A Travellerspoint blog

Onwards to Oaxaca

Mexico day four


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Popocatépetl

With a 6.20 AM pick-up scheduled for our airport transfer we had set an alarm for 5.30 but were both awake soon after five. We packed our last few things and went down to check out and wait in the lobby. But 6.20 came and went with no sign of our ride. I asked one of the hotel staff, Edgar, to call the company on our behalf. It turned out that they'd forgotten (or possibly mistaken the time, it wasn’t clear). They offered to come and get us, but it would be 30 to 40 minutes before they arrived. Or, Edgar said, he could get us a taxi straight away for a cost of 250 pesos (about £12). That seemed by far the better option, so we took him up on the offer. It turned out he had a driver on standby right outside the hotel, so we got to the airport only about 15 minutes later than planned and with plenty of slack time.

Check-in was all automated but we needed some guidance on how to check our bags. Then it was quickly through security with time to buy a coffee and muffin at a branch of Le Pain Quotidian.

The plane took off on time and we had good views of smoggy Mexico City and the surrounding mountains. Soon after take-off we passed the smoking volcano of Popocatépetl.

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Taking off from Mexico City

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Taking off from Mexico City: Popocatépetl


We landed a bit early in Oaxaca's attractive modern airport and were met as arranged by a driver who took us to the Hotel Azul in the historic centre. This is an attractive colonial building with a newer extension. Our room was at the far end of this second courtyard and was very attractive, with white walls and beamed ceiling, a king-size bed, white wooden furniture and a well-supplied bathroom.

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The Hotel Azul

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Our room


We unpacked a bit then went out for a walk. There was so much to photograph that progress was rather slow!

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On the streets of Oaxaca

We eventually found ourselves next to the church of Santo Dominigo de Guzmán, an imposing structure which seemed be undergo restoration. What we should have done at this point was go inside, but unaware that it closed at 13.00 we instead went for a drink at the lovely La Rueca (strong coffee and a delicious tonic water and ginger concoction).

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Santo Domingo de Guzmán

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Great espresso in La Rueca

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On the streets of Oaxaca


We wandered around the immediate area taking more photos before heading into the church. The impact of its stunning gilded altars and ceiling was a bit of a gob-smacking moment. But I'd only taken one photo when a man told me he was about to close up. I begged his indulgence for one more shot, took two and then had to leave.

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In Santo Domingo de Guzmán


We continued a little further along Reforma as Google maps told me, correctly, that there was an ATM nearby. It was very hot by now, so we were glad the walk proved not to be in vain!

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More street scenes

Guided city walk

An equally hot walk then took us back to the hotel for an hour's cooling off before our pre-booked city walking tour. Our guide Montserrate was young and lively, taking us on a long (a little too long for me in this heat) walk around the historic centre.

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The Teatro Macedonio Alcalá


As we walked she pointed out lots of details on the buildings and talked about how the city had been founded in this valley. Unlike Mexico City there was little here before the Spanish arrived and started to build, as the native people preferred to live on the mountains.

Today Oaxaca is protected by UNESCO, meaning strict regulations regarding things like building colour. Montserrate told us that owners were expected to choose from a colour chart and that if they ignored it and chose something else, maybe to make their business stand out more, they had to pay an extra tax.

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On the streets of Oaxaca

We visited the San Pablo cultural centre in a former monastery. It had lots of exhibits by different artists, all very well presented in the different areas of the monastery and all completely free. There was also an open space where the cloisters once were where free concerts are now held weekly.

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Courtyard of the Centro Cultural San Pablo

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In the Centro Cultural San Pablo


I was interested in what Montserrate told us about how the Dominicans had used aspects of the native beliefs to encourage conversions. For instance, local people believed that hummingbirds were the souls of their dead ancestors, so the Dominicans planted trees near their churches to attract the birds, indicating that the ancestors approved of the new religion.

Eventually we came to the church we had visited on our own earlier, Santo Domingo, and to the attached very large monastery. This houses the city's museum of culture which we visited. We walked through the cloisters, where unfortunately most of the decoration has been lost (the monastery was occupied for a time by the army). But above the staircase leading to the museum’s galleries there were ornate gilded carvings, currently being restored.

