Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

Oaxaca Road Trip to Hierve el Agua: Perhaps the World’s First Infinity Pool

Final Hierve A-3Hierve el Agua is an ancient pre-Hispanic Zapotec ceremonial site located about an hour beyond San Pablo Villa de Mitla, one of Oaxaca’s archeological wonders. Hierve el Agua, meaning bubbling water, is a wonder in its own right, nestled on the edge of a mountain ridge in Oaxaca’s Sierra de Juarez.

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A cluster of small pools are carved out of the rock, formed by bubbling underground springs that are no longer hot but lukewarm. The stunning calcified waterfall is one of only two in the world.

Final Hierve A-7Look out at the pool’s edge and there appears to be a shear drop-off into the steep canyon below.  The calcium formations on the surface create interesting patterns and are like stalactites found in caves. Touch them. They feel like a coral reef, sharp and hard. We wore water sandals to protect our feet and to keep from slipping over the edge!

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Rivulets of water bubble up from holes and run in small streams toward the hollowed out pool.

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This is a perfect place for swimming and sun-bathing. Be sure to bring a towel, bathing suit, hat and sunscreen.  I even saw some swimmers wearing goggles.

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Since I didn’t plan too far ahead, I went dipping in my sun dress and undies. A very refreshing interlude to a hot day in November in the Oaxaca mountains not far from the village where I live.

Final Hierve A-10How to get there? You can travel in your own car like we did and follow the Carretera Nacional (Pan American Highway) MEX 190 from Oaxaca to Mitla, then connect on MEX 179 and follow the signs. It’s pretty easy. Click here for a road map.

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Getting there takes the same route as the trip to San Juan del Rio, one of my favorite mezcal making villages. So you might think about combining this as a day trip.

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Another option is to take a tour van from Oaxaca city. This is limiting, since you only get about an hour at the site and the tour may combine this trip with a stop at Mitla and Teotitlan del Valle.  In my opinion, this route deserves an entire day if you have the time. It’s a perfect place to enjoy and relax.

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I also saw that people came out on collectivos connecting from Mitla. So, there are independent travel options if you are so inclined!

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Portrait Photography Workshop coming up the end of January, 2015. There is space for you!

 

Stone Soup in El Tule, Oaxaca: Lunch and the Life of Bloqueos

I have been driving around for hours trying to get through the roadblocks that have closed the three major highways leading into the city of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Jacob and I set out from Teotitlan del Valle well in advance of our three-thirty lunch reservation to meet our friend Aline on the rooftop terrace restaurant at Casa Oaxaca. When we get to the Microplaza shopping center in Col. Santa Lucia on the Carretera Nacional–the Pan American Highway that runs through Oaxaca — all traffic stops.

I see taxis and trucks parked perpendicular across the road. Cars are making U-turns and driving down the wrong side of the road to retreat. Everything is at a standstill.

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Bloqueos, as these roadblocks are called, are a way of life here. They are political expressions that convey the discontent of many: teachers, taxi and truck driver unions, bus unions, students and others who believe they have no other voice. Please note: This is not a political commentary, complaint or endorsement of this process. It is a description of events.  Just Google protests in Mexico to find out more. 

These types of manifestations are a civil right in Mexico, protected by the constitution. They are scheduled in advance and announced on Twitter to usually start and end at a specific time. Today, I had no idea this was going to happen and neglected to read any notices. I now know better.

After following a string of cars and taxis around and through small villages for almost two hours, believing they know a way around the bloqueos, all we find are dead-ends.  There is no way to get to the city.

I call my friend Abraham, a taxi driver from Teotitlan del Valle, to get the latest news about the bloqueo. He says all roads will be closed until at least seven at night. When in doubt, always call a reliable source!

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I remember Caldo de Piedra, the stone soup restaurant on the outskirts of El Tule on the Mex 190 business route. I had just traveled to San Felipe Usila, the Chinanteco source of this fantastic fish stew made with either fresh red snapper or tilapia. So we make a U-turn and head back in the direction from which we started hours earlier.

 

Fortunately, the restaurant is open and they prepare it exactly the same way as they do in the mountain village far from the city. We linger over the stone soup, comfort food. It is only five o’clock. And, then, fortified, we attempt the bloqueo again. It is Eric’s birthday party and we want to get to the city.

IMG_4774So, we park in line at the bloqueo, waiting for it to open up. I turn the engine off. About an hour-and-a-half later, I hear engines start and cars move. Someone approaches me. I offer a donation to get through.

 

We arrive at the party almost five hours after we start out. Just in time and before the surprise party gets underway! Feliz cumpleaños at Eric. Y gracias a Elsa por una fiesta grande.

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Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca: Day of the Dead Cemetery Before Dark

Before the crowds descend on the cemetery, before the tour buses and vans arrive, before the photographers with strobe flash and tripods begin their crawl among the gravesites at dusk, I arrive in Xoxocotlan.  Marta and Citlalli are with me today.

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It is the perfect time, the magic hour between day and night, when there is a glow that illuminates the world.

