A Travellerspoint blog

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.


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.


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



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


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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."


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


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


Cute little coffee shop tucked into a container


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


An ode to oil


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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

Posted by millerburr 09:05 Archived in Mexico Comments (8)

Fast track to heaven...

... funny, touching, sad and thought-provoking moments in Oaxaca.

semi-overcast 20 °C

Walk around Oaxaca for 15 minutes, and you will be entertained. There is so much rich material here, you don't
even need to visit a museum or cathedral. The street will provide.

Assuming this rather New-Agey image is Jesus, it would seem the Chavez funeral home is offering prospective clients
an assured passage to heaven.


There are captivating little alleys, stairways and archways.





Decorative house numbers


Dramatic and changeable skies


Oaxaca is a very clean city. Storeowners sweep and hose down their front steps, and there is a minimum of litter on the streets.
Street cleaners like this gentleman are everywhere.


An incredible array of goods are moved by hand throughout the city. It is a marvel to see how merchandise makes it though traffic.


Santo Domingo church is a gathering place at all times of the day and night and it is also the scene of many extravagant celebrations - weddings, communions, christenings and the quinceaneras - the coming-of-age party for fifteen-year-old girls. Wealthy families celebrate in this church, and the parties can be as elaborate as most weddings.


We have no idea what is so valuable in an auto body shop that requires no less than four dogs to protect it. If I had felt like aggravating these animals, I could have walked by them on the left, as their leads do not seem to extend that far. While pilons have been thoughtfully provided to prevent them from being run over, they do not have shade or water, or a comfortable place to lie down. Much like the roof dogs who bark endlessly and impotently at potential robbers, It would seem their barks are worse than their bites.


Jalatlaco is a very cool neighbourhood (and Oaxaca's oldest) that is just off the main drag. Filled with cafes, small hotels, and street art, it is a walker's paradise. I peeked in the door of this pool hall - same as pool halls everywhere, but with better art.


Oaxaca is filled with young lovers - they're like bunnies. Mexican kids mature much earlier than their Canadian and American counterparts. The parks are filled with amorous fourteen-year-olds, still in their school uniforms, away from the watchful eyes of their parents. It is endearing on one hand, with every park bench and stone step filled with teenage couples wrapped in an embrace. On the other hand, there also appear to be a lot of very young mothers around!


We were at a market last Friday afternoon, and noticed a crowd surrounding this woman. Cameras and cell phones were going crazy, a couple of "handlers" were watching carefully, and women and children lined up for hugs. This woman was gracious with everyone, and stayed for a long time talking to anyone who approached her. We took this photo when she started singing to a shy young girl and her mother, who seemed overcome by being in her presence. We asked who she was - Eugenie Leon - as it turns out, one of Oaxaca's most famous singers. We were foolishly as star-struck as the rest of the crowd and Googled her when we got home. Big voice.


On our walk today, we began to notice an unusual number of police around - all levels - municipal, state and federal. Then we encountered barricades with police in full riot gear, and we knew something was up. Just to the right of this barricade, a major protest was in place. The governor of Oaxaca, who is quite unpopular, was in a meeting in town. Whatever the agenda of the meeting, it provoked a huge outcry, likely over low wages,unfair working conditions, labour disputes, extravagant government waste, corruption - the usual. Oaxaca is a hotbed of activists - going back to well before the deadly teachers' strike in 2006, which resulted in 17 deaths, and still hasn't been resolved.


At another intersection, these policia were far more relaxed, and allowed a photo. "Selfie!" They were very good-natured
about me posing with them.


One challenge that always arises when travelling for an extended period is trying to find a hairdresser, in a strange town, with limited Spanish. My hair is very thick, grows very fast, and usually needs a trim every five or six weeks max. I got my hair cut short with my friend Vikki just before we left town, and the expiry date was up - time to get a trim. As luck would have it, we were at a party a couple of nights ago and I met a woman from Victoria who happened to have great hair - styled by a barber, Antonio. A very contemporary barber - complete with 2016 facial hair and beard, a mezcal bar, and a sign on his door that promised cuts - "classic and moderno". I hopped into his old-school barber chair, and got myself a "moderno" that was seriously razor cut. He lathered up the sides of my face and came at me with a straight razor, and I had a momentary panic that he hadn't noticed I was not an hombre and I was about to have a shave. A very unique experience, and a great haircut to boot, although a bit too much product for my taste.
Then it was Stephen's turn. I usually cut his hair with an electric razor, but he felt it was time for a bit of style, so Antonio shaved the back and sides, and left the top a little longer. You may not be able to tell from the photo that there is style involved, but it's a better look than I can achieve. We walked out with two haircuts for 200 pesos - about $17. The results below:


Oaxaca is famous for its street art - some of it decorative and some of it sprung from the political unrest and fury over Mexico's ongoing social problems. We have walked into a lot of neighbourhoods that are just out of the tourist area, and stumbled upon some very interesting examples.






