Culture

Oaxaca Is Mexico’s Cultural Capital And Home To Its Largest Indigenous Communities, Here’s What You Need To Know

Officially known as Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca, Oaxaca is one of the richest regions in the world when it comes to culture and social life, as well as biodiversity. This Mexican state has hypnotized visitors for centuries. The indigenous Mixtec and Zapotec cultures, mixed with the Spanish influence of the conquistadores, generated a rich tapestry of flavors, colors and sounds that is unique.

The Beatles once visited to meet Santa Sabina, a wise woman expert in hallucinogenic mushrooms. If you have to visit one and just one place in Mexico, we recommend Oaxaca. We would compare it to the Italian Tuscany or the French Provence when it comes to the diversity of its landscape and the overlapping layers of its cuisine. 

Here’s some of the many things that make Oaxaca a true heaven on Earth! 

So first things first: Oaxaca is home to a complex and world-renowned culinary tradition.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

The Mexican saying goes: “Barriga llena, corazón contento” (“Happy belly, happy heart”). Oaxaca will certainly keep your joy levels up with its cuisine. It is cheap and delicious. Traditional chocolate is a must, as is fresh bread from the markets. It you are a carnivore, tasajo is for you: a carefully cured meat that just melts in your mouth. If you are a vegan or pescatarian, Oaxaca has you covered with delicate dishes made from local veggies and seafood from the sun-kissed coast. 

And let’s settle the debate: Oaxaca has the best mole in Mexico, it is dark as night and chocolatey and spicy at the same time.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

Mole negro is one of the staples of Oaxacan culinary culture. It is almost black and has a strong, earthy flavor that can be tamed by using it as a dip for freshly made tortillas. Is your mouth watering yet? 

The streets of Oaxaca City have been turned into a colorful canvas by street artists.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

In recent years, street artists from all over Mexico have received incentives from the local government and turned the walls and alleys of Oaxaca City into a living, breathing museum. 

Which has made it in perhaps the most Insta-ready city in Mexico.

Credit: Instagram. @_juqui_md

And of course, foreign visitors will get a glimpse of Mexican popular culture. What about this mural with Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete getting all Pulp Fiction on us?

One word: mezcal!

Credit: Instagram. @oaxacaxamor

The state just received excellent news. Oaxacan mezcal producers were granted denomination of origin, which means that all mezcal in the world has to come from the state. This complex spirit truly speaks of the dry but rich landscape of the region. 

The Spanish built golden baroque masterpieces as part of the religious colonization of Oaxaca.

Credit: Instagram. @rkosalazar

For all the pain and misery that colonization brought (and continues to bring) to the original owners of Oaxaca, the Spanish built baroque masterpieces that are recognized the world over for their intricate designs and expert craftsmanship. The Catedral de Santo Domingo in the capital city is a must. 

The state is the home of the wonderful, dreamy alebrijes.

Credit: Instagram. @estampas_de_mexico1

Alebrijes are surreal beings that often take the form of animals. They are created by expert woodsmen in town around the state. Each alebrije is unique: there are no plans or blueprints, as each maestro artesano carves and paints these wooden figurines as dictated by his or her imagination. 

Oaxacan culture is rich and colorful: La Guelaguetza is an annual festival that brings together the awesomeness of Oaxacans.

Credit: Instagram. @drphotooax

La Guelaguetza is an annual indigenous festival that takes place on the two Mondays following July 16. Indigenous communities from all around the state converge in Oaxaca City in two days of dance, music and traditional textiles. You have to experience it at least once in your lifetime. 

Did we mention you can eat grasshoppers? Chapulines are just the best snack on planet Earth!

Credit: Instagram. @grubnwhereabouts

Look, the day will come, and it will be sooner rather than later, when we will all be eating insects. Oaxacans have done it for centuries: grasshoppers are organically raised to be fried in garlic and salt, and then sprinkled with chili. They make a great snack full of protein, saltiness and unparalleled crunch. Once you stop finding it weird, you won’t be able to keep your hands off the plate. Best paired with an ice cold lager beer or some mezcal. 

Oaxaca is rich in natural resources and biodiversity, and produces fresh and delicious produce.

Credit: Instagram. @oaxaca.bonito

The state has it all: arid lands, forests and beaches. This is why the produce is of very high quality. One of the best experiences you can have in your life is visiting a Oaxacan market early in the morning and witnessing how the locals set up their stands. Smells, colors and flavors para tirar pa’rriba

Oaxaca is home to breathtaking beaches, many of which remain relatively untouched.

Credit: Instagram. @parilicious_

Besides the capital city, Oaxaca has other areas that are worth visiting. Its geography is privileged and includes stunning beaches such as Huatulco (if you are into resorts), Zipolite (for nudist souls) and Mazunte (for a more rural experience). 

The state invests heavily in art: Oaxaca is home to some of Mexico’s most famous painters.

