Mar 04

Oaxaca Scenes

 

Jan 27

Colors of Oaxaca in Pictures

One of our favorite things about Mexico is all the color. It’s everywhere!

Festival de Antojitos (Snacks)

Street Vendor

Street Vendor

Indigenous Women Vendors at the Tlacolula Market

Fruit Display at Tlacolula Market

Belts for Sale at Mercado Benito Juarez

Woven Rugs Gallery near Santo Domingo Church

 

Jan 27

Cooking Class in Oaxaca Mexico – Muy Sabroso!

For me, one of the highlights of our trip to Mexico was taking a cooking class at Casa Crespo in Oaxaca. Sure, I can make quesadillas and burritos, even fajitas, but the preparation is more Tex-Mex style. True Mexican cuisine is so different than what we’re used to in the U.S. and I wanted to learn. While a half-day cooking class barely skimmed the surface, I loved every minute of it and came away with a little more knowledge about Oaxacan cuisine, some basic skills in how to prepare several dishes, and the recipes.

Buying chilies at the market

Class started with deciding which of the many possible dishes we would prepare; no easy feat for our class of six. After we selected the menu, we walked with our instructor, Chef Oscar, to a nearby market to shop for the ingredients. As we walked through the many stalls, Oscar explained what we were seeing and buying – all the different types of dried chilies, the squash blossoms and epazote for the Quesadillas con flor de calabaza y quesillo, and the fruits, nuts, spices, and of course, chocolate for the Mole de Fiesta.

Quesadillas con flor de calabaza y quesillo

He bought fresh Oaxacan cheeses, meats and chicken for the various dishes, tomatoes to be roasted for the Sopa de tortilla and Salsa de jitomate asado, and small, fragrant limes for the Nieve de limón. He even brought a bag of prepared corn to the market to be ground into masa for the Tortillas de masa fresca.

Roasted tomatoes and chilies

Gloria frying tortilla strips

We made two different types of tortillas and spicy salsas four different ways, tasting the subtle differences in flavors.  We ground garlic cloves in a traditional stone morter and pestle for Guacamole con mango. And we prepared an authentic tortilla soup, poblano chilies stuffed with more than 20 savory ingredients, a rich, delicious, and complex mole sauce served over chicken, and for dessert, a light chili lime sorbet. Then we got to eat the feast which we had prepared.

Class was a bargain at $65 for the day, including the meal, and Paul was able to join us for lunch for only $25. It was a long, leisurely meal with good conversation and a little mezcal – a thoroughly enjoyable experience for both of us.

Our class in action!

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Jan 27

Eating Out in Oaxaca, Mexico

We have had so many memorable meals in Oaxaca, there are too many to talk about. We have eaten in restaurants that run the gamut from smaller, family restaurants called comedors to fine dining restaurants — one of our favorites is Las Quince Letres where we enjoyed a four-course comida corrida for 90 pesos ($6.00) each. Comida corrida in Mexico is a meal of several courses at a fixed price, eaten between about 1 and 5 p.m. The food is always fresh, homemade, and the entrees vary daily.

One of our favorite things to do in Oaxaca is to enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants in the Zócolo, watching the people go by. It’s a party every day. Vendors selling jewelry, shawls, clothing, folk art, and more come by your table constantly but they are part of the fabric of this tourist town. We’ve even gotten to know a few of them over the years.

Oaxaca is a great town for foodies and has something to offer for everyone. Here’s a quick look at some of the foods we’ve eaten in Oaxaca:

Jan 26

Our Costs to Travel in Mexico for One Month-Part 5: Everything Else

As you can see in the graphic to the right, we spent a total of $3,417.98 during our one-month-long trip to Mexico. So, let’s break it down.

One of the things worth noting right off is the great exchange rate we got. Last year when we visited Mexico, the U.S. dollar was worth just over 14 pesos. This year, it was up to over 19 pesos to the dollar, so we got a lot more for our money. When we charged expenses on our travel card, we got the full 19+ pesos exchange rate. To save ATM fees (which are 3% of the amount withdrawn at Bank of America), we brought cash in USD and changed it for pesos at currency exchange booths at the airport and in the towns we visited. The exchange rates we got there ranged from 17.63 to 18.2 pesos to the dollar, still good, and a lot better than 14+ pesos to the dollar.

