I love Mexico. I love its colonial cities. I love its magical towns. I love its mountains, volcanoes and deserts. I love the Mexican caribbean. I love the pacific coast. I love Mexican food. I love Mexican traditions. I love Mexican folk music. But above all, I love Oaxaca. Last time I had been there was almost 15 years ago. I liked it then. This time, I developed an infatuation with the city and its surroundings.
Oaxaca is full of culture and traditions. The region distills mezcal and art. In Oaxaca City you can smell chocolate and social activism. You can find traditional tlayuderias, slow-food restaurants and renowned author’s cuisine but no McDonalds. You can walk in the city center and find dozens of small coffee shops selling organic coffee but no Starbucks. You can find several traditional markets before running into a supermarket. Everywhere you look there is popular and contemporary art, traditional handicrafts and the influence of the great Francisco Toledo.
Santiago Matatlan, about 30 minutes away from Oaxaca City, is known as the World Capital of Mezcal. Dozens of family-owned small-scale distilleries (‘Palenques’) are located one after the other. The production process of mezcal is beautiful. From the harvesting of maguey (i.e. the cactus), to the cooking of the piña (i.e. the maguey fruit) in earth ovens, to the crushing of the fruits in a stone wheel pulled by horses, to the fermentation of the mash in wooden barrels, and finally to the distillation in copper or clay pots, the whole process is entirely artisanal. Knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. Usually, there is a mezcal master that oversees the entire process. Most of the mezcal is produced from maguey espadin, the variety that is most easily farmed usually taking 7 to 10 years before being harvested. However, there is also production of mezcal from wild species of maguey, including Tobalá, Cuish and others. If you are in Oaxaca City, a visit to Santiago Matatlan is definitely worth it.
Another village worth visiting less than 30 minutes away from Oaxaca City is Teottilán del Valle. Teotitlán is famous for the production of hand-woven textiles arts using traditional techniques. Several of the artisans continue to use natural dying processes using cochinilla (a bug that grows on the cacti in Central America), indigo and turmeric. Traditional wooden looms continue to be used for the weaving process.
Oaxaca has a long-tradition of social resistance and social movements. This is largely reflected in the art-scene in the city and its surroundings.