Things I Have Learned In Oaxaca, Mexico

Things I Have learned In Oaxaca, Mexico

“Travel  offers  the opportunity to find out who else one is.”                         Rebecca Solnit

Oaxaca is pronounced Wa-Hoc-A. Except in the Mexico City Airport when they are translating into English and they say O–Ax-A-Ca. People who live in Oaxaca are called “Oaxaquenos’.  (Photo © Ben Goodman / licensed by Culture Xplorers)


Oaxaca City is said to host a festival of some kind every week.    The most famous festivals are “Guelaguetza”, a native arts/dance festival, “Night of the Radishes” Christmas season celebration and the Day of the Dead.. There are always people walking around the city in costumes and native outfits. They are either going to festival, coming from a festival or rehearsing for a festival.


This is not me.


This is either a dress rehearsal parade for Guelaguetza or a celebration because it is Benito Juarez’s birthday today.



Sixteen different indigenous groups are formally registered within the state. Oaxaca State is the original territory of the Pre-Columbian civilizations of the Zapotec and the Mixtec peoples. ( Photo © Ben Goodman / licensed by Culture Xplorers )


Signs at Temple sites are in English, Spanish and Zapotec

The area was conquered in 1486 by the troops of Aztec Emperor, Ahuizotl, and named “Huaxyacac”. In Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs), Oaxaca means “on the top of the Guaje (Acacia) tree.”

There are many fewer incidences of violence in Mexico now because the new President is with the drug cartels. In Colombia, the president has made a deal with the drug cartels as well. Mexico says their drug problem is caused by keeping up  with the high demand for drugs in the United States.

If you are at Ocatlan Market on Fridays you can buy turkeys, chickens, a goat,  souvenirs, a saddle for your donkey, native costumes, religious artifacts, medicinal plants, flowers and food.  Photo © Ben Goodman / licensed by Culture Xplorers )




When things are good drink mezcal. When things are bad, the same.

By the third sip you start enjoying the flavor of mezcal.


The code of arms in Oaxaca is a severed head.

The feathered serpents  was a prominent supernatural entity or deity, found in many Mesoamerican religions. The feathers represent its divine nature or ability to fly to reach the skies and being a serpent represents its human nature or ability to creep on the ground among other animals of the Earth, a dualism very common in Mesoamerican deities

Super jalapeño chips are a pleasant snack.

How to sell pants in Oaxaca.


The term Mesoamerica refers to a geographical and cultural area which extends from central Mexico down through Central America, including Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.( Photo © Ben Goodman / licensed by Culture Xplorers )


Many important ancient civilizations developed in this area, including the Olmecs, Zapotecs, Teotihuacanos, Maya and Aztecs. They all ate corn, beans and squash, had a calendar system, some form of writing, and played that game with the rubber ball. (Mt Alban  Photo © Ben Goodman / licensed by Culture Xplorers )


Tiny bananas are much  sweeter than the larger ones.

Teotitlan Del Valle (Place of the Gods)  is a village east of Oaxaca City. It has about 5000 inhabitants and most homes have a workshops for weaving. The wool used today came with the  Dominicans and the Spanish as a replacement for the cotton that was grown there We had a full demonstration at El Encanto.


The wool is washed with amole a root when mixed with water creates suds. The wool is carded and spun into yarn. They are natural colors. Some of the colors are created by mixing the different natural colors of wool  grey brown black and white. They had indigo and charcoal for blue, pecan shells for shades of brown, marigolds for yellow and moss for green. Cochineal which creates reds comes from an insect that lives on a cactus. Adding lemon will change it to orange and adding baking soda will turn it to purple. The weaving designs are inspired by traditional patterns from the Zapotecs.


Hierve el Agua is a natural warm spring which contains air trying to escape, hence the name “Hierve el Agua”which means “the water boils”. The water is also full of minerals, so as it runs off of the edge of the nearby cliff, calcium carbonate and magnesium in the water create a petrified waterfall, and the sulphur ads nice yellow accents in places. There are only two such sites in the world, the other one is in Turkey. (  first two photos © Ben Goodman / licensed by Culture Xplorers  – frozen waterfall, “water”,  mineral pools,)




San Martín Tilcajete is one of three main Zapotec villages where most of the residents earn a living from carving and/or painting colorful figures. Often generically called alebrijes, they are shaped from the branches of the copal tree. The other villages are Arrazola and La Unión Tejalapan. The carving alone takes up to a month. The figure is then left to dry for up to ten months, depending on its overall size and thickness.

Theories abound about the beginning of the modern-day manifestation of the art-form. Some say that because hallucinogenic mushrooms are native to this part of Mexico, drug induced revelations caused the imaginations of some to wander, ultimately becoming expressed in their carvings. The better explanation appears to be that knowledge of colorful, large, papier maché alebrijes or dragon-like forms that originated in the State of Mexico.


