Tag - oaxaca

Booking Hotel, B & B, On Travel Websites Problematic for Tourists

Travel Websites Promote B & B in Oaxaca, Mexico Credit: Alvin Starkman

Travel Websites Promote B & B in Oaxaca, Mexico Credit: Alvin Starkman

Tourists booking hotels using travel websites may be surprised when their chosen accommodation fails to reply; but the hotelor B&B may be blameless.

 Tourists planning to stay in a small lodging facility such as a bed & breakfast, guest house or boutique hotel, occasionally get the erroneous impression that the accommodation about which they are inquiring is fully booked, deliberately not responding to their booking inquiry, or does not have adequate administrative practices in place.

Workings and Motivation of Travel Websites: Accommodations Booking Assistance to Travelers

There are literally hundreds of travel websites, most of which count hotels, bed & breakfasts and other lodging types in their stable of accommodations they offer to prospective travelers by providing booking assistance. Many such websites propose to commercial establishments such as these hotels and B&B style lodgings, an opportunity to enroll and be promoted gratuitously for a finite introductory period of time, in the hope that at its expiration the lodging will sign up and pay an annual fee for getting booking referrals. Many lodgings take up such offers, and then decide to discontinue for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they continue with a paid membership, and after a year or longer decide to discontinue their association with the travel website based on doing their own cost-benefit analysis.

Genesis of Problem Created by Travel Websites, for Tourists and Lodging Owners Alike

At times a problem subsequently arises, due to no fault of the hotel or B&B. Here’s the genesis of the problem and how it plays out.

On occasion a travel website will deliberately ignore the request of a lodging to be removed from its system, in the hope of convincing the lodging to re-join, meaning pay the annual or perhaps quarterly fee. The website will continue to send the lodging notice of tourists interested in booking with the accommodation, typically forwarding a brief message from the prospective customer, his or her last name and first initial, and proposed vacation dates. Absent is a phone number and email address, so of course the lodging, by design of the travel website, has no way of contacting the traveler, even to indicate that it is no longer associated with the travel website.

If the hotel, B&B or guest house pays the annual or quarterly renewal, the travel website forwards the traveler’s booking request, including of course contact information to the lodging, or it simply relays the lodging’s availability to the traveler. If the fee is not paid, the travel website does nothing, the result being that the traveler assumes that the lodging is fully booked, or is deliberately ignoring the request for information, or has inadequate administrative procedures in place.

The lodging still has access to its account on the travel website’s webpage, which typically shows the date and nature of inquiries as they build up over time; but the account is noted as inactive. In this way the travel website attempts to show the lodging that there have been inquiries and that by not paying up it is losing business. Sometimes the travel website simply refuses or neglects to remove these hotels, B&Bs and guest houses from its system, and their information remains available for perusal by vacationers. It is suggested that this may serve to help the website’s promotion of itself, its records showing more lodging members, though their status may be “inactive.”

Solution for the Vacationer to the Problem Created by Such Travel Websites Seeking Bookings

Travelers interested in booking can either assume the worst in terms of the accommodation in which they were initially interested, or consider the possibility of a glitch in the system. In the case of the latter, it is suggested that they seek out an alternate method of contacting the lodging, directly. They can use a different travel website, or Google the lodging name in the hope of finding its contact information through its own website or via an alternate travel website.

Solution for the Hotel, Bed & Breakfast or Guest House to the Booking Problem

The solutions to the problem for the particular lodging caught in the conundrum, are twofold. They can pay up and hope that they were wrong in their initial cost-benefit analysis. Or, they can themselves attempt to contact the client they know is interested in booking, by doing an end run, using Google or another search engine to ascertain contact information about the traveler based on the details which have in fact been disclosed by the travel website. These on occasion include city of residence, making the task a little easier.

Safety, Security, Police & Banditos: Driving in Oaxaca, Mexico

Safety, Security, Police

Safety, Security, Police

Following these guidelines helps ensure safety & security, and avoid banditos & police problems while driving the roads and highways of Oaxaca, Mexico. While this article centers upon driving and maintaining safety and security on the roads in Oaxaca, Mexico, similar guidelines apply when visiting other central / southern Mexico states. Some are common sense; others may come as a surprise. The key, however, to being safe and secure, and to avoiding problems with the police, crime circumstances and even banditos, is to remember that you’re no longer in Canada or the US, but rather driving in Mexico, a Third World country.

Road Conditions Affecting Safety and Security on Toll Roads and Highways in Oaxaca, Mexico

Road conditions of highways in Oaxaca and other central and southern Mexico states are generally excellent. For example, the toll road between Mexico City and Oaxaca is constantly being monitored, with frequent work crews patching holes and painting lines. Toll booths and emergency roadside stops with water and telephone service are fairly evenly spaced.

However, on the stretch of highway between Puebla and Oaxaca, even though open since 1995, there are still periodic minor problems with the structural integrity of the mountainsides which were cut through; during rainy season in particular, there are occasionally stones, rocks and boulders encroaching the roadway. The problems do not affect safety and security, and when there is an impact, it’s generally a matter of minor delays as a result of work crews clearing debris or doing maintenance to ensure safe passage.

Conditions of secondary highways in Oaxaca are difficult to predict. On the one hand they were build decades ago, and therefore the likelihood of landslides is slim. However there are always aberrations, such as in the Mixe and Sierra Norte of Oaxaca during the 2010 rainy season. A rule of thumb is to proceed with travel plans for driving throughout Oaxaca and elsewhere in south and central Mexico, regardless of season, and when driving during the rainy season, check with one’s hotel or bed and breakfast hosts, or local authorities, regarding potential impediments to safety and security as a result of highway damage or roadwork.

Avoiding Police Problems While Driving in Oaxaca, and Other South & Central Mexico States

Sporadic police check points exist on the highways in Oaxaca, and on occasion on roads leading into the state capital. Rarely do police use radar, but it does occur. Usually they are looking for infractions such as driving without a seat belt or driving while using a cellular phone. It might come as a shock that there are many cars on the road with expired license plates, dating to 2008 or earlier. These vehicles are ignored by police, in favor of catching drivers committing other infractions.

Speed limit signs are hard to understand. On one stretch of highway one could read 30 KPH, then a half kilometer further another could state 80 KPH, then further along 40 KPH. There is little rhyme or reason, as if they were erected haphazardly by untrained road workers. Therefore, it’s best to keep up with traffic flow, and if reluctant to do so, drive on the paved shoulder so others can pass, an acceptable practice. However, on toll roads speed limits appear to be more consistent, with greater likelihood of encountering speed traps.

Drive with a copy of the photo page of your passport, your tourist visa, drivers license, and naturally vehicle ownership. Insurance is optional in Oaxaca. Be courteous when stopped by police. Federal police at check points are usually looking for illegal immigrants en route from Central America to the US, arms or drugs.

There are two theories regarding how to avoid paying a fine or bribe when stopped for an alleged traffic infraction; speak your best Spanish, or pretend that you do not speak it at all in the hope that police will get frustrated and leave.

For bribing, do not disclose a large wad of bills. Have only a few twenties and perhaps a fifty (of course pesos) in view. Otherwise, they’ll want it all. And yes, bribing is the norm, at least with municipal and state police. Start low. If you start at 500, it’ll cost more. Generally, police are helpful to tourists driving in Oaxaca, whether in cities, or on roads or highways.

Reducing the Likelihood of Encountering Banditos or Having an Accident on Oaxaca Highways

Only drive outside of Oaxacan cities and towns during daylight, unless unavoidable such as when attending a rural party. When on a long road trip, begin looking for accommodations well before dusk. Find a hotel with secure parking. Do not leave belongings in the vehicle overnight, or if you must, keep them hidden in the trunk.

On some secondary highways, one may be asked to stop to help out a poor family with a few pesos or even food. While it happens rarely, experience suggests that they only want a little help. It’s happened three – four times over the course of 19 years driving Oaxaca’s roads and highways. Encountering cows, horses, donkeys and dogs on Oaxacan roads is much more common – another reason to only drive in daytime hours.

Regularly check levels of vehicle liquids, either on one’s own, or at gas stations. Have belts, tires, steering and generally mechanical fitness matters checked regularly. Most locals don’t (nor have they received driver training), so you should. Yes, the roads to Puerto Escondido and Huatulco from Oaxaca are narrow and windy in spots.

Gas station attendants usually must be asked to check tires and liquids. Pemex, the nationalized petroleum industry, has stations well spaced out, but never drive on almost empty. When in the mountains, if low on gas ask, and someone will advise where to find someone selling gasoline. Similarly, mechanics are a dime a dozen, and very resourceful when it comes to band-aid treatments to get vehicles where they want to go. Have a cellular phone handy just in case.

Final Word Regarding Safety and Security on Roads and Highways in Oaxaca

Banditos are by and large a concern of decades past. Highways are basically crime – free, with safety reasonably assured. However AAA and CAA do update their literature and warn of areas to avoid or where to be particularly vigilant. American and Canadian governments publish circulars as well, providing more general advice. While they tend to be overly paternalistic regarding matters of safety and security in Mexico, the advice is worth noting in a broad sense. It all helps reduce the likelihood of encountering safety, security and police problems while driving the roads of Oaxaca.

Casa Rubia: Luxury Home, Villa Rental in Puerto Escondido, Mexico

View from Oceanfront Villa Credit: Starkman

View from Oceanfront Villa Credit: Starkman

Casa Rubia is the ultimate in luxury Oceanfront villa vacation rental in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico. The home has 6 bedrooms and a permanent staff.

Casa Rubia is an ultra-luxury oceanfront villa & vacation home rental in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico, the brainchild of Canadian real estate developer and former World Cup downhill champion Cary Mullen. One would be hard-pressed to think of another Mexican luxury private villa or vacation home rental, Pacific beach or otherwise, with more attention paid to comfort and detail: sprawling, immaculately kept grounds, main home additional suites; extent and quality of furnishings; exceptional bilingual staff; sun, surf and relaxation accouterments.

Casa Rubia bears witness to Puerto Escondido coming of age, overshadowing the best that neighboring resort town Huatulco, down the coast, offers. .It’s hard to not use superlatives when describing Casa Rubia, perhaps because of the research and thought that Mullen put into creating this luxury oceanfront villa, part of his broader development, Vivo Resorts.

Background to the Concept of Casa Rubia as a Private, Pacific Oceanfront Resort Villa in Mexico

Mullen began considering building a beachfront resort community several years ago while in Maui, recovering from a ski accident. He made a list of 44 factors for ranking (i.e. weather, safety and security, investment timing, etc.), considered 30 countries, and personally scouted over a dozen. He settled on Puerto Escondido, a Pacific coast beach resort town in the state of Oaxaca, southern Mexico. Hence, the seed was planted for his condominium and oceanfront lot development, Vivo Resorts.

