Travel Blogging Turns 20 Today

HP Virtual Museum

Today marks the 20th anniversary of what’s believed to be the first travel blog post. So happy birthday to us, and maybe you too!

In honor of the occasion, travel bloggers worldwide are raising a glass (ok, they were probably doing that anyway), Jeff Greenwald, the author of that first travel blog post, uploaded from the tourism bureau in Oaxaca, Mexico, reflected back on the experience for “Wired.”

A recently-released program called Mosaic was revolutionizing what might be possible on the World Wide Web. “What we hope you’ll do,” the editor [at O’Reilly Media] said, “is write columns for us – from the road. We’ll publish them live, on the GNN [Global Network Navigator, O’Reilly’s website], where people can read them as you travel.” The Travelers’ Center, he told me, would include a feature that sounded miraculous: A map would be displayed on their website, with dots showing the locations from where I’d sent back posts. People would simply click on those dots – and see the story I’d written from that location!

As Greenwald points out, today is also the 20th anniversary of Nancy Kerrigan’s knee getting bashed in at the U.S Figure Skating Championships by members of the unofficial Tanya Harding Fan Club. Draw what connections you will between the two anniversaries.

Souvenir Of The Week: Bolsas De Mandados From Mexico

Bolsas de mandados translates to “errand bags,” and they were fixtures at Mexican markets long before the BYO grocery-bag trend arrived on this side of the border. You see styles all over Mexico (and online), especially multicolored mesh bags, some with the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe. But the less-touristy score is a cheap, solid-color canvas or vinyl tote with plastic piping and handles, printed with a business’ charmingly basic graphics, usually the name of a panaderia or carniceria. Merchants might make them to give out as freebies for the store’s anniversary or a holiday. I happened to be visiting my in-laws in Mexico City when their mailman gave them the one pictured here on New Year’s Day. To them it’s a common utility bag that was probably destined for a spot under the kitchen sink, and they looked puzzled when I squealed and hugged it and made them translate the wording. Get your hands on one of these in Mexico if you can (in Oaxaca, the large market by the zocolo has sold even cooler retro styles in the past). Or look for plain ones in bright colors and stencil “El Trader Joe’s” onto it yourself.

[Photo by Megan Fernandez]

International Budget Guide 2013: Oaxaca, Mexico

If you are seeking an authentic and affordable taste of Mexico, look no further than Oaxaca.

The southwestern Mexican city has come a long way since the political protests of 2006, where non-violent activists clashed with corrupt government officials and militia in the streets. The protests led to a renewed sense of self-awareness and confidence for the city, and today, Oaxaca is once again a safe and welcoming place for tourists. The city boasts a strong cultural heritage, exciting contemporary art scene and deserved place as the gastronomic capital of Mexico. Central Oaxaca’s colonial buildings and cobblestoned streets have earned the historic district a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, and its many monuments are being spiffied up for the World Congress of World Heritage Cities, which the city will host in November.

Along with the old, there is also the new. Oaxaca’s universities imbue the city with a spirit of youth, creativity and entrepreneurial energy. In addition to the traditional markets and restaurants, there are plenty of exciting start-up businesses as well: affordable pop-up restaurants, yoga studios, mezcal tasting libraries and city cycling associations, to name a few.

Visitors to Oaxaca find a cultural experience that can’t be found in over-touristed resort towns like Cancun and Cabo. It is very much a city on the verge.

Budget Activities

The Zocalo: The historic Zocalo, bordered by the governor’s palace and main cathedral, can provide hours of people-watching entertainment. You could spring for a drink at one of the dozens of restaurants lining the plaza, or just buy a 10 peso (US$1.10) corn-on-the-cob and grab a park bench. Either way, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Oaxaca’s most famous plaza. On one side, activists protest peacefully for a change in government. On the other, small children push oversized balloons high into the air. And between, Oaxacans from all walks of life converge. It’s the true heart of the city. Between Hidalgo, Trujano, Flores Magon and Bustamente Sts.

