Oaxaca Day 6

A magical day drifting along the  main cobblestone streets of Oaxaca – exploring small alley ways leading into shopping areas, visiting the Museum next to the Santo Domingo Cathedral, taking in the art galleries in town and generally wandering. I will let the pictures tell the story.

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I fly home tomorrow morning into early winter  – this has been a perfect break, balm for the soul and spirit. Thank you all for following along. For those of you who have asked, I travel with G Adventures and prefer their National Geographic style tours.  I have found the CEO’s outstanding  and the people on the tours very sympatico in terms of age and interests. Until next time hasta la vista!

Oaxaca Day 5

Today was parade day. After a late start and a wander around town to pick up some supplies we headed back to the hotel courtyard to meet up with the professional make up artists hired to help us create our look for this evening. The results were outstanding.

Oaxacas day of the dead parade bands include tubas, drums and saxophones – all blaring at top volume, combined with figures dressed in every imaginable costume – terrifying and otherwise – all jumping around on the spot – mezcal flowing freely 🙂

The band generally plays the same song over and over again, faster and faster until the parade starts to move to a different place and the crowd follows along. The process then repeats. Although some of the costumes are pretty scary, young children are everywhere, rapt in their attention and often posing with their favourite scary hero’s. We had a laugh when some tourists were taking photos of us – both groups realized what was going on, had a shot of mezcal and moved along with the evening.

After an hour of mezcal shots and jumping around (my knees may need to be replaced 🙂 we moved along to the next stopping point.

At this point even the dogs had taken to the roofs. Smart puppies!

About 2 hours into the evening the rains threatened and as many of us who could crammed into an outdoor covered porch just as the downpour started. Then something truly extraordinary happened. Parents dancing with children, rural couples dancing together, young courting couples dancing, crazy tourists jumping up and down with tubas blasting in their ears. Outside in the rain, parade participants were dancing like whirling dervishes. Absolutely magic.

Our trip back to the ground transport involved wading small lakes which had appeared since our arrival. Tomorrow is my last day here – i look forward to exploring some city landmarks and art galleries in this magic place. Stay tuned.

Oaxaca Day 4

Hierve el Agua has been on my list of must sees for a while. In a nutshell it is several petrified waterfalls, the largest rising up to 90 meters about the valley floor. Small amounts of water saturated with Calcium carbonate (limestone) and other minerals seep out through the cliffs and over the cliff tops. Evaporating water leaves behind mineral deposits hence  “petrified waterfall” formation – similar to stalactites found in some caves.

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The mineral laden water seepage occuring at the top of the waterfall creates small warm pools said to have healing properties as well as some infinity pools. Psoriasis, excema and other skin issues are said to benefit from the water which has a silky feel to it. Anywhere wet is generally safe to step due to the lack of algae which cannot surviving in the alkaline moisture.

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The Zapotec built an extensive system of irrigation canals into the mountain to service their terraced fields in the area. The canals are of a unique design in the Mesoamerica world. The elevation of the area makes for outstanding views of the surrounding valley on a drop dead (sorry couldn’t resist) beautiful day. Our scramble down the steps to the base of one of the waterfalls landed us in a magical place showered by water drops pushed by the wind from the waterfall behind us.

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If you go wear good walking shoes. It is a scramble to the bottom of the waterfall but worth every step. Be wary if plants alongside the trail. Many are irritants to skin. Interesting that a potential problem has the solution steps away.

2A31603D-5C25-4F31-A1F2-BF92C2C375523D92593C-8344-4AE8-B874-A788B91A7779El Arbol del Tule (The Tree of Tule) is reported to be the largest tree in the world with a trunk circumference of 42 m and an age estimated to be around 1600 years. An amazing tree to stand under and feel the life force emanating above you. The town or Tule is charming (and has excellent ice cream) and the cathedral makes a photogenic foil to the magnificent tree which

 has has been nicknamed the tree of life due to reported sightings of animal and human shapes in the bark – whether quantities of mezcal were required to facilitate these sightings is unknown 🙂 Can you see the old man in the tree? 

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This evening we spend our time in the local cemeteries where the Day of the Dead celebrations will be in full swing. Hope to get some photos of the party.

The Day of the Dead

The beginnings of the day of the dead festival can be found in pre-Colombian cultures. Originally celebrated in the summer the dates have gradually changed to merge with the dates of the western worlds Halloween or All souls eve. There are really two parts to the ceremony – the first being to honour children, the second to honour adults.  Marigolds and offerings of food including bread of the dead (oblong or round loaves with a skeleton fashioned in dough on the top) are left at alters as offerings for the dead. The strong scent and bright colour of marigolds are thought to help the souls of the dead locate their loved ones. Altars also contain photos of departed loved ones, offerings of their other favourite foods and other memorabilia such as toys for children. Cemeteries are cleaned and decorated leading up the festival which culminates on Oct 31- Nov 2 with graveside vigils, parades and tributes. An absolutely wonderful movie to watch to capture the essence of this is the film CoCo.

We started the evening off with a visit to a very old smaller cemetery. The history of cemeteries and the inadvertent origin of the post colonization Day of the Dead celebration began with the decimation of indigenous Mexican people by the diseases carried by invaders. Because of the virulence of the diseases, cemeteries were located far away from population centres. The resulting need for food, water, lodging, flowers etc by pilgrims coming to visit their dead, led to the development of markets near cemeteries. This was unique to Mexico, together with the fusion of incense and candles from the Catholic faith. A few carved pumpkins symbolic of modern day Halloween also made an appearance here and there.

On our way to the cemetery we discussed how the increased movement of people during the last 50 years has resulted in a dying Day of the Dead festival, as well as a disconnect for many other cultures from the final resting places of their ancestors. Many graves here are now of the “forgotten ones” as family has moved from the area or the younger members of the family have lost track of generations older than their grandparents.

 

Each of us took a candle and flowers to place on the grave of a forgotten one. One grave was of a child who lived one day, another of a Señora who lived a long life. In both cases life had taken a twist in a way that resulted in the two souls being forgotten.

The second cemetery was huge with a police presence. The several acres of candles, music, incense and flowers was an assault on the senses. Some grave sites were open to photographers, some definitely not. I am glad I left my huge flash behind and just used the cell phone. Something about a flash is definitely an intrusion on privacy.

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All in all a thought provoking night that will take time to process. Until tomorrow – Buenas Noches

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.