Donna and I walked downtown at dusk and saw the Alameda and the Zocalo teeming with people. The Cathedral looked so majestic at night, even though balloon sellers were everywhere in front of it! We decided to eat at one of the top restaurants in Oaxaca, El Asador Vasco. We were seated at the railing on the second floor, overlooking the Zocalo. What a lovely view, although quite noisy. There were competing musical groups that would lie in wait for the other group to finish the last note, when they would hold forth. Interestingly, the musicians, especially the marimba players, are not very skilled, compared to my experience in times past. We have heard several marimba duos, and they have all been poor.
Early the next morning (our strategy for avoiding the HOT afternoon sun) we taxied out to Monte Alban. It is a Zapotec site, first occupied about 500 BCE. The mountain was leveled and houses were built as early as 300 BCE; however what we see now was mostly built between 300 to 700 AD, Monte Alban’s heyday. At that time, the population was about 25,000. The site was abandoned between 700 and 950 AD.
The site is really big; we started at the Ball Court, that ubiquitous structure of most all of these sites. We went down a stairway (they have thoughtfully installed hand rails!) and came to the Gran Plaza, that huge expanse ringed by many pyramids and palaces. These people had developed glyphs, which were a written form of communication. The dot and bar system of hieroglyphs probably means that these were the first people in Mexico to have a form of writing. There are a few faint glyphs visible on the site.
There were also about 170 tombs that have been discovered. I snaked down to the door of one, which wasn’t very deep. Some of the skulls from these tombs show that they had been drilled with holes, a treatment still used to relieve pressure from bleeding within the skull.
Some of the buildings had glyphs/pictures on them, which are records of their conquests. No doubt they were pretty blood thirsty, mutilating their prisoners of war as shown on a series of ‘pictures’ called ‘Danzantes’ (Dancers) because they appear to be dancing. Later study showed that they were not ‘dancing’ but had been mutilated.
The site is quite high (1300 feet above the valley floor) which I could tell as we drove up the hill from Oaxaca—my ears were popping. Clearly they had a good 360-degree view to anticipate their enemies coming. I climbed up the Southern Platform (permitted—there is even a handrail) and got a good view of the entire city. Imagine what it looked like when the temples and palaces were still on top of these foundations that we see here.
Having seen most of the highlights, we taxied back into the city to have breakfast, after which, we went to see a low-key photographic museum.
Friday we were planning to taxi to the village of Ocotlán to see their weekly market. Donna didn’t feel quite well, so I went alone. The large plaza was covered with market booths; additionally there was a regular market building adjacent to the plaza. There was also an attractive church that had a museum in the ex-convent. The museum had been assembled by an artist named Rudolfo Morelos, whose works here were pictures on columns. In this town the Aguilar sisters were renowned for their pottery statues of people. There were many pieces from their workshops in this museum.
The most fun was the poultry area where people brought live chickens, turkeys, and chicks to sell. Some of the turkeys were huge! I wound up buying a straw hat, some flowers for our living room, and some lettuce.
On the way back to Oaxaca I asked the driver to stop in San Bartolo Coyotepec, a village that is famous for its black pottery. I had bought some pieces in a market in Oaxaca (now to get them home without breaking them!) and was interested to see that in the town, the church was surrounded by a stone and iron fence.
Each stone pillar had a black round vase atop it that today anyway, contained fresh flowers. There was a mass going on—maybe a wedding or a funeral—and a big food tent had been set up next to the church.
The pottery is black because of iron oxide in
the clay hereabouts, and because of smoke trapped in the kiln. A very famous woman, Dona Rosa Real Mateo, invented the method of making this pottery using two saucers, functioning as a rudimentary potter’s wheel. The pottery is burnished with quartz stones, that gives it its special sheen.
Donna and I had a superb dinner one day at Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante. It started with the waiter mixing our salsa (tomato or tomatillo?—we could choose) tableside in a molcajete. This was followed by the BEST large blue-corn crisp tortilla with cheese; Donna had soup and shrimp; I had salad and goat. The whole thing was wonderful, and we are regretting that we don’t have enough days left to eat out in enough places!
The next morning we had our breakfast in Itanoní, a place that uses Oaxaca native corn for their hand made tortillas. Unfortunately my dish had been rushed (the fat not hot enough when she fried the tortilla) so it was a bit disappointing. I did try the ‘atole,’ a chocolate-flavored corn gruel drink.
Saturday night Donna and I hosted a cocktail party for six guests. They were Anthony and his wife, Sandy (our landlord), John and Louise from second floor of our building; Fred, from first floor, and Gail, my LP Thornetree friend. Sandy had to leave early, as she had to drive her 14-year-old daughter on her first date! To tell the truth, one of our motivators for having the party was that we had bought too much booze, and had a variety of drinks to serve. Luckily they chose different ones, as we didn’t have that much of each! Donna made great deviled eggs and I made small tostadas—three kinds—chicken with cheese and salsa; mole with crumbly cheese; and black bean with lettuce, tomato and avocado. I thought I had prepared a lot, but in the middle, I fried 40 more tortilla-quarters and made more of the same. Fred brought a wonderful pineapple and mango dish, Gail brought beer, and John and Louise brought Oaxaca Chocolates. We all had a lot of fun!
At the party, Gail pointed out that on top of the mountain across the city from us, we can see Monte Alban! It appears as two ‘lumps’ on the top of the mountain, which are the South and North Platforms. In subsequent days, I couldn’t stop looking at them!
The next morning we heard our last squawks from our neighborhood peacock! That bird would emit the loudest, most piercing cries, starting about 3:00 AM. He lived on a rooftop of a house very near ours. But it only added to the cacophony of lots of dogs barking, sirens screaming, cats howling, and car horns honking. One has to be able to sleep through lots of noise in Oaxaca—and we did! Oaxaca has now made it onto my ‘short list’ of towns where I may want to spend a few months at a time, when I feel I can no longer jump on a bus every day. It, and the surrounding area, is a very special place to visit.