We are here until Monday morning - heading out to Puebla. There is still so much to share - incredible food, markets, art galleries, 2000-year-old trees. Here is one final image to sign off - not sure who that ear belonged to (pig? cow?) but it got me thinking about more veg, less meat.


Posted by millerburr 17:53 Archived in Mexico Comments (11)


We're both fine, but our VW has a little more character.

sunny 27 °C


We did a foolish thing yesterday, and we can't say we weren't warned. According to all the travel books and online forums, a minor accident in Mexico is best left alone. Police involvement is something to be avoided in Mexico, and generally, both parties are advised to work it out among themselves, and then leave the scene.

Apparently many Mexicans drive without insurance, which further complicates things, and can result in the offending parties being thrown in jail while the whole mess is sorted out.

We have our car parked right outside our posada, and yesterday someone sideswiped the back left side, and then drove off. So when we discovered this note on our windshield, written by a witness, and giving us the licence plate number, we were both crestfallen at the damage, and encouraged that we might be able to do something about it. The note is telling us that a white truck with camper ran into our car so hard it made it shake.


Although I know this is a bad idea, on the advice of the owners of the posada, I went across the street to speak to an auxiliary police officer, who looked over the damage with an appreciative whistle. (We figure the damage will be over $1000 to fix, as we'll need a new bumper - the body should be able to be banged out.) We then went around the corner to the Polizia Vial (traffic cop), who gave me an address to go to make the report; an office several blocks away.

We discussed the pros and cons of doing such a thing and came to the decision that a police report would be necessary in our insurance claim - this being through our Mexican insurance. BIG MISTAKE! Down the rabbit hole we went, into a bureaucratic nightmare that went on for four hours, and ended with a copy of the report (typed painstakingly and then copied multiple times on a dot matrix printer). Needless to say, having just three months of online Spanish and four days of in-class study did not help the situation.

We were aided by two people (a father and daughter, as we found out later), and apparently the last tourist they had to help was over a year ago, so they had no idea what to do with us. They questioned everything - including the colour of the car (green) and the style (hatchback). The daughter did not feel green was the right colour, so we went through an insane charade of holding up various objects in the room that were different shades of green, including her father's jacket, which was almost an exact match. We felt like the perpetrators, not the victims, and it got a bit tense for a while. As we realized we were now in the system, we knew we had to keep our cool, and just get it over and done with. Our address caused them a lot of confusion, especially "Columbia" - we tried several times to explain it was a province, not a country. Our passports, drivers licences, BC insurance and Mexican insurance all had the identical information, but our papers were scrutinized endlessly (for signs of fraud? - no idea). The piece de resistance was that into the fourth hour, when it looked like it might be wrapping up, I had to sign 6 copies of the documents. Each document package had about 6 pages, and I had to sign each one in two different places - 72 signatures. I began signing - Ginny Miller - and after I had signed through on the first set of documents, it was pointed out to me that this was not the same name on my passport. What was I thinking? Again, I know better - my name on official documents is Virginia Miller, and after I explained that all my familia and amigos call me Ginny, she seemed reassured I was the same person. A new set was photocopied, and the long signing process began again. Stephen and I were both so exhausted, stressed, hungry, thirsty and fed up by the time we finally left, we could barely speak.

When I told my Spanish teacher the story this morning, he told me Mexicans never go to officials for help, especially police, whom they have very good reason not to trust. He went to the same office last year when his laptop was stolen, and had a similar experience with an equally unsatisfying result.

Steve tried to call the insurance company today, but our internet connectivity is so spotty here, he could not get through with Skype, and has emailed them instead. Hopefully, we will get to the bottom of this soon. In the meantime, our car is completely drivable, our tires were not damaged - there was only body damage, so we will carry on and figure out the best place to have it fixed (Mexico or back home).