A major consideration was finding somewhere that Mullen would be comfortable bringing his wife and three children, as well as his parents, both for brief vacations and spending extended periods of time, and with a view to eventual permanent residency. Before even breaking ground he acquired Casa Rubia, initially earmarked as his personal family retreat and as a showcase for prospective condo and lot buyers. Mullen comments about the latter: “I wanted to show people the type of vacation home that could be built right on the beach, so at Casa Rubia I can both showcase the villa and at the same time point to barren oceanfront on either side and say ‘see the lot next door; that’s what this used to be, and this is what you can build at Vivo Resorts’.”

Mullen in due course decided that he personally preferred luxury condominium living for longer term visits, so he set aside one of his units for himself and his family. Accordingly, Casa Rubia now serves two purposes:

  1. To host clients considering investing in the Vivo Resorts’ oceanfront condos and building lots.
  2. As an ultra-luxury oceanfront villa for short-term rental by individual couples, families, groups, or special events.
Facilities at Casa Rubia, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico
Casa Rubia Luxury Villa; Living Room,Credit:  Starkman

Casa Rubia Luxury Villa; Living Room,Credit: Starkman

Imagine a luxury family vacation, or a family reunion, for up to 24 people, in an expansive 15,000 sq ft Pacific oceanfront villa complex (the living room, bar and game area all facing the ocean are alone 3,000 sq ft); or perhaps a wedding or 25th anniversary, or simply a group of friends wanting to spend quality leisure vacation time together.

The pampering begins with a dedicated bilingual staff including maids, butler, property manager, chauffer / handyman (private cars of course – for driving you into town, nearby sights, restaurants, etc.), and to top it all off, your own professional Mexican chef to prepare your choice of meals, be it internationally renowned Oaxacan cuisine, contemporary North American, or continental.

The luxurious six bedrooms, each with a spacious en suite three piece washroom, consist of:

  • Two oceanfront master bedrooms with king size beds, sitting areas and enough additional space to sleep additional guests
  • Two deluxe ocean side suites, each with two queen size beds and extra space for lounging and sleeping
  • Two garden bungalows, each with two queen size beds

Each bedroom suite is equipped with a ceiling fan and air conditioning.

The media room features an oversize wraparound couch, WIFI and satellite TV. It opens onto an exquisite dining room which seats up to 26 guests around an illuminated onyx table. Both rooms face the pool, and further beyond, 112 feet of private sandy Pacific beach. Words cannot do justice to the extent and quality of furnishings at this private Pacific oceanfront resort, nor to the attention Mullen has paid to detail.

Rental Rates, Additional Information and Contact for Casa Rubia

Casa Rubia isn’t for every vacationer seeking a beachfront rental home or villa in Mexico. But for a big splurge (for most of us), this Puerto Escondido property is the pinnacle in private luxury Mexican beachfront vacation resorts, with all the expected indulging, and more. For a larger family, a group of friends, or a wedding or anniversary, pricing is actually quite accessible. Of course cost is always relative, and for a couple with substantial means it may be the perfect, private, Pacific retreat. Casa Rubia lacks nothing.

Further information about Casa Rubia and Vivo Resorts can be obtained through their websites.

Money Saving Tips for Students, Budget Travelers to Oaxaca Mexico

Market Food for Budget Travelers in Oaxaca Credit: Alvin Starkman

Market Food for Budget Travelers in Oaxaca Credit: Alvin Starkman

Oaxaca, Mexico, on a budget is easy, with clean accommodations, eating in good restaurants and seeing the sights, without risking safety, health, security.

Being a budget traveler in Oaxaca, Mexico, has different connotations for different tourists. For some it means lodging in hostels, buying food in supermarkets or the cheapest street fare, and using second class buses to visit sights in the central valleys. For other frugal travelers it’s staying in an inexpensive Oaxacan hotel with clean room and private bath, eating on the street and in budget restaurants, and recognizing that sometimes a tour company, taxi, driver or guide in the end is more economical where time is limited and one wants to experience as much of Oaxaca’s cultural diversity as possible. In any case, it’s easy to avoid illness and safety and security concerns while traveling the Mexican state of Oaxaca, on a budget.

Budget Accommodations in Oaxaca; Hotel, Hostel or Bed & Breakfast

Start with travel websites such as tomzap.com (specializing in three Mexican states, including Oaxaca) or tripadvisor.com, to get some idea of what budget accommodations in Oaxaca cost. Often budget hotels and bed and breakfasts offer their best rates to walk-ins, off the street. For most hostels it’s the same, booked in advance or on the spot. Since frugal travelers to Oaxaca tend to arrive at the ADO bus terminal at the north end of downtown, it’s often easy to find accommodations from that location, where agents and lodgings have flyers, brochures and maps ready to be picked up as travelers to southern Mexico depart the buses.

Arriving by bus in Oaxaca early in the day makes finding cheap accommodations much easier, since there is not the concern for safety and security in terms of night arrival and having to walk the streets to find lodging. While downtown Oaxaca is safe at night, including the area around the bus terminal, it’s prudent to try to do one’s initial walk-through during the day, especially if toting luggage or backpack. If arriving in Oaxaca after dark, consider having the first night’s accommodations booked in advance, even if it initially throws off the budget.

There’s a 200-peso-a-night hostel across the street from the bus terminal, although one can find hostels which cost less scattered throughout downtown Oaxaca. The lower end lodgings of the Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast Association might fit the bill for some, since association members must comply with standards for service and cleanliness. Alternatively, within a few blocks of the bus station there are budget hotels in the 350 peso range (i.e. northwest corner of Pino Suárez and Constitución).

Restaurant, Market and Street Food in Oaxaca: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner or Snack, Cheap, Safe and Within Budget

Here are commonsense rules for eating on the street, in restaurants, and in markets throughout southern Mexico, to reduce the likelihood of health issues arising. They apply to budget travelers to Oaxaca, as well as mainstream tourists.

The most popular and reliable budget lunch is comida corrida, a complete meal which includes soup, main course with sides, dessert, and agua del día, a juice made with seasonal fruit, water and usually sugar. Price and selection are usually stated out front of the restaurant, ranging from 25 to 45 pesos. They’re generally safe since many downtown working Oaxacans rely on this type of cheap meal on a daily basis. That’s all they can afford. A personal favorite for a budget comida corrida is Fonda Mexicana on 20 de Noviembre, across from the market. There are three restaurants on Crespo a couple of blocks north or Independencia. But comida corrida is offered throughout downtown Oaxaca on virtually all streets for the budget conscious, Oaxacan and tourist alike.

Some higher end restaurants such as La Olla and Los Danzantes also offer comida corrida for the frugal tourist and Oaxacan, at roughly 80 pesos, admittedly expensive for a comida corrida, but well worth it.

Street stands abound. The working and middle class Oaxacans often rely on them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, because they’re filling, tasty, cheap and reliable in terms of cleanliness, therefore instilling confidence that health / gastrointestinal issues will not arise. Hot drinks include stick-to-the-stomach corn-based beverages, hot chocolate and coffee. There are also several tamale vendors. Tamales make a good choice because they are filling.

South of the zócalo one can find roast chicken restaurants offering a whole chicken with tortillas, salsa, rice and beans, for 50 – 60 pesos, a bargain meal for two. Look along Mina, Zaragoza and other streets south of Oaxaca’s zócalo for cheap spit-roasted chicken dinners.

Similar bargain meals for the budget traveler in Oaxaca are encountered in city markets (i.e. mercado de la merced & mercado de 20 de Noviembre) and in towns boasting market days (i.e. Zaachila, Etla, Ocotlán and Tlacolula).

Visiting the Sights in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca: Options for Students, Budget Travelers

Budget sightseeing options in the central valleys of Oaxaca have downsides. But frugal travelers and students should feel safe and secure. Don’t let the Mexico naysayers create undue stress and concern in terms of safety and security while traveling the roads and highways around Oaxaca.

  • Tour Buses: Start at 170 pesos per day, but often you spend more time where craft producers hope to make a sale, than visiting sights.
  • Taxis: Charge as little as 120 pesos an hour, but there’s no guarantee of cabbie knowledge or capacity with English.
  • Tour Guides, Drivers: More costly than taxis but better chance of seeing what you want, for how long you want. Often recommended by hostels, hotels and B & Bs.
  • Second Class Buses, Colectivos: The most inexpensive way to see the central valleys of Oaxaca. Ask at for terminal locations, varying depending on the day’s activities. Downside is often being dropped off at the side of the highway and having to walk to the ruin, market or other attraction.
  • Spanish Language School Excursions: Often management arranges touring days for students to visit sights along a route, reasonably priced.

If travelling to Oaxaca, or elsewhere in southern Mexico, as a student on a budget or frugal traveler, alone or otherwise, consider finding like-minded travelers to share the cost of a driver or tour guide, though still more expensive than colectivos and second class buses.

The False Economy of the Hospitality Industry in Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico-Cr-tomzap.com

Oaxaca, Mexico-Cr-tomzap.com

Tourism is suffering in the southern Mexico colonial city of Oaxaca, and has been since the civil unrest of 2006.  By 2008 it had begun to pick up, until the swine flue scare, the US economic crisis, and the negative press heaped on by journalists reporting the drug wars, by and large restricted to a couple of port towns and cities near the American border, almost 1,000 miles away.  With tourism the primary industry in Oaxaca, why in 2011 are new car dealerships doing a brisk business, is higher end home construction booming, and is the upper middle class continuing to otherwise spend like crazy?

Hotel and guest house owners complain that revenues are the worst they’ve been since 2007, yet conspicuous consumption continues. Indeed, occupancy in hotels, bed & breakfasts and other lodgings is down, and most restaurants which have traditionally catered to a predominantly tourist following are in a significant economic slump – but of course those with a healthy Oaxacan clientele continue to generate good revenue.

One tenable theory is that old money is driving the economy in the hospitality industry – a false economy.  More often than not the proprietors of hotels and restaurants own the real estate upon which their businesses are situated, outright without encumbrances (i.e. mortgage free).  The other common scenario is for these business owners to be leasing from their families; and in tough economic times rent is deferred or outright forgiven.

It’s the exception rather than the rule to encounter a business in the hospitality industry in Oaxaca making mortgage payments, or paying market rent to a non – relative third party.  Revenues are simply not coming in to service either kind of debt payment.

So with non – existent, forgiven, or deferred debt attached to real estate, all that remains to be paid by those in the hospitality industry are labor costs which remain stagnant, and cost of materials for resale (crafts, clothing and widgets in stores, and perishables and dry goods in restaurants).

