A Travellerspoint blog

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)

All Quiet in Oaxaca

sunny 29 °C

The central square in Oaxaca, the Zocalo, is typical of every colonial city in Mexico and South America. With government buildings on one side and the cathedral on the other the square is completed by arcades of shops and cafes in shady colonnades...
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We are staying in Oaxaca City for two weeks: whiling away the hours under the Zocalo's cafes parasols as we watch a constant procession of Zapotec women hawking their colourful fabrics...
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We sit in the shade as a parade of diminutive Oaxacan women offer us shawls, shirts and scarves at negotiable prices, but we don't bite – they will be back tomorrow, (we assume).
The Zocalo is abuzz with activity as vendors try to lure gringos with all manner of trinkets, all handmade though all suspiciously similar, and the pavements of the surrounding streets are clogged with makeshift market stalls offering identical crafts....
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The Mexicans are big on shiny shoes but in the hot and dusty streets of Oaxaca they soon need a brush up. No problem here in the Zocalo where dozens of men and boys are ready and willing to give a new look to anyone's footwear for a buck...
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It's deliciously warm here in Southern Mexico but anyone feeling the heat or feeling under the weather can be quickly attended to by roving volunteer paramedics...
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These mounted lifesavers come fully equipped to deal with all manner of emergencies and may come in very handy if the coronavirus reaches here.

And so – we come to today when we took our morning constitutional to the Zocalo for our usual coffee and found the place almost deserted...
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No textile hawkers; no enthusiastic stallholders; no balloon vendors. Had we screwed up our days – is it Sunday or some other religious event? Our cafe was open and Nora, our cheerful Zapotec waitress, was happy to serve us but, apart from the shoeshiners, the square was deserted. Then we spotted a trade union leader addressing a crowd huddled under the shade trees just off the Zocalo...
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Where else in the world but Mexico could we find several hundred street vendors on strike for better pay and conditions? We are told that they may be back on the job tomorrow – but maybe not. We shall see.

Posted by Hawkson 16:30 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Winter Escape

sunny 28 °C

We decided to stay home this winter for the first time since 2007 – and then this happened...
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For most Canadians a mere foot of snow is seen as a light frost, For example: Newfoundlanders are currently digging out from snowdrifts fifteen feet deep and skiers are having a great time on the slopes in the Rockies. The snow certainly looked pretty in our Japanese garden...
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But almost as soon as it stopped snowing on our west coast island the white stuff turned wet and it rained – and rained – and rained. And, if the forecast is to be believed, it may never stop raining. So we packed our bags and made a dash for the airport. And here we are in the historic central plaza of Oaxaca City in sunny southern Mexico enjoying hot Mexican chocolate...
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The bright blue skies and 28 degree temperatures remind us why more than 4 million Canadian 'snowbirds' fly to Mexico every winter. The sun shines all day, the margaritas are chilled and the hotel swimming pools are pleasantly warm – what more could we want...
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Maybe some interesting culture and colonial architecture? This is the cathedral in Oaxaca City...
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Oaxaca has been on our bucket list for awhile and we were headed there this time last year when we were forced to cut our trip short. So now we are here we will be soaking up the sun, practising our Spanish, visiting the ancient Zapotec and Mixtec ruins, and looking for an interesting little number for Sheila to wear at a very special upcoming birthday. Maybe one of these in Oaxaca market...
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If it isn't right for the birthday she can always wear it to a wedding in May!

We have only been here a day and have already fallen in love with the markets – so much to see: so much to buy – especially the local potent booze - mezcal and the speciality cheese. One thing we have learned already is that mezcal apparently goes with anything; almost every shop sells it in one form or another – even the cheese shops, the cremerias...
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As long as we can stay off the mezcal we will be back online in a day or so with a deeper look at this fascinating city.

Posted by Hawkson 19:19 Archived in Mexico Comments (9)

Great Britain

semi-overcast 8 °C

We thought we might stumble into a little history when we arrived in England and we made a start with a city closely connected to North America. This is the harbour in Plymouth...

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While every American firmly believes that: a) the Pilgrim Fathers were the first European settlers in America, and: b) the Mayflower began its transatlantic voyage from Plymouth, the truth is a little different. Here's the proof. This is us in 2010 in Southampton at the actual starting point...

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There were already many European colonies in North America by the time the Mayflower and a smaller ship, the Speedwell, set sail from Southampton on August 5th 1620. However, the Speedwell ran into difficulties in the Atlantic and was leaking so badly it returned to the nearest port, Plymouth. The Pilgrims continued to the New World on September 6th aboard the Mayflower but the voyage had begun in Southampton.

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As we watched this two-master leaving Plymouth under the cannons of the Citadel we could not imagine the conditions under which the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic 400 years ago – more than a 130 passengers and crew on a ship only 100 feet long. The Mayflower reached America in November but more than 65 Pilgrims and crew had died by the following spring when they finally found a safe place to land. While Plymouth wasn't the starting port of the Mayflower it was the place that Sir Humphrey Gilbert set sail for Newfoundland on Jun 11th 1583 to claim it for Queen Elizabeth I.

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This is Plymouth Hoe – the greensward where, it is alleged, that Sir Francis Drake insisted on finishing his game of bowls before he sailed to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. Here's Sir Francis standing high above the Hoe...

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And this is the entrance to the 16th century fortress, the Citadel, that is still a naval base today...

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Sir Francis Drake was an English Naval officer, a privateer, a slave-trader and a pirate who made his first voyage to the Americas in1563 with his cousin, Sir John Hawkins, (Not related to James – Or was he?) The Hawkins family of Plymouth owned a fleet of ships and, between 1577 and 1580, Drake sailed around the world and returned home with looted Spanish treasure worth more than 500 million pounds today. Queen Elizabeth I was very grateful as the treasure cleared the national debt. Sir Francis died and was buried at sea but his benefactor, Queen Elizabeth I, lies here, our next stop, in London's Westminster Abbey...

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There is so much history in Westminster Abbey that we wouldn't know where to begin. Thirty English kings and queens are buried here along with hundreds of Britain's elite. It is a magnificent building nearly a thousand years old but we were not allowed to take photos inside. We can show you the Pyx Chamber under the Abbey...

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This vaulted strongroom built in 1070 was where official samples of gold and silver coins were kept so that newly minted coins could be tested against them.

And so to the last event of the day – a thunderous evening of classical music at the Royal Albert Hall culminating in Puccini's Nessun Dorma, the 1812 Overture complete with cannons and muskets, and a rousing rendition of Land of Hope and Glory.

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It's enough to make us feel nostalgic!

Posted by Hawkson 06:08 Archived in England Comments (5)

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