Monte Albán: These ruins just outside Oaxaca once comprised one of Mesoamerica’s earliest and most important cities, said to be founded in 500 B.C. The impressive Main Plaza contains hundreds of carved stone monuments, with curious etchings that were once thought to be dancers, but are now believed to be tortured war prisoners. You can easily book a guided tour to Monte Alban from the dozens of tour offices across the city, but a cheaper option is to take the 50 peso (US$4) round-trip tourist shuttle from the Hotel Rivera del Angel, which departs every hour between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. http://www.hotelriveradelangel.com Calle Fransisco Mina 518

Bicycle Night Rides: Experience Oaxaca on two wheels by joining one of Mundo Ceiba’s “Paseos Nocturnos en Bicicleta” – nighttime bike rides sponsored by a local cycling association. The rides take place every Wednesday and Friday starting at 9 p.m., with meeting points in front of the Santo Domingo Church and on Macedonio Alcalá in the city center. Bicycles are available for rent between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at Mundo Ceiba’s headquarters at The Hub Oaxaca; bring 50 pesos (US$4) and prepare to leave your passport as a deposit. Quintana Roo 2011

Hotels

Hotel Azul Oaxaca: With 21 guest rooms designed by local contemporary artists, the stunning Hotel Azul Oaxaca is a concept boutique hotel aiming to combine art, design and comfort. The standard rooms are chic and clean, but the real treasures are the suites, like the minimalist Suite Dubon, the playful Suite Leyva and the geometric Suite Villalobos. If you’ve always sought a high-design hotel experience at an accessible price, this is your place. From US$130. http://www.hotelazuloaxaca.com Abasolo 313, Centro

Hotel Casa del Soltano: Housed in a historic colonial building, Hotel Casa del Soltano is a solid budget option that oozes Oaxacan charm, with its colorful yellow exterior, lush gardens and rooftop terrace overlooking the nearby Plaza Santo Domingo. The rooms are a bit cramped, but the outdoor ambience more than makes up for it. From 770 pesos (US$62). http://www.mexonline.com/sotano.htm Tinoco y Palacios 414, Centro

Hostal Casa del Sol Oaxaca: This charismatic hostel offers private rooms and dormitories – without the teenagers and tequila shots. Casa del Sol’s centerpiece is a bougainvillea-shaded courtyard that is perfect for enjoying a casual drink with fellow travelers. Its warm and welcoming atmosphere has earned it legions of glowing reviews and a spot on TripAdvisor’s list of top 25 Mexican bargain hotels for 2013. Dorms from 160 pesos (US$13), private rooms from 450 pesos (US$36). http://www.hostalcasadelsol.com.mx Constitucion 301, Centro

Eat & Drink

La Biznaga: Oaxaca’s artistic community regularly converges in the courtyard of La Biznaga, a popular restaurant serving creative, upscale Oaxacan fare. Chef Fernando López Velarde embraces the slow food movement, and he makes regular use of locally sourced ingredients. Prices are comparatively high but a bargain by American standards; expect to pay about US$20 a head for a multi-course dinner. Don’t miss the fried squash blossom appetizer, which pairs perfectly with the bar’s inventive mezcal cocktails. 512 García Vigil, Centro

Itanoni: The focus is on the corn at Itanoni, a humble eatery about a 15-minute walk from central Oaxaca. The restaurant specializes in tapas-style dishes featuring its famous house-made tortillas, made fresh in front of you from different varieties of local, organic, stone-ground corn. Alice Waters, the godmother of America’s farm-to-table movement, calls it her favorite restaurant in the city. Belisario Dominguez 513

El Olivo: The second-floor bar above the Meson del Olivo is a fixture on Oaxaca’s happy hour scene. Dark but atmospheric, it features an extensive selection of beers from local microbreweries, as well as a solid wine list and the requisite mezcal cocktails. The 100 peso (US$8) happy hour includes four small tapas and a beer or glass of wine. Murguia 218, Centro

Logistics

Get Around: The historic center of Oaxaca is very walkable, and it’s unlikely that you’ll require additional transport if you stay in the city. Oaxaca’s bus system is a safe and convenient option for inter-city jaunts. Buses are clearly and colorfully labeled with their destinations, and standard fare is 6 pesos (US$.50 – try to carry exact change). Taxis are also a decent option, but be sure to negotiate the fare before hopping inside. A ride within central Oaxaca shouldn’t cost more than 50 pesos (US$4), though fixed fares from the airport are significantly more expensive. Expect to pay upwards of 200 pesos (US$16) for the 20-minute ride into town.