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Details of cloisters and staircase ornamentation


Our main focus here was the three small rooms housing the contents of Tomb 7 excavated at Monte Alban, which Montserrate told us was the third largest tomb treasure ever found. There were small intricate gold masks, beautifully carved animal bones used for textiles, gold and jade necklaces and much more. Although I was tiring at this point I couldn’t help but be captivated!

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Exhibits from Tomb 7 in the museum

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The library, and view of the botanic garden


We took a break on a terrace overlooking the botanic garden and popped into the library before leaving. It was now 5.00 PM and the church had reopened so Montserrate suggested we had a longer look (we'd told her what had happened earlier).

Santo Domingo was built mainly between 1570 and 1608 as part of the city’s Dominican monastery. It has thick stone walls to withstand earthquakes. The façade has a number of worn statues and a relief showing Saint Dominic and Saint Hippolitus holding a temple on which the Holy Spirit is descending. Its two bell towers are topped with domes covered in blue and white azulejos.

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Santo Domingo de Guzmán

Inside it was as stunning as it had seemed on this morning’s brief visit. The altarpiece was carved from a single piece of cedar and gilded with gold leaf. The side chapels are just as ornate, and the ceiling and walls covered with frescoes and murals featuring scenes from the life of Christ and the history of the Dominican Order.

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In Santo Domingo de Guzmán (again!)

Montserrate had waited outside the church as guides aren’t encouraged inside. When we rejoined her I explained that I had probably done enough for one day, and as she will be our guide for the food tour in a couple of days she suggested doing the last part of the city tour then. We agreed that was a good idea so said our goodbyes and walked back to the hotel for a much needed (by me) rest!

For dinner I had made a reservation at Las Quince Letras, just across the road from our hotel, anticipating (rightly) that places might be busy for Valentines. The setting was lovely, on an upstairs terrace, but the experience rather mixed. We liked the very good guacamole we shared for a starter but were disappointed when our main course dishes arrived when we were only halfway through that. Furthermore, although tasty, my chicken in an almond based mole was a little lukewarm and Chris’s darker beef mole was even cooler.

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Valentines decoration in the tree outside the restaurant

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Chocolate tamales

I ordered a chocolate tamale for dessert, thinking it sounded interesting, but the chocolate sponge was rather dry although the accompanying fruits were good. But at least it wasn’t expensive, and we'd had a pleasant evening.

Posted by ToonSarah 10:54 Archived in Mexico Tagged art streets architecture restaurant volcanoes colour views church mexico flight museum monastery street_art archaeology oaxaca

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Comments

I wonder if your meal was poor because it was Valentine's Day when restaurants get more customers than they can cope with. Peter and I have only ever eaten out on Valentine's Day in Hong Kong once. We had a five course meal in under thirty minutes. The waiters kept whipping our food away to get us out and let the enormous queue outside in. It was horrendous.

by irenevt

The places you visited look fantastic. There's obviously huge amounts to see here.

by irenevt

Hi Irene :) You make a good point about the meal. I suspect I would have found the dessert a bit dull in any case, but the coldness of the food might be due to the waiters being too busy and leaving it standing on the pass too long. Oaxaca however was wonderful and yes, there's loads to see!

by ToonSarah

Oaxaca is also on my list ... reading now all about it, I just want to go! :)
These are the things I regret when going to work and have so little vacation days, but since I expect to live well into my hundred years and hope to be able to travel well into my 80's I should be just fine! :) :)

by Ils1976

That's always the dilemma Ils! You need money to travel, you need to work to get money, but while you're working it's hard to find the time to travel 🙄 Don't leave it all until you're older!

by ToonSarah

Interesting :)

Albeit hot, but atleast it didn't rain!

Is it normal to that volcano to be smoking all the time...? (Yikes!)

by hennaonthetrek

that's so true! I managed a little getaway in July to Morocco, so that's it for this year, but there is always next year!

by Ils1976

No rain in Oaxaca Henna - we only had rain once during our three weeks in Mexico and that was when we were changing planes in Mexico City so we didn't get wet - although unfortunately my luggage did! As to the volcano, it's certainly not unusual for one to smoke (or more likely steam I think) if it's active - it doesn't mean an eruption is imminent :)

Ils, glad to hear you're going to Morocco, that will be fun!

by ToonSarah

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