Credit: Instagram. @vive_oaxaca

The state is home to great artists such as Francisco Toledo and the late Rufino Tamayo. The streets of Oaxaca City, which was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987, are often embellished with art installations.  

Mixtec and Zapotec culture is lively and beautiful.

Credit: Instagram. @drphotooax

The state has a 50% of indigenous population, which is the highest in the country (by comparison, Mexico City has only 20%). Mixtec and Zapotec culture is colorful and proud. 

Oaxaca City is home to the thickest tree in the world!

Credit: Instagram. @madhungry

Just outside of Oaxaca City lays a cypress that has seen it all. Two thousand years is a long time. The legendary Tule’s trunk has a circumference of 137.8 feet (42 meters). That is just massive. 

Pre-Hispanic ruins speak of the greatness of ancient indigenous civilizations.

Credit: Instagram. @mexico_capital

Mitla and Monte Alban are true delights for any fan of archeology and history. Monte Alban is particularly stunning during sunrise. You can see it in the $20 pesos bill, by the way. 

Tourists Are Flocking To This Tiny Mountain Village For A Trip On Mexico’s Magic Mushrooms

Culture

Tourists Are Flocking To This Tiny Mountain Village For A Trip On Mexico’s Magic Mushrooms

For almost 70 years, since Maria Sabina, also known as Santa Sabina, spread the culture around the ritualistic consumption of magic mushrooms in the Oaxaca highlands, the world has been fascinated by these special fungi. The region near Huautla de Jimenez, particularly places like San Jose del Pacifico, has since been swarmed with tourists in the months between July and October, both from inner Mexico and from overseas, who want to experienced the altered states of consciousness brought by one of nature’s most powerful secrets. 

So any story about Oaxacan magic mushrooms has to start with the legendary Maria Sabina, the godmother of all things trippy.

Credit: Giphy. @Hamiltons

Maria Sabina was a Mazatec curandera, or witchdoctor. She was well versed in the ancient arts of magic mushrooms and introduced the Western world to their consumption. She soon became a magnet for the rich and powerful who wanted to taste her psilocybin mushrooms. She was born in 1894 and died in 1985, so she saw the world change dramatically during her lifetime. 

She allowed foreigners into her healing evenings, known as veladas.

Credit: YouTube / Vice

She became legendary, as City A.M. reported in 2018: “It was here that, in 1955, R Gordon Wasson, a vice-president of JP Morgan and amateur ethnomycologist, consumed psilocybin mushrooms in a ceremony presided over by the healer Maria Sabina. The article Wasson subsequently wrote up for Life magazine – ‘Seeking the Magic Mushroom’ – transformed Sabina into a reluctant icon and caught the attention of scientists including Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary”. What followed is an enduring cult following of the plant. 

Mushroom tourism got a boost in the 1960s due to the high profile of some of Sabina’s visitors, who included The Beatles.

As EFE News Service reported back in 2007: “In the 1960s, the ‘high priestess of the mushrooms’ popularized this corner of Mexico located between the capital and Oaxaca city, a place visited by the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan at the height of the psychedelic era”. We mean, the place has basically been a Hall of Fame! 

Consuming magic mushrooms is an ancient, ritualistic indigenous tradition that remains officially illegal.

Credit: High Times

Spanish friars first reported the use of psychedelic mushrooms in the region. Though magic mushrooms are illegal today, the authorities tend to turn a blind eye. This is due to the centrality to the customs and traditions of the Zapotecs, the area’s dominant indigenous group. Children as young as six participate in the ritualistic ingestion of shrooms.

However, tourism disrupts this long lasting understanding and ritual has turned into business.

Credit: YouTube. Vice

If you decide to try them for yourself, beware as the region is now swarmed with fake magic mushrooms offered by scammers. Anyway, San Jose del Pacifico is a natural joyita in itself, and you might get high just by taking in the landscape!

The state induced by the mushrooms is supposed to get you in touch with nature: with the soil below your feet and the celestial bodies above your head.

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous. 

According to man named Andres Garcia, he was introduced to the ritual ingestion of mushrooms by his grandfather. Just outside of Huautla, the man experienced mushrooms several times. He told High Times: “The first time I tried mushrooms I was 7 years old. And each time after that was different; each time there were messages and messages. Communication with the earth, the universe, the moon, especially the energy of the moon. The mushroom shows you everything—about your errors, your problems, all the good you’ve done, all the bad you’ve done. It’s something personal.”

Even though mushrooms are widely available in Oaxaca they are not for everyone, specially not for those who disrespect the ritual and want to do mushrooms just for some mindless fun.

Credit: Musrooms-in-Oaxaca. Digital image. Own Mexico

The magic mushroom tourism industry has brought an steady income to Huautla de Jimenez, the original stomping grounds of Maria Sabina. As reported by Juan Ramon Peña in EFE News Services, “visitors are greeted when they get off the bus by boys who offer to help them found the hallucinogenic fungi”. The wide availability of mushrooms is un secreto a voces. However, each person’s brain chemistry is different and you need to have an experienced guide to help you on a mushroom-induced trip. 

