El Tule - a really big tree

SUNDAY March 13
We booked a half day tour today which ended up being better and longer than yesterday’s full day tour. This one went to El Tule, the largest tree in the world (58 meters around and 2000 years old as well), a Mezcal manufacturer complete with explanation and tasting, the Sunday market in Tlocolula, an Indian market that has been operating for hundreds of years, a Zapotec rug maker and Mitla, a wonderful archeological site. Our tour guide, Apolo was the gift that kept on giving. Really an interesting day. And at the market we both lost our chapulin virginity – that is we both tried the grasshoppers, famous in these parts. Quite tasty actually. When we eventually got back to the B&B, we invited our hostess Maria to have dinner with us and she took us to what could be the best restaurant in Oaxaca. We shared a Yerba Sante dish that included the green herb, goat cheese, porcini-like mushrooms and dried chilis. It was magnificant. I then had linguine with mushrooms and Oaxacan cheese. Maria’s presence entitled us to a free dessert (known in France as font au chocolat – here it’s cascada de chocolate) and 10% off the total bill. Nice way to end the evening.

It's all protein

A heavenly combination

Who needs flan?

MONDAY
Sort of a day of rest. Wandered the historical center today, drank in the colors and textures, went into a few galleries and had a coffee in a tree-covered patio. Took some quiet time to keep my feet up and work on the photo album which is getting HUGE. And to remember that it’s Albert Einstein’s birthday. Did get caught in a massive rainstorm with thunder and lightening tonight. We ducked into one store for cover and the owner lent us an umbrella – to be returned tomorrow!

TUESDAY – March 15
Today was an interesting adventure. We started at the Museo Textil and found exquisite embroidery (done with a crochet hook – I tried it and couldn’t get past one stitch). Then a bit of wandering as we made our way to the outskirts of town to catch a collectivo taxi. On the way we happened upon a ‘chocolate street’ where everywhere we turned the smell just got more delicious. There’s even a ‘Chocolate Hotel’ where they sell the stuff, plus mole and coffee. We also found ourselves on one particular block of Calle Zaragosa on which (very) young girls were standing at about every 20 feet. They were not for the tourists, and the street is not in the guidebooks. It was quite sad to see. We did finally get to the place where the collectivo taxis line up and headed for Ocotlán, a village about 20 miles away made famous by it’s artist Rudolfo Morales who, after attaining fame as a modern artist, came back to his home town and restored and enhanced the church and municipal buildings so that ‘his people’ would have a lovely, aesthetic place to live. Since we were hungry when we got there, we started in the mercado where we did a ‘I’ll have what he’s having’ thing which turned out to be a shredded pork tostada with avocado and other stuff. Very nice. Then the church, the municipal buildings and another collectivo back to Oaxaca where we managed to spend a little more money on some gifts and non-gifts, e.g. more earrings for me. Once we got back to the B&B it started pouring, so we ordered pizza which I found to be as good as that in Italy. Lenore and some neighbors in the next room went back to the pizza shop for dessert, but I’m here trying not to be tempted – besides I have some work to do. Some shots of the artwork:

Embroidery from the textile museum

Mural detail - Rudolfo Morales

More Morales Magic

Wednesday, 3/16

Did lots of walking around on this last day in Oaxaca. It’s such a lovely place! I got to the ‘other’ recommended restaurant for lunch “La Tipico’ and had a squash blossom quesadillo outside among the greenery and small parrots. Got packed and readied for leaving in the morning and then went out with Maria, owner of the B&B, some of her friends & a couple of other guests for the evening. We walked to the zocolo where she often dances on Wednesday nights, but her partner seemed to have vanished. Then we walked up to La Biznagna, where we ate on the first night here – and the best restaurant in Oaxaca city in my opinion. I had another incredible Margarita and a yummy spinach salad. The other dishes looked good enough to come back here just for the food. I also enjoyed working on my spanish. A few pix from the evening.

Lunch at El Tipico

Wednesday night dancing in the Zocolo

Hector, doll and Oliver

Thursday, March 17
Not much St Patrick’s Day spirit here (OK with me!). Early rising to get our morning coffee in the patio before hailing a taxi for the bus station. The bus to DF was surprisingly pleasant. They even had headphones for the videos so one wasn’t forced to hear them like on the other busses we’ve taken. Slept for some of the trip and stared out the window for lots more. 6.5 hours later, back in noisy, crowded, traffic-full Mexico City – quite a shock after Oaxaca. But the bargain 5* hotel I had found on booking.com made up for all the urban chaos. The Gran Hotel de Ciudad Mexico may have seen better days (especially in the restaurant) but it’s art nouveau decor and friendly, accommodating if not completely on top of it staff made it a joy to behold. Since the regular room didn’t have two beds, we were upgraded to a suite (free!) and voila! two TVs, a curtained, elegant bathtub, chocolates brought in for the pillows, and on and on. It’s right on the zócolo, but ‘inside’ so there is no noise. I went for a walk after dinner in search of echinacea to ward off a possible cold. After a couple of false starts I found a farmacia and all was well. The walk was nice and my first alone at night. No issues; no bad vibes – and a beautiful warm night.

FRIDAY 3/18
Winding down & fighting the cold (mine, not Mexico’s). Today’s main activity was our appointment to tour the Casa Luis Barragán. A three-metro trip to the ‘other side’ of Chapultepec Park got us to this spectacularly designed house and studio. (Barragán was a major Mexican 20th century architect who I’d never heard of until Lenore introduced me to his work.) No photos are allowed so you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s something to see if you’re ever here. Like FL Wright, he built or designed all the furniture but the best part was how he arranged walls, stairs, windows, garden, etc. and his use of light and color. Anyway glad I got there. I slept a lot of the rest of the afternoon and then went back to La Terraza, the rooftop restaurant at the Majestic Hotel where I’d been last year, for one last Mole tonight. I’m in the hotel lobby since the internet stopped working in the rooms. Seems funny to see a whole bunch of [young] people, all of whom have macbooks, sitting on the sofas in this opulent place – all skyping, tweeting and fb-ing away to the accompaniment of a bar pianist – but there’s no one drinking or even ordering anything. Maybe will add some pix later – the camera’s up in my room. That’s it for now.

Well, they got it working again, so I’m back upstairs nursing my cold and downloading the latest pix. Here are a few of the hotel.

Looking down on the lobby

And looking up

and the curtained bath....

And a couple of interesting installations in the Zócolo. Not sure what the first one means, but the second is definitely an anti-Calderón protest on the part of the labor unions. And finally the Cathedral at dusk as seen from the terrace of the Majestic Hotel.

Sculptures inside bin bags

shoes

view from La Terraza

SATURDAY, March 19
OK, last entry. I’m having a luxurious, relaxing day having finally shaken the cold that’s been nagging me, and not feeling the need to rush out and ‘see and do’. My travel mate went off to the Museo de Antropologia so I’ve had the suite to myself. Pretty much packed, did my nails, caught up on more world news, and FINISHED MY SLIDESHOW!

If you have a few (well, several) minutes and are interested in the pictures, there are 436 of them at http://www.jesslevant.com/mexico-march2011/album/index.html.

I’m heading out now to find some lunch, maybe visit a couple of nearby museums that don’t have an entry fee and soak in a bit more of Mexico before heading for the airport and the Bay Area rain.