One of the greatest aspects of travel is the people you meet. You become fast friends with fellow boaters because you are experiencing this strange new lifestyle together and can completely relate to one another. You become friendly with locals at each stop and benefit from their knowledge and eagerness for you to experience their hometown. You meet folks on their vacations who are perplexed by your strange way of boat life. These interactions are the brightest part of our travels, but our stay at Casa Raab was somehow different. It didn’t seem like we were meeting new friends; it was more like coming home to old ones.
Casa Raab is a B&B 20 miles outside of Oaxaca in San Pablo Etlan and we went there for a few days simply to balance out our time in the city and see what the countryside had to offer.
Rebecca, the owner, lives on this 40-acre ranch that her husband’s family built in the 1960s. Now she, her husband Tony and her mother Coralie run the inn/boutique mezcal farm/animal rescue center.
Yes, you heard me right, animal rescue. When we pulled into the gravel driveway we had to slow down to avoid hitting any of the dozen or so dogs that were running to greet us. Lucy was happy to see the other dogs and even happier when she learned that the humans carry treats in their pockets. Rebecca is a true inspiration to me as she has rescued hundreds of local dogs over the years. In fact, just the day before we arrived she had taken in 8 puppies. And no, dad, I did not take one home.
Tom, his wife Judy and his other wife Jane (LOL, just kidding), long-stay guests at the inn but really honorary assistant managers, made the introductions to all the dogs and gave us a tour of the grounds.
The stunning scenery and charming home includes horses, cats, turtles, donkeys and of course the dogs, as well as acres of agave plants they grow and use to brew their own mezcal.
We met with a varied cast of ex-pat characters staying in the main house and casitas on the property as well as neighbors, all of whom welcomed us into their little family and turned a sightseeing trip into a special treat. We quickly learned that Casa Raab is a place where people come to stay for months at a time and come back year after year. Yikes, I’m making it sound like a cult, but seriously it is a group of wonderfully interesting, funny and kind people who know how to enjoy themselves. We all sat around gabbing and drinking and within a few hours, as we sat down to a marvelous homemade Mexican dinner, we weren’t sure if we’d checked into an inn or arrived at the home of long time friends.
Tom and his wife Judy from Richmond have been coming here for years and stay for several months at a time. You think we are crazy to travel with Lucy by boat – they drove to Mexico from Virginia, so their two dogs, whom they adopted from Rebecca’s rescue, could be with them. Their friend Jane who also is from Richmond was there and we immediately bonded, as she became by fashion consultant. And Rebecca’s friend Debbie was using the house as a home base for her buying trip for her store in Texas. She really knows her Mexican folk art and crafts and taught us a lot and even was kind enough to let me have the pick of the litter from her collection of hand woven bags. We met Melanie and Norman from Brooklyn, and they gave us a much-needed dose of NY. And, of course, Coralie, Rebecca’s mom, was a delight. Every morning at 7am, everyone is welcomed to join in on a hike with other visitors, neighbors and the dogs through the 40+ acres of Casa Raab grounds. It is a beautiful setting, feeling much like the hills of Tuscany, only with agave fields instead of olive trees and in the distance Mayan ruins instead of old forts. Tom kindly offered for Lucy to stay under his watchful eye one day so we could more easily explore Monte Albán and head back into Oaxaca to explore museums and have dinner. We love Lucy to death but this is a rare treat as visiting museums, nice restaurants and shopping can be difficult with Lucy in tow. Monte Albán lives up to its reputation as a fascinating archaeological site.
The next day we were treated by Jane serving as our first tour guide of the day and she took us to a small organic market and helped me pick out an embroidered blouse made by man from Mixes (MEHAYS), an area so remote it isn’t even mapped yet.
She also took us to a local artist’s studio, which had a beautiful home and workshop where we saw the most impressive alebrije (colorful wooden folk art sculptures) we’d seen in Oaxaca. It was fascinating to see the precision of their artistry and skills, far surpassing the brightly colored traditional figures we’d seen throughout the area. This is one of those places we’d have never discovered on our own and were so grateful to Jane for the insider’s tour. But, the fun didn’t stop here, in the afternoon Judy took the lead and drove us to an incredible artist space known as El Centro de las Artes San Agustín Etla, or simply CASA.
CASA is located at an old weaving factory that now has been restored into Mexico’s first eco-arts center founded by famous Mexican artist Francisco Toledo. The building itself seems like a work of art and amazed us that a factory would be placed in such a grand edifice.
Old water pipes from a former hydroelectric plant were utilized to bring water in for Arte Papel a handmade paper facility. The grounds alone would have been worth the visit, but we were also treated to a Toledo exhibit and the opportunity to watch artists in residence working on intricate fabric creations, printmaking and papermaking.
We returned to a farewell dinner of the most interesting dish I’ve tasted since we came to Mexico. Judy and Jane made Huitlacoche (weet-lah-KOH-chay) served over pasta. What is Huitlacoche you ask. Don’t worry, I asked too. Well, simply put it is corn smut or fungus. Oh yes, nothing but the best for us, LOL. Seriously, it was so delicious and is considered a delicacy to many, now including us. You may see it in the states marketed as Mexican truffles, but really there is no need to spin it, it’s fungus and it’s fabulous.
Finally on the morning of our departure, we said our teary goodbyes as if we had known this group for decades. Loaded down with gifts (beautiful bread from Tom and Judy, mezcal gourds from Rebecca, a belt from Jane and the bag from Debbie) we aimed the car back to Huatulco and those windy roads.
Our stay was way too short, but this was definitely a quality trip and truly called for a hasta luego and not an adios to our new amigos. If you are reading this, guys, we want to thank you SO MUCH for a wonderful time!
Your stories are always so interesting. Can’t wait for the next one. I’m eager to see your embroidered top.
You are having too much fun. I am sort of jealous. And thank you for not sending us another surprise to the Tampa Airport Freight Terminal. I don’t think Mr. Kitty or Lilly would want to share their home with a frisky puppy.
What a lovely account, Mary! I’m honored to be mentioned on your blog, as is Tom and, I’m sure, Jane, Rebecca. et al. We’d love to see you come back (and/or visit us in Richmond)! – Judy
You have a great talent for writing. It’s great to hear about your adventures and the interesting people have met. By the way is there a recipe for Huitlacoche?
Oh Mary, you sound just so happy. Sounds like a wonderful few days. xo
I loved it Mary. Thanks to you,Lucy and Peter. For some reason, I couldn’t leave a comment on your post. Anyhow, I hope you are all doing well and having fun. lots of love, r and the critters
This is great Mary! Stanley and I send our love.