I’ve been in he southern city of Oaxaca for a couple of days soaking up a new vibe. Lots of Mexican artists hail from here, and the place is chock full of craft markets and shops (and gringos). Hippies of the world, place your orders for zig-zag print shirts and stripey beach trousers now. It’s a lovely colourful place with views down cobbled streets and over colonial spires to lush, cloud-hung hills. Quite beckoning those hills, so I’ve decided to do a little tour of the ‘Pueblos Mancommunados’, seven co-operatively managed Zapotec villages up there in the high forests. The whole idea rang a bit too much of that wonderful walk in the Alpujarran villages of Southern Spain earlier this year to pass up, I think. Although I’ll miss my hiking friends. Off tomorrow if I can get myself up for the 7am bus, and I’ve a list of a succession of guides who are going to lead me along the trails between the pueblos. Hopefully have the opportunity to see some interesting birdlife and perhaps a wildcat?  Watch this space for a trip report.

The two central markets here are amazing. Like I’ve seen in Mazatlan, Guadalajara and Guanajuato here is the marketplace as the focus of a community, a maze of alleyways and lean-tos quite incomprehensible to the outsider. Shouts of ¿que le damos, joven? and ¿que va a comprar? follow me as I weave between crouched campesinos and their heaps of produce. Here in Oaxaca we have local chocolate, which is used in the making of the famous local mole sauce, which in turn has its part in tamales, mashed corn dough with various fillings  and sauces wrapped in a leaf – usually from corn or a banana plant. There are also a lot of people hawking huge tortillas the size of pizza bases which are folded over with fillings to make a kind of local calzone pizza known as tlayudas. Stumbling around on my first night here somewhere near the central plaza (the Zocalo) I came upon a great street scene of everyone standing around a barbecue sliding these huge things into their mouths, filled with what I made out in the dark to be mashed beans, cheese and pieces of steak. It’s often a bit intimidating working your way into these gatherings, but I’ve managed to work out a little of the etiquette. Order from ‘mum’ over the heads of the priveledged seated, who’s chucking freshly-wrapped tlayudas across to the coals. This is often quite a blunt exchange. Well, coming from Madrid we’re used to those. Wait until your order is shouted down the street, then pick yourself a drink out of the huge cooling tub on the floor, somewhere amongst the crates. Payment at the end to some hovering accountant who is often a bit difficult to locate, and then we’ll put our bottle back in the crate, plate in the washing up bowl.

By the way, for anyone interested to get a bit of a flavour of that Mexican market place I’d recommend checking out a German-made film called ‘El Elefante Blanco’ which is a kind of documentary surrounding the lives of some people at the huge covered market in Cuernavaca, Morelos province. It’s a very independent effort and often has a bit of a confusing flow, but it just full of some really memorable characters.

PS. Mezcal + barefoot Canadian blues-busker friend = good fun.