A Travellerspoint blog

Santa Fe, New Mexico

About a week after getting home from Mexico, we headed out for a road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We had been there some 40 years earlier and loved it then, but wondered what time had wrought, and if we would still feel the same way. We rented a place for six weeks, intending to check it out as a possible place to live, especially in the winter, and then planned to return to Boulder, Colorado for a couple of weeks to check that out again. We had been there more recently, about eight years ago, and almost bought a house there.

Santa Fe did not disappoint. The central part of the city has managed to retain its old adobe flavor thanks to the foresight of city fathers, who as far back as 1912 recognized that it made sense not to let rampant develop destroy the old town. New buildings had to be built in Santa Fe pueblo or Spanish mission style, at least those surrounding the central plaza, some of parts of which date back to the 1500's. True, the suburban sprawl of Cerillos Road is just as much of an eyesore as any strip mall, with its big box stores and shopping centers, but the main part of town, unlike so many western cities, fits the landscape, and, as one of the oldest continually settled cities in the US, it manages to retain a sense of history. The blending of Hispanic, Indigenous and Anglo cultures is a felt presence, despite the fact that often these groups have little to do with one another. The semi-arid landscape is almost other worldly, and despite the paucity of trees in the valley, the high mountains of the Sangre de Christo are literally just out of town, and they are heavily treed and green. And the sky, which is as vibrant a blue/cobalt as I have seen anywhere, is shocking in its intensity on most any day.

Santa Fe has always been known as a liberal outpost, with an art and culture scene that far exceeds its size of roughly 80,000. We certainly found this to be the case even in the winter, which is the off season. There is also a significant retiree population, our age more or less, but active. There are almost daily hike and art meet-ups, skiing just outside of town, and people that seem friendly and share our values. Once out of town, it is a vast, largely empty wilderness of desert, weird rock formations, high mountains, both the Sangres and slightly lower Jemez, volcanic calderas, along with scattered ancient Indian pueblos,and funky little towns, like Madrid, pronounced Maaadrid. The feeling is that you can walk forever and not see anyone. Alright, a bit of an exaggeration, but New Mexico is huge with a population of 2.5 million, most of which live around Albuquerque, by far the largest city, about an hour from Santa Fe, with little in between.

So we surprised ourselves. After a few days we started looking at real estate, and though not cheap by upstate New York standards, it was a bargain compared to Boulder, which is growing much more rapidly. At first we thought we wanted to be within walking distance of the plaza, but many of the old houses were dark, expensive, and often needed more work to make them up to our standard of livability. It wasn't long before we started looking further afield, a process that I'm sure many other folks have followed. Still close in, but about a mile or two from the center. The fact that our agent, Chris Harris, was a highly interesting man with whom we had a lot in common, didn't hurt our desire to check things out. It was always fun spending time with him. We also met Toni, somewhat older than us, but a former New Yorker who has lived in Santa Fe for some 20 years. She explained the tax advantages of buying and then renting for a year, something she and her husband did when they first moved.

Amazingly, after a few weeks we made an offer on a condo on the north side of town, and it was accepted. Now normally, I'm not a condo kind of guy, but this place, though small, felt quite private as it faced out on open space, and it was relatively affordable so that we didn't feel pressured to sell our house in New York immediately. We heard that the Santa Fe Opera often rents out places in the summer for their staff, but they want it furnished, and so, in an effort to appeal to the Opera crowd, we dashed madly about for the next several weeks looking for furniture in some of the many warehouse sized consignment shops that seem to be ubiquitous in Santa Fe. Of course, we couldn't move anything in until we closed, but managed to get the shops to hold stuff, and then rushed the closing, which happened about a week before we were scheduled to leave town. If all of this seems a bit crazy and frantic, it was. In between hikes, occasional days of skiing, and attendance at art shows, we hunted for furniture, pots and pans, bedding, towels, etc. We probably spent more time riding up and down Cerillos Road than most residents do in a year.

