A Travellerspoint blog

San Cristobal: kicking my preconceived ideas to the curb

sunny 24 °C


This is San Cristobal de las Casas. Graffiti by noted street artist Kram


And so is this. Typical street view


And so is this. Nescafe in Mexico is (almost) a thing of the past. Artesan coffee roaster using local beans

We came to San Cristobal with great anticipation and very little prior knowledge. Everyone we spoke to who has been here has LOVED it - this may be the only Mexican destination that is unanimously revered. Here's what I pictured in my mind:
a) largely indigenous people
b) no cameras allowed ( natives feel their souls will be stolen)
c) respectful attire only ( no shorts, tank tops, flip-flops)
d) hilly, chilly, photogenic
e) conservative - the "old" Mexico


Here's what we've discovered so far:
a) indigenous yes (there are 10 distinct Mayan languages and cultures), but there is a broad mix of people who live and travel here.
b) cameras allowed everywhere but inside churches. If you wish to take a picture of someone, be respectful and ask first - it will likely be yours, for a fee.
c) tourists wear almost anything, but flip-flops can be dangerous on these streets and sidewalks.
d) it is hilly, a bit chilly (23 degrees during the day, 12 - 14 at night), and very photogenic
e) the "old" Mexico is being enhanced by a generation of savvy entrepreneurs


An international beer shop that moves far beyond Corona and Modelo

One delightful development in San Cristobal over recent years has been an explosion of specialty food shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. For every tourist-trap restaurant with laminated menus and sidewalk hawkers, there are several more that have taken the local, organic, "your chicken's name is Colin" approach to a whole new level. Thanks to Tripadvisor's #1 suggestion, we headed to Frontera for lunch, and ordered coffee and sandwiches. The sandwiches arrived on wooden boards - house-baked bagels with our fillings, garnished with fresh cream cheese and julienned carrots. Coffee arrived with instructions - 2 white mugs, a French press and a card notifying us that our selection was "produced in Campesinos Ecologicos in the Sierre Madre de Chiapas at 1200 - 1700 feet, its origin Jaltenango, Siltepec, and with notes of citrus, nut, caramel and chocolate".


Frontera is one of three businesses housed in an old farmhouse-style building - thick walls, heavy beams, interior courtyard.

Our first day here was spent wandering the city and trying not to have too much of an agenda. We're here for 6 days, so we have plenty of time to see the sights - sometimes the most memorable experiences are the serendipitous ones. It's possible I could have gone my whole life without holding a tarantula, but now that one's been scratched off the list. We walked by a young man who was letting people know about the insect museum around the corner, and he had a big, hairy Chilean Rose tarantula as his crowd-grabber. When I asked if I could touch it, he cautioned against trying to "pet" it, as it would get agitated, but he offered to put it on my flat palm. I can't tell you what it was like, as I had my eyes closed the entire time.


It is possible to walk for hours - the city unfolds in front of you, and no matter what street you choose to walk down (or up), there will be lots to look at.
There are two pedestrian-only streets , and quite naturally, they have the biggest concentration of shops and restaurants.


The streets here are unbelievably narrow, and most are one-way, with "UNO" at each intersection (each car slows down and takes their turn). The modus operandi for drivers in San Cris is to hurtle madly from intersection to intersection. The modus operandi for pedestrians is to stay alert and stay alive.
This is an example of a typical street - to make matters more challenging, people will pull their cars up on the sidewalks as temporary parking spots, allowing just enough space for another car to squeeze by.

Chiapas has an incredibly varied and dramatic natural landscape, and there is so much to see within driving distance of San Cristobal, so we planned a couple of day trips, and will save the big sights like Palenque and some of the jungle tours for after we leave. Yesterday, we drove out to the Sumidero Canyon, about 45 minutes from here. The Sumidero Canyon is very narrow and dramatic, with some cliffs reaching over 1000 feet.


Small boats take passengers up the 13-km. waterway, for a 2-hour trip that included sightings of many kinds of birds, howler monkeys and crocodiles. It was amazing - we saw them all. I tried to get photos of the monkeys, but they got lost in the trees. Our guide stopped the boat at a number of places, so we could observe them. The birds flapped and posed for us,and the crocodiles did very little, which I guess is a good thing. We saw a number of adults and a few youngsters, but they were so small, they didn't show up against the rocks in a photo.


