Expat tales: Foodie fiesta Oaxaca
Mexico's affordability of living was a shock for Jodi Fleming who responds to questions here about life in the province of Oaxaca.
Why did you move to Mexico?
I decided to leave the corporate world and volunteer for a year in Mexico. I had a Skype interview with the foundation I now work for and arrived in Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico, in October 2012.
What do you do there?
I volunteer in various capacities for two inspiring local NGOs here. Fundacion En Via (envia.org) provides local women with interest-free micro-loans to start or grow their own businesses. They provide 100 per cent of these loans from tour fees.
Techamos Una Mano (tum.org.mx) was formed by local students, concerned about families living in substandard housing and the rising amount of plastic waste created by living in a city where it is necessary to buy bottled water. This organisation builds simple houses for marginalised families in Oaxaca using, among other things, milk cartons and plastic bottles.
I also blog about my life in Oaxaca at underamexicansky.com.
What do you like or dislike about life in Mexico?
I love living in Oaxaca (wah-hah-kah). The locals are friendly, the food is fantastic, the crafts are amazing, the history is epic. Oaxaca is a beautiful Unesco-listed colonial city and there is always a festival happening. With festivals come cohetes, which I could live without. Cohetes are firecrackers, launched into the air with a slingshot and which explode very loudly.
How does the cost of living compare to New Zealand?
I am in for a heck of a shock when I return to New Zealand. This morning at the market I bought two tomatoes, an avocado, an onion, two bread rolls, a large papaya, a bunch of bananas, three eggs, some homemade salsa, a steamed tamale and a container of milk for 65 pesos (NZ$5.95). I have a one bedroom apartment in central Oaxaca, which is 3500 pesos a month (NZ$319).
What do you do on weekends?
I like to visit different small towns around Oaxaca, trying to time it for their market day.
What do you think of the food?
Oaxaca is known as a foodie city, and both Rick Bayliss and Anthony Bourdain have filmed here in the last couple of months.
Oaxaca is famous for seven types of moles (mol-lays), sauces containing on average 20 different ingredients.
Vendors in the central markets sell chapulines - fried grasshoppers coated in difference spices. My favourite Oaxacan street/market foods are tlayudas, tamales, huaraches and memelas.
Oaxaca is known throughout Mexico for its chocolate, and a cup of chocolate caliente is definitely something not to miss. Oaxaca is also a city that takes coffee very seriously with beans grown locally and roasted onsite in many cafes.
What's the best way to get around?
Walk. The central city is very compact and easy to get around, and walking allows you to discover new things.
What's the shopping like?
Amazing. Bring an empty suitcase when you come, for alebrijes, wool tapetes, green pottery, black pottery, embroidered cotton shirts, tapestries, woven bags, discs of chocolate, baskets, scarves, silver jewellery, mezcal, hammered hearts and 3-D angels made from tin, Mexican tiles, leather bags and sandals etc.
What's the nightlife like?
Oaxaca has a multitude of great places to have dinner and drinks before heading to a bar or club to dance. Oaxaquenos love to dance.
What is your favourite part?
Art and music are highly prized talents in Mexican culture. The numerous museums and art galleries in Oaxaca are always showing new exhibitions so they are great places to visit. Relax with coffee in the beautiful cafe spaces afterwards.
What time of year is best to visit?
I would time a visit for the festival you want to see. I was here for Dia de los Muertos last year which was incredible.
What's your must-do thing?
Take a colectivo (shared taxi) to the Tlacolula market on Sunday. You can buy anything there. The best thing is sharing a cafe bench with the 4-foot Zapotec grandmothers in traditional dress; all their shopping piled at their feet while they take a break with a cup of atole.
What are your top tips for tourists?
Take your time and absorb the atmosphere. Always ask before taking photos of locals. Dine on a restaurant terrace and admire the view. People-watch at the zocalo. Do a day trip to somewhere outside of Oaxaca. Visit Monte Alban, which dates back to 500BCE.
How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?
I can bus (six hours) or fly (40 minutes) from Oaxaca to Mexico City. It's a direct flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles (four hours) and then another direct flight to Auckland (12 hours).
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Sunday Star Times