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Trip List by Alvin S

Weekend in Oaxaca, Mexico

May 28, 2009  For the past few years I've been arranging cultural tours of inland Oaxaca, for beachgoers starving for more than the sun's rays, swimming and fishing.
4.0 of 5 stars based on 2 votes

The magical city of Oaxaca, in south central Mexico, is one of the most culturally rich destinations in the Western Hemisphere, boasting pre-Hispanic ruins; quaint craft villages producing rugs, pottery, brilliantly painted mystical wooden figures and much more; fascinating rural marketplaces; and downtown art galleries, museums, colonial churches and restaurants with internationally renowned cuisine. A well-planned weekend visit in the midst of a beach vacation at one of the innumerable Pacific resorts including Huatulco and Puerto Escondido is worth considering and can provide you with an experience you may previously have thought would require a whole trip onto itself. Take a 35 minute Friday flight and we’ll have you back on the beach in time for Monday breakfast.

Your cabbie will take you from the Oaxaca airport with your overnight bags, right to Monte Alban where you’ll spend a couple of hours with a government authorized guide orienting you to the pre-history of the region while walking you through one of the most impressive ruins in Latin America. By noon you’ll be downtown, checking into your hotel or B & B. If you don’t yet have a guide for the next two days of touring, your host will make arrangements. Spend the afternoon doing a walking tour of a few galleries and shops, the Cathedral and Santa Domingo church, and stopping by arguably the most colorful zócalo in the country for drinks, lunch and people watching. At 5 pm you’ll be ready for an English tour of the small but impressive Rufino Tamayo Museum of pre-Hispanic Art. Flake out at your hotel for a couple of hours, then grab an early dinner at one of the local haunts before retiring for the evening.

After an early Saturday breakfast your guide will take you to the black pottery village of San Bartolo Coyotepec where you can witness Don Valente, son of famed potter Dona Rosa, demonstrating this ancient craft without the use of a wheel or any modern tools. Then brouse the showroom at your leisure and select from a broad array of both sleek and modern, and traditional pieces. If you’re inclined you can then stop by the hand-made jewelry workshop of Armando Lozano, just a minute down the road. Back on the highway you’ll next have an opportunity to stop in at one or more small facilities where the residents of San Martín Tilcajete carve and paint a variety of fanciful wooden figures known as alebrijes. If traveling with children, arrangements can be made for them to paint their choice of animal (and be entertained at other stops along the route as well). Next stop is Santo Tomas Jalieza, known for production of table runners, placemats, napkins, belts and purses using the primitive back strap loom, and bedspreads and tablecloths using much larger machinery, yet similarly labor intensive. About 10 minutes down the road you’ll arrive in Ocotlán where you’ll drop in at the workshops of the Aguilar sisters, whose family since the 40’s has been hand producing a range of clay painted figures with scenes representative of marketplaces, religious imagery, comedic love imagery and colorful fiestas. Finally you’ll have an opportunity to see Angel Aguilar hand-forging knives, cutlery, cake serving sets and more using only recycled metals. Watch how within minutes he can engrave your choice of memento or gift item. Back at your B & B by about 6, you’ll have an opportunity to relax and freshen up before taking another stroll downtown en route to perhaps one of the higher end restaurants before turning in.

Your Sunday will begin with a visit to the 2,000 year old Tule tree, purportedly the largest in the world. Hire a young child to walk you around the tree, with the aid of a small mirror showing you images of animals in the enormous truck Then visit the rug village of Teotitlán del Valle where residents using large pine looms have been producing hand-woven rugs using natural dyes and traditional native Zapotec designs since about 1535. You’ll have a demonstration of the carding, spinning, dyeing and weaving procedures which have been used for generations. You can then consider buying a rug, purse or wall hanging with either a traditional or modern design. A visit to the ruin at Mitla or perhaps one of the smaller ruins just off the highway should not be missed. Mitla also has a reputation for having one of the largest craft marketplaces in the region, with unbeatable prices for clothing and jewelry. However, for color, pageantry and diversity, you won’t encounter anything more interesting than the Sunday marketplace at Tlacolula. While there is indeed a handicraft portion of the market, it is predominantly a center where Oaxacans in the region come for purchasing clothing, meats, fruits, vegetables, furniture and virtually all else of their worldly needs. This stop is not to be overlooked.
You’ll then have an opportunity to stop by one of the many mezcal “factories” where you’ll witness the centuries old production technique of producing the state’s famed alcoholic beverage using an in-ground oven to back the agave plant, a horse to then mash the fiber, pine vats for fermentation and finally a clay and brick still. Then learn about flavor nuances at a private tasting. Your final stop will be at the 16th century Dominican Church at Tlacochahuaya, a fitting time to tranquilly reflect and unwind after a busy day. Even those not particularly interested in old churches will marvel at the original painting on the ceiling and walls, and the restored 17th century German organ on the second floor accessed by a steep narrow winding staircase. A brief stop here, more than at any other church or monastery in the region, will take you back centuries and give you a feeling of what it must have felt like to worship in colonial times. You’ll be back in town by about 6:30, once again for a time to put your feet up and relax in preparation for your final meal and farewell to Oaxaca before your early morning flight lands you back on the beach.

NOTES:
1) You host and/or guide will gladly make recommendations for dining both in the city and while out on the road touring, at whatever type of establishment interests you, be it for a white linen meal, at an off-the-beaten-track yet “safe” comedor (or even in a marketplace), or at the many middle of the road yet traditional restaurants.
2) The foregoing is merely a sampling of the diversity of stops, sites and crafts which can be fit into two days of touring, so let your guide know what interests you and what else can conceivably be included in the tours since the routes can easily be amended.
3) You should feel under no obligation to buy anything at any of the stops you make. You’ll find Oaxacans more than happy to just have an opportunity to meet you and show off their crafts and speak of their rich cultural traditions with obvious pride.

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  • Category: Perfect weekend
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