Goodbye for now, Oaxaca!

Just one of the many things I love about Oaxaca – the food!

We’re getting ready to head back north to Casa Norte for the summer and I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on what we love – and a few things we don’t love – about living in Oaxaca City, Mexico.

While B and I really love Oaxaca, there are a small handful of things that we aren’t quite enamored of:

  • Heavy traffic and lots of people (tourists!) downtown in Centro. I don’t mind going to Centro when I need to, but I’m glad to get back on “our” hill (the Volcanes neighborhood). We live in a quiet neighborhood with small shops nearby – you can get almost anything you need right here. Bigger shopping areas, culture, and nightlife are just a (cheap) bus-ride away.
  • Crazy drivers and city bus races. In Mexico, one doesn’t take a test to get their drivers license: you pay the fee and get your license. No driving test. No written test. Nada. Given some of the odd traffic patterns in the city and on the rural roads, I’m amazed there aren’t more traffic accidents than there are. And the buses! The bus companies in the city are all private – no metro here. At night, the ‘new’ drivers are on duty. Which means, most of them are young, fairly inexperienced bus drivers. Going up the hill from Centro, the bus drivers will often race each other, as they’re competing for customers and want to get to the bus stops before their ‘competitors’. Yikes. Buses racing side-by-side up a narrow one-way street is NOT exciting, thank you.
  • Bugs. As in mosquitoes. Small, very fast flyers. La cucaracha: 2-inch long cockroaches. With wings. That can fly. Erg. ‘Nuff said. Window screens are a necessity here, but most Mexican homes do not have them. (Ours does. Now. After a serious conversation with our landlord.)
  • Spotty availability of certain consumer products. We’ve spent the past month or two outfitting a new apartment and found that if we spot something we need/want, we’d better scoop it up right then, because the store may not get any more of that model. On the other hand, we’ve discovered that you can find almost anything you want here if you look hard enough. (Even extra-sharp Tillamook cheese! Even good balsamic vinegar!)

Some of the things we love about Oaxaca, and Mexico in general:

  • The food. I can gush rapturously about the food in Oaxaca, but will limit my discourse to noting that the vegetables and fruits are among the freshest and most flavorful in the world. The meats and poultry are fresh and full of flavor. Fresh food is inexpensive here and most is grown locally, within a few miles of the city. Open air markets are plentiful and fun to shop in. So inspiring to cook here!
  • The weather. It’s one of the reasons we landed here. Daytime winter temperatures are in the 70s and 80s, with it cooling down at night to the mid-50s (usually, sometimes colder, sometimes warmer). Winter is the dry season, with very little or no rain from mid-October through mid-March. We had a very unusual bout of thunderstorms during Dia de Muertos (October 29-November 1) – short bursts of heavy rain, which would move in, dump, and disperse quickly. But since then, this year, we’ve only had one other brief rain shower.
  • Safety / security. Living securely is a big thing here. We feel safe walking in the neighborhood in the evening, and feel fairly safe even downtown in the evening. (We are not out late at night.) Most of Oaxaca City and the surrounding villages feel safe most of the time. There are “known” places to avoid at certain times of the day (usually nighttime), but trouble is easy to avoid here. We feel more safe here than in many U.S. cities.
  • Culture. Music is everywhere, with many concerts and events every week. So much so, that it can be hard to decide which to go to. There are cinemas, theatres, and concert venues here, with bands of all kinds playing in smaller venues, too. Even free concerts by the community orchestra at the Zocalo on Sunday afternoons and holidays. Truly a land filled with music and dance.
  • The people. We’ve found the people here to be warm and inviting, and have made many friends. In general, the Mexican people are not terribly materialistic, and emphasize strong relationships and close family and friends. They love celebrations – fireworks, parades, and street fairs are common. They pull out the stops and celebrate life.

We’re sad to be leaving our southern home for the summer. But, we look forward to next winter’s fun and adventures!