We set off from Puebla across the high valley on our way to Oaxaca (Wa-ha’-ca), about a four hour drive. There were mountains in the distance, and lots of cactus, and some interesting trees with yellow flowers.
Oaxaca is in the mountains, and we had a nice hotel in the old center. As soon as we got settled, we headed off walking to the Zocalo and the market. We passed lots of vendors in market stalls along the way. We went for a local lunch at the market (along the way, the guide purchased a local snack, dried spiced grasshoppers (Ruth ate one , I didn’t—crunchy was the verdict). Lunch was an assortment of grilled meats and vegetables, plus fresh ones, and fresh tortillas to roll things up in. It was quite good and we demolished it. While we were eating, vendors came by, and guitarists came by to sing to us. After lunch we walked on through the market, and saw lots of mole, the spicy chocolate used to make the sauce. Nearby was a chocolate company, and we saw them grinding the cocoa beans, mixing it with sugar, and then had a taste. This chocolate is mainly used for drinking chocolate. Quite tasty!
We went in to check out the cathedral, and some of the vendors before going back to the hotel to rest up a bit. The group went out to dinner at a roof-top restaurant with a great view of another beautiful church. We had dishes with the mole sauce—delicious.
This morning we got an early start up the mountain to see the ruins at Mount Alban. The day started out overcast, but cleared later. That was appropriate since the name of the city meant ‘people of the clouds'. The city was for the ruling classes; ordinary folk lived on the outskirts. We saw a ball court, a construction common to the cities in ancient Mexico. There were several other buildings, including some with nice carvings, and several tombs were found around the city. There were lots of school field trips and other groups. We were glad we got there early. There was a good museum, and a gift shop with some really beautiful reproduction jewelry—temptation resisted! The clouds had lifted by this time, and there were beautiful views of the city down in the valley.
Back in town, Ruth and I had lunch at a different roof-top restaurant, and had a fabulous salad with chicken, apple, red pepper, and fresh pineapple. Very nice, and a great location. Just up the street, we visited a typical 17th century house where one of the national hero and presidents, Benito Juarez grew up. It was a single level stone house with the rooms around a central courtyard; very typical of colonial times.
Nearby was the museum located in the former Santa Domingo monastery. It is clear that Spain/the church really poured the resources into their Latin American missions program. The facility was started in 1575 and is quite large. The cloister is beautiful, with an upper and lower level, and fountain in the middle. By 1972, it was restored and made into the Oaxaca Cultural Museum. They have some wonderful artifacts from the Mount Alban excavations, and from colonial times too. There were several large windows and balconies framing beautiful views of the garden and mountains.
Attached to the monastery is the cathedral. The interior is ornately baroque with carving and gold everywhere. If it was meant to impress, they succeeded!
Leaving the church, we heard music, and discovered a guelaguetzas in process. This is a local dance tradition for celebrations. At the head of the procession was a banner for the organization, some kind of civil/women’s rights group, then there was a giant puppet figure, guys with large balloon structures, musicians, and then a big group o dancers in colorful costumes. Some of the women had very large flower arrangements on their heads, and others had large flat baskets from which they occasionally tossed candy to the spectators. It was very festive and fun to encounter the real thing—a happy surprise.
After they moved on, we went back to the hotel to rest up for our evening event. We went to a dinner buffet and dance show at a local hotel. It was held in the former chapel of the building that has been converted to a hotel (probably a monastery or convent). Dinner was good, and the show was fun, with dances from the various regions of Oaxaca state.
Then it was back to the room for our early start to Tehuantepic.