Everything Else

Healthcare: We both came down with bad head colds by the time we got to Oaxaca. There was an Farmacia Ahorro about two blocks from our hotel so we asked them what they recommended. They sent us next door to the doctor who works there six days a week. He examined Paul, whose cold was about two days ahead of mine. The doctor wrote prescriptions which we filled right next door at the pharmacy. The charge for the doctor: $0. One of the medications we asked for was a vitamin injection of B-complex (they didn’t offer vitamin C injections, which we would have preferred). The schedule was one injection each day for five days. Two days later, when I went to see him, I also got a five-day vitamin kit. So, every day for a total of seven days (Sunday excluded) we stopped by for our injections. Total cost for the doctor: $0. In total, we spent $56.36 for the vitamin injections, cough medicine, and an antihistamine for each of us, plus a bottle of vitamin C tablets.

Laundry Services: When traveling for a month, we only bring enough clothes for 7-10 days. Public laundries are readily available and they are inexpensive. They charge by weight and the clothes come back clean and neatly folded. We had our laundry done six times in all for a total cost of $24.41.

Paul getting a shoe shine in Oaxaca

Shoe Shines: Paul loves to have his leather shoes shined when we are in Mexico because they do such a good job and it’s so inexpensive. He had it done twice, once in Puebla and once in Oaxaca. Total cost: $2.22

Phone: When we arrived at the Mexico City airport, we bought a Telcel chip for one of our phones. It included enough minutes to last almost our entire trip. Total cost: $10.89.

Hair and Nails: Paul got a haircut at a barbershop near our hotel in Oaxaca for 50 pesos ($2.76) and I got a pedicure at a hair salon for 230 pesos ($12.71).

One of the pairs of new shoes for Gloria

Purchases for ourselves and for friends: A trip to Mexico always means bringing back wonderful things for ourselves and to give as gifts. For a total of $229.22, we bought:

  • 3 shawls
  • 2 pairs of shoes and 3 pairs of socks
  • a leather belt
  • a sunhat
  • 2 UDLAP caps and 1 shirt from Paul’s university
  • 2 woven blouses from Oaxaca
  • a DVD of the Ballet Folklórico de México
  • a CD of over 1,000 photos taken during Paul’s four-day University reunion
  • 8 woven wool coasters purchased from the weavers on our enVia tour 

    Wool coasters being woven like the ones we bought

  • 3 containers of mole negro 
  • 3 tin Christmas ornaments
  • 4 pairs of earrings
  • 3 refrigerator magnets
  • a hummingbird alebrije (brightly colored Mexican folk art sculpture)
  • an incense burner and two kinds of copal incense
  • a decorative map of Mexico City

We packed a lot into our 30 days in Mexico. We had a great time, and we ate so much wonderful food. This post barely scratches the surface in describing it. You can read the other posts about our 30-day Mexico trip by clicking the links below. We hope you enjoyed the pictures and videos of our trip and that you saw how we “travel the retire for less way.” Thanks for coming along!

 

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Jan 26

Our Costs to Travel in Mexico for One Month-Part 4: Entertainment and Tours

As you can see in the graphic to the right, we spent a total of $3,417.98 during our one-month-long trip to Mexico. So, let’s break it down.

One of the things worth noting right off is the great exchange rate we got. Last year when we visited Mexico, the U.S. dollar was worth just over 14 pesos. This year, it was up to over 19 pesos to the dollar, so we got a lot more for our money. When we charged expenses on our travel card, we got the full 19+ pesos exchange rate. To save ATM fees (which are 3% of the amount withdrawn at Bank of America), we brought cash in USD and changed it for pesos at currency exchange booths at the airport and in the towns we visited. The exchange rates we got there ranged from 17.63 to 18.2 pesos to the dollar, still good, and a lot better than 14+ pesos to the dollar.

