Lucky for us, our next stop Oaxaca was only a four hour bus ride away and thanks again to ADO, we had a comfortable and safe ride and arrived in the late afternoon, as dusk was beginning to settle. We quickly dropped our bags off before doing a lap of the main town, taking in all the main sites and attractions on the Zocalo and beyond. Oaxaca is a real mix of colonial-style buildings, combined with native Zapotec and Mixtec cultural and archaeological sites, and is a perfect blend of ancient and old Mexico, as it is rich in both culture and history. Within the first hour of our stay we had ticked off seeing the main Zocalo right in the historic centre of the city, the Church of Santo Domingo and its ornate decorations that took over two hundred years to construct, the main Cathedral of the city and we had roamed the cobblestone streets, photographing the beautiful coloured buildings.
The next day was to be a half day wandering and exploring the ancient Zapotec capital which now lies in ruins, 9km west and above the city of Oaxaca named Monte Alban. Its proximity to the city meant that transport was super easy to organise and a round trip shuttle was an inexpensive option. Monte Alban is now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, as it holds significant cultural importance to the local communities, who are now facing the challenge of trying to stop urban development from encroaching on this archaeological site. It is one of the earliest Mesoamerican cities and the oldest Pre-Colombian site we were to witness on our trip. If you put all of its history into perspective and just think of the mere age of this ancient place, the fact that we were able to not only visit it, but climb all (most of) the ruins and scale these structures to the very top, is actually incredible. The fact that these temples are even still standing is phenomenal, let alone standing enough to let modern day patrons walk on them is beyond belief and a fact that we still struggle to comprehend.
As Monte Alban lies on a mountain ridge at over 1940m above sea level, it is safe to say there was zero cloud cover for the day, a massive need for SPF 50+ sunscreen and boy was it HOT! Being from Australia, most would assume that we are used to some level of heat and sun exposure, but I think because there was zero shade cover and we were scaling these ancient buildings, with their tiny little steps and great heights (a true workout for anyone looking to get in shape fast!), it was an exhausting day and sweat was pouring off us by the end of it. Combine this with the fact that as budget backpackers, we had decided to pack our own strawberry jam and some bread to make sandwiches for lunch, which soon found us with these wasps/bee-type insects upon us, and we had a bit of a shocker between flying insects and ridiculous heat.
Despite these minor annoyances, you can tell by the photos that we had an incredible day and the size of our smiles relays exactly what an experience was had. We both love a good active adventure, and spending the day kicking up the dust, roaming through the ancient ball-court, past the old astronomical tower and scaling both the north and south temples was like nothing we had both experienced before. Not even the little old men in cowboy hats and traditional Mexican attire, constantly trying to sell us ‘real and authentic’ masks that were conveniently ‘found within the temples of Monte Alban’ could get us down. Compared to Templo Mayor, the Aztec site we visited in Mexico City that was nearly entirely destroyed, these ruins were a total next level experience and we were really enjoying the ancient history this country had to offer.
The following day, we decided to see what modern Oaxaca had up its sleeve and once again throw ourselves into the chaotic and loco experience that is a Mexican mercado (or market). Benito Juarez Mercado is located centrally within Oaxaca city, and has an extensive history as the place to get anything you could possibly need; from a cheap souvenir, to a pet iguana, bottles upon bottles of mezcal and tequila, a chicken for your family dinner with its head freshly chopped off, a whole tuna fish that has not been sitting on ice and is definitely smelling off and spices upon spices with chilies and cooking supplies being sold by the pound. Small market vendors tap you on the shoulder, point you in the direction of their stalls and constantly tell you they have ‘cheap price for you’; we both remember being totally and completely overwhelmed by how forward they are and how personal space does not exist in a mercado. We stumbled upon some ladies selling that fine Mexican delicacy I spoke about in the Puebla post; chapulines. If you have ever smelled fried grasshoppers before, particularly in Mexico with the spices they toss them in, you will know exactly what I’m talking about and I’m sure it will never leave your nose. It is everywhere you turn in the markets in Mexico, a strong, almost burning smell, combined with roasted spices and spicy chillies. Having been in Mexico a total of seven days now, we were feeling much more confident and decided to indulge in this fine cuisine. I made Blake purchase a chipotle seasoned bag of grasshoppers, with some fresh squeezed lime to go and we took them back to our hostel – sadly without the addition of a pet turtle, iguana or bunny rabbit.
Being the soft, scared, weak girl I am of course I made Blake go first – and filmed his reaction so that we could later post it to Instagram (check out the video, if you haven’t already!) and I think its fair enough to say that his facial expressions tell the entire story. I didn’t quite realise how spicy the chipotle ones were and they definitely weren’t Blake’s favourite culinary experience in Mexico. I was ready to sit this round out and avoid this completely, but after much hesitation and Blake forcing me, I can proudly say I conquered a fear and ate one. I can’t say I entirely enjoyed it however – but when else are you going to eat a fried grasshopper that is seasoned and topped with lime and feel its tiny little legs get stuck between your teeth? I think it was at this point it was beginning to sink in that we were being presented with so many incredible opportunities on this trip, and so many fun and brand new experiences like nothing else we had ever come across before. We were really seizing each and every opportunity that came our way and enjoying the learning and life experience we were gaining from this adventure.