Week 48: Puerto Escondido & Mazunte. Mexico

The week started off at Puerto Escondido’s typical slow pace. My days here are a bit of a blur so apologies for the lack of detail. There were a few things I really wanted from Puerto; relaxation, swimming in the sea and the most important was to taste Pepe’s famous fish tacos. From travelers I had met along the way I had heard rave reviews. I took one of the hostel’s bike and went on a journey to try to  find the man himself. I heard Pepe did excellent cookery classes which I really wanted to try.  I arrived to Pepe’s shack on the outskirts of Zicatela’s main beach.

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Cycle 10 minutes in Puerto and you will have the beach to yourself
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Morning swims my favourite time of the day

First reactions of Pepe weren’t great. Firstly he was half-naked chopping down wood and presumably drunk or high or most likely both. When I inquired about the taco making class Pepe started shouting and cursing saying he was pissed off with the world and that the owner didn’t pay rent etc etc etc. I thought I had the wrong Pepe. He was bulling because his waitress never turned up for work and he would have to make the Tacos himself. Not exactly a big deal as I was the only customer. Luckily she rocked up, drunk aswell. The taco eventually was thrown together. At this stage expectations were v low but what was produced was nothing short of a master piece. Sword fish coated in a coconut batter served with guacamole, pineapple salsa, smoky picante and the most glorious yogurt dip.  I was raging Pepe wasn’t able for the classes because I want the recipe badly.

Pepe has a lot of problems but the fish tacos ain’t one of them. Por favor give this man a Michelin star and maybe some counselling.

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A work of art

En route home I had a taste for fish tacos and I wanted more so I stopped by a place recommended to me by the hostel, El viaje.

I got chatting to a random man called Yuan who was sitting next to me. He subsequently told me his best mate also called Yuan owned the restaurant. A general rule of thumb if you don’t know a Mexicans name a safe bet is Yuan (or Jose). Anyway long story short I got lapping to the owner and we had a bitch about Pepe and he offered me a job for the following morning

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Yuan’s prawn and fish tacos

So delighted with the opportunity to learn how to make Mexican Tacos I arrived the next morning with bells on. Yuan’s tacos were excellent too with a touch of Italy. He spent a few years in Italy and you can tell from his food. I think Italian food is the best in the world so this was always going to be a sensational combo.

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The excitement over cutting a Mexican avocado. This superstar will beat Pepe in the kitchen any day of the week

I was a bit nervy starting work based on my previous experience in a Mexican kitchen getting screamed at by chef Regina (the witch). Anyway this was Puerto Escondido and things here are v chilled so I was in for a treat. We had some craic and Yuan and all the staff were so nice to me. I learnt heaps, ate loads and sweated buckets. It was really busy so I was kept going frying prawns, toasting tortillas and making guac. I sampled the most insane ceviche, carpachio of fish and of course countless amounts of tacos. They had to roll me out of the place. The owner Yuan used to be a professional surfer and a couple of years ago he randomly moved to Russia to open a Taco bar serving authentic Mexican food. He is a legend and overall great guy. On this occasion it seriously paid off chatting to strangers.

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They even made me some lowpro tacos
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The most delicious ceviche
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This is a traditional Mexican breakfast called Chilaquiles: a yummy unhealthy combo of fried tortillas, tomato picante topped with cream, cheese, onion and avocado

I was beefed when I got back to the hostel having been on my feet all day in the humid heat. I’m also not exactly accustomed to doing any work. Any one going to Puerto you need to check out Yuan’s restaurant (El Viaje). His most famous taco is the smoked fish. He smokes the fish himself out the back and it is divine.

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EL Viaje’s legendary staff and a very sweaty Ró

That evening, a group from the hostel were all heading off to the main beach of Zicatela to have beers and watch the sunset. Beer is just what the doctor ordered so I tagged along. We spent the night bar hoping and finished off into the early hours drinking mescal while watching an electrical storm on the beach.

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One of the many sunsets in Puerto

Fabien one of the gals staying the hostel was a funny fish (in the best possible way). She was 50 odd and was Italian/Argentinian but lived in Brasil. Anyway she asked me to go to the beach with her and after a few beers (at 10am!!!) she had me up doing salsa dancing on front of e body . She used to be a professional dancer for carnival in Brasil so knew her shit. I’m not easily embarrassed but on this occasion MORTIFIED!

