Mercado de Tlacolula

Our time in Oaxaca has been mostly just typical days of living life: laundry, shopping, bills, learning Spanish, taking walks and just living. For me I am still trying to learn that this new life is not about cramming my days full of things to do, but more about learning the culture in which we are living.  

Jim’s mom arrived in Oaxaca a couple of weeks ago and is staying across town; so we invited her to join us for our trip to Tlacolula Matamoros to visit the Mercado de Tlacolula. This is one of the oldest Sunday markets in Oaxaca. I reminded Jim and his mom that we needed to hail a colectivo that was empty so that we could all be in the back together, otherwise one of us would have to ride up front squished in the middle of the driver, a stick shift and another passenger. Jackpot, I hailed an empty colectivo that had Tlacolula on the window and after confirming with the driver, we all piled in the backseat. It was a pretty drive through the countryside and nice to get out of the city for a day. 

As we entered Tlacolula, traffic was moving slowly.  Looking ahead I could see police stopping and checking cars. When our driver noticed what was going on up ahead, he pulled over and told us we had to get out and walk the rest of the way. We were not going to question why, so we paid him the $4.50 for the ride and got out to walk the rest of the way. Thankfully it was overcast and cool, otherwise the walk to the market would have been grueling.

I was really excited for this experience, not because of the market, as we have been to plenty of markets in the city but because this market is where Zapotec Indians come from outlying villages to sell and barter their goods, it is an important part of the economy of the Zapotec Indians in this region. 

Vendors lined the middle of the streets and on both sides as far as the eye could see.  We slowly walked the overly crowded street, weaving in and out of people. Normally I’d be worried I would lose Jim, but here his bald head towered above the crowd.  I stopped at a Mezcal booth to look at these little red worms. Most vendors here speak Zapotec, so when I asked in Spanish what the worms were, I was happy that he understood.  I was more excited that I was able to ask a question in Spanish correctly.

He explained in his best English about the gusano de maguey (agave worm) and how they are added to Mezcal or just as a snack in a seasoning of chilies and salt. Both Jim and I have tried Chapulines (grasshoppers) and I actually like them, they are crunchy and if you can get it out of your mind that you are eating a bug, they are pretty tasty.  Jim, not so much!  So, I was surprised when he spooned out a dead worm for us to try and Jim agreed.

I tossed the dead worm in my mouth and crunched down. I immediately regretted this decision and from the look on Jim’s face, I think he felt the same way.  When I bit down it wasn’t the crunchiness of the dead worm but rather the burst of whatever came out of the inside of the worm that exploded in my mouth.  I thought of spitting it out in my hand but was worried at what I would see, so the only option I had in a market full of people was to swallow whatever was floating around in my mouth with the end goal not to puke all over the streets or people of this crowded market.  I was thankful the next vendor offered a taste of honey.

We walked through the street vendors for what seemed like forever before we came to the plaza where the 17th century Church of La Asunción is and the entrance to the market.  Here we saw Zapotec women sitting and working on their wares.  It made me sad to watch these old women, dressed so beautifully, sitting on the ground, using their talent to create beautiful things that were being sold for pennies.  

To get through the entrance of the market it felt like trying to push yourself to the front of the stage of a music concert.  Inside the place was filled with smoke from the food vendors who all served different types of pig and goat; such as  Barbacoa (lamb and goat in a delicious red broth) and Chicharrón (deep fried pig parts). Unfortunately we didn’t eat at the market because every single table was jammed packed with people. 

Exiting the market we walked around town looking for a place to grab a bite to eat, as the only thing in our stomachs was a worm! Being a Sunday, we should have known better, every place we found was closed. We found a small bar that served nuts and beer.  Using google maps we found a place around the corner that served organic food. Yep closed. At this point we decided to head back to the city.  It is funny how things work, because as we started to plan how to get back, a bus pulled up across the street and the man was yelling Oaxaca. 

Just as we got settled in our seats the bus stopped again where a crowd of more people than seats jumped on. The bus continued to stop regardless of crammed isles picking up more and more people to return to the city. A man squeezed his way through the crowded isles collecting 20 pesos from each person, $1.00. For the next 45 minutes I was happy to have only a man’s butt in my face whereas across from us poor Jim sat, with the opposite of a man’s butt in his face. 

We had no idea where in Oaxaca the bus was going and we rode it all the way to the end of the line, where we were told we had to get off. We exited the bus to only find that we were in a sketchy part of town, one that I will now call “Hooker Alley”. We eventually made our way to the Zócalo area where I was thankful to have an amazing Entomatada and a beer to end a beautiful day!


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