Santo Domingo Church

Santo Domingo De Guzman Church

After any extensive or lengthy amount of travel it’s quite common to become somewhat jaded. As hard as it is to imagine, your attitude toward sightseeing can become somewhat lazy. In Southeast Asia, for example, you can run across plenty of backpackers who’ve “been there, done that”, and more specifically are “templed out”, or sick of seeing temples. After a while you can become spoiled with the sights on offer. I would consider myself a mild victim of this “templed out” phenomenon and therefore I wasn’t expecting much from Iglesia de Santo Domingo De Guzman in Oaxaca.

The moment I walked into the Church I was officially UN-“Templed Out.” The extravagance of the church was truly unexpected. The lavish ornamentation, artistry and craftsmanship on display was overwhelming! Yes, Grandpa and Grandma, I was excited to be at church! This excitement, coming from a child that had to be cajoled to attending mass by the accompaniment of action figures. As I write this I wish I could take a few moments to just wander around and take it all in again.

As you enter the church you’re struck by the amount of gold seen down the aisle at the front altar. Then you look up and you’re delighted by the somewhat whimsical “Tree Of Life” design on the archway above you. As you look closer you can see that the branches turn into people in a Renaissance-style psychedelic twist. Continue reading

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Mitla

Shortly after my visit to the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban I visited what was the religious center of the Zapotecs, the archaelogical site of Mitla.  While Monte Alban is placed in a dramatic setting, Mitla is comparatively understated.  It was built more for the comfort of the residents than for grandeur.  The site is on the valley floor.  It was built as a gateway between the land of the living and the land of the dead.  The Zapotec word for the site means “place of rest.”

Columns Group

What makes Mitla different from all other ruins in the area are the grecas or intricate mosaic fretworks. The grecas are made from thousands of cut and polished stones. The stones are held in place by the weight of the other stones. The precise placement of the stones result in the repeated geometric designs seen throughout the site. Continue reading

Hostel Review: Casa Angel Youth Hostel-Oaxaca, Mexico

I stayed 5 nights in the Casa Angel Youth Hostel in Oaxaca, Mexico.  The hostel was very clean and comfortable.  The staff was nice, helpful, friendly and yet incredibly low-key at the same time.  The staff spoke some english and was knowledgable about any tours offered or sights to see in the area.  I took a day tour to sights in the area and was pleased with the tour.

Breakfast was included with the room and was cooked for you every morning from 8-10a.m.  The breakfast was enjoyable if lacking in variety.  It included fried eggs or scrambled eggs with or without chopped-up hot dog, cereal, bread, bananas with coffee or tea every day, without fail and without change.

I slept in two different 3 bed dorm rooms during my stay.  The rooms were very clean and the bunk beds comfortable, but the rooms were slightly cramped if occupied by three guests.  Lockers were provided inside the rooms free of charge.  Luggage storage was also provided free of charge, which came in handy for the common late night bus departures.  The bathrooms were well kept and the showers had a good amount of water pressure and hot water.

The common area on the ground floor had a couple of comfortable couches to watch cable TV or a movie on the DVD player.  A good selection of quality films on DVD were available to select from free of charge.  The wifi was reliable and 2 computers were also provided free of charge.  The kitchen had an oven, microwave, refridgerator, cupboards, and a good amount of counter space to work with.

A nice feature of the hostel was a rooftop terrace which included a bar.  It was a good place to relax with a book, suntan, or just chat and enjoy the view.  On Sundays a good BBQ lunch/dinner was available.

The hostel was located about 10 blocks from the main plaza of the city.  A few cheap restaurants with good Mexican food were just around the corner as was a place to drop off your laundry.  A small convenience store with drinks and snacks was right aross the street. Walking to and from the main sites of the city was a pleasant stroll with plenty to see so it didn’t seem like a long haul.

Overall, I was very happy with my time at Casa Angel Youth Hostel.  The friendly, unassuming staff along with the cleanliness of the facilities and the amenities provided were a good value for the budget-concious backpacker.  My only minor complaints would be the lack of variety in the included breakfast and the slightly cramped rooms.  These minor drawbacks were substantially outweighed by all of the positive aspects of this well-run hostel.

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Hierve El Agua In Pictures

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The Biggest Tree In The World

El Arbol Del Tule is THE BIGGEST TREE IN THE WORLD!

