Tags: Mexico, Oaxaca, food

Date: June 6, 2024

We left the lowlands to head into the mountains and the state of Oaxaca. That also meant we were entering mezcal country and we saw lots of fields with agave plants. The agave fields are the blue-green patches between the shrubbery:

These agaves are used to make the distilled alcoholic beverage mezcal which is similar to tequila but with a smokey flavor. It can be made from more than 30 different species of agave, and has to be produced in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Puebla or Zacatecas to be allowed to be called mezcal. First, the agave hearts are harvested from seven to fifteen year-old plants. Then the heart is cooked and milled, before the juice is fermented and then finally distilled.

Here is a closeup of some agave plants:

More agave plants growing along the road:

Drinks with mezcal sometimes look like this:

Finally we arrived in Oaxaca de Juarez, the capital of the Oaxaca state, which is situated at an altitude of about 1600 m. It was still hot but not as hot as what we had experienced in the lowlands of Tabasco, Campeche and Yucatan. The city is very popular with both Mexican and foreign tourists. The tourists come for the archeological sites, elements of the continuing native Zapotec and Mixtec cultures and for a month-long cultural festival, the "Guelaguetza". The festival has many aspects including Oaxacan music and dance from the seven regions of the state. Also, Oaxaca is considered "Mexico's culinary capital" and we did get to eat some great food.

Street in the center of Oaxaca:

The streets around our hotel had several of these giant dolls:

Close to our hotel was the church and former monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzmán. The church is seen below:

In addition to the church and monastery, which was being renovated and therefore partly closed for visitors, the buildings house a large collection of archeological finds from the Zapotec archeological site Monte Alban (more about this in the next post). Unfortunately, we did not pay extra to be allowed to take any photos inside the museum so we don't have any photos of the rich findings from the tombs of Monte Alban excavated in the 1930s.

Here is Bjarne in front of Santo Domingo with a little more of the monastery and museum visible to the left of the church:

Later that day we walked up to the top of the hill "Cerro del Fortín", where the yearly music festival is held. It was hot walking up the steps but at least we had some shade from the many trees growing on each side:

We passed a few colorful houses on the way up:

This is the view of Oaxaca from the hill:

In the pedestrian tunnel going under the large road above, several murals had been painted on the walls. Here is a jaguar-human hybrid, a very typical imagery used in the carvings and sculptures from the pre-Columbian Mexican cultures:

This looks very much like the Maya rain god Chaac, a figure we have seen many times especially in the Puuc region of Yucatan:

The Mixtec, the Zapotec and the Aztec people also had an equivalent version of the Mayan rain god Chaac.

A Oaxacan fiesta with a mariachi band:

The mural below shows some famous people from Oaxaca, with the Aztec name for Oaxaca in the middle. Supposedly the Spanish found it too difficult to pronounce "Huaxyacac" and changed it to Oaxaca. The woman in the center of this mural is the late Mazatec wise woman and poet Maria Sabina (1894-1985). The Mazatec is another of the 16 different indigenous people in Oaxaca. Below her is a depiction of some of the famous hallucinogenic mushrooms that she used in her sacred healing mushroom ceremonies, called veladas. She allowed several westerners to participate in her ceremonies in the 1950s and 1960s and thus inadvertently contributed to the popularization of hallucinogenic mushrooms among westerners.

Our tentative identification of some of the others: Benito Juarez (number two from the right) was the first and only Mexican President of indigenous descent and served from 1858 until his death in office in 1872. Porfirio Díaz (the leftmost one) is a figure of controversy in Mexico — both hero and villain. He started out as a war hero from the French intervention in the 1860s and a strong opposition to Mexican presidents being re-elected several times. He seized the presidency through a coup and then gradually changed his mind about re-election, ending up holding office for a total of about 30 years distributed over three different periods from 1876 to 1911. Towards the end of his "reign", his increasing unpopularity led to unrest and eventually an armed rebellion ousted him from power and started the Mexican revolution.