Oaxaca – Try to pronounce it if you dare!

My bus journey to Oaxaca, although tedious, was mercifully comfortable. The only detail worth sharing was my buying a sandwich from an old lady purveying homemade eats in a lay-by at the midpoint of the journey. She offered me a ketchup bottle and I gave it a healthy squeeze onto my food. Turns out it was hot chili sauce. I stopped sweating as we arrived at Oaxaca several hours later.

Typical Oaxacan street

In the south of Mexico, Oaxaca’s architecture feels frozen in time in the colonial era. Numerous buildings flaunt large, airy central courtyards; many still have the central fountains that typify this type of arrangement. My own hotel, El Parador San Martin, (video in link. But no fountain) was one such building.
Upon settling in, I went for a stroll around town. Cupolae sprung up like dog-daisies in the meadow of cobbled streets and low buildings.

A beautiful colonial cathedral
A dog daisy in the meadow of cobbled streets

Should you ever visit Oaxaca, one of the great experiences in the town centre is visiting one of the renowned markets. In say “one of” as there are several, however, I visited El Mercadito de Benito Juarez. Hunger had snuck up on me whilst I was preoccupied, so I headed to a stall advertising traditional food and ordered “el Grande”. I was not disappointed.

Benito Juarez market
El Grande living up to its name

A trip to the tourist information centre advised me of a tour comprising mezcal tasting, a visit to the world’s largest tree, a tour of an artisanal village, some mixtec ruins and a hot spring where rock formations resembled a waterfall. 

“You had me at mezcal tasting”, I said with a grin.

What promised to be a fantastic day only got better when our tour guide turned out to be the spitting image of the bad guy from Crocodile Dundee!

Hechter Ubarry in Crocodile Dundee
Our Oaxacan tour guide

For those unfamiliar with Mezcal, it is to Tequila what whisky is to single malt: the parent term. Formed from the core of the agave cactus plants, it is cooked in a fire then double-distilled, giving it a smoky flavour. Not all mezcal, contrary to popular belief, has a worm floating in the bottle. Needless to say, I tried a variety that does. And ate the worm. That’s three types of worm this year.

In the artisanal village we were shown how, using only dyes sourced from nature’s bounty, were woven carpets with a whole spectrum of vivid colours. The indigo pant and the cochineal beetle were among the contributors.

The weaving process sometimes takes up to 75 days (unless they were having us on to hike prices. John, you’re a cynic!) But the finished results were spectacular.

Explaining the spinning process

El arbol de Tule is quite astonishing. At over 2000 years old it is as ancient as it is large. This “ahuehuete” or “sabine ” measures a mind-boggling 816,829 cubic metres and weighs some 636,107 tonnes! (I’m struggling to believe the weight claim, if I’m honest). It’s gargantuan!

The giant! And a big tree….
Engravings at the ancient temple

I have actually blurred timelines somewhat, as I also visited Monte Alban, the largest heritage site in the area, the day before this tour, so the photos are from here, but are representative of the architecture and culture of the era.

Ruins at Monte Alban

The final stop on the tour was at Hierve el agua, literally “the water boils”. This hot spring location, in addition to stunning views, boasts rock formations that resemble waterfalls. I’ll admit the  hot spring pool wasn’t as warm as I expected it to be but the views compensated.

I was lifting myself onto the ledge, not breathing in for the camera, honest!

Hierve el agua – rock “waterfall”
Gratuitous gun show, just because

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