<< Day 5: Oaxaca; Santa Mariá el Tule and Hierve el Agua | Day 7: Driving to Huatulco >>
Oaxaca; Yagul and Teotitlán del Valle
This morning we set off to explore the ruins of Yagul, about a 40 minute drive from Oaxaca. The main objective was to allow Genevieve and Sebastian to explore the tombs there.
Our first morning in Oaxaca, we had met a couple that had raved about how they had ventured into the tombs at Monte Alban; they said that they wished they had brought their flashlights because some of the tombs were very dark and looked pretty deep. The children’s ears heard the words "tombs", "dark", "deep", and their excitement level skyrocketed off the charts. We arrived at Monte Alban with flashlights ready, only to discover (from an administrative official there) that the tombs were closed to the public. Indeed, all of the tomb areas had a small rope in front of them, indicating that they were off limits. (Our new friends had gone on a day where there weren’t many visitors—we could only surmise that perhaps they had somehow bypassed the ropes in order to enter the tombs.)
Anyway, we had read about the wonders of Yagul before leaving home. Yagul, whose name literally translates as "Old Stick" or "Old Tree", is thought to have once been an important religious and secular center of the Zapotecs and Mextecs. Some archaeologists believe that Yagul was settled as early as 3000 B.C., although most of the existing structures were built between 750 to 950 A.D. It has the largest ball court in the Valley, huge stone walls, intriguing stone mosaics, a labyrinth-like maze, and—most important in the children’s eyes—tombs. The road to Yagul:
Yagul does not get the masses of tourists that flock to see the ruins of Monte Alban. For at least the first hour that we were at the ruins, there were no other visitors. The place was serene and peaceful—our own private ruins to enjoy! We found the entrance to our first tomb (the squares along the ground are skylights that the excavators put in to allow sunlight to reach the dark underground chambers).
We went down the stairs:
The children had their flashlights to see into all of the dark corners:
This is one of my favorite photos, showing Genevieve emerging from a tomb:
The children had a blast, running around, climbing into tombs and over rocks. It was definitely better than any amusement park or playground.
We had packed small travel umbrellas to Mexico in case it rained, but they also provided great protection from the blistering sun.
Some archaeologists/workers were reconstructing part of the ball court:
We had many laughs trying to navigate the big puzzle of walled paths (many with dead ends) in order to get in, and out of, this center courtyard:
What a view!
The abundant cactus were in bloom:
At the back side of the ruins, we saw a trail that went up the hill. We had read that Yagul had a "stone bathtub" at the top of a hill. We could either go back to the parking lot and take the set of stairs cut into the hillside . . . or we could see if this side trail led to the top. We didn’t even deliberate; up we went:
The path soon became very overgrown and fairly steep. Sebastian was getting tired and saying that he was hot and wanted to go back . . . that is, until we reached an especially challenging section of rock face. I managed to maneuver my way up, grasping for hand and foot holds; however, when I reached the top of that rocky section, I called down to Ben that I didn’t think the children would be able to make it. I suggested that we turn around and go back. That was when Sebastian’s energy kicked into high gear; he adamantly refused to turn around, saying that he knew he could make it up the rock. So Ben and I helped the children scramble up, and onward we went!
We could see the ruins far below:
Here I warned the children and Ben not to reach to the right side for a handhold, where I had discovered a particularly prickly cactus and was still trying to get the last few small barbs out of my hand.
(During the rock climbs, I accidentally changed one of the camera settings, so some of the pictures have a blue tone...)
We finally reached the top of the hill. Hurrah!!! We looked all over, but didn’t find a stone bathtub. Off ahead was a very wide path that sloped downward. Genevieve wanted to follow the path to see if we could find the tub. Sebastian was satisfied with his hill-climbing accomplishment and was ready to head down to the parking lot (via the stairs). So Genevieve and I set off to see what we could find together.
We walked for a while, enjoying the scenery and savoring the anticipation of discovery. At one point, Genevieve looked at me with a huge grin of delight and said, "Even if we don’t find the bathtub Mom, this is still fun!" Yes, indeed! We saw a large group of rock mounds ahead, and then we saw the bathtub. We took turns "bathing":
Then I held the camera and took a shot of both of us together:
We then hiked to the end of the rock mounds to see the view of the beautiful valley of Tlacolula below:
Walking back, we found Sebastian and Ben not too far down the hill. They had discovered a big tomb that was part of the ancient fortress built on this hill. Here is the tomb entrance:
Inside the tomb was a lockable steel gate—lucky for us, the gate was unlocked. Through the gate, we had to duck into a small entrance to reach the interior tomb.