A few examples support the thesis:

  • At the end of 2010, a downtown guest house with several lodging units closed its door after eight years of operation.  The owner had been paying market rent. Her other business interests had been keeping it afloat. All the other proprietors in her accommodations association have remained open for business. But not one other establishment is paying a mortgage or fair market rent to a non – relative third party.
  • A mother and son each owned a restaurant in Oaxaca.  The mother’s was in a high tourist zone, the son’s less so but with a strong local clientele.  The mother’s was rented from a non – related third party, and the son’s was owned outright, inherited from his father.  The mother had to close up shop after 15 years because of rent increases, with insufficient sales to cover costs and take home a bit for herself.  The son’s restaurant remains open.  He continues to enjoy his toys.
  • A Oaxacan operated a hotel and a crafts store.  The former was owned outright, by the family, and the latter was rented in a high traffic downtown area.  As a consequence of the 2006 civil conflict he closed the craft store.  The hotel remains open.
  • An elderly Oaxacan woman of Spanish stock owns three large, well – known Oaxaca hotels, each run by one of her children.  She complains about soft tourism, but the family is doing more than just fine, by any reasonable assessment.
  • A downtown Oaxaca restaurant never did take off, despite several years of trying, including at least one wholesale menu change.  It catered to tourists.  It kept open, nevertheless.  Finally it changed to an Italian restaurant.  Oaxacans seems to gravitate towards good Italian food, more so than international tourists.  The property is owned by the owner’s parents. Had it not been for the nature of the ownership of the real estate, by all reasonable estimations and based on simple economics, the restaurant would have closed a year after opening.

Of course there are exceptions, but each is based on specific, unique circumstances.  Once their individual states of affairs are examined, it becomes clear that operations are not inconsistent with the broad premise. For example, there are a few large hotels on leased premises, which continue to pay market rent and other expenses. It is suggested that there are two main reasons:

  1. They are owned by chains with significant financial backing such that they can easily cover a few soft years.  They’re in it for the long haul; if profits don’t materialize as expected, it can be taken in stride within the context of the broader picture, tax incentives, etc.
  2. Their use of aggressive price point marketing attracts European charter groups and other special interest trips (i.e. Elder Hostel).  They can afford to offer attractively priced packages because of volume and three-star accouterments. At the other end, there appears to be much less negative press outside of Canada and the US, and in any event overseas tour operators do not appear to have the same liability concerns.  Alternatively, profit motive keeps them actively selling.

There are other equally valid explanations for the phenomenon of conspicuous consumption in this false economy, which indeed is evidenced in other sectors of Oaxacan business and entrepreneurialism (i.e. jewellers, fast food chains, accounting and law offices in the private sector, and owners or franchisees of department and specialty stores such as Sears, Sam’s, Fábricas de Francia and Office Depot):

  • Politicians and higher level civil servants appear to earn quite well.
  • Cash is being brought into Oaxaca from elsewhere in the country, and more significantly from
    Canada, the US and further abroad, to purchase and sustain businesses so that traditional borrowing and debt refinancing is not required.
  • There are enterprises which have sources of product and significant sales outside of Oaxaca, but money nevertheless flows into the pockets of their Oaxaca resident owners (i.e. plantations of coffee, cacao and other crops and their derivatives, produced in other Mexican states and in countries throughout Central & South America).

In downtown Oaxaca there is a considerable amount of prime, unoccupied real estate, providing further evidence of the false economy, or in this case an inert economic growth phenomenon.  Property owners of substantial economic means (i.e. the old money families), rather than rent for what the market will bear, either allow their buildings to remain empty and deteriorate, or, squeeze top dollar out of renters, only to take back the premises when these retail visionaries finally realize that they cannot service the debt associated with their leases. They cannot compete with those in distinctly different financial circumstances – such as those in the hospitality industry who have succeeded, for reasons illustrated above, where others have failed.

Notwithstanding government statistics, most believe that inflation continues at about 8 – 10 percent per annum. The cost of goods required to support the hospitality industry will continue to climb, and eventually wages will have to creep up in order for Oaxacan residents to survive. This will put a strain on business owners, and begin depleting their resources – unless tourism improves.  If it doesn’t, and hotel and restaurant owners begin raising their prices in an effort to continue to maintain their lifestyles, tourists will stop visiting Oaxaca altogether.  There are too many other places in the world which offer culturally rich vacations at reasonable, competitive prices – and without the media to make travelers think twice.

Found Objects as Visual Art: Observations and Application in Oaxaca, Mexico


olivera_moon, cr-suite101

As a consequence of the innovative thinking of Kurt Schwitters, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg and others, the 20th century bore witness to the concept of found object as visual art becoming a mainstream European and American medium of artistic expression.  In the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, itself known for quality, cutting edge art, found object has received attention over the past 20 years. Take for example the masterful works of Damien Flores, the collages produced by Rodolfo Morales during the final years of his life, and young Mixteco artist Manuel Reyes’ use of archaeological pieces as well as local sands and soils as aids in expressing the strong sense of indigeneity he seeks to impart through his art.

Oaxaca’s 16 native cultures, the diversity of its landscapes and climatic regions, and its rich human history beginning with pre-Hispanic times, continuing through the era of the Conquest, to ongoing 21st century human struggles, provide a diverse, ultra – rich proving ground.   Within it, visiting and resident artists, tourists with a bent towards antiques and collectibles, and both expat and native born Oaxacans who are inclined to think out-of-the-box, can readily encounter found objects to incorporate into their aesthetic lives.

Contemporary Manifestations of Found Object as Visual Art

A found object within the context of visual art may be defined as the artistic use of an object, man – made or otherwise, which has not been created for a predominantly artistic purpose.  It can be a toaster, a shoe, a car part, a beaded jacket, a newspaper, a simple tool or a farm implement, a leaf or stone, a wrestler’s mask, a clump of clay, or a Coke bottle – empty or full.

One can designate three broad categories of found object which are then transformed into the realm of art:

  • An object encountered by chance or sought out by design, for the purpose of using it essentially “as found,” to enhance the aesthetic environment of a home, an office, a store or other workplace environment, or a landscape. Of course it can be a featured artwork in an exposition (i.e. Duchamp’s seminal display of a ceramic urinal in 1917) which eventually finds its way into one of the three foregoing contextual environments or as a permanent gallery exhibit.
  • An object or objects encountered by chance or sought out by design, and incorporated into a traditional piece of art such as an oil or watercolor, for the purpose of enhancing its overall aesthetics, or the imagery its author seeks to impart, or both (i.e. Manuel Reyes’ use of potsherds).
  • Objects usually sought out by design for the purpose of employing them to create a specific art form, which may or may not include a utilitarian function (i.e. rusted horse shoes made into a wine rack or polished old metal car parts fashioned into a twirling ballerina).

Found Objects in Oaxaca for the Expat Resident and Tourist Alike

Artists resident in Oaxaca should have no difficulty advancing the breadth and quality of their works within the realm of the last two categories noted above.  They already have a trained eye and a mind yearning to continually grow in different directions with a view to keeping the art fresh, both on a personal level and for their benefit of public consumption.

It’s the availability of the broadest selection of Oaxacan material culture, objects which can be used “as found,” which should attract the attention of non – artist expat residents and tourists alike.  The case can be made within the following parameters:

  1. Middle and upper classes have an eye for a different and often broader continuum of objects which they deem aesthetically pleasing, than working and lower classes.
  2. There is a much larger per capita middle and upper class in the United States and Canada, than in Oaxaca, of which a significant segment of the former is inclined to visit Oaxaca.
  3. It’s relatively difficult for members of those same two classes in Oaxaca, having grown up surrounded by and conditioned to ignore much of their day – to – day material culture (indigenous or otherwise),  to appreciate its aesthetic value; they are accordingly less interested in its acquisition.
  4. Based on the foregoing, relative to the American and Canadian phenomenon over the past 50+ years, found objects in Oaxaca have only to a minor extent become deemed collectibles.

The Transformation from Found Object to Collectible

When an object becomes a collectible, its acquisition price tends to increase exponentially.  The first time an American saw a discarded or stored away pine foundry form, he probably picked it up for free or at a nominal charge (perhaps its value as firewood).  After he took it home, and then cleaned and oiled it and put it on the wall in his den, he began using the found object as art; a piece of wood used to fabricate industrial metal, now adorning an upscale contemporary household.

Foundry forms became collectibles, offered for sale in antique stores and interior design galleries.  Much in the same vein, old working wooden duck decoys have been transformed from utilitarian hunting paraphernalia into thousand dollar (and indeed much more) adornments of fireplace mantels;  and wooden tongue and groove Canadian Butter and Southern Comfort boxes initially used to transport product from manufacturer to market, have become aesthetically pleasing receptacles to store kindling for those fireplaces.

These days one rarely picks up a foundry form, a decoy or an old wooden advertising box “for a song,” because each has been transformed into a class of collectible.  In Canada and the United States, and it is suggested throughout most of the Western World, a solitary found object as visual art is virtually non – existent outside of the context of being offered for sale as art, folk art or otherwise for interior design purposes.  On the other hand, objects found for the purpose of either incorporating them into a traditional art form (newspaper comic clippings, potsherds, shoe laces) or fabricating a piece of art using only that class of object (the car part ballerina), will be easily encountered for generations to come, bought outright based on non – aesthetic value, scrounged on the street, or found in a junk yard and purchased by the pound.

Found Objects in Oaxaca Still in Abundance for Aficionados of Art & Aesthetics

Insofar as Oaxaca remains a developing state, with a middle / upper class contingent as previously described (small, generally unconditioned to appreciate a certain level of aesthetics), its realm of collectibles has not reached the level one encounters in the Western World, or even within the Mexico City environs.  This provides interesting buying opportunities for visitors to Oaxaca.

Although in each of the three or four downtown Oaxaca antique stores one does encounter found objects, these particular objets d’art have been transformed into collectibles over the past few decades and in some cases merely years (stone metates or grinding stones, well worn ritual masks, pine votive candle holders, chango mezcalero clay painted mezcal bottles, etc.).  However, by getting out of the city and knocking on villagers’ doors, and even simply walking along dusty roads, visitors can still stumble upon a treasure trove of found objects which when brought home, with proper placement and juxtaposition are easily transformed into visual art.

Of course residents of Oaxaca are not restricted in the size or weight of what they choose to transform, nor by customs and immigration rules.  Hence, one might find in their homes, now as art, an old rusted iron plough adorning a well landscaped garden; or a pine mule saddle riddled with tiny holes evidencing a period of insect infestation, now gracing an interior wall of a new home, draped with colored twine and worn leather parts, all as originally found in a farmer’s shed.

Indeed the traveler on a brief visit to Oaxaca can also return home with a bounty of found object art. The big old rusty plough and the well worn wooden saddle are found objects which today complement the aesthetics of this writer’s Oaxacan home.

Opportunities abound to find smaller found objects, manageable for export, to transform into art, simply by exploring villages in the state’s central valleys.  Examples?  Just keep a keen eye, and remember to think out-of-the-box.

