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My Mexican love - Oaxaca

Updated: Jul 2, 2023


I was dreaming about following the art of Mexican surrealists to the north of Mexico City until a few weeks before my trip I found that those places fell into the red zone and therefore had to quickly change my route (in 2021 Mexico was divided into 4 colored zones based on the number of corona cases). Thanks to Diana and Zil's nearly demanding tone, my new destination became Oaxaca (I am sure I will mention their names many times in the future and I invite those who want to travel differently, to travel with them at YouGoWild). And not even having been there, I fell in love with it, knowing that once I got there, I'd never want to leave. 😊

Now my love of Mexico is being divided not only by the country's people, culture, nature, etc. but there is a competition between two very different Mexican cities: Mexico City or CDMX, the enormous capital, one of the biggest cities in our planet, and Oaxaca, a fairly small and one of the poorest places in Mexico with many different Indian tribes. So far, I can not say which one I love more.


What is special about Oaxaca?


One of the best explanations I have found accidentally in the "Mexico News" :

"A history of resistance to both colonial and modern authority has made it a magnet for foreigners looking for something missing in the “modern” world."



Culture


The state has 46 different tribes of Indians which have a self-governance form of customs and traditions (usos y costumbres). 16 native languages and 60 dialects are still spoken in the state of Oaxaca. About half of the population even does not speak Spanish.

The capital of Oaxaca state is Oaxaca de Juárez where many of the indigenous people try to make a living at many of the markets (over ten). A market in Oaxaca is a form of life for many of Indians. Even at the beginning of 2021, when all museums were closed in the city, all markets thrived: people were selling, buying, chatting, eating, and raising children, small children were napping under the tables, and older ones doing homework next to their smaller siblings under the same table. When I asked why the museums are closed and the markets are not, I was told that government can not support that many people...




History


Oaxaca's origins are in the Aztec settlement of Huaxyácac, from which its name is derived.

The first inhabitants in the Oaxaca Valley were recorded in the 7th century BC. Three centuries later the Zapotecs built their capital at Monte Albán, which dominated the area for hundred years. At its height, Monte Albán was home to some 25,000 people and was the capital city of the Zapotec nation.


Monte Albán. Oaxaca. Mexico
For a long time, Monte Albán - the first urban city the in Americas - was ruled by women.,

The Spanish laid out a new town around the Zócalo in 1529, and it quickly became the most important place in southern Mexico. Zócalo or the Plaza de Armas is the geographical and social center of the city. It is a place to relax, watch the people, eat (the plaza is surrounded by many restaurants; mornings and evenings street vendors cater to locals and tourists with homemade dishes), get entertained by musicians, magicians, chess players, and children, buy crafts from numerous Indian tribes, and pray (the cathedral is on the north side of Zócalo).

Among the many churches of the city, Iglesia de Santo Domingo is the most impressive with its shine of gold and a very unusual family tree of St. Dominic on the ceiling.



The Culture Center of Santo Domingo is attached to the church of the same name. The building of the former monastery hosts a museum, a botanical garden, and a library.


Mitla was the important center for the Zapotec after the decline of Monte Albán, later it was occupied by Mixtecs. Some say that it was a place where nobility was prepared for death.

After the invasion, the Spaniards used the stonework of the Indian structures to build a church.


Nature


Hierve el Agua ("Boiling water") is a set of natural rock formations in San Lorenzo Albarradas, located about 42 miles (68 km) from Oaxaca City.


On the road to Mitla, approximately 9 km east of the city of Oaxaca, in the town center of Santa María del Tule is a Montezuma cypress - El Árbol del Tule - which has the stoutest tree trunk in the world (a circumference of 42 meters). "The Tree of life" has seen Aztects, Spanish conquistadors, and who knows what and who else it might see in the future.


Oaxaca - a city of celebrations


Oaxaca is famous for its unique festivals.


Guelaguetza - two last Mondays in July indigenous dancers from all over the state come to celebrate sharing, reciprocity, and extended community.




The Day of the Dead is an extraordinary celebration in Oaxaca. Not only cemeteries are covered with marigold flowers, but a whole city is full of them as well as skulls, altars, skeletons, offerings, and candles...People wait for their beloved ones to return back and cherish that they are still alive themselves.




