Mexico 36, 19th May 2004

In the morning I chatted with the campsite owner (also owner of a textile factory, and a tequila distillery). I learned more about the strange workings of local politics in Mexico. I visited the Benito Juarez museum, which was interesting, I couldn't understand why it was free. I understood when I reached the main museum for my visits, the Regional Museum of Oaxaca, there was a sign. Today is museum day, free entry. Now that's a fine piece of local politics!

The museum was superb, the setting, a huge monastery, completed in the early 1600's, was amazing. This is a courtyard, one of several. In the background of this picture is the Church of Santo Domingo.

The whole monastery has been beautifully restored. And it's huge. I leaned out of one of the windows to take a picture of the central plaza, in the distance.

There is a corridor 150 metres long with rooms, mostly originally dormitories, leading off.

The museum recorded the story of Oaxaca state and it's peoples. There were also many artifacts from a tomb at nearby Monte Alban. Superb examples of jewelery in gold and amber and conch shell and turquoise and obsidian. The whole museum kept me occupied almost 4 hours.

In spite of all the above, and the fact that some of my friends love it, Oaxaca is not one of my favourite towns. It's too big, (about a quarter million inhabitants), it's too busy, there is too much traffic, there is nowhere to park. Although it does have a Sam's Club (owned by Wal-Mart, and similar to Wal-Mart), which for me does add to it's attractions!

In the morning I plan to visit the ruins at Monte Alban and this evening drove up there hoping to find somewhere to park for the night, but the gates were closed, so I dropped back down to a suburb of Oaxaca and parked under a street light near the village centre.

It was surprisingly quiet. No trucks without silencers roaring past at 5 am, not even cockerels crowing at 4.30.

Monte Alban was superb. I was about the first visitor of the day, at 8 am. This was the ancient Zapotec capital. What an amazing task they did, they leveled the top of a mountain and built a city 1000 feet over the valley floor, knowing that water had to be carried from the river far below and 4 km distant. At it's prime there were about 20,000 inhabitants, all supported by the peasants farming in the local valleys. Plus maybe tributes from conquered cities.

I think Monte Alban has to take the prize for the best all round views. It's superb. When I could drag myself away I headed off south along the 131 to Puerto Escondido. A long term resident at the trailer park - he's been there about 18 months - advised me against the route, he said it was full of pot holes. I'll drive carefully.

My first stop was the unfinished and earthquake damaged convent at Cuilpan.

I looked around inside, nice courtyard, and some interesting old frescos. I continued to Zaachila which was the last capital of the Zatopec empire. Most of the ruins have not been restored

but there are two old tombs there. Here's what the book says is an owl.

and this is the inside view. Note the figures on each side and at the back.

There's a market here tomorrow morning so I'll stay here. I made friends with a young man (I gave him some games after he helped with setting up my computer). He has a tiny 3 computer internet in the side of his Mum's shop, (he charges 7 pesos an hour) and asked if I could park where I was. He, and his mum, both said I'd be better on the street directly in front of their shop. Then he wouldn't let me pay for my internet. Today was free for me he said!

The market was OK I didn't buy much I didn't need much. I continued on towards Puerto Escondido. In one small town someone was selling CD's and playing them really loudly. I was intrigued with the power source for his CD player and amplifier. The wire then ran on the road surface over to his stall.

I saw more ploughing. I'm told I was probably wrong about the animals I saw before, they're not oxen but Brahma cattle, so I'll make no comment on the following, barring the fact they're obviously not horses or donkeys.

Now these guys look really determined. But did I mention donkeys?

Aren't they cute!

I turned off the road to go to San Sebastian de las Grutas. 8 miles down a road nearly, but not quite, as bad as the road to Punta Allen. Really pretty though with a small river bubbling away alongside. I went to the municipal offices to book a tour - you have to go with a guide, as the caves are not improved. There was no one there so I waited an hour, then a young man arrived and announced he would take me on a tour. Obviously word had got around that I was waiting. He bicycled down the road a couple of miles, I followed in the van, then parked, and we walked. About halfway through there was a huge whole in the floor, you could hear the river gurgling away far down below. Super, huge caves, seen by flashlight. Worth the detour.

I returned to the municipal offices to park for the night, again I asked someone, they suggested I move slightly, otherwise OK. It then came on to rain, and rain, and then rain some more. Plus point is it will make the drive back prettier with more water in the river. Minus point is I don't think I'll make it down that narrow dirt road. Even if I do I doubt I'll make it over the bridge where I turned off the main road, when I came there was a pool about a foot deep on top of the bridge. I'll wait until it all dries out a bit. I might be here a while. I've got provisions for a week and plenty of time to spare.

Best regards

David Barker

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