These birds are called zopilote - they are a type of vulture, and typically, they congregate in large groups. As bird life goes, this looks rather bleak - hanging out on a sun-baked river bank.


We also saw a rock formation that is known as Arbol de Navidad (Christmas tree) - formed over time by an overhead waterfall. As our guide pulled us up close, we felt the light mist coming down from hundreds of feet above.


We're off to a village tour today - this time we're going with an English-speaking guide, and we will have an opportunity to see a lot more and learn a lot more than if we just drove there on our own. So much more to tell you about - the churches, the markets, the museums, the textiles, the street art, the presence of the Zapatistas, the ongoing protests - so many stories. I'll get another blog about San Cristobal and area out in a couple of days.

While we have been in Mexico, we've had the great joy of seeing the crescent moon upside down, like a smile, rather than as we view it at home, on its side. It has something to do with our southern location - maybe one of you knows why? Stephen took this shot from the end of our street.

Posted by millerburr 05:32 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

Lifting the Curtain on Huatulco

sunny 34 °C


This is the reason we needed to get off the road for a while. We're halfway through our travels, and had reached that point where we just had to stop. Stop driving, eat nice food, drink cold beer, float on our backs in the ocean and have afternoon naps in the shade. Huatulco has provided us with all of that and more. After our disappointing stay in Puerto Escondido, we splurged a tiny bit, and treated ourselves to 6 nights in a decent hotel. We had scoured the internet for options, and ended up "stalking" our friends who were staying here at Villa Blanca for a 2-week vacation. This place was just exactly what we needed - well-run with very friendly staff, spotlessly clean, each room the size of a Vancouver studio apartment, huge buffet breakfast, large pool and garden area, and access to a beach club about a 10-minute walk away. Super comfy bed, air-conditioning, equipped with a fridge and a coffee-maker - priceless.


The pool area and dining room were natural meeting places for guests, and it was a very convivial place. Guests came from all over Canada and the U.S., but it was the French-Canadians who brought the party, with their "bais-oui's" and their cigarettes and their slightly disconcerting swimwear. Lots of fun.

When we were planning our trip, we set a daily budget of $100 that would cover accommodation, gas and food, and we have managed to stick to that number. The quality of our accommodation varies, depending upon where we are in Mexico, but we try to find places that are under $50 a night. This hotel is $65 a night, and was worth every extra peso. We are completely relaxed, and here are the shots of us at the beach club to prove it.


Huatulco is hard to wrap your head around, because there isn't actually a town called Huatulco; rather it is a set of nine bays, centred around the small towns of La Crucecita, Santa Cruz and several new developments. Huatulco was a coffee-growing area and fishing village until it was selected in the mid-80s by the Mexican government sector called FONATUR for tourism development. And, similar to what happened in Cancun and Ixtapa, huge tracts of land were expropriated, existing communities relocated, and the building began. It cannot compare to the soulless development of those two places, but great swaths of it feel like the land of broken dreams.
There is a long pier in Santa Cruz to accommodate the cruise ships that were slated to drop anchor here. In anticipation of the thousands of visitors these ships would bring in, a vast infrastructure project around the town began. FONATUR put up this sign announcing all the advantages the cruise ship industry would bring to the area, and this roadway was cleared to allow foot traffic between Santa Cruz and La Crucecita. Controversy with passenger and crew head taxes appear to have slowed the anticipated flow of cruise ship traffic, and as a result many other projects have slowed as well or ground to a halt. There must be other factors involved - fallout from 2008, the ongoing fear of travel in Mexico, challenges with international accessibility to this area, but there are very striking juxtapositions between extreme luxury and extreme hardship. This hotel below is typical of a number of almost-fisnished projects that sit boarded-up and empty.


Even worse, the area is dotted with rubble-strewn vacant lots, and buildings that appear condemned. These buildings are inhabited by squatters - I caught a glimpse of a mother and small child before they disappeared into the shadows.


In the area we are staying in, there are dozens of hotels, wide boulevards, and really beautiful parks. Much of this area is almost empty - so few people to enjoy the landscaping, the brick pathways and the gracious buildings.


The really luxurious hotels, further down the road, with names like "Dreams" and "Secrets", are hidden behind winding driveways and guarded and gated booths.


