Thursday, March 26, 2009
Learning how to pronounce Oaxaca was such hard work that we decided to take a real day off. No blogging. No reading. No thinking. Although Chay and Xavier (wait, that’s probably Javier) tried to tempt us with tours, we decided to take full advantage of the surroundings with a day of complete and utter sloth by the pool. Just soaking up the sun. Oh oh, I can hear your worry from here. Liz and the sun do not mix. And I will admit I had a minor sunscreen malfunction. Apparently my 2 for $5 SPF 30 from Walgreen’s wasn’t all that SPF 30 despite repeated applications. And after a full day in the sun all I needed was an apple in my mouth because I was done. As a survivor of many a burn I knew I wasn’t in blister territory but I was going to be in a bit of pain for the next day which meant no exploring the city for me. And no more time lazing by the pool either. So over another delicious meal, Adrian and I gave in and booked a tour for the next day to some neighbouring towns.
I replaced my sunscreen with some cream to halt the burn. The family offered to cut down some aloe vera from the garden for me (see I told you they were awesome) but the cream I had was working well and when I woke up the next morning I was a light pink rather than a bright red.
Joining us on the tour was another couple, Mexican Ana and Norwegian Simon (hi Ana, hi Simon). They met while she was couchsurfing in Norway and highly recommend we use it. If I had met Adrian couchsurfing I’d think it was an awesome way to travel too. Ah, long distance love. I remember those days. Although Norway and Mexico is a lot further than Canada and the UK. I hope there story has a happy ending too.
Eventually the van arrived and we jumped into the van which then drove off to pick up other folks in town until it was full, then we were on our way. Our first stop was the little town of Tule, famous for a tree. But not just any tree – the oldest and biggest tree in the world. I expected it to be in the middle of a grand forest. Instead it stood in front of the church in the town square, where it had for the last 3000 years. And it was big – I hope the scale comes across in the pictures. It was also full of birds so many that it was really loud. Thankfully they had good bathroom habits and nobody got hit with any debris. But the town was the tree, the church and the town hall so in 15 minutes everyone was back in the van and off again to the next stop which was a bit further off. This gave us time to get to know some other people in the van, particularly Mark an older gentleman from Minnesota. He was very talkative in fact he waxed lyrical about the tastiness of Mexican popsicles non-stop for most of the journey.
It was only an hour until our next stop, Teotitlan de Valle, the home of Zapoteca weaving. We got a lesson in how the rugs are made from the collecting and grading of the wool, to the natural dye process and finally the weaving before they started with the sell. Good thing we’d seen this technique before in Tunisia and managed to avoid any of the hard sell, escaping back to the van with Simon and Ana with our cash still in our wallet. Mark wasn’t as lucky. He came out with... actually I’m not sure what to call what he bought but I’m sure his grandkids will love it.
Driving to the next stop of Mitla, the driver played Mexican music. At first I thought he was playing a cd for the tourists but when the Mexican’s in the van started singing along and I saw it was the radio station, I realized that this is what everyone listens to. Well, at least one thing on the journey wasn’t totally made up for us tourists.
Mitla was another small town, but rather than a tree, this town was built around Zapoteca ruins and in particular the church was actually built on the old temple. The site was small and unimpressive, but the site guide quickly changed our impressions. He was really knowledgeable and taught us how to appreciate the ruins. He showed us how the intricate designed was actually some pretty fancy brickwork – each brick was custom cut and laid without mortar to create the designs and had that this design was the reason the buildings were still standing after the areas regular earthquakes and tremors – which we were lucky enough to miss.
The guide gave us plenty of time to take in the sun-baked and cactus-riddled scenery (from the shade) of Oaxaca before we were stuffed back into the van and taken to the highlight of the tour – Hierve El Agua or Petrified Falls. Located high up in the Sierra Madres, they aren’t falls so much as a rock formation caused by the water coming up through the limestone mountains and dripping off the edge of a cliff. The Zapotec Indians had used the site to irrigate the dry mountains and now you could go swimming in the pools on the cliff.
Before we could get there, the van pulled into an isolated buffet restaurant and the driver announced “Now we eat, Only 120 pesos. Very good” Of course being isolated on a highway far away from any sign of civilization we had no choice but to eat there. Ana and Simon were as annoyed as us at being trapped here. Of course the food was mediocre, however my opinion may have been tainted by past experiences with the Tourist Salmonella buffet in Tunisia and Gambia. Adrian seemed happy enough but Ana was perhaps the most annoyed but grudgingly remarked “I guess today I’m a tourist so I’ll pay tourist prices”.
Of course arriving at the Hierve el Agua didn’t help when we saw a row of stands selling better meals for a fraction of the price – the tour was obviously a bit of a cash grab but without it I’m not sure we could have gotten to the Falls. It was an hour up a narrow mountain road – mostly unpaved, and then a trek to the cliff. And when we got there, all our money worries melted away (and not just because it was so hot). The view was truly priceless. Mark immediately stripped down to his shorts and jumped into one of the old irrigation pools. Adrian and I hadn’t brought suits so we just took in the view. We stood as close to the edge as we dared and took photos of each other and gazed out over the “falls” now in the shade thanks to the late afternoon sun.
Soon it was time to get back in the van for the silent ride to our last destination – even Mark stopped talking about popsicles. I guess the sun had gotten the best of us. Until we found out the final destination was a Mescal tasting. We got another lecture about the harvesting of agave, then the making and distilling of it into mescal but thankfully it was brief and we were soon taken to the bar. We were given ten tastes of ten different mescals. I have to say it still tastes like Tequilla no matter how long it's aged – as in it tastes bad. But thankfully, the last half of tastes were flavoured and easy to swallow. And it was free! Finally, something on the tour left a good taste in my mouth, pun (unfortunately intended). Everyone got into the van the last time, happier than any other leg. Back in Oaxaca everyone was dropped off at their hotels, and Ana and Simon decided to stay in town to explore but Adrian and I, being the old farts that we are, decided to go back to La Villada to enjoy an equally nice view but without the high price tag of the rest of the day.