We did manage to spend some time enjoying cultural events, eating out at beer pubs, New Mexican type restaurants, as opposed to, unfortunately, true Mexican. We met up with the stepson of a friend in Albany, who in turn introduced us to his musical work colleagues. Our friend Betty came out for a visit for a few days to see us, as well as her brother who lives outside of town. Our older daughter came out with her boyfriend Jeff from California, and we spent a few days seeing the sights, including Bandolier, a fancy hot springs in the middle of nowhere, Ojo Calientes, and just walking the streets of Santa Fe. What I did not do was to take any pictures of the city. Too busy I guess, though I did take some landscape shots of Tent Rocks which is on a res about an hour from town. With hoodoos and rocks similar to Cappadocia in Turkey, a place we did not visit, it also has a small slot canyon, and is an easy place to spend an afternoon.

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Snow covered Sangres in the distance
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Bandolier has an almost spiritual feel, having been settled by indigenous peoples for more than 10,000 years. They mostly lived in caves created by volcanic action, in cliffs lining the river valley. Indeed the general area around Santa Fe also felt spiritual to us. We sensed the spirits of the ancestors in the rocks and the sky, perhaps because the landscape hasn't changed all that much.

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Round human settlement in Bandolier where farming took place
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Tasha and Jeff climbing into cave dwellings
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Nanette and Jon
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Mule Deer
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That big sky near Bandolier
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We also managed a trip up to Ghost Ranch, to see the landscape of Georgia O"keefe. On the way we stopped to see these incredible white rocks where apparently Georgia used to camp out with friends.

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Pedernal in Jemez mountains opposite O'keef's summer home in Ghost Ranch
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Red rocks at Ghost Ranch
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Door to O'keef's winter house, about 10 miles from Ghost Ranch
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Lest you think that everything is perfect, New Mexico has a reputation of being practically a third world country. There is definitely a manana attitude, and most things take longer to get done, especially for those of us who are used to a New York minute. I also had an interesting run-in with the Santa Fe police. On one particular day, I had parked my car at one of the consignment shops, and there happened to be another one diagonally across the street. Both of these were located on a non-busy road outside the center of town, and Nanette was not with me. So without thinking, I just cut across the the corner and as I walked into the parking lot of the second shop, I heard a siren behind me. Turning around, it was a cop car flashing its lights at me.

"Stand in front of the car," the officer said to me.

"What did I do?," I said somewhat incredulously, knowing I had left my car in the other lot.

"You cut across two streets and did not walk in the cross-walks."

"Jaywalking? I didn't even know that is illegal here."

"I need to see your license."

"Okay." I happened to have my license with me. " I'm from out of state," as he could plainly see, "and jaywalking is not illegal where I live in upstate New York. Can't you just give me warning."

"It is a crime in New Mexico. Just stand in front of the car." I had moved off a bit to the side because the sun was hot.

I must have been standing there for a good 20 minutes while he fiddled with his computer, probably checking to see if I was a terrorist.

"It's getting hot officer. You must have more important things to do, like going after the real bad guys. All I did was walk between two shops when there was no traffic."

No response. After another 10 minutes or so he said that he was having trouble with his computer, and asked me to give him the number of my cell phone. He said he would call me when he could print out the citation.

"Can I leave now, and go into the store?"

He nodded, and I went into the second consignment shop. I had been there before, and the delightful woman who ran the place, S., a Jewish-Sikh convert, (apparently not that unusual in New Mexico), recognized me and could tell something was wrong.

"I just got a ticket for jaywalking," I said.

"What. I've never heard of anyone getting a ticket for that in Santa Fe. People jaywalk all the time around here. I feel really bad for you."

I guess she could tell I was shaken up.

"Well, if you see anything you like I'll give you an even bigger discount than usual.

Sure enough I did see a couple of copper lamps, but about ten minutes later the cop came running back in.

"I was able to print out the citation."

"Can I just mail it in," I said.

"No you have to appear in court."

"But I won't be here on that date. I'm leaving town before that."

"You'll have to go in as a walk-in and tell it to the judge. Wait a few days to make sure they receive the citation," and with that, he turned around and left.

"Fuck you." No I didn't say it, but I certainly felt like it. This was unbelievable. Welcome to Santa Fe, I thought.

Well it was only to become even more unbelievable. A few days later I called the court, and they still had not received the citation from Officer Krupkee, or whatever his name was. Gregg, I think.

