Today we went on a tour to see some of the sights of the Oaxaca region. Ivan, the tour guide, told us that this was the first tour to take place in almost two months due to the disruption from the teachers strike. Apparently during the most intense part of the protest, the whole city was blockaded and even the airport was inaccessible. The government flew supplies into the city by helicopter. It seems to have calmed down a bit now and some of the roads are passable, although not very easily as we found out yesterday. Plenty of people have told us stuff about the teachers dispute from both sides of the argument. It’s not really for me to have an opinion on the matter though.
The first stop of the day was to see a huge tree. I can’t recall its exact claim to fame but its got the largest something or other in somewhere or other. Ivan found a girl nearby who gave us a tour of the tree. She was well-trained and was fairly bossy in a somewhat amusing way. Here catchphrase was, “Follow me please,” which she said before pointing her laser pen to parts of the tree that sometimes (and sometimes didn’t) resemble various animals/objects/celebrities. The references could do with being a bit more contemporary though. Part of the tree looked like Jennifer Lopez’s arse and even if you used your imagination another bit didn’t really resemble Monica Lewinsky, leaving some of the youngsters in the group looking a bit bemused. While I don’t really advocate child labour, the tips would have provided a nice little earner for her family.
Next up was some ruins. These weren’t a patch on Teotihuacan but their unique selling point was that they are situated in the centre of a built up village/town. There were hardly any visitors here so you could roam wherever you wanted. Old walls from the ruins were part of people’s houses and yards and a church incorporated the ruins, which looked pretty good.
We then headed off up into the mountains for some great views and to visit some sort of natural baths. Apparently the high levels of calcium and manganese (I think) are supposed to be good for you. I took Ivan’s word for that as they didn’t look the most appetising thing to get in. When being sold this trip, I was under the impression that we were supposed to see some spectacular waterfalls at this point. For some reason I missed the bit were Ivan explained that they weren’t strictly by definition waterfalls, as no water is currently falling over them. When I inquired where the waterfalls were people looked at me, unsure whether I was joking. I certainly wasn’t joking, which got a laugh as people pointed in the direction of where the waterfalls once where. Despite no water falling there was pattern of rock erosion that resembled waterfalls and it actually looked quite nice. Back home though the Trading Standards would not be happy with these fake waterfalls being used as selling point!
Next stop was a visit to a weaving factory/shop. I’d normally avoid this sort of thing while on holiday but I’m trying to experience new stuff on this trip. A bloke showed us how it’s all done, retaining the same methods his tribe have performed for hundreds of years. It was interesting to see how they obtained colours from the dye of locally available natural resources. Obviously we then had the opportunity to buy stuff. To the untrained eye the quality seemed excellent. One rug with was for sale at £700 which initially seems a bit steep but the detail was amazing. When I asked how long it took to weave I was told two and a half months, so on that basis I suppose £700 actually seems quite reasonable.
The final visit was to a mezcal refinery. The person there told us about exactly what the drink consists and how it is produced. To the uninitiated, mezcal is essentially a similar drink to tequila, and is synonymous with the Oaxaca region. The guide would probably have been horrified with that explanation as he went into great detail concerning how it is different to tequila and would probably find me comparing the two as extremely insulting. I’m writing this after quite a few mezcals so my memory may not be precisely correct, but as far as I recall it is derived from a plant similar to a cactus and then fermented and processed into alcohol. Some is distributed immediately, while other batches are left to mature. After this were given an incredibly generous amount of samples, including the bog standard stuff, the aged variety, mezcal containing different alcohol contents (with the strongest being 45%), the one with worms in it (which apparently does alter the flavour and isn’t just a novelty) and various flavours of mezcal liquor which are ridiculously sweet. The guide took his job of educating about mezcal very seriously. Much like wine tasting, the object is to enlighten yourself on flavours rather than get pissed! Unfortunately my palette probably isn’t sophisticated enough for this and none of them would temp me into drinking mezcal as a drink of pleasure.
After the afternoon drinking we didn’t stay out too late, continuing the reasonably sensible behaviour. We had a nice meal on a Oaxaca rooftop terrace, offering a great view of the lit-up church.