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Dave and Jan's travels, day 194:
Oaxaca to Tuxtla

29th November
Oaxaca is the capital of Oaxaca state. Tuxtla Gutierrez is the capital of Chiapas state. It took us two days to get from one to the other, partly because it's a long way and partly because of three splendid attractions en route. This is more splendid attractions than we found in Tuxtla, which nevertheless is a pretty fun town.

The first of these is the small town of El Tule, and specifically, the tree in its churchyard. This tree is the world's largest known example of the 'ahuehuete' species of cypress tree. It's 58 metres around the base and about 2-3,000 years old (no-one seems very clear). In any case, as the pictures at the right reveal, it's quite enormous and dwarves the poor church. According to which source you believe, this makes it either the widest tree in the Americas or the widest tree in the world. Looking at the tree, we found ourselves standing next to a Texan who said (loudly) 'They'll never believe this back in Texas!' My fear was that he was going to ask how much it would cost for him to take it home.

Attraction number 2: the ruins at Mitla. This site is quite small, and somewhat overshadowed in all the best guidebooks by Monte Alban (see the Oaxaca article). Well, here's one vote for Mitla, which is not so big, but it is perfectly formed. The site has only been partially excavated, but the parts that have been are very nicely preserved. The decoration of the place is quite unique as well. Unusually for Mexico, the style is purely abstract: there are panels scattered around the walls and patios that contain (allegedly) fourteen different mosaic patterns. These patterns aren't sculpted: they are composed of individual pieces of rock that fit together as perfectly today as they did 800 years ago. The picture at the side shows ten of the patterns: OK, so there are supposed to be fourteen, but your intrepid reporter has let you down: presumably the others must have been hiding around the back.

Number 3: Hierve el agua. That's "the water boils" to you. A splendid natural spring, with cliff top swimming pools surrounded by strange cliffs plastered with the kind of mineral deposits that belong inside a cave. A strange but beautiful spot, which is hugely popular with Mexican tourists, of whom there are hundreds around the place. This is perhaps surprising, when you consider that just to start to get to the place you have to drive to the village of San Lorenzo Albarradas. That's where the tarmac ends and the fun begins: sixty minutes of dirt later, you arrive at some old cliffs.

And the other great thing about that, is that it's the same sixty minutes back to the tarmac, which means you're now very late for the trip east to the overnight stop at Tehuantepec. And that means your first go at night driving in Mexico, land of the random pothole and unannounced sleeping policeman. Fortunately nothing worse than a series of enormous bumps ensued, and we wound up sleeping peacefully in a motel.

The next day we pulled into Tuxtla Gutierrez. A pleasant town, that doesn't have a lot of monumental things for tourists to photograph, but maybe that's what makes it pleasant. It does have just about the nicest tourist office you're ever going to find, and a population who - even by the very high standards prevalent in Mexico - really do enjoy their music. So in the course of two days, we saw Mariachi music in one town square, Marimba in another, brass band arrangements of the Beatles' greatest in a third, and still found time to be kept awake by a disco apparently on the balcony of our hotel room.

The town also boasts a grid road system. To make up for this simplicity, it has one of the more ludicrous road naming systems. Working north from the centre, the avenues are named Avenida 1 Norte, 2 Norte, etc., and working south, Avenida 1 Sur etc. But the bit to the west and east of the centre are also named accordingly, so for example, Avenida 3 Norte Poniente to the west, Oriente to the east. Meanwhile (still with me?) the north-south roads are similarly named things like Calle 1 Oriente Sur (the first road to the east of the centre, southern extension) and Calle 3 Poniente Norte. So, two blocks south and three blocks west of the middle would be the intersection of Calle 3 Poniente Sur and Avenida 2 Sur Poniente. For me, the best bit of this system (amongst many other close contenders) is the way that although every road is labelled either Oriente or Poniente, this information is utterly irrelevant to resolving any address.

Last exhibit for this article: the Cañon del Sumidera, just outside Tuxtla Gutierrez. A thousand sheer metres deep, it rivals the finest canyons in Arizona, plus, it has crocodiles and monkeys! And the boat rides are a lot cheaper. We whizzed up and down in a few hours, before heading on to San Cristobál del Las Casas.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Ahuehuete tree, El Tule


Hierve del Agua

Crocodile, Cañon del Sumidera