Friday, December 26, 2008


Part of our falling in love with Oaxaca led us to rent a short-term apartment in the centre of Oaxaca a stone's throw from Santo Domingo. Part of our falling in love with our little apartment on Callejon Hidalgo comes from our visits with the neighbourhood street dog - Canela.

Canela is very tired. She spends her late nights and early mornings in the doorway across the street from us. She has a little make shift corrugated metal wall to protect her from the wind. She spends her late morning to early afternoon flaked out in the sun in my doorway or on the street and she spends her late afternoons and evenings around the corner in front of the taco shop. It's a pretty hard life and she needs to sleep a lot.

Although she remains a street dog, she has been adopted by two older ladies in the neighbourhood. One offers her doorway as a safe place to sleep, and the other buys her food, vet visits, and weekly clean t-shirts to keep her warm in Oaxaca. It's a hard life, especially on Christmas and New Year's Eve when the fireworks are continuous. No self-respecting dog can maintain a state of calm in the face of nearby explosions and Canela is no exception. With every inch of her being she feels obliged to chase every single celebratory explosion in every single direction and the next day she pays dearly for it. She can barely walk and must sleep the whole day with no visits to my doorway or the taco stand.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Night of the Radishes

Mexico is loaded with strange and wonderful festivals, but one of the strangest I ever did see was on a night in Oaxaca two days before Christmas. This night is known as the Noche de Rabanos or, "Night of the Radishes". Centuries old this folk festival is said to have been inspired by a local friar as a marketing gimmick to encourage people to buy produce at market. In the late 19th century it became an annual celebration that, for a few misty hours on the late afternoon and evening of December 23rd, occupies central square in Oaxaca City.

On December 18th freshly harvested monster radishes produced especially for this festival are turned over to a select group of artisans who set to work carving fantastic scenes entirely out of a collection of otherwise under-appreciated vegetables. Line ups are long and security is stiff to get in to admire this unusual art form.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Central de Abastos

For a nearly Pre-Colombian shopping experience one must visit the Central de Abastos. Okay, I exaggerate a teensy bit, but for such a big city, this market is very indigenous and filled with an infinity of exotic scenes and strange foodstuffs to gawk at. This market is a looooog way from your local grocery store or farmer's market. Go well rested, with an empty belly, and a good chunk of time to meander the maze of corridors that make up this massive market.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


A modest presentation of the real McCoy.

Shamefully criollo (original) corn is exceeding difficult to find on your table when dining out in Mexico. Restaurants mostly serve up tortillas made with Maseca corn flour which comes from American GMO corn that floods Mexican markets, but not at Itanoni! Criollo corn from small scale local producers is the main event at this humble, but artfully crafted little eatery. The corn is ground into dough which is shaped into a variety of antojitos which are prepared on a comal while you watch. Curious palates come here to learn to appreciate the subtlties of the varieties of this ancient miracle of agriculture which took place in Mexico over 9000 years ago.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Unexpected Celebrations

Every time we are in Oaxaca I feel like there is a celebration lurking around every corner. What are the fireworks for? Why the parade? What is the loud speaker for? Is that house playing music for the whole neighbourhood?

I really don't know. I can't possibly know. Sometimes I can broker a guess, but in Oaxaca, and in Mexico in general, there are thousands of reasons to have a parade, fireworks, mariachi, and various other noise making, people gathering events. I love rounding a corner and bumping in to any one of these unexpected celebrations.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Backroad Home

I am so happy for Mexican toll roads.

The creation of toll roads absorbs many of the self important drivers and leaves the beautiful rambling backroads for us! And there are few examples of this that are finer than the ride that eschews the straighter, flatter, less scenic, and more highly transited "autopista" to Oaxaca City in favour of a twisty ridge.

Leaving Nochixtlan I look back and marvel at the wide open eroded landscape that the ridge I'm climbing up seems to yawn into existence. As Nochixtlan grows smaller in my mirror, and the dry, pastel landscape continues to broaden, I can't help but wonder if the first Spanish Conquistadors felt at home when they layed their eyes on this land.