"Call back in a few more days." I did so, and they finally had received it. I explained that I would be out of town when my court date was set.

"Alright, Come in tomorrow as a walk-in."

Figuring I would get there early to beat the crowd, I showed up at 8. There was already a line. I got to the desk, and they asked when my appointment time was.

"I don't have any. They told me to come in as a walk-in. "

"Oh, I'm sorry, but the judge is not taking any walk-ins today."

"WHAT. BUT THEY TOLD ME TO COME TODAY WHEN I CALLED IN YESTERDAY. I'm from out of town and I'm leaving in a few days."

In fact it turns out that they told several more people, six in all, to come in as walk-ins. "Who'd you speak to?," they demanded.

"I have no idea."

"Well wait here, but you other people will have to leave and come back another day."

Eventually, perhaps because I was from out of town, they took pity on me, and told me to have a seat in the courtroom. Since they were doing me a favor, I would have to wait until the other people with appointments were taken care of. The female judge seemed reasonable enough. More than reasonable actually. Many of the other folks were there for shoplifting, and she let them off with the minimal fine, no jail time, and told them to attend a shoplifting class on Saturday. Shoplifting class. That's a new one . Other people were there for DWI's and driving without a license. They too got off easily. I was the only jaywalker.

Finally, after about two hours my turned came, and I went up to the bench. "I can see you're here for jaywalking. What happened?"

I explained that I crossed diagonally between two consignment shops and there was no traffic. I added that I didn't think jaywalking was even a crime in New York and was surprised that it was here.

"Yes it is a crime. In fact, I have to talk to the prosecuting attorney. Some jaywalking offenses require jail time. Please have a seat."

I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Shoplifters let off by taking a class, but I might have to go to jail for jaywalking. After another 20 minutes the prosecutor finally arrived, and after consulting with him, the judge called me back to the bench.

"Well, Mr. Shapiro, since this is a first offense, there is no jail time required. You're lucky. I will fine you the required $25 dollars and then an additional $58 dollars for court time. Any questions?"

"No," I said, by now just desperate to get out of there. I noted to myself, however, that the shoplifters were somehow not required to pay for court time. Just jaywalkers it seems.

"See the clerk over there."

I went over to the clerk who had to fill out the paper work. I said, in sotto voce, "You know, it would have saved a lot of time if you just gave me a ticket which I could have mailed in."

"Oh, we don't do that here in New Mexico. And we take jaywalking very seriously. You could have gone to jail. Just the other day two homeless people were killed crossing the railroad track in the wrong place."

What the hell does that have to do with me I thought, but knew enough not to say a word.

"Go over there to the cashier to pay."

With that, I did so, and they took credit cards. I felt lucky to have escaped with me life.

New Mexico can certainly be a strange place.

A short time later, we closed on the condo and moved in for a few days, postponing our trip to Boulder to finish furnishing the place. In the end, the opera was not interested, though we did later rent it for the summer over TripAdvisor.

As a postscript, S. called me a while back to say that she too had been arrested on a minor traffic charge, talking on her cell phone, and then not pulling over immediately so she could get out of the middle of the road. She also had to go to court, where they acted as weird with her as they did with me, so the whole thing had nothing to do with being from out of state. Being the lovely law abiding person that she is, she was as shaken up as I was.

I am hoping to avoid the police on our next trip out. Jaywalking may be illegal, but it seems, at least in Santa Fe, that an ounce or less of weed for personal use is not. And shoplifting, barely a slap on the wrist.

Yes indeedy, in New Mexico you're not in Kansas anymore.

Road to nowhere in New Mexico. Traffic not a problem.
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Posted by jonshapiro 09:06 Archived in USA Tagged mountains photography living_abroad cities_postcards Comments (0)

Tepoztlan, Mexico

After arriving at the airport in Mexico City, we took a bus to Cuernavaca where our friend Yolanda met us and brought us to her home in Tepoztlan. A story unto itself, we met Yolanda several years back on a boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam. She is a professor of educational psychology in Mexico City, and when we told her we might be coming to Mexico, she encouraged us to spend a few days with her and her husband Carlos, also a psychology professor.

