Fun and amazement in Oaxaca

August 19, 2010

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.

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Santo Domingo Church

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.

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Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center museum – this is the hallway for access to the nuns cells.

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.

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Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center museum restored convent kitchen

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.

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Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center museum ethnobotanical garden

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.

More about Nancy

I'm Nancy, a US expat living in Mazatlán, México.

7 Comments
    1. The cathedrals in Mexico are amazing – photos can be overwhelming – seeing them in person is quite a treat – thanks for the photos in any case they are wonderful too.

    1. Wow!! Gorgeous photos – must have been awesome to actually be there!!

    1. The family I lived with in Mexico City were originally from Oaxaca, so I was lucky enough to see some of those sights up-close-and-personal. The cathedral is amazing . . . but Monte Alban was even more so. I can still remember, after way too many years in between, the feeling of awe I felt as I explored the nooks and crannies of that place. Thanks for sharing. Brought back lots of great memories.

      1. John Calypso, You are too kind, the camera was a disappointment but the cathedral in person was amazing.

        Mic, Thank you… it was wonderful, I highly recommend it!

        Judi, I’m glad you enjoyed it. There are some really special places in Mexico and Oaxaca is one of my favorites.

    1. I love Oaxaca! Some of the best food in Mexico is to be found there. I hope you ate your way through the city. Vegetarians can always find stuffed squash blossoms, enfrijoladas, gorditas. Lots of options, though you have to know what to ask for. Many restaurants will make something not on the menu if you ask.

      Kathleen

    1. Yes, Oaxaca is my favorite city in all of Mexico. Laid back, with none of the crime or crowds of northern Mexico. Monte Alban is wonderful. And the artisans in the villages of the Valley of Oaxaca are not to be missed! I bought a two marvelous, high quality rugs and and one of the famous painted wooden sculptures, an armadillo (not the tourist kitch, but made by an artist whose products are in the Smithsonian Museum, but price was only $200.00) . We also visited the Oaxacan coast, including Huatulco, Puerto Angel, Zipolite, Puerto Escondido, all wonderful places with uncrowded beaches! I plan to stay longer in Oaxaca City this time, from mid October to early November, so we can see the Day of the Dead ceremony and do more exploring. Then, from mid November to late November, fly to Puerto Escondido, rent a car, really see the coast, including the coffee plantations, the turtle sanctuaries and the crocodile sanctuary located just north of Zipolite.

      1. Wow! What a surprise to have a comment on such an old post! Gotta change my settings!

        But Dave I hope you have a great time in Oaxaca, it is a super special place, with lots to do and see. Have fun!

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