Mexico Trip Report Part 10: Mazunte

Mazunte Beach. Oaxaca, Mexico.

Time to flex our muscles, we made it to the beach!

When we arrived, we did the usual of settling in and finding a place for some food. Mmmmm, more tlayudas and beer while watching the sunset over a magic beach town of Mexico.

In the morning, bright and early, we rushed down the hill to jump in a fishing boat for a whale watching tour. We didn’t see any whales, but did get to see sea turtles swimming along leisurely in the ocean and more dolphins than you can shake a stick at. Like a machine gun load of dolphins jumping out of the waves! Despite the lack of whales, I was satisfied. Plus when the tour was over, we got to hop out of the boat for snorkeling!

Instant beach bums transformation.

Beach Bum. Mazute, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Dirt Path and Flowers. Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Dirt Path. Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico.

 

Mexico Trip Report Part 9: Hagia Sofia Botanic Park

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Always a good morning with coffee.

We ate breakfast and started the drive to our final destination of Mazunte beach, but first there was one more stop along the way down the mountain. A place called Hagia Sofia Botanic Park, a privately owned nature reserve dedicated to the passion of all things plants, animals and good.

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Hiking through Hagia Sofia Botanic Park.

We got to walk the grounds, seeing the collection of jungle flora and fruits native to Mexico as well as an assortment from Southeast Asia.

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A butterfly posing.

After wandering through the jungle, we arrived at the fruit orchard and got to sample fruit directly from the trees. The star fruit was amazing and not something I’d ever thought I’d ever be plucking from a tree and biting into like an apple. Among other tastings, we chewed on cinnamon bark and crumbled the remains in our hands to fill the air with its scent.

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Still don’t know what these are, but now I know how they grow next time I see one at the market.
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Starfruit, ripe for the picking!
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So that’s where they come from…

After touring the gardens, we then hiked down to the river for a swim in the natural rock formations and waterfall. The water was a bit cold, but I guess that was to be expected from a mountain runoff. Fortunately, the weather was a lot warmer down the mountain, making it easier to dive in.

To end off the tour at Hagia Sofia, we were then picked up in a truck and driven back to the entrance for lunch. Naturally, all the food was grown and prepared on site. Also it was delicious, especially the honey.

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Cooking our lunch in front of us in this outdoor kitchen.
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Out to lunch.

All fueled up and ready for the beach next…

Mexico Trip Report Part 8: The Coffee Hills of Pluma Hidalgo

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Pluma Hidalgo or some sort of Jurassic park?

We made it to Pluma Hidalgo, the land of coffee and that’s about it. Not a problem, that was exactly what I was looking for, because I love coffee! As we drove through the hills on our way down the mountain, we were teased with the sights of the valleys where the coffee grows. Upon arriving in town, we were finally given the opportunity to try some too. Now that I was fueled up for the day with caffeine energy, I was totally ready to do a whole lot of nothing- and this time I meant it!

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Streets of Pluma Hidalgo.

However, to not let that caffeine spike go to waste and before settling in for my lazy day, we took advantage of being in town to visit a cactus and flower garden at the house of one of the local ladies.

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The foliage and climate seemed to be more lush and tropical now that we were a bit lower in altitude on the mountain. A perfect day for hammocks and laziness by the swimming pool.

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After a very relaxing evening, we woke up to watch the sun rise over the mountains without having to even leave our bed.

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More majestic sunrises than you can shake a stick at.
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Making a note of all the hammocks I plan to lounge in.

Mexico Trip Report Part 7: San Jose del Pacifico

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A beautiful day to hike San Jose del Pacifico.

A short ride through twisting mountain roads can end up seeming way longer than it actually is when you are on the morning after a mezcal tour and are prone to motion sickness to begin with. Oh yeah, not to mention the altitude, that’s a thing too, and one that also messes with me, apparently. Our final destination for the day was at a height of about 2500 meters, not exactly something to sneeze at, or perhaps I would, because I am starting to feel a bit funny from all this adventure.

We jumped out of the vehicle with great excitement to be done with moving for the day. The place was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. We got settled in with our bags in the cabin, used the washroom, got drinking water to hydrate and generally took good care of ourselves, etc, etc. After our short break to catch up on all that stuff, we then headed straight for the waterfall hike down the mountain. We were in a bit of a rush since we needed to give ourselves enough time to get there and back before the sun went down.

