“Each time I say good-bye to a place I like, I feel like I am leaving a part of me behind. I guess whether we choose to travel as much as Marco Polo did or stay in the same spot from cradle to grave, life is a sequence of births and deaths. Moments are born and moments die. For new experiences to come to light, old ones need to wither away.” ― Elif Şafak, The Forty Rules of Love
Every place has its very own strength of holding you. Sometimes it is easy to let go, moving on in an instance, pulled to the next destination. Other times a place holds you firmly, in a tight grip, and it takes effort to say goodbye. Oaxaca is one of these places that hold you. Too much to explore, too many things to experience.
It is very rich in culture with a population that’s well over 50% indigenous, many people speaking indigenous languages instead of Spanish, several little towns specialized in specific trades, like ceramics and weaving.
We chose Santa Maria del Tule, a small town just outside the city as our temporary home base. This town is famous for a huge tree, which Erdem had been looking forward to seeing for a long time. El Árbol del Tule has a circumference of 42.0 m (137.8 ft)! and its age is estimated to be around 1400 years. It is sometimes called the “Tree of Life” due to shapes of animals that, with some imagination, are visible in the tree’s gnarled trunk.
We arrived right on time to catch the end of a big annual celebration. As we walked onto the town square a procession began and we followed them watching, eating, dancing until well into the night. Guelaguetza, is an indigenous cultural event that celebrates local traditions and we arrived on the day of the grand finale.
Erdem visibly pleased by the new culinary treats. Tlayudas, Empenadas, Memelitas– food in all shapes.
Fried plantains for desert! Yum.
We were offered Pulque, an original drink made from fermented Agave plants, and lots of Mezcal, a drink similar to Tequila that was created from the same plant after the Spaniards desired a slightly stronger brew. (Mezcal is usually consumed with a red powder made of chili, salt, and ground up worms.) We continued drinking all night, until the Mezcal guy became Erdem’s best friend, the whole town knew we enjoyed ourselves too much, and the ladies started to drag us up the stage for the final dance.
We knew we would be staying for a long time in Oaxaca, so we had contacted Leanne and Calvin, the owners of Overlander Oasis. This nice Canadian couple has settled in Tule after a grand adventure down south in their converted bus. They know very well that the best way of traveling without leaving home, is to host other travelers. This was by far the most comfortable place we stayed so far.
Calvin and Leanne have four cats and a funny dog. It never seizes to be fun hanging around the open architecture. There’s always a project in the garage, something cooking in the kitchen, some new traveller arriving/leaving or a festivity to attend to. Life here almost feels scripted.
Morena looks like a dog, but in fact, she’s a door bell. You feed her some food and she lets you know when someone new shows up. She also happens to have funny crooked teeth.
Our first visit to the supermarket was interesting. We were asking around since we couldn’t find it. It turned out that the town “supermarket” is actually a slightly more permanent market place with booths that have roofs. Far from what our western eyes were looking for. You can park your bicycle right in the middle of it, as long as you’re ok with skeptical observers.
The next few days were marked by eating and sleeping—a well needed rest after weeks of sensory overload.
The Tlacolula Sunday market provided a nice distraction. It was a huge maze of colors and scents.
Pork skin and sausages?
Chapulines – spicy grasshoppers.
Martin and Nicole, were Mezcal-tasting-their-way-through-the-day. After four years on the road, they know what matters ;)…
Rambutan fruits. Sarah knew these from Sri Lanka, and was happy to find them in Mexico as well.
These plucked chickens below are the weirdest toys. It’s like playing with a cadaver…
Alebrijes – brightly colored folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures, typical for the region.
Oaxaca city certainly feels a lot more touristy than the little towns surrounding it. Palacio de Gobierno, showed the strangest mix of exhibitions. From bronze sculptures, to traditional dresses and modern interpretations, and the world’s largest tortilla somewhere in a corner underneath the staircase, there was everything you could possibly think of.
The state of Oaxaca is quite interesting in terms of food. More culinary research to be done, but this pineapple stuffed with seafood and melted cheese was pretty high on our list of favourites. Not sure if this is in any way typical though.
Beet and grapefruit salad with fish was pretty good too, but the spicy Michelada drink, (beer with lime juice and tons of spices) may take a few more tries to get used to.
The local Mezcal place gave us a little puppeteering show as we were buying a taster size bottle of cappuccino flavoured Mezcal/crema de Maguey (the Mexican version of Baileys).
The teachers in Oaxaca have been protesting the governments ill treatment of education rights since 2006. This is probably one of the most chronic conflicts in Mexico. Most people we talked to don’t even know what the protests are about. They just live with it. We witnessed a few blockades and occupation events even during our short stay. The tents below are located at the center of the town.
This man was performing services that seemed to be a mixture of shamanistic and chiropractic methods.
Our culinary research continues! Tasting four kinds of ‘Mole’s in one of the best restaurants of the town…
The market in the city centre also offered an interesting array of food.
During our stay in this town, we realized that it was lacking an important cultural event. Oaxaca does not have a Japanese Horror Short Film Festival! We proposed the idea to Leanne and Calvin. They supported it and suggested to host the very first Annual Oaxaca Japanese Horror Short Film Festival. Erdem quickly made a poster. We had guests from Germany, Austria, Canada, Mexico and Turkey! The festival has been an international success!
Erdem’s horrible speech was perfectly suited. Three different kinds of popcorn were served. Sweet, salty and with salsa!
Erdem’s stay in Oaxaca was interrupted by a phone call summoning him back to work for a meeting and workshop in Los Angeles. He spent a week in LA and another one in Oaxaca concentrating on an important presentation.
