Oaxaca Day 3

Monte Alban is a Zapotec UNESCO heritage site located about 30 minutes outside of Oaxaca. It first came into being around the time of Christ and flourished until about 900 AD when like many other Central American centres it was abandoned by its inhabitants, in this case the Zapotec people. 

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We spent a couple of hours wandering the ruins with an excellent local guide  who offered us glimpses into another time.

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The location of Monte Alban is stunning – high on a plateau overlooking the city of Oaxaca and the entire valley.

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Some stairways were present but nothing like the marathon climbs I encountered at Palenque and Tikal. Lovely flowering trees and a few swallow tail butterflies lined our path up the hillside to the ruins.

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Once back in the city I headed for a textile cooperative located a few blocks from the hotel where some gorgeous handmade clay dinnerware had caught my eye the day before. I think I may need another suitcase for the trip home………

Our day finished with a magicial evening visiting and shopping at a local food market with a well known Oaxacan chef, attending a cooking class at his home in a stunning reproduction of a late 18thC kitchen and enjoying what we made at the dinner table. Mole Coloraditio, Piccadillo and Sopa Azteca completed a memorable meal under the stars

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The continuing preparation of Oaxaca for tomorrow nights cementary and altar vigils added immeasurably to our time in the city this evening.

Oaxaca Day 2

A wonderful day which began with an early wake up call and short van ride to the local Teotitlan weaving collective located about 30 mins outside of town.

This collective still spins thread from wool, uses plant, mineral and animal dyes as well as huge hand powered floor looms to weave carpets, runners, shawls, pillow covers and many other items. The results are stunning, some carpets taking months to complete. We were shown the entire  process, from carding and spinning wool, to dye making and to weaving the finished product. An amazing morning which passed far too quickly. 

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Our next stop was a Mezcal factory. Mezcal – like Tequila – is made from the Agave plant which takes up to 20 years to mature. So in essence Agave farmers are planting now for their children to harvest. There are a number of different types of Agave (plus domestic types and wild types) – each producing a different taste. Once the plant is mature it is processed in a manner unchanged over the centuries. A pit about 6 feet across and three feet deep is dug and a fire with mesquite wood is built in the pit. Once it is dying down lava rocks are put on top of the embers, the hot lava rock is in turn covered by wet vegetation. The agave is then put on top of the wet vegetation, covered by more agave leaves and then dirt is piled on top. Reminded me of a Hawaiian pig roast. The agave steams in the pit for 8-12 days and then is removed.

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Once removed from the pit  the origin of the mescal smokey taste is obvious. The next part of the process is to shred and pound the agave to a pulp, done by a large round stone pulled by a small horse. The resulting pulp then goes to the fermentation and distillation vats resulting in a 38-45 proof liquor which is a speciality of the valley. 

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Our tour was completed by a mezcal tasting session which became quite lengthy :-). For those whom are interested a few things are needed to drink mezcal. Wedges of limes or oranges (the Oaxacan oranges are incredible like nothing I have ever tasted), Chili powder and grasshoppers fried and seasoned with salt, Chili and lime, the equivalent of peanuts at home. After a mescal shot a chunk of citrus is dipped in Chili powder and eaten, followed by a few grasshoppers which were surprising good 🙂 Something new for me…..

An excellent lunch followed the mezcal session – my empanadas stuffed with squash blossoms and local cheese with a spicy quacamole on the side was excellent. 

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A siesta back at the hotel was followed by another walk into town which went past the main Cathedral and through Zocalo square.

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An amazing 7 tiered alter had appeared in the square across from the cathedral.

Our route took us through the central food market and then to another square by a yet another cathedral with excellent sorbets and ice cream.

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My passion fruit, tamarind sorbet was outstanding and a memorable end to a perfect day. Our walk home was marked by the increased number of painted faces for the Day of the Dead, chrysanthemum garlands in the street and a continuously building energy in the air around us. It is going to be a fun few days 🙂

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Oaxaca – Day 1

4 am seems awfully early to be pulling a piece of luggage down a mostly deserted airport but am glad i got there early as the line to the Aeromexico counter was building fast. Check in went smoothly, the couple of hours before take off spent comfortably in the VP lounge by our gate. Came with the upgrade and was a nice surprise.