Moral of this story - when in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do. We are not going to change things to work the way we think they should, and so we have learned a very good lesson.

To backtrack by a week, we began our time here on a high note (after we changed our lodgings) and that has carried through.

My friend Nicola happened to be in Oaxaca when we arrived. She is a writer and editor from Ontario, who spends her winters in Spanish-speaking countries, often Mexico, and our timing worked out that we were finally able to meet face-to-face. I have known her since my days with New Society Publishers, and we've had an ongoing email correspondence. Nicki is also an avid hiker, who has written hiking books and travelled through Patagonia by horseback, so when she suggested we go for a hike in a nearby town, I knew it would not involve flip-flops.


We drove out to a small town just outside Oaxaca - San Andres Huayapan, parked by the church and headed down the road. Huayapan is one of many small pueblos in the Oaxaca region that have a special energy to them. This little town is very up-and-coming, with big houses being built and financed by new middle-class money . This is the town that Canadian actress Jackie Burroughs spent much of her life in, in her later years. We walked past her old casa and once-beautiful gardens that were intended to be left to her gardener. Sadly, a bureaucratic glitch has prevented her estate from being settled properly, and it sits empty.

It is said that Oaxaca and surrounding countryside sits on one of the largest vortices in the world. If you believe such things, ( I do - Stephen is skeptical), then spending time in the Oaxaca area feels like one cosmic recharge.


We mainly had the trails to ourselves, but encountered this group of mountain bikers...


...as well as this gentleman and his donkeys.


Back in town we stopped for delicious quesadillas at this food stand in the square.


The church in Huayapan is not terribly noteworthy, but someone has taken their pruners to the trees around the church and in the square with a fair bit of artistry. The trees in the square are shaped like birds, and the tree to the left of the church doors is shaped in a credible image of Jesus on the cross.


Speaking of friends - one of the joys of travelling for us is meeting people from all over the world (or at least all over North America); some of whom we have kept in touch with. Jan and Dave Rooney are two people we met in Oaxaca in 2011 on the steps leading up to Monte Alban. Jan started talking to us, (very common for her, I'm told) and that was it - we had an invitation for drinks on their terrace. Jan and Dave live half the year in Boston and half the year in Oaxaca - their huge terrace overlooks the city and is a popular site for parties and gatherings. We met up with them last year, and again last week, and had the pleasure of meeting some of their friends. They are all very involved in the city's to-ings and fro-ings, which is a big advantage to staying in one place for a while.

The ladies - Carol, Jan and Suzanne


The gentlemen - two Bills, a Stephen and a Dave


Spanish Magic! That is the name of our Spanish language school, but it is a bit of magic when you experience a breakthrough in learning a new language. I had been studying for the past several months online with an app called Duolingo, and felt as though I was making progress, but nothing beats conversation with a native speaker. There is a very long road ahead to any level of fluency, but for this trip I would be thrilled to consistently be able to understand and make myself understood. Stephen and I took one week of lessons here in Oaxaca and will look into another week in San Miguel in March. Classes were Monday to Friday, 9:00 am to noon - we finished today. We were placed in different classes, which was good. Quality time apart on a 24/7 road trip is always welcome.

This is my group - our teacher Ruben, and students Jory, Eileen, Ann and Robert. There was wide disparity in speaking and comprehension levels, which wasn't ideal, and while I got a lot out of it, I would prefer to consider either private lessons or a smaller class next time. Still, it was sociable and engaging, and put us both on track to take learning seriously.


Our school


A city where food and art meet...and are often the same thing. Such unusual and interesting combinations of food, decor, wall art, landscaping, and whimsy exist throughout the city's restaurants and cafes.

This is a great little spot close to us - intimate (chef brings the food out), devoted to the bicycle, and devoted to wonderful, affordable food. A four-course meal here is 80 pesos (about $5).


This was one of our first meals in Oaxaca. We were wandering in the market, and got a bit overwhelmed with sights and smells. This seafood place fit the bill, and as a bonus, we were the only gringos - often a good sign. Steve had tacos and I had the shrimp cocktail. Shrimp cocktail is very common in Mexico - served in a sundae glass, filled with a ketchup-y sauce and a basket of saltines. This could take you back to the 50's and 60's, except the shrimp are incredibly fresh and you get about 2 dozen of them in a serving. I couldn't eat them all.


