Thursday, March 8, 2018

Él Tule, Teotitlan del Valle, Mitla, Hierve El Agua and Mezcal, Oaxaca, Mexico, March 7, 2018

I got to my hostel around 7:30 am and wouldn't you know it, my room wasn't ready.  I slept a lot on the bus so I wasn't tired at all.  I talked to reception about tours and they recommended a local agency.  I wanted to do 2 days of tours and leave for Puebla on the third day.  It's 5 hours to Puebla and I don't want to arrive at midnight so.....  In the Zócalo, I was approached by a man from the same travel agency my hotel recommended and in no time I was signed up for a tour, leaving in an hour.  I decided to walk around until departure and came across the Basilica de la Soledad.  It was built between 1682 and 1690 and is a sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Solitude, patron saint of Oaxaca.  She adorns the front altar-

I didn't intend to see this church because I was on the hunt for ice cream and the basilica just happened to be in the same area.  Oaxaca is known for its crazy flavours of ice cream including chapulin, which is grasshopper.  The server asked if I wanted chili sauce with it so I said yes because that seemed like the normal way they serve it.  He coated the sides of the plastic cup with chili sauce which tasted like spicy ketchup, then mostly filled the cup with chapulin but topped it with beso oaxaqueno - which is a combination of a few fruits and coconut.  All I could taste of the chapulin was the spicy ketchup so it was rather disappointing-

At 9:30, I was picked up at my hostel.  Herman, our driver, was very professional with gloves and all.  He's from Oaxaca but lived as an illegal immigrant and spent 13 years working in Santa Barbara.  He was a gardener and made $13 US/hour.  Driving tours he makes $20 Canadian/day.  He lives in a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment and pays $171/month.  That's a lot for here he told me.  He loves his job but often asks himself why he ever came back-

Our first stop was in El Tule at El Arbol Del Tule which is the biggest tree in the world although California's General Sherman sequoia is bigger in volume.  This Montezuma cypress is 2000 years old, 50m high and 14m in diameter.  A few years ago its leaves were turning brown so they called in an arborist who said it was caused by pollution.  Immediately, cars could no longer drive near it-

It absolutely dwarfs the nearby church-

Our next stop was Teotitlan Del Valle which is a village famous for its weaving.  More than 150 families are involved in the weaving trade.  All the colors in most shops are from natural dyes-

Samples of the natural products used to make the colors-

Include nut shells for brown, chrysanthemum flowers for yellow, seeds and grains for browns and rose petals for pinks-

Blue is from indigo.  It's crushed on a stone-

Parasites from this cactus are squished-

to make red.  Having the primary colors allows for any color to be made and depending on the color of the wool - white, black or grey, various shades are also possible-

After combing the raw wool, our guide used the spinning wheel to put it into strands-

There were numerous rugs on the go-

Our third stop was at Mitla where the ruins date from the 1300s, 200 years before the Spanish conquest in the 1520s.  It was the most important Zapotec religious center at the time.  High priests lived here and performed human sacrifices.  Today just one major temple remains-

and its walls are adorned with geometric mosaics- 

Originally the walls were all covered in stucco and painted red.  The Grupo de las Columnas is 38 meters long-

There are 14 different mosaic patterns that symbolize the sky, earth, serpents and who really knows what else?  Each little piece was cut to fit then set in mortar on the walls and painted-

El Palacio has the best mosaics and 4 different rooms that were used for meetings and counselling-

In one of the rooms, the ceiling has been restored with bamboo-

In another area on the site, the Patio Sur has 2 underground tombs-

Even the tomb's walls are decorated in mosaics-

The Spanish destroyed most of Mitla and then put up their own church close by which we didn't visit-

I had a tamale for lunch.  A tamale is corn mash with something added - sometimes meat or other vegetables.  I don't usually Iike them but with frijoles it was okay.  It was wrapped in a corn husk-

It took about an hour to get to our next site.  Oaxaca is in a valley with the Sierra Madres to the north-

Hierve El Agua is in the middle of nowhere but is worth the drive-

Water flowing over the cliff for forever has created these huge 'frozen' waterfalls.  Hierve El Agua means "The Water Boils" but it's not even close to warm-

There's a steep and rocky path that leads down to the base-

The views from up top are amazing-

There were a few people in the pools even though the water was pretty cool-

Near the site, there are a lot of comedores and lots sell illegal Mezcal-

complete with worms which are the larva of the moth hypopota agavis.  It infests agave plants.  The oil from the worms apparently changes the flavor-

Scorpions are also added, again for flavor enhancement.  Mezcal must taste pretty awful if worms and scorpions help-

Our final stop was at a legal Mezcal shop.  Mezcal can be made from 30 different kinds of agave and the type determines the flavor and the cost.  Tequila is only made from blue agave-

The piña or heart of the agave plant-

is roasted in an open fire for 3 days.  This is what gives Mezcal its smoky flavor-

The cooked hearts are then chopped up.  A horse pulls the wheel-

It is left to ferment in barrels with added water-

The liquid from the fermentation is drained off and heated in a still.  This fabrica uses copper but clay can also be used and this too will change the flavor-

Then it was open bar time.  First we had the best - 12 year old, then 4 year, then new stuff, also called 'joven'-

We also got to taste silvestre Mezcal which is made from wild agave and very expensive because the plants are rare-

After the plain stuff, we tried numerous flavours: lemon, coffee, chocolate, pistachio, cherry and orange, just to mention a few.  We could drink as much as we liked so we all made pigs of ourselves.  My favorite was lemon-

I didn't buy any but there certainly was lots to choose from-

I got back to the hostel about 8 pm.  It was a very long but interesting day.  Our guide usually spoke first in Spanish and then briefly in English.  I think I understood about 80-90% again today so I'm happy with that.  I've booked another tour tomorrow so hope it's as good as today!

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