Semana Santa–usually spring break for those in school here in the D.F. For most schools, it lasts for two weeks-Holy Week and the week after. (For my school, it was sadly only Holy Week.) Semana Santa is a huge travel time here. Pretty much everyone in D.F. goes to the beach and the city is very quiet. Ever since we arrived here, practically every person that we have met has said, “Oh, you MUST visit Oaxaca!” After the third or fourth person to say this, we were convinced and we finally made our way to Oaxaca for Semana Santa, vacating D.F. like true chilangos 🙂
Oaxaca is a state on the southern coast of México. It has wonderful beaches that many Mexicans go to instead of the more touristy places, such as Cancun or Cabo San Lucas. Though I would love to go to the beaches sometime, we went to the city of Oaxaca, obviously appropriately named and located in the dead center of the state. We woke up early on Monday morning and went to the bus station to get tickets for the 6 hr. bus ride. We had planned on taking the first bus out, thinking that we would beat the rush. Not so! Luckily, we were able to get tickets for the noon bus but the five or six buses that left before noon were definitely completely sold out, and I’m sure that continued to be true for the rest of the day (and week)!
The bus terminals here look just like airport terminals
So, we boarded our bus and had a nice drive to Oaxaca. [As it turns out, there was actually an earthquake in Oaxaca, felt all the way in D.F., while we were on the road. We didn’t feel a thing!] The drive was beautiful but for the last two or three hours, we were just winding up and up mountain after mountain. And it wasn’t like driving in the mountains in the U.S. Though I’m not an expert, my experience with driving in the mountains in the U.S. is that you generally see the occasional house in the valley or on the mountainside, or that you pass a tiny town now and again. There was NOTHING and I mean NOTHING in these mountains!
Winding up the mountains on the way to Oaxaca.
We finally arrived in Oaxaca around 6:00 in the evening and checked into our hotel, which was a decent walking distance from the center of town. That turned out to be nice though because it was very quiet.
Our hotel, Hotel Santa Lucia
The first thing we did of course was to head to the centro of town, which is just absolutely gorgeous.
Santo Domingo, a beautiful church near the centro of the city
I loved the colors on the buildings and the palm trees!
These wooden statues were on side streets all over the centro. Of course, Jeff needed to pose with them--doesn't he blend in well?
As I said before, it was spring break for all of the kids, and we saw so many of them at all times of the day and night in the town square with the crazy balloons that are pictured below. I have never seen any quite like these before but the kids were having a blast, running around and playing with these things. You could buy them in any color imaginable and most of them had popular cartoon characters, cars, Disney princesses, etc. on them.
Though Santo Domingo (pictured earlier) seems to be the most famous of the 40 or so churches in Oaxaca, it is actually not the cathedral in the centro of the town–the one you see below is. It is of course also very old and beautiful.
All right, I'm not an expert but this picture with the color of the clouds turned out really cool!
While we were walking around the centro the first night, we passed several people out on the street trying to draw people in to their tour businesses. We finally went in one and saw that we could take a tour of several places around Oaxaca for a very reasonable price, so we chose one to do for our first full day. The tour left at 10:00, so we found a nice, extremely colorful little restaurant for breakfast.
The red walls together with the bright blue plates was a little overwhelming.
Many of the places to see in Oaxaca are actually outside the city limits, so taking a tour was very convenient. Our first stop was the little town of Tule, which is home to El Árbol de Tule. This tree is the largest in diameter in the world and is probably around 2,000 years old. I can’t even begin to describe how ridiculously enormous it is!
El Árbol de Tule from a distance. As you can see, the gardens and church surrounding it are lovely.
It's impossible to get the entire tree in a picture up close, but at least here you can kind of see the scope of the trunk next to a person.
The next stop was the pueblo of Teotitlán, famous for woven goods. This community of indigenous people, the Zapotecs, still retain their language and customs, though they do speak Spanish also and allow visitors into their pueblo for tours and to buy their products. We had a short demonstration of how they dye material and how they weave the rugs. It takes about 25 days at 7 hours per day just to make one of these!
A rug in progress on the loom
From there, we drove about an hour to Hierve el Agua, an area of natural springs and a natural salt rock formation that looks like a waterfall.
A view of the springs
Salt rock waterfall. We *might* have been a little out of breath by the time we got to this point to take a picture. We were even higher up in elevation in Oaxaca than we are in D.F.
There were a lot of people there besides our tour group. Many people brought bathing suits and were soaking in the springs and swimming because it was a very hot day. But, the springs are not hot–the water was a little cold!
There are no fences or anything in this area. We are standing right in front of the edge of a cliff!
Just one more because it's pretty
After lunch at a Oaxacañan buffet, we visited the ruins at Mitla. It is not the biggest site of its kind in México, but it is the second largest in Oaxaca and the most important to the Zapotecs. It still has many of the original symbols carved into its structures.
Until 1970, this ancient ruin was actually the town market!
There are still Zapotecan symbols all over the outside and inside of the buildings.
Finally, the tour concluded with a tour of a fábrica de mezcal, which is a popular alcohol in México. Mezcal is made from the maguey plant and this fábrica is one of the many that make mezcal in this area. Of course, the tour concluded with a free sampling of any type of mezcal one could want 🙂
The maguey plant
The is used to crush the hard outer shell of the maguey and get the material out for making mezcal.
Drinks all around!
More on the rest of our trip to Oaxaca very soon!