My time in Oaxaca was great! The town was a mixture of various Mexican cultures that brought with them their own native idioms and distinct lifestyles. The diversity of Oaxaca was the outcome of the ever-changing environment—the comes and goes of ancient indigenous tribes, the arriving of the Spaniards and their conquest throughout Mexico, and the addapting of the Mexican culture to the one of the conquistadores—which is still taking different shapes nowadays. Oaxaca was a spread-out city, whose outskirts were nothing exciting; however, the very center of the town, the zocalo/historic downtown, was an amazing place to visit. I believe the historic part of Oaxaca has been one of my absolute favorite places to visit so far, it was so picturesque and it had an old-fashioned air to it. The century-old houses were very well conserved and their vivid colors brought life to the landscape; the terrazzos were filled with tables and people enjoying mezcal (the region’s national drink, which is very good), and vases of cactuses bordered the edge of the houses; and the calles were crowded with vendors and children playing around.
We stayed in a RV place outside of town, where we met travelers from all over the world: the United States, Belgium, France, and Canada. Our visit to Oaxaca was about two days: the first day we visited Teotitlan del Valle, the town’s zocalo, the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman, and the Centro Cultural Santo Domingo; and on the second day we went to the Zona Arqueologica de Monte Alban and the tiny poblado of Santa Cruz, and back to the historic downtown of Oaxaca. Before we left Oaxaca, we spent a couple of hours on a Sunday’s street fair at the village of Mitla, a fair worth remembering.
Before heading to town, we grabbed a taxi and went to see how the tapestries of the native tribes of Oaxaca were made, from the fabrication of the inks to the weaving of the wool. We were very well welcomed at the El Caracol, which was a family owned business for a few generations, where tapestries were died naturally with local plants/insects and woven together into complicate patterns (it took an average of 2 months of working 8 hours everyday to make a tapestry). It was extremely interesting to see how the locals used a variety of locally grown things that were able to produce, when mixed together, more than a hundred different colors.
Once in town, we had lunch at the Restaurante Casa Oaxaca, where they prepared salsas in front of you with an option of adding crickets to it. The restaurant was right by the Templo and Centro Cultural Santo Domingo; thus, we were able to visit both of them in just a couple of hours. The templo was pretty and can be done in a short amount of time, but the centro cultural took more time because of all of the information it offered about the region’s history and culture. All of the mentioned sites so far, excluding El Caracol, are right in the zocalo of Oaxaca, where one could easily tour the streets by walking.
At the campground, we befriended a guy from Seattle named Steve, who was also exploring the surroundings of Oaxaca. With the same goal in mind, we decided to all go together to the ruins of Monte Alban, which was about a half an hour drive from our camp; thus, we all hopped in Steve’s semi truck and took off (much easier than driving the rv up a mountain). The Zona Arqueologica de Monte Alban was simply marvelous: numerous temples lined up for hundreds of meters, forming a huge corridor (the town’s plaza) that ended in the greatest of the pyramids; and from the top of the mountain, golden-colored valleys stretched as far as the eye could see, with small poblados here and there. The ancient ruins—founded around 500 BC and considered to be one of the earliest Mesoamerican cities—was home to the Zapotecs for almost a thousand years until it was mysteriously abandoned around 500-750 AC. In addition, the Zapotec city was the capital of the Oaxacan highlands and had a large trade system with other Mesoamerican regional states.
A couple of hours later, we left the ruins and headed to a tiny village called Santa Cruz in search of alebrijes: brightly-colored Mexican art animal sculptures. The village itself didn’t offer much besides its handful stores of locally made alebrijes, which were then exported to other parts of Mexico.
Our last morning was spent walking and shopping at the street fair in the town of Mitla, near Oaxaca. Forget about all of the fairs you have been to, Mitla’s fair will top it. The street fair went on for more than a kilometer in length and it stretched a couple of blocks in width; however, there were hundreds and hundreds of vendors offering local and exotic goods for us at every step we took. The people from Mitla mostly spoke their local dialect instead of Spanish, which was impossible to understand…some of them didn’t know Spanish at all! As we made our way to the end of the fair, we crossed by many tiendas which offered crickets, the gods’ drink (a mixture of corn, chocolate, and other ingredients), mezcal, meat, and even live animals. It was simply a clash of colors, smells, sounds, and tastes, if you had the guts to try some of the food.