A Travellerspoint blog

Ten Things We Will Miss About Oaxaca

sunny 30 °C

Our short time in Oaxaca as come to an end and we are delighted that we were able to bring the sun home with us to cheer up a dreary Canadian winter for our friends. This is the sunrise from our kitchen window this morning...

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So what will we miss about our time in Oaxaca? We will miss:
The history and culture of the Zapotecs and the ruins of their splendid cities like Monte Albán...

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...and the razzmatazz of daily life in Oaxaca City's central square, the Zocalo – especially the lively music and dancing in the evenings...

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...and the military parade on Mexico's Constitution Day of February 5th

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We will certainly miss the numerous talented street musicians who entertained us wherever we sat for a meal...

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...and the incredible cleanliness of everything and everywhere. Rarely have we been in such a clean city – especially in a tropical climate where so much of life takes place on the streets. Street cleaners are hard at work day and night keeping Oaxaca immaculate...

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Also missed will be the inexpensive local foods like tostados, tortillas, tlayudas and tomales, all made from corn, This is a tomale stuffed with shredded chicken and mole – it tastes so much better than it looks...

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We will certainly miss the amazing markets that assault the senses in every way. The gifts and clothing were exuberant and the flowers were spectacular. The market food was plentiful and diverse though we were not keen on the local speciality – grasshoppers.

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These crunchy little critters are fried, toasted, boiled or baked and they are clearly a taste that we have not acquired. On the other hand we loved the radishes. It turns out that there is far more to a radish than being carved into a simple rose. On December 23rd each year the centre of Oaxaca City is the venue for an extraordinary event – La noche de los rabanos – (The night of the radishes). Tens of thousands of people throng to the Zocalo to witness an amazing artistic sight when vegetable carvers from across the state compete to produce to most flambouyant display of carved radishes. (Google 'Night of the Radishes' for some amazing images).

There is food and drink for everyone in Oaxaca. Mezcal, a potent local alcohol made from agave cactus, can be bought by the gallon. Numerous varieties of agave cactus grow in the mountains of Oaxaca and as we travelled the countryside we saw dozens of artisan mezcal distilleries where the agave were waiting to be 'cooked' into mezcal...

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We tried the mezcal but actually preferred the rich creamy Oaxacan hot chocolate...

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We have kept to last the best things we will miss about Oaxaca. First, we will miss the perpetually blue skies and the weeks of glorious sunshine. But, above all, we will miss the lovely Oaxacan people. This is Margarita – the delightful receptionist at our hotel – Casa Barrocco Oaxaca...

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We always expect hotel and restaurant staff to be warm and welcoming, (though sometimes we are disappointed), but in Oaxaca absolutely everyone treated us wonderfully; no-one ripped us off; the street vendors and tour touts were polite and not at all persistent; and drivers actually stopped to let us cross the street.
O.K. - So that's more than ten things, so, In short...Oaxaca, Mexico – so much that we will miss.

Posted by Hawkson 08:31 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

A Day Trip from Oaxaca City

sunny 30 °C

Tour company touts are a peso a dozen in Oaxaca City all offering visitors a chance to get out into the countryside to see the sights. The bus tours are very cheap, but the idea of trailing from one shopping opportunity to the next interspersed with a few interesting sites for more than nine hours wasn't appealing. So we hired Mario and his cab and had a great trip. The first rule of the canny tourist is “always arrive before the crowds.” All of the bus tours from Oaxaca City leave at 10.00 am so that tourists can enjoy a leisurely breakfast. We left at 8.30 and arrived at our first stop, the Tule Tree, without a tourist or trinket salesman in sight. This is the Tule Tree with a couple of lonely local policemen waiting in the background for the hordes...

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The tree is big – in fact it is absolutely enormous. It is a single cypress tree that is roughly 2,000 years old, (although no-one is going to chop it down to count the rings). The trunk is 140 feet around and it is claimed to be the biggest tree in the world weighing 167 thousand tons.

Next stop – the World's tallest stalactite...

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Although the Hierve el Agua, a couple of hours drive into the mountains from Oaxaca City, looks like a 300 foot waterfall, it is actually solid rock and was formed in the same way that stalactites form inside caves. Other petrified waterfalls here are more colourful...

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Spring water with a high calcium content has spent millions of years creating petrified waterfalls and giant infinity pools high above the valley and they make a spectacular sight in the brilliant sunshine...

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Despite the thousands of tourists who flock to this part of Oaxaca it remains a poor area and we were surrounded by third world scenes...

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However, our lunch of maize tortillas made over a wood stove in a makeshift cafe by Amelia was delicious...

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Just $7 Cdn bought tortillas and freshly made coffee for us and Mario.
And then – the highlight of the tour, the ancient Zapotec city of Mitla....

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Mitla was the religious centre of the Zapotec world unlike the administrative and cultural centre in Monte Alban, The many temples and buildings in Mitla were highly decorated with religious symbols..

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The walls were decorated with colourful murals...

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However, the Spanish Conquistadors destroyed virtually all of the ancient structures and built their churches and houses on the remains. Thankfully, some of the Zapotec buildings survived to give us an impression of what this magnificent city would have looked like 500 years ago.
Much of Mexico is mountainous with some of North Americas's tallest active volcanoes and today, as we rode high into the mountains of Oaxaca, we had some splendid views...

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Now we are back in Oaxaca City after a beautiful and peaceful day in the pueblos - Hasta luega

Posted by Hawkson 13:02 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

City of the Clouds - Monte Albán

sunny 30 °C

As we wander the streets of Oaxaca City we are transported by the faces around us to a time before the Conquistadors. We are white giants in this Lilliputian land and are conscious of our European ancestry. According to legend, the Zapotec elite descended from the clouds and returned there upon death, therefore they call themselves “Be’ena’ Za’a”—the Cloud People. It is therefore unsurprising that they are beautiful both in looks and spirit...

