Before I spent a month in Mexico my knowledge of the country was very limited. Like many college students before me I spent some nights getting drunk in Tijuana. I remember watching a lot of westerns that seemed to fill my mind with the idea that every corner in Mexico was occupied by a dusty cantina with mean hombres just waiting for a fight. I had also seen lucha libre Mexican wrestling on TV a few times. Besides that, Cancun had long been a party destination for Americans. Both my high school and my college mascots were the Aztecs but I only had a vague notion of where they were from. Mexican food has heavily featured in my diet since I moved to Southern California when I was ten years old. When I spent a year in Southeast Asia one of the things I missed was Mexican food. I came away from my month in Mexico impressed by the history, culture and beauty of the country.
I started off my time in Mexico in the capital, Mexico City. I spent 8 days as a tourist in the city. I visited superb museums. I saw the pyramids of Teotihuacan and Templo Mayor. I went to my first live lucha libre Mexican wrestling match. I saw the National Palace in the Zocalo. I went to the zoo and was surprised that a free zoo could be so big and filled with so many different animals. I also found out that Mexico City was built on top of a lake and that because of this it is sinking! I went clubbing in the trendy Condesa neighborhood. I saw Mexican Hairless Dogs for the first time. I also experienced my first shots of Mezcal. I visited one of the most sacred places in Catholicism, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mexico City is a fascinating place with a lot to see and do. I could have easily spent 2-3 weeks exploring it. The city is hectic and crowded and I was glad that my next destination was Oaxaca.
Before I had arrived in Mexico I had never heard of Oaxaca. As I started to plan for my next destination from Mexico City I settled on Oaxaca. From what I read I was expecting a much slower paced city than the capital and I was not disappointed in what I experienced. Immediately after strapping my backpack on as I left the bus station I felt a difference in the air. As I continued walking towards the center of town I came across a park and noticed a lot more people sitting and relaxing than in the hurried streets of Mexico City. After the overwhelming capital it was quickly clear to see that Oaxaca was going to be a needed change of pace. As I saw more and more people relaxing in the park and less traffic passing by me on the streets I could feel my breathing slow down and I began to realize how hurried I had become in my 8 days in Mexico City.
Settling into the hostel after a mile long walk I accepted my roommate’s invitation to dinner with a happy bunch from the hostel. A night of laughter and wine amongst new acquaintances led to a late morning walk to Santo Domingo Church and across an interesting outdoor art exhibit, 2501 Immigrants. The display contained 2501 small ceramic people standing on sides of the street in front of the famous church. The figures represent people who had left there villages to go to the United States. It took several years to complete the work and over 25 people from the artist’s village helped in it’s completion.
Santo Domingo Church with outdoor art exhibit
the 2501 Immigrants stand in front of Santo Domingo Church
a few of the Immigrants
It's A Man, Baby!
Walking down the street to the plaza and past the 2501 Immigrants
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 →
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.”
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 →
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.
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.