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Crazy Fabian and randomer in the beautiful hostel’s pool
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Saying goodbye while travelling is always the hardest part. This is Samuel and Fabien, absolute legends

Anyway as much as I wanted to stay longer in Puerto lots of people had told me there were more beautiful quieter beaches further down the coast that were worth seeing.

Leaving the hostel was a bit of a disaster. Anytime I have to move the backpack things get chaotic and things go missing. On this occasion it was the passport. I was half way down the street en route to the bus stop when one of the staff from the hostel came sprinting after me with my passport saying I had forgotten it at reception. These kind of situations are becoming more and more frequent. I have just been extremely lucky with the sound people I have met that have prevented lots of potential disasters.

I ended up hitch hiking to Mazunte because I missed the last bus.  Mazunte is a very sleepy beach town very popular with the hippy community. I arrived and checked into a hostel on the beach and was sharing with two lovely girls. I only planned on staying 2 nights here as for the first time in my whole trip I was short on time and I had to rush. There is not doubt that Mazunte is stunning but it is also insanely hot even more so than Puerto Escondido.

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Magical Mazunte
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The most stunning coffee shop views

I got wind that there was free yoga happening the following am at 7 am on top of the hill. I’m a sucker for anything free so decided to give it a whirl.

I arrived and immediately felt like I was in a cult. The first thing I saw was there was a ban on talking!! I thought a little ott but just went with the flow. I got my mat and for some reason felt like a criminal. I couldn’t even ask for the yoga class because of talking ban. I made the most of this and just had a nap. An hour later the teacher comes in and I figured this must have been the free yoga class. Obviously I was wrong and it transpired that it was a two-hour work shop on becoming a yoga instructor. The people in the class were on a months retreat and considering I wasn’t allowed talk  I felt like I couldn’t leave in case I disturbing the zen mode. As everyone was scribbling down notes frantically I tried not to expose myself too much in fear of having to pay a hefty amount at the end.

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Mazunte

After a painful 2 hours we eventually started the free yoga class. This was rough because I was amongst professionals so it was clear as day I was an outsider. Anyway I got through the experience and after 4 hours I had my fix of hippies and sprinted out of the place. I was invited to participate in devotional singing that night which I politely declined.

Back on the beach I spent most of the time swimming and escaping the heat in the most beautiful cafe overlooking the ocean. Mazunte has it all; gorgeous cafes, bakeries and the freshest seafood. There is a lovely little coastal trek you can do to watch sunset it was beautiful albeit a little overcast. I went back the following morning for the most amazing sunrise.

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Sunrise in Mazunte

The next day was much of the same. I wisely replaced yoga with coronas and seafood on the beach with my new Argentinian mate Gustavo. Puerto Escondido is a fantastic  place and I was so glad to spend time in Mazunte also. The Pacific is the place to be so everyone should add it to their list. Myself and Gustavo were both catching the same night bus that eve to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapus.

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The scene of the crime  where I lost my 23rd pair of sunglasses of the trip. Hairy Eyes are with the Pacific now
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Mazunte had the most stunning coastal walks
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Surfers paradise

Week 47: Oaxaca, Sierra Norte & Puerto Escondido. Mexico

The start of the week was pretty chilled and just spent eating, drinking and exploring lots of Oaxaca’s markets.

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That facial expression when you have made a sale. This woman made beautiful carpets.
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Getting lost in Mexican Markets
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Getting dolled up for market day
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Bargaining for onions
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Shop till you drop

Oaxaca is a large city surrounded by the Sierra Norte mountains. I had read that something really unique and worthwhile doing was trekking between the indigenous villages in the mountains. I inquired about how to go about this and everywhere was saying you needed to take a tour. Generally speaking I hate doing tours not only from the money side of things but often I find them really contrived and you have no freedom to go at your own pace. Also, I am a sucker for a challenge.  I had read that you could actually go solo and just pay the entrance fee to each pueblo but info on this was lacking. Having not trekked in weeks I was dying for the adventure. I decided to resurrect the tent and after a lot of effort I eventually found a collectivo to take me to one of the indigenous villages. Needless to say I fell asleep on the bus, missed the stop and added an extra 8 km onto an already long trek. Anyway it was still gorgeous and it was so nice to be back in the crisp fresh air. I love cities and beaches but I would pick a mountain any day of the week.