And tourism has put the sustainability of the species at stake.

Credit: User comment on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_XnzIYmUYw

The lack of regulation translates into indiscriminate picking. Of course, traditional owners of the land are affected and that is just not fair. 

Magic mushrooms have a good rep, but they are also unpredictable.

Credit: 2037. Digital image. The Guardian.

Several recent studies indicate that magic mushrooms could have medical benefits in people suffering from mental health issues. As reported by The Guardian earlier this year in relation to a study conducted at Imperial College London: “Magic mushrooms may effectively ‘reset’ the activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in depression, the latest study to highlight the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics suggests”. However, this study was done in a controlled environment. Doing mushrooms can have unpredictable effects that some people have described as a “bad trip”

Note: the consumptions of magic mushrooms is illegal throughout Mexico and only specific Indigenous groups can consume them for spiritual purposes. We do not condone the consumption of illegal substances. This article is for informational purposes only.

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Culture

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day! After a war that lasted over 11 years, Mexico achieved independence from Spanish rule and would begin a path toward self-determination. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, launched the Mexican War of Independence. Yes, decolonize! 

To celebrate Mexican history, we’ll be focusing on one hero today, not of the Mexican War of Independence but of the Mexican Revolution. Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is recognized as the first trans soldier in the Mexican military’s history. A decorated colonel, Ávila lived as a man from the age of roughly 22 or 24 until the day he died at 95 years old. 

While some believe it was Ávila’s wealthy family that allowed him to live life as his truest self, it certainly may have helped, but his courage in battle and in life must be honored and celebrated. Ávila’s identity was not always met with kindness, but the soldier was well-equipped to deal with challenges to his gender. The pistol-whipping colonel was a ladies man, skilled marksmen, and hero. This is the story of Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila. 

Amelio Robles Ávila

Amelio Robles Ávila was born to a wealthy family on November 3, 1889, in Xochipala, Guerrero. In his youth, Ávila attended a Catholic school for little girls where he was taught to cook, clean, and sew. However, at a young age, he began to express his gender identity. He showed an aptitude for things that were, at the time perceived to be, masculine like handling weapons, taming horses, and marksmanship. 

Perhaps, it was a natural response, if not the only response, to being pressured to conform to a gender identity that isn’t yours —  Ávila was perceived as stubborn, rebellious, and too much to handle for the school nuns. But it would be his tenacity and obstinance that served him in the long run. 

In 1911, when Ávila was arranged to be married to a man, he enlisted as a revolutionary instead. 

Not a woman dressed as a man, just a man.

To force the resignation of President Porfirio Dîaz and later, to ensure a social justice-centered government, Mexico needed to engage much of its population in warfare. This meant that eventually women were welcomed with many limitations. Soldaderas were able to tend to wounded soldiers or provide food for the militia but were prohibited from combat and could not have official titles. 

Ávila legally changed his first name from Amelia to Amelio, cut his hair, and became one of Mexico’s most valuable and regarded revolutionaries. 

“To appear physically male, Robles Ávila deliberately chose shirts with large chest pockets, common in rural areas, and assumed the mannerisms common among men at the time,” according to History.com

While he was not the only person assigned female to adopt a male persona to join the war, unlike many others Ávila kept his name and lived as a man until the day he died. 

“After the war was over, their part in it was dissolved along with whatever rank they held during the fight, and they were expected to return to subservient roles. Some did,” writes Alex Velasquez of Into. “Others, like Amelio Robles Ávila, lived the rest of their lives under the male identities they had adopted during the war.”

You come at the king, you best not miss.

Ávila fought courageously in the war until its end. Becoming a Colonel with his own command, he was decorated with three stars by revolutionary general Emiliano Zapata. He led and won multiple pivotal battles where his identity and contributions were respected. 

However, that respect was sometimes earned through empathy other times through the whip of his pistol. Ávila was a man and anyone who chose to ignore this fact would be taught by force. On one occasion, when a group of men tried to “expose” him by tearing off his clothes, Ávila shot and killed two of the men in self-defense. 

Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila

Unsurprisingly, Ávila was a bit of a ladies man, though he finally settled down with Angela Torres and together they adopted their daughter Regula Robles Torres. In 1970, he was recognized by the Mexican Secretary of National Defense as a veterano as opposed to a veterana of the Mexican Revolution, thus Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is considered the first trans soldier documented in Mexican military history. The swag is infinite! 

After the war, Ávila was able to live comfortably as a man where he devoted his life to agriculture. He lived a life, that still for so many trans people around the world seems unfathomable. Colonel Ávila lived to be 95 years old and the rest  — no all of it — is history.