The luxury of two seats to myself, an excellent breakfast and a reasonable selection of cheesy Sci-Fi flicks on the movie channel were all good omens. The arid moonscape of the Northern Mexico interior greeted us as the sun rose, the emptiness of the land interrupted from time to time by small villages.

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Following a layover in Mexico City our plane deposited us in Oaxaca at around 6 pm. Walking onto the tarmac and into the warm evening air was balm to the soul.  The ride into town was slow – held up for most part by one of the seemingly endless parades in the city – but we reached our hotel early enough for a small group of us to head out into the town for a late meal. On the way we encountered the parade again – so had a little dance before proceeding on our way 🙂 I am not a mole fan so had the chicken and rice soup – served perfectly with diced onion, cilantro and green peppers together with chunks of fresh lime – awesome!

The hotel is lovely – right in the middle of town with a stunning inner courtyard that most of the rooms open into,  plus a bonus of small private courtyards for some rooms one of which i was lucky to get. Interestingly enough – the sore throat that was bothering me for the few days before i left has disappeared. Must be the air and the good food:-)

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Day 1 Oaxaca

After a good sleep and a breakfast of tortillas stuffed with scrambled eggs, salsa and black bean guacamole a small group of us headed into town. The first stop was the lovely Santo Domingo Church – seen in the photos behind the Oaxaca city sign. An amazing visit as we watched an impromptu rehearsal of a young girls first communion complete with her whole family, dancing and music 🙂

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Our route then took us along the Alcala ( a pedestrian only road) with its multitude of shops and galleries. One stop was the outlet of the Martinez family from the famous Oaxacan Teotitlan del Valle weaving cooperative. A couple of us hope to rent a car and driver and make the trip out to the cooperative which is about an hour out of town. A small intricate piece of Zapotec diamond design weaving spoke to me in a way i could not resist and is now tucked in my luggage awaiting the trip home. As we made our way to the main cathedral and the Zocala – a main square in Oaxaca which is outstanding for people watching – we stopped in a gallery and outlet famous for Alebrijes – the small wooden painted animal figures of the region where we

 

also were fortunate to see one of the sand paintings I had heard so much about in this area at an altar in the store.

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Buildings decorated for the day of the dead are everywhere and added immensely to the enjoyment of our walk.

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The chrysanthemums you see in some of the photos are the flower used to welcome the dead – the parks and other spaces are filled with them. You can feel the energy building here in preparation for Oct 31 – it is going to be quite a party 🙂

Our final destination today was the Mercada de Artesianias which did not disappoint. I am becoming intrigued with the tin work done by local artists and ended up purchasing a small ornament – my sense is more will join it in my luggage.

A lovely lunch in the Zocala while people watching was the finish to an outstanding morning.

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My Soupa Aztec was excellent, tortilla soup piled high with local cheese, avocado and a sauce that elevated everything to a wow status! An interesting touch in the restaurants are hangers that the waiters bring to your tables for your backpacks and jackets.  I meet the rest of the group this evening and then we head out for a light dinner before the trip begins tomorrow morning. Until then Hasta la Vista!

Oaxaca and The Day of The Dead

 

The synthesis of ancient cultures, centuries of colonization, and the relative isolation of the centre of Mexico from coastal marauders has resulted in an amazing intricate society where art, dancing and food are of paramount importance – a perfect storm of the three occurring during the week long festival  Dia de Muertos or the Day of the Dead.

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Oaxaca itself is located in the south western portion of Mexico and is designated (along with the surrounding areas) as a UNESCO heritage site. Surrounded by arid countryside, the Zapotec site of  Monte Alban (and other sites) – Oaxaca and the surrounding areas boast some of the best textile and pottery artists in the world. The mid 70’s temps, cacti and sunshine will be a welcome early respite from the Pacific Northwest fall rains which have begun with a vengeance. Plans are to enjoy and photograph the festivities in town, do some serious gastronomic exploring and shopping, explore nearby archeological sites and generally soak up the sun and dryness.

