Friday, March 8, 2013

Monte Alban

This name describes a mountain that for several months of the year has trees blooming white blossoms.
It is the site of ancient ruins and holds great significance to the local indians in particular.
We used a tour bus to take us to the base and from there we chose to walk the grounds with or without a guide. Lewises used an elderly guide who was very helpful. Parsons and us chose to go our own ways and mostly guess at what we were seeing.
It was hot on this barren mountaintop ruin so we wandered slowly, not reading too much information but finding shade when we could. It is an impressive place, many glyphs and carvings, apparently of every medical procedure known to man! We saw more of these carvings at the museum in Oaxaca along with various pieces of pottery and gold decorative pieces. It is interesting to us how closely these potteries are to the ancient household items we've seen in Greece. Interesting that so far around the world they would have similar art styles.
Monte Alban is a very impressive ruin of huge proportion. It was a great centre for Zapotechan people, used for commercial and religious purposes. The massive staircases make much more sense bring explained as stadium seats, they are far too steep for a very short culture to build for climbing on. They were a challenge to me and my short legs.
Our fun was stopping to talk with an elderly Indian who was sitting under an 'alban' tree. At first we tried our Spangish but he replied with good English. He was a local farmer but in the dry season came to the mountain to sell . . . Crude pottery. of course Jim had to buy a clay jaguar from him. We could tell he appreciated us taking time to visit with him, and we certainly enjoyed it too.
Note - we have left the jaguar to decorate our rental place in Puerto Escondido.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A $15. Tour

What do you get for a $15. Tour - in Oaxaca?? Let me begin by saying we got so much more than we could have bargained for, and all of it good!
A 12 person air conditioned van came to our address to pick us up at 10 a.m., that was a bonus for us.
We picked up several other groups and individuals and then were on our way.
Our destinations were; Tule tree in the beautiful town of Santa Maria. A 2000 year old tree, 40 metres in height and a huge base. Some type of cypress tree. It is considered world heritage and a foundation from DC make sure it is well cared for.
Beautiful gardens and a church are in the park too.

Hierve el Agua (frozen water) an interesting place with fossilized waterfalls that forms part of a pre-Hispanic irrigation system, still surrounded by springs. We were told that not a lot of vegetation grows in this area because of the salt and minerals in the soil.

Rug making facility. Small business enterprises with creative artisans. This was my favourite! We were met on an shaded patio by Nelson. He showed us how the raw (australian)marino wool is used. It is washed in baskets so that the dirt can drain off. it is dried, carded, then spun.
Nelson sat low to the floor and arrayed before him were beautifully dyed skeins of wool. Near them were the actual natural agents for dyes that they used to create their colours. Their very unique agent is cochineal which is a larvae on the nopale cactus. When the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s they took ship loads of this back to Europe. It had the value of gold and was used for royalty and papal colours, that very rich red.
Arturo also showed us how they weave the various design on looms, and then we were invited to look, and choose what carpets we would like to buy. Various sizes and patterns left that day with us!

Lunch at a very nice buffet style restaurant. Salads, soups, entrees, desserts, and more. I think we paid about $10. Per person.

A stop at Mitla to wander over the ruins of a Zapotec ceremonial edifice, thousands of years old. The intricate and earthquake resistant design was amazing.

Our last stop was at a small and interesting Mezcal factory. Everything here is still done by hand. We were shown a pile of raw maguey agave trunks, next step was to bake them in an earth oven. After that they grind it in a process to mash it, using a huge stone wheel, pulled along by a donkey. Next step is to ferment and then distill it, then I guess it is bottled or flavoured. We were all invited to try every variation and inventive flavour. Some were definitely better than others.

When we returned to our home, it was more than 9 hours later. A huge and interesting day.
Yes, we did pay small entrance fees at most sites, they were minimal.
Our guide was a very informed, a well spoken Zapotec Indian, fluent in Spanish and in English.
Sadly, shortly after lunch break we could tell that his hidden drinking was getting the better of him. He still managed to point out many interesting things and when our driver dropped him off - first - near his home, we all gave him a generous tip. next time, maybe not.
Our van driver was excellent and we all felt comfortable with him at the wheel.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Night Sounds of Oaxaca

