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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But there are lots of more prosaic stuff including this brazier.
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.
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.
We went for an excursion one day and visited the largest tree in the world. It might be. It certainly covered a large area.
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.
They mostly weave rugs and produce some very nice ones.
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.
And lastly, for readers of Mad Magazine, Alfred E. Newman as found in the Rufino Tamayo Museum, Oaxaca.