The best day Trip ever: Mitle, Oaxaca
The first stop on the day trip to Mitle was the Tule tree aka The Biggest Tree in the World. 58m around, 14m in diameter and over 2000 years old, this Mexican Cyprus is muy, muy grande but what really impressed me was that this tree was growing when Jesus was born and just kept growing, completely unaffected by anything that happened since then.
The next stop was an artisan rug weaving workshop where we learnt about natural dyes from native Zapotec Indians. This family harvests cochineal bugs from cacti, dry them and crush them to make 300 shades of red (with the addition of lime and ash). For yellow, they use marigold petals, for brown; pecan leaves, for blue; indigo plants and for green; chamomile. They spin their own wool and spend up to five weeks weaving a single rug.
I am always so happy when I meet people who know how to make things from scratch, no matter what it is.
Which brings me to mescal. I am not going to rush out and distill my own moonshine anytime soon after seeing what goes into making this. Made with ‘little sword’ agave (as opposed to the blue agave used in tequila), the plants are stripped of leaves, roasted underground for 4 – 5 days, left in the open air to ferment with natural bacteria, mashed using a horse drawn grinding wheel, fermented for a further 8 days and then transferred to a copper still with a fire underneath. The alcohol condenses and runs through a pipe to a cooling tank. The result is 80 proof so the mescal is run through the still again to lower the alcohol content to 40 per cent. The virgin liquor is called ‘joven’ (young) the aged mescal is called reposado or anejo and is sipped with orange slices and a salt, chilli and ground worm powder. It tastes like Satan’s tears and should only be drunk at a funeral, preferably your own so you won’t be around for the hangover.
With a bit of a booze buzz going, we visited 600 year old Zapotec ruins that featured stone mosaics on the King’s residence and two decorated tombs. Amusingly, Mitle was the retire village for Zapotec nobility. Gophers and Metamucil all ’round!
The final magical installment came in the unlikely form of a buffet. There is only one word that matters here and it is ‘mole’, a Oaxacan invention of cacao, spices and chicken. It was glorious. Also of note was the jicama on the salad bar, the caramelised chick peas and some sort of dessert concoction involving Marie biscuits, lime and condensed milk.
The bonus round came this evening when we wandered down the street for a drinky-wah and stumbled across the festival of St Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. It was like a chase scene in a thriller with a full street procession, dancing ladies with baskets of flowers on their heads and children dressed up as angels on a float. I felt like I should be concealing a gun and searching for a bad guy – it was surreal and uplifting and magnificent.