Exploring Oaxaca

The capital of the state of the same name, Oaxaca is the biggest city I have and will visit on this trip. It is a decent distance from the more popular and touristic south/east, but I was determined to get here. I knew there was lots to do in the area and had heard the cuisine was quite unique to the rest of the country.

The central city area is pretty nice and reasonably easy to get around. It’s a colonial city, just like many I have been to already. Of course there’s many churches (apparently 26), cobblestone streets, colourful buildings, the main square (zocalo) and plenty of parks dotted around with statues and/or fountains. Oaxaca also has an impressive number of art galleries and museums.

There is lots to do in the city itself, plus so much around the city in accessible day trips. In addition to my cooking class, here is what I got up to.

Arbol de Tule

I didn’t ever think I’d be as impressed by one tree as I was this tree. Arbol de Tule is the widest tree in the world: 35 meters high, circumference 42 meters and diameter 14 meters. It is old.  Between 1400-1600 years old actually. Just think, this tree saw generations of families live in the villages. It saw the Zapotecs thrive and witnessed the Spanish invasion. Many cultures over the years have protected it to ensure its continued life. It is currently on the waiting list to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Textile village 

The textiles produced in this region of Mexico are gorgeous! So colourful, detailed and a beautiful reflection of the indigenous cultures. While visiting a textile production site, I learnt  the process that goes into making such lovely pieces. First is the harvesting of the cotton or more recently lambs wool. This material then made into yarn on a traditional spindle. Next the dyes are made, which involves collecting plants and flowers for the dyes. This is very fascinating. My hand was used at the canvas to demonstrate how reds, yellows, greens, purples and many other colours can be created from simple combinations of plants and insects. Next the yarn is dyed and the weaving of the piece is done using a traditional machine. The explanation of this process certainly made me appreciate the end product.

People in these traditional weaving villages learn the craft from a young age. The man who presented to us explained that his son – now 6 years old – learn to mad simple rugs at age 4. Now he talks about how nature inspires what he creates, including this rainbow  rug pictured below.

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Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua was at the very TOP of my list of ‘places to see around Oaxaca’. It’s name means ‘To boil the water’ and it looks like a petrifi d waterfall. It is in fact just a cool piece of art Mother Nature whipped up, using some limestone and a bunch of other minerals.

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We had very limited time here so the decision of the day way: the top or the bottom of the waterfall? I’d met a few other like minded people on the bus so we decided on the bottom. Mainly because it was more of a challenge to get there, but also we had heard the point of view was better.

So off we went, scrambling down limestone ledges and past prickly bushes. At times we  second guessed out decision to come down this way, as the path was unclear. But it was totally worth it for the view at the base of the ‘falls’. The scenery was incredible! Rolling greens hills, blue skies, fluffy clouds and of course this very random frozen waterfall.

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After taking appropriately silly pictures, we made our way back up to the top. Here we had a bit of time to dip into the pools. Pictures definitely cannot do this scene justice! Again the green rolling hills set the scene wonderfully. The natural infinity pool pretty much made my day! The water was perfectly heated. Unfortunate we didn’t have much time here to enjoy. I definitely recommend making the trip on your own somehow so you can enjoy at least half a day (bring some lunch and beers).

Mitla

Mitla is an ancient Zapotec city. It was used as a place of retirement and burial. The elite people of the society would come to Mitla to live out their days and eventually die. The buildings had interesting decorative features I hadn’t yet seen in the Mayan structures I’d previously visited.

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We took a walk around the buildings and saw inside of a couple of burial tombs. The buildings were pretty well preserved. This is despite the Spanish knocking down some of tthe buildings to use the materials for a church. My favourite thing about this site was the thriving cactus gardens throughout.

Mezcal distillery

If you haven’t already heard of it, mezcal is one of Mexico’s famous alcoholic beverages. Like tequila, it is made from an agave plant. However, where tequila is made from one specific agave plant, different mezcals are made from many different agaves plants.

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At the mezcal distillery I discovered many mezcal fun facts and got to taste a range of the final products. Some were very strong, they made tequila seem like water. The fruit flavoured ones were my favourite, eespecially the piña colada, chocolate and passion fruit varieties.

Monte Alban
Monte Alban is an ancient Zapotec city, just a 20 minute bus ride out of town. The city prospered between 100AD and 500AD. The complex took up a lot of space.

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Because there was no trees or much foliage around, it had a completely different feel to the Mayan ruins I had previously visited. The buildings themselves were also quite different. They had wider bases and flatter tops. Some of the stones that made up the pyramids had images carved into them which I didn’t see a lot of at Tikal. The explanations on the signs said that these images probably depicted people that the city had conquered or had battled against.

The views around the pyramids were awesome. Pretty much everywhere and anywhere you looked there were gorgeous rolling hills and city sprawl. It truly is a beautiful setting. I imagined being around back then, the conversations the people may have had about life, philosophy, astrology, religion and society in general.

As I had to get back to town at a certain time to catch a bus, I only had a super quick look at the museum. It had some inscribed panels from the buildings as well as other recovered items; jewellery, pottery, masks etc.

So that’s my wrap up of my time in Oaxaca. Definitely worth making the journey across many states to get here. I saw and did a lot but there is so much more on offer!

I’m now heading back over to Chiapas briefly for another ‘Mellie Must See’: the ancient city of Palenque.

See you at the pyramids! Mel 🙂

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