Wonders of Oaxaca: Hierve El Agua and Monte Alban

As you may have seen from my previous post, I spent last weekend in the beautiful state of Oaxaca, which is located in southern Mexico.

To begin, I traveled from QuerĂ©taro to Oaxaca on Thursday night. The trip took around 10 hours and two buses, but I have found that the most beautiful sights are not always the easiest to get to. That being said, they are always worth the trip. 😀

I arrived in Oaxaca on Friday morning and stopped by the hostel to drop off my luggage.

Hostel Don Nino was extremely clean and modern. For only 10 dollars per night, I was provided with clean water, hot showers, comfortable dorm beds, a cozy rooftop terrace, and full Mexican breakfast. Just perfect!
IMG_1856The hostel also arranges affordable tours, so I chose to take a tour of some Oaxacan sites that appeared both culturally interesting, and also slightly off the beaten path. My favorite! 😀

For the day, we had planned to see the following:

  1. El Árbol del Tule
  2. TeotitlĂĄn del Valle
  3. Mitla
  4. Hierve el Agua

El Árbol del Tule

Set in the town of Santa María del Tule, this tree is a Montezuma cypress, and the widest tree on record with a circumference around 140 feet. They estimate the age to be between 1,200 and 1,600 years old.
IMG_2026 IMG_2031 IMG_2030 It actually reminded me of Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas, and coincidentally they also gave it the nickname “Tree of Life” due to the various animal figures they have envisioned carved within her trunk. 😛
17900198091_0610ae37c8_z Pocahontas_by_Meecho

TeotitlĂĄn del Valle

This small pueblo, set at the base of the Sierra Juårez mountains, has a presence of indigenous Zapotec people, and is particularly well-known for their fine textiles.

What’s most impressive is their use of natural ingredients to dye the wool.

From flowers to herbs, and even the blood and droppings of a local beetle, you really feel like the final product is distinctly regional.
IMG_2039Later that weekend, I even saw one of those little beetle buggers that are used to produce those natural dyes. 😛
IMG_1854 As a result of their incorporation of nature, the earthy colors that are laboriously woven into traditional patterns are absolutely breathtaking. 😀

Here is a short clip of the process:

Mitla

Heading further south, we reached the Zapotec ruins of Milta.IMG_2143These ruins were built between 100 and 600 A.D. as a religious site, and resting place of powerful Zapotec rulers. What makes Mitla unique among all other Mesoamerican sites in Mexico is its architecture, and the elaborate geometric designs that cover the tombs and panels of the building. These mosaics are made with small, finely cut stones fit together without the use of mortar.IMG_2149IMG_2141That being said, the fate of Mitla is similar compared to that of other civilizations in Mexico. During the Spanish conquest, most pre-Columbian structures were destroyed, and replaced with a Catholic church that was built atop the remaining ruins.
IMG_2139IMG_2138

Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua is Spanish for “The Water Boils,” and this beautiful phenomena is the result of the natural springs that have been over-saturated with calcium carbonate, along with various other minerals. As a result, this mineralized water creates stalactites as it reaches the rock’s surface and creates a striking white appearance that resembles a cascading waterfall. 🙂IMG_2111IMG_2078The location of Hierve el Agua is quite rustic, set miles from civilization, and on top of two fifty meter cliffs overlooking a deep valley.IMG_2061Now these natural springs have collected into separate pools, and due to the mineral concentration, the water appears various shades of blue, turquoise, and even brown, plus they are reputed to have healing qualities as well. 🙂IMG_2100hierve el agua3Additionally, I felt that the petrified rocks resembled works by the Spanish architect, Antoni GaudĂ­.P1020441-blogIMG_2088IMG_2095Regardless, the overall impression is nothing short of spectacular! 😀hierve el agua IMG_2082It was the perfect atmosphere to take a dip and admire the gift of nature. 😀IMG_2106IMG_2119There were three other solo travelers on the tour with me, which made my experience much more enjoyable. 😀

The girls were from Spain, Mexico and Australia. This is Ale from Mexico. What a sweetheart! 😀IMG_2115

Mezcal

Like most tours, they wanted us to finish off the day feeling content, and in this case, a little giddy. 😛

Our last stop was a mezcal factory, which was one of over 300 factories in the region! Mezcal is the distillation of agave used to create a strong liquor that can be consumed in various proofs, and mixed with a variety of flavors. All tequila is esentially mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Tequila is produced in the state of Jalisco, in the town of Tequila, whereas mezcal is traditional to the region of Oaxaca.
IMG_2153 IMG_2155 IMG_2161After a brief lesson on fermentation, we were ready to get our buzz on with a few samples. 😛
IMG_2163Highlights included the berry and traditional mezcal. Very tasty! 😀
IMG_2164We finished off the tour around 7 PM. This eight hour tour was a mere 15 USD, which was extremely inexpensive considering the cost of transportation, and the convenience of visiting so many incredible sights in one day!

All the fresh air made me feel absolutely exhausted, and I had an incredible nights sleep at my hostel. 😀

Monte Alban

On Sunday morning, I left for the pre-Columbian ruins of Monte Alban.
IMG_2177I took a local bus to the ruins, which was about 30 minutes from the city of Oaxaca. The round-trip ticket cost only 4 USD. Not too shabby! 😀
IMG_2199I also appreciated how this was the first site I have been to that was wheelchair friendly. 🙂
IMG_2198Monte Alban was first occupied in 500 BC, and the site itself lies directly at the junction of three valleys. Monte Alban means “White Mountain,” and the ruins themselves were actually carved right out of the mountainside.IMG_2195 IMG_2180 IMG_2185At its peak, the Zapotec people of Monte Alban were the most powerful civilization in this region. It’s no wonder, when you consider the location of the site. They could probably spot enemies for miles!IMG_2189 IMG_2193The best part was how isolated the ruins felt. The landscape was barren, and it was peaceful to just sit upon a ledge overlooking the valley and hear nothing but the sound of cicadas buzzing in the backdrop. 🙂IMG_2186To wrap things up, I felt very fortunate to be able to experience the beauty and gift of nature while in Oaxaca over the weekend. I returned home to QuerĂ©taro to a few more gifts as well. 😀

Last Friday was Teachers’ Day in Mexico, and when I returned to school on Monday, I received many wonderful gifts from my students. Among the sweets and treats, the shining stars were these two gorgeous plants, a vibrant succulent and this wonderfully fragrant lavender plant. 
IMG_2220IMG_2216These gifts of nature were absolutely spectacular, and it was so thoughtful of my students. 🙂

I think it’s surprising how much the gift of nature can lift your spirit. After spending the weekend surrounded by nature in Oaxaca, I left feeling alive and inspired. 😀

For that reason, I’ve decided to keep these plants in the classroom to brighten up the ambiance. The kids said they would care for them like class pets, and hopefully adding a little greenery will keep the mood light and cheerful while we finish up the year. 🙂

Anyway, my favorite part of Oaxaca is still to come! Stay tuned for that in the next post. 😀 Until then.

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