Oaxaca Mole

On the streets of Oaxaca for Day of the Dead

We arrived in Oaxaca just at the right time— Dia (noche) de los Muertos. We all know what this day is about and what goes on, but it is my observation this uniquely Mexican celebration is changing, at least in Oaxaca. The Night of the Dead traditionally were families going to their ancestral plot in the graveyard, decorating it with flowers, leaving the favorite food of deceased relatives and then the family sat by the gravesite all night. They still do that, BUT the tradition is slowly morphing into a Night of the Dead, Halloween and Carnival. In Oaxaca, children now cruise the streets in costume with bag soliciting people for candy or money, teenagers and young adults drink and dance in the streets to roving bands, complete with paper Mache figures eight feet tall and men (in costume) on stilts. Outside the city cemetery there are rows of carnival rides, games and booths of food and merchandise like you would see at a state fair.

A lovely lago in Teotitlan where I went to paint

San Augustin Etla art center

What Oaxaca has going for it are the best handicrafts and folk art in Mexico with many nearby villages like Teotitlan Del Valle—the village famous for tapetes, woven rugs and tapestries; Mitla—has an excellent but small preserved ruin; San Bartolo Coyotepec—famous for its black pottery;  San Martin Tilcajete and Arrazola are the  villages where they make  Alebrijes (small carved wooden fantasy animals and figures) One thing I noticed (we started a small collection ten years ago) was that the quality of the figures has come a long way as well as has the prices. Collector quality pieces that used to cost hundreds of dollars now cost thousands. Small pieces that used to cost 13$ now cost 43$  Some of the surrounding areas merit discovery and exploration— Etla is a county-size district northeast of the city of Oaxaca and is home for many ex-pats—this area  is mountainous, always green and reminds me of the Italian countryside. Nearby, the San Augustin de Etla fabric factory has been converted into an art center and is worth a look see.   A visit to Oaxaca would not be complete without driving up to Monte Alban to visit the zapotec ruins. Standing on the edge of this majestic mountain-top looking out over the grand valley and mountain beyond gives one a sense of why the ancients choose to erect a city and temple here.

Los Danzantes

Oaxaca is also known for its regional food and flavors. The most famous are the moles and I’m sure most of you have eaten the chocolate mole. We brought back a packet of all the different flavors we could find in the public markets. All are great and some are hot. And speaking of food…. There were a couple of good restaurants of note, one was the Terranova on the southeast corner of the Zocalo and for you veggy heads restaurant Manantial Vegetariana with their Saturday buffet is a must. A splurge restaurant that was great is Los Danzantes South of the Zocalo on the Alaca (walkway). One peculiar culinary phenomena, like the city of San Cristobal, Oaxaca also has the custom of selling tamales out of houses. Near where we lived a line formed on Sunday morning outside a small tienda where a woman sat in front of a very large pot selling chicken, pineapple and chocolate mole tamales. With a cold beer it can’t be beat. (No, not on Sunday morning.)

The city of Oaxaca: There is a lack of parks in this city. Many of the streets in centro were being repaired when we were there and traffic in many areas was a nightmare. The cause: it is the cherished Mexican political custom of the outgoing administration spending any money left, to create jobs the last few days on public projects to show what they have done “for the people.”  On second thought, this is probably a custom of all outgoing governments in the world. We both are not big on churches but the Iglesia de Santo Domingo has a wealth of art and architecture including all the gold from Monte Alban. Try to visit when there are not bus-loads of school kids on a field trip, if you know what I mean. One nuisance in this city are the taxi drivers. For some reason, maybe they learned this driving a cab in New York, if you are stuck in traffic just honk and traffic will miraculously move again—right, like that really helps. They also have the annoying habit of whenever the light turns green and the traffic doesn’t instantly move they honk. The taxis cost around 30 pesos around the city depending on where you want to go. Extra if they don’t get to honk.  The bus service is cheap 4.5 pesos and efficient, I didn’t wait more than 5 minutes for a bus in the morning to take me to yoga class. We also found the drivers to be incredibly rude. It was like they were getting points for not letting pedestrians cross streets and extra for trying to hit the pedestrians.

the Macedonia Alcala Theater

There are certainly enough cultural events to do around the city. When we were there, there was an international book fair that took up part of the Zocalo. We had pleasant time on several Sundays, sitting in the shade of a large laurel tree listening to band concerts. There are festivals of some kind most weekends somewhere in the region. The main theater, the Macedonia Alcala is a great one, built in 1909, it had events almost every night. We saw three bands to include a jazz band, a quasi big band, a band best described as experimental, combing banda and contemporary music, a contemporary female pop singer, not one, but two modern dance shows, and the Oaxaca Symphony Orchestra. The cost was 20 pesos a person.