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For well over a thousand years the virtually impenetrable stronghold of Monte Albán, high above the present city of Oaxaca, was the center of the Zapotecs' world...

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Monte Albán was founded around 800 BC and dominated much of the Oaxacan highlands until 750 AD when it was largely abandoned by the Zapotecs. But during that time these great temples and pyramids witnessed all manner of religious rituals and events...

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An elaborate game called tlachtli, (aka pelota), using a hard rubber ball, was played in this court at Monte Albán nearly three thousand years ago...

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As in so much of the world, death and destruction dominate the history of this land and these inscribed tablets show images of defeated enemies who were castrated and executed here...

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The Zapotecs were a warrior race by necessity but the Aztecs from Central Mexico overran them in the late 1500s. The surviving Zapotecs fought on until the Spanish Conquistadors brought new diseases and advanced European weapons The numerous Zapotecan gods including Cocijo, the rain god, and Coquihani, the god of light, were no match for a god who could do absolutely everything and the Zapotecs were soon defeated in the name of Jesus. The Zapotecs became pacifists in the hope of avoiding total annihilation but many of their fine buildings were destroyed to provide materials for Christian structures like the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in Oaxaca City...

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While the church still functions for religious worship, it is ironic that the attached convent is now a museum filled with a trove of Zapotec treasures and artifacts excavated from Monte Albán...

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The ruins of Monte Albán are a reminder of a once powerful civilization but, although their majestic city in the sky may have gone, we are surrounded by buildings embodying their history and art. Despite 500 years of colonization and oppression there are more than a million Zapotecs in Oaxaca and we are humbled to be walking among them.
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Posted by Hawkson 09:16 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Candelaria in Oaxaca

sunny 28 °C

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It's a long weekend in Oaxaca but the labour unrest continues.However, with so many visitors in town to celebrate Candelaria, (Candelmass), the street vendors are back on the job – especially the balloon sellers....

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It is no wonder that there is a worldwide shortage of helium. It's all here in Oaxaca. Giant candle shaped balloons are particularly popular with those celebrating the day on which Jesus was supposedly first taken to the temple...

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While the street vendors called off their strike and were back at work over the weekend the drivers of hundreds of taxis, tuk-tuks and transport trucks clogged the streets of Oaxaca during rush hour on Friday. The protest fizzled with little inconvenience to us and as the evening wore on wedding processions took over the streets with stilt walkers, giant mannequins and marching mariachi bands...

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From then on the weekend just got more exciting. Oaxaca City is one of the most colourful and vibrant cities we have ever visited. Music is everywhere. Roving musicians compete with all manner of bands and a full orchestra played for hours in the Zocalo...

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Sunday, (Candelaria), saw a big turnout at the cathedral where many people took their Jesus dolls to be blessed....

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Baby Jesus dolls fill the shop windows at the moment and we have absolutely no idea which one we should buy – some of them are distinctly un-babylike ...

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And then came the big event when thousands of women wearing traditional costume streamed through the streets waving banners and flags while chanting in unison...
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Although the parade didn't compare with the Candelaria celebrations in Puno, Peru, it was a gloriously moving sight...

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However, these young ladies were not headed to the cathedral. They were marching on the Government offices to protest against physical and psychological violence towards women.

Mexico is a conundrum. All the people we have met here have been kind, helpful and absolutely charming, yet this is a country steeped in violence. Everywhere we see posters reminding us that assassinations and abductions are commonplace – some 30,000 people a year are murdered. It would be nice to think that these lovely young women can somehow change that dreadful reality.

Posted by Hawkson 12:50 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Food, Glorious (Oaxacan) Food

semi-overcast 26 °C

It is Market Day in Oaxaca

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But every day is market day in this part of the world and while there are plenty of modern stores and supermarkets stocked with everything we might get at home, the locals and tourists still throng the markets for bargains. The Mercado De Benito Juarez, near the centre of Oaxaca City, is a vast covered arcade offering a huge selection of products and a guaranteed sensory overload...

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We visited early to get a good look at the eye-catching displays and the fresh products. Tradition dictates the way that goods are displayed. For instance, all the chickens' feet are ready to grab passersby...

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And these ladies weave baskets while you wait...

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However, we have struck lucky again and just happen to be here at one of the most festive times of the year. It's wedding season in Oaxaca and it is also Candelaria – the 40th day after Christmas which is celebrated throughout Latin America. Two years ago we were in Puno in Southern Peru and witnessed sixty five thousand locals in costume dancing through the streets on the shore of Lake Titicaca. It will be interesting to see what Oaxaca has tomorrow but we already know that every hotel in the city is totally full and the restaurants selling tomales are packed. However, nowhere is busier than the food market, Mercado 20 Noviembre...

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This market competes with any of the bustling edifices of India and Southeast Asia – although it is a lot cleaner than many. Here are some scenes that need no explanation...

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Tomales, a doughy corn mixture with meat or cheese stuffed into dried maize husks, are eaten throughout Mexico to celebrate Candelaria on February 2nd each year. The tradition is that whoever finds the first baby Jesus figure in the Rosca de Reyes cake on the 12th day after Christmas, (Epiphany) must buy everybody tomales on Candelaria. We will eat tomales on Sunday, along with everyone else, but today we had ice-creams made fresh for us by two enthusiastic young men.....

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It's going to be a busy weekend for everyone in Oaxaca. We will be joining wedding celebrations, street dancing and Cadelaria parades, but first we are off to the opera - Porgy & Bess live from the New York Met.

Posted by Hawkson 14:45 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

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