Oaxaca was always a city we were particularly looking forward to and it did not disappoint. It was simultaneously a sleepy quiet town and really vibrant with lots of life. It's pretty in an effortless way unlike many of it's colonial counterparts with a strong connection to it's diverse indigenous heritage.
Oaxaca, the state, is one of the poorest in Mexico thanks in no small part to a particularly oppressive colonialist past. But the city is filled with boutique stores, artisan beers and more mole than I knew what to do with (other than try and eat it all).
The centre of town is Templo de Santo Domingo an impressive cathedral which adjoins a massive complex that was once a monastery and was until recently an army barracks. The old monastery houses an impressive, albeit curated in Spanish, history museum. But what is most impressive is the Ethno-botanical gardens that it encloses.
Entry is only possible with a tour group and our guide was amazing. Everything in the garden was native to Oaxaca which is a particularly diverse region in terms of both climate and botany. It really was fascinating.
The Cochineal is a small insect that, when dried out and ground down produces a red dye that can colour both food and clothes and was originally farmed in Oaxaca by indigenous producers. When the Spaniards found out they did what they do best, enslaved the local population and exported massive amounts of dried insects to Spain.
At the time, it was the best red dye available and given it's a regal colour and the Pope's colour it became more valuable than the silver or gold they were forcing the indigenous population to dig up elsewhere in the country.
So we have the irony of the Mexican state being responsible for one of the world's most valuable commodity, being one of the poorest regions of Nueva España. This goes some way toward explaining such a rich and splendid church in such a poor place.
This is the sort of historical fact that our tour was full of. I'll spare you the rant about the hoard of American and Canadian tourists that joined us on the tour complete with their sense of entitlement coupled with a need to vocalise. Let's just say I was paying careful attention to which plants were poisonous.
There was a wedding in Templo de Santo Domingo one evening which was quite an affair. As they emerged all hell broke loose with a band, enormous puppet versions of the bride and groom, some dancers and a tone of fireworks. They danced down the street with much of the town in tow lead by a guy with a cow puppet on is head that let off a seemingly dangerous number of fireworks given the proximity to his head. One only needs to witness something like that to realise just how much of a nanny state Australia can be.
We spent a day out at the ruins of Monte Alban which was impressive but not quite as overwhelming as Teotihuacan, although pre-dating it. It was the pre-eminent Zapotec socio-political and economic centre for close to a thousand years.
We went to a range of different art galleries and museums - many of them impressively housed in former religious buildings. And we shopped. A lot. So much shopping that we had to send a box home which weighed double our initial estimation and means we should probably avoid eating for a week or two to try and close the budgetary hole it opened.
We also saw the world's biggest tortilla which is, naturally, now a mural with a history of Mexico housed in the town hall, Palacio de Gobierno.
As we had a week there, we also spent plenty of time in the city's numerous rooftop bars and restaurants, drinking Mescal and eating either fried chilli-crickets or yet another unique Mole blend.
It was the warmest weather we'd had in months. The week flew by; we could have easily spent much longer there. But we're getting towards the tail end of our trip now so we've got to keep moving.