01.01.2008 - 04.01.2008 25 °C
As we entered Oaxaca City into the 2nd class bus terminal with a 1st class bus (it is not so simple as we thought: in 2nd class you will find that there are buses actually categorised as 1st class - these still cost sometimes half of the 1st class buses you take from 1st class terminals and are still very good quality) we were not impressed at all: Oaxaca looked like a horrible huge rubbish dump. Fortunately, after walking a few streets into the city centre, the whole picture changed and we found ourselves in a very nice, colonial and vibrant city. Very different from San Cristobal, with much bigger churches and higher buildings, but still very pleasant, if maybe a little too trafficked.
We spent my birthday walking around town and enjoying the festive atmosphere, closing with a nice dinner at La Olla. Oaxaca is well known for its interesting and varied cuisine and many cooking courses are given here, including at La Olla - we wanted to take one for a few hours, but it is still high season and it was fully booked.
Some pics of Oaxaca:
Santo Domingo church
Chapulinas - grasshoppers - they are eaten on their own spiced with chilly and lemon, or added to local dishes...
HIERVE EL AGUA TOUR
The day before yesterday we went on one of those all-inclusive tours that take you to a number of places all in one tour: we left at 10 in the morning and managed to get back at 8 in the evening, tired but quite happy. They took us first to see El Tule, which is the widest tree in the world, though not the tallest. It has a circumference of 58 meters and needs 5,000 litres of water a day!!! Its age is unknown with estimates ranging between 1,200 and 3,000 years. Here below is a very poor picture of it, it is quite difficult to take because it does not fit into the camera view and the church yard where it stands is gated...
We then went to Teotitlan del Valle, a famous weaving village where beautiful woolen blankets and rugs are produced. We were shown how the wool is produced and how the local ancient knowledge of basic chemistry provides hundreds of shades of dyes, using nut shells and the bugs that live in cactuses, amongst others, as the ingredients to make the colours, combining them with lemon and herbs etc to change the shades.
Out third stop was at Hierve El Agua, one of the most unusual "waterfalls" in the world. Hierve el Agua is a petrified waterfall of calcium carbonate and magnesium. Contrary to its name, which means "the water boils", it is actually a natural warm spring where escaping air effervesces through the mineral deposits, creating the illusion of boiling water. The result of thousands of years of this mineralized water flowing over the cliff has produced a spectacular fall that seems frozen in time. Around the site a couple of pools have been carved out of the mineral rock.
The pictures are spectacular but in effect the place is really small and not really inviting for a swim (pretty cold):
From Hierve El Agua we went to visit the Mitla ruins, which date mostly from two to three centuries before the Spanish conquest. Mitla was one of the most important Zapotec religious centres, again with priests removing hearts in human sacrifices like the Aztecs. Thankfully we saw nothing illustrating this terrible habit, instead mainly nice "mosaics" of carved stone at the top of their temples:
Finally, we went to visit a mezcal factory and seller.
Mezcal is considered by many people as the most authentic of all the Mexican distilled spirits because, unlike Tequila, which is often exported in bulk, Mezcal can only be exported in bottle and never in bulk, so it’s always properly controlled and authentic. Mezcal is made from the maguey plant - Agave family of succulents, not to be confused with the cactus family, which looks like a pineapple plant. While tequila is distilled in the northern state of Jalisco from the blue agave plant, Mezcal is distilled in the South near the Gulf of Mexico, in and around the state of Oaxaca.
As an interesting side-note, in some species of Maguey plant an ‘innoque worm’ makes its home. The worm known as the ‘gusano’ is really a grub or larva of the ‘night-butterfly’ which originates from a small egg left by the butterfly on a Maguey leaf. The larvas are put into some of the bottles of Mezcal and people chew them while drinking the alcohol! Yakk! This red worm is collected from June to September from the heart of the Agave plant. The collecting is very hard and difficult as the worm must not be damaged in any way, otherwise the Mezcal would become cloudy. The worms sell from 20 to 40 US cents per worm! so, with anything up to a normal 200 - 500 per affected plant, it’s easy to see how lucrative worm collecting is. Actually, there is a shortage of worms (much prized also in the local restaurants for cooking in Oaxaqueno recipes), since the ‘infecting’ of the Agave is a natural process which cannot be artificially enhanced. While in the past the bottles of mezcal were full of worms, nowadays they only contain 2 or 3 at the most.
Here are the cut plant cores
Gregory eating his first gusano
MONTE ALBAN RUINS
Yesterday we went up to visit the Monte Alban ruins, which are only 20 mins away from Oaxaca. Monte Alban was a Zapotec capital. The site is very neat and compact. We only stayed less than an hour though, possibly we have had enough of ruins for a while now...!!
Today we are off to Mexico City, the last 7 hours on a bus for a while.
5 days left!!!!