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Xoxocotlan on Halloween, the night before All Saint’s Day, has become a major party venue for Oaxaca visitors. By seven in the evening, the new cemetery will be packed with revelers who come dressed in costume, as well as families who sit reverently by the grave sites of their loved ones.

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I focus my visit on the old cemetery, Panteon San Sebastian, which continues to draw me back year after year. The space is small. An adobe chapel built in 1684 is now remnants, destroyed by earthquake. It’s ancient walls that still stand are cordoned off by plastic tape warning of peligroso, danger, caution. The tape is new this year. Who knows when the next earthquake will strike?

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Don’t step on the graves, Citlalli says. My grandmother told us if you do, the dead will grab your feet and drag you to the underworld at night.  We step carefully out of respect.  Some of the grave sites are ancient, unmarked, crumbling.

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Many tombs are marked with a date of death in the 1970’s. Citlali says there was a cholera epidemic then and many in Oaxaca died.

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I ask Luis Conseco if I can take his photo. His face is interesting, weathered. He stands upright, squares his shoulders. He says he wants to go the the United States to work to make more money. It is a dream of many. He is sixty-eight years old.

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He tells us that the shape and form of the tombstones signify the wealth or poverty of the person buried beneath. There were many simple tombs made of flat brick. This is all people can afford, he says.

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Things are changing in Xoxocotlan. The old cemetery is getting a facelift. There are men working on a new, paved entry way. The paths between the grave sites have been raked, leveled and cleared making passage easier, more visitor friendly. The outside walls are painted bright green.

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Locals, now used to having their photographs taken, look up in greeting. I still ask permission each time, though. And, it is fun to engage in conversation. Do you like visitors pointing cameras in your face? I ask. And, everyone laughs and beckon me closer!

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We even get an invitation to come into the ancient, crumbling walls of the old chapel where a man is decorating the grave of his grandfather. He takes us to the tomb of a Spanish priest resting behind a gated sanctuary.

Xoxocotlan2014  As we leave the cemetery, the groups begin to come in. I hire a moto-taxi tuk tuk to lead us out of town. The roads are starting to get clogged with in-coming visitors. It’s about six o’clock at night. Just in time to get back to Oaxaca for a dinner of enchiladas de jamaica (hibiscus flowers) at Restaurante San Pablo.

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But not before getting some last minute street shots before we leave. I decided to skip Atzompa. So many people, so little time! Welcome to Muertos.

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Portrait Photography Workshop coming up the end of January. There’s a space for YOU!

 

 

 

Mega Market for Muertos: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

They tell me tomorrow’s market on October 31 will be even bigger in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, as everyone prepares for Dia de los Muertos.

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Huge trucks filled with oranges are parked in front of the church. Vendors sell copal incense, at least five different varieties of marigolds, brilliant magenta rooster’s crown, pecans and walnuts, lots of handmade Oaxaca chocolate and pan de muertos — the special bread of the season made with butter, knotted and topped with a Jesus or Mary milagro.

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Beyond the market courtyard is Picacho rising to a pristine blue sky as if making a special blessing on the village.

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Later, I get water delivered to fill the rooftop cistern. Danny tells me his abuelos will be here with his family for an extra day this year, arriving from the underworld on Saturday and departing on Monday.

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It is a festive time. The cane branches will arc over each home alter to provide a door for departed loved ones to re-enter and visit their families. They will be guided by incense, the scent of flowers, the smell of hot chocolate, tamales and mezcal.

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Death and life are one, integral to what it means to exist. This morning I hang papel picado and little cut-out-doll skulls across the patio. Vases of marigolds and incense fill the house where I live with memory for my own father and grandparents.

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Soon, my son will arrive and we will join comparsas and family meals. It is a festive time in Oaxaca.

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Pop-Up Show + Sale — Huipils from San Felipe Usila, October 28, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

  • Pop-Up Huipil Show and Sale from San Felipe Usila
  • at Restaurante La Olla, Calle Reforma #402, Oaxaca, Centro Historico in front of Las Bugambilias B&B
  • Tuesday, October 28, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. — One day only

I must confess that I left two great huipiles behind in San Felipe Usila and I’ve been ruminating for three days, since I returned to Oaxaca last Friday afternoon, about how to get them to me!

So, this morning I created a Pop-Up Huipil Show and Sale to make the trip worthwhile for two families who live in this remote mountain village in the Papaloapan Region of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca. I spent a couple of hours hunting them down and then making the arrangements!

Please come and support these incredible weavers whose work you will recognize from the Guelaguetza Dance of the Flor de Piña. Prices start at about 1,500 pesos for pieces made on a back strap loom with intricate designs incorporated into the weft.

Meet the Longino Tenorio Mendoza family and the Hermalinda Inocente Isidro family. Together, they will bring about 40 pieces with them for you to see and describe their work.

I will need a fluent Spanish-English speaker to volunteer to translate, please! We will ask them to talk about their work, their lives and the designs they create.

Just a few examples of what you may see:

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