No trip to Oaxaca is complete without involving Mahsa from Journeys Beyond the Surface in some way into your trip. Originally from Iran but now a local of Oaxaca, Mahsa prepares fantastic tours and knows all the best artisans in the region. We spent several days with her and through her met some really fantastic people.
Today we started at Vida Nueva in Teotitlan del Valle, a Women’s Cooperative made up of women who are all widows, single mothers or unmarried. Here a group of 16 women of all ages have created an incredible organization that empowers not just the women themselves, but the community as a whole. Their main activity is weaving and they weave beautiful carpets by hand using a range of wool string dyed by hand using natural dyes which they sell to the local market. For 30 fascinating minutes she walked us through the different colours they use and how they get those colours. The reds come from a small white insect that grows on cactus leaves called cochineal. When pressed the inside is a bright red. Add more water it becomes lighter and less water it becomes a darker red. Squeeze a hint of lemon juice in and the reds turn into oranges. All of the colours of the rainbow are created using natural ingredients found mostly locally.
In addition to the weaving, the women also use some of the additional revenue they generate to sponsor a number of community projects. They started an impressive local recycling programme, as well as a reforestation programme. They create toys for kindergarden children who are disadvantaged and care packages for older women living alone. After spending an hour listening to them more than willingly share their stories and experiences, there was absolutely no need or expectation to buy something although considering how bueautiful their products are, and how reasonably priced they were, it was hard to leave empty handed. On days that they don’t receive visitors Vida Nueva members sell various other products in the local markets.
Our lunch stop was a trip to Tlacolula market. This Sunday market is just massive as it takes over blocks and blocks of the city, and not surprisingly you can find absolutely anything you could want or need. They have Oaxacan avocados, incense, shopping bags, bowls, and traditional clothes. Although the market is on every day, this extended market that even includes animals is only on Sundays. Right in the center of town, through a quiet church courtyard, is the heart of the market. Here is where the best stuff is sold, the food. When you first enter to the left there is a hallway filled with stalls selling sweet breads. To the right, stalls selling thin strips of raw meat that are cooked right there on the spot for you. The next row on the left is where the lamb barbecue is, one of the main reasons most people make the trip out to this market on Sundays. The area was jam packed and you’ll need some luck to squeeze yourself into one of the benches. We ordered a handful of tacos with lamb, and also a caldo of lamb, a lamb soup that is incredibly addictive. I also followed the cue of some of the locals sitting on the same table as us, and ordered a hot chocolate and a sweet bread. Like I needed any encouragement …..
Click on video below to see the market!
The hot chocolate sort of balanced the sweet and sour flavours of the spices in the tacos and the soup, and because of those flavours, it kind of took on a sweet and sour taste itself, in an incredibly pleasant way. This hot chocolate was made from milk and was nice and creamy. The locals most often order it with a sweet bread, which they will bring over from one of the bread stalls nearby, and dip pieces of their bread into the chocolate. Delicious!
From the safety of our benches we could watch the craziness of the market. At one point a band managed to walk through the market. How they found room to move their instruments around I have no idea but the echo across the building was fantastic. From our benches you could feel the heat coming off the coals from the makeshift burners used to cook the lamb and the goat. Big pots with both types of meat were tended to by women wearing traditional outfits, and men would come by regularly to pour a large container of seasoned liquid into the cooking meat.
Verdict: That lamb stew, and the accompanying hot chocolate, was one of the food highlights of our trip. Puesto de Barbacoa Dona Adolfa, second stall on the right side of the second row on the left (you’ll see the big sign overhead), Tlacolula, Mexico