Friday, March 21, 2008

On the Road to Oaxaca

There is a field of Sonoran cacti outside my window. Some of the Saguaros are as large as trees with multiple arms branching out and reaching for the sky. Some are just tall poles standing alone in the desert. We are on our way to Oaxaca – a 6 ½ hour drive from Mexico City. We’re 3 ½ hours into it and have decided we should check into flights for our return as the road to Oaxaca is long and monotonous. Little resides between these two cities save some makeshift cafes and a couple of churches, which by the way are packed on this Good Friday. Mexicans are passionate about Semana Santa, or Holy Week and on this Good Friday, reenactments of Christ’s crucifixion take place across the country.

We landed 3 days ago in Mexico City, on the Tuesday afternoon of Semana Santa. As the days passed, the crowded city became even more congested as Mexican families flocked to their capital for what is Mexico’s most celebrated holiday. We had read that it would be a busy time to travel, but we decided that the rewards of being in Mexico during Easter Sunday would outweigh the inconveniences. I have yet to determine that, but the crowds are a spectacle in themselves. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I imagine it may be like Mecca, Saudi Arabia when Muslims of the world flock there for Ramadan. The Zocala in Mexico City, which is the city’s central square, is flanked by such sights as the Catedral Metropolitana and Palacio Nacional, and was a temporary home to a nomadic museum housing an exhibit named “Ashes and Snow”. The line for this exhibit was 5 to 6 people deep and stretched around the massive temporary structure. The Mexican people must be very patient, because the wait had to be hours. The congestion of Mexico City reminded me of Hong Kong and Shanghai, places where you just get used to waiting in line. There was a bustle of people at certain peek times, one of those being 7:00 in the evening, which is when we would venture out for a bite to eat. Last night, on Holy Thursday, or Maunday Thursday, the sidewalks in the Central Historico district were so packed, one could only move at a snails pace. We inched our way to the café lined pedestrian-only streets. With a 9 month old in tow, we no longer were seeking out an atmospheric bar, but instead a nice quiet café where we could relax with beers and a light meal. Not finding any “light” Mexican food, we ended up at a sushi joint where we ordered two rolls that were stuffed with far too much cheese and not enough fish, and soggy Udon noodles in a dark, over flavored broth. It was supposed to be shrimp tempura, unfortunately, they missed the mark a bit with shrimp that was covered in a heavy, overcooked batter. It was a disappointing meal compared to the one we had the night before in Condessa. Condessa, in contrast to the Central Historico, is a peaceful, relaxing neighborhood made up of picturesque tree lined avenues. When we stepped out of the subway stop, we felt like we were transported to an entirely different city. Trendy bars and cafes abound there and we had a hard time choosing where to eat. We decided to follow the crowd and scored a table at a bustling little open-aired eatery called the Village Café. I chose enchiladas verde and Lou had their soup of the day which was outstanding and a salad that was less so. With their delicious house vino tinto or red wine, a quaint atmosphere, and excellent service we were more than satisfied to spend our time there.

Our guide book took us to an upscale restaurant on our first night. Los Girasoles at 84 Tacuba “specializes in alta cocina Mexicana”, according to Lonely Planet, Mexico. The food was excellent and inventive. To me the food seemed like a fusion of French and Mexican: French in technique and Mexican in flavor. We were far from the ocean, but we both had fish that was perfectly seared and fresh- as if we had an ocean view. It was a great way to start a culinary tour.

The Crowds in and around the Zocalo on Holy Thursday.

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