My favorite was the mole coloradita, a spicy red sauce similar to what we call enchilada sauce in the US. There were also empanadas with fresh string cheese and pumpkin flowers that were tasty!!! In the 3 days I was there, I didn`t eat a single time in a restaurant…all was eaten in the food stalls in markets and along the street…in my opinion, the best way to sample. Oaxaca is also known for being obsessed with chocolate. On the street my hotel was on were all the chocolate makers and shops. I could smell the sweet cacao just walking out the door of my room, making it hard to pass up sipping on a hot chocolate every morning for breakfast! In the few moments when I wasn`t eating, I was walking around Oaxaca – a very pedestrian friendly city. I was a bit scared to come here because the day before I got there a bunch of riots broke out that were all over the news and this area is known to be quite violent from time to time, but it was fine. I went out to Monte Alban, ruins from the time when the Zapotecs ruled the area. I also spent a day hopping from little town to little town to check out their markets. Each town in the area specializes in one kind of handicraft which they all then bring to Oaxaca to sell in the markets and tourist shops.
From there I jutted across the country to Veracruz, on the Caribbean. It was hot, muggy, hot and muggy! I was at the zocalo having a beer with some people at 1 in the morning and we were all just sweating like mad. It was crazy!! The zocalo in this city was insane and complete over stimulation. It felt like I was in the middle of a carnival. Small bands of every type of music were playing all over the place so that you couldn´t really focus on any particular beat; a little norteño, marimbo, mariachi all at the same time. There were kids running wild with balloons and water guns and noise-makers. People were selling all kinds of useless things and to top it off, it was PACKED. July is the month most Mexicans travel as their kids are on break so it was mayhem, but excellent people watching.
I went out to the Fortress San Juan de Ulua, which is a massive fort built in the 1500´s and later became a prison for some of Mexico`s most notorious criminals. It was interesting to see how it was built out of coral and has been added too several times. It is a very well-preserved compound and we had an entertaining tour guide to fill us in on all the gory details from the torture chambers and tell us all the legends of the people who escaped and still haunt the place.
I wasn`t too impressed with the Veracruz beaches. They were mostly dirty and garbage was on the beach and floating in the water, despite numerous city employees out trying to clean up the mess. The water was pleasant though and refreshing from the brutal heat.
Xalapa is the capitol city in the state of Veracruz and was not an intended stop on my itinerary. However, I ended up there for a night and was pleasantly surprised. For starters, it is up in the mountains a bit, so it is much cooler than Veracruz. They have an obsession with coffee here as a lot is grown in the region. It is a hilly city full of parks and narrow cobbled alleyways with clever names based on old legends. It is a cultural center for the state and there was a lot of activity and events being held at the Univ. of Veracruz campus, and was thus a great strolling town for me.
I headed back inland on a freezing bus. God how I hate over air-conditioned places. If I were in sue-happy USA I could probably make a buck or two because every time I ride on these freezing buses, I get sick. I don`t get it. Everyone on the bus is clearly freezing and bundled up in their artic-wear, but the bus driver just keeps that air cranked on high. I was shivering for about 3 hours after I got off! I got into Puebla late in the evening and just plotted my next 2 days in the area and went to bed. In the morning I was up early to start exploring and went on a walking tour of Puebla. This city is mostly known as the home of the victorious Cinco de Mayo battle, and there are monuments all over town indicating this. It also had one of the most beautiful cathedrals I`ve seen so far on this trip, right in the heart of the city. It isn`t a big tourist center, so there wasn`t much to focus on other than just wandering around, but it is another old and colonial place and I spent the day with a girl who offered to be my guide and she had lots of information to share about the town and the people who call it home, so it was a wonderful day.
Cholula is a town about 30 minutes away, but really the two cities have grown together and you can`t really tell where one ends and the other begins. Cholula has branches of nearly all the important Mexican universities and is thus known as an intellectual hub. It is much calmer than Puebla and has lots of museums and shops and galleries. The founder of this city had a goal to build 365 churches, one for each day of the year. Although they never got close, there are still a LOT of churches and from some of the lookouts all you can see are church domes and steeples jutting out all over the place. The highlight of the town are the pyramids. Their are 3 pyramids, all built one on top of the other because when a knew Indian tribe conquered the old, they would build theirs on top of the last one. Then when the Spanish arrived, they decided to build a Catholic church on top of the pyramids to show their domination and to show that Christian beliefs would prevail over their pagan gods. There are tunnels you can walk through and several of the areas are still being excavated.
And that is what I have been up to the past 10 days. I now am down to my final 2 weeks….we`ll see what I manage to do in that time.