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The pine forests of the Sierra Norte

This area is covered in pine forests and is absolutely stunning and best of all un discovered. I started trekking and at the beginning it was fairly straightforward but a bit tough going with the heavy backpack. I got to the village where one of the guides told me there was an American couple trekking solo too and they were headed in the same direction as me and it would be safer to go together. The guide told me to wait 10 minutes for them but what he actually meant was they left 10 minutes ago so after waiting a half an hour I realised they were well and truly gone. So true to nature I headed off alone. It was a stunning route but there was no doubt it was a challenge.

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Day 1 featured a lot of trekking through fields of maize
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Maize for miles
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There was the most stunning flowers in the Sierra Norte
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Stunning red tipped cactus

There were multiple forks and several paths making it super easy to get lost (which I did on several occasions). At one point I walked for an hour in the wrong direction and ended up in a Man’s farmhouse (unfortunately Man was mia). I decided to turn around and luckily a gardener came running towards me, eccentrically happy to see me (the feeling was mutual). The indigenous people here speak a native language so their spanish is rusty at best.  It was really difficult to understand him. He told me the Americans were lost too and that to follow him and he would take me to them. Indigenous Man was super fit and I am not so he was literally sprinting and I was trying to keep up with him which proved v tough. He eventually put me on the right path and told me I had about 2 hours to reach the next village (so at my pace I was predicting 4 hours). After about 10 minutes I was lost again but luckily stumbled across the most amazing selection of wild mushrooms.

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Picture perfect mushroom

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The most insane  mushrooms

They have these little yellow signs indicating the route and naturally enough they have loads at the beginning and then they basically they become non-existent. Typically parts of the trek where you really need to see the yellow man he is nowhere to be found.

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This little man was playing very hard to get during my trek in the Sierra Norte
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Feeling fresh day 1

After about an hour I got back on the route pretty exhausted I dragged myself into the village just as the sun was setting. The climate here was completely different to the city of Oaxaca and pretty icy at night. I had planned on camping considering I had lugged tent and stove with me. The village I arrived at was called La Nevaria home to only 75 people so as you can imagine there is not much going on here.

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No body gets left behind on the mountains

I was shattered and the cabana owner was really kind and told me it was too cold to camp and just let me stay in the most beautiful cabana for free (It had 3 double beds it and a wood fire). I inhaled dinner which was delicious.  To start we had  hot chocolate and sweet breads to follow homemade tortilla, steak, eggs, rice and heaps of picante to help us worm up. Glorious. I eventually tracked down the mysterious Americans and we had dinner together. I slept a glorious 10 hours that night. The next morning I was up and after a delicious breakie I was set for another days hiking. This was going to be a toughie as I needed to walk 30 km to make it to the next village. I had hoped I could tag along with the Americans but god love them they were puking their rings up (post frijoles) so I once again set off alone.

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Foggy wake up calls from my Cabana
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Imagine living here!

Day 2’s scenery was beautiful I was mainly in the secluded forest. I had it completely to myself and didn’t see a sinner. I got lost (obviously) but not as bad as the day before. I was  in bits  considering how out of shape I am. I was walking so slow the Americans caught up with me and even over took me they were flying it. As soon as the sun was setting I decided it was best pitch the tent in the forest as I couldn’t feel my legs. This was at about km 27. The scenery was so spectacular I wanted to enjoy it. So I camped in a beautiful area and had some dinner of stale bread and a rotten tomato not exactly gourmet but it did the job. One of the down sides of wild camping once it gets dark you have nothing to do and nowhere to go especially when flying solo. I happened to have the series Stranger Things downloaded on my phone and had heard it was v good. Probably the worst possible series I could have chosen while sleeping in a forest. It is a about a child who goes missing in the forest during a rainstorm. And true to nature a huge storm broke out and tent started to leak. The cherry on the cake was there was a local festival happening in one of the nearby towns where loads of bangers were going off ( sounds v similar to gun shots!). So I was v shook to say the least.  I got through the night and the next morning I set off for the village of Amatalan.

