Central America | Mexico | Pacific Coast | Oaxaca | Oaxaca City – Oaxacan History and Culture
Oaxaca has lived up to its reputation of culture and history and the road in from the coast is just as rewarding. Highway 131 gained a reputation of its own prior to my departure from Puerto Escondido. A lot of sincere effort was put into discouraging me from riding the 131 to Oaxaca. Animated parameters described the road as a narrow, rough and steep passage with plenty of switchbacks. And by god they were right. In fact I saw plenty of folks pulled over getting sick as a result of the switchbacks and altitudes.
Translated by a cyclist however the road is seen more like this; little to no commercial transport traffic, less traffic overall and all of it at a speed dictated by the first set of parameters (slow). Add to this the amazing vistas that unveil as the road climbs 2000 meters above sea level twisting through the lush Sierra Madres which peak at over 2500 meters, a cooler drier climate and you have a perfect cycling road. A car drivers eyes and a cyclists eyes will never see ‘eye to eye’.
Highway 131 descends into the convergence of three valleys. Oaxaca is situated near the centre of these valleys. This region is well known for its mezcal, pre-hispanic ruins and artisans. I sampled all 3. I went to the ruins of Monte Alban situated 400 meters above the valley floor. Monte Alban was once a Zapotec capital built around 800BC. At its peak it was home to over 25,000 inhabitants. The entire hilltop was leveled where buildings made mostly of huge stone blocks were built. It must have been incredibly hard work. Its no wonder the life span of the peoples of that time were so short. Over 140 tombs have been excavated from the site. The contents of one of the tombs is on display at the museum regional de Oaxaca. The ruins are still very much in tact and very impressive. Yesterday I went to a town called Teotitlan de Valle. Teotitlan is a famous weaving town where everyone is somehow involved in the trade. In one shop I entered only a mother and son operated the business. The son, Manuel has been weaving for 15 years. He was taught by his father who was taught by his father and so on. This tradition has carried on with little alteration from pre-hispanic times. Everything is done by hand. Manuel and his Mother spent nearly two hours describing and demonstrating all of the steps and techniques involved. They get their wool from the mountains complete with bits and pieces of organic matter which can be found in the finished product. They clean, brush, spin and dye the wool by hand and on old racks turn out amazing rugs. Some of the larger rugs take three to 4 months to complete. An amazing amount of time and work goes into this art. I have visited several museums and lots of galleries. Iglesia Santo Domingo built in the 15004s is incredibly ornate and rich in the catholic tradition. I am going to attend a service there tonight only to see the amazing decor lit up at night.
And lastly I have bumped into plenty of mezcal stores which are all very eager to provide samples. These little shops are everywhere in fact a wise traveler would never have to purchase a drop. Its better than wine tours because the shops are all within stumbling distance of each other. Amongst other attributes I have gained on this trip I am now educated on the fine art of mezcal production and I think I am a better person for it. Happier at the very least. Well folks I must run and prepare for tomorrows departure as much as I don4t want to depart this wonderful place. This city is as friendly as a hug and runs along at a very comfortable pace. I would recommend it to anyone planning to visit Mexico.
Until next time
Next Destination: South on the 190
Weather: Sunny, 28degrees no humidity, cool at night
Flat Tires: 2