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The southern state of Oaxaca (Wa-ha-ka) was my next destination, along with Naomi, mum and Mirshod. Oaxaco City itself is quite rustic, maintaining its colonial character of straight streets filled with pastel-painted, stuccoed boxy buildings, large squares, and of course churches and cathedrals. There is, however, a jungle feel to the city, setting it apart from other colonial cites. A feeling from the vegetation almost evocative of the deep south of the US, as crude as that comparison is.

It has a massive anthropology museum in an ex-convent, with a collection starting from the stone age, going through the per-Hispanic era, which is standard for Mexican anthropology museums. Interestingly, it has a large collection of pre-Hispanic gold work; most examples were melted down as booty by the Spanish, making such rare. It then dedicates quite a lot of space to the colonial era, which is unusual; it is the only place in Mexico I saw a morion helmet, the stereotypical conquistador helmet. There are also everyday colonial era items, such a pot stills and ovens. The museum does have a latent, even passive-aggressive anti-Spanish flavour, which is not unusual (the museum in Mexico City, for example, insists Cortés murdered Moctezuma, despite historical uncertainty regarding who killed him – the Spanish or the Aztecs), but it does, despite the general Mexican inability to be objective about their history, document well how life changed for the natives. There was also a large post-independence section, focusing, naturally, on Hidalgo, the heroic independence figure who you get sick to death of hearing about in official propaganda, but also much on Porfirio Diaz, the odious and destructive, but historically interesting, dictator from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Oaxaca is also famous for mezcal, the rougher, uncouth cousin of tequila. There are apparently many small hole-in-the-wall vendors of the home-made stuff, though Mirshod and I, on a mission, only found one. Outside, it was dilapidated, with flaking, faded sign writing over the whole exterior, and crumbling brick showing through missing stucco. Inside, it was a small, dark room, with rough-cut wooden floor boards and shelves, and barrels everywhere. It was somewhat like an old west saloon. Tasting came from the hollowed skins of half-oranges, and the guy and girl working there were supremely disinterested in service. They had the usual fresh spirit, the reposado ('rested'), and the añejo (aged), but they also had (if memory serves) gusano, made with worm salt, and (no doubt in my memory here), puchuga. This is the Spanish word for breast. All improper options flashed through my mind (as with the bat in Veracruz) – was it made from human milk? I had tried mares' milk vodka in Mongolia. Was some rubbed lasciviously into some golden-brown boobs, and then, laced with sweat, allowed to drip back into the barrel? The answer was, less erotic, but no less weird, that chicken breast was somehow included in the list of ingredients. I do not understand how. It did have a slightly different flavour, but nothing remarkable.

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