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Still feeling alive, but maybe just barely.

The hike was smooth sailing on the way there, other than a few slippery, steep spots that I slid down from totally not wearing the right shoes for the trek. However, Jessica assured me that I looked good in my blue suede shoes, as I dangerously hiked through the mountainous Mexican terrain. Surprisingly, I managed not to fall on my butt or hurt myself on this trip.

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A cabin we passed on our mountain hike.
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I’m pretty sure these woods are haunted…
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Strange things grow on the trees.

When we made it to the waterfall, we were a bit disappointed because it was pretty much dried up by this time of year. We were hoping to get to jump in, but instead we just caught our breath and enjoyed the scenery. Despite the waterfall lacking in water falling, the views along the pathway of the mountains were massive. The hike down more than made up for the lack of prize at the finish line.

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A massive view.

Heading back up the hill was a bit more grueling. Like I mentioned earlier, I think this altitude stuff was getting to me. I swear, I’m not getting too old for this, but at the same time… nah, definitely the altitude making me huff and puff so easily…

We got back and it was almost time to eat. All the food is all either grown on site or as local as possible.

By the time dinner was served, the sun had already long been down. We ate our food by candle light as the surrounding scenery had made its transformation into opaque darkness. Although a surreal experience to be there in person, any images or videos to show you at this point in the night would just be of black rectangles and probably not at all very interesting.

After eating, we were asked if we would like to try the steam bath. We grabbed our flashlights and made our way down the hill to where the small wooden hut was setup. We spent a while stewing in a small dwelling that was dug out of the side of the mountain and lit by a fire and candles. Fresh herbs, hot stones and steaming water in a pot over the fire provided a familiar and comforting scent. Likely, some of the same herbs I am used to using for cooking with back home. My guess was thyme or lavender with other local plants from the garden.

After making ourselves tender and tasty for any local mountain trolls that may be wandering by that night, we returned to our cabin and settled in for the night with a fire and some cozy blankets.

At around 4:00am I woke up feeling a bit weak with the chills. It was for sure some sort of sickness I had been feeling all day. I really needed the rest. I wanted to just curl in deeper to the wool blankets and go back to sleep, but as I was checking the clock, I caught a glimpse of light outside the window. I oozed out of bed, hobbled over to my hoodie, unlocked the door and went outside…

With no light pollution in sight, I did not want to miss out on seeing the night sky from the top of a mountain. Earlier in the evening, although black with darkness, there were clouds in the sky preventing me from getting to see any stars. As I was standing outside in the chilly night air in awe, I realized I had never seen anything like this before. If I had been shown a photo, I would not have believed it was real or an untouched image.

Standing in the crisp mountain air, staring at the infinite layers of stars dancing with glowing celestial gas clouds that were expanding across the galaxies, suddenly, a shooting star flew across the sky to complete the perfect storm of night watching conditions. Feeling satisfied and grinning like an idiot at what I was witnessing, I headed back inside to finish getting my needed rest for the night.

In the morning, I watched the sun rise and listened to the birds from the bench outside our cabin. The only thing that would have made it more perfect would have been a cup of Mexican coffee, preferably in my hand and moving towards my mouth. However, breakfast would not be served for another couple hours. Instead, we woke ourselves up and refreshed our minds by doing yoga in a studio overlooking the mountains of San Jose del Pacifico.

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Morning view in San Jose del Pacifico.

We only spent an evening at this spot, but it was packed full of things to do. A bit contradictory for such a relaxing place perhaps, but we didn’t want to miss out on any of the experiences during our short stay there. Despite all that, we were still left with that feeling of wanting more (even if that feeling was of wanting to do less). I know we will be back one day to do a whole lot of nothing in the mountains of Mexico.

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Room with a view.
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Pyramids and mountains.

Time to jump back in the car and head to Pluma Hidalgo for some coffee…

(P.S. For those wondering, this is where we stayed: Refugio Terraza de la Tierra)

Mexico Trip Report Part 6: Barro Negro & Alebrijes

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Wooden masks hanging in a Mexican workshop.