Entertainment and Tours – $437.85

Food and Culture in Mexico City

In Mexico City, we kicked off our five-day stay with a food tour. We looked at the options and, by far, the best value was the Sabores de Mexico food tour of the Historic Center. The cost was $60 per person but we were able to get a 10% discount with a flyer from our hostel; with tax and reservation fee, the total for both of us was $131.28. The five-hour tour included a total of nine tastings across the city. We met our tour guide for the walking tour, which started at the Oaxaca En Mexico restaurant for mole negro, followed by three tastings at the Mercado de San Juan which features gourmet and exotic foods.

Edible Flowers

We sampled tapas at the Delicatessen la Jersey Gourmet, various insects (yes, I said insects) and a wild boar stew at El Gran Cazador, and edible flowers and herbs at Rosse Gourmet.

Wild Boar Stew

Our next stop was street food at El Caguamo Marisqueria where we had a highly seasoned shrimp broth and shrimp tacos. As we walked through the streets of Mexico City with our guide, he talked not only about the food, but about the history and culture around us. Next, it was time for a traditional cantina, La Mascota, where the food is free with the purchase of drinks. We ate carnitas with all the toppings, drank mezcal, and listened to the mariachi band performing inside the cantina. For a more modern cantina experience, we stopped in Pasagüero to sample their tapas and array of salsas which you can see in the video below.

And we finished up the day at a typical Mexican sweet shop, Dulcería de Celaya. It was a totally delicious day! Oh, and we didn’t need dinner that night.

Visiting Indigenous Women in Oaxaca

The other especially notable tour we took was in Oaxaca with enVia. The enVia Foundation uses the profits from the tours to give interest-free loans to women to start or grow their businesses and provide free education programs in the communities that they visit. On the day of our tour, we visited two communities, San Miguel del Valle and Tlacochahuaya.

Weavers in San Miguel del Valle and some of their beautiful rugs

In San Miguel, we saw two weavers and a woman who makes chocolate and traditional cocoa drinks. You can see how Mexican chocolate is made as well as the traditional preparation of chocolate caliente (hot chocolate) in the video below. Teresa is explaining in Spanish but everything she says is translated by the enVia guide.

In Tlacochuhuaya, we visited a woman who sells roast chicken and a woman who breeds rabbits and has a comedor where we had a delicious lunch.

Rabbit stew, one of the options for lunch from the woman who also raises rabbits

The tour cost 750 MXN pesos/person (a total of $81 USD for both of us or $40.50 per person) and included the all day tour, lunch, and transportation. This was one of the high-points of our trip as we got to see how indigenous women live and earn an income.

Cemeteries, Mole, and Mezcal

Our third tour was also in Oaxaca, a cemetery tour to experience Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Day of the Dead isn’t actually just one day; it’s a celebration that lasts from October 31st through November 2nd (All Souls Day) and beyond in some communities. The people believe that their loved ones who have died return to be with them during this time. So, they go to the cemeteries to greet them with their favorite foods, drinks, and other things they loved.

 

Pan de Muerto de Oaxaca

The tour began with a presentation about the traditions and cultural significance of the holiday, and a meal of mole rojo enchiladas, mezcal or beer, and pan de muerto. They we were off to visit three cemeteries, each very different from the others. We talked to families who were celebrating at the graves of their family members, listened to music, and even drank with the families when offered.This video was taken about 1:30am at the third cemetery we visited. You have to see it to believe it:

The tour cost 450 pesos per person, about $51 USD for both of us, including transportation, a meal, and all the mezcal we could drink.

Celebrating the Past and Making New Friends

The last entertainment expense I will mention in more detail is the Gala event for his University of Americas reunion. Alumni who attended the University during the 70s and 80s came to this year’s reunion. When we arrived, Paul only knew a few people; when the four-day reunion was over, we both felt like we had made many new friends. The Gala was a semi-formal event on the last night of the reunion. For both of us, the cost was about $66 USD.

