our next stage of the trip was a one hour internal flight to Oaxaca. neither Robert nor I had been there before, but it came highly recommended. typically our mid morning flight was cancelled and we had to reschedule on another airline – travelling is never easy and this actually happened to us before in Mexico.
we arrived in Oaxaca to peace and calm; the whole town is low rise except for the beautiful churches; and surrounded by mountains. renowned for its arts, crafts, textiles and pottery it really is picture perfect. it also doesn’t feel too touristy, though we were not there for the weekend, which I think makes a difference. we stayed centrally in an old converted convent Quinta Real – which in its time was also a prison, a school and since the late 70’s became a luxury hotel. the rooms are old style, and perfectly fine, but what is stunning are the cloisters, gardens and balconies and courtyards. there is also a beautiful old laundry in one of the courtyards with its old stone bowls.
we would walk down to the main square and through to the mercado, which was full of crafts, spices and locals selling their food and wares. you just have to walk around and soak in the colour and daily life – whats amazing is that locals still seem to be buying and selling amongst themselves; of course there are tourists too, but it really feels like the origins of life – communities coming from the local outlying villages to sell their wares and bring home food for their families. strangely although the streets are busy there is always a calmness and serenity – a haven from the madness of Mexico City.
there are lots of places to eat. we were recommended Origin, La Pitiona (which has a great roof terrace with views all round) and Casa Oaxaca, but these are more led towards tourists and wealthy Mexicans – who also seem to be visiting their own culture. the standard of food is very good, but you still have to be careful as its easy to get an upset tummy. we were pleasantly surprised by the simple and beautiful design of Oaxaca from everything to their architecture, interior design, table wear……… lots of locals still wear their national costumes for everyday wear, not just to attract tourists. its nice to be romantic about this way of living, but in reality most of them are relatively poor, bringing not just their wares, but their young families onto the streets, whilst trying to make a living.
we took a walk up to the the cultural museum, Santa Domingo de Guzman where there is an incredible collection of wares, retelling the history of Oaxaca through its crafts, jewellery and figurines. helped by the discovery of a treasure chest of jewellery found in one of the tombs in the church; its not only interesting, but housed in an incredibly beautiful building overlooking the most exquisite cactus garden. you can visit these wondrous gardens, the Botanical gardens and I highly recommend it; its a guided visit, but so calm and serene in there, with amazing succulent plants.
shopping wise, there are probably too many stalls and workshops to choose from, but you will find some lovely artisan pieces. we brought an empty bag anticipating that we would bring back some things, which we surely did. we found pots in Collective 1050, Tiendita del Barro, which sold the lovely black and terracotta pottery. I bought a lovely embroidered top from Ambar 5 de Mayo 408. woven scarves from la cash de las artesanias, Andrea cruz Bernal. a skirt and baskets from la Plaza Artesanias de Oaxaca Matamoros 103 – you really just have to wander and stroll into the numerous courtyards and workshops.
also worth visiting is the private collection of one family – Museo Belber Jimenez- a beautiful collection of jewellery and clothes housed around a courtyard house. there are so many galleries to wander in and out of. if you have time, which we didn’t manage – there are lots of day trips to the local artisan villages – some making pottery, textiles, wooden carved animals, – choose your route. there are ruins to see too, but I would recommend the ruins outside of Mexico City, Teotihucan.
it became our daily ritual to amble to the main square and see the different activities – on our last day the local school set up stage and gave their own show of singing, performance and playing instruments; I will miss the locals dancing impromptu in the streets, the mariachis waiting to entertain and serenade, the selling of wares and the passing of giggling school children.
the saddest part of Oaxaca is seeing the young girls sat on the sides of the streets with their young babies and children seeing food and money….. it seems hard to escape people living on the streets wherever you visit in the world…..