The first time I visited the city of Oaxaca it immediately became one of my favorite foreign cities. Now more than 40 years and 37 countries later it still remains in my top five. The quiet colonial feel is reminiscent of the cities of Southern and Southwest Spain, and the Zocalo with its adjacent Cathedral (below) and surrounding cafes could be a scene from any European Capitol.
|The University here
has one of the most radicalized student bodies in Mexico, and I don't
recall ever having visited here when there wasn't a demonstration, a
festival, or both. On this occasion the police, as usual, were in a
high state of readiness with us having arrived the week of November
20th which is celebrated in Mexico as the Day of the Revolution. Our
entire week here was marked by fireworks, festivals, and dance
competition. The next few photos show just a small portion of the
nightime festivities around the Zocalo.
|Oaxaca's other big
draw are all of the activities and sites that can be visited within a
half-day's ride of the city. Unfortunately one of the sites that is
closest to the city, the ruins at Monte Alban, we were unable to visit
on this trip. They didn't want to let me in with our larger Sony video
camera without paying a huge fee to bring in "professional"
equipment. Fortunately we had visited the site on numerous occasions in
the past. That still leaves many options within an hour or two from
town, including Teotilan del Valle, Tule, Mitla, and Hierve el Agua. In
a vehicle all of these can be visited in the same day, but it would be
best to take a few. Hierve el Agua, the furthest from town, is
less than fifty miles, and Santa Maria del Tule is less than 10 miles.
|At the prehispanic
site of Mitla this Cathedral is immediately adjacent to the
archaeological zone below. Like many sites in Mesoamerica, one can find
evidence of a newer culture being built on the foundations of another.
One of the interesting things about this Cathedral is the living fence
of cacti planted inches apart that surrounds the property on three
|From the rear of the
church one can see that parts of the church yard's foundation bear the
distinctive geometrical reliefs that are somewhat unique to Mitla. You
will also note the basalt column that would indicate that there had
once been a roofed structure on or near this spot.
geometric shapes are also evident on these carved lintels above the
doorways. They are more than one-and-a-half meters thick and the same
in height, and some are nearly sixteen feet long. They are estimated to
weigh as much as 25 tons each. Naturally, theories about how they were
set in place abound.
|Hierve el Agua, (in
English "the water boils") is about 15 kilometers from Mitla, the last
nine or so are by dirt road. It can usually be reached without the need
for a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but it is best to check with locals before
heading out. One of the most imposing formations, known as the cascada
grande (the big waterfall), is about 40 meters high. It is actually
just a small trickle of water, but it is formed by the deposit of
calcium carbonate from the mineral rich water. The view above is from
the top of what is called the cascada chica where there are a few small
natural pools that are large enough to bathe in.
|From the viewing
area at the top of cascada chica visitors are free to walk around where
the calcium deposits are actually quite solid in all but a few places.
The tallest rise in the view above is only about two feet tall. The
"volcano" in the photo below is only about nine inches tall. The
"boiling" from which the area gets its name is actually just currents
when the water escapes to the surface. The water is actually quite
cold. This is one of the more fragile formations, and the dark lines
are shadows of the iron fence that protects it from tourists that may
get too close. The pool below right is barely a foot deep at its deepest
|On the way out we
passed another November "Dia del Revolución" celebration in the
tiny village of San Lorenzo Albarradas. Like most places we have
traveled by motorcycle the local children are unabashedly curious and
|The church at Santa
Maria del Tule and the topiary work in its surrounding gardens are
worth the visit on their own but it is the Montezuma cypress trees that
flank it on both sides for which this village is famous. The larger of
the two on the left is believed to date back to the time of Christ, and
is considered by many to be the largest tree in the world. It is also
believed to be on of the oldest living things on the planet. Legend
claims it is the cypress under which Hernan Cortes wept following a
defeat at the hands of the Aztecs on La Noche Triste. Souvenier stands
sell postcards showing scores of school children with their hands
linked encircling the tree at its base.
|The tree dwarves the
visitors that come to marvel at the enormity of this tree.
|The photos above show a better view of the trunk (left), and a plaque that gives some of the statistics of its dimensions. The dimension of 58 meters for Grosor (girth) doesn't jibe with the 14 meter diameter, and scientists find the latter to be the more accurate dimension giving the tree a circumference of more than 120 feet.|
|Local guides will
use mirrors to reflect light as they eagerly point out the dozens of
shapes that can be seen in the tree's branches. The large knot on the
right hand side of the top photo bears the resemblance of a male lion
and the formation in the photo on the right is known as El Venado--the
deer. The plant in the lower left hand photo is found in the flower
beds all around the church. Nobody however could tell me its name.
|On this trip we
elected to skip Teotitlan del Valle, known far and wide for its fine
Zapotec weavings. We made this decision based in part on the fact that
we have visited there many, many times, and in part because we had
already blown our entire souvenier budget on a exceptionally fine piece
done by one of Teotitlans most famous sons, Arnulfo Mendoza. Arnulfo,
who has studied art in the US and Paris had invited us back for a late
lunch which was to include another of Oaxaca's most famous attractions
pictured above--chapulines (roasted
a native of Teotitlan, Arnulfo has taken what the people of that town
have firmly establish as an art form, and elevated it to something in a
class by itself. The Zapotec design at left, in a floor to ceiling
size, can go for tens of thousands of dollars if it bears Arnulfo's
signature. At right his brother Gabriel--a master in his own
right--works at one of the many looms in their shop La Mano
Mágica opposite Oaxaca's Museo de Arte Contemporáneo.
|Above you can see
the detail in this piece which Gabriel works in hand-died silk rather
than the customary local wool that most traditional Zapotec weavers of
the region employ. Many of Arnulfo's pieces even utilize gold and
|Arnulfo's works are
not limited to textiles and there are a number of gouache and other
paintings also in his shop. He and his wife also operate an upscale bed
and breakfast near Teotilan for artists and chefs by invitation only.
His works are displayed by Rick Bayless of Chicago's Frontera Grill and
the television series "Mexico--One Plate at a Time"
|Above Karen joins
Arnulfo (far right) and family and staff of the shop for a typical
Native lunch. The appetizer (below) was a crispy, salty snack of fried
grasshoppers served with onions, limes, a mild Oaxacan cheese, and a
variety of peppers. Served with cold beer it is not unlike any number
of salty snacks, and was not at all unpleasant.