Alvin Starkman operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.oaxacadream.com) with his wife Arlene.  Alvin writes about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca and its central valleys, including articles about art and antiques.  He also consults to documentary film companies, tours couples and families, and together with Chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo organizes culinary tours of Oaxaca (http://www.oaxacaculinarytours.com).

The Role of Family & Culture in Shaping One Woman’s Decision to Return to her Zapotec Roots in San Bartolomé Quialana, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

Gloria Morales Pérez spent most of her life in Anaheim, California, living what for many Mexican immigrants is the American dream –  hard work resulting in a lifestyle that included going to the show and for Chinese food on weekends, taking the children to Disneyland, and spending the occasional evening in a Latin nightclub. But on September 23, 2010, the 25-year-old Zapotec native returned home to the tiny municipality of San Bartolomé Quialana, Tlacolula, in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca.

Gloria shed her blue jeans for customary regional garb of colorful satin dress and brightly embroidered apron; left her two California jobs to spend virtually every waking hour raising her children; and gave up the anonymity of urban living together with the freedom to do as she pleased, in favour of tolerating traditional indigenous normative behavior.

The bright, attractive and fully trilingual (English, Spanish and Zapoteco – locally referred to as dialecto) Oaxacan,  resides with children Juan age 6 and Daniel age 3, and mother-in-law Mariana, in a one bedroom brick and cement house tucked away at the end of a spacious dirt-floored courtyard, part of an extended family compound.  Husband Benito owns this particular portion of the homestead.  He plans to also leave California, in about three months, to reunite with the rest of his family.

The answer to why Gloria gave it all up and returned to her cultural roots, a daunting transition for most, lies in understanding the circumstances leading to her family’s initial emigration when she was only six year old, examining the role her parents played in determining the twists and turns her life took while living in the US, delving deeper into her California lifestyle, and learning a little about San Bartolomé Quialana.

San Bartolomé Quialana, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

San Bartolomé Quialana (“San Bartolomé”) is a 10 minute drive from the city of Tlacolula de Matamoros, capital of the district of Tlacolula.  Tlacolula is noted for its Sunday market, attracting both merchants and buyers from the city of Oaxaca, as well as from towns and villages within Oaxaca’s central valleys and further beyond.  Aside from the broad array of goods available for purchase at the market, the tianguis, as it’s commonly termed, attracts tourists and

Oaxacans alike because of its color and pageantry, attributable in large part to the large number of Zapotec natives in attendance from villages such as San Bartolomé, and nearby San Marcos Tlapazola, noted for production of terra cotta pottery.

Founded in 1422, almost 100 years before the Spanish arrived in Oaxaca, according to 2010 census statistics the village has a population of 2,471. Sixty percent is female and 40 percent is comprised of minors.  Eighty-five percent of residents over five years of age speak dialecto, most of whom also speak Spanish.  Of those 15 years of age and older, 441 are illiterate.  Of youths 6 – 14 years of age, 70 have not attended school despite the fact that the village has five schools, one of which is officially bilingual (Spanish-Zapoteco).  Half the population has not completed public school. The closest high school is in Tlacolula.

There are 524 households in San Bartolomé, 265 of which have dirt floors and 27 of which consist of only a single room.  Construction materials are predominantly clay brick, cement and adobe, with laminated sheet metal often used for roofing. Most but not all households have electricity and indoor plumbing. Eight residences have computers, 75 have washing machines and 413 have televisions. San Bartolomé has a health clinic provided by the Mexican national health care plan (IMSS), although only 27 residents are paid participants in the broader program.  The village has a small daily marketplace, Tuesday being its official market day when vendors from a couple of surrounding villages such also ply their wares.  There are six variety stores where one can buy clothing, tacos and other simple, freshly prepared small meals, as well as packaged snacks, beverages and household goods; but residents generally do their shopping in Tlacolula. It costs only 5 pesos (about 45 cents) to there by sharing a moto taxi (tuk-tuk).

There is a small police force serving the municipality’s 50 square kilometres (which includes farm lands surrounding the village proper). The municipal government coexists with indigenous customary law known as usos y costumbres, not uncommon in towns and villages throughout southern Mexico.

The predominant economic activity of San Bartolomé residents is subsistence farming, although according to statistics less than a quarter of the population is engaged in any remunerative enterprise.  Animal husbandry and cultivating herbs, vegetables (mainly corn, beans, squash), agave (or maguey, used in the production of mezcal) and some fruit are the primary activities, supplemented by hunting.  There is also cottage industry manufacturing such as sewing and hand – embroidering as well as basketry using a bamboo – like river reed known as carrizo and hemp – like twine known as ixtle, derived from agave leaves. Production of corn – based foodstuffs for sale in Tlacolula such as tortillas, tlayudas, tamales and atole round out the list of most frequently encountered activities.  Building trades are also represented (i.e. carpentry, iron works, electrical, and of course bricklaying).

The Morales Pérez Family in San Bartolomé Quialana Prior to Emigration to California

Gloria was born in San Bartolomé on February 21, 1986.  She has three siblings.  Sister Lidia (age 21) and brother Miguel (age 26) were also born in San Bartolomé, while Miriam (age 17) was born in Anaheim. While in San Bartolomé, their mother Emilia eked out a modest existence by sewing and embroidering, and selling hand – made tortillas.  Her father Luis was never really a wage earner in the village.  He left at age 14, and returned only periodically, of course long enough to marry Emilia and father the children.

Luis left the family more or less for the final time and moved to Washington  state when Gloria was three years old, becoming a documented immigrant during a period of amnesty.  He entered into a conjugal relationship with another woman, and had a child.

But when word filtered back to him that his wife had “been” with another man, he returned to Oaxaca.  But in fact, someone had tried to rape Emilia, she defended herself with a knife, and the aggressor ended up in the hospital.   Luis didn’t learn the truth until arriving back in San Bartolomé.  But that was enough for Luis to make a unilateral decision to relocate his family to the US.  He selected Anaheim because San Bartolomé villagers before him had tended to migrate to Anaheim or other nearby California cities.  This pattern of emigration is extremely common in the state of Oaxaca, other Mexican states, and in fact internationally as is born out in the anthropological literature.

For those first six year of Gloria’s life in San Bartolomé, she grew up in a Zapoteco – only speaking household, and accordingly learned very little Spanish given the more general make – up of San Bartolomé.

Socialization and Education of a Young Female Oaxaca Native in Anaheim, California

The first couple of years for any immigrant transplanted from a foreign culture are difficult, but for Gloria life was particularly arduous.  Not only did she not know a word of English, but she lacked Spanish, a working knowledge of which would have put her in good stead for socializing with other Latin Americans, school children in particular.  In her case, however, it was family dynamics which played a more significant role than for perhaps most in her position:

“At that time my mother had to work two jobs, so I was responsible for looking after my younger sister, and even my older brother.  I hardly saw my mother for those first couple of years; and since my father has always been irresponsible, and a heavy drinker, he couldn’t be relied upon.  My parents were always fighting because my father was unwilling to provide for the family, in large part because of his alcoholism.”

Luis had always found employment in the gardening and landscaping field, but his brushes with the law which landed him in jail (i.e. impaired driving) and his unwillingness to acknowledge his obligation as a major financial and emotional contributor to the family, resulted in significant challenges for Gloria, her siblings, and of course their mother.

Emilia was the rock of the family, often working two jobs, invariably in a hotel housekeeping capacity.  But money was still tight for the family:

“Occasionally we would get to go to Pizza Hut or Chuck E. Cheese, but in those years we didn’t really have the opportunity to enjoy leisure time; we would never go to the movies, out to the mall, or even for walks.”

Gloria enjoyed going to school and learning.  She had attainable career aspirations.  Her parents, however, played a significant role in determining whether or not Gloria would ever achieve her goals, adversely impacting on the choices available to her and how she would react to their dictates.

Gloria was active in extra – curricular soccer and cross country. But it was her junior army class in Grade 11, JROTC (the US federal government Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program in high schools), which motivated her the most:

“I really wanted to be in the army.  I liked everything about it from what I had read, and what I was learning in JROTC.  In fact I was the sergeant of my troupe.  But my parents didn’t want me to join the armed forces because it would have meant moving away.  They made it clear to me that they would refuse to sign my enrolment papers.  Had I joined, the army would have helped me with my immigration papers.”

[Gloria, her husband, her mother and her Mexican – born siblings are all undocumented immigrants; only her father was “legal.” However his status was revoked as a result of his criminal record, and he was deported to Tijuana.  He cleverly managed to use his earlier immigrant papers to return to California in January, 2011.]

Immediately after her parents had made their decision regarding the army, Gloria’s grades dropped, and she promptly became pregnant by her boyfriend Benito.  Because her pregnancy was high risk and she required early hospitalization, Gloria had to drop out of school four months shy of graduating from grade 12.

Nevertheless, Gloria did not lose her motivation to achieve a career once her dream of entering the army had been dashed.  Of her own initiative she entered the North Orange County Regional Occupational Program (ROP), a career – technical training program, with a view to becoming a medical assistant.  She passed the first three – month semester, but was not permitted to continue because of her immigration status.

A Oaxacan Quince Añera Gets Pregnant, Married and is Finally California Dreamin’

Life changed dramatically after Gloria met Benito.  They initially became acquainted at her quince años celebration.  He was also born in San Bartolomé.  In Anaheim he had been living with Gloria’s aunt.  Like her father, he was employed in the gardening and landscaping field, but their similarities stopped there.  He was kind, supportive, motivated to earn a living, and as Gloria subsequently learned, a caring husband and father.

By the time Gloria and Benito had met, both Gloria’s English and Spanish were excellent, but her Zapoteco had begun to wane.  She credits Benito (as well as her mother) with helping her out, as words, phrases and grammatical structures in dialecto got garbled or simply forgotten.

Gloria and Benito married in Las Vegas, but subsequently had an Ahaheim church wedding.  They initially lived with her aunt, but moved in with her mother when she was six months pregnant with Juan.

When the baby was 10 months old, the three of them returned to San Bartolomé for an eight week visit.  In Gloria’s 17 years in Anaheim, that was the only time she returned home for a visit.

When Juan was a year old, just after the family’s return to Anaheim, Gloria began working as a supermarket cashier.  She then quit in favour of taking two jobs, working at a fast food chain and at a gas station as the owner’s assistant.  She maintained both jobs for five years, earning about $400 per week, until returning to San Bartolomé, with only one brief hiatus in the interim towards the end of her pregnancy with Daniel, until he was three months old.

After Daniel’s birth the family moved into their own two bedroom apartment. It was the first time that the children were able to have their own bedroom, with Gloria and Benito having their own private quarters.  The family began leading what Gloria terms a middle class lifestyle.  They went out and bought themselves a car. They had three steady incomes and did not have to contribute to the living expenses of the rest of her family, particularly burdensome when her father was either not around to help out or was spending a considerable portion of his income on alcohol.