We kept ourselves busy and used every waking hour (and some extra hours that we shouldn’t have been awake) to the fullest, but alas, it was time to leave the beautiful city of Oaxaca.

For our next journey, we opted to take a tour van through the mountains to the beach town of Mazunte. Normally, if we were just going directly to the beach, we would have caught one of the public buses there. However, I really wanted to see all aspects of Oaxaca state and the mountains were especially calling to me. Coffee farms, cabins in the woods, roaring fires under starlit skies, all the good stuff was waiting for me at the top. I definitely didn’t want to risk messing it up with the stress of catching all our connecting rides on dusty roads, in the middle of nowhere.

The first stop on the ride to the beach was in the black clay (barro negro) pottery community of San Bartolo Coyotepec. We visited a small family run business and were educated on the history of the area, it’s unique clay and shown the processes involved in making a decorative clay pot.

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Creating patterns for a decorative pot. The clay turns black after a visit to the kiln.

We finished our tour and I bought a black clay cactus statue to place on our piano back home. As we exited the village, we were stopped by a parade of marching musicians. To recap, we were now on on a dusty road, in a small Oaxacan town, surrounded by desert, under the hot sun and we had just been forced to pull over for a parade crossing. This seemed so “Mexican” and we had a bit of a laugh about the unexpected experience…

That was, until we realized no one in the procession was joyful. All the locals adorned frowns on their faces, as the instruments rang through the streets. This was not a happy celebration, rather a celebration of a loved one’s life recently lost. So, a bit of a bummer, but it was still a marching band parade and I am not going to act like I didn’t think it was totally a cool thing to get to see. I don’t think that makes me heartless.

Next we headed to the village of San Martin Tilcajete to visit the Jacabo y Maria workshop. This is the crafts village known for very colourful, carved animal made from wood known as alebrijes. We saw both the students working and the masters. The masters have earned their title and their craftmanship creates something that is much more than just a cheap souvenir. It is a real piece of art. The details in the patterns, designs and the overall intricacies of the work is mesmerizing to stare at. Sadly, I could not afford one on this visit.

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The masters at work painting alebrijes. Zoom in to see some of the designs she is working on (right side, deer and owl)

Finally it was time for some lunch and after eating we kept the party moving. Not bad to have already seen so much and it was only early afternoon. Definitely beats taking a taxi or the public bus and we hadn’t even made it to the mountain cabin that we were going to be staying at for the night yet!

Mexico Trip Report Part 5: Saved by Consomme

It was the night of the consomme- wait, forgive me, that seems a bit lacking in factuality. I say this because, from what I have observed, all the best street food vendors come out only after dark. So, if it’s night, then there is consomme and when there is consomme, that is something that should be celebrated, which is every night. So, to correct myself, it was night and therefore time for consomme!

After arriving back from the mezcal tour, things were a little hazy. I took a quick nap and regret nothing about it. However, by the time I arose again, the sun had already dispersed over the hills that line the Oaxaca City horizon, to bring on the darkness of the night. Not a problem, I like the night and better yet I like the food options that open up at night in Oaxaca City.

In the evenings, from around the city, down from the hills and across the countryside, the locals arrive to sell the food they have spent the daytime hours preparing for those who are in my exact situation- or so I’ve been told. Needless to say, it is undeniable that the city is alive with energy well into the night and some good food is needed to keep that energy going.

Lucky for us, the place we were staying at was centrally located and just around the corner from there was a lady selling tacos and consomme soup from a bike cart, right off the street. We saw a line up of police officers ordering tacos, so it passed the food safety test in our eyes. She made sure to wear gloves while accepting our money and removed the money glove for serving the food too. We were in good hands with her.

We got our consomme, consumed our consomme, then went back to order some more consomme. All that salty, soupy, beefy goodness blended with the right amounts of Mexican spice- truly one of the best things in the world! Before we left, we made sure to try the tacos too. She laughed at us a bit as she served us more food, once again.