Seasonality: Oaxaca’s southern location and high elevation provide it with pleasant temperatures year-round. Peak visitor season is from October to March, but it is also worth making a trip in late July for the famous Guelaguetza folk festival, with attracts cultural performers from across the region.

Safety: Oaxaca is a relatively safe place for visitors, particularly compared to other Mexican cities that have reputations for drug-related violence. However, you should still heed the precautions you would take in any Latin American city. Keep your belongings close to you, don’t flaunt expensive jewelry and be careful about walking alone at night.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user MichaelTyler]

Sunday At The Market In Tlacolula

“Donde esta el autobus por Tlocolula?”

The question was met with a quizzical look. Where was this gringa trying to go?

Perhaps I wasn’t pronouncing it correctly.

“Tloco… Toco… Tlaca…” I stammered.

“Ah, Tlacolula.”

Si. There.

I don’t suppose the makeshift bus stops on the highways of Oaxaca state see many tourists. But somehow, through a series of bumpy bus rides and a long stretch of walking along the side of the road, I had arrived at one.

Earlier in the day, I had decided to escape Oaxaca city for the villages of the Valle de Oaxaca, a vibrant region filled with talented craftsmen, small workshops and stunning scenery. I had discovered that the Tlacolula held a weekly Sunday market, but all attempts to secure a private bus in town had failed – not many tourists visit the small town, about an hour and a half east of the city.

So instead, I decided to try public transport. In time, I found the right bus, and after a cramped hour-long ride I disembarked at a small, dusty station.

%Gallery-181090%It was 10 a.m. and the streets were packed with pushcarts, pedestrians and small pop-up restaurants, with families packed into picnic tables eating tamales. Vendors sold everything from onions to electronics to handmade wooden furniture and gigantic aluminum cooking vats.

This wasn’t a market for tourists. This was a market for Oaxacans.

My tan coloring lent me a degree of anonymity, and I walked peacefully through the stalls, without the hawking and hustling I had become accustomed to in downtown Oaxaca. I stopped for a taco, and then for an horchata. I spent 30 minutes sipping mezcal with a third-generation distiller and another 45 learning about natural dyes and handlooms from a Teotitlan del Valle textile weaver. Enchanted, I left with a sweet passionfruit liqueur and a colorful Zapotec-inspired rug.

I continued through the food stalls of the covered market, where the scent of raw meats mingled with the charcoal from the BBQ pits set up to grill them. Tripe, chicken feet, whole rabbits with the fur still on. Your wish was their command. An old woman stirring a huge pot of stew reached out her fingers to offer me a bite.

Instead, I headed to the main plaza of Tlacolula, a peaceful spot bordered by the magnificent 16th-century Parroquia de la Virgen de la Asunción. Taking a seat, I breathed in the sights and sounds of the village: the meats, the heat, the bougainvillea. I watched as merchants chatted and children played and a single balloon ascended high into the sky.

The ride had been worth it.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Souvernir Of The Week: Black Pottery From Oaxaca, Mexico


You’ve been reading Gadling writer Jessica Marati’s Oaxaca dispatches. What did she bring home? Black pottery from 1050° Ceramics Collective, an artists’ group with a focus on sustainability. Every piece is lead-free, but otherwise, artisans adhere to the region’s 2,000-year-old techniques for making the earthy, ebony-hued objects, buffed to a high shine by hand. Products range from vases and bowls and platters to pendant lights to jewelry.

Oaxaca, a National Geographic type of cultural destination in southern Mexico, is as renowned for its folk-art traditions as it is for complex moles. Travelers hop between outlying towns beyond the state’s eponymous city, each village specializing in a particular craft – naturally dyed rugs, fantastical wood-carved animals and black pottery chief among them. The 1050° collective’s works are sold in four shops in Oaxaca City (not to mention the MoMA in New York). The Dona Rosa hacienda is also a popular destination, where visitors watch a demonstration before shopping its huge selection of pottery.

[Photo Credit: 1050grados]