Prowling around Oaxaca

August 18, 2010

One of the things we like so much about staying in B & B’s is the chatting with other guests at breakfast.  Oaxaca attracts an international crowd, and the breakfast table reflected that.  We met Australians, Italians, French, and Japanese along with Americans.  The ages vary, the knowledge of Mexico varies, but without a doubt you meet people who are really compatible.  One morning we met Tot and her friend Shari from the San Antonio area.  Tot and her husband have two stores in Castroville, Texas (Albros Casa y Garden) and give tours to Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead each year.  She was on a scouting/buying trip and invited us to go with her shopping for huipils and to meet her sources.  Another couple – Anthony & Davida from Australia – also came along.  It was fun to have her explain the differences in quality and workmanship and while I only bought two to her 50 it was a good education.

The six of us went through the Benito Juarez mercado together looking at everything.  Some things are quite different than here in Mazatlan.  The beef is hung in very thin sort of “fillets” in front of each little stand.  Everything looks quite clean and I hardly had to avert my eyes.  At the 20 de Noviembre mercado there are lots and lots of little stands serving food, all constructed out of tile.  There are some meat sellers in the front area that all have fires going and you can choose your meat and have it grilled with onions and other stuff and served to you on a kind of basket. Lots of people were eating enthusiastically.

After our visit to the mercado the six of us headed to the Camino Real hotel to have a drink in the lobby bar.  The Camino Real used to be a convent and it is an amazing building.  They give tours every day which unfortunately we missed every day.  But walking around on your own you will still be astounded.  We had a great time visiting with these nice people (did you know that when you buy a round of drinks in Australia it´s called a “shout?”) and before heading out Paul and I bought tickets for the Guelaguetza, a Oaxacan dance tradition.  It is performed every Friday in the convent’s chapel.

Spinning the wool in Teotitlán del Valle.

The next day we hired a driver – actually the husband of one of the women who run the B & B – to visit Teotitlan del Valle, Tule, and Mitla.  We hit the road a little before ten and headed for Teotitlan del Valle.  It’s about 30 km from Oaxaca through some beautiful countryside.  On the outskirts of town there are many weavers, and you will see rugs hanging from all the porches.  Our driver, Rene, took us to his favorite weavers, and we were given a lesson in dyeing using natural products – plants, flowers, insects, etc.  We also tried carding wool and spinning.

Showing us cochineal insects squished on her hand.

Then came our introduction to the art of weaving a rug.  It is such a time consuming and intricate process… and I am sure they go to bed at night with tired feet and hands.  Their feet move the loom up and down and their hands pass the wool through, back and forth, and then tighten it all down with a comb or press of the bar.  Paul and I bought a beautiful rug for our living room floor, and it looks as good as we thought it would!  There is just something about the natural dyes that give the wool such a soft and pretty look.

Weaving a free form design – trees with birds.

We drove on into town and stopped to visit the church there that was finished in 1751 and was built on top of a Zapotec site, many original pieces are visible as part of the church structure.  When you go out and around the corner, though, you see the actual Zapotec ruins with a church sprouting out of them.  Amazing.

The Precious Blood Of Christ Catholic church located on the remains of a temple dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, Teotitlan Rock in background!

We headed on to the town of Tule, to see their famous cypress tree that is said to be 2,000 years old!  We were looking forward to seeing the tree but we hadn’t expected to meet such a sweet little town, too.  We ate a wonderful lunch in a small restaurant famous for their empanadas filled with chicken and red or green sauce.  Then we headed on to the tree, which is situated in front of their church and surrounded by fencing.  The plaza nearby had neatly trimmed green grass and lovely cannas and roses.  We fell in love with the town, I would love to go back and get to know it better.

Tule tree

The ruins at Mitla are unique in that they share common walls in places with their Zapotec neighbors.  I even saw a woman putting her laundry to dry on the stone ruin walls!  They are newer than Monte Alban (1300 AD) and the stonework seems so crisp it could have been cut yesterday.  There were two tombs on the property that you could enter, but you had to crouch way over and one of them was so stuffy it made me hurry out.  I guess the dead don’t need air flow!


We saw lots of little three wheeled taxis everywhere we went outside of town.  Kind of reminded me of our own pulmonias!

One of the many three wheeled minicabs.

It was a wonderful day, and by the time we got back to town it was about 4 pm.  We headed in for a little rest and showers before going to the Camino Real for dinner and the Guelaguetza.  That’ll be tomorrow.

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More about Nancy

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

    1. You certainly made the most of this visit, Nancy, and it engenders a desire to also get there. Guess we will have to save up for the plane fare and put it on our list. So many wonderful cities and towns in Mexico that one could do nothing but travel constantly and continually be amazed.

    1. Thanks for the great commentary and photographs. I am really enjoying this visit. The ruins are high on my list for my visit to interior Mexico. And you have given me some very good ideas on how to maximize my time.

    1. Beautiful photos! Hope to make it to Oaxaca sometime and see all this for myself.

    1. Nancy, you are chronicling an awesome experience beautifully. I hope someday to retire as elegantly as you.

      1. Zoe, We had a blast, one more post about it tomorrow.

        Steve, Yeah, you have postponed your archeological touring haven’t you?

        Leah, Oaxaca gets two thumbs up from us!

        Jillian, HI! Nice to see you down Mexico way! I know you will have a wonderful retirement, you two always have something fun going on. Besos!

    1. Hola vecina….wonderful fotos!!….was in Oaxaca many years ago and have to say did not appreciate it as I did now veiwing your pics…am flying back to L.A. Friday and will be back in a month or so…Alex is staying so keep an eye on him for me..LOL…saludos a Paul

    1. I can hear the exurberance in your voice as you describe all of these things and places. I love Oaxaca, both city and state. I read somewhere that the Tule tree is in danger because the underground reservoirs that feed it are being syphoned off. What a tragedy shoudl it disappear. Did you see all of the “animals” contained within the tree?

      1. John, Thanks! Have fun in LA and I think Alex doesn’t need me keeping an eye on him! I occasionally hear your gate but hardly ever see either of you. If it’s still hot here when you get back maybe you guys would enjoy a trip to Oaxaca??

        IslaGringo, Thanks for saying that about exuberance, I sometimes wonder how people perceive me! I would be so sad if something happened to the Tree, it is a real treasure. Yes, we saw lots of animalitos!

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