But...for all the disconnected sprawl, the huge disparity of wealth and poverty, and the queasy sense of "them-us", there is a warmth and friendliness here that is extremely welcoming. Many Mexicans speak English quite well. We stopped a young woman for directions, and she responded with," Oh sure - just keep going straight until you get to the plaza." Apparently, there is a real emphasis on learning English in the schools here.
Access to the town of La Crucecita from our hotel was easy and safe - a beautiful centre boulevard with benches and trees led us straight to the main plaza, the church and the very busy and vibrant evening scene. If there is a focal point in Huatulco, La Crucecita is it. People we talked to who have been coming to Huatulco for years absolutely love it - we would see glimpses of "their" Huatulco, and understand why.


We met up with our friends Jim and MJ one night at this bar for a couple of margaritas, then on to a great little spot for "the best guacamole"and tacos.


There are no shortage of great restaurants in town, and as much as we love our Mexican food, there are times when nothing but a big juicy hamburger will do. This lovely lady Elsa has had her stand for three years, and keeps it simple - burgers, fries and carrot cake - all homemade, all fabulous. She presides over the grill with a stately elegance.

The beaches are spread out over about 20 kilometres and are so varied. Some are noisy, crowded with boats, people and restaurant hawkers. Some are almost deserted and accessible only by boat. Our favourite was La Entrega - it had the right mix of people-watching, some boats (but not too many), and perfect swimming - crystal-clear, calm - pure heaven. We brought our own chairs, shared a massive shade tree with a couple of Mexican families, bought jicama and watermelon from a vendor and spent hours today and yesterday reading, swimming and napping.


Today, as we were parking at the beach, a man and his son approached us and offered to wash our car. I was overjoyed, as our car had not been washed in over a month and was so filthy people were writing things in the dust on our windows. They charged 50 pesos (about $4.50), which we paid and when we returned a few hours later, I felt like Cinderella - my pumpkin had turned into a golden carriage. Even the wheels had been washed and polished. It is so important to Mexicans to keep their cars clean, and it feels rude to drive around with Canadian plates on a dirty car - we're misrepresenting our country somehow.

The views from the hilltops are quite stunning - we drove around the bays and stopped for a couple of pictures. The letters H U A T U L C O are perched on one lookout - the choice was get in all the letters or fit me into the photo. The other photo is overlooking Santa Cruz and the pier.


Aside from the pier, Santa Cruz has a marina, a market, some nice stores, a lovely beach and a very pretty square. We spent an enjoyable hour at this cafe.


So, as we pack up tonight and hit the road tomorrow for a 9-hour (10?) to San Cristobal to las Casas in the Chiapas state, we are ready for a new adventure. Huatulco did what we needed it to do.


Posted by millerburr 18:29 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Three Fears Down; None to Go

sunny 33 °C

Before we left home to drive down to Mexico, I had three distinct fears about the trip. The first fear was crossing the border - so much had been written about border crossfire, tension and turmoil - to say nothing of having our car ripped apart and searched. The border crossing was a non-event.
The second fear was the actual driving itself - I envisioned poor roads, poor signage, and cops with their hands out every few miles. The poor roads are here (but so are the great ones), signage is terrific, and the only police officer we have had contact with so far wore braces (not partially funded by us).

We just passed the third fear milestone - driving the infamous mountain road between Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido on the coast. We'd heard the stories of buses veering off the road and down embankments - too far down to be rescued. A friend told us a harrowing tale of driving that road years ago after the rainy season, when the landslides and washouts had not yet been cleared. At several points, when the road was limited to one lane, drivers would take turns driving up over rubble to get around boulders, then back down the other side. Apparently things have improved, and so after much research and consulting with my Mexican travel forum folks, away we went. It began easily enough - an hour or so of gently curving roads, and pavement in reasonable condition. Note the driver of the truck is straddling the shoulder line. This is common practice for slower-moving vehicles in Mexico - if the road allows it. It creates a third lane for people to pass easily, and actually works very well.


We drove through all sorts of landscapes, small villages, bigger towns, and still - nada. The road began to climb, and climb and climb - to 9000 feet. We had been warned to take Gravol to counter motion sickness, but we forgot, and luckily neither of us were affected. The scenery is simply stunning - one vista unfolds that takes your breath away, and then another, and another.


Out of nowhere, a small village appears, and we wonder - What do they do when they run out of milk? What if they don't like their neighbours? Where are the children that sign is warning us about - there seem to be four houses.