It should have been a big hint when we found ear plugs by our beds when we entered our 'exchange' casa.
We had come from a very quiet paradise to a . . . Very noisy paradise!
I am a good sleeper so most nights I was only slightly disturbed by the outside noises. It was necessary to open the windows in our second and third story bedrooms in order to get the cooling night air in. Several of our company of six are very light sleepers so they didn't often get a good sleep. Some resorted to wearing the ear plugs.
I had one night of not feeling well, stomach upsets, and could not settle to sleep. This meant I heard sounds!
It was the night of the multiple civil weddings and the fireworks continued, intermittently, until at least 3 in the morning.
Add to that, dogs barking, high yaps, low woofs, bark, bark, bark!! Quiet for a few minutes then something or someone would set them off again. Many homeowners seem to keep them on their flat roofs as watch dogs - and they do their job well.
A cat fight took place, it sounded like it was right under our window! Vicious and quickly settled.
Add to that, siren wailing, church bells tolling, vehicles passing, horns honking. A motorbike roared down a main street (a block away), all of a sudden a thunk, and then silence. Shortly after, another motorbike putted by!
There were often people out on the streets too, they walked by quietly but chatting or quietly laughing with each other.
Getting close to 4 a.m., a rooster crowed!! Yes, in a city neighbourhood. That is a non favourite of Dave L's.
I heard what I thought was a broken down truck rumbling past our bedroom window, and then stop. I got up to look, it was just a VW bug which was parked close by. The couple very quietly walked across the street to their door and that was it for them.
By this time I was almost giggling because the sounds were so varied and constant. They drifted thought our windows on the cooling breeze from near and far.
That is city living. We all needed an afternoon nap the next day!
Then, early morning we hear the sound of a man calling ,'agua pura', he's selling and delivering the big bottles of purified water.. Another man comes by calling 'basura'. He takes our garbage away for a small fee.
So many sounds to remember.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Flying to Oaxaca

We had been warned by many not to take bus or van over the winding highway that climbs the mountains to Oaxaca. It is a 7 plus hour trip and not many have the 'stomach' for it.
Our 2 Daves considered that they could do it, and they did.
Jim, Trud, Marg and I took the one o'clock flight. It only takes an hour so we hoped that would be fine.
We went through customs, waited a while and then were able to board a 12 seater airplane. The pilot was alone but all other seats were full. We got a great view of P.E. as we circled over the area and then we were off over mountains too.
It is amazing how many road wend their way over the hills and through valleys. Tiny settlements and farms dot the whole landscape. It's amazing to see how well cultivated the land is, even with such high mountain ranges throughout.
If Mexico is wise, they can become the fruit and veg basket for the western world. Water is always an issue so only valleys can produce a lot. I guess it depends on seasons, and this is the dry one.
We grabbed the airport shuttle for an interesting ride through town. As we pulled up at our address we were delighted to see our two Daves getting out of their taxi! Amazing.
We checked out our lovely casa and selected bedrooms, unloaded suitcases and then decided we should go look for supper and see some of the city.
We wandered, one street after another, and ended up at the wonderful zocalo which is located at the southern end of Macedonia Alcala. It is a grand park where many people spend their evening.
More about zocalas later.

Museum, Cathedral, weddings

Feb. 22.
Our choice today was to take a tour of the lovely old ex-convent at Santo Domingo de Guzman. It is now a museum and holds very early historical treasures, many dating back nearly 10,000 years! It was very interesting but we went about 2 p.m., so most of us were getting tired.

We had previously been to the magnificent theatre and had a tour there too. I think the nicest thing was a beautiful cut crystal chandelier weighing 4000 kg. the theatre holds both live and HD films of operatic productions. Its history goes back to 1903 so many 'shows', including boxing, have taken place there.

About 1 p.m., we stopped at Los Ollas for lunch. Best place yet! Excellent food and excellent presentation. I wasn't very hungry so I order tortilla soup. A very large, flat soup bowl was placed in front of me. It had delicate fried tortilla pieces, finely chopped avocado and cheese piece, and a bit of croutons. Over this the waiter poured a small silver pot of the actually soup. Very nice.
We all left very satisfied. Mint ice cream was too tempting to pass up.

Back to the cathedral. It is a main hub of the city (except for the zocalo). Later this day a mass wedding was being held in a private area of the garden. I will guess that 10 couples exchanged civil vows here. I think some had also been to a close by church and been blessed there.
Then the fireworks begin.
I love how all these celebrations become a public time to enjoy.
We were home, and able to sit on our deck and see the fireworks which continued for hours.
I was very sorry that I was too tired to once again walk down as far as the cathedral, it would have been a beautiful spectacle.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Pleasure at Every Turn

