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Dave and Jan's travels, day 191:

26th November
Oaxaca, capital of Oaxaca state. First thing to know about the place is that it's pronounced "Waahaacaa", and if you get this wrong, you get a lot blank looks.

The most famous local attraction, Monte Alban, is actually just outside town. This ruin site is 15 minutes from town if you go along the nice new road. If, on the other hand, you follow the signs at the south end of town, it's going to take 30 minutes over some seriously crumbling tarmac. And if you choose to get lost too, it could take 45 minutes as you wend your way up a dirt track that (with the benefit of hindsight) is obviously going nowhere near such a significant tourist attraction. Add in the five minutes or so it takes to get directions from various passing professional pedestrians (you can tell that their pedestrianism is professional because their driving directions are so utterly... what's the word ... ah, that's it... WRONG), and you're looking at a cool 50 minutes.

Once you get there it turns out that the most famous tomb and the museum are closed for renovations. Still, the main area consists of a grandly laid out plaza surrounded by various august pyramids. It's all pretty neat, and if you've been with us since Tula and Teotihuacán, you'll be aware that this general style spans Mexico. Also noteworthy here are the carvings, which are many and varied. A sample from the site itself is at the right.

Oaxaca town itself is about the most tourist-oriented places we've been in Mexico so far. The town square was full of gringos wondering around, but at least they were the earnest type. This means not too many laughs, but at least they're not the "photograph everything that moves and deal with the language barrier by speaking English VERY SLOWLY AND LOUDLY" type.

The other benefit of earnest tourism is that most of its practitioners are pretty cheap, so the town has plenty of good value places to eat and sleep. Our hotel was a case in point: beautiful courtyard stuffed with plants to sit and read in, small but clean room with fully functioning bathroom and soft towels. It may strike you as a bit namby-pamby that we should be worrying about the softness of the towels: but that's how it gets after a while. And the hotel were prepared to take on the significantly unhealthy task of washing everything we own at a very reasonable price.

There are several pleasant churches in the town, although after the extravagances we saw leaving Puebla they seemed plain.

The Museo Regional de Oaxaca was worth a visit. Their pride and joy is a stash of beautiful jewelry recently unearthed from the Monte Alban site we mentioned earlier. But, they also have displays on just about every aspect of life in the state from cooking to agriculture to warfare to you name it. Also worth a visit was the Museo Ruffino Tamayo. Ruffino was a local artist who amassed a fine collection of pre-Hispanic art before dying and leaving it to the state. This seems to be standard practice amongst Mexican artists. His collection was particularly lovely, as he'd concentrated on small pieces, many perfect examples of the quirky humour that appeared everywhere in pre-Hispanic art and seemed to vanish in the colonial era. Don't miss the photo at the side featuring various pieces from his collection.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Prehispanic sculpture, Oaxaca

Sculpture, Monte Alban