Saturday, June 23, 2012

Oaxacan Chocolate Time

A little slash and burn for cattle on our way to Oaxaca
We must say that we are now in the rhythm of blogging, we are having a great time putting these posts together for you and cracking up as we do, if we could only catch up us all bloggers wish. We have been in Oaxaca for six weeks and are headed off to San Cristobal and then possibly the Yucatan.

After a very winding six hour drive from Puerto Escondido, we arrived to Oaxaca in the late afternoon. 
This is our favorite stop for Chocolate Frio, the best in the world cold chocolate milk 
We walked around the city, explored the Zocalo (square), and looked for a place to stay. Most hotels and hostels here are at least 300 pesos per night for two people, however one can find cheaper accommodations for about 200 pesos per night. That night we stayed at a trailer park in the middle of the city for 150 pesos per night for both of us. We liked Oaxaca right away and knew we wanted to spend some time here. Due to the amount of stuff to do and see in the immediate area we knew that we needed more than a week. So the next day we started our hunt for an apartment, walked around in the heat all day, and knocked on many random doors. "Se renta departamento aqui?" we asked.  
This door didn't even had a sign "Se Renta," but we knocked anyway.
It took us two long, hot days and a lot of door knocking to find the perfect small apartment. It is inexpensive (2500 pesos per month), very clean, has a private kitchen and bathroom, and includes furniture, utilities, and Internet. Much cheaper than staying anywhere else, including a campground. It is a five minute walking distance from Oaxaca Streechildren Grassroots organization and Pan y Mas bakery and about fifteen minutes from the Zocalo. We only use the car on the weekends and walk everywhere else during the week; this helps with our budget and gives us a little extra exercise. 
The apartment is secured by three locked doors and five dogs and it has a patio with a spectacular view. It even came with a couple of very cute and affectionate cats (they live upstairs with our neighbors, but Bookie, the kitten, thinks she belongs to us and even more so she thinks our bed belongs to her). What else do we need?
Prior to our arrival, I made arrangements via email to visit El Centro de Esperanza Infantil about volunteering opportunities. The Centro is part of Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots, a great non-profit organization helping many poor Oaxacan families with their children's education. Children go there every day before or after school to do their homework, read books, learn how to use computers, and eat "comida" (lunch). As I learned, for many the lunch is the primary and sometimes the only meal of the day.
Me and the crew at Oaxaca Streetchildren
After our first visit to the Centro, we stopped for lunch at Pan Y Mas, a small local bakery with an amazing selection of breads and other baked goods. We met the owners: Suzanne from Colorado and Alex from Mexico. We got into talking and after a while, Aaron had a place to volunteer too. In exchange for learning how to bake and delicious freshly baked bread, he is able to help out in the kitchen and help develop new sandwich and pizza ideas. 
Inside Pan y Mas Bakery
This is what our typical day in Oaxaca looks like.
My alarm rings at 6:45 am; even though I am on vacation I try to get up early every morning. I exercise for an hour - I usually do my Pilates routine on our patio overlooking the city of Oaxaca. It's great to do it first thing in the morning before it gets too hot. Sometimes, instead of Pilates, I take a walk/run up the hill behind our house. First, you go up the stairs to where the amphitheater is (where the famous Guelaguetza dance festival honoring the goddess of corn takes place every July) by the Benito Juarez statue (Benito Juarez is very popular here as he spent his youth living and studying in Oaxaca). 
If you keep walking past the amphitheater, you will come upon the Oaxacan Planetarium. From there you can walk all the way up the mountain; the view from up there is fantastic.
After my exercise, I take a shower, Aaron and I make green smoothies for breakfast (yeah!), and then I am ready to go to the Centro. I volunteer at the Centro every day; I teach English, help children with their homework, help out in the kitchen as well as in the administration, basically whatever is needed. The Center is a lot of fun; I am meeting many other volunteers and am able to practice my Spanish with the kids (luckily for me the kids are very patient teachers). The organization is very volunteer friendly; it's free and you get to pick your own schedule. If you are interested, please visit their website for more information
 This is me and 15 year old Rogelio during one of my private English classes
Today at the Center I had a couple of English classes, helped the ladies in the kitchen, and searched online for some fundraising opportunities for the organization. I was done at about 3:30 pm and went to pay Aaron a visit at the bakery, where I tasted some yummy fresh bread. After I came back home, it was time to do laundry; we do our laundry by hand here just like most of the Oaxacan people. Then I set down at the computer to check my email and make some phone calls on Skype. Later tonight Aaron made another great dinner - Pasta alla Carbonara, we drank a little cheap Spanish wine, sipped some aromatic Oaxacan hot chocolate for desert, and relaxed after our busy day. Beats work :)...
Oaxacan Hot Chocolate Time!!!
I sometimes get up with Aneta and do her torture Pilates workout or we go running up the hill and I make her run all the way up since she gets me up at 7am to go running, so we must run.  I then do a little research on the Internet about Oaxaca, where we are going to go next when we leave here or about destinations in other countries we will be going to next.  After that I practice Spanish for an hour or two with flash cards, audio files or online programs.  Then, it is time to go to the bakery or restaurant; I was helping out at the bakery for the first three weeks that we were here and now I am at the restaurant.
I made these calzones at the bakery
At a Naka Birthday Party (more on that later) we met Rodolfo, the Owner and Chef of ORIGEN restaurant located near the Zocalo. He puts a twist on the typical Oaxacan cuisine that he grew up with and had made Origen one of the top restaurants in Oaxaca.  This opportunity has allowed me to gain experience in his kitchen where Rodolfo has taught me Oaxacan and Mexican cooking techniques and recipes.  I even had the opportunity to join and assist in a cooking class for cooking students from San Francisco, Ca.  
Chef Rodolfo of Origen Restaurant
Later, it is usually meeting up with Aneta and browsing the city or getting back late from the restaurant and just going to bed.  It has been a real treat to be able to practice cooking in Oaxaca with such great people in such a beautiful atmosphere.
Since we have been in Oaxaca we have been enjoying what the city has to offer.  We have been able to make friends and meet up with other travelers that are on similar trips as we are.  There is a lot of history here as well as mixed Spanish and indigenous cultures and traditions. Archaeological sites, art galleries, theaters, churches, museums, mercados, restaurants and cafes are everywhere. Oaxaca is known for its great food; it is home to Mexican moles, chocolate, coffee, and Tequila's brother, Mezcal. Well, we fit right in :)... 
The face of a Woman who has not seen Chocolate in a while...
Now, the face of a Man :)
Outside of the city, there are many archaeological sites and to the North there are the Sierra Norte mountains which stand at over 3000 meters (10000 feet) and are within a 30 minute drive of our apatment; they are full of outdoor activities. The weather in Oaxaca is great too; it's sunny and warm during the day and pleasantly cool at night since Oaxaca is located at 1550 meters (5085 feet). It often rains in the afternoons and evenings, but only for about an hour or two, and after it rains the air is very refreshing. Gotta love it!

