Published on January 28th, 2014 | by admin
My Oaxaca: Mexico Travel Tips from New Zealander Jodi Fleming
A lot of people dream about living in another country. Jodi Fleming is really doing it. After working as a business project manager for large companies in her native New Zealand and a stint in Australia, she packed up and moved to one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in Mexico — the colonial city of Oaxaca, to be exact; a great leap of faith, considering she hadn’t even visited this historic Mexican city before. In this exclusive interview, she shares her experiences as a volunteer and resident in Oaxaca and offers some useful Mexico travel tips.
What made you decide to move to Oaxaca?
After working in big companies for a number of years, I wanted a different kind of challenge. I had previously backpacked in Mexico and it had stayed with me, so when I decided to leave the corporate sector to volunteer for a year, Mexico was a no-brainer destination. I wanted to use my professional skills and so Googled extensively to find an organization I could volunteer with in that capacity in Mexico. I had a Skype interview with the foundation I now work for, rented out my house, boarded my cat with my parents and flew to Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico in October 2012. Luckily, Oaxaca was amazing, as I had not visited the city before deciding to move to live here for a year.
What kind of work do you do in Oaxaca?
I volunteer in various capacities for two inspiring local NGOs here; Fundación En Vía and Techamos Una Mano.
Fundación En Vía provides local women with interest-free micro-loans to start or grow their own businesses. They provide 100% of these loans from tour fees – enabling travelers to meet with the women borrowers who live in the small communities surrounding Oaxaca de Juarez.
Techamos Una Mano was formed by local students, concerned about families living in substandard housing and the rising amount of plastic waste created by living in a city where it is necessary to buy bottled water. This organization builds simple houses for marginalized families in Oaxaca using among other things, milk cartons and plastic bottles.
In my spare time I also blog about my life in Oaxaca at www.underamexicansky.com
What do you like best about Oaxaca?
I love living in Oaxaca. The locals are welcoming and inclusive of extranjeros, the food is fantastic, the history is epic. Oaxaca is a beautiful UNESCO listed colonial city and there is always a festival on.
Anything that’s taken a bit of time to get adjusted to?
With festivals come cohetes, which I could live without. Cohetes are firecrackers, launched into the air with a slingshot and which explode very loudly. Sometimes I will be at home doing something and jump with the noise. I don’t understand how the cats and dogs living here aren’t all permanently attached to the ceiling.
I think the hardest thing for me has been learning Spanish. Weirdly enough, in the process of learning Spanish, I have also learned a lot about English! I have also found breaks are necessary for my learning so my head doesn’t explode from all the information I am trying to cram in.
How did you get the idea to start your blog, and what has the response been like?
I started my blog when I hatched my plan to move to Mexico as a way to reassure my parents and friends that I was fine, and to show them my life in Mexico. As my parents weren’t very Internet savvy (at the time), I wanted to ensure they knew how to use it before I left home. I then got a job back in New Zealand — I was in Australia at that point — and so my blog was called Under a Mexican Sky nine months before that was an accurate title.
The response to my blog so far has been amazing. I have readers from all over the world which is so wonderful as when I started I was pretty sure only my mother would read it.
What are the absolute must-see sites and must-do activities for first-time visitors to Oaxaca?
Take a colectivo (shared taxi) to the Tlacolula market on Sunday. You can buy anything there, from live turkeys to contraband Ray-Bans to wool tapetes and enamel cookware. The best thing is sharing a bench with the four-foot Zapotec grandmothers in traditional dress, who have all their shopping piled at their feet while they take a break with a cup of atole.
Walk everywhere and visit the local markets. Take your time and absorb the atmosphere. Always ask before taking photos. Dine on a restaurant terrace and admire the view. People watch at the zócalo.
Other must dos are: Visit the ruins at Mitla and Monte Alban, do a cooking class here, go on an En Via tour, visit the churches, museums and art galleries located in the central city area. Eat in a local market, watch your own chocolate being made at Mayordomo, take a day trip to Hierve el Agua. Smaller towns outside Oaxaca have their own traditions, celebrations, arts and foods so taking the time to visit a different town is also a wonderful day trip.
What Mexican food do you like best in Oaxaca?
Oaxaca is known as a foodie city, and both Rick Bayliss and Anthony Bourdain have filmed here in the last couple of months. Oaxaca is famous for seven types of moles (mol-lays), sauces containing on average 20 different ingredients.
Vendors in the central markets sell chapulines – fried grasshoppers coated in difference spices. It is said that if you eat chapulines, you are guaranteed to return to Oaxaca. They are, as you would expect, crunchy and taste of the spice mix.
My favorite street/market foods are tlayudas, tamales, huaraches and memelas. Elotes and esquites, a grilled corn covered with lime, chili and mayonnaise to taste, are a great snack.
Oaxaca is known throughout Mexico for its chocolate, and a cup of chocolate caliente is definitely something not to miss. Oaxaca is also a city that takes coffee very seriously, with beans grown locally and roasted onsite in many cafes.
What about Shopping?
The shopping in Oaxaca is amazing. Bring an empty bag when you come for alebrijes, wool tapetes, green pottery, black pottery, embroidered cotton shirts, tapestries, woven bags, discs of chocolate, baskets, scarves, silver jewelry, hammered hearts and 3-D angels made from tin, Mexican tiles, leather bags and sandals.
Do you have a personal story to share about your experience living in or visiting Latin America? Contact LatinFlyer.com: MarkChesnut[at]aol.com.