The Conspiracy and the Guelaguetza
16.07.2007 - 28.07.2007 0 °F
From Puebla I returned to Mexico City to meet up with a friend of Brenda´s who spent the whole night one night telling me about this magical trip he was planning to Oaxaca. I waited patiently for about three days only to find out that the promised "trip of a lifetime" was not be and I would have to create my own. Not such a problem for me and certainly no surprise that I would need to adapt to another change of plans. As I am quickly learning, in Mexico many promises are made but not they are not always fulfilled. For that reason I temper my expectations and am seldomly dissapointed. I did however take adavantage oif my days in Mexico City to go to the National Museum of Anthropology and study up on the indeginous cultures I was hoping to learn more about in the coming days. The museum is full of more than 5000 ancient artifacts and took me two days to make my way through. Here is perhaps one of the most famous artifacts the Aztec Sun Stone often mistakenly called the Aztec Calender.
Another cool site I was priveledged enough to see was the representation of the dance of flyers
of Papantla. They start from the ground and eventually climb to more than fifty meters while one man at the top magically plays his flute. The flyers are tied to the mast by their feet and continually circle for more than twenty minutes. Here they are at their highest altitude
Oaxaca is probably the most talked about state in the Mexican republic boasting lots of eco tourism more than 8 active and thriving indigenous communities, and best of all I would be arriving just in time for the famed Guelaguetza. The Guelagutza is a more than two hundred year old tradition of a gathering of all of the native communities of Oaxaca for a week of traditional food dance and arts and crafts. The idea is that the children of Oaxaca will never forget their hertiage and indigenous roots. Needless to say this all sounded fanatastic so I headed off to the bus to station solo, bought a ticket for a 6 hour journey and settled in for what promised to be an exicitig and eye opening adventure.
The 6 hour bus journey turned into 8, but I would have been happy if it had lasted longer. The last 5 hours where magnificent as the bus wound its way throught the varied vistas of the Sierra Norte mountain range. Its is almost impossible to describe the sense of peace I felt to finally be far seperated from the big cities, traffic noise, constant sounding of car alarms, police sirens etc.. and settling into the vast countryside of Mexico. I picked up a magazine at the bus station called " Mexico Desconocido" or the undiscovered or unknown Mexico. I read an article talking about a group of pueblos that had set up multiple day hiking trips at 3000 to 4000 meters through the Sierra Juarez. The only accomodations offered are rustic cabins, and the only restaurant are comedores, which are essentially dining rooms in a small house with nothing but the daily menu to choose from. As the bus was guiding me through cactus forest, rocky ledges and pine tree valleys, I decided that the hiking trip was a must.
Unfortunately my arrival in Oaxaca was tempered by a street riot that had taken place that day. The locals were protesting the commercialization of the Guelaguetza, and threating to block the entrance to the concert hall which they had successfully done the year before. Things got out hand as they often do here. The protesters were violently put down by the police, sparking random riots throughout town, gasoline was poured down the streets then lit on fire. This also led to the explosion of a city bus that was parked unoccupied. Needless to say my thoughts about the Guelaguetza were starting to chage, only to be further dampened by the fact that Ticketmaster were handling ticket sales. I was starting to agree that perhaps it was over commercialized. The ticket prices were the equivalent of about three days salary for the average Oaxacan further limiting participation from the local towns people. Not exactly the Mexican Cultural Experience I was looking for. Especially since the local indigenous community were apparently not behind it.
Travel in the Mexico during the rainy season usually means terencial downpours in the afternoons, and often times makes for some spectacular scenery. I spent my first five days in a small but friendly hostel making friends with other travelers from all around the world. Often times we just wandered the citiy streets looking for good food and a relaxing day. Each day terminated with a fabulous summer storm washing the streets and buildings clean and cooling the evening air. Here is a good shot of the afternoon sky in Oaxaca
I did manage to get early and take a trip to the near by ancient city ruins of Monte Alban. Monte Alban was the most important city during the Zapotec reign, and has been wonderfully preserved. Sitting high on the mountain top, it gives a wonderful panorama of the valley and the Sierra Juarez to the north.
After five days of exploring the town, I finally got my act together to head out to the Sierra Juarez. I arrived at the second class bus station chicken bus to head up to the mountains at 8 am only to find that it was standing room only. There were a couple of Dutch girls in the same predicament so we decided to put our pesos together and go by collectivo or pick up truck with benches in the back. When I arrived I settled into the comedor for a quick breakfast and set off for the two day hike. I was joined by two other Dutch travellers and two German travellers. We set off for a 5 hour hike that would bring us to the overlook of the valley at 400 meters. I was amazed that at that altitude there was still plently of greenery. That afternoon, about three hours into the hike it started to pour down rain. The rain finally stoped when we arrived back to the lodge. Just in time .........Now freeezing cold and wet we went directly to the cabin to get a fire going. Eric had a deck of cards and we spent the night drinking Mezcal, playing cards, and staying warm by the fire.
Definately the peaceful escape I was looking for and it didnt matter that it rained on us all day the following day as well.
The news was heavy with rumors of a potential demonstration to prevent the opening of the Guelaguetza. The strong left wing activitist group The Zapatistas had alledgedly come from Chiapas to support the Oaxacans. For these reasons amd a few personal resrvations I decided not to stay for the Guelaguetza, instead I headed down to a small beach town called Mazunte. I hopped into a small mini van and again enjoyed another magical trip through the Oaxacan mountains to the coast. Mazunte was exactly as I hoped it would be. Nothing but small cabin style palapas, hammocks for rent on the beach and a real laid back beach atmosphere. A friend I met in Oaxaca had arrived the day before me and had arranged for a local fisherman to take us out fishing the following morning at 6 am.
Heres a shof the sunrise before heading out
Needless to say the fishing trip was a success with my friend Mario pulling out the prize a 10 lb beauty. We pulled out 6 in total and were the talk of the beach when we beach washed the boat and unloaded our catch. We managed to make lots of friends with our nightly fish fiest and tasty cerviche to eat on the beach during the day. My friends from the Netherlands showed up as well and we hung out together a few days before I headed out.
During my stay in Mazunte it occured to me that I often take the beach for granted. When I think about losing myself in nature I seldomly think about beaches. I usually tend towards mountains and waterfalls, lakes and rivers. Perhaps that is becuase most beaches are so overbuilt with High Rise hotels and resorts that they loose a large part of their natural appeal. Mazunte is far from over built and definately reminded me how wonderful it can be to be on a secluded beach. And few things compare to taking a swim in the ocean on a hot day. Here's a shot of the sunset from Punta Cometa. Its about a 1 hour hike down the rocky shore line and through a bit of forest to get there, but well worth it.