29 Jan 2020 – 6 February 2020
Driving from San Cristobal de las Casas to Oaxaca was always going to be a two day affair for us. The distance is just under 400 miles but the route involves long steep climbs through the mountains and many, many topes . Those are the fiendish traffic slowing road bumps that still manage to catch us unawares.
Molly may have a reconditioned engine but our 30-year old campervan still finds big hills hard going. But we weren’t in any hurry so taking it slow was fine with us. And to make sure we didn’t end up overheating, we stuck with Stuart’s (so far) failsafe method of getting up the steepest of climbs.
That imvolves keeping the speed below 25 mph, staying in third gear or 18 mph for second gear. At any sign of the water getting to 110 degree centigrade and the oil temperature heating up to 100 degrees centigrade, we pull over …
…. put on the kettle …
…and have a cuppa while we wait for the engine to cool down.
As an additional aid to keeping the engine cool, we put the blow heater on full blast. It makes inside the van unbearably hot when it is already hot outside but that’s a small complaint if it helps to keep Molly moving.
Our two-day trip to Oaxaca took us through the most beautiful scenery we’ve seen on our travels through Mexico so far.
The route across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec also took us through the windiest part of Mexico and past what is apparently the biggest wind farm in Latin America. There are wind turbines as far as the eye could see, row after row of them, on both sides of the road.
There were no convenient campsites en route so we spent the first night in a hotel in Juchitan de Zaragoza and the second in one a hotel in the small town of Najapad de Madero .
Here we are on one of our many van cooling stops, on a quiet mountain road where the loudest noise….
..was from a woodpecker pecking a cactus for grubs.
We knew we were getting near Oaxaca when we started seeing agave .
This is mezcal country and the landscape is dominated by the crop which is boiled and distilled to make the spirit.
We finally reached Santa Maria del Tule, the small town not far from Oaxaca where we had booked into Oasis Overland, a small campsite run by Canadians Leanne and Calvin. Experienced travellers themselves, they haven’t quite left their ‘home is where you park it’ days behind. They still sleep inside their bus…
…though nowadays, it has a mighty plush extended living area.
We ended up spending four days there, making new friends…
We helped Stretch and Lucinda work through their mezcal selection. .
The carnival was on in the town and we went with Tim, Sarah, Leanne and Calvin to watch the firework show. Young men dressed as toritos or young bulls scattered sparklers and set off rockets as they danced around and charged at each other.
On reflection, it wasn’t sensible to take a ringside seat for the show. Tim and Sarah each received scorch burns from flying sparks and Stuart’s evening ended in the paramedics’ van after a firework shot straight at his head, smashing his specs to the ground and burning his forehead.
Thankfully it missed his eye and left only a small scar on this forehead.
It wasn’t quite as magical as this one. Behold the wonder of photo editing!
The main attraction at Santa Maria del Tule is this Montezuma Cypress which is apparently one of the oldest and widest trees in the world.
The campsite was a good base for day tripping. We went to the Sunday market at Tlacolula…
…and bought mole sauce, new spanners and a replacement radio for the van. It was a good place to restock the van after the robbery.
We drove to the nearby village of Teotitlan del Valle, famous for weaving …
…and bought a new rug for home.
We drove out to see Hierve del Agua where the rock formations look like a waterfall ..
….and we had a dip in the naturally made infinity pool. If you get the camera angle right, it looks like you have the place to yourself.
And on the way back, we stopped off at Esmerelda’s roadside stand for tacos.
Stuart gave some of the locals a tour of the van and I had a shot at making tortillas…
And on the way back along the mountain track…
…we were hailed by Don Alberto to come try his mezcal. He showed us the whole process , starting with the roasting of the agave pinas or pineapple ‘hearts’…
..through to distillation, then to tasting and, of course, buying.
The flash of colour in the corner caught our eye. It turned out that our stop at Don Alberto’s coincided with a photoshoot for Lukas Avendano, Zapotec transgender muxe performance artist and, for the purposes of the shoot, a mezcalero hard at work turning the mill wheel to pulp the roasted agave.
I confess I had not heard of the word muxe before (pronounced moo-shay). The word is said to be derived from mujer, the Spanish word for woman, and is a third gender specific to the Zapotec indigenous people in the Oaxaca region.
Reading more about the muxe story, we found out that Lukas is something a celebrity. And so never knowingly passing up an opportunity for sleb spotting, I shamelessly crashed the photoshoot for a happy snap .
So that’s what we did around Oaxaca, in the city itself, we did plenty of wandering around the colourful streets…
…checked out the street art..
…one of the Zapatista shops/art galleries…
We did a tour of the botanic gardens which are lovely though the tour was in Spanish so I’m afraid we drifted off after a bit..
…and started taking selfies.
We visited the cathedral..
….and ate and drank aplenty in the wide choice of bars and restaurants. We recommend the soup…
…which is heated with hot stones.
We would have been happy to stay a lot longer exploring Oaxaca but it was time to get back on the road again.
And so after a scrub up for Molly…
…we joined the pilgrims and pointed our van north.