Thursday, June 20, 2013

Oaxaca, Mexican Gem

Patty and I left Mexico city on a six-hour bus ride that stretched to eight hours because the bus went to the airport before leaving the city right at the "La Comida" hour when most people go home for lunch and a rest, ie rush-hour traffic.

I stayed in Oaxaca for a few days last year and had a great time in the city but a terrible tour of Monte Alban. (Click the link for that one!) Patty was getting sick the day of the bus ride and went downhill from there. She is a naturally thin person who doesn't eat when she feels bad (go figure!)  so she wasn't up for doing much exploring. After a couple of days though, she had energy and we took a tourista bus, not a tour, up to the ruins.

We were lucky with the weather which was was cool, breezy with clouds that came and went. We spent a full three hours in the ruins and more time in the small museum. We hired a young man with reasonably good English, after I grilled him thoroughly. Clemente had a degree in tour guiding. In Mexico, licensed guides have to know history, culture, languages, and a lot of psychology to make it as a tour guide and he turned out to be excellent.

Clemente gave us his version of the standing stelas which depict human beings in odd (and painful poses) as the Toltec version of a medical manual. Some had hunchbacks, deformed limbs, and mutilated genitals. One shows a woman giving birth to a breach baby. The bad guide said it was a woman giving birth to a God, but this man's version is that the stela was part of the group of medical anomalies, a Toltec Grey's Anatomy. Another theory is that the posers were all dead, or in the process of being tortured. From the expressions on the faces, I would think the latter. Since there are some existing icons of a written language that are not fully understood, I'm sure more information will emerge as studies progress.

Oaxaca is famous for its cuisine. Mole was invented by nuns who wanted to prepare something special for a visiting pope. Mole is a complex and sometimes day-long process of toasting seeds and spices, grinding, mashing, and frying various foods together to create a delicate and flavorful sauce. Many versions of mole exist. Now days there are mole stands in every market where you can buy a large glop of brown, red, or black mole paste, take it home, add water or tomato sauce, and violá, MOLE!

It is also an artistic community, something of interest to Patty who is an elementary art teacher. Weavers and stitchers are everywhere. Colorful rugs and embroidery fill the shops, along with carved wooden animals, blown glass, and pottery. Mexicans treat their whole world as an artistic canvas. The simplest plant in a pot can be an artistic achievement.

Inside the golden Santo Domingo Church


Cathedral, at the Zócalo

Santo Domingo Church

Ex-convento, next to the Santo Domingo Church,
now a cultural museum. The building is worth seeing,
and it houses all the gold jewelry found at Monte Alban.

More information:  Our guide, Clemente Perez can be contacted by email:
The tourist bus company is at 501 Mina. Or ask at the tourist information kiosk in the Zocalo, across from the Cathedral for a map and more information. Not all tours are terrible, but they all take you around to workshops and gift shops where I'm sure the company gets a kick-back. For more photos of this gorgeous city, see my previous post: