The city that stole my heart in my year of remote work was Oaxaca City in Mexico. The culture, art, music, traditions, and food make this city a stand out against the world’s best cities.
The art is where you have to start. Each neighborhood has incredible street art covering their buildings. Each plaza has local artists selling unique paintings, sculptures, and fabrics. Art is embedded in this city’s core. As a person who explores the world hunting for street art, my soul was extremely happy here. The artists go big, bold, with loud colors, intricate designs, some with a message, others just to play. The vibrance of the city is felt down every street with the traditional Mexican colorful banners flowing overhead.
While walking through these colorful streets you will be tempted to stop repeatedly to eat. Specifically eat a flight of mole, coming with 7 different flavors each restaurant will boast they offer the best. I suggest taking the short walk to Los Pacos. My favorite experience of the whole trip was at this restaurant.
I met the son who’s family runs this restaurant at a small mezcal shop near by hostel. My friend Patty had left already so I was off for a drink alone. The shop I went to was barely more than a wall with bottles and a small bar with seating for 6. I joined the 5 others. Two people had just eloped, the woman in a beautiful white dress. She was from Malaysia, he was from Colombia, but they lived in Canada. There were 3 guys in the other seats, clearly friends with the owner. I sat down, ordered whatever the owner wanted to give me and chatted with the newly wed couple.
They left, and I decided to crash the guys night. First we spoke in Spanish, my casual conversation is slow and limited though so they flipped to English. When Mexicans speak English it is like when Spaniards speak English. They speak with the accent of the closest country. But it is so shocking how good their accent is I am always blown away. If only my Spanish accent was so good people thought I was Mexican. Anyway, we started playing dominoes, looser takes a shot. Not on purpose I was loosing a lot. I pulled out of the game trying to keep my dignity and not entirely loose myself in mezcal. From there we went to another bar and I knew I made some friends. I was invited to the restaurant the next day for the best mole in town. I had tasted a bit of mole already but I was down to try more. I excused myself around midnight thankful for small towns and new friends.
About a 15 minute walk from the city center, I arrived at Los Pacos. I messaged my new friend on IG and he came over. He asked if I knew what I want, I said dealer’s choice. He ordered first the sample of all the moles and explained each one and its complexities. For my meal, he said choose your two favorite. Almendrado with a melted cheese, and negro with beef. While I was eating he left to speak with the table next to us. I learned it was his grandmother. This sweet woman came over and sat with us. I tried to speak Spanish with her but either because of accent, dialect, or pronunciation I was not getting far. I learned the story of how she and her husband started the restaurant and the success it has had since.
As I left they tried to give me mole they sell packaged, I don’t check my backpack so sadly I had to say no. She also tried to cover my meal. Absolutely not I said, I would like to support these types of businesses. Walking back full and my soul happy, I found a man selling bags. The wool production here in Oaxaca is local, each bag is designed and produced by hand. I purchased a gorgeous green and red striped one for $35. He proudly displayed an article in an American magazine highlighting his work on the table. The world can keep their designer bags, give me a street vendor who made their product with their own hands any day.
With my flight approaching, I called a cab, negotiated the price down by 50% and we were off. We spoke in Spanish as he asked about my trip. He told me about the forests surrounding the city, the ruins that sit in the distance, and the waterfalls tucked away. I realized, as usual in my travels, that even though I had seen so much there was so much more to discover.