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                              Locals call this Oaxaca cathedral "The Dollhouse"


25 Feb. 2009
The state of Oaxaca, long isolated from other parts of the country by rugged mountains, has a traditional side to Mexican life that nearly vanished in more accessible regions. Oaxaca has Mexico's most vibrant and creative handicrafts, its festivities are colorful, and it has a uniquely savory, spicy cuisine.

This was our all-day-in-one-place day. Our local guide for the day was Tony Zarote.

Thirty miles from Oaxaca city, ruins of the mystical city of Mitla (Place of the Dead) have red walls of geometric mosaics pieced together without mortar. These mosaics feature the numbers 9 and 13:  very important to ancient Zapotecs in their journey from life to death.

We climbed up steep steps to the secure priest's areas (watch your head) and saw restoration efforts to maintain the mosaics. Black mesquite trees on the site are the basis of natural black dye, one of the mystical colors used in local art. Other traditional dyes are indigo, cochineal red, and moss yellow.
  
Nearby Santa Maria del Tule is home to the cypress tree with the largest circumference. Here is where I sampled TUNA ice cream. It's very sweet -- made from the prickly pear cactus. Another favorite flavor of our group was Crema de Mezcal.

Glazed black ornamental pottery, often with intricate cut-out designs, is a specialty of nearby San Bartolo Coyotepec. The Oaxaca glazed green pottery is of culinary quality, appropriate for use as cookware.

The colonial city of Oaxaca has a lovely, tree-shaded El Zocalo, flanked by cathedrals. Tony took us to a chocolate factory, a mezcal shop (it's only tequila when it's from Tequila), and to Mercado 20 de Noviembre.

Iglesia de Santo Domingo is the most spendid of Oaxaca's churches. Nearly every inch of the cathedral's interior is decorated in elaborate gilt designs and painted figures.

We walked through a textile market and several more churches that evening. I wish we'd had more time here.
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