Standing in front of my 6th grade English class in Orizaba, Mexico, I could feel my students’ urge to break free for 12 days of fun and freedom. Few places have a palpable energy of excitement to compete with that of a classroom full of students getting ready to escape for spring break.
As a matter of fact, I shared it. I had something special lined up for my vacation, too…a road trip across my adopted country.
The previous night, I’d purchased a bus ticket that would have me skidding through the doors of the terminal just as they were making the last call to board the bus to the city of Oaxaca. I had even brought my bags to school with me that morning.
Don’t get me wrong, I was crazy about my job and my students, but I wasn’t going to waste a moment of this vacation.
My final destination was the sunny beaches of the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, but with 12 days to get there, enjoy the beach and get back, I planned to do some exploring along the way.
My first stop was Oaxaca City, famous for its unique traditional foods, local indigenous handy crafts and the Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán. Not feeling any rush, I spent my first day exploring the city center, taking in the ornately carved cathedrals and art museums, and eating in little cafés making sure to ask for the most traditional dish on the menu.
The next day being Sunday, I asked the hotel attendant if there was a local market I could visit. The “tianguis” market, as it was called, was enormous…and didn’t disappoint.
Hand-woven wool tapestries stained with natural dyes…vibrantly-painted wall hangings depicting traditional Mexican scenes…homegrown organic fruits and vegetables—it was a feast for the eyes.
There are 16 different indigenous groups in the state of Oaxaca alone…and they all have their own language and culture. Many of the people at the market, both buying and selling, wore vibrant, colorful tribal clothing and spoke in their own distinct tongue.
Seeing and hearing the native people dressed in traditional clothes and speaking in their native languages made me curious to see the origins of these diverse tribes. So, the next day, I set out for Monte Albán, a nearby Zapotec ruin. This hallowed place is home to the ancestors of many of the native peoples in this area.
Monte Albán sits atop a hill overlooking the valley Oaxaca City lies in. As I toured the area, I experienced an eerie feeling standing in the ruins of an ancient civilization while at the same time looking over the vast expanse of a modern one.
It was a magical moment to look out over 2,500 years of history all while standing in one place. It made me want to stay in Oaxaca City for my entire vacation…but the beach was calling and there were many more treasures along the way I wanted to sample.
That’s the beauty of living somewhere like Mexico…there’s a new adventure waiting for you every time you step outside your door.
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