Oaxaca and Monte Alban

Another day, another hideous bus ride.

Due to the narrow winding roads between Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca, the bus route is long and indirect. The 12 hour bus ride was one of the worst we’ve had so far in terms of nausea. Although the indirect route was allegedly less winding, it was still horrific. By the time we arrived in Oaxaca, I basically fell out of the bus, grateful to be out of a moving vehicle. At least until we got into the taxi to our accommodation…

We arrived in the early evening, so after checking in and dropping off our bags, we headed straight out for dinner (average Chinese food), and had an early night, ready to explore the city the next morning.

Checking out the neighbourhood

After a good sleep and a nice breakfast at our accommodation, we set out to explore the neighbourhood. We started in the main square, or zocalo. As it was Saturday morning, it was busy and bustling with activity. Trees shaded the square, and people were selling balloons and bubble blowers. It was a really fun vibe.

On the edge of the square, we popped in to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. As mass was going on, we only had a quick look around, but the inside of the church looked beautiful.

We headed over to check out the museum at the Palacio de Gobierno, the State Government Palace. It apparently contains an amazing mural, but sadly, as far as we can tell, it appeared to be permanently closed.

With that plan sadly thwarted, we wandered along Calle Alcala, poking our nose into the little shops on our way. We also called into MACA, the Contemporary Art Museum. Sadly they were between exhibitions, so there was only one on display. It was… interesting… It consisted of sound systems playing static and didgeridoos and some trees. Although on second thoughts, I don’t know that the trees were part of it…

Eventually the street took us up to Templo de Santo Domingo, yet another church. Again, there was a mass going on, so we didn’t go in. Instead, we headed into Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca next door. Housed in the former monastery attached to the church, the building itself is stunning. The massive museum contained exhibits and artifacts from the state of Oaxaca up to the present day. Even though all of the signage was in Spanish, it was still an excellent museum, and kept us entertained for quite a while.

Once we were done, mass was still going, so we decided to go for lunch. While we were eating, it sounded like something exciting was starting up outside. Zev went to investigate. It turned out it wasn’t mass in the church, but a wedding, and they were now celebrating with a marching band and some giant puppets in the square. We finished our lunch, paid the bill, and headed out to check it out.

The next thing we knew, we were caught up in a wedding parade. At the head were two huge puppets of the bride and groom, dancing and twirling. Following them was a marching band, and at the rear of the procession was the wedding party. They danced and partied down the middle of the street, and everyone nearby got in on the action. People were dancing and cheering, and it was great fun!

BUT THEN! From the other direction! A RIVAL PARADE! As far was we could tell, this was just a coincidence. The parade coming in the other direction also had giant puppets, but these were of an army man, an alien… a seemingly random collection of characters. They also had a marching band. The two parades met head on at the interaction, and for about five minutes, there was pandemonium as they come together, weaving through each other, neither deterred from carrying on their fiesta. Soon, they’d each passed through and reformed on the other side, and they were on their merry way.

We had a quiet afternoon playing Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective back at the accommodation (we did not successfully solve the crime…), and headed out again for a delicious dinner at nearby La Popular.  I have no idea what I ordered was called, but it was basically a pizza served on a giant fried tortilla, and it was incredible.

Ex-Convento de Cuilapam de Guerrero

We got off to a slow start the next day, with a quick Facetime to London distracting us briefly from our day’s plans. Eventually we made our way to the zocalo for a decidedly average lunch, before we set out on our public transport mission.

We wound our way down back alleys, trying to find the collectivo stops that head out to Ex-Convento dde Cuilapam de Guerrero. In the end, we didn’t find the collectivo stop, but a nice man pointed us in the direction of the public bus, which was just as good. We jumped on, paid a ridiculously small sum, and were on the way before we knew it. We only had to endure one ‘busker’ who jumped on and ‘rapped’ for two stops, before collecting some coins and jumping back on again. Thank god we don’t have that in New Zealand…

The bus ride was pretty bumpy, but also pretty short, and we climbed off about half an hour later. It was a short walk from the bus stop to the convent.

The convent was built in the 1550s by Dominicans. The first thing you see when you enter the premises is the open air basilica. The huge structure has several arches, and the beautiful clear blue sky day really showed it at its best. Nearby is a smaller enclosed chapel, which apparently contains a stunning altar piece and baptismal font, but unfortunately it was closed on the day we were there. The convent at the back was open however, and the cool stone hallways made for a nice respite from the heat outside. We were basically the only people there, so it was nice to get the chance to wander around and admire the rooftop views in relative privacy.

After about an hour, we jumped in a collectivo back to town. With three passengers in the taxi, we thought it was full, but the driver managed to squeeze two more in, which was… Uncomfortable. Luckily, again, the ride was short, and soon we were back in central Oaxaca, off in search of cold drinks, and ready for a rest. A delicious Italian dinner at Casa Maria Lombardo topped off a fun day!

Lazy days

The next day was a write off. We both had pretty terrible sleeps, and our grand plans for heading to Monte Alban to explore the ruins was shot. We managed to drag ourselves to a nearby bakery, Boulenc, for one of the best breakfasts we’ve had on our entire trip. I had the English Muffin, and it changed my life. We stopped off to buy bus tickets to Mexico City on the way back to the accommodation, and didn’t venture out again until lunch time. We headed to Boogie Cafe, where Zev chowed down on a delicious sub, and I had an outrageously decadent Snickers milkshake. With so much good food and lazing around, we settled for leftovers for dinner and prepared to make up for lost time the next day.

Monte Alban

We awoke the next morning feeling much more rested, and headed off to find the tourist bus to Monte Alban. Luckily, once we were in the right vicinity, a nice lady came and found us, and showed us the way. We bought our tickets, waited about 20 minutes, and climbed on the bus for the 30 minute ride to the ruins.

Monte Alban is a pre-Columbian archaeological site which was one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica, and was an important socio-political and economic centre for nearly 1000 years. The site is huge, with massive steps surrounding a main plaza leading to platforms with views out over Oaxaca city. By the time we were done exploring, our thighs were burning! We rewarded ourselves with some nice cold drinks, before exploring the small museum of artifacts from the area then jumping on the bus back to town.

Our lunch the day before was so good that we went back to Boogie again! Or maybe it was just that it was on the way home, and our legs were so sore from climbing stairs that we couldn’t face the thought of any kind of detour… We spent the afternoon repacking our bags and mentally preparing for our last bus ride of the trip, to Mexico City the following day!

Lots of love,
S & Z