Oaxaca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like Luang Prabang in Laos and Hoi An in Vietnam. I’m not sure what this means exactly, or how the title is awarded, but World Heritage Sites have much in common:
- Prices are twice as high than anywhere else.
- Restaurant owners demand payment before you eat—unheard of in rest of the country.
- Waitstaff are surly as they slap down nursery-food versions of the national cuisine.
- The local economy is based around t-shirt sales, Internet cafes, begging, and stores selling ‘Real Folcart’.
- You can’t buy local coffee, though these are coffee-producing countries. Latte or cappuccino only.
- Foreign visitors are bored and sunburnt. Heritage is hard work.
- It’s always too hot.
If you find yourself stuck in a World Cappuccino Heritage Site, here’s what to do: Stop plodding around the cathedrals and temples. Buy some streetfood—a bag of mango slices, a taco al arabe, nothing fancy. Take it to the main square and sit under a tree. Put your guidebook away, and be quiet for a while.
The t-shirt seller, you notice, is reading a biography of Che Guevara. A patient ten-year-old leads his blind grandmother on begging rounds. Hothouse schoolgirls strain their uniform blouses, just like Salma Hayek in Frida. A baby tied to his mother’s back in a shawl peers down at a fellow baby in a state-of-the-art stroller. A small family passes, kids in jeans and sneakers followed by a barefoot granny with gray braids.
A bigshot in a tight suit, polished boots, and sunglasses instructs his cellphone. Somebody is singing. Somebody else is playing guitar.
Six Zocalo boys in cowboy hats and baseball caps appraise the passing women. They’re at least three hundred years old between them, and so is the tree that shades them.
Life goes on.