Saturday, June 5, 2010

Oaxaca III - El Tule, Mitla, and Teotitlan

On Sunday we rented a car and drove out of town to the nearby ruins of Monte Alban (next post) and Mitla. We did some other things along the way (Teotitlan and El Tule) and returned starving, hot, tired, and happy for a nice dinner of mole coloradito (delicious!) and white wine at a restaurant on the Zocalo.

The Zocalo (central square) in Oaxaca city is beautiful and busy. It is lined on three sides by buildings with deep arcades and on the fourth by the cathedral yard. People buy their children torpedo balloons and play with them, tossing the balloons into the air and racing to catch them.

Arcades and a market line the Zocalo. Balloon vendors are so far ubiquitous in non-Mexico City central squares.

The Virgin is in the trees of the Zocalo!

All of the oldest Oaxaca buildings seem to have a pinkish glow. The cathedral dome is tiled and simple and beautiful. It's a very different experience from the Santo Domingo church.

The little church at Santa Maria del Tule. It's a very well maintained church, probably because they charge 20 pesos ($1.50) per head to see the tree. The tree is immediately to the left in this photo; its branches are what you see in the photo.

This man is manually ringing bells for church purposes on Sunday.

Stats on the tree. It's estimated to be more than 2000 years old. It's a cypress, wider than it is tall, and one of the earth's oldest living creatures. The water table has changed underneath it, and now it is tended by a local group.

Ian obligingly spreads his arms by the tree. The fence prevents a real sense of scale.

Looking up in the branches of the massive tree at El Tule.

Mitla is lesser-known than Monte Alban and much smaller The town of Mitla grew around the ruins and the church, and the site is limited in size. Mitla is a very late settlement (1300s CE) and shows its lateness is the total difference in decoration. The walls are covered with intricate geometric patterns instead of animals and figures. These are walls of the largest construction still standing. The panels are varied, and there is some repetition but not in a discernible pattern.

This is the church that the Spanish turned the Mitla complex into. It's lovely, simple, and clean. Note again the multi-domed roof in red.

The decor of Mitla changes in the chambers inside the walls. The geometric patterns are more contiguous but still intricate. They also mostly repeat what is visible from the outside.

Note that all the stones that form the patterns are individually worked.

The entrance (and exit!) to a funerary tunnel in the walls of Mitla. Ian, having braved one on his knees, opted to wait for me outside. The inside was unspectacular except for the smell and the bizarre humidity and heat, but the passage was three levels of three-foot doors followed by much higher-cielinged cambers.

We stopped to buy sal de gusano (similar to the salt you lick with tequila but blended with ground up maguey worm) for a colleague and were tempted into a brief tour of a mezcal moonshine distillery. Ian did all the tasting, and I did all the driving. Ian, Abel (the proprietor), and Jesus (hay-SUS) the horse pose at the beginning of the tour. Jesus is hitched to a grinding stone and spends his days walking counter-clockwise in a very tight circle mashing the maguey (mah-GWAY) cactus into pulp. Note the photo banner behind them showing the harvest and preparation of the maguey.

This is the sweet mash, produced by the horse and the grinding stone, that is fermented and heated to eventually produce the mezcal. Note the bees hovering over it; it's nearly pure maguey sugar.

Pure mezcal running out of the fermenter.

Abel serving mezcal from a container for Ian to taste it. I was prepared for a grimace, but Ian said it was really quite good.

The wares of La Costumbre, all available for a reasonable price. Ian bought three bottles of moonshine mezcal, but they all leaked so badly in the trunk that we had to leave them in Oaxaca to save our suitcases.

Despite their cautious optimism, we did our shopping at the market.

These rugs are woven by traditional artisans in the town of Teotitlan del Valle, about 30 km east of Oaxaca. The rugs are wool, dyed with natural dyes developed in the area over centuries of work. The red rug is a traditional pattern with shades of Mitla in its designs. The yellow rug is more modern, and the blue fish rug is between them. The rugs are almost all immensely beautiful, and the variety of patterns and colors is stunning.

At the Teotitlan market (off-day), a lady was driving burros with firewood to a client.

And mama burro took her baby with her to learn the ropes!

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