Culture here respects and honors the art of playing.
We arrive in Oaxaca straight from Las Vegas. We left Las Vegas the day of the massacre. Such tragedy in America’s city of play. One of Rick’s best friends is Phil Tom who lives in Las Vegas. Phil is the Lord of playing and fantasy. Phil grew up in Indiana and played multiple sports. He would shoot baskets in his backyard for hours pretending he was Larry Bird. The base of much of his success as a kid and adult is anchored in his own desire and need to PLAY. Phil designed an 18 hole golf course around his home in Las Vegas as a place to PLAY and created golf’s fifth major. The holes are narrow, short and a huge challenge for golfers. Caroline’s Dad and Mary came to see us in Las Vegas and they too walked the course with smiles.
For the past 19 years Phil has put on the Lakeshore golf tournament for the Make a Wish Foundation to help benefit kids who are fighting for their lives with little opportunity to PLAY. This year the tournament and party raised over $10,000. The total for 19 years of is over $200,000. Thank you Phil.
We wake up in Mexico to our phones blowing up with concern from friends and family that knew we were in Las Vegas. We turned on the news to the horror of the morning aftermath of a mad man that fired upon 22,000 people at PLAY, listening to music, dancing and singing.
The timing is perfect for our first visit to Oaxaca, in southern Mexico where only two weeks earlier the area was rocked by three major earthquakes that killed hundreds and left thousands without safe shelter. We called our contacts prior to our arrival to make sure all was well and that we would be welcomed at this time of disaster. Everyone asked us to please come! Ciudad de Oaxaca was rattled but okay. The city is ancient, the land around the city is mountainous and green.
The people, oh the people of Oaxaca thank you for showing us your beautiful spirit and welcoming us to your city!
First stop is the city’s indigenous, botanical gardens. We are toured by Carole Turkenik a famous, retired, American botanist who loves Oaxaca and lives here most of the time. She is in awe herself as she explains to us the origin of the chile pepper. Every chile pepper in the world originated here in Mexico and specifically here in Oaxaca. Can you imagine Thai food without chile peppers? Chinese food without chile peppers? Indian food without chile peppers? They are all from here! The garden is called an indigenous garden to help represent the 16 different indigenous cultures here in Oaxaca. Amazing!
We learned where much of the world’s great foods originate and now we learn to cook! Our cooking class started in the markets of Ciudad de Oaxaca. Markets in the world should take note of these beautiful markets filled with color, smells, food and drink. From stall to stall you are greeted with big smiles and ‘buenos días’! Fresh, clean vegetables are gathered by our guide and chef Esperanza as she works her way, with us in tow and eyes wide open, through The Viente Noviembre Mercado. The mercado is well designed with well lit stalls and wonderfully displayed products from classic Oaxacan chile peppers to lush local chocolate. We arrive at our kitchen for the day and meet our classmates. Julie, Maya, and Carrie all friends from New York. What a fun day to spend with new friends in the world. Augustine is the head of school and the English translator. He greets us with humor and welcomes us to his home. The kitchen fills with the smells of roasted garlic, grilled onions and roasting peppers. We learn to make authentic tortillas, guacamole, and beautiful red mole. We taste Mezcal and drink beer as we help Esperanza cook and teach us indigenous recipes. We get to know each other and share our meal together along with a bottle of Mezcal that makes us all laugh as we toast each other to one more. Salud! In Mexico we play!
The next day our driver Erick picks us up for a day of exploring. First stop, a cypress tree that is the widest tree in the world. Its boughs fall with grace from the sky as gentle feathers.
We stop at a textile mill where men and women perform an ancient dance with ancient weaving machines as they stomp and pull the old wood contraptions and slap the cotton or wool threads into beautiful designs.
Our next stop is a Zapotec village where families still weave wool rugs with designs from ancient Zapotec symbols. The colors are created from nature. Walnuts help create browns, marigolds brighten yellows and red comes from a parasite that only lives on the Nopal Cactus. As Spain conquered Mexico they began to mass produce and export the color to Europe. The beautiful color soon became the third most exported product from Mexico behind Silver and Gold.
Now modern medicine, science and the food industry seek the parasite because it creates a red that does not cause cancer. J. Isaac Vasquez Garcia is a family run weaving business and is honored as the best in Mexico. The story is good and the products are fantastic.
Our trip through nature continues as we visit the Don Agave Mezcal tasting room and distillery. Our guide walks around the grounds showing us agave plants in various stages of life and explains the process of identifying and harvesting quality agave for Mezcal production. We see the ancient beds where the agave is buried and cured with hot volcanic rocks. The rocks and mesquite wood create the smokey flavors so unique to Mezcal. The ancient process of grinding the agave using a giant stone wheel being pulled in a circle by a horse still exists. The end product is pure 38% alcohol and a treat to taste if you know how to taste the elixir. My friend Dan asked me on Facebook. “Doesn’t Mezcal taste like paint thinner?” Actually no, we learned from our guide. To taste and drink Mezcal the art is almost like smoking. Fill your mouth with a small amount of Mezcal, swish it around your mouth to taste the flavors. Swallow the Mezcal and as the flavors reach the bottom of your stomach exhale as if releasing the Mezcal back through your mouth and nose. The flavors then return as you taste a variety of essences. Flowers, oils and some smoke. So good! We taste Mezcal and eat roasted Grasshoppers!
We ended our week on a the rooftop of Casa Oaxaca. Chef Alejandro Ruiz is a top chef in Mexico and the food proves that fact.
Red salsa ground from roasted tomatoes and tomatillos, red chilies, garlic and onion using a Molcajete to mix the ingredients together right at your table creating an aroma and mouth watering salsa to begin your meal.
A beautiful bottle of Cabernet from Valle de Guadalupe, which is Mexico’s premier wine region. To finish us off a beautiful piece of Sea Bass arrives cooked to perfection. Firm, rich and full of taste as if right from the beach. Above a full moon begins to part the clouds and below a parade begins to take shape. We learn that a new University has come to town and the young people dance, weave and sing below us to welcome the new school. They are playing and celebrating life in Mexico. We sit in awe and talk about how grateful we are to be in the presence of these people in their country. We are welcomed by everyone we meet. The kids in the street, the people at our hotel which is the holiday inn express. We think it’s the best in town and Trip Advisor agrees. They care for us and greet us with smiles, buenos días and ask us how we slept.
We love this country of Mexico, the people and their culture. Keep making time to PLAY Mexico and we will continue to learn and play. This is fun! Come and see us.
Next up, we will be playing with two Australian Shepherds! Stay tuned!