Our favorite stop during our time in Oaxaca was Hierve el Agua. It consists of fresh water springs that are oversaturated with calcium carbonate, lending a unique greenish color to the water. As the water drips off the cliff, it forms stalactites and stalagmites that have converged to form a petrified waterfall. The site is in the mountains of Oaxaca with dozens of agave plantations and thick vegetation.
The Mitla ruins are located just outside of Oaxaca. It derives its name from the Nahuatl name Mictlan, which means “place of the underworld”. In Zapoteca culture, souls return to the underworld after death where they find peace. The ruins originate from 900 BCE and have intricate geometric patterns made of stone. The walls are held together without any mortar, which has helped keep the ruins stable during earthquakes.
During the Spanish conquest, nearly all of the ruins were destroyed and a Catholic Church was built a top the ruins as seen below. Luckily some of the original ruins were excavated.
One of the oldest trees in the world is in Santa Maria del Tule. The “tree of Tule” is over 2000 years old with the largest circumference of any tree in the world, a whopping 138 meters. It is a Montezuma Cypress, also known as an ahuehuete tree. Local children who are at the top of their class are allowed to give tours around the tree, pointing out shapes and animals that they find in the bark. Our guide was hilarious and kept saying, “come on, please!” while pointing out elephants, deer, and celebrities in the tree.
Mezcal is a local alcohol made from agave plants. The heart of the agave, also called the pina, is roasted in a stone oven underground for seven days. It is then mashed into a puree before fermentation. It is then distilled and bottled into the classic smoky alcohol we know. Tequila is also made from the agave plant, but is made from only the blue agave plant in a specific region of Mexico. Tequila is better known around the world as the process has been industrialized, whereas mezcal is still artisanally made.
We visited a traditional Zapotec village where we learned the art of textiles and weaving. The colors are derived from natural elements in the environment, such as indigo and walnuts. The cochineal bug that grows on moon cacti give a bright red color. Each textile takes between four to six months to make on the loom.
We strolled through the markets of Oaxaca on our first night in town and had a traditional Oaxacan meal. We tried horchata, chili rellenos, elote, tlayudas, and grasshoppers. In the neighboring shops, we admired carved obsidian and the vibrant and colorful alebrijes. While walking through town, we stumbled upon a family reunion celebration with dancing, music, and balloons.
The Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman is in the historic center of Oaxaca. It is typical baroque architecture and the construction began in 1575.
The few days we spent in Oaxaca were jam packed full of food and fun! We are excited to continue on our journey through Mexico.