Oaxaca de Juarez - part one

Friday, July 20

We left Puebla being of two minds - sad to leave the beautifully tiled city and it's Zocola but happy to leave the central core and it's smog and noise. I was still taking pictures of the Camino Real our last morning at the Hotel. This was another city that you did not have a good sense of it's immense size until leaving. The scenery became very hilly too, mountainous and lush.

We arrived in Oaxaca without much trouble. I slept during the mountainous part and missed the strangest ecosystem. Ken explained, " I didn't think much of it until we were on our ethno botany tour in Oaxaca, but it looked like well spaced trees on a bland soiled surface, very weird."

The Churches camping tour book didn't really prepare us for the condition of the campsite. What was once, I'm sure, a wonderful destination has degraded into the worst of Mexican places. The campground itself has been parceled out to two large office buildings and the washrooms moved us to find another place to stay.

Never camped under a rubber tree before!

Finally a camp site with shade.

Donna showing off the new magnetically attached bug screens.

We headed downtown to check out a few places I heard about from friends. Unfortunately the festival is starting so the place is booked up solid. We saw the mezcal festival getting setup and some of the vendors were open. Our walk around town didn't show us much reason to stay.

Mescal Festival was just setting up as we arrived.

Guelaguetza was celebrating its 80 year. 

Bike riders in protest.

We headed to a couple of mercados and arranged a meet for a vacation rental which we knew was to be available in a few days.

Basilica of our Lady of Solitude.

Saturday, July 21
We decided to stay only a week in Oaxaca. Our walk to meet at the house we might rent showed us a more artistic, beautiful side of Oaxaca. We saw a huge amount of bikes at the ready to ride on a protest.  

Once at the house we met Maria who was obviously a wonderful, kind woman. That totally eased  our fear of perhaps getting ripped of using Craigslist ads. Waiting for the landlord we met the current tenant. A woman lawyer from Tuscan (originally from Tennessee) that was about to move out of the house. The place was not perfect, very modest accommodations, but would suit our needs for the next week. I have to say it was very secure place to stay. Two sets of steel doors to get in the driveway, which we shared with a tae kwon doe school.  We move in Monday.

We went for lunch sitting at an outside table on the Zocola, ten minutes from our future place. We decided to explore the immediate downtown area. There was an art show and sale in the Governor's Palace. We assumed very good artists were only allowed to show there. It might have even been a juried show. 

There was exceptional work from previous years behind glass.  I am not sure why I did not make a purchase, but I did not.  

The Palace itself had beautifully painted scenes of the walls of the stairway.  It was adorned in marble and was about the most ornate and beautiful Govenor Palaces we had seen. We sat through the most amazing video that showed humans and animals acting the same, quite impressive as we don't often enjoy any Mexican video.

Ken actually bought himself a new wallet and, finally, new T-shirts. The tshirt artist was in attendance and seemed quite young, we later saw his work pretty much all over town and in the region. 

Back out on he street the crowd started thickening, lining up on the street and we realized a parade was about the happen. Back we walked to the Zocola trying to find a spot to watch from, Ken wanted a drink for the show. We could not believe our luck at finding a seat in an open air establishment on the parade route and one row back from the street.  The parade was memorable with delegations from surrounding areas performing dance - the music, too, was spectacular.

A second row seat was just fine, when you saw what the fireworks did! 

The crowd was wowed.

At night we continued our downtown roaming, which we found out was a city in pre-festival mode. The churches were lit up, there were lots of venders and many people kept up the parade atmosphere. Lots of fireworks right in the downtown area.

Sunday, July 22
I had my first mocha coffee today with the best whip cream ever - how does one lose weight in Mexico?    

We walked into town, a different way than last night, so we could see the old aquaducto remains. The arches have been made into doorways.

We followed the old aqueduct to a wonderful artesan store - Aripo - then looking for a restaurant...

The first place winner for the Barro negro pottery

Art Gallery courtyard

... we wondered next door to a place that specializes  in vegetarian food (it had art for sale, too). I actually was able to try mole sauce on fruta as it is almost always on pollo (chicken). Ken had noticed the offered free organic mezcal so we grabbed a couple of coupons and enjoyed ourselves here.

Fruta with mole, arroz, hongos

pollo with oaxaca adobo mole, arroz, tortilla

Organic Mescal for two, on the house.

The line up at the Museum of Culture  was long (free day). We went to free day at the Contemporary Art Gallery - we did not care that much for the exhibit.

The nicest parking lot I have ever seen!

I mean how often do you see a wheelbarrow full of pineapples?

Again the birds are the attraction here.

We dragged our tired selves around feeling listless from doing too much the previous days.   We did discover that sitting on a park bench in the evening and people watching could be quite exciting when your body is too exhausted.  We saw huge set-ups for fireworks but went home relatively early.

Monday, July 23
Our house for the weekly rental became available today.  The house is a ten minute walk from Oaxaca's Zocola. It is a small casa surrounding a small garden.  There is a double door gate for both vehicles and people. An American girl moved out this morning; it was being cleaned as soon as she moved out. The place is clean, plain and simple with everything we need including secure parking for Pepe our van. We moved everything out of our van and into the house. 

We shared the driveway with a Tae Kwon Do school.

There is a little dog that lives in the complex we are in.  

He looks similar to a Griffin Terrier, but is a mixed breed.  He appears well cared for and happy, sometimes too happy! I decided to call him "Scuffy". 

Whenever he is out and we come home
 he is like the welcoming committee. 
I still really miss Hector.

We had to walk to the Zocola just to see how close it was to us (less than 10 minutes). We wandered the strees visiting arty shops and galleries. 

