Oaxaca: Grasshoppers, Mariachis, and Moles!

One of the reasons why I stayed in Oaxaca for a couple of weeks was because the city was unlike any that I’d seen before. Having spent too much time in the manic capital it was a refreshing change to be living in such a chilled out place. Here’s a short story of the first time I really explored Oaxaca.
Anyone for some fried grasshoppers?
Markets in Oaxaca. Photo by wneuheisel
Oaxaca was full of surprises. The first time I really explored the Mexican city was with Uvlad. We started at the bustling Benito Juarez market, just behind the Zocalo. Female stall keepers dressed in long, colourfully embroidered dresses smiled as we passed into the stuffy covered market.
The stalls had handicrafts, hand woven rugs, traditional Mexican clothes, fruits, flowers, and weird leather objects which looked like they belonged on some strange S&M room. One man had an impressive collection of knives.
“They look like Samurai swords,” Uvlad said as the seller sprawled his arm towards the glistening weapons.
“Check those out,” I said, pointing to an elderly woman sat on a ledge with a giant bag between her legs.
“Ah man, that’s sick,” said Uvlad, scrunching up his face. “Why would you eat grasshoppers?” he added as the woman offered us a crunchy sample. We declined. Neither of us bought anything that day; we had plenty of time to go back.
We wandered north of the Zocalo down the colourful Alcala Street, which was dotted with blue, red, and yellow buildings, and came to the quaint Santo Domingo church. The plaza in front was popular with the younger and older generations. We sat down on a short wall under a row of thick trees next to a bickering elderly couple sheltered from the scorching sun.
“This is a place to bring a woman, Barry,” Uvlad said as a happy young couple skipped past.
“Yeah, that’s what he said forty years ago,” I said, pointing to the wife rabbiting on and wagging her finger at her husband trying to read his paper.
Santo Domingo – Romantic Spot in Oaxaca
Photo by Russ Bowling
Inside the church, light beamed in and reflected off the gold leaf covered walls and ceiling, leaving the place sparkling but cool. Oaxacans prayed on the wooden benches as tourists tiptoed about, appreciating one of the most important buildings in Oaxaca. Santo Domingo took an eagerly awaited two hundred years to build, and once ready only lasted a further two hundred years before the military used it as a hideout during revolutionary wars. Nowadays the marvellous church has been totally restored, hence the brightness. Unfortunately, the museum in the former monastery was closed so we strolled round the backstreets until we arrived back at the Zocalo.
“Look, mariachis!” Uvlad said, pointing under a wide tree as we sat down for a beer. A group of men in their forties were dressed in white sombreros, black waistcoats, tight black trousers with silver discs attached, and pointed black boots. While they were tuning their guitars, violins, and trumpets, they handed round a bottle of beer to lubricate their vocal chords.
As they strutted towards the restaurants, diners sat up and glanced at the proud band. The beer had obviously worked as their voices were in perfect resonance and they played like pros.
“I wish I could understand the lyrics,” I said. “Spanish is such a sexy language. I bet they get their choice of women at the end of this, eh Uvlad?”
“I’d sure like to be able to serenade a local babe,” he said, gazing at a group of attractive Mexican ladies who had gathered to watch. After each song, a mini smiley mariachi would dart round the tables with a tambourine upside down to collect tips.
Delicious? Mole in Oaxaca
Photo by goodies first
“That music has made me hungry,” Uvlad said. “We can try this mole speciality,” he said, pointing to the menu.
“Why would you eat a poor mole?” I said. Grasshoppers was bad enough, but a mole?
“What?”
“Don’t you know what a mole is? It’s a small, fat, innocent animal. Sometimes they’re even blind. Haven’t you ever seen Wind in the Willows?”
“What are you talk
ing about?” Uvlad said, perplexed. Kenneth Graeme’s classic still had to reach the depths of Israel. “Mole is a type of sauce. I’m vegetarian anyway,” he added, almost insulted by my suggestion.
There were seven different types of mole (pronounced mo-lay) sauces on the menu, served with chicken, pork, or plain vegetables and potatoes. Uvlad went for the rojo – a sweeter type, with no animals. I tried the negro – a spicy chocolate type, over some chicken.
“That’s minging,” I said, gulping water to wash away the bitter taste. “And it looks like marmite.” I scrapped the thick sauce off to get to the chicken.
“What’s marmite?”
“A sticky black goo that you put on your toast, you either love it or you hate it.”
“I can see you hate it, mine’s great.” Uvlad finished his, but I had to grab a spicy hotdog to get rid of the mole taste. The beers over dinner put us in the mood for a few more, but we didn’t expect Oaxaca to have such a lively night scene. Find out what happened in the next blog.

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