Archive for February, 2012

Curious crafts in Oaxaca

Exploring small towns in Oaxaca is quite the adventure. Driving through them, they all kind of look the same. Dusty and deserted, they make you wonder what the people are up to. Then you stop and enter the dark, unobtrusive buildings. They suddenly spring to life with marvellous creations hidden inside, and you are hooked.  You want to see more…

Teotitlan del Valle

First, squish a dead dried up bug, then sprinkle water on it. It will turn bright red! Then add lime juice and it will turn a shocking orange. Put on a little baking soda and you’ll have purple.

For blue, it isn’t quite as exciting. You just dry an indigo plant and use it like chalk.

This is the process still used by traditional Oaxacan carpet weavers to make their natural tints.

Here in Teotitlan, the entire population of the town works together as a coop. Every member of the community participates preparing the wool, whether hand carding, cleaning, spinning, or dying it.

Then on big wooden looms, they weave this wool into beautiful traditional carpets. Some of the younger generation are now making newer modern designs, but they still incorporate the age-old methods to create them.

Mexcal factory

Mexcal, hmmm, very interesting! It is actuallypretty good, who knew?  In many of the ‘home breweries’ they demonstrate how they make this smoky liquor. The procedure hasn’t changed since they first discovered that the agave cactus had ‘magic properties’. Mexcal is made using the heart of the plant, which looks like a giant pineapple. A horse does most of the work, going around and around in circles, pulling an enormous stone wheel, which mashes the plant and extracts the juice. The mash is then cooked in wood ovens giving it a musky, smoky flavour. Finally it is put into big vats and left to ferment.  For extra flair – they add a worm to every bottle!

San Bartolo Coyotepec

Entering the workshop, pictures and news clippings immediately grab your attention. Images fill the back wall like a page in a giant scrapbook. The focus of this homage is captured in a brilliant ebony clay sculpture.

Doña Rosa was a small Mexican woman who made a humble living making simple items in clay. But in the 1950s, it occurred to her to try something different. What would happen if she polished the clay before firing it? Experimenting with this, she found that instead of the usual dull gray colour, it turned a shiny black.

With this discovery, she changed the life and economy of her friends and neighbours.

Now her community of Coyotepec is known throughout the world for the ‘Oaxacan black pottery’ they produce.

 

San Antonio Arrazola

A tiny little town with grand ideas!

Carvers create wild fantasy figures from wood. They can be disassembled and reassembled easily, like a puzzle. They are painted in very colourful intricate designs.

These extraordinary figures are known as alebrijes. They can be very small simple figures or huge complicated creations.

As in many of the small towns in Oaxaca, the members of the community get together in workshops and produce and sell the items in a coop. The men generally carve the figures and the women paint them.

These wooden treasures are just plain fun!

The skilled artisans of Oaxaca are known and respected worldwide. It is easy to see why…

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Historical Oaxaca…

Oaxaca is a state full of history – and the cool thing is that a lot of the archeological sites are very close to Oaxaca City, making it very easy to explore…..

Monte Albán

An important Zapateca site, Monte Albán is is very impressive, both visually and energetically.

There are several large pyramids and altars with a big empty field lying between the well-preserved ruins. While walking over the seemingly bare stretch of land, I got the feeling that there was movement all around me – and below me. I realized that Monte Albán is like a giant ant hill. We were walking on the surface enjoying the sights around us, but underneath lies a labyrinth of tunnels. I had the sensation that there were still some Zapateca guys running around down there… This feeling was reinforced when I came upon an entrance – to nowhere – or maybe to the underworld… There are old worn stone steps leading down into the ground…. I am sure they are still being used, albeit by spirits.

The ruins are situated on top of a dry grass covered mountain close to Oaxaca City.

Several tombs were discovered there, and the treasures of the richest one are displayed in the downtown museum. Gold, gold and more gold!

Intricate jewelry with jade and turquoise – and hand carved crystal goblets! Imagine the excitement of the archaeologist when he unearthed this find!

On an adjoining mountain, excavation is underway and this site will soon be ready for visitors as well! New wonders to behold…

Cuilapan de Guerrero

Cuilapan is the site of a 500 year old church and monastery.

It is like a fortress – very old – very interesting. The color of the stones, the strength of the huge pillars, the ornate facades speak of the appreciation the Spaniards had for beauty.

The afternoon that we visited this ancient church, they were holding a mass in the chapel. I wondered how similar it was to the ones they held 5 centuries ago…

Mitla

Mitla is an ancient ceremonial site unique for its GREEK designs.

It was pretty strange being in the heart of Mexico looking at the Greek geometric designs on the ruins.

This site was apparently for the rich people – there were several palaces and everything was very ornate.

The town of Mitla is built around the ruins, so much so in fact that one of the courtyards is wide open for kids to play soccer, drunks can pee, etc.

 

The Spaniards built a church right on top of some of the ancient buildings.

There are signs explaining this (negatively of course) but the town is now allowing houses to be built over the courtyard of the church…

You can really see the history in the different levels – and the destruction of one culture making room for another.

 

The more places I visit in Mexico, the more questions I have.

Who were the people that lived here? Where did they come from? Why the links with Greece & Turkey? How? When? Why? Where? What? It is all so confusing. The mystery whets the appetite…. Travelling does not answer questions, it gives you new things to ponder…

Discovering nature’s treasures in Oaxaca

The very dry and barren hills of central Oaxaca hide some of nature’s most wonderful treasures…

 

Santa María del Tule

I saw the world’s largest tree!  And maybe the oldest!

It is an amazing Sabino or Ahuehuete tree (a type of cypress), over 2000 years old.

This corpulent beauty is estimated to weigh more than 630 tons!

It is almost 150 feet across. Apart from the sheer size, the incredible thing about it is the energy it exudes. Although you can’t touch the trunk, you can feel it from 30 feet away.

So full of life, the knarled arms hang heavily with soft shiny leaves and millions of seeds.

The branches stretch over the fence and you can stroke them (or let them stroke you) with their fine fingers.

This tree is strong – it has a force that made me realize that we can’t destroy the earth, it is much stronger than we are!

There is a second tree on the same site as well, but it is much younger – only 1000 years old!

Apparently there are 12 of these ancient giants in this little town.

I bet they are hiding some intriguing secrets…

 

 

Hierve de Agua

This amazing place took my breathe away. If fact I was almost speechless, which doesn’t happen often.

You climb through the mountains – surprisingly dry and rocky – on a windy trecherous road, until you reach a dusty old village. You pass old folks herding their goats right down ‘main street’ and young guys on their bikes herding cows – those weird brahma bull looking ones. Then you arrive at a motley gathering of taco stands and you realize you have arrived. Walking down a short path – which is actually a zillion year old lava bed, you suddenly arrive at the end of the earth, looking over the edge.

Mini geysers send water bubbling happily up over the surface of the emerald green pools. I stuck my feet in and they wanted to smile, the water felt so cool and clean. Following a narrow path through the dry brush, I arrived at a viewpoint where the front of this precipice is wide open to see – and what a sight it is!

A petrified waterfall!  The eyes are confused since there is no movement. You feel like the water is rushing down, but all is silent…

Over 2500 years ago, the inhabitants of this area built an irrigation system, consisting of carved grooves in the rocks with hollowed out bowls along the way.

There are only two places in the world where they have discovered this method of irrigation – the other one is in Turkey.

Obviously there were international spies in those days!