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The most beautiful trees
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Magical Pine forests; the smell was amazing
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Very easy to get lost here

Amatalan is a really cool village with panoramic views of the mountains. About 200 hundred people live here. I had some breakie with a few other travelers who were also trekking solo. The Sierra Norte is so so big that none of us saw each other during the trek. So day 3 I decided to trek to another village and from their catch a collectivo back to Oaxaca. A local lad told me 1 hour max so this resulted in a 3 hour trek. At this stage my body was just about cooperating.  Predictably Mexican time estimations are a little bit ridiculous. I couldn’t find a bus so luckily enough I was able to hitchhike to a nearby village where I was brought back to Oaxaca. I was absolutely nackered but equally delighted with myself for exploring a very untouched part of Mexico. A beautiful challenging experience. I would highly recommend it to anyone going to Oaxaca.

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Dreamy wake up calls in the Sierra Norte
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I love these weird-looking trees
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Breakfast was an apple tree beside my tent

I had the afternoon in Oaxaca before catching a night bus. Wandering around Oaxaca is the best you stumble across all sorts of random affairs. On this particular afternoon it was national maize day.  This consisted of hoards of Mexicans parading around dressed up as sweetcorn. Mexico are trying to protect their native maize.  It is extremely important as all of their foods are based on corn. Apparently there is a growing problem of GMO American maize coming into the country which is grown faster and therefore cheaper (and tastes awful!!!).  After this there was a huge protest for abortion rights in Oaxaca. Interestingly  in Mexico abortion is only legal in Mexico city in all other states it is still illegal.

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10/10 for effort
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It would be rude not to have an elote on national maize day
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Oaxaca City campaigning to legalese abortion

That night I was booked onto the notoriously rough bus to Puerto Escondido. This ride was turbulent and extremely puke inducing. I miraculously held it in and arrived into the sleepy beach town of Puerto Escondido at 6 am. I went for breakie and then explored the nearby beaches and first impressions were excellent.

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Feels after a night bus

The hostel was outside the main strip so was more chilled and close to the more secluded beaches. It was called Lomodeli and was excellent, amazing beds and the most gorgeous pool. It really was paradise. I made a great group of mates while I was there. That night it was one of the lads birthdays so cake and cornona were on the house. The next day I took a bike to one of the nearby beaches which was completely deserted. Back in the hostel while having a dip in the pool I made mates with a group of random Mexican men who were in Puerto for work. They invited for a seafood dinner saying it was on their work tab. So sound of them so we all had delicious prawns by the sea such a treat.  I ended up staying in Puerto way longer than expected as I think most people do. It is an addictive place that is very hard to leave. It is famous for its surfing waves but also its laid back chilled vibes and stunning beaches.

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Playa Carrizalillo
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Morning swims on an empty beach; Playa Carrizalillo
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Playa Baranco
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Seculded Sunsets on Playa Angelito

 

 

 

 

Week 46: Puebla, Cholula, Oaxaca, Tule, Tiotitlan,Tlacolula and Hierve del Agua. Mexico

*-In Cholula I ended up doing couch surfing with a lad called Artur. He was busy with Uni that week  so he handed me over to his parents. They insisted on picking me up from my hostel to bring me to their home town. Paty the Mam told me she was going to exercise class for retired women and I should come along. The class consisted of dancing with sombreros and sticks!  All the oldies were gas and we had a ball. Embarrassingly the next day I was actually stiff! Exercise has been put on the back burner for the past year. There are moments like this where you do start to question what are you doing with your life!

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View from Artur’s roof top; a regularly active volcano

When Artur returned from Uni  he seemed a little odd and not at all like his parents. The first thing we did was meet this random lad he was selling Pokemon cards to (one of his jobs on the side!). He was big into cartoons and videos games, not exactly my gig but each to their own as they say. Luckily I mainly hung out with his deadly parents who like me weren’t into the Pokemon scene.  They were huge fans of Luis Miguel (famous Mexican singer) so we used to have sing songs in the kitchen while making mole. The dream!

