My Zapotec host in Oaxaca City greets me with a 2-gallon glass wine jug full of Espadin. He also has a Tobala and a Tepeztate, and later, two more liters of different Espadin from different harvests and batches. All are made by his family. I have already been a fan of mezcal for some years, but with this…
I am initiated.
We drink well into the night for a week. He tells me of his life, and how he was an illegal immigrant in the US and gained some education, now back to his homeland of plenty again. We smoke the Oaxacan weed, and hash. At this, I am the one initiating him. I teach him to smoke hash from a bong. He tells me I have the soul of a Mexican.
I learn about Zapotec culture and lore. I meet Quetzlcoatl and hear the games between gods that use human emotions as currency.
Zapotecs are the Jaguar people, they can see in the dark. European, Canadian, and US mercenaries have been trying to colonize the mountains for hundreds of years. They want to mine. But they hunt at night, and the Zapotec have adapted and triumphed.
He teaches me how to spank the aloe so that the bitterness goes to the spines, then cut these off and eat the middle, first thing in the morning with a shot of mezcal, to clean the liver and digestive system.
I learn words in Zapotec and about the Toltec culture, lore, and history.
I am rapt learning of the ascendancy, of heightened senses. Of manifestation. Then shapeshifting. Assuming others’ consciousness. Transcendence. I am put upon the path. It is all about energy. What I give, I receive. And so, I accept the initiation. And mezcal forever changes meaning for me. I honor and respect it alongside other sacrament.
We sit at night at the Zócalo , listening to the balloon sellers sing their sales songs, watching the lit-up gadgets and eye-catchers demonstrated high in the sky and around the ground, bopping our heads to the Mariachi band playing for tourists, and people watching… but he does not let me purchase mezcal here.
“You know that I have two more bottles at home. We will try the other batches. Mi familia.” he says, pointing to me, and putting his hand on his chest. I know that he means both that I am family, and that the mezcal is made by his family and therefore our family.
My host promises that next visit I will get to try the Rattlesnake Mezcal. He tells stories of the family harvests. Events where the whole family would get together, grind, smoke, mash, and distill. Stories from when he was a kid, fighting over who got to ride the bull that pulls the grindstone that grinds the cactus to make the mash. In these stories of grizzled Mezcaleros and drunken family rituals he always includes that even the most hardcore that can drink 20 shots of Mezcal an hour can only drink 3 of the Rattlesnake before being done for the day. The venom creates a synergistic drunk like no other, he promises.
I tell him that I have always wondered about the rumors that the indigenous had discovered distillation before the arrival of the Spanish. He’s offended that I have to wonder.
“Rumors!?” he storms. “What, you think we are too primitive? After all the stories I have told you. Mezcal is a part of our history. Our culture. Our blood.”
He pulls out a folder from his bookshelf and shows me the photos of the stills that the Toltec created before the arrival of the Spanish. And then he brings out a piece of one of them, a junction of glass and metal, and lets me touch it, and asks me if I feel that it is authentic.
We eat tlayudas and drink mezcal half the night. I visit Monte Albán. It could be the oldest city in the Americas. I feel it. The New World. The wind plays through the ruins and sweeps over the pyramids. I climb and stare and sit and feel the stone radiate the sun energy back at me. It is a special place.
After exhausting all the beautiful tourist and historic sites of the city, taking in art, food, mezcal, and culture – I am making my way to another special place in Oaxaca. My Zapotec host approves of my plan to visit the mushroom people in San Jose Del Pacifico. He sends me off with a glass coca-cola bottle full of his family’s mezcal. The symbology makes us laugh.
On a narrow, winding mountain road is the town that linked “magic mushrooms” to USAmerica. And so I visit, but do not eat mushrooms.
Instead I buy a double fistful slab of hash (after failing to find the hookup I was sent to buy from: literally a carpenter named Jesus, and no, not ploy on the gringa estupida, he does actually exist – I simply buy hash from the front desk at the hotel). and a small purple plastic bong and some screens and sit overlooking the beauty of a hard-won mountainside retreat where the indigenous use psychedelics in semi-peace. They all carry rifles. At night, you can hear shots.
I stay two nights, mesmerized by this place full of persistent drug tourists and tolerant residents defending their right to host them.
