Oaxaca City

Photos and words: Alanna Hale

It was Spring – early March – and already hotter during the day than we expected, but the dry heat teetered right there on the cusp; it still bearable with shade and water, but downright perfect under the vast sky at night. Lanny, Marjan and I had taken the overnight bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca, hoping to experience a different kind of Mexico, hoping to slow down for a few days and wander without intent. We arrived in downtown Oaxaca just in time to see the sun rise over the mountains. I dragged the girls through the suburbs making pictures until the temperature rose enough to send us inside for cold showers and coffee spiked with local chocolate.

We stayed at a friend of a friend's house our first night, way up in the hills, at least 15 minutes by car from the Zocalo. Though it was a generous offer to house three unknown girls, we were not fond of the dingy basement with its inflatable beds that leaked air while roosters crowed incessantly outside. Day two, we profusely thanked our hosts and moved into a simple but lovely bed and breakfast named Las Golondrinas near the giant cathedral.

After the chaos and endless sprawl of Mexico City, Oaxaca – with its single and double-story buildings, painted brightly in alternating pastels and bold colors, laid out in manageable straight lines that neatly pool into the city's center – was a welcome change and literally a breath of fresh air. I loved seeing the little gridded city nestled into the stunning backdrop of these arid mountains. I loved exploring the colorful markets and the mezcalerías and the incredible food—the many different kinds of molé and the native blue corn tortillas in particular. I loved zigzagging the streets and continually stumbling upon such exuberant life and warmth etched into the faces of the city's inhabitants, so many of whom seem to find being photographed both funny and flattering. It was refreshing. Most of my favorite portraits from my Mexico trip were made in Oaxaca.

Oaxaca was modest and unassuming, but most charismatic. Of all the travel we did and sights we saw, it was there, at night, amidst towering cactus and that stunning cathedral lit up from below, that the memories I will think on most were made. Bottles of white wine. Tee shirts at night. Old friends. New friends. Wonderful places to which we will surely return. It doesn’t get much better than that.