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Magical Mole

I had originally planned on only staying one night but Paty, the Mam convinced me to stay longer so she could bring me to the theatre. She was v glam and was v concerned about my appearance (or lack of in this case). She kitted me out (in some questionable gear) to make me theatre appropriate. She gave me a huge bag of clothes that no longer fit her to take with me. I even inherited a pair of fancy wedges (Paty wouldn’t let me wear my runners because of the smell!!!). In fairness to her she did an excellent job at gluing my Asics back together. She also gave all my other shoes/clothes a deep clean. A saint!

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Puebla has enough churches for every day of the year each more spectacular than the next
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You haven’t been to Mexico until you have picked up a Sombrero

The theatre was amazing and had dances and photography from the different regions in Mexico. The costumes were spectacular and I really loved it. It was such a treat and unique experience. Afterwards we had delicious elote (sweetcorn with cheese, chili and lemon is my favourite combo). Back at the house we had cheese and wine (they surprised me with this after I told them that’s what I really miss from home).  It was heavenly and a lovely finish to a memorable few days. So nice feeling part of a family.

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Getting dressed up in a 60 year olds clothes to go to the theatre in Mexico
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We went on Cholula’s version of London eye

My last day in Puebla I treated myself to wine and Chili en Negado  This dish represents the Mexican flag and originates from Puebla. It is a chili poblano which is fried and stuffed with dried fruit, spices, nuts and roasted meat. The star of the show is the cold sweet walnut sauce that covers the chili. It is finished off with pomegranate seeds and parsley. DIVINE. This dish is worth coming to Mexico for.

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I had to order two of these it’s that good
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Chili en Negado is the stuff of dreams
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Jameson whiskey spotted in the most random Mexican village. When I told the owner I was Irish I was treated to a free shot.

Next stop was Oaxaca where I had organised a bla bla car to take me 6 hours there. Manuel the driver was lovely but had some serious mechanical problems. The car reeked of petrol and fumes but worse Manuel was a lunatic on the roads. So pretty shaken and high I arrived to hostel chocolate in Oaxaca where I had a sleepless night due to an abundance of snorers in the room!!! Nothing unusual about that.

From the minute I arrived I loved Oaxaca. It is a place I could easily live it. There is an amazing buzz and most importantly it is a foodie heaven. The climate is also perfect.  Day 1 was just spent pottering around sampling the delicious food and coffee scene. The next day I organised to do couch surfing with a couple Jessy and Carlos. After walking for an 1 hour with the bulging bag I arrived to their home which was also an English school. Dinner that night was in  a Women’s garage where we  sampled the local delicacy of tlycudas. They are basically like giant quesadillas filled with delicious fillings. These guys are tasty but for me they are a little ott.  The next day I took a collectivo to the nearby village of Tule. There is basically nothing happening here except for the world’s largest tree which is in fairness a fairly big accolade. I got out of the taxi and couldn’t find the tree. I embarrassingly had to ask for it it’s easy enough to miss because of the all the leaves (in my defense!!!!)

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Extremely difficult to fit the world’s largest tree into a picture

Afterwards after a bit of a hula balu I made my way to the most stunning village of Tiotitlan, famous for carpet making. I had a demo on how to make carpets using rotting cactus plants and how they die to wools using dead insects. It was fascinating seeing them work.

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Getting a carpet making demo from a local lad in Tiotitlan
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Tiotitlan is the most famous place for carpet making in Mexico
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Local Woman carpet making in Tiotitlan

Such a pretty little village also known as one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos.

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Tiotitlan’s beautiful plaza

I came back to Jessy’s that evening where I was the guest speaker at one of her English classes. This was great fun and the kids she was teaching were adorable. I left the following morning as the room I was staying in was Jessy’s classroom so I headed back to hostel chocolate. You get a free choccie when you check out, choccie is minging but the nice gesture compensates for this. I also had the added bonus of giving  lots of my clothes away to a local orphanage in Oaxaca which Jessy kindly organised. Thank you guys for yet again another great couch surfing experience.