I chuckle at the beauty of the straggler tourists, tripping balls and walking around the streets barefoot with their sleeping bags around their shoulders – kindly looked after by all the grandparental locals who are happy to make anything in the shape of a mushroom and herd trippers into soft places with smiles, all to capitalize on the strange fascination with drugs, María Sabina and the history of the mushroom’s trip to the USA, and the unfortunate taboo against psychoactives held by a multitude of the non-indigenous.
Even the children eat small doses of the sacrament. It makes them happier.
I visit the coast and my toes and I say a fond hello to the Pacific Ocean, but it is not the ocean that is the best of Oaxaca. Perhaps too many tourists, of different kinds, hippie, resort-going, USAmerican, all complaining about the other tourists. Too many expats, complaining about the newer expats, and the tourists. Maybe it’s that fishing culture is the same everywhere, and it is the mountains of Oaxaca that birthed the oldest distilled liquor in the Americas. And chocolate. Cheese. And sweet, sweet cannabis.
One of the roads from the coast to this place is the most treacherous thing I have ever seen.
Crumbling around mountain bends with gaps and rockfalls underneath the road. Wafers of asphalt paved over the edge of nothing. It’s sheer chance that gets me through.
And it is on my return to Oaxaca City, which I have planned as my last stop before a flight to the US – that I purchase the maximum importable amount of mezcal along the Ruta Del mezcal.
This is a winding stretch of road down the foothills of the mountains where the families that make mezcal as a part of their local tradition have set up sales points along the road. These can be anything from a card table and a kid with no shoes to a full scale outdoor mezcaleria with a hand-carved bar and barrels as stools.
The mezcal is sold in containers of all kinds, thankfully mostly glass. Occasionally they are marked with the percentage of alcohol or proof, but mostly not. Mostly just the varietal of agave.
I stop at eleven of these, to pick up a total of six liters of mezcal.
I pour out another half liter, purchased even though I do not like the taste and am wary of heads and tails. The whole family was at the side of the road, including mama nursing baby, all looking desperate. They charged me $20 for a half liter of Espadin, whereas the other stops were usually between $5 and $10/liter. I felt happy to pay, but was disturbed by the experience. The other stops were lovely, healthy, and good.
My first stop has a man pour me a full cup of mezcal as a taster. I look back at my car.
“No te preocupes” he says, waving his hand. He raises his own cup with his other hand. “Salud!”
It’s the best Espadin I’ve ever had.
At another stop, the full mezcaleria, I buy their Tobala, Tepextate, and Cuish. All the sisters work the bar, and are fully trained in hospitality. They have signs outside posted for a few thousand feet in each direction. I’m impressed. They have nice things to show for their care, detail, and effort.
At another stop they’re so excited to see a gringa that knows and loves mezcal they pull out their family Madrecuixe from under the bar. Again, the best I’ve ever had.
It’s a wonder I make it back to the city, I’m almost blind drunk and by the time I make it to six liters I’m seeing twelve. I’ve just spent about $50 on mezcal that if I could even buy it anywhere other than along that one road in Oaxaca would cost me $1000.
I park, pace, and pack.
I have been to just over half the states in Mexico and Oaxaca is certainly the best of them, all told. It has magic like few places on the planet. The food, desert, cactus, sea, people, music, mountains.
Oaxaca vibrates life in the best of ways.
Mezcal has a unique ability to get me very, very drunk without any negative consequences other than feeling a little tired the next day, and this one gives me a nice nap on the plane. My Zapotec host claims it’s because it’s polymolecular, and that there is a Harvard study on this – but I haven’t found it.
The next day I leave Mexico. I will be back…
I take the mezcal to Burning Man, but do not drink all of it. To this day the mezcal I bought in Oaxaca sits in storage, waiting for an appropriate celebration to honor the Zapotec, Oaxaca, and the Ruta Del Mezcal.
Another post about travel and distillates: Singani or Grappa?
I love Latin America:
1: La Paz, Bolivia: Route 36
2: Medellin, Colombia: Buying Drugs in Iconic Places
3: Chile: Puente Alto
Like stories about buying drugs? Here’s more:
1: Drugs and Sex: The European Lovers: Hookup
2: Christiania: Christiania
3: Hasidic drug dealer: Padding the Pushke
4: Route 36 cocaine bar: Route 36
5: Sonoma County, California: Tweaker Pool
6: Sugar: Gateway
7: Happy Pizza in Cambodia: Happy Pizza
8: Bhang in Delhi: Cannabis in India: Bhang