Mezcal Courage — In Which I Finally Try Buche

(Post 33 of 193. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

I was so grateful that the taco place by my apartment was open Monday night after my very long day and hike. I was super hungry and not in the mood to hunt for food. I don’t know if it was having had chapulines, all the mezcal, or the fresh mountain air, but I decided it was time to try buche, pork maw (stomach), tacos. I don’t know how many Mexicans from all over have told me that if I haven’t had buche, I’ve never had tacos. I’m put off by the thought of offal, but there was something about this place that instilled trust in me that they would do it right.

Buche wasn’t horrible to look at — it was chopped small. The texture was similar to lunch meat, maybe a bit chewier. There was none of that expected “offal taste” that I’d been bracing myself for. It was almost disappointing how spectacularly inoffensive and not a big deal this taco was!

I also wanted to see what an al pastor taco is like in this part of Mexico — the tortilla is morel like what I’d get in Sinaloa, but the meat is more similar to what I get in Yucatán. The salsas also differed. I realised just how much I love the garlic sauce that comes with tacos in Yucatán.

Besides the two tacos, I ordered a quesadilla on wheat tortillas, just to guarantee myself at least one final date with quesillo, which is “Oaxaca cheese” in the rest of the country — a fresh, stringy cheese very similar to mozzarella that melts and browns beautifully. This quesadilla was game changer in a way that warranted a face palm — they put the cheese right on the grill to give it a crispy brown crust on both sides, then put it in the tortilla. This really elevated what would otherwise have been a very boring base for salsa.

The prices at this restaurant are so reasonable — this includes beer!

I have a tray at home that matches this one — mine’s a lime and bit bigger, though.

I’d say that I exceeded my culinary goals for my trip to Oaxaca — I tried every kind of mole (thanks, buffets!) and chapulines, fell in love with mezcal, and even got buche off the bucket list!

Monday Afternoon at Hierve el agua

(Post 32 of 193. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

And now, for the day’s pièce de résistance, what everyone was on board for and apparently annoyed came last instead of first, but which made the most sense to go last: Hierve el agua (the water boils). This is a popular recreation site where you can swim in shallow pools, observed calcified formations that look like waterfalls, and hike.

Contrary to west of Oaxaca, the highways on the east side are beautiful. So after a day of easy driving, it was a bit of a shock to learn that most of the way into Hierve el agua is very sandy and twisty.

The guide told me to go “a la derechita” from the parking lot, so I headed to the right and the rest of the group followed me like the Pied Piper. But she meant derecha as straight ahead and not derecha as turn right. “You’re trying to confuse the ones with little Spanish!” I exclaimed indignantly. To which, in a wonderful show of solidarity, most of the rest of the group piped up, “We would have gone right too!” Heh! It was a very good group on Monday! Oh, and I forgot to mention that my seatmate and I had been stumbling along in broken Spanish until something happened that made us realise we’re both from the Montreal area and French-Canadian! LOL!

There is a very long and very steep path down to the pools. I was very cognisant that I had to leave enough energy to get back up it!

Everything at Hierve el agua was breathtaking. I won’t bore you with any more bla bla bla than these pictures absolutely need. I am so glad I made it to this place — I haven’t gone on a proper mountain hike like this since Bulgaria.

I have been having a surprisingly hard time with my footwear on this trip. I took off my sandals to go wading and explore the wet areas, and that was the best my feet had felt all week.

This was bubbling.

Another bubbler

After what would be a relatively short hike following these signs left me very breathless, which was surprising because I’ve been working out daily for almost a year now, I realised that it must be the altitude. Turns out Hierve el agua is at 5,666ft while Mérida is 33ft. So I am giving myself a HUGE pass on how hard it was to do all that climbing yesterday!

I made it all the way back up to the top of the path with about 15 minutes to spare. All the food vendors were packing up, but an agua lady was happy to take two minutes to sell me a watermelon water.

Three members of our group were late and the guide was not having it. She told us to vote on how long we would wait. Her vote was not at all! Thankfully for the stragglers, we gave them the 10 minutes they needed!

We left Hierve el agua just past 6:00. I had been told we’d be coming back in around 7:00, but the guide said it would be an hour and 40 mins back into town. Google Maps concurs! And, sure enough, it was coming up to 8:00 by the time we got into the city proper.

It was quite a long drive back in since it got dark fast. Once that happened, I could not relax as the driver seemed to be driving dangerously, although I’m sure he wasn’t! As we got closer to the city, I started to track our route and figured out that we would be going about three blocks from my flat. I asked if I could be let out at the corner of my street, and that was not a problem. So instead of a 1KM walk home, it was just three blocks, plus a detour for tacos. 🙂

What an incredible day Monday was! I can’t believe how much we packed in. Again, this was just $200, plus lunch and entrance fees. I’d say such a tour is the best way to see the best of what the region has to offer.

Monday Afternoon at Mitla

(Post 31 of 193. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

The archeological site of Mitla was my only disappointing stop in both of the Lani tours I took — first, because I had such a hard time following what the guide was saying and second, because we didn’t get quite enough time.

Mitla is the second most important archeological site in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico and the most important of the Zapotec culture. The most interesting fact I learned about Mitla is that about 90% of it is original and 10% reconstructed, while the opposite is true for Monte Albán.

Mitla is known for its mosaics, but not mosaics like I was expecting. They are made of tiny bits of stone that just fit together with no mortar and from a distance look like fancy brickwork.

