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 sides.

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.

The 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 friendly.

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 grasshoppers).

As 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 silver threads.

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.