Travels with V
In Zapotec country
Our next destination takes us across the country and down to the southern town of Oaxaca. It’s a province capital for an area that for hundreds of years has been home to the indigenous Zapotec culture. The colourful style in women’s dresses here was what attracted and inspired Frida Kahlo who frequently made self portraits dressed in them.
Oaxaca (pronounced roughly as ”wa-hacka”) is a city we immediately fall in love with. A busy and a little scruffy but mostly idyllic community where we seem to find pleasant surprises wherever we go. For example: In the same day we see three wedded couples leaving churches and received by guests in beautiful creations of local origin. And noisy bands.
Oaxaca is famed for its rich food traditions and of course we find som real gems here (see right column). But the perhaps most typical local ingredient is a thick sauce called “mole”. It’s often sweetened and made even thicker with chocolate. We don’t like it too much it makes you feel replete after two chews. But in Oaxaca we’re also treated with dried grasshoppers, a great snack that we were introduced to in Querétaro.
It’s easy to find excellent international restaurants in Oaxaca, places that mainly attract tourists and expats. See right column for info. One slightly bizarre joint that we accidentally stumbled into is the “La Negra”, a hybrid between a tavern, a dance hall and war. There’s a kind of “stage” in the middle where dancers in ”campesinos” dresses perform fake local dances. When they change dresses a saxophone player takes the stage and plays to recorded music. But a more interesting drama is played out in the kitchen which is actually right by the dance stage. Here fires are going wild while chefs run like rabbits to avoid burning. Just look at this video!
Everywhere in Oaxaca we hear music and everywhere we see people dancing. Here are some great moments:
The ancient Zapotec indians had their capital in the Oaxaca valley and on a high hill called “Monte Albán” a huge temple area was built. The excavation of the temples gave a great number of artifacts that now are on display in the Museum of Cultures in Oaxaca, a former convent.
Monte Albán is on an almost unbelievably flat top of a long and narrow hill. It was abandoned gradually from 500 AD and a few hundred years after that. Temples surround two squares, one of them only for religious ceremonies where only the elite had access, the other for everybody. There is also a ball court here, it’s the first one we see. Ritual games were played ut here, and the losing team could end up sacrificed.
In Monte Albán, our guide says, there were no signs of human sacrifice. But that’s probably not true. A type of relief stone not found anywhere else tells a different story. They depict human figures in strange poses and initially archeologists called them “los danzantes”, the dancers. But now the expertise believe they depict captured and killed chieftains from conquered neighbouring communities.
Another evidence is found on the walls of this building, believed to be a solar observatory. Here many stone reliefs include a, upside-down human head. Inscriptions tell of conquests and the heads are probably also captured and sacrificed leaders.
Back in Oaxaca we continue to stroll around and by a quiet little square we find a tiny coffee bar that serves the best coffee in town. While we sip our double espressos we spot a shiny black squirrel in a tree. It picks beans, tear them apart and eat the fruits while bean fibres rain down on the ground. When we take pictures of the squirrel a man starts shouting, pointing to signs everywhere that say “No photos!” It turns out the owner of the house behind the squirrel tree is very paranoid and doesn’t want any part of his house to be visible in a photo.