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For those of you interested in locating me on the map I have included a map of Mexico with Oaxaca state in red. 3E9B110A-0E84-4D7C-AF21-C15F316E5A89

Travel has a way of uniting people. After a beautiful ferry ride my cab driver to the airport was a lovely young man from the Punjab. Turns out he and his wife are avid gardeners and herbalists. We had a wonderful conversation about herbal medicine in India and I learned something interesting about my dairy goats. In northern India milk from goats is used widely to help speed the recovery from Dengue fever, hooves and bones are used to make a bone broth to help with indigestion and as a general tonic. The 35 minute cab ride went far too fast.  

An upgrade at the Fairmont  Vancouver Airport ended with me in a gorgeous room on the Gold floor with a members lounge and runway view. They will generally offer you one and it ends up being 50% less than if you booked a premium room online. 

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Icing on the cake has been an upgrade to first class on my flight tomorrow. This upgrade was unexpected and appeared as an option when I went to check in online. As the cost was about 10% of what a first class ticket would have been purchased in advance I grabbed it.  

My plane leaves at 0 dark thirty tomorrow morning, arriving in Oaxaca around 5 pm. Until then buenas noches. 

The Gold Rush Trail – a retrospective

An amazing trip back into part of the colourful past of our beautiful province. I would be hard pressed to name anyplace in my travels that can compare to the natural beauty of our home. This journey will close out with a collection of photographs from our travels. I leave for Oaxaca Mexico and the Day of the Dead festivals in just under two weeks. I do hope you will join me for the next adventure!

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Food Storage and Meal Planning

Meal planning and household management in the 19th century Cariboo was similar in some ways to modern day practices and vastly different in many others. While very little planning is involved in many meal decisions in modern times (a spur of the moment restaurant meal or fast food purchase are examples of this), meticulous planning was essential for the survival of a Pioneer family through a long, cold winter.

Wild foods – plant and game – were to a large part responsible for stocking a larder, together with vegetable garden production, fowl and beef production. Vegetables and fruits were canned and pickled. Children contributed to the family table early in life, with youngsters learning to shoot at an early age. Many young children were waterfowl hunters.

While we have the luxury of sending a trained dog out for a downed duck across the pond, the children often shot a duck, stripped off clothes, swam out to retrieve the duck, dried themselves off and got dressed while waiting for the next flock to come overhead – then repeated the process again. 

Cattle were herded up the Cariboo Wagon Road starting in the 1860’s to feed the hordes of hungry miners along the routes. Basic meals of beans, side pork and beef were commonplace. Beans could be shipped and stay relatively unspoiled, while beef on the hoof was slaughtered as needed. Many homesteaders in this area would make a run before winter to Ashcroft to stock up on flour, salt and other essentials that could not be produced on the homestead. Large amounts of whiskey were often consumed during these shopping trips as men caught up with friends that they may see only a few times a year. Produce grown at home was dried, salted, pickled and kept in root cellars. Cabbages were hung upside down with the roots attached, carrots layered in sand in barrels and potatoes stored in bins.

The root cellar at Hat Creek ranch is the size of a small house and built into the hillside behind the main road house. Heavy wooden beams support the earth roof. Here would be stored root vegetables, sauerkraut, bacon, potatoes, fruit such as apples and any other food stuffs that kept in a cold, humid environment. Scurvy was a known scourge at that time and some of the old house hold manuals advised drinking the juice from canned fruits as a breakfast drink to increase vitamin C in the diet. 