The couple enjoyed going dancing from time to time.  They would go out with the kids every weekend, going to the movies and then a restaurant for lunch or dinner, walking around and shopping downtown, and even spending a day at Disneyland; Gloria had friends who worked there, and accordingly she would receive free family passes from time to time. There was even disposable income available to buy modern electronics (a laptop and stereo system, for example) and the occasional special toy for Juan.

The Decision to Return to San Bartolomé Quialana, Oaxaca

As much as Calfornia dreamin’ had indeed become a reality, a subtle sense of uneasiness eventually began to weigh upon Gloria’s psyche.  Perhaps it had always been there. It wasn’t as if she had made the decision to migrate to the US and then had her dreams crushed.  In her case aspirations developed as they do with American – born children, in the school playground, watching TV, learning from teachers, classmates and their families, and even participating in a lifestyle characterized by conspicuous consumption, leisure time and recreation, albeit to a limited extent;  yet it was enough to create fantasies, more attainable than through buying lottery tickets.

Gloria’s parents played a major part in stifling the realization of her career potential and thus her ultimate decision to return to San Bartolomé.

Gloria opened her own doors to a future, and her parents firmly shut them.  They both refused to sign for army enrolment.  Her father’s positive immigration status, rather than at least easing the ability for Gloria to become documented and proceed with a professional career, was revoked as a result of his criminality.

While working two jobs was difficult, Gloria’s workplace employment significantly contributed to the ability of the family to live comfortably.  “But there [in California] you have to work, work, work to have that lifestyle,” Gloria confesses, “and here [in San Bartolomé] people don’t have to work as much to get by.”

After much discussion, a greater understanding emerges of why Gloria returned, a thought process through which she had apparently not previously gone.  As much as Gloria professes to having led a middle class lifestyle, by most accounts it would be considered working class, a difficult working class existence relative to life in San Bartolomé.  It bothered Gloria that in California, at least within the context of her employment at the time, “work, work, work” would never lead to home ownership and being able to literally build a future.  In San Bartolomé they can improve their own home, with much less effort, and work towards accumulating some of the material indicia of a middle class lifestyle.  In Anaheim it would always be working to pay the rent and get by, albeit with leisurely Sundays and Disneyland.

That all – pervasive, anti – Mexican racist sentiment which permeates much of the US was felt be Gloria, and subtly worked on her.  Notwithstanding her immediate family’s income, her linguistic skills, and development of her social and employment networks,  while living in sunny CA there would always be a lingering sentiment of feeling out of place, removed from one’s roots and ethnicity. How it would have manifested had Gloria ended up proceeding in one or those two career options, one will never know.

“Benito didn’t want to go back,” Gloria admits.  “When Mexicans like us return home with our American – born children, the children tend to get sick, and as a consequence the family returns to the US,” she explains.  “Benito didn’t want to go through all that expense of coming here and then going back.”

In June, 2010, Gloria decided to return to San Bartolomé with their children. What had been in the recesses of her mind promptly came to the fore; she still cannot identify a precipitating event, comment or thought; the time had come.

Gloria arrived in Oaxaca on September 23, 2010.  Benito plans to follow, in October, 2011. He says he’ll stay for 3 – 4 years. Upon Gloria leaving Anaheim with her children, her parents moved in with Benito.  The entire family subsequently moved into a different two bedroom apartment.

Lifestyle of an American Woman & Her American Children in San Bartolomé Quialana, Oaxaca

Gloria awakens to the sound of Juan’s four chickens and dog Frisky howling away in the courtyard, together with the early morning sounds of the street and her neighbors’ chatter and activities.  She feeds the children.  Their grandmother goes about her business getting her herbs and vegetables ready to take to market in Tlacolula.  Gloria,

accompanied by Daniel, walks Juan to school.

Juan struggles with Spanish.  He grew up learning mainly English, with no Zapoteco.  Daniel, by contrast, somehow managed to master Spanish, and that remains his most comfortable speaking tongue.

Several extended family members live in and around the compound, and village friends and other family are in close proximity, dropping by throughout the day.  Gloria holds court either outside, or when the sun is beating down or it’s raining, in her main indoor living space.  It contains a large dining table and chairs, a couple of smaller tables with clothes piled on top, assorted other chairs, a fridge and stove, and a tall contemporary-styled wooden, glass front china cabinet with drawers at the bottom.  The adjoining bedroom has two beds; one for Gloria and Juan, and the other for Daniel.  Their grandmother sleeps in the same room, but on the floor, as has been her custom throughout her entire life.  Gloria’s brother-in-law bought a bed for his mother, but she wouldn’t use it, because she never has.

When Gloria and the children moved into the house last September, it had a dirt floor.  With the assistance of her extended family, she has slowly been making the modest abode more comfortable.  It now has a concrete floor.  The washroom has been built, but is still an outhouse.  For showering, the family goes next door to Gloria’s brother-in-law’s home.

From Benito’s weekly income of about $500, he wires $100 to Tlacolula for Gloria to cash; he occasionally sends $150.  It’s enough to get by, and helped a great deal with the initial improvements to the house.  To get the money Gloria must go to Tlacolula every week.  Sometimes she goes with the children to the Sunday tianguis to shop; sometimes she goes during the week, if only to pick up her money from the storefront wire service.

Most days Gloria dresses in traditional regional clothing – a brightly embroidered apron over a locally made, long colourful satin dress.  “In 17 years of living in Ahaheim,” Gloria asserts, almost boasting,” I wore a dress only twice; once for my quince años, and again for my wedding.”

Gloria is often pressured by her mother-in-law to wear only traditional dress, but she now puts on “normal” clothes when she feels like it.  But she admits, “I’m now comfortable wearing this kind of clothing, but it took a while.  Now I wear what I want and I won’t yield to pressure from anyone in the village.”

San Bartolomé, not unlike other villages in Mexico, or even in small town USA, is a rumor mill.  When Gloria has had visitors from California, if there happened to be a male amongst them, the looks, innuendo and suspicion would begin.  And even if the group was strictly female, “cavorting” out of the house in the evening was unacceptable.  But Gloria has gotten used to it, and has found her own inner means of coping.

Gloria gets to Oaxaca every 6 – 7 weeks, but no more.  It’s usually to go shopping with the children in a large American-style supermarket (Soriana), and to the movies.  She’s taking the children this Saturday so that Juan can buy a special game from Soriana that his father promised.  Benito is wiring an extra 285 pesos, so earmarked.

Benito speaks with Gloria three or four times a day.  He has a long distance phone plan for which he pays $60 a month.  It enables him to make unlimited calls of unlimited duration to Gloria’s land line.  Gloria and Benito also text one another throughout the day.

Monday Gloria begins working ten hours a week at a Tlacolula commercial mezcal factory and retail outlet.  The owners value her ability to communicate well in Spanish, Zapoteco, and English.  She’s not entirely sure exactly what she’ll be doing, but has been going in from time to time to learn about the functioning of the operation.  She has no idea about the pay.

Epilogue:  Gloria’s Future in San Bartolomé Quialana, Oaxaca

By most accounts, while living in Anaheim Gloria was a working class American woman of indigenous Mexican decent; fluent in English, working two jobs, she and her husband raising two American-born children in a single family household. Their lifestyle was not all that different from that of working class urban whites with a bit of ethnic flare.

The dashing of Gloria’s hopes is not that unusual, either, in terms of parental control of decision-making over minor progeny. Her immigration status (to only a minor extent) and the strong sense of Zapotec indigeneity and the allure it apparently continually held for Gloria, were, together with that subtle American racism, determinative of Gloria’s life path; at least to date.

On balance, Gloria and her family will return to Anaheim some day.  She’s concerned about schooling for her children:

“School here is okay, but in order to attend a good school, you have to go to a private school and that costs a lot.  And to go beyond high school, you have to go to Oaxaca [or further abroad], and it’s very expensive.  And of course American schools and colleges are better.  I want the children to have a good education.  Eventually we’ll return to the states, but it’ll be to better the chances for our children to get a quality education and have good careers.

“To get into the US when I was six, we took buses to the border at Tijuana.  There were five of us, and I think the coyote charged us $400; but it was stressful, and took close to ten tries. But getting back into the US again? No, it’s not an issue; we know we can do it and will do it if we want to; the issues are how long it will take, and of course the cost, but for us, the ability to get back to Anaheim will never be a concern.”

Dress for Weather in Oaxaca, Mexico- Clothes to Bring

Dress for Weather-cr-zimbio.com

Dress for Weather-Credit-zimbio.com

Clothing for Oaxaca’s State Capital: Cold, Hot and Rainy Seasons

Packing clothing for a visit to Oaxaca can be difficult because of inconsistent annual weather patterns. However, there are seasonal variations upon which one can rely.

The weather in the City of Oaxaca is not as consistent throughout the year as many first-time tourists to the region might believe. There are dramatic seasonal variations in both temperature and rainfall, suggesting that the attire one packs should be geared to the month of travel, of course taking into consideration Oaxaca’s cultural norms regarding attire.

While there is no simple answer to the clothing conundrum, and less so given that weather patterns vary significantly from one year to the next, one can in fact make one’s suitcase packing decisions based on three broad seasonal variations: late February through May (temperature increase), June through September (the rainy season) and October through January (a tendency towards cool nights).

Clothing for Oaxaca from Late February through May

Oaxaca’s hot, dry season begins towards the end of February; the rains have usually ceased some three or four months earlier, and the cool nights have begun to moderate. April and May tend to be the hottest and driest months of the year, not without the odd thundershower approaching the end of the dry season. Clothes for a Oaxacan vacation at this time of year, in particular April and May should include light weight cotton and linen. One should definitely avoid traveling with a suitcase full of clothing made of synthetic material. Footwear may include leather sandals.

Oaxacan Attire for June through September

While the rainy season often begins with infrequent showers in April or May, by June one is often faced with regular rains and thundershowers, reaching maximum frequency and duration by September, concluding in October. September can be very rainy, and often grey.

One hopes that the oft-encountered pattern of late afternoon commencement of showers, dissipating throughout the night, will hold true while vacationing in Oaxaca towards the end of summer and into autumn. But some years there are two or three weeks in a row with all-day showers, so there are no guarantees.

Bring a light plastic raincoat or poncho, or simply an umbrella. Once again, clothing with natural fibers is the optimum packing decision. Those who have water resistant footwear should include it.

Clothing to Bring to Oaxaca for an October through January Vacation

During October there are usually dramatic changes in the weather, from rainy and warm in September, leading into a drier and cooler October. However during Day of The Dead (Dia de los Muertos) at the end of October, some years there are showers at night. Evenings can also be cool at this time of year. Daytime temperatures are almost always moderate, in the 70s, but the evenings from mid-December through mid-January are often quite cold, especially outside of downtown Oaxaca. If Oaxacans are going to use space heaters and fireplaces, it will be during December and January, in the evenings.

