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The 2,000-year-old tree...

...just one of the many reasons to visit Oaxaca state.

sunny 22 °C

Living to the ripe old age of 2,000 years is no small thing. Neither is the El Tule cypress tree, reputed to be one of the oldest and largest trees in the world. According to Wikipedia, El Tule " has a height of forty meters, an estimated weight of 630 tons and a circumference of about forty meters. The trunk is so wide that thirty people with arms extended joining hands are needed to encircle it." We have the photo to prove it.

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El Tule is considered sacred by the Mixtec people, whose ancient myth believes that people come from cypress trees. Situated in the main square, and flanked by the church on one side, there is a small admission charge to enter the grounds, take photos, toss a coin in the fountain, and buy souvenirs. I know it's just a tree, but in a country of outstanding trees, it is hard not to be impressed by the unbelievable size and majesty of this gnarled beast.

We stopped by El Tule on our way home from the massive Sunday market at Tlacolula, a village about 45 minutes outside of Oaxaca, situated in Los Valles Centrales. This area stretches out in all directions from the city and is home to many indigenous villages - each producing their own crafts - handmade, hand-dyed woolen carpets,many kinds of pottery, intricately embroidered textiles, the fantastical alebrijes (carved wooden figures), and much more. It is so interesting to visit and contrast each village - plus, the countryside is so varied and gorgeous.

So far, we have bought a beautiful little wool carpet that we'll use as a wall hanging, some woven napkins and a large rough clay pot. For anyone serious about shopping, the best plan would be to use Oaxaca as a base, and drive out into these villages (most less than an hour away) to shop. You will know for certain that you are supporting the people who make these items, and you will know for certain you are buying something handmade and not factory-made, as is now often the case.

The Tlacolula market is a gathering place of these indigenous crafts, as well as an amazing collection of food - raw, cooked, dead and alive. Jan and Dave took us there, and made sure we saw the turkeys. We're not clear if you buy the bird alive and do the dirty work yourself, or if you pick the bird you like, and it is discreetly slaughtered, plucked and bagged for you. I wish I had thought to ask - I'm guessing it's the former.

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A few images from our day at Tlacolula, beginning with some wall art:

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Veggies to drool over. We have no cooking facilities where we're staying - a tough one when confronted with these beauties.

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The most beautiful green onions, as well as a big variety of fresh herbs - such bounty.

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Many of the market ladies do handwork while they wait for sales. Back home, these tomatoes are called "heirloom",
and we are charged heirloom prices.

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While the market at Tlacolula was the biggest, cleanest, and had the highest quality goods, we've roamed through a number of Oaxaca's city markets, of which there are several - a couple of great daily markets, some food-only, some supporting the Chinese export business, and one notorious one - Mercado de Abastos. It is accessed by hopping across several lanes of traffic, a railway line and then working our way around this lineup of collectivos.

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Mercado de Abastos is located in a rather unsavoury part of town, and is a vast, sprawling, stinky, vaguely Dickensian place. Possibly a little truth, possibly a little lore, this market is considered potentially unsafe - the kind of place you keep an eye on your wallet and your wits about you. The reason we were there? Our friend Jan, who is a market warrior, visits this market regularly for the best deals. She navigated the narrow alleyways like a pro. Without her, I believe we would still be wandering around in there. All in all, it was quite the experience.

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A HUGE pile of used clothing - if I understand the signs correctly - that is 5 pesos for 10 pieces (less than 50 cents)

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Many Zapotec women wear long braids with ribbons threaded through them.

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As we made our way back up into the main part of the city again, we walked past a couple of very young prostitutes, one of whom was leading a young man into an alleyway. By the time we walked by, the alleyway was empty, nothing but a doorway and a dank, damp concrete floor. It gave us all a sick feeling.

We had the privilege of meeting a couple of inspiring American women ( Kathy and Marilyn), who are associated with Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots. They have spent years devoting a lot of their own vacation time and money to help young Oaxacan street children have a chance to move beyond selling trinkets in the zocalo.

We chatted with a young woman, Ruby, last night in a pastry shop. She was well dressed and spoke English very well - she was so bright and curious, and shared her dream of travel to Colombia, and to Cuba (her father is a fan of both Che and Castro). She said rather wistfully that perhaps once she is married she could travel with her husband. She is not currently in school - no idea what, if any, the barriers are.

Then we met up with this trio. Magdalena is studying to be an industrial engineer, and she and her two friends approached us to chat.

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These young people crossed the highway as we were heading home - so full of beans. The economic and class divide is so
sharply illustrated in this city, and it can be heartbreaking.

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On a different note - Mexicans may not have a fair shake, but they don't take it lying down. Their current president, Pena Nieto, is highly unpopular. This piece of street art accuses him of murdering "the missing 43". The 43 students who disappeared over a year ago are a touchstone for the violence and corruption that Mexicans endure - the final straw - the outrage that will not go away. References to them appear all over Mexico.