Leanne and Sarah dropping Erdem at the Oaxaca International Airport in their restored Volkswagen Safari.
The trip was a great excuse to spend some time with Bintuğ, pictured here in his well-deserved chef’s uniform as he leaves for work in the morning.
Bintuğ and Nabila hosted Erdem with open arms during this visit in Los Angeles.
It was also perfectly timed to vote at the presidential elections being held in Turkey. This was the first time expats were allowed to vote in their country of residence. Ironically, it may also be the last elections being held. Ozan and Erdem had to walk the talk…
Christianna’s book launch and Joe’s birthday were also being celebrated simultaneously. Erdem surprised them with an unannounced appearance at the door.
Lara organized this “birth” “day” party using Christianna’s book launch as an excuse to celebrate Joe’s 50th. He’s too humble to have any celebrations for his birthday.
Joe manages to live life without losing any of his boyish ingenuity and cheerfulness. Christianna’s book “A Culinary History of the Nebraska Sandhills” is the result of a long research and journey. We’re looking forward to read and experience the taste of her discoveries.
Back to realities of life on the road… Erdem and Calvin built a windscreen for the stove. Calvin is so good and precise at building things, Erdem could barely get his hands dirty. The entire facility at Overlander Oasis was crafted and maintained with love.
On the road to Hierve La Agua, enjoying some unpaved roads, rural life and Turkish meatballs…
Being together 24/7 on the road is not always easy. We occasionally do have fights! Mostly about silly things…
A cute sign at the entrance of Hierva Del Agua. We think it reads something like: “We the animals don’t need to be humane, but you do…” In any case, it’s fun to imagine a snail, a bird, a possum, a rat and an owl painting this signage… It’s aesthetically consistent with the message.
We camped at a spot overlooking the mountain range in the distance and watched the full-moon rise among the distant lightning show.
The view in the morning was breath-taking.
Scott is a photographer and musician based in New York. Within minutes of meeting him, we decided to spend the night together at Hierve La Agua. In fact, we ended up traveling together back to Santa Maria Del Tule for the town festival and then to Playa Del Zipolite at the shores of the Pacific Ocean. We had unforgettable fun times thanks to his relentless power of conceptualizing the most awkward situations imaginable. Above, Erdem is attending a wound on his neck inflicted by a crazy man on the streets of New York. Scott decided to escape to the safety of Mexico after being attacked by a stranger in in his hometown. Keep riding the rim Scott!
We stopped to help a Tuk-tuk driver who ran out of gas near Mitla. This marks the first time we’re using our spare gas container.
Most Mexican people we meet, especially indigenous ones are quite short. It looks like the same is true for the Zapotecs who built this town 3000 years ago.
As usual, the Spaniards have built a church in a pre-existing sacred location. This must have been the first chapter of the book “How to Assimilate Local Cultures: A guidebook for invaders!”.
Erdem is examining the carved patterns to evaluate the theoretical connection between the rattle-snake skin and pre-Columbian architecture… Supposedly, the serpent was deified in Maya and Aztec cultures because it presented them the knowledge of geometry. i.e. The geometric basics were initiated by imitating the patterns on rattle-snake skins.
Scott does not seem to be convinced. It really is a far stretched idea.
Sarah and Scott contemplating the courtyard. It’s quite inspiring to imagine a communal space like this. It feels like a courtyard in-between shipping containers would create a similar architectural effect. Hmmm…
Back at the Overlander Oasis to join the town celebration. Master-chefs Leanne and Calvin spoiled us with delicious German Spaetzle with Rouladen, and passionfruit Pavlova. Was fuer eine Gaumenfreude! They know how to make Germans, Austrians, Australians, Canadians, and Turks all happy at once!
As if we haven’t had enough Mexican car crashes yet, we chose to enjoy a round of bumper cars before the town celebrations began. Little did we know that more crashes were ahead of us in Oaxaca!
Mexicans+fireworks=pyrotechnic mastery galore! In Tule we experienced a war zone lasting for several hours, which they lovingly call “town celebration”, coinciding with the holiday of the Assumption of Mary.
Mexicans are known for handcrafted fireworks, like “castillos” (castles) and “toritos” (little bulls). The celebration started with little kids carrying toritos, progressing to older guys carrying increasingly bigger and louder pyrotechnic pieces, and culminated at 1am in what felt like an extremely beautiful attempt of burning down the town square and local church, all while multiple bands were playing against eachother with all their might. What a party! Certainly an experience not to miss when in Mexico!
One of the most interesting bamboo constructions is, this strange propeller. The capsules on the edges rotate the structure fast enough to create a centrifugal force stabilizing it. The fat boy at the center thrusts it up. The same principle that stabilizes space rockets! In a way, this is Mexican rocket-science!
“Having fun aren’t we?”
Oaxaca treated us well! It was an unforgettable grand-finale.
On our way to pick-up Scott from his hostel, we were side-bumped by a van that rushed out of a parking lot. The careless driving habits in this country are quite impressive. People just don’t care. Most cars have bumps on them, and we are slowly “blending-in”…
Unsurprisingly the driver (young guy on the right with the white wife-beater) did not have insurance. In fact, it would be surprising if he had a license. After two hours of negotiations, he agreed to cover the costs of a local repair estimate, which amounts to nothing by US standards. We took the money and left, hoping that he would be more careful in the future.
Having the company of Scott encouraged us to devour a whole chicken on the side of the road. This is wild country!
The road to Pacific Ocean from Oaxaca is steep and windy. We were driving for eight hours to cover less than 250kms. Luckily, Erdem never gets tired of the road. Let’s see how long it will take us to go to the Atlantic from here… and what we will be leaving behind this time.