My little sister spent this semester studying abroad in Mexico City, so I had the good fortune of getting into town before she left.
With only a few days to share, we decided to head a few hours south to Oaxaca for a rare brother-sister trip. We’d heard nothing but positive things about Oaxaca from just about everyone in the family, from the food, to the people, to the colonial, easy-going feel of the city, so we got to work right away trying to figure out arrangements.
In a few minutes we settled on a basic AirBnB and an overnight ADO bus for the 6-to-7 hour drive. Booking our AirBnB was easy (I love the sharing economy and the UX on their website). Getting our bus tickets booked was a nightmare since they don’t accept foreign cards, something they don’t communicate anywhere on their site, and which we concluded after trying two Visas and two Mastercards. It was even more frustrating because their prices go way up for same-day purchases, which we were pretty much forced to do at the box office an hour before our midnight departure.
The ADO bus was clean, modern, and the seats had a good bit of recline. What made it hard to sleep were the curvy roads and the inconsiderate passenger chatting away on his cell phone and talking to the guy across the aisle until well past 1 am, while everyone was trying to sleep. Nonetheless, we arrived around 7 am, a little tired, but excited to explore Oaxaca for a few days.
After a crisp 15 minute walk to our AirBnB, Conchita, our host, was sweet enough to let us settle in right away so we could get the party started. We did just that with a massive, delicious breakfast at Mercado 20 de noviembre, where the food stalls are endless, the people inviting, the sights and smells tempting, and prices perfect for a budget traveler.
We both went with local delicacies – a mole negro tamal for her and a chorizo tlayuda for me, paired with chocolate de agua. Everything was as tasty as we’d heard and very filling. It was the only thing we’d eat all day, even after walking 16 miles exploring the city. Crazy, but true.
After finally catching the last Hunger Games movie -in 3D for $8 total, for both of us!- I decided to close out the day by getting my haircut, since it’d been 2 weeks and I like to keep it fresh. I must confess that it was quite hard to let anyone near my not-hella-good hair (as my niece likes to remark) after entrusting it exclusively to the talented gents at Sal’s Barbershop in Seattle for 4+ years. But after passing up on a few shops because I wasn’t feeling them, I settled on one without a wait and the Liga MX semifinal on the tv.
I figured the guy in his 50s with a nice little shop and good tools at his disposal wouldn’t let me down. And after he finished his work on my sides and the fade passed muster, I was happy with my choice and thought I was on my way to a solid haircut for 100 pesos. I have really thick hair and have it thinned out every other cut, so I asked him to leave the length as it was and just give it a quick go with the thinning shears. I wish I hadn’t.
He did far too many passes and absolutely wrecked my coif. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I could literally see the frizz in my shadow the next morning. He left me no choice but to shave it all off with my micro-USB trimmer (good purchase; one less charger to pack!). Frizzy, bad hair? Ain’t nobody got time for that!
I’m certain the days of getting compliments on my hair are now behind me; I have a huge white head with a few battle wounds. But the silver lining is that it’s appropriate for a fresh start (which this trip definitely is), is very functional, and easy to keep good and tight. I just get up and go now.
In theory, I don’t even have to look in the mirror (but I do anyhow). Plus, I won’t have to pay for any haircuts or buy/pack pomade any time soon. I will have to invest in a hat and more sunscreen soon though because rocking my keffiyeh in today’s Islamophobic climate may prevent me from ever going home if Trump becomes POTUS. Such is life.
After channeling my inner Britney Spears, we grabbed another good, yet not-so-big breakfast (complete with an explicit hip hop soundrack, for whatever reason), scored some free tickets to the Sinfónica de Oaxaca, and left on a day long tour with SanTours.
I usually avoid organized tours, but with no time to research or plan, it was the only option to make the most of our time in Oaxaca. Why do I avoid them? They tend to go to mediocre, overpriced restaurants & add shopping stops, which I’m sure they get kickbacks from, and this was no different. But our guide, Gabriel, was great and very knowledgeable about Oaxaca and its indigenous culture, Monte Albán, and Mexican history in general, which was a plus.
All in all, it was a good way to spend the day and barnstorm through 2000 year-old Zapotec ruins, a very unique church and chapel from 1555, and see local artisans do amazing things. I’d recommend it, but pack a lunch and skip the food.
After the tour, we rushed to shower up and head to the symphony, which was putting on a free performance at 8pm. Oaxaca is rich in culture, but I certainly didn’t expect to spend 90 minutes in an old, beautiful theater listening to Mozart, Nielsen, and Beethoven. A solid find, for sure.
Very surprisingly, though, what took us forever to find were tacos after the show. Seriously. I can’t believe I’m writing this sentence (and we were certainly in disbelief that night), but it was hard to find tacos in the middle of Oaxaca on a Friday night. There was an endless parade of hot dog & hamburger carts, however. They were seemingly on every corner, for many blocks in different directions. Insane!
We finally lucked out on a little cart in the park and got some tacos al pastor and gringas right before they closed down, followed by some craft beers. We’d clocked in 13 miles that day, so we were beat and hit the hay earlyish.
The next morning, after another chocolate con agua, a tlayuda (split between the two of us; we learned our lesson), some delicious grasshoppers to take back to Mexico City, and two failed attempts to get some Aguas Casilda (a local institution dating back to 1926) we wrapped up our time in Oaxaca with a mad, hot dash to the bus terminal. It was a very close call, no thanks to the second attempt to grab Aguas Casilda, which supposedly opened at 11, but didnt.
We made it with 3 minutes to go! Long enough to grab a huge bottle of water and high-five to our impossibly tight on-time arrival. Whew.