Gloria and Paul at the Gala

The other events took place on the University campus as well as at restaurants and bars nearby. Those expenses are reflected in our “Meals Out” category. But one thing you have to see is Paul and the rest of the group enjoying the music at one of the restaurants. We just can’t get that song out of our heads!

Other than these four bigger entertainment expenses, we also:

  • Went to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City – $6.78 admission
  • Paid Mariachis to sing us two songs at Salon Tenampa in Garibaldi Square, Mexico City – $5.59
  • Visited the National Museum of Art, Mexico City – $5.59 admission
  • Saw the Ballet Folklórico de México at the Bellas Artes – $31.28 for two tickets
  • TuriBus tour of Puebla at night – $8.94
  • Walking tour of the town of Atlixco – $5.49
  • Trolly tour of Puebla (one of the events for Paul’s University reunion) – $16.48
  • Two tickets for a musical entitled “Catrina” for Day of the Dead – $28.36

We packed a lot into our 30 days in Mexico. We had a great time and this post barely scratches the surface in describing it. You can read the other posts about our 30-day Mexico trip by clicking the links below. We hope you enjoyed the pictures and videos of our trip and that you saw how we “travel the retire for less way.” Thanks for coming along!

 

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Jan 26

Our Costs to Travel in Mexico for One Month-Part 3: Food, Marvelous Food

As you can see in the graphic to the right, we spent a total of $3,417.98 during our one-month-long trip to Mexico. So, let’s break it down.

One of the things worth noting right off is the great exchange rate we got. Last year when we visited Mexico, the U.S. dollar was worth just over 14 pesos. This year, it was up to over 19 pesos to the dollar, so we got a lot more for our money. When we charged expenses on our travel card, we got the full 19+ pesos exchange rate. To save ATM fees (which are 3% of the amount withdrawn at Bank of America), we brought cash in USD and changed it for pesos at currency exchange booths at the airport and in the towns we visited. The exchange rates we got there ranged from 17.63 to 18.2 pesos to the dollar, still good, and a lot better than 14+ pesos to the dollar.

Food, Marvelous Food – $676.29

We ate most of our meals in restaurants, neighborhood comedors, and from food-trucks and street stands. If you divide the total by 30 days, it comes to just $22.54/day on average for the two of us to eat in Mexico. The eating-out portion of our food expenses came to $623.74. But we also shopped a bit for groceries, especially once we were in Oaxaca and had a kitchen.

One of the many street markets in Mexico

We bought yogurt and the nearby Pitico convenience store, fresh granola at a European bakery, fresh fruit at the markets, and jicama, chili, and salt for a typical snack.

Jicama slices sprinkled with sea salt and chili powder

Where to begin describing the food we ate? It was all so good, and so inexpensive. When describing food, we always think that pictures tell the story best:

Mole Poblano in Puebla – one of our favorite meals this trip!

A Chinese meal in Mexico City’s Chinatown

A tlayuda in Oaxaca’s 20th of November market

A cemita in the 5 de Mayo market in Puebla

Fresh grilled chicken from a vendor in Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca during our enVia tour

Tacos Arabe at Patio de las Ranas in Puebla

Mole Negro in Oaxaca

Carnitas and mezcal in a cantina in Mexico City during our Sabores Mexico food tour

Mexican street corn – just about everywhere!

Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead bread) and cafe con leche in Mexico City

And, a couple of late nights, we ate freshly made tacos from the taco stand in Llano Park, just ½ block from our hotel in Oaxaca. They always had a line and the food was delicious! Here’s a look at the preparation:

We packed a lot into our 30 days in Mexico. We had a great time, ate a lot of terrific food, and this post barely scratches the surface in describing it. You can read the other posts about our 30-day Mexico trip by clicking the links below. We hope you enjoyed the pictures and videos of our trip and that you saw how we “travel the retire for less way.” Thanks for coming along!