Ok, my head was spinning a bit still, I was feeling tired, with an early morning ahead and our belly’s were now filled with delicious Oaxacan street food. It felt like we had remembered everything to do before crashing for the night as we headed back to our room, or so I thought…

I did not come to the realization of what we had forgotten to do until about 5:00am. This is when I awoke abruptly with feelings of thirst and dehydration. It was all so clear now, we had neglected to buy drinking water! This was important to do while we were out earlier because things like corner stores, or any stores for that matter, were still open then. Regardless, Jessica slept like a baby, but unfortunately for me, I was stuck staring at the ceiling counting down the minutes until something might, maybe be open for the morning…

I started wandering the streets at around 6:00am. I didn’t expect much to be open, so I brought my phone with me to at least get some photos or videos of Oaxaca City in the early morning. It was an experience in itself to be up and about before the sun was fully in the sky and before people filled all the streets and sidewalks.

While wandering, I ended up passing many still closed stores and managed to walk the whole city centre before I finally arrived at a big box grocery store at about 7:00am. I was not a fan of the source of my salvation, but it was a store and it was open. Besides, I needed that water immediately!

All the employees did double takes at me as I casually strolled the aisles. Maybe it was because I was clearly not from around there or perhaps the store wasn’t even in fact open yet. I don’t know and I didn’t care. As I kept my head down to avoid making eye contact for fear of getting kicked out, I continued my pursuit towards the precious life source of water. I lugged two 5L bottles to the cashier and downed a good portion of one of them right after paying, before even leaving the store.

I was now good as new again, I survived Oaxaca City! It was now time to head back to my room to pack my things and start my way through the mountains to the beach. I can only imagine how much worse I may have felt if I wouldn’t have enjoyed all that consomme the previous night to, at least partially, nutriate and hydrate before heading to bed.

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The tastiest darn cup of brown and green stuff I’ve ever had.
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P.S. This is what I look like at 6:00am in Oaxaca City after a mezcal tour and no drinking water all night…

I swear she was standing over there, on that corner with the light post, only a few hours ago…

Mexico Trip Report Part 4: Mezcal Educational Tour

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Harvested agave hearts awaiting their beautiful fate.

As soon as we opened the car door to step foot onto the first stop of the day, it hit us right in the nose; the sweet, smokey aroma of distilling agave that fills the air of the Oaxacan countryside. It was a scent that would stick around with us for days and I can not say that I was disappointed by that.

Living in Toronto, I’ve been hearing a lot about Mezcal over the past year or so. However, up until this point I had yet to try any of this buzzworthy spirit. I had been saving myself, however, the time had come and this was the day that I would try all the mezcal!

Our host and educational guru of all things mezcal, Alvin, took us around the remote areas surrounding Oaxaca City to sample from all the best small batch distilleries. The excursion was little pricier than we normally spend when traveling, but we figured we would make the budget work by sacrificing eating at restaurants (as stated earlier). Just like coming to Mexico for some authentic Oaxacan street food, we were also down for experiencing the best of mezcal. The tour was worth every penny and is highly recommended by Jessica and myself. A true Oaxacan experience!

(For more information on the tour visit: Mezcal Educational Tours with Alvin Starkman)

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Alvin explaining all things mezcal.

Mezcal is made from the succulent plant known as agave. After being harvested, the hearts of the agave plants are cooked in an earthen oven for about three days.

Once their time spent in the earthen oven is up, the agave is then broken and ground up into mash and left to ferment in barrels with the addition of water.

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This is probably an effective way of preventing vampires from stealing their stash in the middle of the night.
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This is what fermenting agave looks like.

Once everything is thoroughly fermented, the liquid is then collected and distilled.

Next comes the bottling and sampling. I had underestimated how much mezcal would actually be involved on the tour. I thought maybe one or two kinds from each distillery we visited. That was not the case. Each house offered probably about half a dozen selections to sample, as well as some from Alvin between locations, and of course, you have to try them all, this was important research, an educational experience, we were bettering ourselves…

What I’m trying to say is, I started off taking much larger sips than I probably should have, not fully understanding the amounts that would be involved by the end of the day. My tip is to take it easy, take small sips, there is plenty to enjoy and this is especially important because the tasting notes are all unique and should be tried. That’s probably why we ended up buying seven litres of the stuff, it’s just so darn good!

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Not only did we get a very educational, informative and interesting experience learning about all things mezcal, we also got to hangout at places like this.

Stay tuned, now that we found the booze, we have to ask ourselves, which way to the beach…