Sources of protein were more varied than today :-). Recipes for muskrat, skunk, squirrel, porcupine, beaver and Lynx are common in some of the old cookbooks. I have included some of these below. Please note my disclaimer – I have tried none of these and accept no responsibility of how they will taste, look or what they will do to your digestive system 😀 Recipes are from the Northern Cookbook by Eleanor Ellis

Boiled Muskrat – Clean and wash muskrats, cover with cold water and add salt. Boil until soft. H.P. Sauce is good to eat with this.

Muskrat – Open fire method. Get a Y shaped stick, put the rat on it and roast slowly over an open fire. This is the best lunch when one is out shooting muskrats – tea and roast muskrat.

Boiled porcupine – make a fire outside and put porcupine in the fire to burn off the quills. Wash and clean well. Cut up and boil till done.

Baked Skunk – Clean, skin, wash. Bake in oven with salt and pepper.  this tastes like rabbit. Skunk fat is apparently  very good for whopping cough.

Pemmican – Pound dried moose or deer meat on a piece of canvas or stone to fine crumbs. Pour hot melted moose fat over the crumbled meat in a pan. let freeze – serve cold. Very rich.

Boiled smoked beaver – Smoke the beaver for a day or two. Cut it up and boil in salted water till done.

Defintely a different world.

The Women of the Cariboo 1860-1950

Old letters and accounts written by the first non-indigenous women who settled in the Cariboo reveal a life both rich and full of hardship. In one diary a typical day in winter is described by a woman whose husband was away in the bush hunting. Fire lit,  four children under 6 fed and dressed  – she left them in the house (babysitters were unheard of and according to a number of the accounts I have read, children as young as four were reliable to be left unattended) and tended to the livestock close to the house before hitching up the team and heading several miles to where the hay was kept, loading up enough hay to feed their cattle for the day and then heading back to the homestead. Another job en route was breaking the ice on the nearby lake so the cattle and horses could drink.  Then back to the house for the unending chores of the day and the extra work created by several feet of snow outside and sub zero temperatures. 

Despite the grinding day in and day out work, the inhabitants found time to get together with neighbours for parties and dances. Horse drawn sleighs were common in the region and often small vacations would be taken – visiting several households over a period of about a week. Family and friends were of the utmost importance here – my sense is that this interconnectedness and the physical fitness of the people then was responsible for many of these women living well into their 80’s and 90’s.

Marjorie Abram (nee Dench) with her hunting dogs and rifle. Majorie settled at Demspey Lake north of 108 Mile house with her husband Art Abram in 1938. They built and ran  a hunting and fishing lodge in 1946. The lodge burnt down in 1958 and the Abrams relocated to Victoria. They moved back to Dempsey lake in 1973. Their son Arnold still farms the property. One of Arnolds earliest memories of his mother is when he was about three and riding on the saddle in front of his mother on the way home from a neighbours. His mother suddenly told him to hang on and using her rifle dropped a belligerent bull moose from her horse. She then continued the ride home and brought the menfolk back to butcher the moose before the local coyote and beer populations located the carcass.

Hazel Park and her friend Joyce Walker. Joyce came up to visit hazel from Vancouver every fall to go bird hunting on horse back.

Dorothy Wendell of Barkerville was out hunting with her husband and another gentleman when she wandered off from the main party. The photo above shows her with the two hides of the grizzlies she shot that day. One surprised her coming out of the bush. She shot it and waited as often a grizzly would suddenly come alive again if approached too soon and maul or kill its attacker. She thought she saw it move and shot again – killing a second bear. The dumbstruck men appeared moments later.

There were some women who didn’t make the transition to the Cariboo world. One interesting story is of a wealthy British spinster who arrived to homestead in 1924-25 in the Bridge Lake area. Gertrude Boulter lasted one winter before escaping to Guadulajara Mexico – the transition from  upper class British home to a Cariboo winter in a log cabin must have been quite an experience. Her letters have never come to light but would be an interesting read if found.

Strong women were admired in the region. When a local boy told his father that he wanted to marry the small., pretty daughter of a neighbour, his father said that she didn’t look very strong and was small. His son replied he was marrying a wife not a work horse :-). The union was a highly successful one and their decendents live in the area to this day.