The Night of the Radishes (Noche de los Rabanitos) is celebrated with all the imaginable figures carved out of radishes on the 23rd of December.


The beginning, as well as end of lent (Easter), are celebrated with parades and carnivals.



It is very likely that on any weekend day, you may see a wedding on the main pedestrian street where everyone dances and drinks tequila, tourists not excluded :)




Food


Oaxaca - a culinary city competing even with the capital. Mexican cuisine has been part of the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage since 2010. Oaxaca's selection is real heaven for a foodie: from fabulous street food to Michelin star worth restaurants and everything in between.


Mexican food. Oaxacan food. Memelas
Memela - a thick maize tortilla spread with asiento (pork lard), and topped with refried beans, cheese, zucchini flowers, choripapa (potatoes and chorizo), and/or whatever else is on hand.

mexican food. Oaxaca. Seven moles. Los Pacos restaurant
Traditional seven moles (sauces made mostly from chili peppers, spices, and nuts) at 'Los Pacos"

Mexican food. Oaxaca. Chapulines
Chapulines or grasshoppers have been a source of protein for many years. They are eaten not only as a snack but could be added to almost any dish.


Mexican drink. Oaxaca. Tejate
Tejate is a beverage with prehispanic origins, made from roasted maize flour, fermented cacao beans, cacao flowers, and mamey seeds. The ingredients are ground and combined with cold water in large clay pots. It is believed that tejate is a great hangover cure and suppresses hunger due to its high nutritive value.


Some restaurants offer an upscale version of traditional Oaxacan food. Pictures from one of my favorites - "Teocintle" :



Traveling a few times yearly I have my favorite places and every time I find something new with a hope to return! The food scene is so important to Oaxaca that I will be sharing my experience in a separate article.

Mezcal


I do not know how many mezcalerias are in Oaxaca, but definitely, there is no lack of them. It looks like on some roads every household grows agave, so you have many places to find out what mezcal is, and that tequila is mezcal, however, mezcal is not tequila!



Art


Art is another draw to Oaxaca. The city itself is pure magic: in the 80s the color of the houses was changed from the natural pale green quarry to vivid blues, pinks, yellows, greens, etc.



Many walls are decorated with drawings aka murals. The old massive wooden doors give solidity and remind of the long history of the town.

Oaxaca is the birthplace of the three most famous contemporary Mexican painters. Rufino Tamayo, Rodolfo Morales, and Francisco Toledo were born there. Their works are known all around the globe and their personalities are still remembered by the people who have met them personally.


Mexico. Oaxaca. Fransico Toledo
Image of Francisco Toledo on the street wall. Until the end of 2019, he was a living legend in his hometown.

Mexico. Oaxaca. Contemporarely mexican Art. Rufino Tamayo
In 2021 Oaxaca honored Tamayo with paintings of the watermelon, a constant in his art.

Mexican artist. Rodolfo Morales. Ocotlan Oaxaca
Some of the works by Rodolfo Morales are located in a very impressive building: in the former Convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in the town of Ocotlán.

If you are interested in the arts do not forget to visit the Contemporary Art Museum as well as numerous small art galleries scattered throughout the city.

History lovers should visit the museum of the first indigenous president of Mexico Benito Juarez.


However, the biggest object of drawing is folk art. Many villages around Oaxaca de Juarez specialize in a single craft: woolen weaving, woven cotton belts, emerald green glazed pottery, unglazed black and red pottery, basketry, tinsmith, alebrijes, beeswax flower candles, etc.


Mystical creatures alebrijes are traditionally made in the towns of San Martin Tilcajete and well as San Antonio Arrazola:


Green glazed pottery from the town of Santa María Atzompa:


Black clay pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec:


Tinsmith from a women's crafts shop in the city of Oaxaca:


Naturally-dyed wool from Teotitlán del Valle:


You do not have to look for street art in Oaxaca: it is everywhere!


Tourism in Oaxaca has revitalized its ancient folk art and traditions. The indigenous people of Oaxaca can continue to support their families and spread the traditions of their ancestors and cultures.

The City of Oaxaca and Monte Albán were designated in 1987 as UNESCO world heritage sites.




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