This place is fun. The art on the walls as well as the fellow on the left are a great diversion while you wait for your food.


Our lunch in this restaurant. It is impossible to eat too many shrimp. The avocados in Mexico are like butter. I realize this is where they are grown, but still - no comparison to what we get at home.


My final shot for the day. Christmas trimmings, especially wilting poinsettias, are everywhere. This non-denominational nativity scene in a popular coffee shop really caught our eye. In addition to the usual suspects, there are a number of women in traditional dress, a couple of baseball players, and a guy who looks like Sonny Bono.


Posted by millerburr 19:25 Archived in Mexico Comments (12)

On the road to Oaxaca

sunny 23 °C

This is one of the many, many breathtaking views we enjoyed on our drive from Taxco to Oaxaca. This is also a toll road, and worth every peso it cost to travel almost eight hours (about $40). Most toll roads, not all, but most toll roads are a superior choice when you just want to get from A to B without frazzled nerves and a punctured tire. Many free roads, on the other hand, are a delight, and take you to all the backroad sights that you would otherwise miss. However, last year we took the free road from Cuernavaca to Oaxaca, and a trip that should have taken 7 hours took 11 hours, and gave us enough backroad sights to last a lifetime.


This time around, we knew we were in for a long day, and we knew we would be driving through two cities and would get lost in at least one of them. We sailed through Cuernavaca just fine, but got lost in Puebla. Our sons worry about our sense of direction, and wish we would opt for GPS, but seriously that is not always an advantage in Mexico. It turned out well, though - we got a sneak peak at a very interesting city, and when we realized we were lost, we pulled over and stopped in front of a media college, where we met a charming English-speaking young man, who soon pointed us in the right direction. As he put it, "Puebla is a cool city", so we look forward to visiting in February when our friends Joy and Oscar will be there.

Back to the virtues of the toll roads - they are often in much better condition and they usually have guardrails right in the spot you would most like to see them.


We re-discovered the practical application of creating a "third lane." When there are just two lanes, and paved shoulders, the rule is for slower vehicles to straddle the shoulder and allow faster vehicles to pass right down the middle. It is a much-appreciated mechanism for keeping traffic moving safely and efficiently on twisty roads.


We arrived in Oaxaca in a state of great anticipation. It is one of our favourite places - we have friends there, the food is phenomenal, the art and architecture is stunning, it is ringed with mountains and has a soft and beautiful light, and while there are loads of gringos, it is still a very Mexican city.

We will be staying here for two and a half weeks, and in an effort to stick to our budget of $120 a day, we chose an inexpensive casita through Airbnb that looked very modest but had good reviews. We were greeted by a charming young woman who led us to the casita in the back of her parent's home, and it was nothing like the photos. A long, dark and dingy little building with windows facing a back wall, no cross-ventilation, no fan, shabby furniture, and no fridge (as promised). We tried not to show our disappointment, but as we had a better look around, we realized we couldn't stay there. The bathroom was filthy, with a previous guest's toothpaste and soap, a dirty glass, one dirty towel, floors throughout dusty and unmopped, and some clothing (including underwear) left in one of the drawers. It was clear the place had not been properly cleaned after the last guest (or ever). We moved the two single beds together, only to discover a small dish on the floor filled with rat poison pellets. My skin was crawling by now, and even though I took the rat poison to the young woman and she came back to clean the bathroom and sweep the floor, we decided we had to go. We let them know we weren't happy and that we might not stay and we scooted around the corner to the posada we stayed at last year. Luckily they had a room, so within a half hour we were moved out of the casita and into the posada. What a relief - until we discovered that we would only be getting about $225 back (out of our almost $600 advance payment), due to the cancellation policy set by the host. We sent off a strongly worded letter to Airbnb, and our refund has improved slightly. We'll wait until we get our refund in the bank and then pursue it further - not sure if it will be any use - in our haste to get out of there, I did not take photos, which might have helped our case. We're annoyed and a little wary of Airbnb now, but at this point we have some perspective. Our friend Jan's friends are stuck in Guadalajara with a blown transmission, which makes our little mishap look piddling.

Our new home - Posada de Los Angeles


It's early winter, and I was wondering if there would be any flowering trees or shrubs yet. Although the Jacaranda (gorgeous purple flowers) trees are not yet in bloom, the city and countryside is still filled with colour.




An interesting tree with hanging "beads".


