Along the Pan American Highway from Oaxaca City to Mitla and Hierve El Agua, two popular tourist destinations, lies the seldom visited Yagul archeological site. We know that as the taxis, cars, and vans pass, a guide might point to a faint cave painting on the cliff wall as testimony to an ancient Zapotec group that lived here. Don’t blink. You might miss it.
You can see the restoration of this site from the highway. Tucked into the hillside is the outline of a once proud city-state fortress guarding the trade route between Central America and what is now the southwest USA. The ochre colors of the plastered stone walls stand out against the desert landscape and hills beyond. This is not a large site, and it does not have the attraction of neighboring Mitla that boasts extraordinary carvings in ancient stone. It is not as impressive at Monte Alban, the vast city atop the hill outside Oaxaca city, center of Zapotec power noted by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, as the most important city-state in Mesoamerica.
We take the Esprit Travel + Tours group there with special guide Eric Ramirez from Zapotrek. We drive on a dirt road to detour the main entrance and arrive at the foot of the cliffs to get a closer view of the glyphs painted on the face of a stone wall. A few years ago, during an earthquake, the wall face sheered off, exposing a painting in what was once inside a cave.
Eric, who grew up in nearby Tlacolula, and whose ancestors have been farming the land for centuries, tells us that the agricultural crop of agave to make mezcal is changing the landscape and the environment. So many growers are now using herbicides, pesticides, and commercial fertilizers. This is changing the quality of the soil and prohibits anything else from growing. It is even having an impact on locally grown non-GMO corn. The explosion of the mezcal culture in Oaxaca is having a negative impact on traditional crops — the Three Sisters — corn, beans and squash. It used to be that the bean and squash plants would wrap their tendrils around the agave leaves and replenishes the soil with nitrogen.
This is a key reason why so many of us take issue with mezcal tourism, which promotes drinking and overall does not educate visitors about the related environmental impact. I am now meeting the party generation in Oaxaca who fly in for four or five days with little interest in cultural history, archeology or artisan craft. How can we influence this for the better?
An important fact to note: Yagul is the mother source for the hybridization of corn, beans and squash. A World Heritage Site, geneticists have tested seeds found in the caves and determined they are at least 10,000 years old. This site is key to the development and distribution of this essential protein-carbohydrate source of food energy around the world.
This is a photo essay of our experience at Yagul. I hope you will consider making a stop there. I know you will not be disappointed.
NCSU in Oaxaca: Crocodiles, Iguanas, Mangroves at Ventanilla Beach
Rooster in the rain, plastic bag lens protector
It was a rollicking day in the skies over Oaxaca yesterday as I made my way back to Teotitlan del Valle from Puerto Escondido via Mexico City, where Tropical Storm Beatriz was having her way with us.
Sheets of rain cover Aeromar window. What do you see?
Sheets of rain fell as I took off in the little Aeromar turboprop. In Huatulco, the news wasn’t so good as flights were canceled, and one North Carolina State University student who decided to stay a couple of extra days, couldn’t get home as planned.
Iguana, happy on a log.
But, I’d like to back-track. Another highlight of the NCSU study abroad trip to Oaxaca was a visit to the Ventanilla lagoon between Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel, where fresh and salt water mix to support cormorants, crocodiles and iguanas.
Crocodile protecting her nest
The bio-diverse tropical ecosystem is home to white and red mangroves, too.
Under the umbrellas in the rain forest
This is a protected area accessible only by canoe, paddles powered by local guides who volunteer as part of the preservation project of the region.
Let’s take the long view and protect our planet
Our admission fees help support the ecology of the region and the endangered species.
Red mangroves, an endangered specie, Ventanilla Lagoon
We started out by van in a down-pour with no inkling of the storm to come the next days. It was wet, wet, wet and I had to cover my camera lens with a clear plastic bag that I bought from a local food vendor on the beach.
Through the jungle swamp, Ventanilla lagoon, Oaxaca
I think the resulting images give you a sense of the wonder, the tropical humidity, and gauzy landscape shrouded by clouds and rain.
Diving bird drying its wings
By afternoon, the rain cleared. We spent the rest of the day enjoying lunch under the palapa and swimming in a Puerto Angel protected cove. (more about this in another post)
Cicadas hug a tree trunk
First stop en route, fresh coconut juice at roadside stand, Highway 200
We made a stop along the highway to sample fresh coconut, both the milk and the flesh. It was a refreshing break from the heat and gave us a chance to meet some of the local people who make a living harvesting from nearby trees.
Amber, a doctoral student, enjoying fresh coconut milk
Eating fresh coconut with salsa, roadside stand, Pacific Coast Highway 200
An offering of fresh, spicy peanuts — too hot for me!
Anna, Brianna, Kia and Makayla, camaraderie
A marker on the roadside, so we know where we are
Crocodile pond reflections
Professor Ricardo Hernandez and guide talk about preservation, biodiversity
In the lagoon, the families who protect the wildlife explain that they rescue parrots, alligators, crocodiles and monkeys that have been kept in captivity.
David wanted to take this species home, rare color
When the pets get too big and the owners don’t want them anymore, the refuge offers a safe place where the animals and reptiles can be cared for.
Ricky explores the wildlife refuge. These white tail deer were rescued.
Diorama feels real, snap, crackle, pop
David, enjoying the adventure
At the beach, examining the flora, a dreamy gauze
Reptile eggs have a soft, leathery shell. These chicks were just hatched. The reserve has a program to rescue and release.
Baby crocodiles, just hatched
An important message for us all, despite what Agent Orange says
Sea bird takes flight
Endangered sea turtle, National Turtle Center, Mazunte
NCSU, National Turtle Center, Mazunte, Oaxaca
There is also a reforestation project to protect and preserve the mangroves.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Travel & Tourism, Workshops and Retreats
Tagged biodiversity, ecotourism, education, environmental sustainability, Mexico, North Carolina State University, Oaxaca, study abroad, travel, Ventanilla