Of all the places I was planning to visit in Mexico, Oaxaca City was the one I was most interested in seeing. When I was deciding whether to go to Mexico, my friend, who has travelled extensively through Mexico and Central America, asked me what I seek in a travel destination. I said colours, nice architecture, nature opportunities, history, good food and art. She said Oaxaca City had all those things and she was right.
On our first day, we visited Monte Alban, an archaeological site twenty minutes outside the city. I enjoyed Monte Alban more than Teotihuacan, perhaps because it was less crowded but mainly because it sits atop a man-made ridge which gives a 360 degree panoramic view of the Oaxaca valley. I was awed by the beauty of the valley with its undulating hues of brown, green, yellow and red.
Oaxaca is absolutely charming with its narrow streets, colonial architecture and friendly people. There is a festiveness and joie de vivre that is palpable in the city. It is often acknowledged as the cultural capital of Mexico and we made sure to visit numerous museums and art galleries. However, the city oozes so much atmosphere, it’s fun just walking around, sitting, observing and eating! At night, the city is alive with vendors selling handicrafts and performers.
We spent New Year’s Eve drinking tequila shots in the plaza (apparently legal) with some hostelmates. It was an inspiring and privileged experience to observe how the locals celebrate the New Year’s. Whereas in North America, the New Year is usually about drinking and getting sloshed, in Mexico, the event is about family and fun. There was no countdown to midnight so 2010 caught us by surprise. After the clock struck 12, the real festivities began. Everyone began to spray each other with foam sold by vendors in the square.
Then the foam spraying turned into eggshell throwing.
New Year’s Day was spent hiking in Pueblos Mancomunados which consists of eight villages, an hour north of the city, in the Sierra Norte. We booked our hike with Expediciones Sierra Norte, an ecotourism operator which I would highly recommend. They utilize local guides and it appears that most of the money goes directly to the community. We paid the operator our entrance fee but the rest of the money was handed over to the community office upon our arrival.
Sonia must have found my friend and I to be curious people. First, I wore all beige and my friend wore all black. We looked like two giant blobs. The lady wore flats with absolutely no traction yet I nearly fell a dozen times with my running shoes. And my friend and I both took a ridiculous number of photos with our SLRs yet we still felt the need to pull our point-and-shoots at more treacherous regions of the trail.
Cuajimoloyas was probably the highlight of the trip. It was so tranquil and calming to be in the remoteness of the Sierra Norte. The beginning of the trek featured more dry vegetation but as we ventured further into the forest, the flora became lusher, richer and more saturated. We climbed up and down, walking through the Coyote Canyon and eventually made our way to the top of the mountain where the view was stunning.
It was a wonderful day but it was grey, damp and cold. Quite frankly, I was happy when we returned to the village. Unfortunately, because it was New Year’s Day, the bus was running on a limited schedule so we had no time to explore the village and had to return back to the city. The bus ride was fun, however. We were standing for nearly an hour on winding roads and some kids on the bus were absolutely fascinated by my friend and me, the only two Asians on the bus.
I had a lovely time in Oaxaca and would return in a heartbeat. I love how the city is so vibrant and festive yet the tranquility of the Sierra Norte is only an hour away. I hope to return in the future and further explore the city and the surrounding province.