Oaxaca was recommended to us by just about everyone from Mexico; for its history, culture and culinary excellence. So with great anticipation, we booked rooms at sister hotels, both named The Devil and the Watermelon (El Diablo y La Sandia) taken from the popular Mexican lottery game which features several characters, including the Devil and a watermelon.
Both hotels were small and advertised themselves as boutique and were certainly quite stylish and quaint. They made a big deal out of environmental conservation such as bed sheets not being ironed, requests to turn out lights and a new one for us – asking guests to collect cold water (before the hot ran through) in a large pale or bucket from the en suite shower which the maid then used to wash the floors. Not a big deal, just unusual for us and I’m sure we’ll see it again in areas where water can be scarce.
Breakfast consisted of fruit followed by eggs cooked to various Mexican recipes. Very tasty, and though the portions were quite small many places don’t offer breakfast so what we received was certainly a plus and a good start to the day.
At night the rooms were a little cold due to a large air vent in the ceiling and extra blankets had to be requested. With Oaxaca’s altitude being over five thousand feet the contrasting temperatures between day and night are stark and a heater would’ve been nice just to take the chill out of the air. Hamish with his thick Highland coat didn’t feel it and enjoyed his stay at both hotels, the first having a resident cat, the second a dog, which kept him occupied and happy.
Oaxaca City itself was a very well preserved colonial city. Full of great local eateries; we ate some wonderful cuisine, with the only chain restaurant noticeable being a Domino’s Pizza.
Unfortunately Oaxaca wasn’t as dog friendly as other cities and towns in Mexico with roughly 50% of restaurants refusing Hamish entry and very few local attractions catering for dogs, if any. There was a couple of local parks which gave Hamish some off the leash time but freedom to run free was few and far between.
Art work and Architecture
Although lovely to walk around with beautiful buildings, art work and churches, traffic was congested and the pollution emitting exhaust fumes was, at times, stifling. As a result we decided not to extend our stay here and would move on to the coast and the warmer and cleaner climate.
The highlight of our stay and indeed possibly Mexico as a whole was attending a Temazcal. A Temazcal (meaning house of heat or bathe house) is a small dome-like clay or stone structure, sweat lodge or sauna.
The traditional native American purification ceremony pre dates the Hispanic era, the concept being a cleansing of the body and mind – or rebirth ceremony.
We start by changing into bathing costumes, entering the Temazcalli and sitting on a wooden stool or chair. Rocks taken from the river or volcano nearby are heated outside before being taken in. Sprayed with mezcal (a local spirit drink similar to tequila) causes the scorching rocks to burst into flames, filling the air with burning alcohol. As the heat intensifies we are given various natural products including:- lime, basil, coffee, honey and chocolate which we use over our body, during the four stages of the ceremony, to cleanse the hair and skin. The Shaman chants and beats on a drum, constantly pouring water on the rocks to create more heat. The ceremony lasts for two hours and once or twice during this time he lightly beats you with basil stalks to banish and chase out any illness or potential illness. Water and chamomile tea are given to prevent dehydration and it finishes with you bathing or pouring cool water over yourself to rinse away excess ‘product’.
Though no spiritual enlightenment or rebirth happened for me, the whole experience was excellent. My skin feeling and looking healthy, my mind and body relaxed, I’d go on to have an amazing and uninterrupted nights sleep. All in all well worth the $1200 pesos or £50 equivalent.
From here we looked forward to going to the coastal town of Puerto Escondido via the white knuckle ride of AeroVega ….
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The city contains a number of parks, gardens and plazas, many of which were former monastery lands, for example, the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca , surrounding the former monastery of Santo Domingo.
It’s a beautiful city but travelling with a dog meant we missed out on many things. However, this gives us a reaßon to return another time.