Winter is the perfect time of year to escape the cold winter rain (or snow!) and experience the botanical and cultural riches of Oaxaca, Mexico! This week long trip is based in the heart of the city of Oaxaca (wa-HOCK-a). Our wonderful hotel (left) has a swimming pool in one of the many inner courtyards and is just a block away from the Zócalo. The hotel is also in the art gallery, museum, and restaurant center of the city. This section of the city is also known for the wonderful colonial stone architecture (right).
Taste of Oaxaca!
We will spend a full day driving and exploring for plant in the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Preserve, a biodiversity hot spot known for many unique species found nowhere else on earth! One of the icons is the wonderful blue Pachycereus weberi (far right). We will be there in the dry season, so we will be able to see many of the bromeliads (Tillandsia and Hechtia), orchids, agaves, and echeverias much better than in the wet season. On the mountain pass to get to the desert we will likely see Tillandsia prodigiosa (right) in bloom. It is a spectacular bromeliad that hangs in the oaks of higher elevations with a startling pink inflorescence. We will also likely see several epiphytic mammalaria cacti in this desert!
Two days will be spent visiting the different artisan villages spread throughout the Oaxaca valley. We will visit the most prominent and well known weavers, wood carvers, potters, and more. Some of the highlights are the black pottery of Coyotepec (above), the rug weavers of Teotitlan de Valle (right), and the wonderful wood carvings, alebrijes (below). This will be the best chance to find the better quality material than what can be found from the stands on the street and in the markets.
We will also take a guided tour of the wonderful Ethnobotanical Garden which has an amazing collection of specimens of many of the important plants of the region. It is a great way to see a lot of rare plants native to the state and learn how they have been used for thousands of years. The Ethnobotanical Garden is on the grounds of the Santo Domingo Church (left) and is a walled garden that occupies a full city block.
Of course we will make sure we learn how traditional mescal is made. And any time you are learning about something new, you must sample and quality control the products! Mescal is the spirit distilled from fermented agave nectar. The process is quite interesting and the same way tequila and raicilla. Just like the great mole sauces of the region, every maker of mescal produces a different tasting product.
We will also explore the museum and the massive ruins of Monte Alban. Pictures just cannot do justice to the immense and spectacular complex of structures. Located on the top of a flattened mountain in the middle of the Oaxaca Valley, the site has a 360 degree view of the valley and surrounding mountains. Clearly chosen as a perfect strategic location situated right above the city of Oaxaca. These ruins fortunately were abandoned and long forgotten before the Spanish entered the region, leaving many wonderful discoveries still to be found.
And of course we will be eating some fantastic food throughout the week. Oaxaca is known for the wonderful and varied mole (MOE-lay) sauce. Every time I visit I bring back a bag or two to make here at home–great to prepare for dinner parties or to give as gifts. Oaxaca is also known for the mescals, pure vanilla extract, chocolate, and chapulines (grasshoppers!). Not only can you experience the great food at the restaurants and food stands, but wandering through the markets is a feast for the eyes and nose. It is worth trying some of the chapulines and fruits at the market...something that you can't try in too many other places!