The tomb was tall enough to stand up in:
Outside of the tomb, we had a fabulous view of the Yagul ruins, and we could see that a handful of other cars had joined ours in the parking lot (ours is the tiny white car in the middle):
We took the stairs down the hill:
On the drive back to Oaxaca, we visited the small town of Teotitlán del Valle, which is known for its hand-woven wool rugs ("tapetes"). The town was a few miles away from the main road; along the way we passed numerous rug shops like this one, a few with big tourist buses parked in front:
We finally arrived at the edges of the town:
And we found a restaurant, El Descanso, that looked like a nice place for lunch:
The interior of the restaurant was very quiet (we were the only customers) and had a grassy courtyard that Genevieve and Sebastian played in while we waited for our food.
The children were very excited about finding a group of ants carrying away a pill bug:
This man and his two donkeys passed down the main street while we were eating:
The food at El Descanso was excellent. I ordered a tlayuda, and it was even more delicious than the one that I had eaten at Hierve el Agua yesterday:
Sebastian was happy:
We decided to drive around Teotitlán and see what it was like.
We headed down a side road toward a church:
We passed by the church . . .
. . . and turned onto a road that looked like it was blocked ahead.
Ben put the car in reverse, and we started backing up when a woman came running out of the entrance with the blue doors, and she was speeding our way!
She ran up to the passenger side window and asked me (in Spanish) if we wanted to see a demonstration of rug weaving in her home. Ben and I looked at each other and only took a second to say, "Sure!" So we parked the car and entered the home of Eugenia Mendoza Garcia.
She first showed us how she makes some natural dyes from the fruit and leaves of a pomegranate tree that grew in her courtyard.
Next her brother’s mother-in-law showed us how she took raw wool and spun it into a spool of yarn. We were truly fascinated!
We also met Eugenia’s two children, including her young daughter:
Eugenia spoke Spanish to us, but the rest of her family members only spoke Zapotec while we were there. Eugenia set up her loom for us, and then showed us how she wove the yarn to create the beginnings of a rug. Genevieve and Sebastian watched with great interest.
At the end of the demonstration, Eugenia showed us some of her rugs. There was absolutely no pressure to buy any of her work, but we all fell in love with a beautiful small wool rug with a pattern of fish transforming into birds. We also felt that the price was extremely reasonable. Here is Eugenia with the rug:
I actually loved one of Eugenia’s bigger rugs, which had patterns in a brilliant red—it was gorgeous, but there was absolutely no way that we could possibly squeeze that rug into our luggage. (The smaller rug that we purchased folded up nicely, and we managed to fit it into one of our suitcases later—but only after Ben and I each gladly left behind a shirt apiece.)
The day was very hot, so we relaxed in the pool back in Oaxaca. As usual, Ben was a magnet for the children.
Sebastian’s swimming skills got stronger and stronger during our trip.
Ben dove underwater and swam the length of the pool with the children taking turns on his back:
He also got an arm workout by throwing the children up in the air, over and over. Wheeee!!!
And Sebastian worked on his cannonball technique:
After a rest, we decided to check out the large park that was a couple of blocks from the hotel.
The park benches were full of families and a high number of couples in love (holding hands, cuddling, and/or kissing). The children were a disappointed that all of the grass had signs saying stay off. However, they joined a handful of other children in climbing this statue of Benito Juarez (Mexico’s first indigenous president, serving from 1858 to 1872).
Tonight was our last night in Oaxaca, so we decided to have dinner overlooking the main Zócalo.
This musician entertained us while we ate.
And so did a lively band playing under the sheltered walkway of the Palace Museum:
After dinner, we headed for the market. One of the "delicacies" in Oaxaca is fried grasshoppers.
As soon as Genevieve and Sebastian found this out, they insisted that we all try them. Another guest at our hotel had told us that the small grasshoppers were very salty and not so good, and that the bigger grasshoppers had more flavor. So of course we chose to buy some of the bigger ones. Here is Genevieve getting ready to munch her first big grasshopper.
The grasshoppers are fried with some spices, and actually weren’t that bad. Ben and I only ate one apiece, but Genevieve and Sebastian wanted to buy a small bag:
(Note: We had NO stomach ailments afterwards!) We then chased the grasshopper taste (salty and a bit "earthy") with the sweetness of chocolate from one of the chocolate vendors, who also gave us a small cup of chocolate fría (cold chocolate milk)—yummy! We returned to the hotel fully saturated from the day’s rich experiences.
<< Day 5: Oaxaca; Santa Mariá el Tule and Hierve el Agua | Day 7: Driving to Huatulco >>
Back to Mexico Index Page
Back to Home Page