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Oaxaca –Mezcal, new friends and Monte Alban

(February 11 – written by Dave)

We are not big drinkers.  So, touring a mezcal factory, much less the many mezcal bars in Oaxaca was pretty low on our list of things to do while here.  Still, I was curious – what is so special about mezcal?  I shared these comments with our neighbours in the room next to us and they recommended a casual bar just round the corner from our house.

Armed with almost no information, nor preconceived notions we made our way to El Destilado.  Here’s what we learned.  Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave plant native to Mexico.  There are roughly 45 of these agave plant types and each produces a slightly different tasting mezcal.  While agave grows throughout Mexico, most mezcal is made in Oaxaca.  There is an “almost famous” saying about Oaxaca mezcal –  “Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también.” “For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good as well”.

I tried sips of three different types of mezcal at El Destilado.  They were kind to me and patient with my complete lack of knowledge and/or mezcal awareness.  I’m happy to report that I could actually tell the difference between the three varieties, but I’m sorry to say that I didn’t much care for any of them.  I think mezcal is probably an acquired taste.  We won’t have enough time in Oaxaca for me to develop this taste, which is probably a good thing.

Mezcal in Oaxaca

Mezcal – different agave on the lables

After the tasting, we headed to the rooftop restaurant to have dinner with Tyler and Martha, our new friends and AirB&B neighbours.  They were not huge fans of mezcal either but we found enough other interesting things to drink to make the evening a fun one.  Both of them are architects, coming from Humboldt County in Northern California.  Thanks for the Oaxaca tips guys – and some interesting conversation over dinner.

This morning we were up early for a trip to Monte Alban and the UNESCO listed archaeological site.  We caught the 8:30 bus and were on the Monte by 9AM.  The ride up was a narrow, twisting, no guardrail “fun-ride” in a 1970s bus.  We had front seats and were more than happy to reach the site alive.

Monte Alban traces its history to about 500 B.C. when Zapotec builders began levelling the mountaintop and constructing terraces and other works. The city’s construction and general inhabitation lasted about 1,300 years.  For unknown reasons, it was abandoned around 800 AD. The Mixtec people later entered the Valley of Oaxaca in 1200 AD and used the Monte Alban site to bury their elite.

For those curious:

The Zapotec civilization was an indigenous pre-Columbian civilization that flourished around Oaxaca, with their culture dating back some 2,500 years.

The Mixtec were around from almost the same era but only really rose to dominance after the fade of the Zapotec.

Ultimately Monte Alban was lost and/or forgotten.  It was rediscovered in the early 19th century.  Large scale archaeological works only began in the 1930.  Because it was lost for so long, many of the graves and art works had not been looted.

Anyway….  Enjoy some photos from our visit there.

Monte Alban looking south 1

Monte Alban looking south

Monte Alban relief - 4 women, 1 man - rulers at the time

Monte Alban relief showing the rulers of the time – 4 women and 1 man

Monte Alban views 2

Monte Alban fig tree

Monte Alban looking north 3

Monte Alban looking north

Monte Alban getting small

Monte Alban – feeling small

Monte Alban buildings 1

Monte Alban courtyard building

Monte Alban buildings 3

Sundial and solar calendar

Monte Alban buildings 2

Monte Alban details

Faces for sale

For sale at Monte Alban – masks covered in precious stones

The bus ride off the Monte was nice and calm.  We had a different driver, thankfully, one who had not recently watched Formula One highlights on Sport Center.

By now it was time for lunch so we hit the same market we stopped at yesterday but tried a different stall.  We sort of pointed at one guy’s food and made up an order.  The guy working the counter was also the cook and more than happy to cook us just what we wanted (or thought we wanted – translation issues being considered).  He even came to our table and ate his lunch with us, which was nice as he willing to correct errors in our Spanish (we made many).

Chicken and mole negro tacos

Chicken taco with mole negro – yum

On the way home, we stopped for a fresh grapefruit juice (Nancy) and a chocolate mio (Dave).  My mio streak stands at 4 – I’m not sure what will happen tomorrow as we head out of town.  We are both fighting colds a bit but when we checked, our lovely AirB&B is not free for another night.  So tomorrow, sadly we move on.  We’ve really enjoyed scratching the surface of Oaxaca’s culture, both the very old and the current.

Getting healthy

Fresh squeezed

Trinket sellers at the church

Trinket seller at the main cathedral

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2 responses to “Oaxaca –Mezcal, new friends and Monte Alban

  1. Good for you, trying the local mezcal. Beautiful pics of Monte Alban. I enjoyed the history lesson also. I hope your colds are much improved tomorrow!

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