Reaching the top of the ridge we are rewarded with what I consider the ultimate in bike touring: a ride that offers two views for the work of one. Riding this ridge for over 50 kilometers, through forgotten villages, and past shepherds tending to their flocks, it seems impossible that we are so close to the state capital. Traffic is minimal and hand painted signs lecture us about the damaging effects of carelessly disposing our trash. We are not looking forward to the crazy rush of the city.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Teposcolula & Yanhuitlan

Pedalling higher and higher towards Oaxaca City we come to the town of Teposcolula which houses a startling open chapel built to preach Catholocism to the local Mixtec population. The the size and design of the atrium that is fenced in the front of the church testifies to the sizeable concentration of stone working talents that that this region once had. Extensive excavations are ongoing around town. Several significant burial sites have been unearthed along with the foundations of the sophisticated Pre-Colombian settlement that must have drawn the original attentions of the Spanish. The museum is well worth a peek.

And then there is the terrifyingly massive Dominican fortress that is Yanhuitlan and I say that because - wow! there is little else here. As you approach through highly eroded terrain, the massive church that looms over the empty village of Yanhuitlan, leaves you feeling like something has gone terribly wrong in this place. In the early 1500's the area around Yanhuitlan was one of the heaviest concentrations of Mixtec Alta people and highly populated Yanhuitlan was the governing kingdom. Cantera quarries were in full swing and the talents of Mixtec stone masons translated easily into the building of one of the most daunting Mexican churches I have ever seen. It is an eerie feeling to stand in the atrium of a church built on such an important ancient ceremonial centre and feel such unsatisfied anticipation.

A local man once told me that the church never hosted its expected numbers of converts here as, along with the arrival of the Spanish, more than half the population was killed off by disease. My little old man source tells me that the population demise ocurred bfore they were even done building the church.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hamburger Heaven

Do you see this man?

He makes the BEST hamburger in Mexico and, coming from a sworn hamburger hater - that is no small statement. This symphony of hamburger takes place most nights on the Tlaxiaco square starting about 6:30pm. First the patty goes down on the plancha, and then a flurry of hands and spatulas and knives artfully move the buns, the pineapple, the bacon, and the ham with two cheeses. The flurry continues as avocado, tomatoes, chile, onions, ketchup, mustard, and mayonese annoint the dream burger, and eventually the whole show gives birth to the most sinfully delicious street meat. Who wouldda thunk all those elegant years ago that "Little Paris" would go on to earn the status of hamburger heaven...

Little Paris

At over 2000 meters, the city of Tlaxiaco or "Paris Chiquito" is the chilly market centre of the Mixtec Alta. Wandering the sprawling reaches of the market is entrancing even on non-market days, but when the market is on full, the maze doubles in size and chaos.

There is little evidence of Tlaxiaco's elegant past other than in the name Paris Chiquito or "Little Paris" which is still marked on the combi's that transport people between Tlaxiaco and Putla. In about the mid 1850's this little town earned it's nickname because of the lively commerce and cultural events that passed though this town. The local elite dressed in all the latest Parisian fashions of the time, they imitated French customs, ate French cuisine, and spoke the language. When you walk around Tlaxiaco today it seems hard to imagine all of this taking place here in a town that feels so far away from Oaxaca City nevermind Paris.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Triqui in Me

The morning is heavy with humidity. Putla is just waking up as we climb our way out of this chaotic little market center and into the thick of triqui territory. The air gets crisper as we gain altitude. We pass some people walking a donkey heavily laden with firewood. Suddenly, in the rolling expanse of green mountains that unfold around us, I see a startling blaze of red. As we nudge closer I see that it is a woman donning one of the most impressive and heavy weavings that I have seen anyone ever wearing. The colour is my favourite, so I instantly feel a camaraderie toward this Triqui lady in red.

I wonder what it would be like to be one of these hearty Triqui women who live in such remote places, but often travel great distances to sell their wares in markets all over the state. Someone once told me that these people were historically so disagreeable toward their Mixtec brothers that they were forced into some of the remotest regions of Oaxaca where they still live today. Conversation with these ladies reveals a taste of their fierce spirit that continues to be handed down through the generations.

After climbing for 50 continuous kilometers we learn that they have some of the best views in Mexico, and we can see that they are still very much a culture connected to the magic that inhabits these mountains. We see it in the symbols that are woven into the fabric of their incredible red overcoats. The thought of the generations of useful knowledge they must possess from living so close to the land that sustains them makes me feel silly and ashamed of the bloated world of wanton overconsumption that my people have created and are inflicting on the world.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mixtec Lowlands

In the lowlands, the people are as gentle as its geography. As we climb our way back up to Oaxaca City, the diversity of ethnicities that inhabit the territory we cycle through is reflected in the textiles we see.