They say that Mexicans really know how to party. In the State of Oaxaca we do it in spades. It’s part of a longstanding cultural tradition, and it’s affordable, certainly relative to what it would cost in the US or Canada. What you would love to do at home but can’t because it would cost well in excess of $50,000, you can do in Huatulco, Puerto Escondido or the state capital for $15,000 or so, with a large glossy photo album of memories to boot.
First of all, you should be passionate about Oaxaca and willing to experience all that indigenous custom has to offer for your next big celebratory rite of passage; nuptials (a “destination wedding”), your 60th birthday bash, or a special anniversary. Then once you’re convinced that at least some of your closest hometown kin and friends would be interested in making the trek and participating in the festivities, you’re Oaxaca-bound. Even better if you have friends and family scattered throughout the continent and further abroad who would be willing to gather together in Oaxaca, making the celebration a reunion of sorts, á la The Big Chill (albeit different circumstances). A few years ago during our b & b days, a few celebrants stayed with us, part of a wedding party for a bride and groom in the entertainment industry. Actors, singers, musicians and producers came from all corners of the globe sharing magical moments with the couple in a storybook setting.
Over the past 15 years, first as frequent visitors to, and now as residents of, Oaxaca, we’ve thrown our own large fiestas, each in a different venue: a downtown banquet hall noted for its revolutionary period décor; a former hacienda with expansive, immaculately groomed grounds; and a rural venue which included a rodeo performance. Of course there are other more familiar options such as hotel ballrooms, beachfronts, and restaurants serving up the best that this mecca of culinary seduction has to offer.
But it’s the pageantry and the availability of a broad diversity of offerings which make such an event extraordinary – and you can have it all: a colorful folkloric troupe performing a guelaguetza to live music; a 12-piece dance band; mariachis, marimbas and Andes-music-style troubadours; table arrangements of the most exotic tropical flowers; a unique array of adornments; other regional customs geared to your particular celebration. A well-orchestrated evening (or daytime fiesta stretching into the wee hours of the next morning)
can include ceremonial song and dance, as well as episodic events representative of local mores peppering the affair, maintaining both rhythm and ritual for several hours.
But not to fret the meal ending without further indulging of gastronomic proportion for the duration: the Oaxacan tradition is to not terminate a function without offering a second entirely different meal well after cake and cognac have been consumed, making for a feast of truly bacchanalian proportion.
Meal options range from the high end continental genre, to traditional Oaxacan fare, to the ever-so-customary barbacoa — goat or sheep with all the trimmings prepared in an in-ground oven, boasting its own peculiar pomp and ceremony — and everything in between. Usually tamales, chilaquiles, pozole or tlayudas make up that late-night after dinner pick-me-up, once your dance legs have begun to wane. Oaxaca has no shortage of readily available quality wines and champagnes, scotches and other liquors, digestifs and apertifs, and of course Mexico’s renowned beer, mezcal and tequila.
You don’t even have to worry about entertaining your guests for the balance of their trip after the official celebration has concluded. There are several small tour companies and individual guides in the coastal resorts and in the city with vans accommodating up to 20 passengers. Your guests can tour together, or in groups based on particular interests so they can visit craft villages, towns on their market days, ruins, ecological reserves and other sights.
With United and other airlines boasting attractively priced flight routes, travelers from virtually everywhere in North American are able to reach Oaxaca via Houston, avoiding Mexico City as a transfer point. Both Californians and Texans have the advantage of flying into Oaxaca non-stop. And during the fall and winter months similar flights to the coast are available from several North American cities.
The State of Oaxaca’s social event planning industry is ready and anxious to accommodate just about every fiesta its visitors might contemplate, with color, flare and imagination unmatched.
Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (http://www.mezcaleducationaltours.com). He frequently takes groups attending large fiestas on his excursions to small, quaint artisanal distilleries.