The road is twisty - endlessly so - turn left, turn right, turn left, turn right - repeat for hours. But the challenge was not the serpentine nature of the drive, it was the surface of the road itself - unbelievable potholes, chunks of pavement fallen away, loose gravel, road worn down in spots to the pre-asphalt level. The only reason it was not a hazard was because for most of the drive, we had the road almost to ourselves. If this same highway had been packed with the usual array of speeding trucks, buses, motorcycles and cars - all of us trying to dodge potholes - then I do believe that someone would have done a Thelma and Louise.


The road quality began to improve when we saw this fellow. Within a few hundred meters, we came around a bend to see mountains of road building material, and several crews. Mexico is trying to fix its roads - it is just a Sisyphean task as the rainy season conspires to undo the improvements they try to make each year.
About halfway through the drive, the town of San Jose del Pacifico appears like a mirage - a tidy, alpine village with lush green vegetation, wood-timbered houses, and a main street lined with restaurants, small inns and shops. Are we dreaming? As it turns out, San Jose has a thriving business in locally grown hallucinogenic mushrooms, so perhaps there is something in the air.

We stopped for lunch in this restaurant, where wooden carved mushrooms are offered for sale ( we didn't inquire about the other), as well as a cute little display of cradle-to-grave beverage choices.

Finally - 9 hours later, just 4 1/2 hours longer than estimated, we arrived in Puerto Escondido. We found our place, went out for a bite to eat, and enjoyed our first sunset over the Pacific since we left Melaque.


We did not click with Puerto Escondido for a lot of reasons, and our accommodation was no small part of our lack of comfort there. We booked our place on Air B&B, which is an online site offering rooms, units and entire houses that are privately owned. They are often very reasonably priced, and can be a great way to meet people. In this case, while the owners were very sweet and hospitable, they had a decidedly bohemian approach which did not include prompt communication, proper cleaning, or adequate kitchen supplies (no coffeemaker). Our glasses were dirty, our bed had sand in it, and during the three days and four nights we were there, they never picked up our garbage, or gave us fresh towels. And yet - we really liked them - they just needed to replace their thirty-year-old mattress and run their rental like a business. Still, we had a very pretty view from our balcony.


Our place was a 10-minute walk to Puerto Escondido's most southern beach, Zicatela. This is one very long beach that attracts surfers from all over the world, for the monster waves called the Mexican Pipeline, which is aptly named - a huge, scary roll of water that rises up and crashes down and back out, sucking everyone that is not attached to a board, with it. Not remotely swimmable.


The beach strip is lined with shops and restaurants and listless older gringos. German, Dutch, Italian and English are spoken - there was little cohesion and the overall feeling was not friendly.


On our second day, we found a great little swimming area just the next beach over. We set up chairs, umbrella, our books and some snacks, and had two wonderful days there. The water had a soft wave, and swimming conditions were perfect.


Wherever we go, we are always surprised to discover how many people have heard of Gabriola Island, and even more surprising, know people who live there. We spoke to the couple in the foreground of this photo. The woman is from Wisconsin, is currently in Mexico teaching ESL, but went to school in Victoria, and while there, she made friends with someone from Gabriola and visited the island a few times.



Two final sunset shots.

We were ready to leave Puerto Escondido in search of other beach towns. We really wanted to have a break from travelling, driving and sightseeing, and Huatulco, just two hours south down the coastal highway beckoned. We splurged a bit ($65 a night) for a lovely hotel, air conditioning, and a comfy bed. We'll be here for 5 or 6 days - so far, it is checking off all the boxes. The fears are vanquished.

Posted by millerburr 20:22 Archived in Mexico Comments (8)

From the ridiculous to the sublime:

Oaxacan food and art on every corner

sunny 30 °C


It would be easy to feel weighed down in a city that is almost 500 years old. All that stone, all those churches - it calls for a little levity, and Oaxaca knows how to play. Right in the heart of the city is a small perfect park, with containers of succulents attached to every tree. It is not until you get a little closer that you realize this garden is a masterpiece of cheeky recycling - every planter is a plastic pop bottle, a fuel can, an old bleach bottle.


By contrast, the city is filled with the most beautiful, intricate doors and signs above restaurants and shops. They are hand-crafted works of art - of wood, ceramic, metal and copper. I've shown just a few - the city is filled with hundreds.