Definitely not what I think of when I think of mosaic.

Monte Albán would have been this same colour, derived from mercury.

Entrance into a tomb…

The tomb was very claustrophobic and there was an unpleasant damp odour — but what a cool experience to crawl under what is basically a pyramid. Who needs to visit Egypt when they live in Mexico?!

The second tomb I visited had a little natural light.

I could have used an extra 20 to 30 minutes at Mitla — there were just so many people waiting to get into the tombs that it was do that or explore the rest of the site. But I still got to enjoy the mosaics and get a sense of what a complex built for habitation more than governance or worship was like.

Monday Afternoon at a Mezcalería (and Lunch)

(Post 29 of 193. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Our next stop, on an “empty stomach” to boot, was the artesanal Mezcalería El Rey de Matatlán, complete with tasting. This stop was surprisingly free (I guess they expect to recoup the cost from sales).

I knew nothing about mezcal, other than it’s made from a different type of agave as tequila, which I am not fond of.

They are cutting up the “piña.” Both mezcal and tequila come from that part of their respective agave plant. The leaves are destined for other use. I watched the series “Monarca” recently, all about tequila, and I found the process for mezcal to be very similar.

A wood fire is lit at the bottom of the pit. Large chunks of piña are then placed over the wood, then covered with the leaves and a tarp, so that the piña can cook/steam even after the fire goes out.

The piña is then mashed up.

The mashed up piña is left to ferment in barrels. I cannot believe how much I remember because our guide spoke so fast even the native speakers said their head was spinning!

Last is the distillation process. This happens several times and the percentage of alcohol differs with each one.

Now, the tasting!

We would get four shots:

1) Rot gut basic mezcal that you do as shots, chasing with a slice of orange and chile powder. Very meh, like lighter fluid.

2) Mezcal with the worm added, which adds flavour and body to the liquor. This one was tasty!

3) A lightly aged mezcal. This immediately transported me back to the Highland Park Distillery in Scotland, where I discovered peaty whisky. This mezcal had a similar profile. A few people thought I was nuts, but the guide agreed with me.

4) A well-aged mezcal. OMG. That was SO good! This felt like drinking a good Scotch neat.

And then, we had a mezcal mango-flavoured liquor. Surprisingly, I wasn’t feeling it. I’d been told mezcal was less “deadly” than tequila — true!

Well tippled, it was time to head to lunch!

Where we had to have another shot of mezcal before eating! *hic*

Lunch was very good, similar to Saturday’s setup. No pickled mangoes this time, but I did get some lovely guava in syrup that was quite the treat!

We still had two stops to go. What a full day this was turning out to be!

Monday Morning at Teotitlán del Valle

(Post 28 of 193. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Our next stop felt like reaching the end of a pilgrimage — Teotitlán de Valle.

This village is known for its wool rugs that use only natural dyes for their vibrant colours. I have dreamed of owning a Teotitlán rug for a long time. So long that I had budgeted to buy one for my bedroom. Rugs don’t really make sense in my current house due to all the dust, but I could justify the purchase as I need some insulation under my hammock. But with the current world unrest and threat of work very likely slowing down, I knew I wasn’t going to come home with the rug of my dreams. I had to keep reminding myself that Oaxaca is easy and cheap to get from just about anywhere in Mérida and that next time I come to Teotitlán, I could very well be in my own home and in need of more than just one rug!

At any rate…

We got an excellent demonstration of how the dyes are achieved.

We were all challenged to brush out the wool. VERY difficult. One lady and I were the only ones who came close!

Tones of white to cream can come directly from the colour of the wool itself. Any colour with red, including pinks, purples, and oranges, starts with the “blood” of this cactus, which is actually an insect called cochineal. This insect has been responsible for the colour red throughout history, from fabric dyes to lipstick. You can see some of dried cochineal that has been pounded to bring out the red colour.

You can even use cochineal to achieve my favourite colour — rose!

He demonstrated how adding sodium bicarbonate and/or lime juice to the cochineal can change the colour.

This is indigo. I have never seen it in its natural form!

He showed us many more “ingredients” to make colours from pure black to bright yellow.

The dyes are fixed with acid, vinegar, and other solutions, some more toxic than others.

We then got a very generous demonstration of how the weaving process happens on the loom, including changing colours and making patterns. This is such a common pattern that it is pretty much bred into the collective consciousness and done from memory. But other designs are planned out and even drawn onto the warp threads.

We then got to tour the gallery.

That narrow pink one should have come home with me 🙂

I’m glad I took this picture, reasons for which I’ll explain below. But have a peek in that basket.

The rugs all seemed so reasonably priced. The one I would have wanted would have only been 3,000 pesos, which seemed like a bargain to me. I didn’t go home empty-handed, though. 🙂

I spotted this shawl in my favourite shade of pink.

I could imagine it draped over my shoulders on a cold winter evening or even used as a wall hanging. An unkind person told me that I’m so gullible about it having been made there because there is no way that shade of pink could be achieved naturally. HA. I saw it happen during the demonstration of the cochineal with lime juice and indigo, plus the picture above of the different wools shows a card of that very wool in the basket! AND, I saw a similar project on a loom. So I might not be coming home with a Teotitlán rug, but I have a beautiful piece from my first visit there. I could not believe it was only 400 pesos!