Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Oaxaca

Sometimes when you're travelling you end up in the right place and the right time without really planning it. Being in Oaxoca (pronounced Wahaka in English for those who are struggling) for dia de los muertos or day of the dead was one of those times for me.

While this holiday is celebrated throughout Mexico, the celebrations are particularly strong here given the number of Indigenous people who live in this state. As such, the city of Oaxaca has become a bit of a tourist destination at this time of year (Halloween).

On my first afternoon in the city there was a competition going between schools or universities (or something) on for best costumes.

There were lots of preparations going on during the day.






When the competition got going there was loads of music and dancing in the street. It was very cool and lively and not dead-like at all.













There was also a competition of altars, which people build to remember dead loved ones. A lot of effort goes into creating these. I will discuss these in more detail below.




In terms of touristy stuff there are some cool things to see in the beautiful historic centre. Like the Santo Domingo cathedral for example. It is very impressive on the inside and according to the internet, one of the most lavishly decorated baroque churches in Mexico.





The art work on the ceiling is amazing.





This cathedral also hosts the Cultural Centre, which is home to some very important Mesoamerican artifacts, including this awesome human skull decorated in turquoise.


More beautfiul artwork throughout the church.



  

There is also a very nice garden in the middle. It is a separate tour though if you want to know all about the plants. I just enjoyed looking at them.




Other stuff in the city.







Of course day of the dead decorations were everywhere.








 Then there was all the awesome day of the dead sand art around the city.










One of the things to do in Oaxaca is try the Mayordomo chocolate. So I did and it was good. Mexican chocolate is no Swiss chocolate though (but better than Cuba's effort!)




Oaxaca has a couple of veggie restaurants that I tried. Happycow lists them all but none of them really stood out so I won't spend much time talking about them. The best things to eat in this area are the corn tortillas. You can find different kinds of corn (including blue corn) and then get them filled mole. Be careful though as some mole is made with beef stock so try it at the veggie places to be sure. Itanoni does some interesting veggie tortilla combinations and the best vegan mole I had was here.

El Tule

Arbol del Tule is the world's fattest tree. I found out about this on trip advisor and of course I wanted to go. I do like trees after all and it's not the first time I've made a special trip to see some. (Fans will remember I blogged about the beautiful valle de cacora in Colombia). Anyway, this tree has a girth of 42m. 

Girth. That's a funny word.

Moving on...

It's pretty easy to get to via bus or colectivo taxi from Oaxaca. Then any local will point you in the direction of the tree, which is conveniently located next t the church in the town centre.



The best thing about this tree is the temperature underneath. Mexico is hot but being under the branches is significantly cooler and nicer. I liked it a lot.






Then I made some new friends. I think we were doing some kind of girl power thing in this photo.



Since today was Halloween some of us decided to meet up later for the day of the dead/ Halloween parade. It was very cool. Everyone dressed up and the entire city centre was filled with people dancing and playing music in the streets. People in cars who forgot it was happening just got stuck for hours. Suckers.

Lots of kids were dressed up. Dead bride was a popular choice.





Then I saw this Gringa's freakishly long hair. Get a haircut lady. You look ridiculous!







Then we went to the cemetery. There were candles everywhere and they had live classical music playing. It was beautiful and would have been totally romantic if you were there with someone you fancied rather than three strangers you met a few hours earlier under a tree!








These guys on trumpets were awesome.



Families had decorated some of the graves. Obviously out of respect we only took photos of the ones where family members were not around.







Then there are the altars. Again, beautiful works of art.








When we left we went via a church which had more altars. Traditionally families create the altars for their departed loved ones and include food offerings. During the night the spirits apparently take what they want and the next day the family feast on the food left over.


  


Interestingly there is a fair amount of food at ground level but the street dogs left them alone. It’s like they know.

Hierve el Agua

The next day, my new German friend Nina and I got up early to visit Hierve el Agua. Now I'd done some half arsed research on this which involved finding it on trip advisor and seeing some cool photos and deciding I wanted to go cos I thought it was a waterfall. If I'd looked for more than about 10 seconds I would have realised that it is not in fact a waterfall, but a rock formation that looks like a waterfall. 

Research. Fail.

So, Mexico has two types of buses - first class and second class. First class buses tend to be quicker, offer more onboard facilities (like movies) and are more expensive. If you're taking a night bus then first class is definitely the way to go. If it's during the day and only for a few hours, then it's worth considering the second class buses cos generally they are still fine and comfortable (hey, it's Mexico not Bolivia). Depending on the city, the buses may go from the same bus station or they may have different ones. 

Generally, first class stations are steel and glass structures and very safe and clean and modern.




In Oaxaca there are two bus stations for the two classes. Buses to Hierve el Agua go from the second class bus station.

Unlike the station above you would probably get stabbed if you hung around here too long.




If you're cheap like us and not doing an organised tour then you have to get the bus to Milta and then a colectivo to Hierve el Agua. Once at Milta you need about six people in the colectivo before the driver will leave. Two French girls got off the same bus as us and the four of us ended up just paying more so we could leave since we didn't know when the next bus would arrive. 

Now normally you'd think that once you'd negotiated the price and were ready to go that would be it. Not in Latin America though. Rather than filling up BEFORE anyone gets in his 4WD ute (since most of the journey is dirt road and he knows it's a 2hour drive there and back), the driver tells us he has to go out of town in the opposite direction to the petrol station. We weren't happy about wasting time but fine, whatever. Then we drive back into town and the driver sees another bus so we wait and he tries to get more punters into the ute but no tourists were on that bus. Then we think we are on our way but he pulls into someone's front yard cos he needs some oil. 

Fuck! 

So we ended up dicking about for about half an hour before we actually got going. It is this kind of shit that really annoys me about being over here.

The road is dirt and really steep. Plus being in the back of a ute for an hour with no safety features except a tarp roof to block out the sun isn’t ideal. If we’d fallen off the mountain we would have died. At least the guy's driving was good.





Like I said, I didn't research this and when we got there we were disappointed to see a waterless waterfall.

Although as a rock it's pretty cool.


The landscape is also pretty spectacular.

And it has one of the world's smallest volcanoes, which is very cool. 


There are also some springs you can swim in. The water is really cold but the upside of that is you can easily get a photo of just you in the water overlooking the mountains.




Oaxaca (especially around here) is also the main tequila and agave region. The same plant is used for both. If you do the organised tour it generally includes a trip to a tequila distillery.


I love agave. It is my favourite sweetener. Tequila on the other hand I can live without.

And that was my trip to Oaxaca. I had a great few days and while I think Halloween is lame and celebrating it is un-Australian, being part of day of the dead was a unique and amazing experience. I also got to meet Nina, who convinced me that I should go to Puerto Escondido with her and therefore became my next travel buddy.

Next stop: Mexico's Pacific coast  and one of the world's top surfing destinations - Puerto Escondido.