Thinking about living in Oaxaca? I talked with members of the Oaxaca Lending Library, (like LCS in Ajijic) ground zero for the English speaking community and this is what they told me. (These are unofficial numbers as are most numbers in Mexico.)  There are around 700 full time Americans and Canadians, and that number swells in the winter when the cold weather folks travel south to sunny and warm Oaxaca. I was told there are around 2500 English speakers if you count the missionaries. Apparently Oaxaca and the surrounding areas are a fertile ground for religious converts. But, because of Oaxaca’s population (400,000) the English speaking population is swallowed up and gringos are far and few between. Talking to ex-pats who have lived there for years the city has not yet quite recovered from the political and social riots of several years ago. While we were there we saw a large demonstration in the street outside the school administration building and not too far away were police officers dressed in black, with flack jackets, carrying automatic weapons. On the anniversary of the unrest, people blocked the roads coming into the city and we had to take an hour detour to get around.

Overall impressions: Oaxaca is a large city and you would have to speak fair to good Spanish to live there. The car pollution and the traffic in the valley are major problems. There are plenty of cultural events, restaurants, shops, sights and other happenings to keep your interest. It is a not a quiet city in the Centro (honk, honk) but it has a charm that obviously attracts many ex-pats to call it home. There are lovely villages in close proximity of the city but it took us over an hour to drive the 8 miles to visit one of them. The traffic will get better when the old administration finishes repairing the streets…I hope.

These are photos of paintings I did in the area around the city of  Oaxaca. I would have liked to do more, but it was so hard to get out of the city with the traffic and the streets so torn up.

View from San Augustin Art Center

a 16th century church whose name I have forgotten

Old Women selling in the Shade

The lake at Teotitlan

Those who are not on Facebook can see the photos I have taken by going to the following links:



There are a lot fewer photos this month as I don’t find Oaxaca as lovely as some of the other places we have been.  Also I have taken lots of photos, but didn’t want to bore you with all of them.


14 Responses to “Oaxaca Mole”

  1. Brooke Says:

    wonderful post!! great photos and GREAT art!! i love the “woman selling in the shade”

  2. Audrey Says:

    Thanks Anita! The post was very interesting but a little disillusioning for those of us who have the fantasy image of Oaxaca as a sleepy little artsy, crafts, place….oh well…I love the woman in the shade…you should do more people!

  3. Gail Rooney Says:

    Thanks for the blog. We haven’t been there yet, but look forward to going even more so now after reading about it. The photos of the art are really beautiful too.

  4. Char Says:

    As always, your photos and paintings are exceptional! And I love reading your “travelogues”, which I hope you’ll publish some day!
    Hugs to you both….and of course to Lassen!

  5. Alison Says:

    Anita, I love your new paintings. Your style looks a little different and quite influenced by mexican folk art — are you developing something new?

  6. Chris Weinstein Says:

    You could double as a goodwill ambassador for the region. Thank you for including some of your wonderful paintings.

    Happy Holidays,

  7. Diane Says:

    Wonderful blog as usual. Pictures and paintings are great. I also love the woman in shade and agree. Do more people paintings!
    Miss you both.

  8. Pat in PV Says:

    Every post is a treasure. Thanks for including us. Are you back in Ajijic yet?
    Give us a call on vonage here in Puerto Vallarta.
    I agree with your following. There’s a slight change in your art. More color?

  9. Everett & Becky Says:

    Anita & Mike: We enjoy your adventures. You are probably picking the best way to see Mexico. In many ways I wish we were back. Enjoy your holdays where ever you are.

  10. Linda Samuels Says:

    Anita and Mike, love your travelogues, they are so informatve and interesting. I was in Oaxaca in Jan.’96 and found it quite chilly at night and early mornings.
    Your paintings are beautiful, Anita.

  11. Leyla Says:

    Hi Anita nd Michael, Enjoy your writing and perhaps you can morph this into a travel blog for Mexico. I especially like the parts about real life if an expat is to live there. AS I read it I wonder why would an expat want to relocate to Oaxaca permanently? Yes and I love your paintings Anita, you just keep on improving and that is wonderful

  12. sandy Says:

    Hi Anita and Michael
    Nothing like living vicariously! Your descriptions give such an amazing flavor to the places you’ve visited. It is great that you send photos along and even more beautiful when Anita’s goregeous handiwork is included!
    love to you both
    Happy chanukah/solitice

  13. Stacy Says:

    Enjoyed the blog! Your art looks great!


  14. Pia Says:

    Hi guys,
    Can’t wait to see you back here! Your travelogues are wonderful and the one for Oaxaca is exceptional. Makes me want to head there tomorrow!
    Love, Pia

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