During the daytime, short sleeves are advisable, but one is cautioned that the mornings, and of course night-time, can be quite cool. Accordingly, for those vacationing in Oaxaca at this time of year, it’s strongly recommended that a sweater or jacket be packed in the suitcase.

The Alternative to Careful Packing for a Vacation in Oaxaca

Those who are concerned about covering all the bases when getting ready for a trip to Oaxaca, or prefer to use that second suitcase to bring used clothing for needy Oaxacans, should consider:

  • Rain-wear is readily available in Oaxaca, and as soon as a shower begins, the vendors are out on the streets with inexpensive raincoats and ponchos.
  • Oaxaca does boast both cotton and wool textile industries, so if one is so inclined, one can wait and make clothing purchases in the city or central valley craft villages, on an as needed basis.
  • But remember, as in other parts of the world, in Oaxaca the climate has changed dramatically over the past decade, and it continues to vary at times significantly from year to year. Accordingly, the wisest of clothes packing decisions can just fly out the window.

Oaxaca Accommodations – Downtown or Suburbs

Where to Rent for a Oaxacan Vacation – Urban v. Rural Hotel / B & B
 Oaxaca Accommodations

Oaxaca Accommodations

When planning to vacation in Oaxaca, in a hotel or b & b, it’s important to know the advantages and disadvantages of downtown versus suburban or rural accommodations. When vacationing in Oaxaca, travelers in their twenties and tourists with only two or three days to spend for a visit, tend to prefer downtown accommodations, close to the zocalo. After all, walking from the hotel or bed & breakfast to downtown sights is easy, and proximity to the best Oaxaca restaurants is not an issue. But lodgings in the suburbs or nearby towns and villages can provide distinct advantages over downtown Oaxaca accommodations.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Downtown Oaxaca Accommodations

Proximity to almost everything in the centro historico is the major advantage of staying at a hotel or b & b in downtown Oaxaca. You can go out in the morning, have lunch, and then go back to the hotel for a snooze before dinner. And of course walking home from the restaurant is easy. One is in the midst of a quaint, colonial Mexican city.

Taxis are unnecessary to get to and from any major attraction in downtown Oaxaca, though some tourists don’t see it that way.

Bu there are downsides to lodging in the downtown sector of Oaxaca:

  • NOISE: While suburban and out-of-town accommodations have their noisy moments, downtown Oaxaca these days has significant road construction, bus traffic, and horn honking. Many hotels and b & b lodgings are perfectly quiet, especially the fancy hotels with thick walls. A room back from the street is preferred, regardless of the lodging type in downtown Oaxaca. Fiesta-time can be particularly noisy with bands blaring, fireworks and reveling to the wee hours.
  • POLLUTION: Without enforcement of emissions regulations, car, truck and bus exhaust fumes can be problematic. And since the downtown core of Oaxaca is generally at a lower altitude than the suburbs and many villages, and enclosed by buildings, it feels hotter downtown, without breezes; the pollution sticks. Traffic is stop-and-go most hours of the day, even without road construction. Many businesses close for siesta from roughly 2 – 4 pm, when many shopkeepers go home; meaning that there are twice as many rush hours as one generally encounters in the US or Canada – more traffic during more hours.
  • INTANGIBLE: Staying in downtown Oaxaca means that aside from touring the craft villages and other out-of-town sights, there is very little opportunity to simply “get away from it,” meaning the constant bombardment of stimuli, be it street vendors, traffic, noise and pollution, or crowds; though of course it’s nothing compared to the downtown sectors of large New World cities.
Suburban and Out-of-Town Oaxaca Accommodations Aren’t Perfect Either

Lodging in a suburb or neighborhood such as Reforma, Loma Linda, San Felipe or Guadalupe Victoria; or out-of-town in Huayapam, Tlalixtac, Etla or Teotitlan del Valle, similarly has pluses and minuses.

The major downsides to lodging outside of downtown Oaxaca are:

  • NOISE: The types of sounds and noises one hears while lodging outside of downtown Oaxaca are different, and yes, sometimes disturbing late at night and early in the morning. There are dogs, roosters and donkeys; and every type of goods and services vendor with car top loud speakers blaring messages and jingles, and honking horns – hawking tortillas, propane, fruit, buns and pastries, water and more. If staying near a valley, sounds echo, particularly disturbing when fireworks go off or there are late night parties; but remember that downtown is not immune to late-night fireworks and music either.

A word to the wise: Regardless of whether your hotel is in downtown Oaxaca or in the hinterland, bring along a pair of earplugs, just in case. Southern Mexico by and large lacks enforcement of noise bylaws.

  • GENERAL INCONVENIENCE: One generally must take a bus or taxi, or walk, to get back to the hotel or bed & breakfast, or to get downtown for that matter. However, many b & bs and hotels offer rides downtown or private bus shuttle service, greatly reducing the inconvenience. While there are grocery stores and restaurants in the outlying areas, the selection is not that great. However, there are in fact numerous small convenience stores and night-time taco stands serving delectable full meals and snacks. As well, there are some extremely good restaurants outside of the downtown core, patronized by even downtown Oaxaca residents: Mambo Italiano, Caldo de Piedra, restaurants in the suburban hotels, etc.
Lodging Outside of Oaxaca City Proper Has Its Advantages

But for many, such as the more seasoned travelers, those with the luxury of being able to have an extended visit to Oaxaca, or vacationers who want a more laid-back experience, suburban and village accommodations hold a definite allure:

  • RELAXATION: Suburban accommodations often have walking, hiking and nature trails nearby, rarely found downtown. The air is cleaner and fresher.
  • CULTURAL EXPERIENCE: One actually feels part of a Mexican neighborhood, rather than as a tourist amidst throngs of other tourists and merchants marketing a product or service at every corner. Suburban accommodations provide for a bit of both worlds, lodging away from the hubbub and in a “real” Mexican setting, yet one is only a short drive or walk to all the action.

Choose Carefully, But Rest Assured: Urban, Suburban or Rural, It’s Hard to Go Wrong

Due diligence is the key, so as long as the visitor to Oaxaca does a bit of homework and investigation, and asks prospective hosts the right questions. The decision then becomes easy.

How to Dress as A Tourist In Oaxaca

Packing clothing for a visit to the City of Oaxaca is a completely different exercise than getting ready for a beach vacation. Forget the short shorts and flip flops.

Tourist In Oaxaca-cr-aboutoaxaca.com

If planning to vacation on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, for example at beach resorts such as Huatulco or Puerto Escondido, the usual casual beach attire is acceptable, during the day, and for evening dining. But if extending one’s vacation by traveling to the City of Oaxaca for a few days, and certainly if spending one’s entire trip in and around Oaxaca and its central valleys, the dress is different.

Sure, one can pack shorts, t-shirts, sandals and nothing more, and have an absolutely wonderful vacation. But if the question is “what’s acceptable attire for a visit to the City of Oaxaca,” the answer might come as a surprise.

It’s important to remember that Oaxaca is a city filled with culture: theater, music, museums, galleries, fine dining, crafts, fine art, colonial architecture, and a diversity of other cultural sights. To that extent, Oaxaca is no different from New York, Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles – but with a Latin flare, often reflected in relaxed dress – but not beachwear or cottage clothing.

How Urban Oaxacans Dress

Men in Oaxaca usually wear long pants and a shirt with a collar. Footwear tends to be leather shoes. Oaxacan women usually wear a blouse and skirt, a dress, or a top and long pants or capris, and again leather shoes, even heels. While for going out in the evenings the attire is at times a bit more formal, often there is no difference. Often throughout the daytime both men and women wear blue jeans.

The only time one normally sees urban Oaxacans wearing shorts is on Sundays, perhaps attributed to the fact that Sunday is often soccer day, and accordingly often one finds men in “futbol” attire throughout the day.

The Difference in Attire in the Towns and Villages in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca

In the towns and villages of Oaxaca’s central valleys, laborers, craftspeople and campesinos wear all manner of clothes, and anything is acceptable, dictated often by economics and type of work. But for the middle classes, regardless of occupation, dress is only a bit more relaxed than for urbanites. When Oaxacans from the state capital or other Mexicans venture into the villages, either sightseeing or for example venturing to the Sunday Tlacolula Market for shopping, they dress a little more casual, with jeans or shorts, a shirt and sandals or running shoes.

How Should Tourists Dress in Oaxaca

It is suggested that if reasonably possible, both men and women, as tourists to Oaxaca, wear clothing similar to that of urban Oaxacans. For men, a shirt with a pair of casual pants or jeans. Running shoes are acceptable. Safari wear is also acceptable, but one will definitely stand out, aside from skin color and camera around the neck. For women, just as Oaxacan women dress, of course without feeling compelled to bring along a pair of heels for the trip.

Despite the foregoing, as long as one does not wander about in a sloppy t-shirt or tank top, very short shorts and flip flops, a more casual approach to clothing is quite acceptable for tourists. For example, leather sandals or other shoes comfortable for walking, longer shorts and a more casual top is absolutely fine.

For the evenings, formal wear as customarily worn in the US or Canada, is not necessary. Men should never feel compelled to put on a tie, for example. Even for weddings in downtown Oaxaca, trousers with sport jacket and shirt is acceptable, or a long sleeved guayabera without jacket is fine. As long as a pair of trousers and a long-sleeved shirt is packed, men should be fine in most urban circumstances. Going to the theater or out for dinner, even to Casa Oaxaca, Los Danzantes, or La Catrina de Alcalá, the same attire is acceptable. For women, a simple cocktail dress brought along in a corner of the suitcase might come in handy, but is certainly not necessary; a blouse and skirt or long pants serve equally in most cases.

Touring the sights in the central valleys is a bit different for both men and women. Walking shorts are fine as suggested above. For footwear, certainly rubber soled shoes, running shoes or hiking boots are acceptable given that tourists will likely be visiting ruins, hiking, and / or walking along the occasional dirt road. Of course, time of year dictates attire to some extent, for example during the cold, hot and to a lesser extent the rainy season.

Respect, As a Tourist Visiting Oaxaca

The point to be made is that travelers to Oaxaca ought to show a modicum of respect for those living in the foreign society they are visiting. Of course, it’s understood that tourists cannot bring along an extensive wardrobe. In fact some may wish to pack lightly for themselves, so as to enable them to bring an extra suitcase of used clothing to donate. But grown women in a halter top and short shorts, or men sporting a sloppy t-shirt and sandals, is neither appropriate nor necessary.

