History, Mole and Mezcal in Oaxaca Mexico, January 2021

Sunset at Templo de Santo Domingo Guzman.

Churches in Oaxaca are like Starbucks in Seattle. There’s one on every corner. I spotted six while sipping a smoky tasting mezcal margarita on a rooftop bar overlooking Templo de Santo Domingo Guzman. Each church has its own unique color scheme, adding to the overall charm of Oaxaca. We found Oaxaca to have a mellow vibe with sweet, helpful people even though it’s a city of over 300,000 souls.

The Anador is a pedestrian only street in Oaxaca city.

Oaxaca is famous for several things including cheese, chocolate, mezcal and seven different moles. The most complex mole is negro mole with up to 27 ingredients and takes half a day or more to make a batch.

A sampling of the seven moles of Oaxaca.
Negro mole for dinner on the plaza.

A half hour bus ride for 80 pesos ($4 US) takes you to Monte Alban. A World Heritage site that was the capital of the Zapotec civilization where you can walk among pyramids, tombs, temples and ball courts over 2,500 years old.

Due to Covid only a few hundred visitors are allowed each day. Get there early!
The carvings on the blocks depict sacrificial captives and calendar information.
A ball court. Unlike other ball courts in South America it appears the winners of the game weren’t sacrificed at this site.

Another fun day adventure was taking a colectivo out to a mezcal farm for 80 pesos ($4 US). It was a 45 minute drive out to the semi-desert country. We had to pass through a Covid checkpoint where our temperature was taken, we had to get out of the car and the car handles were sprayed with disinfectant and our hands were cleaned with sanitizer.

At the mezcal farm we learned there are hundreds of types of agave but mezcal is typically made from 12 varieties. You can buy a bottle made from a single varietal or blends, similar to wine. Tequila is made from one type of agave only, the Weber Blue agave. For mezcal it takes 7 to 15 years depending on the species for the plant to mature and form a pina at the heart. The pina is charred then chopped up and crushed by a stone wheel pulled by a horse to create a mash. We tasted this mash and it was sweet, similar to sugar cane.

The distillation process at the mezcal farm.

Then the mash was cooked in copper kettles over a wood fire to distill it, then distilled a second time. The mezcal can be consumed in one month or aged up to 4 years. After our tour we had the pleasure of tasting at least a dozen single plant and blended mezcals.

Mezcal tastes were served with orange slices dipped in three choices of salt: dried crushed maggots and salt, hibiscus flowers and salt or dried crushed grasshoppers and chili with salt (those three little black dishes).

After our stay in Oaxaca city we rented a car and drove the gnarly twisting road towards the coast and our destination of Mazunte. Half way to the coast we stopped and spent the night in San Jose del Pacifico at 8,000 feet and saw this gorgeous sunset! That night we enjoyed a wood fire in a private cabin while dreaming of the beach…..our next destination.

Lavender clouds billowing below in the valley as the sky burned vermilion!

Sayulita, Mexico September 2020

Sayulita is a small surf town located 20 miles north of Puerto Vallarta.

Morning breaks with a cacophony of sound. Flocks of green parrots screech as they fly from tree to tree. Roosters compete for loudest morning greeting. Chachalaca birds cackle and a small dog barks. The Sonic propane truck plays its cheery song. Quietly the air conditioner hums beneath it all at a comfortable 22′ C. I open my eyes to see the burnt orange tiles of the arched ceiling above me. Some of the bricks are crumbling from water damage and little piles of dust have accumulated on the floor in the night. Turning my head I see the lavender sky brightening to light blue through the shaggy palapa roof of our rooftop penthouse airbnb. Soon the clanging and banging sounds of construction will begin next door with the tinny sounds of Mexican radio filtered throughout. Good morning Sayulita!

Our place was much more affordable because of Covid.
A refreshing pool at your vacation Airbnb is highly recommended to beat the heat.

Our research told us that Sayulita would be a more subdued version of itself due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. We arrived on August 31st and even though there is evidence of disease prevention in town the beach and streets are buzzing with activity. Restaurant employees are wearing masks, as well as hotel staff and store employees. Some tourists are wearing masks but the majority are not. There are square matts at entrances to wipe your feet on with I’m assuming antibacterial liquid and many places have hand sanitizer on tables and at entrances. Some restaurants are checking temperatures before allowing patrons to enter.

Bright and beautiful downtown Sayulita.
Sayulita Beach.

Besides that life is ‘normal’ here. There are tables with umbrellas in the sand. Surfers in the water. Vendors selling hats, dresses, sunglasses, toys, sculptures, jewelry, cuban cigars, massages and hair braiding. We got a couple one hour massages for $20 US that were excellent. The sun is hot, humidity high and water is warm. Bath tub warm but I really enjoy it. I can stay in for a long time just bobbing up and down watching the pelicans and frigates fly over head and crash into the water to catch fish. It’s very soothing to let my gaze wander over the brightly colored umbrellas dotting the dark sand with the palapa roofed restaurants and hotels behind them. Colorful spanish styled villas with arched windows climb the surrounding hills.

A fisherman shares the spoils with the sea birds at the south end of Sayulita Beach.

At the south end of the beach the fishing boats lay in the sand. It’s fun to watch the gulls, frigates and blackbirds swoop down to snatch up discarded fish carcasses in a churning circle that almost seems choreographed. The fishermen use their trucks to pull the boats to the waters edge as well as pull them out.

Playa los Muertos.

Playa los Muertos is a smaller beach just a short walk south of Sayulita. You can either walk around the rocky point or take the road that first winds around some fancy rental homes and then through a colorful cemetery.

Los Muertos Cemetery.
Playa Carricitos.

A longer hike (about 30-40 minutes) up some hills and through the jungle takes you to secluded Playa Carricitos. With hardly another soul in sight this beach is a quiet get away from the main Sayulita Beach. Along the way you’ll see skinks on the ground, parrots in the trees, and hear hundreds of tropical birds that are hidden in the deep foliage. Palm trees, strangler figs, tamarind and the giant parota tree are just a few of the species competing for sunlight.

An iguana suns itself at Playa Carricitos.

Downtown is hopping at night with drum circles and fire dancers in the streets, break dancers in the square, and the general hub bub of tourists driving golf carts and children and dogs running about.

The view from Aaleyah’s, Sayulita. Best drinks and chile rellenos in town. Also, they treat you like a local.
Delicious tacos and toppings at El Itacate.

We enjoyed a relaxing two weeks in this bohemian surf town with not much to do but surf, drink, shop and eat. The nightlife was entertaining, but we really enjoyed sitting in our patio furniture and listening to everything going on in town. There was modern DJ music, Mexican music, families singing, drum circles drumming, lightning flashing and occasionally….thunder booming. We’ll be back!

Hasta luego Sayulita!