I love how Mexicans use everyday objects to create quite ingenious works of art. I almost believe I could do this at home.

Kitchen whisks are slipped over small bulbs to create pendant lighting.


The ever-popular use of pallets is an effective showcase for plants, either indoors or out. In this case, each large succulent is planted in a plastic child's sand pail.


At the entrance to an art gallery, these plastic crates act as lampshades.


Things I know I can't do at home? Almost all of this art, street and otherwise.







I love people watching. Mexico obliges beautifully - take a nation of expressive people, mix them all together in cafes, zocalos, churches, or pedestrian streets, and watch what happens.

Even little girls get their boots shined.


We walked through a market and this man had his music cranked and was just givin' 'er. I caught his eye and start dancing along with him, and that was all the encouragement he needed.


We stopped to watch this woman weave. Stephen asked her how long it would take to make this runner and she said two days. Imagine that - two days work and she might make $10 or $15 profit.


And finally - food. It is hard work to eat badly here. Oaxaca is known for its cuisine - the markets are outstanding, the restaurants are so varied and fabulous and there are a number of esteemed cooking schools.

I'll leave you with a few market shots. Restaurants, cafes, comidas, chocolate, coffee are all to follow in upcoming blogs.

We ate roasted grasshoppers - chapulines; a Oaxacan speciality. They are sold in markets - thousands upon thousands of them in one stand after another. Who picks them? Cleans and roasts them? It's a mystery. They're good - a bit crunchy and well- seasoned.



Moles (mole-ays) are another Oaxaca specialty - complex sauces flavored with spices and chocolate, in varying strengths of heat.




We're off to Spanish lessons tomorrow, trying very hard to find a way to communicate beyond the basics.

Hasta pronto!

Posted by millerburr 18:30 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

Taxco -there's silver in them thar hills

sunny 23 °C

Taxco is a city that makes you work to get there, and as a result, the majority of tourists are Mexican, many from Mexico City, which is about 2 - 2 1/2 hours north. It's not really near anywhere else, and is situated high up in the mountains, accessible by driving first through the dreaded Toluca (or Cuernavaca), and then flinging yourself through the spin/dry cycle of twisty mountain switchbacks for another hour and a half. The upside is the roads are in excellent shape, traffic is light, and the views are breathtaking. The other upside is that just before you arrive in Taxco, you pull over to the lookout and see this:


We spoke to the gentleman at the lookout information desk, who was very appreciative of our visit, and thanked us for coming. He was curious to know where we were staying and when I said, La Casa del Laurel ( low-rel), he stared blankly. After I spelled it out, his face brightened, and with a big smile, he said, "Ah, si, - La Casa de Law- rel". This is yet another thing I love about Mexicans - they are so quick to help you with your language and pronounciation. Tourism took a hit here after the murder of the 43 students a year ago September in Iguala, which is just south of Taxco. After those murders, the governor and his wife and the chief of police were jailed, most of the police force were fired, and the perception of calm has gradually been restored. The state of Guerrero has a troubled history, so it may just be a case of replacing one set of bad actors with another, but we were reassured that this year all is safe. Wherever the dark corners of Taxco may be, we have not yet encountered them. In fact, the city looks more like a tidy burg in Switzerland - all red roofs and white walls and neat storefronts. This was our second impression as we drove in:


Our first impression was less favourable. Due to the narrow streets and volume of traffic, you are forced to creep along, and we were immediately beset upon by a gang of young boys who wanted to sell us "information" ( a photocopied map available for free everywhere). We were whistled at, flagged down and yelled at from storefronts, parking garages, restaurants, and everywhere else that it might be possible to extract a peso from a tourist. One little fellow ran alongside our car, with us as his captive audience for a couple of blocks. My heart sank - this aggressive approach makes me anxious, and with Taxco boasting more than 100 silver shops, I was sure our entire time here would be spent in defensive posture. Not at all, as it turns out. We blew off the drive and the welcoming committee with the sight of our hotel:


We checked in, and were shown to our room. We had our pick, as it is a small hotel, and I think we were the only ones there for the first night.


This is the view from our room:


Taxco was once one of the most important silver mining area in Mexico, but there has not been mining here for a few years now due to labour disputes between the government and the workers. The silver now comes in from Pachuca, but the silversmithing is done locally. I was very interested to see the creative work, but with the exception of one or two shops, every store sells variations of the same chains, necklaces, bracelets, keychains, earrings and rings. As well, everything is priced at least double the price that the shop owner wants, and then the game begins. "For you, a 30 percent discount, today only." "How much you want to spend?" "This is my best price." And so on.

