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Saving time or saving sanity: burr-os or burr-itos?

The Burr conundrum on choosing the road less travelled

sunny 27 °C

We chose burros. And goats. And their herders.

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We chose giant cactus. And we chose to double our estimated driving time - on two consecutive days. Because how else would we get to drive isolated switchback mountain roads (without guardrails, and populated by dozens upon dozens of roadside shrines) for four-hour stretches, unless we willingly left the safety of the beautifully paved, divided toll roads in favour of the libre "free" roads?

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Our first day out of Morelia was simply a case of getting lost - a lot. With Oaxaca as our ultimate destination, we decided to choose Cuernavaca as an overnight stop to break up the drive - roughly 4 1/2 hours - that would give us time to explore the city a bit. Somehow we got horribly tangled up in Toluca, and ended up in a hilltop barrio (this after two kind young men drove out of their way to get us out of downtown). We approached a group of men working on a car, and AGAIN, a charming young man escorted us back down the mountainside, and made sure we were on the right road to get out of town. Between getting lost and getting stuck behind trucks on mountain roads, we rolled into Cuernavaca after 9 hours on the road, and we were just a bit testy with each other at this point. Nothing that a cheap hotel room and a mediocre dinner couldn't fix, though, so the next morning, we bypassed the brand new superhighway to Oaxaca (ETA 4 1/2 hours), in favour of more local colour. We did not get lost, but we have agreed on one thing: when toll roads are available, we will take them. Since we are here to explore the country and not whizz through it, we will still have lots of opportunity to see burros and potholes and pueblos. When we finally saw this sign, I could have wept. Nine hours after leaving Cuernavaca, we rolled into Oaxaca.

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Now you could be forgiven for wondering if we are directionally-challenged, but darned if we didn't get lost again once in the city of Oaxaca. Our little posada is on a very tiny street, and with all streets going one-way (or "contrario" - I love that term), we kept driving in circles. We pulled over to ask a woman for directions, and she just jumped in our car, and directed us there personally. She even gave me a hug (maybe I looked like I needed it). Our car is parked, we almost have the place to ourselves and we have our perspective back. I ask you - how many of you would drive 40 minutes out of your way in rush hour for strangers? Three times in two days we had not only kindness, but genuine concern and helpfulness. This is the Mexico that doesn't make the news.

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Oaxaca - the city that is easy to love. We think we could spend a whole lot of time here for so many reasons. You are surrounded by art...and crafts. The food is amazing. There is culture and kind, dignified people. Gringos live here but have not taken over, although the rules on footwear are relaxed. Fantastic architecture is softened with gorgeous flowering trees. 500-year-old buildings sit next door to trendy cafes. The old and the new mix well. Markets - there are permanent markets, roving markets, organic markets - you cannot go hungry, thirsty, or undecorated in this town. Plus - within a few miles of Oaxaca are small villages that produce the pottery, textiles, carpets, and folk art that are found in the markets. There are numerous hiking and biking trails just outside the city. Plus... Oaxaca produces chocolate, coffee and mezcal. The city is accessible, walkable, safe, affordable - there is nothing to dislike.

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We are struck by the craftsmanship and perfection that shows, not just in the art, but in the surroundings. No detail is too small - the finely-crafted doors, the plaster walls with deliberately exposed cracks, the polished floors. The gardens are masterfully designed with much use of hardscaping, small stones, dramatic water fixtures and even more dramatic cactus and shrubs.

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The cultural centre in Oaxaca has a library, cafe, gardens, and, currently, an exhibition of fabric artist, Fabiola Tanus. This photo does not show clearly enough the detail in this embroidery, but it is complicated and fine. The rest of the exhibit featured rugs, hangings, scarves and blouses. While his work is of a very high calibre, it is typical of what is found in this area. The hours and hours put into these crafts is never properly compensated.

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Look at these glass spindles. They are just simply perfect.

Also perfect is the Santo Domingo de Guzman church. It was built in the late 16th century, and the church, attached museum and massive front plaza has an extraordinary amount of stone. All that stone is ringed with agave plants, yucca plants and date palms.
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The exterior of the church does not prepare you for the over-the-top interior of intricate carvings and massive amounts of gilt (as opposed to guilt).

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There are over 20 major churches in Oaxaca, so we may pop into a few more before we leave. The Zocalo, which is the central plaza in the heart of the city, has long been the place where Oaxacans meet. It is ringed on three sides by cafe-filled plazas and is fronted by the Catedral, and the Governor's Palace. These days, the Governor has left the building, as the decade-long teachers protests have reached a fever pitch, and there are real fears for his life. The Zocalo has been commandeered by a small tent city, with banners everywhere. The teacher's strike, which began in 2006, was in protest over teachers' low wages and the low funding to the education system, as well as corruption on the part of the governor and that conflict resulted in many deaths. While those bloody battles are not currently being waged, the protests continue. In fact, as we drove into Oaxaca, we were delayed by a protest - there are many days where there are roadblocks. I have the sketchiest of details about it all, and there are conflicting reports that in fact many teachers have bought their jobs and have no training, and that the government is fighting the union to change that. I would love to read more about this once we're home again. In the meantime, some images of a battle that has defined Oaxaca.

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And then, in the middle of all this, one corner of the Zocalo has been reserved for some sort of dancing event. There were two very animated "Mexico's Got Talent"-type announcers yelling into mics, and then the music began, and the dancers hit the bricks. Not sure if it was a competition, or simply a chance to strut their stuff in front of onlookers, but it was fun to watch.

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Lots more to report - art, food, markets, more museums, meeting up again with our old friends Jan and Dave - see you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 20:11 Archived in Mexico

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Comments

Hey, thank you! I'm loving this and remembering bits and pieces of all you are describing from a ancient bus trip. I love all you are describing! but where is your dance shot? I know you were dancing and I must ask because I may be the only one who has been staggered by your tango together, violent and on a whim! What did the locals do with you? I did not know who to call...

by Mary Charlotte

Wow...your pictures and posts are fantastic...love the colours. Thanks for sharing and all the best!
The Katz's in cold and snowy Toronto

by Lorne Katz

Hey guys, glad to hear you are having fun. We were a bit worried about your decision to drive throughout Mexico as we know how challenging it can be, but you seem to be coping well! We stayed in a hotel right on the Zocalo and used to watch the Mexican soldiers raise and lower their flag each day! Lots of pomp and ceremony. We really enjoyed Oaxaca and suggest you try the mescal ( only a couple of sips though). Sadly, we are making our way back to PV today, and then home Saturday. Stay safe and have fun!

by Oscar

We look forward to each and every one of your posts ... Got a chuckle over the guy checking his watch while dancing with the lady ... speaks volumes perhaps?

by Heather Scott

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