Full disclosure: Omar is my friend. But my recommendation of Oaxacking to show you the best of Oaxaca isn’t influenced by this. I have come to know Omar, aka “Oaxacking” because of the Oaxacan experiences he’s taken me and my family and friends on over the years. He is excellent at sharing his knowledge and passion about Oaxaca and on top of that, you’ll get to experience some cool stuff that you’d probably never gain access to, or even know about, without him.
On my last trip to Oaxaca, I had friends visiting with me who’ve never been to Oaxaca so I asked “Oaxacking” to take us out. I requested a Friday to go to Ocotlan and explore the surrounding area as it’s one of my favourite things to do.
So on Friday morning, we hopped into the car with coffees in hand and headed out of the city towards Ocotlan. We went hungry because we were saving ourselves for breakfast, farmers market style. Well, not quite the farmers market you’re probably imagining.
The baratillo is the livestock market where villagers from the surrounding region travel to buy/sell animals. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve visited the baratillo, it still shocks me in how “real life” this is.
Breakfast is eaten amongst the locals and I am always satisfied with the tummy warming consommé accompanied by a taco of goat meat and a small platter of grilled meats. There’s usually a lot more food but I was happy that Omar ordered reasonably for us.
After breakfast, we wandered the livestock trade, but because we were in the rainy season it meant the ground was muddier than usual making it harder for us to navigate without feeling that we were getting in the way.
But early season rains means it’s time for chicatanas!
With food in our bellies and mud caked into our shoes, we got back into the car to visit some of the talented artisans in the area.
Our first stop was to learn about backstrap weaving in Santo Tomás Jalieza. This visit is special, like most with Omar, because you’re being welcomed into the home of the talented Navarro family.
I love the pace of life that the Navarro’s live. While they work simply, their creations are intricate. I feel myself relax just watching the generations of women weaving in a circle surrounded by their lush flowering trees and the sounds of their animals in the back. I want to stay the whole day at their tranquil home, but as this is one stop of many, I know the feeling is fleeting. I make sure to keep adding to my collection of their woven crafts each time I visit because they serve as a reminder of this wonderful family home each time I use them.
We hop back into the car and head to San Martin Tilcate for another one of my favourites. Along the way, Omar slows the car to point out pieces of street art.
As we round the corner, we’re welcomed to the taller of Jacobo & Maria Angeles with a large piece of their son, Ricardo’s work.
It’s said that Jacobo and Maria Angeles and their alibrijes influenced the filmmakers of the movie Coco which is easy to understand when you visit their taller (workshop), as it’s hard not to be inspired by their colourful artisanal artifacts.
While I’ve visited the taller many times, I feel like each time I’m taken through the process I learn more about the work and meaning behind the intricate wood carvings.
Our next stop was Santa Caterina Minas, to the palenque of Lalocura Mezcal. I’ve visited quite a few palenques with Omar on the many tours and adventures we’ve been on over the years, and without a doubt, Lalocura is my favourite.
As this is one of Omar’s favourites as well, he’s familiar enough with their production process to take us through the stages from start to finish.
After the tour, we’re taken into Lalo’s home for a tasting of the final product.
Eduardo (Lalo) took us through the tasting and like anywhere you are guided by the mezcalero, it was not only informative, but we also got the sense of the hard work, thought and passion that goes into each production. What I appreciate most about Lalo’s tastings though, is that he encourages you to not only engage your sense of smell and taste but adds in touch and sight. Lalo pours each mezcal through a funnel so you can witness the pearls of each and then pours some into your hands so you could get the feel and smell the aroma from your hands, which I feel accentuates the experience of each.
One last stop on our Friday fun day before heading back to the city was to the Ocotlan market to “Frida’s stand” for what always feels like good home cooking and an amazing way to refuel after a long day.
Each time I make a trip outside the city and drive into the country, I experience “big heart”. While I love every moment I spend in Oaxaca city, I am brought to another level of happiness when we make the drive out to the country.
I live surrounded by ocean and imposing mountains and while that is home to me, there’s something about the valley surrounded by the rolling mountains in Oaxaca that calls to me. Perhaps it’s because these visits take me to places where life is lived so simply, away from the clutter of “first world problems”. Perhaps it’s because the people we meet are creative and passionate but also welcoming and willing to share themselves and their culture to anyone who takes an interest. Or perhaps it’s because Omar turns the vibrant photos that I see every day from @oaxacking’s IG feed and turns them into technicolour magic that you experience with all of your senses.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, Oaxaca is a special place made forever memorable when you spend time with Oaxacking. Contact him to book some time with him if you’re going to Oaxaca. You won’t regret it.