My first impressions on Oaxaca City, Mexico
First thing's first: it's pronounced wa-ha-ka.
I called it oh-ox-ah-ca alllll the way up until the airport, where I heard it announced over the PA and almost missed my flight.
Don't be like me.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, here are my first impressions on the city.
This is such a generic statement, I know. But this was my genuine first impression of the city. Every corner offers the opportunity for an insta-worthy photo-op. The colors, the landscape, the crafts. I could go on and on, but you should just visit my gallery and see for yourself.
Told you so.
The weather is perfect.
Like really, really perfect. This is a big deal for me.
I'm from New Orleans, where the summers are unforgiving. You sweat profusely while standing still. Naked. In the shade. The humidity hates you just for existing, as do the mosquitoes. Rain offers no refuge, more akin to an unwelcome shower or lukewarm broth that fills up the soup bowl of a city every once and a while. But I digress. This isn't about NOLA, it's about Oaxaca City and the magical weather that graces the place.
Imagine my surprise when I came to realize that our Airbnb had no A/C. My first thought was, nope, we'll have to cancel. I'm gonna eat that cancellation fee because there is no way.
Then, imagine my surprise when I shivered my ass off when the sun set and got up in the middle of the night to put on a sweatshirt. I checked my weather app: 55 degrees. 55 degrees? In July? In Mexico? Yep. This has something to do with the higher altitude and the lower pressure and something, something, something. You can read about that here if you're interested.
The mornings are just as chilly as the nights, clocking in at around 60 degrees at sunrise and gradually warming up to a high of 80 around 2 or 3pm. Don't get me wrong, the sun still beams (and it's hot) but only if you're standing directly in it. Pick a spot in the shade and you're good to go.
Another thing that I love about the weather here is that it rains pretty much every day for a brief period of time. And Oaxacan rain actually does it's job of cooling down the city when it's done. It's fantastic. August and September are supposedly the peak of the rainy season, but we didn't personally experience more than 2 or 3 days of full rain throughout all of August. We'll see what September holds. *knocks on wood*
It's (very) affordable.
I'm a frugal girl, let's face it. I skimp where I can, I make the minimum monthly payment on my credit cards (I know, I know) and I only buy 4-ply when I'm feeling fancy. For that reason, Oaxaca is my kind of city.
At the time that I'm writing this, 1 USD (US Dollar) is equal to 19.08 MEX (Mexican Peso). I was shocked when I saw $20 bills in the tip jars at coffee shops, until I realized what the exchange rate was. (Then I was shocked for a different reason.) Here are a few examples of the kind of insane prices that you can find for different things around the city:
· $60 cab fare
· $75 buffets, $10 tacos, $20 tamales
· $8 sodas/waters/soft drinks
· $600/night (nice) hotel rooms
· super cheap and beautiful handmade goods
I've even seen apartments for rent as low as $3,500 a month! (That's $183.40 USD.)
This isn't an exhaustive list by any means, but it gives you a feel for the bang that your buck can bring here. One could easily and comfortably live off of $250-$275 USD/week here ($200 if you cook all of your meals at home).
That being said, it's so affordable that it's easy to go overboard. There have been a few days where I've taken $250 USD out of the ATM to last the week and ended up blowing through it in 2 days (pro-tip: don't withdraw money on Fridays)! While it's easy not to spend a lot of money, it's also easy to do the opposite. Tourist traps do exist, and, as much as I hate to say it, I am a tourist.
I'm a tourist who likes to eat out a lot, and we all know that restaurants are a money pit no matter where you go.
Which brings me to my next point...
The food is...okay.
Disclaimer: I've only been here for about 2 months at this point, so my opinion isn't the end all be all.
I'll probably get a lot of flack for this one, but I've found the food to be so-so in the city. This is partially my own fault. I'd hyped myself up for the cuisine by reading article after article crowning Oaxaca the food capital of Mexico. Don't get me wrong, the food isn't bad by any means. Mole is great, but it's not something that I want to eat every day. Chapulines aren't awful, but they're definitely not something that I want to eat every day. (Note: I don't mean to reduce the city's cuisine down to solely mole and chapulines. Oaxcan cuisine is obviously much richer and more complex than that, but these were two of the dishes that I was most excited to try upon my arrival.) As with many cities, we've found street food to be the best food, but it's easy to be tempted by the beautiful atmosphere that restaurants offer here. Click here to check out my favorite restaurants in Oaxaca so far.
Luckily, produce and meat and cheap, fresh and abundant, so it's easy to make great dishes at home. You can find most of what you need in the markets, but when you're feeling extra American -- or just don't feel like dealing with the crowds at the market -- Walmart's there for you. *shudders again*
There aren't many (any) black people here, but it's fine.
I debated on whether or not I should include this on the list, but it's an important part of my experience while travelling. The short version is that there's aren't any black people in Oaxaca City, but I haven't had any terrible racial-related experiences. People have stared, made slick comments (in Spanish), giggled, touched my hair (yep), catcalled, but I think it's all more out of curiosity than maliciousness. I've never been mistreated.
I've seen maybe 7 other black folks in my time here and have squealed with glee every time. There are people of my skin tone (and darker) in the city, but my hair (of course) and my height may as well be a neon sign flashing “look at me.” The average adult here (per my estimate) is between 5'0 and 5'4. I'm 5'7 with an afro. Go figure.
I often have to remind myself that I am a guest in their country and that, for many, I may be the first black person that they've met. It's all part of the experience.
It's difficult (read: impossible) to sum up an entire city in one measly blog post. As the title states, these are my first impressions of the city, not my full impressions of the city. Like any other place, Oaxaca has it's highs and lows, but the pros heavily outweigh the cons. The Land of the Seven Moles is definitely worth a visit.
Interested in hearing more about Oaxaca City? Let me know below!