At the end of our second week of Spanish we decided we would spend the weekend touring the local towns and seeing the sights that we had intended to do last week, but couldn't because I was sick. We booked ourselves onto a tour with a local company who supposedly ran tours in both english and spanish except unfortunately for us, we were the only people who spoke english and the guide used that as his opportunity to speak as little English as possible. While we have been learning Spanish for two weeks now, we certainly aren't at the level of comprehension for a full days tour. 

The first stop on our tour was in a nearby town to visit a tree. Not just any old tree though, this one is 2000 years old and is apparently the widest tree in the world. Its 58m wide, which is apparently roughly 28 people standing arm to arm around it. Pretty impressive for a tree! Next stop was a local textiles factory where they showed us how they weave rugs and other items. Again we were a bit frustrated as the guy at the factory asked whether anyone spoke English but when ourselves and another couple put up our hands we understood him enough that he said 'Oh well you can just practice your Spanish'. thanks buddy! Fortunately we visited a textile factory in Turkey a couple of years ago so we got the jist of what was going on. 

After that we headed to a local mezcaleria for a rundown on how the local tequila like spirit is made and enjoyed lots of free samples which made us pretty light headed since it was before lunch!

One of the main highlights of the day was a visit to Mitla, the second most important archaeological site in the state of Oaxaca and the most important in the Zapotec Culture. The name Mitla is derived from the Nahuatl name Mictlan which means the 'place of the dead' or the 'underworld' because they used to bury lots of their important members of the community there. A bit like the fancy pants retirement village of the day I think haha. The original Zapotec name has the more mellow meaning of 'place of rest'. The Spanish couldnt say Mictlan so they hispanisized it to Mitla. What makes Mitla unique is the elaborate and intricate mosaic designs that cover the site. They are made with small cut and polished stones and have been put in place without the use of mortar. Researchers believe that the site was constructed as a commercial center in 850 and was still being expanded when the Spaniards arrived and destroyed it. Good one Spaniards!
A really big, really old, tree
Time for a taster!
Inside the palace at Mitla
There are tombs under some of the buildings which are decorated with mosaics and which have stairs that descend from the main plaza area. One of the tombs has an entrance that is divided by a thick column. This column is popularly known as the "Columna de la Vida" (Column of Life). According to legend, you are  supposed to wrap your arms around the column, and the space remaining between the hands indicate the amount of life the you have left but unfortunately there was no fortune telling for us as they have fenced the column off.

The last stop on our tour was at Hierve el Agua, which is a set of
 rock formations that look like waterfalls. They have been created by fresh water springs, whose water is over-saturated with calcium carbonate and other minerals. As the water scurries over the cliffs, the excess minerals are deposited, basically the same way that stalactites are formed in caves. With their high mineral content the waters are reputed to have healing qualities and many locals and tourists alike come for a dip in the pools which have been formed at the top. The water is supposed to be thermal but its more refreshing than warm!

On Sunday we caught a local bus to the nearby town of Tlacolula. While we were waiting for the bus we managed to practice our Spanish with a friendly (and patient!) local for 15 or 20 minutes which was great. Tlacolula is a main commercial center in the area but its best known for its weekly open air market. The market is one of the oldest, largest and busiest in Oaxaca, mostly selling foodstuffs and other necessities for the many rural people which come into town on Sundays to shop and we had a good time wandering around people watching. We had hoped to buy some trinkets to bring home from the local artisans but nothing really grabbed us. 
The pools at the top of hierve el agua
We signed up for 3 more days of Spanish this week, and while Patty has returned to the States we have Manuel as our teacher again which is good, except there's no way hes letting us get away with forgetting anything this week since he was the one who taught us last week! After class on Monday we headed to visit Monte Alban. If Mitla was the main religious centre for the Zapotecs, this was the main political centre. Monte Alban sits on top of a local mountain about 9km out of the city and offers some stunning panoramas of the surrounding valley. Fortunately for us the sky was cloudy during our visit as the site is pretty open and exposed and I can imagine it would be scorching in Summer. Given its location, the number and size of the structures is pretty amazing and we spent a good couple of hours exploring the site before we headed back into town to the local food market to feed our grumbling tummys. 

On our final Tuesday night we decided we would venture to a local open air concert called Martes de Bruhas (Witches Tuesday). The concert runs every Tuesday during Lent and some of the most popular Mexican female artists perform for free each week. The guy at the hostel told us how we could catch a local 'collectivo' (kinda like a taxi but you pay per seat and squeeze in as many people as you can!) but on our way there we spotted a bus which seemed to be going in the same direction. After checking with the conductor that it went towards Martes de Bruhas we jumped on. Only problem was we thought the driver was going to tell us where to get off, but he didn't so by the time he realised we were still on the bus we were ages away from where we were supposed to be on a rather dark and lonely street! Fortunately a lovely local lady at the corner store hailed us a motor-taxi (basically a tuk-tuk) who delivered us safely to the gig. Lots of locals  were hanging out in the square, relaxing under the stars and listening to Ana Diaz who had a pretty cool voice. There were also lots of tamales for sale for those who were hungry and we sampled a couple of different ones. Tamales are kind of like mashed potatoe, except its maize, with different fillings. My favourite was a the 'raja' which is chicken with tomatoes, onions and garlic. Muy Bonita!

Next stop: San Cristobal de las Casas
The calcified waterfalls
My chickens bigger than your chicken!
Ty at Monte Alban

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