The fleur de lis is found in many parts of Mexico


While on the subject of street art, the markets in Oaxaca offer up so many entertaining vignettes. Stand after stand will display indigenous crafts brought in from the surrounding villages. Baskets, wooden toys, jewellery and woven and embroidered linens and garments, similar as the one modeled by Stephen.


Then perhaps two stalls down, there will be a jaunty display of undies.


Right next door to that, all the fake nails a girl could possibly want. Also Mary Kay cosmetics. I'm not sure if MK is still around in North America, but they are doing a flourishing business in the Mexican mercados.


The quantity of used clothing in this, and most markets, is staggering. I have 40 years of thrift shopping under my belt, and I could not cope with the piles and racks on offer. I searched in vain for a light, simple dress - the closest I came was a dated-looking mid-length sleeveless dress for $20!

We found plenty of art in all the usual places - museums, galleries, studios. The biggest museum - the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, is attached to the church of Santa Domingo, and presents the history of Oaxaca in several ornate stone halls. It was extremely interesting, and as we made our way through, the views from the museum courtyards and patios were almost as enjoyable.


I was keen to discover present-day artists in Oaxaca. There are several commercial and private art galleries, and the biggest and most impressive one was the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. It is housed in a gorgeous old stone building, with lofty interior courtyards, and two floors of very interesting exhibits.


In the end hall, this huge courtyard was filled with clay vessels, accompanied by a light and sound show. The trees against the far wall are the enormous and magnificent higuero trees - I could not fit them all in the photo.


We also went to a photographic gallery - such wrenching portrayals of gang members, murder victims and heroin addicts that we could barely look at them. Many of the photos were taken a few years ago in Ciudad Juarez, at the height of the violence there, and they are very graphic. The photographer is German Canseco, if you want to look him up. I'm curious about his access to this world, which is neither ridiculous nor sublime.


And what blog posting is worth its salt without mentioning food? We ate very well in Oaxaca, for very little money. Oaxaca is considered one of Mexico's most inventive gastronomic centres, and one of their delightful food customs is Comida Corrida. This is a prix-fixed meal (usually 3 courses and a drink) offered in many restaurants between 1:00 or 1:30 - 3:00. Prices vary between 40 - 120 pesos ( $3.00 - $10) and is a very affordable way to try out fancy restaurants. We met old friends Jan and Dave for comida one day, and enjoyed 3 courses for less than $5.00 each. Jan and Dave live in Oaxaca for a number of months each year, and they eat comida several times a week, often meeting friends. Oaxaca is an extremely friendly city for ex-pats, and the community calendar is crammed with things to do in and out of the city.


Another day, Steve and I splurged on the comida at La Olla. By splurged, I mean we paid 115 pesos (about $10 each) for 4 exquisite courses - handmade tortilla chips with salsa, a warm spinach salad, pumpkin soup and creamy lasagna. Dessert was apple torte. We were also served a shot of mezcal, accompanied by slices of chili-ringed oranges. Apparently there are mezcals that go down like fine scotches, but this one tasted like gasoline. La Olla is a restaurant/cooking school/ art gallery that is owned by chef Pilar Cabrera, and like many chefs, her artistic sensibilities extend beyond the kitchen. Her entrance is welcoming, the dining rooms are lovely, the dishes are sweet - every touch is well thought-out. The city is filled with restaurants like this.


The markets are another fantastic source for eating well. Rows of taquerias, chocolate stalls, fresh juice stands - pick one and grab a seat at the communal picnic tables. Many of the food vendors wear masks - both in markets and restaurants.


If you are shopping for raw product, the displays of meat, chicken and fish take a little getting used to, by our North American standards. Food safety, handling and storage are not what we might expect.


The fruit and veggie displays are always so inviting.


I'll leave you with images of our favourite coffee shop in Oaxaca - El Brujera. It covered all the elements - art ( on the walls, the graphic design and the lamps), great coffee (grown locally in Oaxaca state), perfect pastries and sandwiches, and a fantastic outdoor patio, ringed with tables, plants, and people with many, many laptops and devices. We stopped there to get out of the sun and regroup, and it will be a lasting memory of the old and new of Oaxaca.



We are now in Puerto Escondido, after driving the mountain road they describe as "serpentine", and arriving 9 hours later (ETA 4 1/2 hrs). More to come in a couple of days.

Posted by millerburr 07:02 Archived in Mexico Comments (8)

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.


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?


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.



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.

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).




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.




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.


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 Comments (4)

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