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Tepoztlan, about an hour a way from Mexico City, is a small town of perhaps 12,000 people. It is surrounded by mountains, and its steep cobblestone streets are home to a cosmopolitan mix of local indigenous folks, a number of expats, as well as artists and intellectuals such as Yolanda and Carlos, who choose to live here to get away from the huge city of Mexico.

Carlos was not feeling well when we arrived in late afternoon, and the following day Yolanda needed to go to university as the semester was just starting. We therefore had the day to ourselves, and spent most of it wandering the streets of Tepoztlan,

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checking out the local market,

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seeing the cathedral, and eating lunch at one of the more expensive hotels in town, which had a view overlooking the whole valley.

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Although Tepoztlan did not seem very touristy to us, Yolanda said that on weekends hoards of people descend on the town from Mexico. Luckily we were there during the week. Yolanda’s condo was a mile or two from the town center, but no matter, we took our time and walked it in both directions, stopping on both the way in and out in one of the ubiquitous ice creams shops with hundreds of flavors.

Jesus in ice-cream shop with flavors along side of him
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The following day Yolanda had the day off and took us Xochicalco, one of her favorite ruins an hour or so from Tepoztlan. More extensive then Monte Alban, near Oaxaca, it has several different levels and ball fields, pyramids etc. and we more ore less had it all to ourselves.

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The most impressive part was the observatory, which is actually located in a made made cave. It has a hole in the roof of the cave which lets in a shaft of light. During the solstice it lines up with the sun in perfect position, and acts as a calendar.

Taken with flash
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There was a guide at the entrance to the cave took us through, and knew just how to position us in the shaft of light to get impressive photos.

No flash this time
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The ruins had quite a spiritual feel to them, and as always, I imagined myself among the crowds of the ancient city during a pelota game. The winning coach considered it a great honor to be sacrificed to Itzacoatal, a plumed serpent that signifies the meeting of earth and sky.

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We left early the next morning for Mexico city, after spending a few hours on the phone to change our flight, as a big snowstorm was expected at Newark Airport on Saturday, our scheduled date of departure. We spent the day at the Frieda Kahlo Museum, Casa Azul, and nearby at the Trotsky museum, of particular interest to me, given my red diaper status.

And then it was back home for a week before our scheduled road trip to Santa Fe.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:59 Archived in Mexico Tagged people tourist_sites cities_postcards Comments (1)

Zipolite

After an enjoyable week in Oaxaca and surrounds we headed off to the coast. Rather than an 8 hour bus ride on windy mountain roads, we opted to take a small plane to Huatulco and then hired a cab to take us over to Zipolite.

View from the plane
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The Oaxacan coast between Huatulco and Puerto Escondido is one of the least developed parts of the Pacific coastline. Mostly it consists of small towns and fishing villages that are slowly drawing more tourists, but there are no high rise hotels as in Cancun. Zipolite is an old hippie hang-out that has a reputation as a laid back place where nudity is allowed. It turned out to be delightful, with plenty of eateries on the beach, small guest houses, and a very warm sea. It also is known as a place with dangerous surf and rip tides, although the swimming was generally excellent while we were there.

Our 7 room guest house was on a hillside overlooking the sea, and about a five minute walk from the beach.

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When we first arrived, two middle aged and rather out of shape and overweight couples were lounging around the pool buck naked. A bit of a shock, but they turned out to be quite ordinary and friendly folks who are more or less professional nudists. It was at least their third trip to Zipolite, but they frequent other nudist spots as well. Sorry, it seemed gauche to take their picture, although I'm sure they would not have minded. The small pool was a great place to sit around with a beer and cool off with or without your bathing suit.

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Needless to say, there was not a lot to do at Zipolite other than swim, sun, eat or drink, but that was fine by us. Our guest house owner was a gay,white, Mexican, who looked to be in his mid 40's. Apparently he had built the place with his partner, now separated. Most days he served us breakfast overlooking the pool, usually wearing only a skimpy towel.

In the five days we spent there we developed a bit of a routine. We would go down to the beach in the morning, around 10 or so and either return between 11:30 and 12 when the sun got too hot, eat in our little apartment, or go to lunch someplace along the beach.

