Oaxaca, Mexico, April 2009

We took a long weekend trip to Oaxaca. ('Henry, was that place called Wahaka-waka?' asks Piper. So that's what I call it. Oaxaca-waka.)

It's both a city and a state, and is southeast of Mexico City by 5 hours (or 10 driving on a holiday weekend!). The city itself is very cute and diverse. Definitely a top favorite in Mexico. Lots of tasty food. I found it a little more colonial than I'd expected (I kept hearing how traditional Mayan it was, and that is there, but it's still got a bunch of cathederals). Still, we manged to find enough moles, grasshoppers (chapulines), and wooden creatures (alebrijes), and we scored a 6-foot tall blue giraffe to accompany us on the return drive.

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Downtown Oaxaca and Monte Alban

One of the main cathederals on the zocalo. My 13-year-old guidebook claims that vendors downtown sell inflatable zepplins here to bounce and toss into the air, and apparently traditions last a long time in Oaxaca.
Also sold are the cascaraones (eggs filled with confetti), which Piper liked to surprise me with... almost ten times in a row.
Though I did get her once.
At night, various vendors sell various flashing lights.
This is the International Year of Astronomy, so someone has a big telescope set up to look at the moon.
More lights...
Just next door to Oaxaca is the city of Oaxtapec ruins of Monte Alban. They're up on a hill with a good view.
Some building materials...
Back in town, we went to the convent. Very cool. I'm not a big fan of all the cathederals, but this was beautiful and had a crazy funky botanical garden outside.
The garden was closed (it's only open for a small number of pre-arranged tours), but it's definitely trippy. Very geometrical and plastic, with not a lot of honest leaves anywhere. Emphasis is more on trunks.

Easter in Oaxaca

This was Friday evening of Easter. Oaxaca is well known for its Easter-time festivities -- semana santa, which does not mean Christmas week as I originally thought. Being Mexico, there's always food vendors. I did not find out what the red caramel apple looking things are. Heidi said she'd seen them back in D.F. as well.
Beginning of the Friday easter processional. It was quiet, as requested ('Silencio' reads the sign...)
Lots of crucifixes, lots of hoods, lots of jesuchristos.
(And no, it's not a supremicist rally either. See the same symbology found with Maggie and I in Spain several years ago.)
I got some tasty nieve afterwards: tuna and tequila. Tuna = fruit of the prickly pear. And the tequila was actually mezcal, which is the same idea but without the certification...
... while others got elotes (corn on the cob) and esquites (shaved corn kernels in a cup).
Conserve the calm. One is not hopeless. Words to live by when gravying the savannahas and hermetically closing the door if it touches this room, if this hot one.

(And to their credit, I'll say that their spelling is perfect!)


Oaxaca markets...

Check out those awesome dragons! This is at one of the many mercados downtown. Crazy. We bought several artistic items, but then realized that since they're made in Oaxaca, we should find the source! Which we did later in the day.
A chocolateria (Mayordomo Chocolate -- they have several outlets). Here's a guy grinding cacao and other ingredients into a mole sauce.
A batch of custom-made mole ready to be ground.
Mole goes particularly well with chapulines (grasshoppers), so I bought some.
Some queso de oaxaca, which is a normal type of cheese sold all over Mexico -- sort of like a 10'-long rope of fresh string cheese, tied into a ball.

Alebrijes (the little carved animal things)

OK! Now we headed out to San Martin Tilcajete, a few km south of Oaxaca. This is one of two towns where the cool little alebrijes -- the wooden carved crazy animals -- are made. The town has a church and a dusty road, and not much else.

Alebrijes are maybe the most famous of the Oaxaca crafts. And just like native American dreamcatchers (c. 1960) and the Australian aboriginal 'dot painting' (c. 1972), they're native but not exactly old. The alebrijes have been made for a few decades out of wood (a guy named Manual Jimenez started that idea, c. 1970s). But they do have an older origin in the Day of the Dead sculptures which Oaxaca has been making for far longer (thousands of years?)

Heidi and I were very tempted by the pavo real (peacock = 'royal turkey'), and the hummingbird-filled tree.
Here's a little sketch that Piper did in the car on the drive back. Heidi is on the right with the big tree with the hummingbirds. And that's me on the left with all the dinero falling out of my wallet. There's a hedgehog on the table between us, and another person too who made it.
Heidi gave up on deciding between the pavo real and the tree, and I bought an iguana instead. It wasn't quite finished, so she's painting the teeth and the belly.
A beautiful cow on this carniceria bag was watching the progress on the iguana.
An hour later my iguana is finished (and does a little tango!). Her husband carved and she painted. Her mom and her kid (see stroller) supervised the whole operation.
We didn't buy anything from this guy, but he was doing a nice job of drilling holes in his hedgehog.
Then we went to Arrazola, which is the other of the two towns where the alebrijes are made. It's another dusty town with pickups and a barely paved road. We walked to a half-dozen workshops (usually in the house, or a shack next to the house), before finding that of Sergio Santiago. Of anybody in the area to visit, this is place. Holy moly! All the rest of the photos are from there -- we probably spent three hours there that evening.
In case you're trying to go there, here's a handy little map I made you. Arrazola is not that obscure (Lonely Planet mentions it), but if you punch it into your 2008-era Garmin Mexico map, it sure won't find it. You want to drive SW of town, pass a pile of junked Tsurus, follow some signs, turn onto a dirt road, drive a few miles, pass a big factory with wooden pallets, drive by a sign with a plumber, go up a dirt hill, and you're there. The main area is about one block across with at least a dozen or more talleres de madera in people's front yards, garages, and sheds. The one on the far left with the arrow was pretty cool too, but the winner over everything was definitely Alebrijes Autoctonos (i.e.native wood creatures) of Sergio and Lucila Santiago.
She is painting a goat. It's the only goat we found.
Here's Sergio Santiago. His wife Lucila is wrapping up some items (a large grasshopper, a cactus, three hummingbirds, a red spotted frog...) while he and Heidi bargain.
Part of their rack of animals outside.
Sergio's daughter Celeste gives her a unicorn! They were super sweet, all of them...
My current favorite Heidi picture. This is the next day -- we were kind of debating about the big blue jirafe, left Oaxaca, passed a dead dog, then turned around and came back to conocer the giraffe a bit more.
So, of course we bought it. It's getting a facial and a bit of a paint job.
Piper and Celeste playing in her casita afuera.
There are little animals everywhere...
These animals are unpainted.
These paints are un-animaled.
Celeste gives Piper a painting lesson.
Meanwhile the jirafe is on her way out.
And don't forget: it's easter weekend so Lucila is preparing a pollo. (Did they have running water at their house? Quite likely no -- she's washing the chicken from their water tank around back the house.)

Puppies at the tollboth

Driving back to Mexico City, there's a lot of traffic. But that's OK, since that means lots of opportunities for people to sell you things! I hadn't seen dogs being sold at toolbooths before, but here we are!
Yes -- for 200 pesos you too can have a cute tiny puppy!
Jirafe is strapped to the top and enjoys the ride, sans ears.
Piper was strapped to the top of the vehicle too.
Jirafe enjoys a tasty meal at home.

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Henry Throop

Last modified Sun May 24 22:28:30 2009