Friday night we fixed ourselves up kinda cute and headed to the Camino Real Hotel for dinner and the Guelaguetza, a suite of traditional Oaxacan dances. It took place in the chapel of the former convent, an absolutely beautiful space. Tables for ten were arranged throughout the room and there was a buffet set up on a raised area at the end. The stage was centered along one wall. We sat with a family of four at a table with a decent view of the stage and were soon joined by two middle aged couples. I like groups like that – I can speak Spanish without any pressure and usually do much better because of it. The two couples were from Guadalajara visiting Oaxaca on their way to Huatulco and the family were visiting from Mexico City.
The food was good (ok, I just had the salad bar – but it was a good one) and before long the performance started. The Guelaguetza festival is at the end of July every year, and I’m sure it would be a lot of fun. The dances all tell a story from a different region of Oaxaca. From the mystical dance of the priestesses under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms to the portrayal of gathering turtle eggs and the final dance, the dance of the feather. Click on the link at right for a group of videos of the Guelaguetza perfomed at the Camino Real on YouTube.
It was a great evening and as we shook hands all around the table and I felt a real affection for these people – who, like us, enjoyed an evening out appreciating the incredible diversity and talent that Oaxaca offers.
The next day, Saturday, we planned to stay in the city. I wanted to go back to the mercados, find the Saturday market, and visit the Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center. First we headed to the mercado, where Paul got a new belt and Henry and Coco new collars. I asked a vendor where to find the traditional aprons you see on all the women (like the one worn by the woman in Teotitlan del Valle in the last post) and incredibly (truly) her directions were spot on and I bought myself two new aprons. Regional differences are interesting – you never ever see anyone in Mazatlán wearing aprons like this, but in Oaxaca all the cleaning ladies, kitchen help, and women street vendors do.
We then visited Santo Domingo. It is actually a half block from the B & B and we had walked by it a number of times. The church is insane – I am not kidding, two large altars were not gold leaf, they were gold. We walked stunned all around the church, and I really missed having a real camera as I tried to capture the opulence. I don’t want to offend any Catholics reading here – but every time I see this kind of over the top riches I just shake my head and think of all the good that could be done with that kind of money.
We went in next door to the Cultural Center which is actually a restored convent. The building itself is absolutely gorgeous, with lovely stencils, beautiful unique ceilings, and is a perfect place to showcase all the Mexican art and archeological artifacts. If you go to Oaxaca, this is an absolute must see. It is huge, too. Towards the end we actually sat on a bench for a while just to rest our feet.
Some of the rooms are displays of everyday items used in the convent such as knives, machetes, pots and pans, etc. The convent kitchen has been restored and you could almost see them all gathered around the island performing their individual kitchen tasks.
Behind and around the convent is an Ethnobotanical Garden. Our feet were falling off by this time and we had missed the tour, so we made do with looking at it out the various vantage points in the convent. You are not allowed in the garden without being a part of a tour so make sure you check the times if you’re planning on going. Sunday we had to leave for the airport at 2 pm so in the morning we strolled to the zócalo to people watch and drink coffee, stroll here and there, visit the MARO (Mujeres Artesanas de las Regiones de Oaxaca) again. Strolling further, we visited ARIPO (Artesanías e Industrias Pupulares del Estado de Oaxaca) and I at long last found two baskets that I think will work as dough proofing baskets for my sourdough bread baking hobby.
That night we went out to a little pizzeria which was quite good and on the way home enjoyed a parade with the giant puppets and many faithful with candles walking from Santo Domingo to the Basilica, I think.
The food in Oaxaca was quite good, although like most places in México I have a bit of trouble as a vegetarian. We enjoyed the food (and the ambiance) at Biznaga quite a lot, as well as Cafe La Olla in front of our B & B. I only had mole once, but it was delicious. The thing I was most impressed with was the corn tortillas. We had handmade tortillas pretty much everywhere we went! Once (at breakfast at the B & B) they were squash blossom & epazote tortillas… fantastic.
Would I go back? Yes, in a heartbeat. The people were lovely, the city clean, safe and modern and you really feel wherever you go that there is a sincere respect for the past.