To get from Tehuacán to Oaxaca you have two options: The toll road, 135D, or the free Ruta 135, which is looking exceptionally twisty and fun. The border between the states of Puebla and Oaxaca is also a unique transition into a high desert.
This map again: sticking to the twisty 135. Where are we?
Starting to get pretty close to the end of Mexico! This is where things start getting noticeably different: different climates, environments, our first jungles, and the edge of Aztec Mexico as it starts to transition to ancient Mayan Mexico.
Fortunately, unlike the explorers of yore, we had faster means of transportation than donkeys, and these roads have beautiful, curvy tarmac to carve with our tires.
What a unique landscape out here. It reminded us of Baja, but at such altitudes and with such desolation. Morbidly brown, dry mountainsides with dramatic rock striations.
Stu loves a good rock.
We made occasional water breaks; it was getting warmer as we descended towards Oaxaca. We also stopped just to take some photos, because these curves lent themselves to some dramatic sweeping.
If there’s ever a need for a promotional image of Ruta 153, we humbly submit this one:
Note the green stuff on the next mountain over. We’d successfully escaped the arid region and were now heading into the hills around Oaxaca, which surprisingly bloomed with actual green vegetation. It was wetter here, and the air hitting our faces felt warmer with every turn.
It was also the lower sun that was now shining in our face. It was getting dark by the time we rolled into Oaxaca.
Oaxaca (pronounced kind of like Wa-Hakka) is a state in Mexico that’s very well known for its culture and scenery. It’s pretty vast, stretching almost from the Caribbean to the Pacific, and almost smack dab in the middle of it sits Oaxaca City. Once an area of settlements of warring Zapotec and Mixtec natives, the greatest ruin that reminds you of its past is on hill outside of town called Monte Alban, which is the site of an Aztec fortress that was once used to maintain a military presence to rule the area.
When the Spanish came around, they used a their traditional, exceptional peacemaking technique to finally end generations of fighting between the locals by killing basically everyone and enslaving whoever remained.
They also established what is now modern day Oaxaca city, which gives it its beautiful colonial architecture.
It was far too late for us to make it up the hill, so we wandered town for local specialties: mole, chocolate, art, and one I’d heard of since Baja: mezcal. Oh boy, do I love mezcal.
Side note: apologies for the photo quality drop as we often avoid walking with big cameras in unknown cities at night. You never know…
The streets were slammed with people, music, and food. Oaxaca is a sublime city, one I truly loved the moment I started wandering around in it. If you’re not in the colonial cobblestone streets you’re walking through covered walkways filled with people and stalls.
There was also some kind of party happening (in Mexico? You don’t say!) and people were in costumes, playing music and having an incredible time. There were balloons all around the place and people selling various edibles and beverages including this rather fantastic rig:
Nevermind, I decided to grab a camera.
I love the image Stu took of me with this kid, who kept calling me ‘Thor’. There were actual people in costume there, like Captain America, and I guess I looked the part!
Apart from the bucolic zocalo and the partying locals, another treasure of this place that we kept coming back to was chocolate. I don’t think I’ve ever had the feeling like chocolate was a drug. Some people (cough, girls) joke about how chocolate is a drug to them, and something they need to keep them happy. Sound recognizable?
Well, we’re near the birthplace of chocolate. The word “chocolate” comes from the Nahuatl word chocolātl. Aztecs loved the stuff. And sure enough, the chocolate here is insane.
We had a cup at this particular place, Oaxaca en Una Taza (Oaxaca in a cup). It wasn’t just good; I felt invigorated and pulsing with energy until 3 AM. I’ve had highs from drugs that were less intense. If you’re in Oaxaca City, you owe it to yourself to get a hot cocoa or a mocha here. Who knows, perhaps they slipped some amphetamines in our cup, but it was a real experience.
After the joys of mole and chocolate we indulged in some mezcal (ahem, some) and we hit the bed.
We got an early start the next day just taking in the city and its sights.
There’s always an ‘interesting bike of the city’ we find, and this one is awesome. I’d do a RTW trip on it, you?
Some kind of dog show! These good boys were doing a very good job following commands. As far as our experiences with dogs in Mexico go, they must be the 0.1%.
A short walk from the zocalo is the gorgeous cathedral of Oaxaca.
Beautiful vignettes of colonial architecture, color and character at every turn. I really, really love this city.
A piñata? Unsure. Beautiful, though.
This blind man played music. We did ask his permission to take a photo — it’d be rather tasteless not to.
Just your average street decorations:
Mercado Benito Juárez is the most-go indoor market in Oaxaca City. Expect to find everything, including some really weird foods like maggots, grasshoppers and lots of meat. The place was absolutely filled with smoke. Awesome.
The markets go on on the streets, with beautiful little bits of art and culture whichever way you go. We purchased a few skulls to safety-wire to the bikes. Unfortunately mine only made it a few miles before it shattered.
As we walked back to the hotel, we reveled in the bustle and warmth of this city.
Stu noticed some locals having a very hard time getting a lug nut loose on their car, so we helped out. By ‘we helped out’ I mean that I took photos while Stu did the hard work:
Content with food and sightseeing in the city we rode the bikes up to Monte Alban, the Aztec fortress. The views got staggering:
… and unfortunately that’s where it ended. Monte Alban closed very early, so we weren’t allowed entry. We peeked at it from afar and walked around the old trails up on the mountain. It’s a beautiful hill, and being up there makes it easy to understand why they fortified it so long ago. It has a commanding position overlooking the entire valley, with all its hillsides easily in view. Thick shrubs make it hard to get through the vegetation unless you follow certain routes.
Disappointed, we headed back down and debated whether or not we should stay in this magical city for just another night.
How could we not. Chocolate, magic, mezcal and superheroes filled the city as the sun went down. Adventure could wait a day.