drinks at the Camino Real
step back in time and elegance - a crescent moon, arched walkways, bouganvilla blossoms fall from above, live guitar music discreetly played and well prepared margatitas make this a wonderful way to spend an afternoon / early evening
Monastary of OXACA
Next to the Temple of Santo Domingo on the corner of Alcalá and Cinco de Mylies the Ex-Convent, now home to the Centro Cultural Santo Domingo housing the Regional Museum.
The massive structure of this 16th C. convent is flanked by the Temple of Santo Domingo, the entrance plaza and an extensive desert botanical garden presently under construction.
Long hallways, some stark and shiny with centuries of thick white paint, others decorated by frescos and other ornamentation, lead the visitor past cell after cell converted into display rooms for an enormous collection of pre-columbian and colonial artifacts from the area, as well as exhibits of popular indigenous culture.
In each room are computer display screens, rather than guides, that walk you through each exhibit, providing additional
En Via = Taking a Tour and Fighting Poverty
Every country has two stories. We always get to see the more polished side – where people seem to be doing really well, where everyone is partying downtown, or where everything seems just like home (for me in the USA).
However, there is always another story to every country (even at home) – where people are just getting by, living check to check, working all day to support their family, and quite possibly skipping several or many meals a week. It’s not the more “real” part of any country, but one that exhibits just another reality.
I have been in Oaxaca, Mexico for a total of three months living near the Zocalo, essentially living in the same sort of comfort as home. Not once did I get to explore something completely different from my daily life. En Via gave me a glimpse into the current life of a people and culture of a particular community, that has been around far before the Spanish arrived to present day Mexico. That community is Teotitlan del Valle.
En Via, a microfinance organization that gives interest-free loans to women in the aforementioned community, raises money by providing tours of a very different nature. Instead of touring a ruin or simply walking around a community, the borrowers of En Via invite tourists to either their residence or place of business to discuss what they will do with their loans that amount anywhere between US$100.00 and US$300.00.
The day-long tour consisted of six presentations, each lasting about an hour and occurring at a different borrower’s home or vending stand in Teotitlan. I was very excited to go into their homes to see their current living conditions, and at each visit, I only wanted to wish them even more luck with their business. I absolutely enjoyed the visit and seeing their workspace. More importantly, I enjoyed listening to their answers to our questions, everything they had to say about their business, and all of their stories about their lives.
For most of my stay in Mexico I have been exposed to families where men made all of the decisions and did all of the talking. However, with En Vía, I finally saw empowered women addressing a very important aspect of their family’s life. En Via gives them a wonderful opportunity to play an even greater role in their family by making important decisions that will hopefully improve their living situation.
This is not to say that I was 100% sure that the women made all of the decisions around their En Via loan, for there were occasional instances when the men of the household tried to do more of the talking. I was disappointed on those occasions but the En Via staff, who translated the presentations in English and our questions in Spanish, definitely made an effort to get the spotlight back on the women. Regardless, it must be a difficult matter to control.
Lastly, the tour concluded several hours later with lunch at a restaurant owned by former En Via borrowers, but beforehand, I had water and a small snack while the tours were happening – which turned out to be a smart move.
To conclude: the presentations were great, you know your tour fee is going to an excellent cause, and you get to meet women and their families who have the same amount of ambition and work ethic as you do, but just no credit to accommodate their skills. I definitely suggest you take this tour when you visit Oaxaca, Mexico.
Chocolate Lover's Paradise!
Oaxaca is known for its chocolate, mezcal, and lack of tourists, which is why it is quickly becoming more touristy. The biggest mistake most people make is passing through Oaxaca on the way to Puerto Escondido without really taking in the small city. Ask a local about nearby chocolate factories, where free samples are normal and delicious. Don't be afraid to try flavored mezcal if the purely hard stuff is too much to swallow. There are literally hundreds of different flavors available at great prices. And ask a local about the bigger market. It's about a half hour walk from the zocalo, but it's huge and the prices are Mexican, not tourist prices. It's less than five minutes by cab. I would personally avoid Monte Alban unless you love pyramids. Though you learn a lot about the ancient history of Mexico, I personally prefer to focus on current culture. I would also recommend staying in a youth hostel called "La Casa de la Luna" on Avenida Juarez. It's really cheap, usually full of openly spirited people, and there is music, alcohol, and often free food nearly every night. Internet access, cleanliness, and bright colors make it a place not to be missed, and it's only a minute's walk from the town center. Enjoy!
Hierve el Agua
Pain to get to, but the Mineral Springs and petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua, east Of Oaxaca, are a must. A stunning mountain landscape, the springs of which have been 'dammed' to make 2 glorious 'semi' natural swimming pools perched on a ledge looking onto the valley and mountains. Tired of the swimming, take the fairly arduous round-trip path that will take you below the pools (takes an hour and 20/40 minutes dependent on the heat of the day). Seeing the petrified waterfalls from below are spectacular. There's also a man-made swimming pool on the site.
It's not the easiest place in the world to get to - there are buses from Oaxaca city or from Mitla but limit your time unless you're staying overnight. The Springs form part of a organised tour but tend to be one stop of many and you get little time to see the place. If there are 3 of you, maybe worth hiring a local taxi to take you and wait.