The following day was spent exploring  Oaxaca’s famous markets. It is known as the food capital of Mexico. Just walking down the streets there are wafts of coffee, chocolate and the rich aroma of mole.  To try Oaxaca’s best host chocolate you need to go to Mayodomo. For the best street food Mercado 20 Noviembre and this where I tasted the ultimate dish from Oaxaca; Mole. This is a love or hate and I am its biggest advocate. It takes hours to make and contains up to 30 ingredients 7 of  are different types of chilies. It also contains a load of spices, plantain, peanuts and chocolate!!! I sampled some more stomach and tripe soup (owner insisted it was maize soup!!). I will never learn.  I was also given some free samples of heart! Freaked me out but didn’t taste too bad. Another delicacy in Oaxaca are grass hoppers and worms. They fry them in lemon and chili and they are actually delicious. The Mexicans love them in their tacos as they add a nice crunch.

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Imagine getting this dressed up to buy your meat
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Mexico’s colourful markets

Saturday in the main plaza was excellent I happened to stumble across a jazz concert in a craft shop. They were incredible and played for 2 hours. I went back to the main square where dancers, magicians and amazing live music. Oaxaca is buzzing with street art, food, cool bars and restaurants. I’d recommend spending plenty of time here. It’s touristy but has still retained its charm.

The next day I decided to visit Oaxaca’s most famous market;  Tlacolula. This was spectacular and my favourite market of my trip so far. On Sundays all the indigenous people come down from the mountains where they sell their artesanias. The array of food was out of this world and I had the most delicious taco of goat, famous in this area. While having a Mescal in the market I bumped into a Robert from England  where we bonded over the delicious goat. The outfits were so stunning. It was hilarious seeing them all bargaining for chickens, turkeys and geese on the streets while dressed to the ninty nines.

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Roasting goats for some tacos
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Best business man in Oaxaca
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Market day is the worst day of the week for these poor divils
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Myself and Maria had breakie together; hot choccie and cinnamon buns
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This photo cost me a coca cola

Afterwords I managed to find a collectivo to take me up to the mountains to Hierve el Agua. This place is really special. It is a set of calcified rocks that resemble a waterfall. It is set in the middle of the mountains and contains a number of different natural water pools and rock formations.

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The petrified waterfall at Hierve del Agua

I decided to camp here wanting to see the sunrise the following morning and having the place to myself for a while. Camping here was incredible. It was completely worth for what the following morning had in stall.  I went to get some hot chocolate before bed and stumbled across a Woman’s house. I got chatting to the family who were a little bit concerned I was camping at the waterfall. They were in the middle of peeling maize to make dough for their tortillas for the following morning. The maize was from their garden. It doesn’t get much fresher than that. Alicia the owner insisted I take her 3 dogs with me and that they would look after me for the night.

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Sunrise with  just my furry friends: The best start to do the day
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The best time of the day: golden hour
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Calcified Waterfall

I was in good hands and we all woke up at 6 am for sunrise. I went skinny dipping in the thermal pools overlooking the mountains at sunrise. It was fairly magical. Afterwards myself and  my 3 furry friends went trekking for an hour to view the waterfall up close you can even climb up it.  When we got back the tourists started flocking in. Anyone going here come early it is so peaceful as you just chill in the natural water pools while looking at the gorgeous backdrop of lush green mountains.Also having the tent means you don’t pay the entrance fee so always an added bonus. For once the bandy tent came in handy.

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Calcified Pools

 

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One of the many amazing places Oaxaca has to offer
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Seeing the calcified waterfall up close

I went back to Alicia’s for a tasty simple lunch of fresh tortillas, beans, cheese, egg and of course picante.  The picante was made fresh in front of me and contained bbq’d tomato, garlic and chili. So simple but was so so good. This for me was one of my Mexican eating highlights. All of the ingredients were sourced from Alicia’s back garden. En route home I made a pit stop to a Mescal Distillery where you see how Mescal is made. I’m not the biggest Mescal fan but happy to drink it as its way more popular  in this region than Tequila. There are constant freebies being handed out so it would be rude not to.

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A thing of a beauty; homemade tortilla
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Alicia makes homemade Tortillas from scratch ever morning

 

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The agave plant how Mescal and Tequila are made

I had planned on only staying a few days in Oaxaca but it is a trapping kind of place so I have extended my stay accordingly.