Saturday, January 29, 2011

Barb’s Take on Our Trip to Oaxaca

We’ve returned from our week long trip to Oaxaca happy, more knowledgeable, and with a few ‘tchachkes’ that we couldn’t resist.

 IMG_9819Day One involved a 300 km drive from Huatulco to Oaxaca over the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range, averaging only about 40 km/hr. The drive took us 8 hours, and although the kids and I got a bit car sick from four hours of hairpin turns, the vegetation and views were spectacular.  We loved this route so much that we decided to take it on our return as well, but stopping for an overnight at San Jose del Pacifico on the ridge of the mountains to break up the ride, in a beautiful cabin complete with fireplace (see photo: view from the cabin).

Once in Oaxaca, after checking out several hotels, we settled on an apartment hotel near the Santo Domingo church, which turned out to be a great location and walking distance to everything in this extremely manageable city.  The full kitchen allowed us to save on restaurants, and in fact on most days we ate out only one meal.  You may have noticed from Danielle's Take on Our Trip to Oaxaca, our meals are very important!

We spent a few of the days exploring the beauty of this colonial city with narrow but straight grid-like streets, many plazas, stone buildings and a university feel to it. There are art galleries and artesanias in every block, and some of the
restaurants are truly first class.  We visited the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca in the monastery buildings adjoining the Iglesia de Santo Domingo which gave us a good overview of the history of the area, as well as a few other art and artifact museums.

We visited several ruins that were perhaps some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen, dating back as far as about 300 B.C.  Between our guidebook and the signs (surprisingly in English), we fared well guiding ourselves most of the time.  Between the sheer size of Monte Alban,
IMG_9696 and the mosaic artisanry of Mitla, to say we were in awe would be an understatement.    We all were impressed with the way that the Zapotecs, skilled builders, appreciated their landscape as well as their resources – they put our renovations to shame, as they regularly built and rebuilt their structures to IMG_9707 accommodate their purposes rather than disassemble and start anew.  And we learned that the society may have been governed by women.  And that disputes got resolved on the ball courts.   I so loved that my kids enjoyed it just as much as Michael and I did.
Synchronizing our watches....

We visited markets that provided sensory overload (I’ll post a separate blog with just photos from the market – it truly deserves a blog of its own!), and artisan shops of international caliber.  In fact, we found several of these artists (wood workers and weavers)     IMG_9656through a coffee table book on Artisans of Oaxaca, who travel worldwide to teach their respective crafts.  The artisans we visited had work in museums and exhibits around the globe.  And we contributed to their livelihoods nicely.  In a few of the workshops, our kids got to try out IMG_9651their abilities: weaving and carving.  The creativity and art was inspiring. 


Its fascinating that each town is known for a different craft.  San IMG_9769Bartolo Cayotepec is known for its black pottery, San Martin Tilcajete for its ‘artesanias de madera’ (wooden handicrafts), Santo Tomas Jalieza for its back-strap loom textiles, Arrazola for its ‘alebrijes’ (copal-carved animal figures with IMG_9801vivid colors), Teotitlan del Valle for its rug and tapestry weavers, and Santa Ana del Valle for its woolen blankets.  At each artisan’s shop, we got lengthy demonstrations on natural dyes, paints, weaving or carving or molding.  It was absolutely fascinating.

IMG_9660 We had great adventure as well.  Aside from the highway getting there and back, we also took a short cut to get to Monte Alban which meant driving right in a riverbed.  Only in a rental.  Meandering the streets of Oaxaca and the outlying towns, trying grasshoppers (they’re kosher!) and sampling mezcal, and visiting the real local markets where live goats, turkeys and chickens are sold side by side with lingerie all helped expand our horizons.

Notwithstanding the relatively cold temperatures, people do not run indoors.  In fact, coffee shop and restaurant tables are packed outdoors at all times of the day and night. Apparently over Christmas/New Years week the city is jammed, but we felt it was actually pretty busy when we were there too.  It’s a great city to people watch and walk around.  This is a trip I highly recommend. Needless to say, I’ve love to return again one day.

-Barb, back on the boat


  1. What a trip this (Oaxaca) must have been! And, what an education for you all. After reading about it from the 3 of you(haven't heard from Michael's perspective yet), I feel that I've also been there with you. The pics are also great - they speak volumes!
    I must take a better look at the market...

  2. What hotel did you spend your days in central Oaxaca?