Our winter holiday this year is almost 2 months in Mexico, but, for the first time, not on the beach. Our itinerary is 4 days in Mexico City, 3 weeks in Oaxaca in the southern mountains, a couple of days back in Mexico City and the final 3 weeks in the more northern mountains at San Miguel d’Allende. We have now been away for just over two weeks and the experiment is proving even more successful than we had hoped. It is a totally different experience from being in the coastal resorts as there is so much more to see and do.
Our four days in Mexico City were quite overwhelming due to its sheer size and the layout. It seemed to take forever to access the various points of interest even though public transport was clean, accessible, efficient and very, very cheap. There was a very visible police presence but we felt safe. After Oak Bay we were so aware of the amount of young people, especially after dark. We also managed to be there on December 12th, when literally millions of pilgrims, on foot, bicycles and in trucks pour in to visit the church dedicated the the black virgin of Guadeloupe. Our hotel was charming, situated in the Embassy district and we met lots of interesting guests at breakfast.
The high spot was our visit to the world class Museum of Anthropology, which gave us an appreciation and understanding of the ancient civilizations, which had inhabited Mexico since 500BC. How Eurocentric our education has been and how history has been distorted by the Spanish depiction of a heathen society, which had to be converted to Christianity and the very lurid Hollywood versions. We could have spent days there as there was also a floor dedicated to the dress, crafts and customs of each area of the country and Oaxaca was featured prominently.
We also took a day to visit the ruins of Teotihuacan, a huge site covering more than 20sq km, with two pyramids, one dedicated to the sun, the other the moon. The scale was massive, with a wide, central avenue between. It must have been an impressive sight back in the day as many of the high walls were plastered and decorated with huge, very colourful murals.
We flew here to Oaxaca just over a week ago and the town, although larger than we had anticipated, is a much more manageable size. the City is a World Heritage site. Again, our accommodation is quite charming with an upper terrasse sitting area surrounded by bougainvillea and pots of succulents. The owners, Nora, local, and William, from the States, who live right beside us, also own a couple of large B&Bs quite near. Nora is a real entrepreneur, has a tour company and has a cooking school in her home. Their guests provide much of the clientele for her tours and classes.
As we are self catering we have visited the local mercado several times and cannot get over the prices. You could eat avocado toast at every meal for next to nothing! As you can imagine the meat counters are very daunting but there is an excellent fish shop and the bakery is very tempting. We have enjoyed several good lunches out but so far have not found the perfect place for dinner.
We feel we have crammed a lot into our first days here principally as we had the opportunity to join tours, which Nora had already arranged for her American B&B guests. Friday was our first group tour to villages south of Oaxaca, the highlight of which was a visit to a wood carving collective. We saw the entire process, beginning with the branches from a special tree, so a renewable resource, which were first roughly hewn, then were gradually refined and sanded to a very smooth finish. These carvers were artists who took inspiration from the natural shape of the wood so no two carvings were the same. The pieces were then dried so they would endure and not crack.
Next they were painted with natural dyes and we had a demonstration of how they were achieved – very counter intuitive and all from plants like pomegranate, mixed with lime and lemon juice. The finished products were highly glazed, and that came from honey. At the showroom there was lots to buy but no sales pressure. The pieces were true works of art and were priced accordingly
Our second tour was to villages to the east, the highlight of which was a visit to a carpet weaving company, which had been in the same family for ten generations. Again we had a very comprehensive demo starting with the materials they use – alpaca, cashmere, angora and wool which has to be carded and spun, before being dyed with the same natural dyes. Then the carpets were hand woven on huge looms. The designs varied from Aztec to geometric to Art Deco in a range of gorgeous colours. Even though there was no hard sell many of the group wanted to buy so the many family members were coopted into displaying the range of carpets available. Again we are talking about serious money but if I had had a bare floor I would have been seriously tempted!
On each excursion we ate as a group in the market and Nora selected a variety of local dishes for us to sample. Our second trip ended up at a small family run mescal factory, where the whole process looked like something from the Middle Ages. The spirit was made from an agave that I grow, but on sampling the finished product, R is going to stick to wine making.
Our third tour was a visit west , to the ruins at Monte Alban, named the white mountain after the abundance of Ipomea trees. We had a personal tour given by one of Nora’s guides, who was absolutely excellent. He certainly knew his stuff but tailored the information according to our prior knowledge and welcomed questions and comments.
There is still so much to see and do that three weeks may not do the area justice.
The following photos are approximately chronological, but there seems to be a glitch in WordPress that does not allow me to reorder the photos once loaded to the site.
Our next blog will start with the incredible Radish Festival ……….