After lunch we'd sit around the pool in the shade, or take a nap inside. By around 3:30 we walked down to the beach again for another swim.

More like 5 in this pcture
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And then it was back to our pool above the sea for sunset and a beer, and finally a walk to a restaurant, either on the beach or in the tiny town with small shops and restaurants on the only main street. The best way to get anywhere was to walk directly on the beach, although there was a dirt road that led through palm trees into town. That took longer and was more confusing. Our guest house was on one end of the beach, and so it was a bit of a walk to most restaurants, and to "main street," one block from the water. The nearby Alchemist was a frequent choice because the food was good, if a bit pricey by Zipolite standards.

Also on our side of the beach, was a spectacular set of rocks, with a large peephole to the sea, worn away over the years by waves and wind.

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Sunset was quite a show down here, as well as up at the pool.

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So what's with the nudity thing you want to know. Well of course, it was only some of the gringoes and gringas that were naked on the beach. It was an interesting thing to watch a middle aged, fully dressed Zapotec man selling coca frio to a naked gringa of indeterminate age. And it was a real mix of ages who were naked, all different shapes and sizes but only one color, or rather two, sunburn red or white. I'd say about 1/4 to 1/3 of the white people on the beach had shed their clothes, but there was no pressure either way. Sometimes I wore a suit, and other times I did not. Nobody cared either way.

I did begin to wonder just how it was that Zipolite got its start as a nude beach, and that it somehow managed to continue this way in a very Catholic and conservative country. It all began in the 60's, naturally, when a small group of hippie types showed up in this tiny and remote backwater, at least at that time. Many of them didn't bother to wear clothes. Some of them stayed and others left, but gradually as the town developed into the low key resort that it is today, the locals decided to retain the optional nudity. As in most of Oaxaca, the people are Zapotecs, and the central government more or less leaves them alone to run things as they see fit. I would guess it was more of a business decision to continue the clothes optional policy. There are of course, other small towns and resorts along this coastline, but Zipolite is the only one that allows nudity. How much the nudity helps their business is an open question, a bit like asking if the growth in Colorado is due to legal weed. I don't think it's hurting things.

On our last night we were hoping to make it to the other side of the beach, because there was a bar on top of a promontory which had a reputation for spectacular sunsets. As you can see by the picture above, we didn't make it. That sunset was on our side of the beach, but it's hard to imagine anything better. We did however, make it to our favorite restaurant, Fish and Love, which which is located just off the beach at the far end of town.

Debbie and Nanette in front of restaurant
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It is owned and run by a friendly local family. In the morning, until mid-afternoon they fish, and then return to prepare and cook what they catch. It couldn't have been any fresher, and they made a damn good margarita to go with it. If that wasn't enough, it was an incredible bargain.

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As in other restaurants people wear clothes, though we were early and thus the only customers. They did tell us that they had a popular clothes optional night once a month.

Naked Fish and Love, what could be better.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:39 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches people food Comments (0)

Excursions from Oaxaca

After a few days of wandering the streets of Oaxaca, we were ready to go a little further afield. We went on a day trip into the Sierra Norte with a small tour group to the Zapotec villages of Lachatao. It took a couple of hours of driving on the curvy mountain roads to reach the village. It is a poor area, but the indigenous people there and in several other small villages, are trying to attract eco-tourists, and have constructed a number of bungalows just outside of town. Our first stop was a small anthropological museum, largely organized and opened due to the efforts of our guide, Oscar. After that, we went on a hike to what we were told was an ancient ceremonial place on nearby Jaguar Mountain. The hike was billed as a ritualistic inner journey, and that exactly what it was. Oscar, though not indigenous, had lived in the village for a number of years, and was convinced that he had found one of the original sites of Zapotec civilization on this flattened mountain. It was not long or difficult, perhaps two hours, but we made a number of stops en route for him to explain certain things to us about the culture and the religion, which was based on worshipping the spirits of the mountains, wind, and animals. We were encouraged to close our eyes and meditate on the sounds and smells of the forest. Oscar talked about the Zapotec way of life as being in harmony with Tao, or the Way, similar to the ancient Chinese religion. I'm not sure whether this accurately described the Zapotecs, who apparently were also into human sacrifice, or if it was a reflection of Oscar's time living in San Francisco. When we got near the top, which had wide views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, we were instructed to lie down in a certain spot and glance backwards over the horizon, and then describe the colors we saw. The predominant color was supposed to be indicative of a certain aspect of our mood and personality. I forget now what my color was, or its meaning.

