We arrived in Oaxaca city prepared to take a rest day, maybe two, but we ended up staying three days and four nights. We loved this town, and could have spent even more time here! It helped that we stayed in a really comfortable (and affordable) hostel, and that it offered the fourth night’s stay free! In our three days here we went to two fantastic sets of ruins, visited a giant museum, saw the widest tree in the world, visited a ‘petrified waterfall’, and learned about traditional dying and weaving of wool. We also ate lots of new exciting foods like mole and grasshoppers.
Our first day was filled with wandering the streets, eating new foods, and visiting a museum about the history of Oaxaca. Jason has been excited about trying new types mole: rich, flavorful sauces that are characteristic of this region. We went to the food market in the city center to get steaming plates of different moles, along with delicious fruit waters. As we ate a local woman came by selling fried grasshoppers – another typical food of the region. We decided the grasshoppers were really yummy, but we couldn’t look at them before we ate them.
That afternoon we went to the city museum that is housed in a giant ex-convent that is more like a maze than anything else. The museum had lots of information and artifacts about the pre-hispanic cultures of the area, as well as about colonization and current life. It went on and on…
Our second day in Oaxaca we went to the stunning archeaological site of Monte Alban. This is an ancient city built on top of a hill at the center of three mountain valleys. The indigenous groups of the area managed to keep this site secret from the Spaniards until this century, so it was not looted or dissassembled by them at all. It was a stunning site, and it was particularly fun because we went with a new friend, Liam, that we met at our hostel.
We went all out on our last day in town and took an organized all-day tour. It was so much fun that we will consider this kind of activity in the future too. For about $15 each we got transportation to 5 different attractions, and a tour guide for our small group.
Our first stop was the Tule tree: the world’s widest tree. It dwarfs the church whose courtyard it sits in, and is surrounded by a constant stream of tourists.
Our next stop was our favorite. We went to visit a family who specializes in traditional wool weaving. They gave a very nice presentation on how wool is prepared, turned into yarn, dyed using traditional methods, and woven on a traditional loom. Our favorite part was learning about the red and purple dyes which are made from a tiny insect that lives on the prickly pear cactus plant. When the dried bugs are ground up, they add liquid of different acidity to make different colors. It was so neat! We ended up buying a rug, even though we’ll have to carry it for the next month. We just couldn’t resist!
After the wool stop we went to another archealogical site. This one was very interesting because it was occupied right up until the Spanish conquest of Mexico, when the Spaniards toppled one of the temple buildings and used the stones to build a church on top. Most of the other buildings were similarly vandalized, but one was defended and is now wonderfully preserved. The stonework was incredible, and we even got to go down into one of the tombs through a narrow, short tunnel.
Next up was the petrified waterfall called ‘Hierve el agua’. Literally, this means ‘the water boils’. There is a mineral rich spring bubbling up at the top of a cliff. When the water cascades down the cliffside it deposits the minerals in slow motion, forming what appears to be a frozen waterfall. The government built some small swimming pools at the top to catch the spring water, and there were actually lots of people in and around them.
Our final stop was at a traditional mezcal factory. This is a type of strong liquor made from a cactus plant. To make it they cook the base of the cactus plant underground for three days, crush them into pulp and squish out the juice, ferment that for eight days, and then bottle it up to age. Quite a process! A few days after we learned this we accidentally bought some of the fresh-squeezed agave juice at a market when we tried to buy honey. It certainly does the trick though, and sweetens up our oatmeal in the morning.
It’s been a while since we last updated, and a LOT has happened since then, most of it outside of internet land. We will post again soon to tell of these adventures! We promise!