Oaxaca and Monte Albán

August 17, 2010

Oaxaca.  Just the word Oaxaca makes me think of beautiful textiles, mole, and ancient ruins.  Oaxaca’s Centro Historico is a delight – wide stone block streets with colonial buildings, almost all in good repair.  Several streets in the center of town are closed to car traffic so you can stroll along almost all the way from the Santo Domingo church to the zócalo.

During the 2006 teacher’s strike and occupation of the zócalo the zócalo itself was badly damaged, so a new kiosko and cement curbs to sit on were installed afterwards.  Thankfully many of the large old trees were undamaged, so the zócalo is still a wonderful and well used gathering place ringed with restaurants and coffee shops.  There are plenty of vendors selling things table to table, so bring your patience if you go.  Small wooden spoons and combs, handmade paper painted in florescent colors, baskets and necklaces are offered.

The kiosko in the zocalo

One unpleasant thing that happened is that I had forgotten to pack my camera.  Not wanting to buy a new one, we realized that my cell phone was three and a half years old and the screen was cracked…so maybe if we bought a new one with a camera in it I could kill two birds with one stone!  So that’s what we did, and the pictures it took are decent enough for the web.  When we got home, though, I had expected to see my camera on the table near where I had packed my suitcase.  It was nowhere in the house, so now we know that it was stolen from my luggage.  As was my laptop power cord and my iPod on the way home.  I guess I should have known better than to pack them, but sometimes everything can’t fit in the briefcase I carry as my purse-carryon.  We flew through Mexico City on Mexicana Click, if you were wondering.

Paul and I usually spend the first day or half day in a new city walking around randomly and bumping into interesting things to come back to.  We stop for coffee or beer – sit on benches and watch people – and walk and walk and walk.  Then we go back to our B & B (we stayed at Casa de las Bugambilias) and only then really start looking through our notes and guidebooks to create a plan for our stay.  I am lucky to have a cyber-friendship with Betsy McNair of My Mexico Tours and she shared with me some of her “must-do and see” Oaxaca tips.  I love all the friendships that have come to me through blogging – especially when we travel.  Christina Potter of Mexico Cooks! really helped us get to know Morelia, Billie & Ned Mercer did the same for us with San Miguel de Allende, and all of the wonderful Yucatan bloggers (especially Theresa) when we visited Mérida.

When you visit Oaxaca in the summer, one of the most delightful experiences is the afternoon rain.  Every afternoon at around 3 or 4 you’d hear a few rumbles, a few sprinkles, and then it would rain for an hour or so.  Our first early evening we headed to the bar at La Olla (which is a part of the B & B) and watched the rain through the open windows while looking at the gorgeous pink blossoms of the pochote tree outside.  We looked at all our guidebooks and started creating a rough outline for our visit.

There was a pochote tree outside our B & B that had a zillion flowers on it. It was amazing!

The next day we headed out to take the bus to Monte Albán. You can take a tour or you can just take a bus there  for 40 pesos round trip.  It’s about a 20 minute ride.  The ruins at Monte Albán are amazing.  The earliest parts actually date to 100 BC!  There is an observatory, and a ball court — although they didn’t play the same kind of game with baskets as they did elsewhere.  The site is amazing – set at the top of a ridge so every direction you looked you saw immense valleys stretching out in front of you.  Rather than recount a lot of information about the site, if you’re interested I hope you’ll click on the link above.  It really is a spectacular place.  I’ve put some pictures here if you’d like to see them.

A new excavation, with Oaxaca in the background.

When we got back from Monte Albán we were tired from walking all over, but not so tired that we couldn’t take a stroll through a couple of the mercados – Mercados de Artesanías, 20 de Noviembre, and Benito Juarez.  We could tell we needed to get a rest and come back!  I did take a minute, though, to visit one of the many Montelayo chocolate stores.  We had read that they were the best Oaxacan chocolate, and it was delicious.  I bought some chocolate and also cacao crudo – the raw cocoa beans.  I had read about them on Kathleen is Cooking in Mexico and knew I wanted to bring some back if I could.

Mercado Benito Juarez

We visited several museums.  The first was the Museo Textíl de Oaxaca.  It is a fairly new museum, and we enjoyed seeing all the fantastic fabrics and rugs.

Traditional dress in the Museo Textíl de Oaxaca.

The Museum of Contemporary Oaxacan Art was closed while we were there – the scaffolding set up outside was actually turned into an art installation using the traditional market bag!  There are more pictures from our trip on the Photos page, above, or here.  Tomorrow, I’ll write about our trip to Teotitlan del Valle to visit the weavers, as well as the ruins of Mitla and the 2,000 year old Tule tree.




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I'm Nancy, a US expat living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco after 11 years in Mazatlán, México.

    1. Nancy,

      While I’m happy you had a great trip, I am really bummed that you lost things from your luggage–and in both directions! Dianne lost some things with Mexicana last year and we had get a little loud, but they did pay us. We dealt with the office in the Golden Zone.

      Love the pictures – thanks for sharing. It looks much greener to me than our trip in December.

    1. We’ve been wanting to visit Oaxaca. Seeing your photos makes me want visit to even more.
      It really stinks about someone stealing your stuff! I never lock my luggage anymore, but now I am going to get some of the cable ties to put on. That way at least I will know if someone opens it.

    1. I knew you would love Oaxaca, but then, who wouldn’t! There was still a lot of damage and grafiti from the teacher’s strike when I was there in 2007, so it is nice to see your pictures. That gazebo was not on the kiosk.

      Thanks for the heads up about Click. I will be flying with them soon and that is good to know. Of course, I don’t pack anything but clothes in my suitcase! LOL!

    1. Nancy, Mexicana paid for the stuff that was stolen on my return from Bangalore via DF, so I encourage you to make a claim and go for it. The thieving in DF is horrible! So glad you enjoyed yourselves! Oaxaca made for our best Christmas in a long time–you might want to head back 🙂 Welcome home! Let’s get together!

    1. Nancy…enjoyed your post. My husband and I spent the month of December 2009 in Oaxaca City and we loved it. Sorry to hear about your stolen belongings but thanks for sharing as we will be extra careful on our next trip.

      1. Greg, Thanks for the tip on Mexicana, I will go speak to them today. One of the locals we were talking to said he had never seen Monte Albán so green!

        Theresa, You should go, the city reminds me of Merida in a way, I would love to hear your thoughts.

        Isla, Yes, somehow I knew I would love it, too! I can’t imagine not loving it, though. It is charming and warm and clean and smells like chocolate!

        Dianne, Thanks for the encouragement to tackle Mexicana. It would be fun to go for Christmas or to go to the Guelaguetza festival in July.

        Sam, I could spend a month there easily. Thanks for commenting.

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