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Fly, Drive, Bus or Van: Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido

Fly, Drive, Bus or Van

Fly, Drive, Bus or Van

The options for traveling between Oaxaca, and the Pacific beaches of Huatulco and Puerto Escodido are numerous. Considerations include time, safety & cost.A common question on Mexico travel forums, and fielded by those in the Oaxaca tourism industry, ishow to travel between Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast (Puerto Escondido and Huatulco) and the state capital, Oaxaca city, and evaluating transportation modes in terms of time, comfort, safety and cost.

Cost Versus Time, Drive Versus Fly: Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido and Huatulco

While car rental is expensive relative to using a bus or van, the main question should be whether the traveler can rationalize spending over $100 USD per person each way, using one of two main local airlines, Aerovega and Aerotucan. Compare a 35 minute flight (unless one uses an airline such as Mexicana, which first goes to Mexico City before heading to its ultimate destination) to using a rental car which takes 5 – 7 hoursdepending on the route, to using a bus or van at a nominal cost, taking anywhere between 6 and 10 hours. Buses take longer than vans. Vans sometimes “motor,” and therefore are often as quick as using one’s own vehicle.

Safety of Small Airlines: Flying Between Oaxaca, and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco

The safety issue using the small airlines tends to relate to delays which ensure that safety is maintained. Occasionally a flight between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco is delayed due to maintenance issues (which is a good thing), or weather patterns. All airlines have maintenance issues. However airlines like Mexicana and Aeromexico have large work crews which can get to planes virtually immediately. With smaller airlines, there is less staff, which means sometimes delays are occasioned as a result of one plane’s maintenance being in queue behind another’s – or a mechanic arriving late as a result of family or other issues.

Weather patterns create delays, assuring safety. Flights are traditionally early morning, sometimes around noon, when weather tends to be calm. But that’s not always the case; on occasion morning weather disturbances dictate delaying flights for an hour or so, depending on the season.

Highway Safety: Drive Between Oaxaca, and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco

As of 2010, a highway 175 widening project between Oaxaca and the Pacific Coast (Pochutla, Puerto Angel, Puerto Escondido and other destinations up the coast from Huatulco) is ongoing. Presumably improved highway facilities will come with the widening. At the same time, a new toll road is being built between Oaxaca and Huatulco, although using the old highway 190 will remain an option. Suggested completion dates of the new / improved highways should not be relied upon, and accordingly it’s best to inquire of management of the hotel or bed & breakfast where one plans to lodge.

Safety regarding highway travel between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco has little if anything to do with bandidos, of course assuming one travels during daytime hours. While vans and buses travel after dark, it’s not recommended for private and rental cars. Foreigners are not as aware of local road conditions. Rainy season can create problems with washouts.

Mechanical fitness rules and regulations are not enforced like in the US, so there is no assurance of quality of brakes, tail lights, etc, of the vehicle in front of you. At eighteen one can become legally licensed to drive in Oaxaca, without an eye, road or written test. Therefore, conceivably the driver in front of you taking a switchback is in a car for the first time in his life, let alone legally driving.

The other safety issue relates to illness (nausea) mainly along highways 175 and 131. Highway 190 to Salina Cruz and Huatulco tends to be the easiest on the stomach. Van drivers are generally sensitive to such problems, but not always. A Dramamine or Gravol generally does the trick, but becoming drowsy can be an issue.

The highway works projects noted above will make the drive easier, safer, and apparently cut travel time between a third and a half.

Departure Frequency Between Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido or Huatulco: Airline, Bus, Van

Airlines depart daily. There are van depots throughout Huatulco and Puerto Escondido, and several in Oaxaca, along calles La Noria, Arista and Galeana. The first class bus depot is at the top end of downtown. While buses depart less frequently, van service in some cases is on the hour, but experiences at a couple of depots on Galeana suggest that there may be delays until enough passengers have been booked. The service on the north side of Arista, 100-block, is the most reliable in terms of punctuality and being able to reserve seats in advance.

Hiring a Private Car / Van and Driver for Travel Between Oaxaca, and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco

With a group, hiring a private van can be easy and economical. For a couple or family of up to four,taxis and drivers often do the trip. The 2010 rate, one way, for a car is roughly 2500 pesos, and a van 3500 pesos.

The Conundrum: Fly Versus Drive Between Oaxaca, and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco

Flights can generally be booked a couple or few days in advance, depending on the season, and vans the same day or a day before. One option is to drive one way, and then if the experience was not pleasant, fly back. The advantage of driving one way, be it in a private or rental vehicle, or bus or van, aside from scenery and diversity of landscapes, is that one has the option of stopping en route, for example to spend an afternoon and night at the quaint village of San José del Pacífico.

Hiking in Oaxaca–an Alternative to Sierra Norte

 Hiking in Oaxaca–an Alternative to Sierra Norte

Hiking in Oaxaca–an Alternative to Sierra Norte

Hike to the Pictographs at Xaagá, Falls at Hierve el Agua and Yagul; For hiking in Oaxaca there’s a one-day alternative to the more traditional Sierra Norte excursions. Remain in the central valleys, get culture, exercise and ecotourism.

Oaxaca is gradually becoming known for its hiking in the mountains of the Sierra Norte, with its burgeoning ecotourism business. But for many who would like to go hiking for a couple of hours during their brief Oaxaca vacation, driving two hours to get to one of the sights, hiking, and then returning the same day seems a bit too much.

A viable alternative exists within Oaxaca’s central valleys, out along the Mitla route, and further beyond. By hiking up to the fortress at the Yagul Zapotec ruin, down to the Hierve el Agua mineral deposits, and then up to the pre-Hispanic pictographs at Xaaga, one can experience both culture and nature while getting a good day’s exercise.

Yagul Zapotec Ruin for Hiking in Oaxaca

The archeological ruin of Yagul was occupied by the Zapotecs for perhaps 1,000 years. Its stone masonry is not as spectacular as that of Mitla, But it has other unique features. The Yagul ruin boasts the second largest ball court in Mesoamerica. There’s also the Palace of Six Patios consisting of a maze of rooms, great for children to get lost in, one of its tombs with impressive stone carved figures inside it, and much more to keep visitors intrigued. It’s rare to find more that two or three other groups at the ruin at any given time.

But the attraction for hikers is the ability to hike up to the fortress, along fairly steep pathways. Half way up is a good lookout, where another tomb is situated. Then at the top, walking along to the precipice there is what some have said is a bathtub carved into the stone.

The hike is short, but interesting for rock structures, the breathtaking vista, and the ability to return using a different route.

Hike Cross-Country and then Climb to the Pictographs at Xaagá

About a ten minute drive beyond Mitla one encounters the cotton textile producing village of Xaagá. But its other claim to fame is its proximity to a couple of rock overhangs, high above the village, where one encounters drawings. These pictographs, are not really “cave paintings,” but could be so described in lay terms. They are likely between 3,000 and 10,000 years old, and quite vivid.

Since the pictorgraphs at Xaagá are accessible by trekking over land owned by the community and farmed by its residents, it’s best to have a townsperson act as your guide. If using your own tour guide or driver, he should have contacts in the village to take you overland to the foothills, perhaps a 20 minute walk. One descends a river bed, sometimes flowing, depending on the season. The guide may have to lay extra rocks across it so as to enable crossing. Then there’s an easy climb up and across volcanic rock.

Just before beginning the final ascent there’s a flat area from which the drawings can easily be seen, and photographed. But for those with greater agility, the real climb begins. Upon completing this final ascent one is literally face to face with the pictographs.

One interesting geological feature at Xaagá is the presence of small square Metamorphic stones, which one can still find. They have an interesting formational history, too detailed for present purposes.

Options at Hierve el Agua Provide a Diversity of Hiking Experiences

Hierve el Agua is about a 40 minute drive beyond Xaagá, using either the winding dirt road to ascend the nearby mountain, or one of two paved highways taking you to San Lorenzo Albarradas, leaving about a 15 minute drive to then get to the site. While for most, the main attractions are the bubbling springs, poolings of water suitable for swimming, and the “waterfalls” of mineral deposits, for many the hiking paths are the major allure.

There are three major hiking trails used by the adventurous tourist. The first is often overgrown, and begins to the left of the stone and rock pathway leading down to the sight. One descends through a fair bit of brush, eventually arriving at the base of the petrified waterfalls – which are most often pictured in Hierve el Agua promotional materials.

The second begins just to the right of the lower bubbling springs and leads down to the base of the falls. A fair bit of easy climbing is involved, as well as walking along a narrow ridge. But alongside the ridge there’s an easier pathway. This hike provides a very different perspective for photographing. After arriving along the first route, one can return by climbing the second and following the ridge.

The third hiking trail begins just beyond the upper bubbling spring, and climbs to a lookout at the top of the “falls.” It’s the most popular trail. To this writer’ thinking, the second trail is most interesting and provides a bit of a challenge, without being dangerous.

The Option of Hiking into a Second Day

For those who want more of an ecotourism experience, arrangements can be made to spend the night at Hierve el Agua, in one of the four Tourist Yu’u government run cabins, basic but comfortable and clean. Wake up in the morning, wander around the village, and do the remaining hiking paths.

The Zapotec Ruin of Mitla, Oaxaca

The Zapotec ruin of Mitla, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, is one of the most fascinating Mesoamerican pre-Hispanic structures, yet remains in the Monte Albán shadow. Many travelers to Oaxaca visit the Zapotec ruin of Monte Albán, without contemplating a trip to Mitla, located at the opposite end of the main central valley in Oaxaca. Mitla warrants consideration. The construction of the Mitla ruin is quite different, representing a much later period in the history of the indigenous cultures of Oaxaca

Mitla versus Monte Albán

 The Zapotec Ruin, cr-flicker

The Zapotec Ruin, cr-flicker

Monte Albán is at first glance much more impressive than Mitla, perched atop a high mountain, its size and expansiveness daunting. It provides an excellent view of the City of Oaxaca in the valley below. And yes, it was built 2,000 years ago, whereas Mitla dates to 1,000 years ago. But estimates indicate that upwards of 70 percent of Monte Albán has been reconstructed, whereas the most important structures at Mitla are 90 – 95 percent intact, with much more precision in its construction. Some researchers have referred to Mitla as the zenith of Zapotec architecture.

Accessibility of Mitla

Mitla is a 50 minute drive from Oaxaca, along Highway 190, the same route leading to and a bit further beyond Santa María el Tule, Tlacochahuaya, the Sunday Market at Tlacolula, the ruins of Dainzu, Yagul and Lambityeco, a series of touristy mezcal factories, and numerous less-visited villages. It’s the starting point for visiting the Xaagá pictographs, Hierve el Agua, and the Mixe district.

Main Mitla Attractions

The precision of the angles of the hand-cut limestone walls and the fact that almost all remains intact without reconstruction, is wondrous. A major reason Mitla maintains its structural integrity is its dry construction. No mortar was used in its most impressive constructions. Approximately 100,000 mosaics at the “palace” site are fit on top of and beside one another, embedded in clay, forming impressive fretwork.

