The day started in its usual way. We biked for close to 20 miles and decided to stop for a snack. We picked a taco stand run by two women. They were quiet at first, probably wondering what two gringos on bikes were doing in their village. After a little bit they were asking about our trip and if we had experienced the local Oaxacan dishes. One of the great experiences of bike touring is observing the slow transitions in landscape, customs and cuisine. Oaxaca is no exception and has a reputation for its unique regional cuisine. Nicknamed “land of the seven moles“, Oaxaca is known for its varied chili pepper sauces (moles). It also has its own style of cheese which is mild and similar to mozzarella string cheese. The iconic dish of Oaxaca is the Tlayuda, giant crisp tortillas that are served open faced or folded like a quesadilla with beans, Oaxacan cheese, avocado and meat.
When our new friend asked us about the chapulines, we were lost. We had not heard of chapulines. Maybe it’s one of the new fruits we’ve seen in the markets? She insists we must try the chapulines and vanishes to her house behind the taco stand. When she returns she is carrying a bag of toasted little grasshoppers. Oh my, what have we gotten ourselves into!? At first we kindly decline saying we are full from the tacos. She proceeds to eat a handful after carefully plucking off the legs, telling us how they are collected and prepared with chili and lime.
Neither of us had intentionally eaten an insect before but we start to question our position on insects in our food pyramid. In the name of cultural experience, we decide to try the chapulines. They’re crunchy and a little spicy. They’re not bad, if you can get past the fact you’re eating a grasshopper.
Later in the day we pass vendors selling wooden toy trucks on the side of the road. They remind me of when we built cars in shop class in junior high. Mine was a total fail and looked nothing like these. I’m surprised I didn’t lose a finger in the process.
We’ve seen various pilgrimages by foot, bicycle and today a torch relay in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. This is a nine day celebration culminating on December 12. The Virgin Mary is honored in various ways. In some cases, a decorated vehicle carrying the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe drives from house to house, where there is a prayer, celebration and then some fireworks. The fireworks sound like gunshots so initially it was a little unsettling but now we know it just signals the BVM is on the move!