April 17, 2007
Today’s journey from Puerto Escondido on the Pacific
coast to Oaxaca in the interior is only 200 km. We are traveling Hwy 131
which doesn’t seem to actually show up on most maps. But it’s
on ours and it looks like the most direct route so Steve has decided it
is the road for us.
As it turns out, direct is not always fastest. The drive
probably would have taken half as long if we’d gone 60 km further
south and taken Highway #175, the road most people use to head inland.
But we are always looking for the road less traveled and we certainly
found it today.
This road goes up and up and up, corkscrewing all the way,
to nearly 11,000 feet. We both develop headaches. The scenery is interesting
but it is the usual story of no pull-offs and when there is, the locals
have used it for a garbage dump. In any event, overgrown
bushes obscure sightlines. It’s a peek-a-boo view at the best.
There are dozens of donkeys or burros, seemingly wild, grazing
in groups at the sides of the road. Similarly, lots of cows and steers,
wandering about. Calls for a cautious approach to the gas pedal –
never know what is blocking the road at the next turn.
The topes today have been unbelievable, many of them with
no signage. Steve actually “lost” his brakes at one point,
they had heated up so much. They came back later but we blame the topes.
Our poor little trailer is getting shaken to bits.
The mountain villages are bucolic and peaceful. People are
poor but they keep things clean and plant flowers everywhere – masses
of bougainvillea but also purple jacaranda trees, orange flame trees,
huge trumpet flowers in white and peach and yellow, impatiens, purple
magnolias and lots of blossoming trees – pink and white.
Saw a man ploughing a field with two oxen – doing
a good job too. Saw lots goats. In one village a man was herding about
a hundred goats down a narrow lane. It seems
like it would be an easy enough task when there is nowhere for the goats
to go but how will he keep them together once they hit the open road?
Saw lots of burros pulling wagons and burros loaded down
with sticks – as if life has not changed all that much in the past
thousand years. And it occurs to me that the normal tasks of everyday
life require a great deal more effort in this corner of the world than
they do in mine.
Finally came to the end of that interminable road –
took us 9 hours to travel 200 km with only one short stop to have a sandwich,
another to have an ice cream, and once to gas up.
This brought us to Oaxaca and an extremely decrepit trailer
park that is in the process of being converted to a big hole in the ground
– to build an apartment complex. It is 111 degrees. The site attendant
determinedly directed us to a spot near where most of the construction
is going on. Reluctantly set up there and promptly discovered that both
the electricity and water have already been cut off to this side of the
trailer park. So uplifted and re-settled on the other side of the property.
It is soooo hot and I am not in a good mood about any of this.
Today is our 31st wedding anniversary so we left this Shangrila
and headed out to celebrate with dinner at a nicer than usual restaurant
called the Calibri. It looked like a high class French restaurant, with
waiters all duded up in tuxes and gold charger plates. But the charger
plates were never removed and since they provided no bread and butter
plates we noticed diners using the charger plates for their rolls. The
butter was margarine, the decaff coffee was instant, the creamer was powdered
whitener. Oh well.
I ordered cream of mushroom soup and it was very good. Shared
a slice of apple strudel with Steve that was also very good. Waiters seemed
disappointed that we didn’t eat more but it is just too hot to be
April 18, 2007
Had a decent sleep. The band playing at a nearby club were
pretty good, but I finally had to insert earplugs or I never would have
slept. Apparently that saved me from the car alarms which everyone else
complained about the next morning.
out to see the ruins at Monte Albán this morning. These date from
several centuries BC to the peak of the Zapotec culture in AD 300 to 700.
By 750 the Zapotecs had abandoned the hilltop city of Monte Albán
to disperse throughout the valleys. The most popular theory is because
of lack of water.
Monte Albán is located at nearly 2000 metres and
you really feel that when you climb up and down the many steep staircases.
We paid a local guide, Hector, 200 pesos to guide us around the ruins
– he was an interesting and enthusiastic
interpreter. He emphasized that the ruins you see on Monte Albán
are just the tip of the iceberg, that more than 100,000 people lived and
worked in the city and the terraced hills surrounding the ruins –
that what we are seeing is just the platforms on which the actual buildings
Those ancient people must have had legs of steel because
the staircases are so steep and the stairs are quite high. It was intimidating.
I had Steve on one side and Hector on the other to steady me as we walked
up and down.
our morning at Monte Albán by driving into the old section of Oaxaca.