I had three items I was hoping to find - a silver cuff for my mother, a silver chain for Dan (at his request), and one fabulous piece for myself. I couldn't find any cuffs that would suit my mother's small wrist and not look like a christening bracelet, and for fabulous - I will have to wait until I get back to Gabriola. Our silver artists have a lot to be proud of, in terms of artistry. Taxco has an international clientele, and I suspect the money lies with store owners who are buying great quantities wholesale.

I did find one thing - Dan had asked us to pick him up a silver chain, and I found a lovely one. It started at 995 pesos, and I bought it for 420 pesos - around $35. It has the 925 mark, as well as another distinctive Mexican silver mark, so as much as I know about silver, I am assuming it is the real thing.


There is not a whole lot to do in Taxco if you're not silver shopping, other than a couple of small museums, but it is quite amusing to just be part of the street scene and take in the quirks of this extremely hilly Pueblo Magico. For starters, every road is narrow, cobblestoned and almost vertical.
There are no sidewalks, and the cobblestones are treacherous - try as they might, no Mexican woman could navigate these streets in their customary stilettos. These are the cobblestones that break ankles:


These are the hills that test brakes:


While there are delivery trucks and other assorted vehicles on the roads, the main mode of transport here is the flotilla of white VW taxis (the originals) that buzz and swarm up hill and down dale. They are a sight to behold - defying gravity as they take on every imaginable elevation. I guess the brakes are not the originals?


It is very easy to engage people here. (Even if they do have something to sell)


As we were walking through the market, this young man pointed to himself, so I snapped his photo.


Walking up to the zocalo, we saw a rather comical sight. Frosty appears to have had it with the festive season.


Santa Prisca cathedral is the centrepiece of the zocalo - a Baroque confection that, like cathedrals in most Mexican towns and cities, dominates the landscape. The zocalo is the meeting place for locals and tourist alike - fun for people-watching and ideal if you're in the market for a helium balloon of Batman.


We had quite an adventure yesterday - we grabbed a bus and headed a half hour out of town to visit the Cacahuamilpa Caves - one of the largest cave systems in the world, and "live" - meaning the stalactites and stalagmites are still growing. The height of the caverns ranges from 20 to 80 metres high, and out of 90 "rooms", about 20 are open to the public. We were part of a tour that lasted two hours - we walked through for over two kilometres on a wide path that was lit enough for safety, but still let us appreciate the beauty. Stephen took most of these photos, as my camera just doesn't have the resolution to capture images in the semi-dark.

Our group as we entered into the cavern:


Heading deeper into the cavern, the entrance gives off the last bit of natural light.


As we make our way along the path, you can see how enormous this cavern is.


Our guide spoke only in Spanish, but every once in a while the crowd would laugh, or they would all go, "AH!", so we sort of followed along.


The experience was so encompassing, that our lack of language didn't really matter. At times we were cool, at times hot and humid, but fully engaged - it is hard not to be impressed with the scale and grandeur of something that has been in formation for thousands of years and continues to grow and change.


We caught a collectivo back to Taxco and this is where the fun began. Collectivos are a very democratic and inexpensive way to get around Mexico. You wave one down, pay a nominal fee and hop in. Collectivos are often smallish sedans in various states of repair, but Taxco's collectivos are, in keeping with the VW theme, white VW buses (also original). This one had been retrofitted with fiendishly uncomfortable bench seats, no seatbelts and passenger numbers limited only by size (of passenger). As we started up, with Stephen sitting closest to the sliding door that remained open, I wrestled with my two selves. One Ginny said,"Excuse me, but the door is not shut." The other Ginny said, " Keep quiet, don't say anything, go with the flow." The latter Ginny won out, and away we went - nothing between Stephen and the pavement, trees and shrubs rushing by.

Stephen took this video to give you all an idea.

I'll leave you with a night shot - Taxco is just magical at all times of the day.


We head out tomorrow morning for Oaxaca. We'll be there for two or three weeks - time to unpack for a while, shake off the road, and enjoy the rhythm of that beautiful city.

Hasta pronto!

Posted by millerburr 16:13 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

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