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Artesan Markets in Oaxaca

In México, North America by Dane + PennyLeave a Comment

As Dane was accepting the package from DHL with our new rear control arms, I was throwing our things in the van, eager to begin the drive towards Oaxaca City. This area of Mexico is renowned for its artesan markets filled with leatherwork, pottery and textiles and the small towns we pass through would be where it’s all from. Each town typically specializes in a specific craft and the best deals can be found there, instead of at the larger markets. But, the big markets would be a great place to start so we could get to know the artesans and find out where they hail from. Lucky for us, the following day would be market day in Ocotlan.

After asking many locals and a few police officers which highway is best (and safest) to take to the city, either the older one from Escondido or the newer one near Mazunte, we still couldn’t get a straight answer or any decent feedback on which to take. So, we took the older route.

The road itself started out pretty nice with the occasional “highway keeper” with a string across the road requesting a few pesos for keeping the road clear. We had a lot of elevation to climb and the highway began to twist and turn through a series of switchbacks to get us there. We wound passed agave farms and waved to the occasional cowboy cattle driving down the highway. The 230km drive took us over 6hrs putting us in Ocotlan late in the afternoon.

After a few laps through the town we decided to go for dinner and ask the staff at the restaurant if we would be safe to camp out front. This worked out perfectly and with bellies full of delicious Oaxaqueño food we had a safe place to stay for the night. At the crack of dawn we put a pot of coffee on and began prepping a quick breakfast in an effort to beat the crowds and the heat. You should know, if you don’t already, that market days are a serious event for Penny. And, she’d been preparing a long time for this series of serious events with market days and the specific crafts of each individual town noted in our map so we could make the most of our time in Oaxaca. The market in Ocotlan was said to be the largest with leatherwork, wool rugs, textiles, baskets, spices, meats, fruits, veggies, even livestock. But, even better, was that it was completely catered to the locals which meant prices were low, good vibes were high and there wasn’t much pressure to buy. Since this was our first market, we didn’t know until later just how awesome it really was, but, we did come away with a handsome Zapotec rug.

It was late morning when we entered San Bartolo de Coyotopec, a town a little further East known for its black pottery, some of which we’d just seen at the Ocotlan market. As we were passing through, the town Mercado de Artesanias sign still hung reading “abierto” so we went in to take a look. Half an hour later we walked out with a couple of bags of souvenirs full of their beautiful handiwork.

After two markets we were ready for a rest and needed to find a place to stay for the night. Once we found it we pulled out the map to plan out our last few days in Mexico. We had a week left of insurance on the van and had to decide on a route through the remainder of Mexico and whether we’d see Belize or go straight to Guatemala. Big decisions. Too quickly we saw we had a serious time crunch to get through Oaxaca, Penny’s most highly anticipated state in Mexico, so we quickly scribbled out an itinerary to squeeze it all in. Once it was all on paper we also realized this definitely wasn’t the time to rest so we hopped back in the van to see Oaxaca City at night.

With hindsight we realize we should have left the van and taken a taxi because parking within the city wasn’t easy, long and tall as we are! Lucky for us, the market was still alive in the streets at the centre of town and the zocalo was abuzz with people dining out but the goodies we had come to find, like street side chocolate vendors, were nowhere to be found. A little disappointed, we piled back in the van and headed for some much needed rest. Tomorrow we would be visiting ancient ruins, the city once more, a giant tree, a church, two towns in search of more rugs, a mezcaleria and a water feature.

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