The traffic in these Mexican towns is horrendous, but Steve has a knack
for finding a good parking spot. We always wonder if the truck will be
there when we return but it always is and has never been tampered with.
The zocalo here is absolutely lovely. It is full of life
– people relaxing and eating and getting their shoes shined. Children
race around being children, young lovers snuggle up whispering. The university
is close by so that encourages its use by young people.
As we were walking a young woman approached us with a menu
from a nearby restaurant – they all have tables and umbrellas out
on the plaza ...much like St Marks in Venice. The whole spirit of
the place and the architecture is very European.
So we were enticed into her restaurant, the Terranova, and
enjoyed an excellent lunch. While we ate a band of young buskers set up
opposite the restaurant and enlivened the scene. Everyone here is an entrepreneur.
We walked up to the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, about
seven blocks away. The museum is located in the beautiful monastery buildings
that adjoin the Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
building is stately, with soaring white columns and elegant covered walkways,
all grandly proportioned and surrounding an interior courtyard. Interior
courtyards are a big thing here, again, very European. The exterior of
buildings may be modest and unassuming but when the gates open you catch
glimpses of elegant interior spaces and gardens.
The museum is very nicely done up. Costs 45 pesos to go
in and 50 pesos for a telephone-type recording device into which you punch
a number (according to the room you are in) and a taped commentary provides
more than you ever wanted to know.
There is lots of good stuff in there for sure, but most
interesting would be the contents
of Tumba 7 from Monte Albán. These tombs were used to bury kings
and the treasure they buried him with (as well as his sacrificed servants)
is quite extraordinary. Also interesting to see how highly developed the
Zapotecs were with their pottery and weaponry and jewelry and metal work.
So ...feet now getting VERY tired, we continued back down
towards the zocalo again to try and find the artisans mercado. We did
find the mercado indicated in the LP guide but just the usual t-shirt
and bric-a-brac shops. Very disappointing.
As we were leaving the heavens opened and a torrential tropical
storm broke over us. We feared for the trailer since we had left the windows
and vents wide open but while there was a wet spot below the open top
vent, everything was in fine shape on return – great little home.
April 19, 2007
Today we headed 10 km east of Oaxaca to see El Tule, the
ahuehuete (type of cypress) tree which is claimed to be the biggest biomass
in the world. Could be. I don’t know.
It is HUGE - an amazing tree some 58 metres around. I stood below it watching
thousands of birds flitting from branch to branch, in and out of their
nests in the hollows. It’s like a supersized condo development for
Next stop was Teotitlán, the famous weaving village,
to see the rugs and tapestries. It’s a pretty and very tidy little
village, obviously a place that has seen prosperity. Right now there is
not a lot going on, most of the stalls are empty. Tourism has all but
evaporated since the political unrest in Oaxaca last year. We bought two
rugs. Hope they fit into the house nicely. If not, well, we made a contribution
(2100 p) directly into the hands of the weaver.
Carried on to Yulga, another site of extensive ruins, this
one situated in the high country, surrounded by beautiful cacti. Steve
has an insatiable appetite for this kind of thing. I walked around for
awhile but couldn’t see much difference between one pile of old
rocks and another so sat down under the only shade tree on the whole site.
Along came a lovely young couple who talked to me for quite
a while – his English was pretty good and he was anxious to practice
it. They had come up for a picnic and were making themselves shrimp cocktails.
They insisted on making one for me too. Very sweet.
Then on to Mitla where the ruins just amount to a pile stones
behind a church. Steve went in to see those while I walked around the
artisan mercado. This is really sad. There are several hundred stalls
but they are virtually all empty. I asked a fellow where his amigos were.
He told me that there are no longer any tourists, so no sellers either.
So I bought placemats and napkins and a little girl’s
dress and a table runner – all things I don’t really need,
but could not walk out without making some purchases. Again, a contribution
directly into the economy.
lunch in Mitla, a pretty and very clean looking town of moderate size
– excellent hamburgers. Saw an interesting conveyance in Mitla-
a motorbike with an attached bench under a roof kind of thing –
I think they call them tuk-tuks in Asia. There are lots of places where
commercial buses don’t go, so local conveyances take up the slack.
Small pick-up trucks with benches covered by a tarped roof are also a
very common site, usually loaded with a dozen people and traveling the
mountain roads between small villages.
Back to the city to find a laundromat and get ourselves
tidied up again – tomorrow we head for the Caribbean.
|Unless otherwise noted all
prices are quoted in US$ or Mexican Pesos. At time of writing, 10
pesos = $1 US or CDN.