February 04, 2014

by Stephen Jan in Oaxaca, Mexico


Oaxaca is the sort of place that attracts tourists and I’m not talking about the average tourist. I’m talking about the cultured traveller who reads a proper paper newspaper, listens to NPR, and watches BBC world news every night. A cultured person would know that Oaxaca is a foodie haven not to be missed for those with any appreciation for cuisine. That was why I circled that dot on the map.


The BBC, Lonelyplanet, and wikitravel all tout Oaxaca as the place to sample a rich culture and evolved cuisine. What they leave out is the stressful drive into the city. Stephen Alexis had decided that it was high time for him to give urban ambulance driving a go. 10 minutes in, he swerved left to avoid a stopped bus. Stephen misjudged the distance and smacked our passenger side, side view mirror against the bus’s driver side, brake light. Both our mirror and their light casing cracked. Stephen continued on with the flow of traffic, but the bus driver would have none of that. The 40-foot, full-sized bus weaved through traffic to to force us off the side of the road. The hopped out, inspected the damage, and demanded 150 pesos to contribute to his cerveca fund.


Our next Oaxacan encounter was at a restaurant-bar near the main square (Zucolo). We didn’t really want to go in, but in a confused moment, the man managed to usher the entire team to a restaurant bar table. As talkative, charismatic, and gregarious as he was, he wasn’t a very good server. He took forever to take our order and seemed more interested in small talk and putting his arm around Mike than moving along the eating process. We didn’t really get what we ordered but by then, we were so hungry from the wait, that we didn’t really care if our tacos were made of rat meat. The team chowed down wordlessly. Our meal ended with a disagreement about the price he cited and the price on the check. You can imagine the awkwardness when he finally signed “Just pay what you want, it’s okay.” We walked away with a pretty bad impression of the place, but Martha later walk by and chatting with another guy who worked there.

It turned out the man who ushered us into the bar didn’t actually work for the bar. He was just a regular. When the man couldn’t tell us what was on the menu and insisted that we drink up, I had suspected that he somehow made a commission off of from drink sales for inflated prices. The explanation was so much simpler: drunks like to see other people drinking.

oaxaca bar