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October 16th 2011
Published: October 16th 2011
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Oaxaca - Mitla - Teotitlan

Our first two weeks in Oaxaca have been a veritable whirlwind of activity, so I’ll keep this synopsis brief; I’ve got to get to the drug search!

We were just settling in Saturday night when, what I thought, there was an explosion right near our house! Our new landlady explained that it was not an explosion, but actually one of the groups from church celebrating one of the Saints with a parade and food. Since the bombs, okay fireworks, sounded close by, we took a walk up the street and found ourselves in the middle of a huge celebration! There were Paper Mache statues of 8-foot-tall people, musicians, and ladies with baskets of flowers on their heads dancing. After a short break so the people in the statues could come out and take a breath, the fireworks guy shot one up in the air – we were ready to go! They turned down our street! We ran home, and got our cameras. It was pretty cool!

Last Sunday we explored Monte Alban. It is on a flat mountain-top a couple of miles from Oaxaca. It was the ancient capital of the Zapotecs and I could see why; being high on the mountain, one could see if there would be any attacks.

Monday we decided to explore the town, to take in the many galleries, museums, and churches. We explored the Museo de las Cultura de Oaxaca. It was set in an old monastery building of Santa Domingo church. The walls of the monastery must have been a foot thick and cut in stone, but it was the things inside that were fabulous. Definitely a high point!

We checked out Santo Domingo church and it had to be one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen. The ceiling, the walls, every square inch is 3D! Every cherub, every saint, even Jesus all appear in 3D! If in Oaxaca, you have to check it out.

The next day we took a drive to the east of Oaxaca, to Valle de Tlacolula. We stopped in the sleepy village of El Tule. We saw El Arbol del Tule, which is supposed to be the largest tree in the world. Lonely Planet said the tree is 11 meters in diameter and 42 meters high. It is also estimated to be at least 1500 years old – which means it was growing when Monte Alban was at its peak!

Next we drove to Teotitlan to check out how they make carpets and blankets. We happened upon a shop called Bug in a Rug. The gentleman was showing us all the carpets and I asked him if they dye the wool before or after. He said it would be best if his father explained the process to us. Unbeknownst to us, his father was the master carpet maker, Isaac Vasquez. He's been published in several books and has galleries in Los Angeles, New Mexico, and NYC. He showed us how to card the wool, spin the wool, dye it, and then weave it on a loom. They called the shop Bug in a Rug because of the tiny female cochineal insect that lived in the nopal cactus. Mr. Vasquez got a couple of these now dead insects from the cactus and smeared them between his hands, staining his hand a bright red. I thought he was bleeding, the color was so vivid!

We drove still east of Oaxaca to Mitla on the next day. Mitla was the Zapotec religious center; now just ruins. With the exception of a couple of tour groups, it was eerily quiet. You could only imagine high priests performing human sacrifices.

Probably because I’m not Catholic, this past Sunday seemed to me to be quite surreal. Pope John Paul II is becoming beatified for sainthood. Sunday they were celebrating this! For miles around people came and stood, encircling the church in the hot sun to see – what? I’m still not sure. Suddenly, there were bands playing on the side of the Zocalo. We quickly grabbed a front-row seat at a coffee shop and watched the parade. It was very similar to the parade we saw when we first arrived in Oaxaca. What was not similar though was at the end of this parade, there was, for lack of better words, a pope-mobile! I couldn’t really make out what/who was inside, as throngs of people were in a frenzy, running beside it, trying to touch it. I can only liken it to pictures of when the Beatles came to the US and played a concert. Unfortunately, David did not get a picture of the pope-mobile.

The next day we opted to drive South of Oaxaca to San Martin Tilcajete to check out where they make brightly painted wood-carved animals called alebrijes. We also wanted to stop in Santo Tomas Jalieza, where women weave textiles on a back-strap loom, but first we wanted to make a side trip to Zaachila, where there’s a part Mixtec, part Zapotec ruin. The road to Zaachila was dirt, pot-holed and not very well marked. David mentioned that there are a lot of drug-lords out here and it would be easy to have something bad happen.

We finally got to the town and it took us even longer to find the ruin. Truth be told, I was the least impressed with this ruin. I know it once must have been grand, and I know they’re trying hard to replenish it to its once-grand splendor, but it just didn’t do anything to me.

It took us about 10 minutes to find our dirt road out of town, as it was not marked at all. We came around a corner to see a road block with about 20 armed soldiers. Imagine our surprise when one of the soldiers stopped us! He made us both get out of the car and proceeded to search the car. There were two more armed soldiers standing post, in case we decided to high-tail it (that's a mental image!). They searched everything: glove compartment, CD holders, purse, camera bag, trunk, everything! Since there was nothing in the car, not even an aspirin, I was fascinated by the whole process, which took about 10 minutes. By this time there were a line of cars behind us. The soldier decided we could go. I noticed that the soldiers didn’t stop any other car, only the one with California plates! The night before I was talking to my son-in-law, Adan, and he asked if we had run into any trouble, to which I replied in the negative. If you’re reading this, Thanks Adan!

After a brief stop in both San Martin Tilcajete and Santo Tomas Jalieza, we drove to Ocotlan, the hometown of Rodolfo Morales. All that drug-searching worked up our appetites, so we stopped in Mercado Morelos. Even though it wasn’t Friday, the day of their weekly market, it was packed with people trying to sell their wares. We stopped at a little restaurant to get something to eat. While waiting for the food to cook, a lady came up to us selling grasshoppers. I tried a plain one, while David, being more adventurous, opted for a chili-flavored one. The flavor, while definitely different, was not one I'd like to repeat! Also, the kid who worked there spoke English and told me he has an uncle living in Santa Rosa working at Star Restaurant. Who knew?!

We also went to the Ex Convento Santo Domingo. It had been a convent and a dilapidated jail; now it's totally renovated into a beautiful art museum, with Rodolfo Morales and the Aguilar sisters being the stars.

Friday we drove again east to Hierve el Agua. Getting there was half the fun! We read in Lonely Planet that, after you pass through Xaaga, you drive 11 KM on an unpaved road up and over a mountain top. How hard could it be? It took us an hour to get to this beautiful little village named Hierve el Agua. But that wasn’t the reason we drove over the mountain; we came for the mineral springs. Hierve el Agua literally means ‘the Water Boils’, but it’s the mineral-laden water dribbling over the cliff’s edge that gives it its name. There are a couple of pools there that college-age students were taking advantage of. Talk about your infinity pool!

There’s a lot to do in Oaxaca; I can hardly believe we’ve only been here for two weeks! If you are interested in viewing more of my pics, please go to Flickr:
If you are interested in viewing my video of the Oaxaca street celebration, please go to YouTube:

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