Ken and Deb have flown back to the U.S., where they left their truck and camper. We are feeling like a vital part of our crew is missing! They were a great addition to our group, Deb was so excitable and enthusiastic whatever was suggested. Ken is more the quiet and thoughtful kind of man. He hasn't change a lot from 20 plus years ago when he was Regional Manager for the Ministry of Forests and I was a lowly clerk in personnel.
We are trying not to have much food on hand as we will be going to Oaxaca for the next week. I will be a new and lovely adventure, I'm sure.
So, we will pretend that due to a food shortage (hardly!!) we decided to walk up town to Pizza Time and enjoy their super pizza.
The sun had not quite set as we walked up the long slope to the highway but the pink hues warmed the last of the daytime sky.
At the highway crosswalk we met a group of devout catholics. Several men, dressed in white clothing, were carrying a huge cross, a truck in front of them carried loud speakers and several nuns who were singing. Behind was a large group, mostly women and children, some who were also singing and many who were carrying beautiful flowers, mostly white lilies.
We were sure that the procession had something to do with Lent or Easter but were not quite sure what the date would mean. It was a lovely sight to behold.
We made our way up the gradual sloping street, walking about 3 blocks and then we heard more music. This time it was in a zocolo (park). It turned out that probably 8 or more dance troupes were putting on a lovely performance. Perhaps a competition? We stopped and were thrilled with music and dance steps and the costumes were very beautiful. Such variety, from cowgirl and boy costumes to the beautifully classic Chiapis gathered skirts in rich colours.
We were expecting to stay for some time....forget pizza, this was a gorgeous bit of Mexican life and we loved it.
Well, about halfway into the program first one source of lighting quit and then the second power pole light fizzled and they were in the dark of night. So disappointing! At least we saw a few groups and quite a few dances and that was great fun. Really admire how classy and elegant they are. No one was 'thrown' by the lack of lighting, the dancers continued until they were through.
After that we walked a couple of blocks more and really enjoyed the pizza.
We decided to walk home the long(er) way and so saw a few more bits of evening life in P.E.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine love and fireworks

The town of Chila is 10 km northwest of here. Each Valentine's Day there is a great festival and awesome fireworks and we had been encouraged by many to go see it. that was the plan for the 8 of us. By the time evening rolled around only Jim and I were keen to go.
Around 9:30 p.m., we hailed a cab and asked how much it would be for the drive to Chila. 80 pesos, or about six bucks for us. We jumped in and off we went in the dark night to our unknown destination. Our driver did not have much english so it was a quiet ride.
He turned off the main highway and drove about one km and dropped us off at the Catholic Church. Indeed, masses of people were on the far side of the church, municipal police in black uniforms kept an eye out for ??, not sure what!
The church is on the corner of a large square. It was beautifully decorated inside with garlands and bouquets of lovely fresh flowers. Many people, of all ages, walked to the door, crossed themselves three times, kissed their hand, and entered. They usually just sat in a pew and spent time in prayer or contemplation. The would then rise up, repeat the crosses and quietly leave by the side door. I liked watching that. I also made note that if I got too tired walking, standing, etc., I could make my way to a back pew and rest there.
To the left of the church was a wide walkway and then some stadium seats on a steep sidehill. We stood at the top, no access or spaces below, and still we were behind about 4 other heads. We were trying to watch traditional dancing on the stage below. The were lovely to see, so grand in the old Spanish and colonial costumes. I will try to upload a video.
The band that play for the dancers looked like high school students and they were excellent! There is no hesitation in their ardour and the trills of the clarinets, and oompapas of the tubas was great fun!
We got tired of trying to see through the crowds and thought perhaps we would be able to see better from the far side of the arena/stage.
Some vendors dotted our pathway, the crowds were thick. We felt like we were the only North Americans around there - and it was a great feeling!! Families sauntered around us, all gentle and happy to be out on this lovely evening.
We did see a few drunks but they were happy and having fun with buddies.
On this far side from the church we could see big awnings so we walked toward that and saw the most interesting markets. The kiosks sold housewares, cookware, clothing, leatherwork, jewelry, underwear, food, etc. really amazing.
Back to the stage, another group of dancers to watch. We did meet Melinda, the pastor's daughter, and her husband. Nice young couple. he is Mexican and teaches surfing on a local world-famous beach.
Finally! Shortly after 11 p.m., the great fireworks display began. Several structures had been built and loaded with various types of fireworks. The main structure was about 30 metres high and loaded with a variety of designs. Near the top were the words Sr. Isidro Labrador (their venerated saint) and above that was a likeness of him. Above that was a horizontal ring with the words Chila 2013 around it. And beyond that was the finalize setup of fireworks.
All these went off in amazing order, all of us shockingly close. In fact toward the end bits and pieces were falling on us from high above. During this whole display we had a musical band right near us and their music accompanied every part of the fireworks. It tickled us, horns, clarinets, and a tuba just racing through their creative music. Very well done!
Just when we thought everything was finished we turned toward the church wall and there was a rain of waterfall fireworks. Then, after that, a big finale on the church roof.
Nobody went home from that event disappointed!!
So now, at midnight, to find a taxi home to P.E. we looked for a taxi at the corner where we had been dropped off but it was far too busy with local traffic.
We decided to walk along with the throngs back through the kiosks. It was as long as a city block, and then, all of a sudden, we were in a carnival area! The rides were definitely geared for children. It was pleasant to still feel their gentle family attitude.
We kept walking, found a street with other people walking and finally saw a P.E. taxi, he was free to pick us up and again, had a quiet trip back to town.
We quietly unlocked our gate, kept the flashlight on and quickly went to bed. Some of our crew didn't even hear us come in. They had probably been in bed for more than 2 hours!
As we went to sleep Jim said, "I like those people". I knew who he was talking about and agreed that our time in the midsts of thousands of Chila locals had been a lovely, memorable experience.
I will upload a video or two if I can....

Finding a taxi home