Stay Healthy in Oaxaca

Travel Tips — By Vica Amuchastegui on February 7, 2011 at 2:26 am

People coming to México are always afraid of spicy food and getting sick to their stomach. Specifically, they’re afraid of the Moctezuma’s Revenge. You know, the legend of the revenge of the last Aztec king upon every foreigner in Mexico. Moctezuma (AKA Montezuma) was the last Aztec King, and it was during his reign that the Spanish Conquest began. The legend has it, his revenge was that whenever the Spanish ate Mexican food, they would get a stomach disease. Of course, it now applies to any foreigner who gets sick in Mexico because of the food.

But there are ways you can avoid Moctezuma’s Revenge. First thing you have to do is ALWAYS wash your hands with soap before eating. That’s the golden rule. Also you’ll want to take it easy the first few days and let your stomach get used to the food. This may be hard because you’ll want to taste everything.  Do so, but in small bites. This will allow you to eat more as time goes by. Remember Mexicans have some sort of steel stomach, so they can eat pretty much anything, but yours may not be as strong!

Chiles in the Market

Chiles in the Market

Don’t eat anything from street vendors, specially if they’re located at a very transited street. Instead look for a kiosk that’s preferably in a square or garden, not on a sidewalk. And preferably buy things that comes packaged or bottled. That goes especially for water; never, ever, ever drink from the tap. Water is not as clean as in other countries, so you want to avoid infections. Just make sure to step on your bottle once you’ve finished it and put it in the trash. Don’t litter!

Oaxaca has beautiful markets, filled with delicious fruits and vegetables (specially the Mercado Benito Juarez and the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, also known as the Food Market). You’ll want to taste them all, and you should! Just remember to wash the fruits and boil the vegetables before you eat them. You’ll have to trust your gut here. If you go to a first class restaurant, you’re safe, you can eat whatever you want. But if you go to a less than first class restaurant, you’ll want to avoid uncooked vegetables. Same goes with seafood, if it’s too hot in there, run away as fast as you can!

It’s not only the food you have to be careful with in Oaxaca. You’ll be visiting a lot of ruins and walking around the city, so if you don’t want to get sunstroke, be sure to wear sunblock and drink a lot of water. If you feel extremely tired, it’s better for you to go take a nap. Trust me. Plus, you’re on vacation, if you don’t take a nap now, when will you? This will help you enjoy the trip and avoid headaches.

Mezcal

Now, this is a very serious matter. Oaxaca is the land of mezcal, the sacred pre-Hispanic drink made from the heart of the maguey, using the same techniques than 300 years ago. If you want to survive in this state, you have to treat the mezcal with great respect. And always keep in mind that , if you fell really sick after drinking too much mezcal, that’s not anybody’s revenge, that’s just a hangover!

It may be a good idea to go see your doctor before visiting to make sure you have something to counteract whatever stomach trouble you might have on your trip. Better safe than sorry. There’s some good news though; supposedly, Moctezuma’s Revenge strikes only once, usually within the first three days in Mexico. Take care always anyway, even if you already had it, or you survived those 3 first days. You don’t want to be the first visitor who’s had the disease twice.

Enjoy the Oaxacan cuisine!

(photos courtesy of maximalideal and Aaron Jacobs / Flickr)

Tags: Mezcal, Moctezuma's Revenge, Oaxaca, Oaxaca Cuisine