 

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Jan 26

Our Costs to Travel in Mexico for One Month-Part 2: Hotels

As you can see in the graphic to the right, we spent a total of $3,417.98 for our 30 day trip to Mexico. Of that, hotels accounted for almost $1,000 and airfare for both of us was $617.46. So, let’s break it down.

One of the things worth noting right off is the great exchange rates we got. They ranged from 17.63 to 18.2 pesos to the dollar when we exchanged money, and when we used our travel card, we got over 19 pesos to the dollar.

Hotels – $988.91

We traveled around Mexico from October 4th through November 3rd, a total of 30 nights, and spent an average of $32.96 per night. And believe me when I say that we didn’t suffer. We had private rooms with private bathrooms everywhere we stayed. All the rooms were clean, quiet at night, and had comfortable beds and hot water. Here’s the low-down:

Mexico City

We stayed a total of 7 nights at Mexico City Hostel, located right in the historic center, just 1 ½ blocks from the Zócolo. We stayed 5 nights @ $27.57 and 2 additional nights @ $31.00, including breakfast each morning. They accepted credit cards, so we used our travel card to get the best exchange rate possible. Our last two nights (right before our flight home) were more expensive because they were during the country’s Day of the Dead holiday.

This is our second time at this hostel and we will keep coming back. The video clip below is the view from the little balcony in our room, overlooking the busy street. It was noisy during the day but quieted down at night.

Mexico City Hostel is located in the center of everything and just a quick walk to restaurants, the National Palace, and the beautiful Bellas Artes theater.

Bellas Artes and the Latin American Tower

Bellas Artes and the Latin American Tower

Puebla

The Hotel del Capitán de Puebla was the most expensive of our lodgings, but it was worth it (and more). We stayed 4 nights @ $39.52, not including breakfast. We were able to pay by credit card.

Entryway to our room on the right, with beautiful Talavera pottery full of plants.

Entryway to our room on the right, with beautiful Talavera pottery full of plants.

There was a little coffee shop around the corner where I got my morning coffee and Paul was able to get his breakfast smoothie. The hotel was lovely, service was first-rate, and the location was an easily-doable 8 block walk to Puebla’s Zócolo.

Puebla's Zócalo at Night

Puebla’s Zócalo at Night

One of our favorite parts of our stay here was the 360 degree view from the hotel’s rooftop terrace. On one morning, we were even able to see the smoking Popocatepetl volcano.

The Smoking Popocatepetl Volcano

The Smoking Popocatepetl Volcano

Cholula

In Cholula, we stayed at the Hostal de San Pedro. We stayed for 4 nights @ $26.48. We were able to pay by credit card. Breakfast was included, however you had to make it yourself and do your own dishes. The room was clean, though we did not have daily maid service.

Our room at Hostal de San Pedro in Cholula

Our room at Hostal de San Pedro in Cholula

The hostel didn’t have any restaurants and stores close by but it was walk-able to Cholula’s Zócolo and it’s many restaurants.

Sidewalk Cafes in the Portales in Cholula's Zócolo

Sidewalk Cafes in the Portales in Cholula’s Zócolo

The main reason we were in Cholula was to attend Paul’s university reunion which was held at University of the Americas and nearby restaurants. There were 10 events over four days and we attended each one. For all except one, we had to take cabs to and from our hotel.

Oaxaca

We returned, once again, to Hotel Las Mariposas, which has become our home away from home in Oaxaca city.

Entrance-way of Hotel Las Mariposas, partially decorated for Day of the Dead

Entrance-way of Hotel Las Mariposas, partially decorated for Day of the Dead

Las Mariposas is clean, relatively inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and in a great location. We stayed for 15 nights @ $35 including a light continental breakfast (coffee, bread & jam, cereal). We paid cash, in U.S. dollars, in order to get this discounted rate for a studio apartment. We had a separate bedroom with king-size bed, bathroom, and kitchen/living room area complete with a refrigerator and cook-top, so we were able to make some meals there, most often breakfast and snacks.

The hotel is just ½ block from Llano park, with it’s Friday market and lots of families enjoying it everyday.

