My first thought about Oaxaca was how the hell to pronounce it. Put simply it is Wa-ha-koh. Obvious hey! This town appeared to me to be a larger more cosmopolitan version of San Cristobal. I found I was staying in a lovely hostel, and combined with the relaxing nature of the place, I was soon feeling a lot better.
Theoretically Oaxaca is the heart of a region whose highly creative populace produces the country's finest range of crafts and some of its most exciting contemporary art. Artists and artisans alike are inspired by the state's deep-rooted indigenous traditions and by its bright southern light. The city was certainly very pleasant and lovely to wander around. It was also easy to escape the tourist path and wander around local markets. Even though the traditional Starbucks, Burger King etc were still in evidence there was enough variety of local shops to escape mass consumerism!
The weather was lovely and my main desire was to find either a comfy coffee shop and watch the world go by or sit in a green park. Neither was easy to find - the only down side of the city- and so I had to resort to a bench in a square beside a fountain. Ironically there was grass nearby, but it had large signs asking people not to stand on it!
After having avoided ruins in the San Cristobal I felt obliged to once again go and explore the nearby ruins of Monte Alban. Older than most of the ruins I had seen in Mexico, Monte Alban dated back to around 500BC. It was also the first non-Mayan ruin I had seen. This town had been inhabited by the Zapotecs. The most noticeable thing about the site was it's situation on top of a mountain. This afforded a 360 degrees view point. Hieroglyphs and dates in a dot-and-bar system carved between 500 and 200 BC may mean that the elite of Monte Albán were the first people to use writing, and a written calendar, in Mexico. The city was abandoned around 950 AD, but the 170 tombs found here provide many clues to archaeologists of how life was when the town was thriving.
It certainly was an incredible sight. Climbing to the top of one of the pyramids you could look out over the site and the surrounding valleys. The view was magnificent and one that was impossible to capture by camera. The ruins themselves were in fairly good condition, and you were able to still climb to the top of many of the pyramids. Like all the ruins I had seen, the outside of the buildings would have been painted mainly in red but also in other colours too, though these had long ago faded. But there were still some examples to see and it gave a clue to how dominating these structures would have been in their full glory. Unlike the other sites you were able to look out onto the entire city and it was obvious how well designed it had been. There was a huge open space just off centre which only added to the sense of superiority about the place.
Even though it was not Mayan, there were many similarities including the ever present ball court, and astronomical temples. But there were some carvings not found in Mayan sites. These deoicted captured enemies with their genitalia cut off and blood spurting out as an offering to the gods. Lovely!
The site was fascinating and the setting very different. Instead of the ever encompassing jungle, sitting as it did on the top of the mountain meant it felt not only open but also imposing- almost like being on top of the world. Whilst it did not beat my favourites such as Palenque or Tulum, it was definitely worth the visit.
During my trip there, I had wandered round with a Canadian and Norwegian who were also on their own. We got to talking about different foods around Mexico and realised none of us had tried the speciality of chapulines (crickets). And so after visiting the site we headed to the local market to suss out the deep fried crickets with chilli and lime. We found vendor after vendor selling them, all willing to let us try them. The crickets were a little bit bigger than my thumb nail and completely whole. After a count of 3 we popped them in our mouths and chewed. The taste was not wonderful! First there were the legs to contend with, and then when you bit into the body, the blood squirted out. We were later told that this was a bit late on in the season for crickets so they were probably a bit old! Yuck! My Canadian friend bought a bag out of goodwill and so during lunch/dinner (it was late on in the day) we proceed to try and eat more. The only way I could was with a good glass of wine beside me!
We left the main square and headed to the Church Santo Domingo, famous for its carvings that covered literally every available space. Golden paint glinted everywhere. It reminded me of one of the 10 Commandments -not to worship false idols. Amazing how it can be turned around. Next to the Church, and the main reason for me heading that way, there was a museum which held a tomb from Monte Alban. The museum was set within the monastery attached to the Church. The architecture was stunning and held far more interest for me than the museum itself. The building had been restored very well and was breathtaking. High arches surrounded stunning courtyards. Through the arches, domes could be seen sitting in perfect harmony with the tall church tower behind. Out of one side of the building the distant mountains could be seen and just below a lovely botanical garden for cacti. The sun was just setting and cast a perfect rosy glow over everything. Inside high ceilings with lovingly carved wood dominated darkrooms. You could feel the history here and the power that the building had once had. It was a pity that I didn't pay as much attention to the collections as I did to the building. Oh well, you win some and you lose some!
I ended day with a visit to the local photographic museum. Again the photographer, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, had managed to capture local life within the surrounding area, including a display on disability and the aides used to assist people through the day. It was all black and white and a perfect way to end a busy, yet interesting day.
My time was running out in Mexico and it was time to head to finally head to the great capital, Mexico City.