This monstrous tree is located in Santa Maria del Tule in the Oaxaca state of Mexico.  The tree is a Montezuma Cypress.  It is about 6 miles east of the town of Mitla and is often combined with a visit to the ruins of Mitla on organized tours.  Looking at the tree it is hard to believe that it is just one tree so it is easy to understand why they ran DNA tests to confirm that it is in fact one tree.

El Arbol Del Tule is the stoutest tree in the world, “out-girthing” the Giant Sequoia with a diameter of almost 32 feet and a circumference of almost 120 feet!

The gigantic tree is believed to be about 1,400-1,600 years old! Unfortunately, the tree’s life may be coming to an end due to the growth of Oaxaca’s population and the loss of water for the tree. The tree is in decline and unless steps are taken it is probably nearing its last days.

Monte Alban

panoramic view of Monte Alban ruins from North Platform

view from the North Platform

another view from the North Platform

Monte Alban is an archaelogical site founded by the Zapotecs around 500 B.C.  The ruins are on an artificially leveled mountain ridge located just 6 miles outside of Oaxaca, Mexico.  Although the ruins are impressive, the location of the site is also quite dramatic.  Looking around it is easy to see why the site was chosen to build the city from just a military or defensive standpoint.

 

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The Heart Of Mexico City – The Zocalo

If you only had one day to spend in Mexico City then a great place to spend it would be in the Zocalo, or main plaza. The Zocalo is at the heart of Mexico City. It would be easy to spend an entire day with just the sights on offer here, but I would allow at least a half day at the minimum.

View of National Palace & the Zocalo from above

The three main sights to take in here are the National Palace, Metropolitan Cathedral and the Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor. Depending on your pace and inclination each of these sites can be visited in one half hour to 2.5 hours for the detail-oriented visit. I personally spent a half-hour at the Cathedral, one hour at the Palace and about 2 hours at the Aztec ruins. Continue reading

WHDIGH Series: “I Did Not Know That” – Mexico City

As I’m traveling I often come across things that surprise me. My usual response to these instances can usually be summed up as “huh, I did not know that.” So in honor of these times when I actually do some learnin’, I present the first series here on WHDIGH, “I Did Not Know That“.

While I was in Mexico City basically almost everything that I experienced could fall under “I did not know that.” I was clueless as to most of what Mexico City was about or had to offer. In fact, I almost skipped the capital of the country until a price for a flight came along that was too good to pass up.

As I began researching the city before my departure I became increasingly excited about going. The amount of museums alone could occupy your time for weeks! As an American all I had heard about Mexico City previously was the amount of pollution and the massive population. So, all in all, I guess I wasn’t that hard to surprise.

I did not know that almost the entirety of the city was built on top of a lake. Mexico City started out as an island and was expanded by the Aztecs and all of the following rulers until nearly all of the lake was drained! There only remains a sliver of the lake that once filled up most of the valley.

The Aztec city of Tenochtitlan before further expansion and draining of the lake

the center of Tenochtitlan likely looked something like this

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Hostel Review : Amigo Suites Hostel – Mexico City, Mexico

While I was in Mexico City I stayed in 2 different places. My first night in Mexico City I had the minor misfortune of staying in a disgusting room in a cheap hotel near the historic center. The following 8 nights I stayed at the Amigo Suites Hostel. During the 8 nights I stayed in a 3 bed dorm room and also a 4 bed dorm room, both with ensuite bathroom. The rooms were simple and somewhat small, but were adequate considering the other features of the hostel.

The rooms were always clean, as was the entire hostel. I found the rooms to be slightly cramped, but not ridiculously so. I think if I could only change one thing about the rooms it would be the mattresses. The mattresses were of average quality for a hostel and slightly thin for a good night’s rest. The showers always had plenty of hot water and good water pressure. The bathrooms were clean and everything functioned properly for the duration of my stay.

The hostel also featured a spacious rooftop terrace/bar which also doubled as the dining area. Off of the dining area were two computers with free internet usage. Along with the computers the hostel provided free, reliable, and strong WIFI Internet access with the password posted on the wall of each floor. Interestingly, the hostel also contained a vending machine stocked with snacks, water, condoms and cold beer. I’d never seen beer in a vending machine before, but I suspect this may not be the last time. The price for the room included a good quality breakfast from 8am-10am and also a sufficient dinner from 6:30ish to 8pm. If I had a choice I would have rather had a reduced room price instead of the included dinners. The food for the dinners was always fair, if not completely desirable.

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