Oaxaca is in an earthquake zone. Conservative estimates peg the number of tremors at 200 per year, with a couple of quakes annually. Over the course of the 1,000 years between the Monte Albán construction and earthquake destruction of that site, and the building of Mitla, there must have been a realization through scientific advancement that using dry construction would result in a greater likelihood of structures being earthquake resistant. Mortar cracks during quakes, dry construction shifts.

The mere size of some of the rocks that were carved and brought down from the mountains kilometers away is almost unfathomable. Some lintels weigh twelve tons. They were rolled down mountain valleys, then pulled up peaks, time and again until reaching the Mitla site … and then lifted into place using logs, rope made of agave leaves, and labor … upwards of 200 men to place each lintel.

Without metal tools, the mosaics, lintels and other constructs were cut by stone against softer limestone. It is presumed based on physical evidence that the tools used to cut and shape the limestone were made of quartz, obsidian and jade.

Some of the original glyphs remain, painted with red iron oxide from mother earth. They recount family genealogies and stories.

One can only hypothesize as to the significance of the six, ten-ton columns reaching to the sky, in one of the buildings. Phallic symbolism? Similarly, it would only be guesswork attempting to determine the meaning of some 16 different repeating mosaic designs throughout. Are they representations of mountains, of lightning, of fertility?

Main Mitla Buildings

While it is said there are five main groupings of buildings at Mitla, three comprise the predominant Mitla site. However it is common knowledge amongst locals that the town itself was built atop other pre-Hispanic structures. Accordingly, estimates are misleading.

About 1590 the Spanish built a church on top of one of the sites, using stone they had dismantled from sacred Zapotec buildings. There is an interesting juxtaposition between that site, behind the church, with its ancient carved walls and mosaics, and a satellite dish on a rooftop five meters away.

The “columns grouping” is the most intact, having been spared by the Dominicans. The outer walls are concave so that only the cornices have been blackened by centuries of weathering due to primarily rain. Four chambers enclose an open courtyard, with drainage. Two sides of the adjoining structure which contained an altar, were destroyed by the Spanish.

Footsteps away is a further construction with two tombs, one of which extends underground for several meters. The same designs are repeated in this tomb. But rather than mosaics, multi-ton below-surface stones were carved to maintain structural integrity, yet with consistency of pattern.

Mitla Bonuses

Gilberto is an excellent bilingual on-site guide, usually available to take tourists to the main Mitla structures and offer detailed and interesting explanations and hypotheses.

The handicraft marketplace beside the ruin has rock bottom prices. Its diversity of product is impressive: silver jewelry, alebrijes, shirts and blouses, onyx and marble, the full range of ceramics and pottery, as well as wool and cotton textiles including rugs and tapestries, tablecloths and a diversity of other personal and household adornments.

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, is one of the least visited tourist sights in Oaxaca, yet provides a fascinating experience for nature lovers, hikers and photographers. Hierve el Agua is one of the least visited attractions along the State of Oaxaca’s central valley routes. Yet for naturalists, photographers, hikers and those with interest in ecotourism, it holds much more allure than the traditional sights. With each passing year, getting to the sight becomes easier and quicker, and the restaurant and overnight facilities improve.

 Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca , Cr-wikipedia

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca , Cr-wikipedia

What is Hierve el Agua

Translated “the water boils,” Hierve el Agua is actually a misnomer. At two locations about 40 meters apart, water does indeed “boil” up from the ground, not hot, but rather forced to the surface by the earth’s interior pressure, arriving at roughly atmospheric temperature.

It rises to the surface, then channels into two man-made poolings of fresh, mineral-rich water, suitable for swimming since the pools gradually reach depths of upwards of seven feet. Taste the water before it reaches the lower pool, as it flows along a narrow canal from the puncture in the earth, since it’s crystal clear and pure, of course aside from natural mineral compounds

The Effect of Minerals at Hierve el Agua

The bubbling water is rich in mainly calcium carbonate and magnesium. The minerals have built up over thousands of years, giving the effect of petrified waterfalls. As one walks down towards the actual site to swim or view the falls, one is walking over mineral deposits, smoothed over in 2008 with the use of cement and lime to make walking easier. Thousands of years ago the surface was lower. It gradually raised up, as a result of mineral deposits, to present level.

Standing on the main precipice near the lower pool, one sees the postcard perfect petrified waterfalls, a photograph most often reproduced for promoting tourism. However, there is a different falls, accessed by a short hike.

Hiking and Walking Paths at Hierve el Agua

There are numerous trails and pathways at Hierve el Agua, suitable for taking short hikes. Each route is less than an hour in duration, return, including stopping to take pictures and marvel.

Depending on the time of year, some paths may be somewhat overgrown, but certainly not to the extent that there is any undue danger or risk of getting lost. The most well-traveled leads up and around to the top of the principle falls. One often sees people who have already made it there, sitting and gazing back towards the pools, having a vantage-point for viewing the second impressive petrified falls.

Another pathway, requiring more navigational agility, leads down into the valley along a series of ridges and paths. One arrives at the base of the principal falls, from where one can do a bit of climbing. But pause and look back every once in a while, and see the effect caused by the falling water over the course of thousands of years, in this case from much closer up.

Tourist Facilities at Hierve el Agua

In 2008, government completed construction of new lodging and dining facilities at Hierve el Agua, including a large, traditional swimming pool. However it is not known when any of it will open. It appears that there will be about a dozen small restaurants and an equal number of row-house hotel suites.

In the interim, there are several palapa-style simple eateries lining the access route to the sight, alongside the parking area. Souvenirs and mezcal are also sold in the same area. There are basic washroom facilities closeby, and more down at the site itself adjoining rudimentary change rooms.

A larger restaurant, Alice’s, is located on the left side of the road, before reaching the gate where the entrance fee is paid. Arrangements can be made there for staying at one of the Tourist Yuú overnight lodgings. There are four cabins which provide rustic yet adequate accommodations for an overnight stay. Inquire at Alice’s for details. One can book by calling a cellular phone, either 045951106356 or 044951106356. The village where Hierve el Agua is located, San Isidro Roaguía, has a few small stores and a restaurant.

Access to Hierve el Agua

As of late 2009, the new highway which will ultimately cut driving time from Oaxaca to Huatulco, opened from just beyond Mitla, to San Lorenzo Albarradas, about 4 kilometers from Hierve el Agua. But the more scenic route is along Highway 190, passing by a couple of quaint roadside mezcal palenques, including El Tigre, a quaint combined comedor and mezcal factory about a half kilometer before the San Lorenzo turnoff, from where Hierve el Agua is accessed.

Since about 2004 there has been conflict between the residents of San Lorenzo and San Isidro, and as a result at times in San Lorenzo a toll is exacted so as to enable tourists to continue on to Hierve el Agua. It can be avoided by taking a less traveled, more circuitous mountain route to Hierve el Agua, through Xaagá. At Mitla there is a taxi service to Hierve el Agua.

Dining along Oaxaca’s Western Touring Routes

Each of the three main touring routes leading out of the City of Oaxaca, towards the west and north, is blessed with a good, safe reliable restaurant.

 Dining along Oaxaca’s Western Touring Routes

Dining along Oaxaca’s Western Touring Routes

There are three, good, reliable and intestinally safe restaurants in a diversity of pleasing dining environments, each along a different one of the three traditional touring routes leading out from the City of Oaxaca in a westerly direction.

Azucena Zapoteca – The Fine Oaxacan Restaurant of Woodcarver Jacobo Angeles

Along Highway 175 heading towards Ocotlán, after passing the black pottery villageof San Bartolo Coyotepec, at the cut-off to San Martín Tilcajete, on the left side of the highway is the brightly painted exterior of Azucena Zapoteca, a combined restaurant and gallery. It’s the brainchild of famed Oaxacan alebrije woodcarvers and painters Jacobo Angeles and wife María Mendoza, run by members of their family.

Jacobo has spend a great deal of time traveling throughout the US, promoting his craft, and accordingly is very cognizant of the expectations of Americans when it comes to level of cleanliness and service, and quality of fare.

Dine inside, or on the outdoor patio while the children play on the swing set. Ask the cook making tortillas from scratch on a comal over firewood, to let the kids approach, and perhaps have a brief hands-on lesson about the art of making tortillas. Staff always obliges.

It’s difficult to encounter a bad dish. However favorites include chile en nogada (a pepper stuffed with fruit and meat with a nutty cream sauce and pomegranate garnish); pajarito (thinly sliced seasoned pork wrapped around melted Oaxacan string cheese or quesillo with steamed vegetables, atop a tasty salsa); and Azucena Zapoteca (a vegetarian dish comprising a large stuffed chile lightly coated with egg batter, floating on a green sauce).

Usually at least one complimentary appetizer is provided: soup of the day, and / or tostadas with bean purée, guacamole and salsa. Often small shots of mezcal are also offered, albeit the house spirit appears to be a blend made especially for tourists … a bit too sweet and certainly not 100% pure.

La Capilla – Zaachila is Known for its Mole and This Restaurant

La Capilla is located on the outskirts of Zaachila (noted for its Thursday market and its downtown ruin). The restaurant makes for a convenient stop for any meal, while touring the alebrije village of Arrazola, the 16th century church and monastery complex at Cuilapan, or even San Bartolo Coyotepec since from there to Zaachila is only a ten minute traverse across a short valley plain.

La Capilla is often used by the locals, including residents of Oaxaca, for large events such as weddings, quince años, birthdays and anniversaries, because of its size. Seating is on benches alongside long pine tables, sheltered by thatched roofs. Service is swift. The restaurant is noted for its moles. But if something else piques the appetite, order it; and then simply ask the waiter if he would mind bringing a small taste of two or three different moles. He’ll likely comply. Of course the alternative is to go to one of the two branches of Restaurante Los Pacos, in the city, and order their sampling of seven moles. But for a real tasting of moles the way they’re made for Oaxacans, La Capilla is the better choice.

Chefi – Touring the Etla Route

Chefi restaurant has been around for about five decades. It’s located on the left side of the main street entering Villa Etla, a couple of blocks from the highway. The restaurant is large, non-descript, but serves up only traditional Oaxacan food. Don’t look for fancy, don’t look for presentation, and don’t look for a lot of other patrons there during typical tourist dining hours, since it caters to locals who tend to eat their comidas much later in the day than Americans and Canadians. But the food is wholesome, safe and arrives quickly … at least by Oaxacan standards. The house mezcal is particularly good.

Chefi makes a good lunchtime stop on a day while visiting the Wednesday market in Etla, the hand-made paper factory and the Center for The Arts in San Agustín Etla, the early ruin and community museum at San José el Mogote, or even after a visit to the pottery village of Atzompa.