Oaxaca Day Trip: Etla Valley

IMG_0345The days of the week in Oaxaca are told by market days. Sunday is Tlacolula, Friday is Ocotlán, Thursday is Zaachila, and Wednesday is Etla. These are the days when there is tiangis, meaning people from the area come to surround the permanent market and sell anything from turkey eggs to cell phone cases. Usually you can find stuff to do afterwards in each town (artisans or murals to visit for instance). But usually there isn’t a textile mill turned arts center and a paper factory on top of the hill. Etla is 30 minutes from Oaxaca, and well worth the colectivo ride.

Etla Market

Start your morning with a tamal and barbacoa breakfast here. Stands for barbacoa (goat stew) and menudo line the center of the market, but they were pretty packed so we bought a few tamales from the ladies near the door and sat at a barbacoa stand outside. The tamal gushed with yellow mole, reminding me that the sauce to masa ratio is almost always on point in this state.

Etla is known for its production of quesillo, the mozzarella-like stringy cheese I fell in love with the first time I ever bit into a proper quesadilla. Ask for a taste. Etla is a smaller market than some of the others, which makes it a lot more manageable and easy to walk around.

When you are ready to leave the market look for where the tiangis ends at the plaza and grab a cab to San Agustín Etla. Or be a boss and take a tuk tuk.

San Agustín Etla- CASA & Fabrica de Papel

I don’t think you’re supposed to take a tuk tuk up the slopes of the Etla valley. But it was hot and we didn’t want to walk back through the market to get a real taxi. So for $50 pesos we hopped on with our aguas de cocos in hand. Cars blazed past and honked at us on the highway, and despite that it seemed like we might start rolling backwards, we were definitely the only ones feeling a breeze in that 90 degree heat.

Perched overlooking the Etla valley is San Agustín Etla: a mountain stream flows through, banana trees hang along the road, and vines of bright orange and purple flowers cover the walls. It’s a beautiful contrast to the brown cactus-covered scenery I’ve driven through when leaving the city.

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At the top sits the Centro de las Artes San Agustín, a restored 20th century textile mill turned art center, founded by Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo. There’s a chorus of birds chirping and water booms and crashes as it flows through the former mill. The walls outside are stained a lemon yellow, the stairs bright pink. We caught a photography exhibit by Mary Ellen Mark in the Chalet gallery, where you will want to look up at the roof. “It’s especially funny when it rains,” said an employee walking by. Check the schedule for other exhibits and shows.

Walk down the hill until you hit a dead end, to your left is a tall lilac tree, the fallen petals paving the way to a red and white showroom with scorpion tiles on the floor, paper, paper jewelry, and piles of cotton.

Down the hill from there you’ll find a paper factory under a canvas of jungle. The factory is a former hydroelectric power plant, developed into an organic paper factory also by Toledo. Local and natural materials like agave, coffee husks, and axiote are used to make the paper, and a worker will show you a demonstration.

To get there and back
You can get a colectivo from the Mercado de Abastos (I asked a taxi driver to take us there) and let the driver know you want to go to the market. From San Agustín you can walk back down the main road away from CASA to grab a colectivo back to Oaxaca. Check the CASA exhibits before you go.