Since the Guelaguestza Festival is on all week (one of several festivals on right now) we decided to take in a show at Jardin "El Panuelito". We sat for hours watching three different sets of dancers. We sat front row center. 

Big stage, short photographer.

I got asked twice to participate and go on stage to partake in the Mexican Hat Dance. Having been too shy at the first invitation, I accepted the second time with Ken's urging. It was a blast! I needed the assistance of several cabollaros from the audience to ascend and descend from the steep stage.

Donna dancing on stage at Guelaguetza.

After the show we joined the crowds seeing the sights downtown.

Tuesday, July 24
We had somewhat of a purpose when we started the morning.  Quickly we realized that at 11:00 am at the Jardin Etnobotanico De Oaxaca - Centro Cultural Santo Domingo there was an English guided tour. 

We slipped in with the already in progress tour listening astutely to our knowledgeable, prolific guide. She (we missed the introductions) told us the Oaxacan names for plants and trees of the area. She told us times when they were in the surrounding area - pre-Hispanic times or not - especially regarding food crops such as corn or squash. She discussed trees both wet zone and dry zone varieties. The discussed trees were trees we had never seen before.  She also discussed their traditional uses which was really of interest. It was hot and we took advantage of the shade provided by the aforementioned trees.

The birds attracted our attention as well.

On our way to lunch we encountered a couple of Canadians who we invited for lunch.  This was a welcome change, to talk conversationally with other English speaking people. 

After lunch Ken and I toured the huge, old building of Museo De Los Culturas De Oaxaca  and Iglesia de Santo Domingo. Both places we toured were part of the Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo built in the early 1500's.

The library was exceptional.

The Iglesia de Santo Domingo in the Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo provided a wonderful view of the Jardin Etnobotanico De Oaxaca.

View of the ethno gardens from the church.

Hills of the Sierra Norte.

View of Santos Domingo square.

Plaza Santo Domingo

Mosquitos are quite ravenous.

Jugs of beer were only $5 each. Nice way to end the day in the sun.

Wednesday, July 25
Today's the day we are going for a road trip, or so we thought. We were prepared, packed up and ready to go to Mitla - a ruins east of the city. We walked to Soriana for buns, came home and made sandwiches, had our route figured out on Google Maps.  Ken noticed a road closed, but we thought nothing of it. Off we went on a new adventure. Oddly enough we discovered a big glitch in our day trip plans - taxi and some buses were blocking the main arteries in and out of Oaxaca city. They had the city shut down. We suspected a strike. We made several attempts to use an alternate route, but decided almost too late to abandon plans and return to our place. There was a road block half a block from our house. Ken decided to suspend the following of traffic regulations. Using google maps we were able to make a way home, but it included going the wrong way down several one way streets. 

Taxi strike, gives us the day without traffic downtown, kewl.

Once we actually parked at our place and went out walking, the lack of traffic was advantageous,  when you remove all the traffic from downtown, it makes Oaxaca even more Wowaxaca.

I was not feeling well that day, I suspect from something I ate the day before.  We suspect the mole from a previous lunch at the Vegetarian Restaurant.

I wilted quickly in the hot sun on a failed attempt to find a real estate office. Luckily Oaxaca has several  Majordomo Chocolate outlets and with chocolate frio at ten pesos (about seventy cents for basically a chocolate milk shake) I was refreshed and ready for shopping. 

The taxi strike didn't stop everyone from getting where they wanted to go...

I discovered an English speaking rug weaver (Manuel), an artist trying to sell his families art. He taught me lots about the special woven rugs made in Teotitlan Del Valle. He also showed me the difference between tightly woven, proper weaving and loosely woven rugs. He showed me properly knotted ends made out of strong material as opposed to not. Most importantly he told me about natural dyes compared to chemical dyes. Basically, he said that the chemical dyes are much brighter and the large woven areas are more solid toned. If the wool is dyed with natural dyes there will be some slight colour variations within one coloured area.   His priced seemed reasonable, too.  I did not buy because I want to go to the source town and compare prices and quality.

There was a big police presence in the downtown that evening. They were being cautious that the taxi drivers did not take over the Zocola. Ken found out the next day that the taxi drivers had, in the recent past, taken over the Zocola and because of all the tourists in town for the festival they did not want that to happen now.

Thursday, July 26
We started the day not feeling well again. Where did we eat or drink that we shouldn't have?

We continued touristing it up in Oaxaca. I wanted to visit the Textile Museum -mostly weaving, some embroidery.  The upstairs gallery was exceptional and had the fabric art of one artist who had enlisted the assistance of other artisans in the surrounding villages to do the actual embroidery or weaving, etc.  She had put the pieces together into a wonderfully visual show.

In the same area as that Museum was the Grand Masters of Art Popular - GMAP. Grand masters of textile, pottery and woodcarving. Outstanding art -l will let the pictures speak for themselves! While I went and observed art Ken tried to track down the office of a real estate agent with no luck.  This is the second day of trying to find the office.

Grand Masters of Arte Populares

Ken was still trying to find a book binder for our travel logs, but to no avail.

The tejate festival was in full steam when we showed up and scheduled to end soon. We had a most delicious meal. We will return here tomorrow, but earlier next time.

At night we walked the Zocola and then decided we had better hit the Mescal Festival before we run out of time. 

On the way there we came across what appeared to be a full symphony orchestra playing Beethoven on a stage outside.  That caught our attention and we decided to stay and listen.  A much healthier and valuable experience than the Mescal Festival.

Beethoven on the way to a mescal festival ...

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