Honey acts as a mordent, making the color permanent and a little shiny.  Powdered limestone, baking soda and lime juice changes the color base . Bases are made from natural substances like pomegranate seeds, indigo, corn fungus and cochineal.  A beautiful place to see and buy these pieces is the home workshop of Jacob and Maria Angeles. They both came from wood carving families and I noticed many collectors returning as I will. Once you buy one of these, you want more.


Cultural Xplorers is a cool company to travel with.   (the tourist, local amazing guide/new friend  Pati Reyes, founder of Cultural Xplorers Jim Kane)


Oaxaca City is a place of ever-changing light and colors.  It is a city for artists.

IMG_0008Viaje con cuidado,


PS. Muchas Gracias Ben and Pat.

M and M in Mexico -Mt Alban and Mitla

M and M  in Mexico – Mount Alban and Mitla ‘

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Monte Alban is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan Municipality in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Besides being one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica, Monte Albán’s importance stems also from its role as the pre-eminent Zapotec sociopolitical and economic center for close to a thousand years.


Large-scale scientific excavations were done under the direction of Mexican archaeologist Alfonso Caso . Much of what is visible today in areas open to the public was reconstructed at that time. (cool glasses!)


One characteristic of Monte Albán is the large number of carved stone monuments one encounters throughout the plaza. The earliest examples are the so-called “Danzantes” (literally, dancers).  They represent naked men in contorted and twisted poses, some of them genitally mutilated. The figures are said to represent sacrificial victims, which explains the morbid characteristics of the figures.  The 19th century notion that they depict dancers is now largely discredited, and these monuments, dating to the earliest period of occupation  are now seen to clearly represent tortured, sacrificed war prisoners. Dancers, tortured prisoners – it is a common mistake.



A different type of carved stones is found in the center of the Main Plaza.  You can see  inserted within the building walls are over 40 large carved slabs dating to Monte Albán II and depicting place-names, occasionally accompanied by more writing and often characterized by upside-down heads. Alfonso Caso was the first to identify these stones as “conquest slabs”, likely listing places the Monte Albán leaders claimed to have conquered and/or controlled. How strange this sounds to us in the present day – a Zapotec male talking about his conquests.




The Mesoamerican ballgame or ōllamaliztli  was a sport with ritual associations played since 1,400 B.C. by the Pre-Columbian people of Ancient Mexico and Central America. The sport had different versions in different places during the millennia.  A modern version of the game, ulama, is still played in a few places by the local indigenous population. It was like racquetball. The ball was made of solid rubber and weighed as much as nine pounds. The ballgame served as a way to defuse or resolve conflicts without warfare –  to settle disputes through a ballgame instead of a battle. The game had ritual aspects including human sacrifice but was also played by women and children.  Human sacrifice? we havent had that yet at halftime at the Superbowl. ( playing field)

IMG_0039 Mitla is the second most important archeological site in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and the most important of the Zapotec culture.

safe_image-5.php Mitla is one of the areas which represents Mesoamerican attitudes towards death, as the most consequential part of life after birth. It was built as a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The lower world was not a bad place – it was where the dead went.   The word Mitla comes from the Náhuatl word Mictlan, meaning place of the dead or underworld. In the Zapotec language this place is called Lyobaa, meaning place of rest or burial-place.

The ancient people  of Mitla wanted to keep their dead buried near them. They believed the dead went into a different sphere.They took out the bones and dressed them up to share in special occasions. Archaeologists figured this out by the many bones that were in the wrong places when they put them back. You see a lot of this in Beverly Hills and Hollywood as well.


Mitla was inhabited since 100CE by both  Mixtecs  and Zapotecs. It was still functioning as a religious site when the Spaniards arrived in 1520.The high priest, called the Uija-tào resided at Mitla, and the Spanish likened him to the pope. Nobles buried at Mitla were destined to become “cloud people” who would intercede for the population below.[


The main distinguishing feature of Mitla is the intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that profusely adorn the walls of both the Church and Columns groups None of the fretwork designs are repeated exactly anywhere in the complex. The fretwork here is unique in all of Mesoamerica.


The two main concerns for the Mitla site are the eroding effects of wind, rain etc. and graffiti. The latter, which is mostly painted or etched, has been a serious problem at least since the early 20th century. To protect the ruins, especially the grecas, shelters have been constructed over a number of the rooms of the Palace or Columns Group. These shelters are palm thatched roofs supported by wooden beams and columns, and are intended to mimic roofs that were common in the Mesoamerican period.

The Spaniards though that the name meant hell. As it was an important site of religious significance, many of the buildings were destroyed by the Spanish. The remains were used as building materials for the churches that sit on top of the ruins.


for more Oaxaca info go to

Viajen Con Cuidado,