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We then gathered around what looked like an ancient fire pit and sent out positive energy to the other folks on the hike, and then in widening circles to all living beings. It was a bit hokey, at least to me, but enjoyable nonetheless.

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On our return, we had lunch in the town's only "restaurant," prepared by local village women. Then some of us climbed up to the roof of the old church, giving us another great view of the mountains beyond.

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Oscar on church roof
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View from church roof
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The next day we hired Luis, to take us on a tour of Monte Alban and a few other nearby points of interest. Having lived in LA for several years, his English was good, and he turned out to be quite personable and informative.

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Monte Alban is one of the oldest ruins in Mesoamerica. It goes back to 500BC, although it was abandoned some 1600 years later for unknown reasons. Like the ceremonial site in the mountains, it is located on top of a flattened mountain with a commanding view of the Oaxaca valley below. It is obviously quite large, and while some of it has been reconstructed, parts of the pyramids are original. Getting there early was a good move, as the place was practically empty.

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Pelota field
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Local man at the ruins
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After Monte Alban, we stopped at a Mescal factory, just out of town. It was interesting to see how they made it from roasted agave.

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Of course we had to sample the product. Unlike most liquor, the newer stuff, made from wild agave, was more expensive than the aged ones, most likely because they are made from cultivated agave.

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Then it was on to see the Tule tree. Said to be 1600 years old, its circumference is immense, at least 50 feet or so.

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We stopped for a late lunch at favorite buffet that Luis knew. They had all four different moles, as well as a huge assortment of other meats, fish, vegetables etc.

Finally we ended the day by going to a weaving "factory." It was very much a family run business, and although they sell some of their handwoven rugs right there, they sell more at the Santa Fe Indian Market during the summer. We wouldn't see them there, but Santa Fe was going to be our destination in a few weeks.

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It was a long day, but I couldn't resist taking a shot of these kids on the way back to our hotel.

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Posted by jonshapiro 08:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged landscapes mountains people food tourist_sites Comments (5)

Mexico and New Mexico

This winter was different. Instead of our usual travels we decided to go closer to home in consideration of a possible move from upstate New York. The Mexican portion of the trip was the only "abroad" section and was really a chance to have a couple of weeks of warm weather before driving across country to Santa Fe. We had visited both of these places many years ago.

In Mexico we spent all of our time either in Oaxaca or along the Oaxacan coast in the small town of Zipolite. We went on this trip with our friends Debbie and Bill, and stayed in what had been an ancient monastery close to the center of town. Our room, on the second story, faced an inner courtyard where we had breakfast everyday. Oaxaca did not disappoint. Although there are obviously tourists it is not overrun by them, and manages to retain its distinctly Mexican and indigenous feel. The Zocolo is remains the center of life in this mid sized city, and many of the colonial buildings are still standing. It is quite lively during the day as well as the evening, with Mexican families taking a paseo or young people just hanging out. There are shops and restaurants lining the nearby streets.

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The pace of life is relatively slow, and though the province of Oaxaca is one of the poorest in Mexico, it doesn't feel that way in the center of town. The poor live on the outskirts and in the rural areas. The city spreads out in a wide valley between two mountain ranges, with the Pacific on one side and the Atlantic on the other.

Most days we spent wandering around the streets, and exploring.

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We went to the nearby market, although we were told there was an even larger one about a mile away.

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We checked out the main catedral, and on one day they were filming a quinceanera.

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Oaxaca is said to have the best food in Mexico, and with four different kinds of moles, great seafood and beer, and inexpensive prices, I would have to concur. So when we weren't walking, we were eating.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:34 Archived in Mexico Tagged churches people food air_travel buildings_postcards cities_postcards Comments (1)

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