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Rough translation: We are the sons of war you could not kill.

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I love this sign. There are a number of similar ones around the city, as parking is at a premium, and drivers push their luck with parking in front of garage doors. This one warns that "Parking prohibited. Punctured tires are free."

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I could add so many photos of art, stone walls, clever installations, etc., but in the interest of brevity, I'll give you my favourites.

A painting that stood out for me - the longer you look, the more you see

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Sunset over Oaxaca - a lovely ending to a great get-together with new friends Suzanne and Bill

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Cute little coffee shop tucked into a container

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The night riders. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, cyclists gather in front of the church and charge all over the city.

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An ode to oil

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A centrepiece of the Cultural Centre - dozens of glass jars suspended from the ceiling.

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The Cultural Centre is a work of art in itself. Stone, brick, extravagant, yet understated landscaping.

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Oaxaca is a food-lover's paradise, and you can luck out with a market stand tostada as easily as a four-star restaurant. Many restaurants offer comida corridas ( fixed-price 3 or 4-course lunches) for around $5. A few very nice restaurants also offer del dia menus at a fraction of what their regular menu would cost. Our favorite "treat" restaurant is Los Danzantes - decor, service and food is outstanding - and the comida corrida is 145 pesos (about $11 CAN, $8 US).

Entrance to the restaurant

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Our meal included shots of mescal, a warm rice and zucchini starter, shrimp enchilada, and a brownie topped with cantaloupe mousse.

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On the low end, Fonda Florecita is Rick Bayliss-endorsed. Stuck in the back of a market, this little stand just hops. We had black tacos topped with salsa and eggs, and bowls of hot chocolate - all Oaxaca specialities - so delicious.

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Yesterday, we went to lunch at Itanoni's, which looks like a cross between a market stall and a local neighbourhood hangout. It's not fancy, prices are low, and the food is out of this world - they use four kinds of organic heirloom corn that is stone-ground on the premises and then turned into a large variety of tacos, tetelas, quesadillas, tostadas, etc. It is reputedly one of Alice Water's favourites. It's been branded (cooks and servers wear stylish T-shirts with the Itanoni logo) but it has retained a very warm and welcoming atmosphere.

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All this food would be taking its toll, except for the non-stop walking, hill-climbing and a few classes of zumba. I take zumba at home with the lithe and graceful Veronique, and our Mexican instructor is the anti-Vero. With his diamond studs and thick chain, track pants and t-shirt, and short, muscular body, he is Ricky Martin's bad-boy brother. The one-hour classes were non-stop whirls of jumps, kicks, gyrating hips and bouncing buttocks - all set to Latin music, and whistles from our instructor as he stomped us through our paces. With Mexican women of all ages outnumbering the gringas about 10-1, I had to keep up, but it nearly killed me.

This morning, we went to an outdoor session of zumba in the park. It was set for 9:00, and we arrived on time to find our instructor and one other woman there. By 9:15, the speaker had arrived, and participants were starting to show up. (starting to get the drift of Mexican time).

Our instructor, also male, was an unbelievable dancer and within minutes he had our large group attempting to follow along to "Fireball." The Mexicans were just fine - try and imagine the gringos getting down with "the bounce", and you'll have an idea. I'll leave you with this shot.

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See you in a few days from Puebla. Oaxaca, we will miss you.

Posted by millerburr 09:05 Archived in Mexico

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Comments

So love following your blog, your photos, and seeing that, you, too, have felt the magic of Oaxaca! Safe travels as you head for Puebla. :)
Marilyn

by Marilyn Horn

I love the colours, the art, the markets, I can smell the food, touch the veggies, such vivid accounts of your wanderings! It is such a pleasure to follow your travels with my cup of coffee on a sunny Sunday morning!
Ginny, I expect a demo of your new found Zumba moves on your return!
Thanks for your regular posts and wonderful pics!

by Laurence

Wishing you both a very happy 35th wedding
anniversary on Sunday, January 31st.
With much love from Keith & Kay

by Keith & Kay

Always a thrill to receive your next chapter! Huge thank you! Who knew, we are off to New York City to celebrate our 30th Anniversary on Jan. 31st!! Love you both and safe travels. Hugs, bey and Andy

by Bey

A wonderful entry as always. The only thing that would have made it better was a picture of Dad zumba'in!

by Alex

One of your best blogs! I could actually taste everything!!! Politics, culture, food, dust. Carol

by Carol Martin

I have to hand it to you two - you're certainly not afraid to mix it up with the locals - whether it is shopping for bargains in the Mercado de Abastos or an outdoor Zumba class - good for you! And your mouth-watering photos are making me hungry! I think I'll whip us up some tacos!

by Heather

We will have to put Oaxaca on our "wish list".
Your photos bring it to life. We love markets!
Jim and Sheila

by Hawkson

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