22 June 2012

Santo Domingo de Guzman, Oaxaca

There are so many churches in Oaxaca. And I don’t mean little village churches; I mean giant, gilt, built by the Conquistadors churches. I have honestly never seen so many big churches is one small area. It was like 7-11 or Starbucks. Which was awesome because usually work sends me to places that are very not at all Catholic so I enjoyed the churches. Because I didn’t have a lot of free time though I wasn’t able to tour them as much as I would have liked, but of those I did see, Santo Domingo de Guzman was by far my favorite. But I get ahead of myself. To really say why it was so awesome to land in Catholic country I need to talk first about my trip to Oaxaca.

I have airport fear and I am the person who gets to the airport three to four hours in advance of the flight. It could be the world’s smallest airport and have only one flight a day but I’ll still be there early. I’m trying to be better about that so I figured for a 2:50 flight out of Dulles I’d be ok to leave home at 11:30. That would give me a full hour to get to the airport (which with all the new metro line construction is a good precaution to take) and I would still have plenty of time to check in if the United counter was mad busy. As it turned out there was practically no one at the United counter so I walked right up and scanned my passport to start the check in process; and saw this message:

It is too close your flight departure time to complete this process

I of course am baffled. I have almost three hours until my flight. So I scanned my passport again thinking it was a glitch but got the same message. So I hauled out the itinerary and my heart stopped when I realized that 2:50 is when my flight would arrive in Houston. My flight departed at 12:28…in 18 minutes. I was utterly flabbergasted. I’ve had a few close calls with flights over the years but never have I been so blatantly stupid. I found someone at the United counter and explained that although I travel frequently and this was my third international trip in six weeks I had had a moment of utter stupidity and were there please any other flights that could get me to Oaxaca that day?

In what I am sure was a miracle, the guy I spoke to was not only sympathetic but also efficient and helpful. Qualities I would normally never attribute to United or its personnel. He switched me to a 3:20 flight to Houston out of National and didn’t even charge me. The only extra expense for me was the cab from Dulles to National. This meant I had a much shorter layover in Houston and was frantically running around what really is a giant airport because we had an in air delay and I had 20 minutes to make the connection…but made it I did.

I prayed the entire way clutching my travel rosary (yes I have one specifically for when I travel) and since God overlooked my massive idiocy I was especially thankful and delighted by all the Catholic churches.

As I said, I managed to peek into a few churches but really spent time, and attended Mass, in Santo Domingo. A former monastery (that part is now what I’ve been told is an excellent museum), church construction began in 1570 and took 200 years to complete. 

It has been used not only as a monastery but also military barracks in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century and was completely restored in the mid twentieth century after it was returned to religious use. The restoration included the use of 60,000 sheets of 23.5 karat gold leaf.

And wow is it shiny. 

I have no idea why this looks crooked. I'm fairly certain I wasn't contorting my body for some sort of artistic pose. I blame the floor which is obviously slanted.

 Close up of the triptych behind the alter.

Once again my kingdom for both a wide angle lens and a telephoto! I wish I could have got better closeups of the paintings on the ceiling but between my limited 200 m zoom, the low light, and the inability to use a flash I was denied.

I did manage to get some details of the fantastic ceiling in the entryway (probably because it's much lower than the rest of the ceiling).

 I have no idea who all these folks are but it looked like each figure was individual.

Elsewhere I had less luck with the ceiling but it was so magnificent I'm sharing my blurry pictures too.

And, this being Mexico, there was a beautiful triptych featuring Saint Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

St. Juan Diego is off the left. I really loved the center though with Guadalupe, the dove, Jesus, and God all the way at the top.

The church also has a lot of small side chapels. Sadly they were all gated and locked but I did manage to get a couple pictures.

I assume Mary? I don't know but it's all kind of creepy.

I hope the next time I'm in Oaxaca I have time to see the monastery/museum and a few more of the churches. Santo Domingo was one of the most magnificent churches I have ever been in so I look forward to seeing what more the others have to offer.

20 June 2012

Oaxaca City

So I make this joke about having been to Mexico three times but never actually having been to Mexico. My three previous trips, while lovely and fun, were on (the same) resort outside Cancun. All I ever saw was the resort and the very long road between it and the airport. However thanks to my job I can no longer say that.

I just returned from a great trip to Oaxaca, which is so Mexican that the majority of people there speak Spanish as a second language and an indigenous language first. I loved it. I wasn't able to travel around the state but stayed in Oaxaca City.  Fascinatingly enough, the entire city is a World Heritage Site; and you can see why.

You can't help but be charmed by the city and all the color!

 Are balloons really that good a business? I used to see this in Serbia a lot too.

 This street is kept free of traffic for pedestrians. Mostly it's lined with shops and restaurants as you would expect on a pedestrian street.

 Color! DC may have some great architecture (even if copied from styles developed elsewhere) but it definitely lacks in color.

The Cathedral of the Virgin of the Assumption
(and more balloons)

I don't know the name of this church but there was also a large church just to the left of the frame...my kingdom for a wide angle lens!

Also yes, those kids are walking on stilts.

I have no idea why.

Taxis are super cheap but it's quite a waling friendly city. I often took a cab to the office in the morning but usually walked back in the evening. The central city area is quite easy to get around in and you quickly are familiar with everything and find your way around.

Oaxaca by night is just as beautiful!


The city deserves the World Heritage title not just for how lovely it is, but also because it preserves a lot of its culture and, well, heritage.

 These are called alebrije, carved, brightly painted wooden figures. I was kind of tempted by the praying mantis and wanted it for my office.

I think the pictures below might be people in the traditional Zapotec costume (please someone let me know if I'm wrong). Zaptoecs, at 31% of the total indigenous population in Oaxaca are the largest of the indigenous peoples.

Unfortunately I arrived just at the beginning of the rainy season (which is why the sky in most of my pictures is kind of crap). The downside was that it would start raining in the early afternoon and often not stop; but the mornings were brightly sunny and the rain kept the temperature down.

The Zocalo, or main plaza, was a great place to pass time sitting in one of the many cafes, shopping from street vendors selling everything from clothes to hammocks, listening to the band that played occasionally in the gazebo, and have fun people watching!

Staying dry under umbrellas in a cafe around the Zocalo.

And not too fussed about the rain when there are Coronas (that cost about $1.10) and pina coladas!

And speaking of food, while I greatly enjoyed the moles and other real Mexican dishes, I was very excited to try the local specialty, chapurinas; or, in English, grasshoppers. Chapurinas come in all sizes and flavors although I was warned that the smaller ones are better. Not for any particular taste reason, because the taste depends entirely on how they're prepared, but because there's more a danger with the large ones of getting legs caught in your teeth!

I didn't eat the whole bag but I have to say that they weren't nearly as creepy to eat as I thought they might be. And they tasted pretty good. Spicy and kind of chewy/crunchy.

While in Oaxaca I stayed at a hotel in the city center call Las Golondrinas. Lovely hotel, comfortable enough rooms, great breakfast menu, really inexpensive ($50/night for a room with a double bed), and the most amazing garden! Every morning at breakfast, which is in the garden, I was surrounded by a veritable jungle of flowers.

If you stay at Las Golondrinas though beware...cash only. I didn't pay attention to that and was unprepared. I would definitely like to return to Oaxaca sometime for a holiday. Since I was working I was unable to go out of the city to the nearby pyramids, Monte Alban, or visit any of the beaches along the state's coast.