Llano Park, Oaxaca

Llano Park, Oaxaca

It’s an easy walk to just about anywhere in the historic center, including the Zócalo, Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center, and the Mercados Benito Juarez and 20th of November.

Sidewalk cafe in Oaxaca's Zócalo

Sidewalk cafe in Oaxaca’s Zócalo

Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center

Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center

Benito Juarez Market

Benito Juarez Market

We packed a lot into our 30 days in Mexico. We had a great time and this post barely scratches the surface in describing it. You can read the other posts about our 30-day Mexico trip by clicking the links below. We hope you enjoyed the pictures and videos of our trip and that you saw how we “travel the retire for less way.” Thanks for coming along!

 

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Jan 26

Our Costs to Travel in Mexico for One Month-Part 1: Transportation

In past years, when we’ve spent a month in Mexico, we were lucky enough to get our airfare and about five days food and lodging paid for by International Living. However, in 2015, IL held it’s last conference in Mexico for the foreseeable future. So this year, for our 30 day trip to Mexico, we paid all of the expenses on our own which significantly increased the cost of our trip.

As you can see in the graphic to the right, we spent a total of $3,417.98. Of that, hotels accounted for almost $1,000 and airfare for both of us was $617.46. If you figure that we normally spend about $2,000 per month to live in Costa Rica, the 30 day trip to Mexico really cost us an additional $2,400. We’re happy with that! So, let’s break it down.

One of the things worth noting right off is the great exchange rate we got. Last year when we visited Mexico, the U.S. dollar was worth just over 14 pesos. This year, it was up to over 19 pesos to the dollar, so we got a lot more for our money. When we charged expenses on our travel card, we got the full 19+ pesos exchange rate. To save ATM fees (which are 3% of the amount withdrawn at Bank of America), we brought cash in USD and changed it for pesos at currency exchange booths at the airport and in the towns we visited. The exchange rates we got there ranged from 17.63 to 18.2 pesos to the dollar, still good, and a lot better than 14+ pesos to the dollar.

Transportation – $860.70

Our transportation costs break down like this:

  • Airfare: $617.46
  • Buses (city to city): $128.97
  • Taxis: $97.51
  • Buses (local): $12.05
  • Colectivos: $4.23
  • MotoTaxis: $0.57

Our number one mode of transportation (and least expensive)? Walking! We walked everywhere, and where we couldn’t walk (or were just too tired from all the walking), we took buses, taxis, colectivos, and even one mototaxi.

Public transportation is very inexpensive in Mexico. Colectivos are taxi’s the run a specific and regular route from outlying towns into Oaxaca City and back. The usually cost 10-15 pesos (about 55-80 cents) per person with a total of 6 people, including the driver, along for the ride so it’s a tight fit in the small sedans. Sometimes people pay for an extra person so that the driver doesn’t fit a 3rd person in the front seat. They pick up and drop off riders along the route as well.

Paul getting into a colectivo

Mototaxis are often available within the outlying towns and are basically a motorcycle with a cart attached or built-in. Our cost for a mototaxi was 10 pesos (57 cents).

Parked mototaxis waiting for riders

Local buses are another bargain; we paid only 6 or 7 pesos (about 35 cents) per person, depending on the town. Regular taxis within the city limits cost 35-50 pesos (about $2.00 to $2.80).

Our city to city first-class buses were, understandably, more expensive. We traveled from Mexico City to Puebla, Puebla to Cholula, back and forth to Atlixco, and to Oaxaca, then Oaxaca back to Mexico City. All on first-class, air-conditioned buses with movies, a bathroom, and rest stops. All that cost only $128.97 for the two of us. You can see the route we took in the map below. Just click to enlarge it.

Our bus route map – CLICK TO ENLARGE

We packed a lot into our 30 days in Mexico. We had a great time and this post barely scratches the surface in describing it. You can read the other posts about our 30-day Mexico trip by clicking the links below. We hope you enjoyed the pictures and videos of our trip and that you saw how we “travel the retire for less way.” Thanks for coming along!

 

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