Oaxaca

Oaxaca

We travel faster than I write! I’m writing this in Guatemala City, waiting to catch a plane to San Jose, Costa Rica. We mini-bused from San Cristobal yesterday – 13 hours, 4 different mini-buses, heavy rain for much of the trip – so we are rather tired. Also I need to write up Oaxaca and San Cristobal!

Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaka) is a typical Spanish Colonial town with the streets laid out in a grid system. That is the historic centre of town – the suburbs are the usual straggle of breeze block and dust and seem to stretch for miles.

Chris at the door of our apartment

Chris at the door of our apartment

We stayed in a very old house near the centre of town. From the outside it was blank walls and KEEP OUT! but inside was a pleasant courtyard and lots of space.

The courtyard of our apartment

The courtyard of our apartment

The kitchen of the apartment - note the height of the ceiling!

The kitchen of the apartment - note the height of the ceiling!

Oaxaca is roughly divided into the tourist bit and the other bit. Tourists are north, or uphill, from the Zocala (the Central Square). In the Zocalo is the Cathedral, much of which is built of the characteristic green stone Oaxaca. This is a volcanic ash; the green is presumably a clay mineral derived from some volcanic mineral.

Oaxaca Cathedral

Oaxaca Cathedral

There are some pedestrian streets in tourist Oaxaca but traffic congestion is endemic. There are lots of cars but also hosts of buses to the suburbs. Many of these seem to be privately owned and are decorated by their owners. One which I would hesitate to board was called “Dare Devil”. Unfortunately I was not able to get a photograph of this.

Oaxacan street scene

Oaxacan street scene - there are usually more cars visible!

And in tourist Oaxaca you can get the signature souvenir of the place – Alebrije – carved and painted wooden sculptures. We got a small one to take home but others are surely untransportable.

A rather nice alebrije

A rather nice alebrije

At the top of tourist Oaxaca is Santo Domingo. This used to be a convent (but with monks rather than nuns) until it was closed by the state in about 1850. It has now been refurbished as a museum and botanic garden. The church part still functions as a church, and looks as many other churches in Mexico.

Inside the church of Santo Domingo

Inside the church of Santo Domingo

The secularised part of the ex-Convent is huge. Most of it is used as a Museum of Oaxaca State from the earliest times to the present. There are some wonderful exhibits. Perhaps the best known is this skull, covered in turqoise.

Skull from Monte Alban

Skull from Monte Alban

But there are lots of more prosaic stuff including this brazier.

Ancient brazier in Santo Domingo Museum

Ancient brazier in Santo Domingo Museum

Much of the pre-historic material comes from Monte Alban a large archaeological site on the outskirts of Oaxaca. It was built by the Zapotecs  between about 200 BC and 800 AD. It is impressive now and must have been even more so when in its prime.

Part of the main plaza, Monte Alban

Part of the main plaza, Monte Alban

But back to Santo Domingo.

The monks gardens had been abandoned and so when it was decided in 1994 to use the area as a botanical garden a lot of work had to be done. The garden is now beginning to look good.

Organ pipe cactus in the botanic garden, Santo Domingo, Oaxaca

Organ pipe cactus in the botanic garden, Santo Domingo, Oaxaca

Part of the botanic garden, Santo Domingo, Oaxaca

Part of the botanic garden, Santo Domingo, Oaxaca. Chris is under the hat.

We went for an excursion one day and visited the largest tree in the world. It might be. It certainly covered a large area.

Part of the largest tree in the world

Part of the largest tree in the world

We also went to a visit a village where many traditional weavers work. They use local dyes including cochineal which is got from insects which live in cactus leaves.

The colours available to the weavers

The colours available to the weavers

They mostly weave rugs and produce some very nice ones.

Hand woven rugs

Hand woven rugs

We also visited Mitla which is a successor town to Monte Alban. The thing which struck me about the place were the friezes which are vertical, three dimensional, tiling, done in sandstone.

A frieze, Mitla

A frieze, Mitla

And lastly, for readers of Mad Magazine, Alfred E. Newman as found in the Rufino Tamayo Museum, Oaxaca.

Alfred E. Newman?

Alfred E. Newman?

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