Map of the Oaxaca area showing the large amount of activities surrounding the area

Around Town
A little Chapuline (grasshopper) tasting on the street with Shannon and Brenton of Ruined Adventures, no we are not the only ones doing a trip like this.  You can also check out Overland Sphere for other overlanders all over the world. 
The Chapulines are with our favorite flavors of... you guessed it! Salt, Chile and Lime. And Garlic.
The Polish Pope John Paul II is in almost every church we have been to in Mexico; the Mexican people Love Papa!
Santo Domingo Church
Interior of Santo Domingo Church.  Over 60,000 pieces of 23.5 K gold leaf paper were used to adorn it.
Danzon (dancing) in the Zocalo on Wednesday Evenings
Dinner on our terrace with Shannon and Brenton from Ruined Adventures

We accidentally came upon this Corpus Christi procession as we do with most events in Mexico
A parade for pretty much walking around the Zocalo and drinking some Mezcal!!!
Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
Music in the Zocalo
View from our terrace
Guelaguetza Dance Festival Amphitheater, it is above our house so we never get lost going home
View of Monte Alban from our "running" area 
Making Hot Chocolate the Oaxacan way
El Centro de Esperanza Infantil

Pan y Mas

Aaron with Suzane and Georgina in the kitchen
Origen Restaurant

Octopus Salad

Cooking Class

Pilates on the Terrace
You're doing it all wrong guys
Yes, Master Aneta
Aah!!! Much better boys, now hold that for one minute
Great form, Aneta