Archive for the ‘Allison in Mexico’ Category


Allison: Quick Post in Chiapas

April 20, 2009
Thursday we left Oaxaca for Chiapas, a state closer to the Guatemalan border. Our trip began with a visit to Palenque, a pre-Columbian archaeological site. After visiting the site we took our bus to Agua Azul to swim in the natural waterfalls. It was the most beautiful site we have seen on our trip so far! The falls never ended, they just terraced down the mountainside and were wonderful for swimming!


Allison: Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan

April 1, 2009

This past Friday our Mexican instructor, Daniel Lopez, took our group on a 12 hour day trip to the Mixteca Region of Oaxaca. Mixteca is about 100 miles north of Oaxaca City and is known for its churches from the XVI c. built by the Dominicans following the Gothic tradition of construction.

The first site we visited was Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan. It sits upon a hill in a small village in the countryside. The church is currently under construction, therefore we needed a guide to lead us through the scaffolding and plastic tarps. However, the construction was not in the least a distraction. The interior vaults were beautiful and everything looked fresh from the current restoration project.

This photo was taken facing the church entrance. You can see light coming from above behind the choir loft. The church was long, narrow and tall. Being built upon a hill in the countryside, so much light was let in through the few windows and doors. It was 10:00 in the morning and the entire nave was lit up so beautifully. Yanhuitlan is one of very few XVI century gothic style churches in the Americas.

To the left is a view from the base of the altarpiece in the front of the church. It is beautifully crafted and stands out with great contrast to the creamy white walls of the interior. Statues and paintings towered from floor to ceiling on the golden altarpiece.

We were lucky enough to go behind the altarpiece through a small side door hidden in the structure. behind they were making minor repairs to the structure holding up the decorated front.
We also visited two other churches of the Mixteca Region. They are just as wonderful as Yanhuitlan… so check back for these posts!

Allison: At School

March 29, 2009
This is our school, “Instituto Cultural” in Oaxaca City. It is a language school for students and visitors to take Spanish classes. Fortunately, we also have our studio here as well. So we spend more time here than we like to.
Our spanish class is taught in this room. The group of 19 students from the UofM are divided into four levels according to our spanish skills. I bet you can guess which level I am in… Lessons are taught only in Spanish by teachers from the Cultural Institute, which made it very difficult to catch on to.

We play games often – teléfono caliente (‘hot potato’ with a cell phone), Spanish family feud, pictionary, charades, and sometimes we do role playing (which can be quite dramatic at times).

Our studio is in a gated area where nobody else is allowed. We have our own building with drafting tables, bathrooms, a patio and hammocks. It is a comfortable area big enough for all 19 of us, so we couldn’t ask for more!

Below is a photo of our instructors Daniel Lopez (Mexican architect) and Lance LaVine (U of M professor) at studio having fun with Daniel’s dog, Chufa. Both of them are fantastic instructors and maintain a good balance for the class. Lance likes to tear our projects apart (literally) and Daniel seems to like everything we do – he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.


Allison: Hiking Day 3

March 17, 2009
We left the village of Latuvi at 9:00 Sunday morning. We had to hike 8 miles to the last city to catch our bus at 4:00, so the earlier we left the better our chances getting back to Oaxaca City. Busses only pass through these cities twice a day – once in the morning and once in the afternoon. What we found too is the busses are not exactly busses, but vans. So seating is limited and so is standing space.

The last hike was the most beautiful of the three day trip. Clear blue skies, moss hanging from trees, enjoying the quiet. We stopped for a quick lunch and to switch our tour guides. A little later, we stopped along a creek to relax, have a snack and cool off in the afternoon. The water looked inviting, but was way too cold to take a dip. Well, that was for everyone except for Jonathan. I don’t know how or why he did it, but he swam in water that couldn’t have been warmer than 55 degrees. He didn’t last more than 3 minutes, not even enough time to get a picture.

When we arrived in the last village, we had a wonderful lunch and laid down in the grass for a siesta. We finished our hike at 2:00 and had a couple hours to ourselves. We found a beautiful church and were unable to go inside – as an alternative we decided to climb the bell tower (as if we hadn’t had enough climbing yet.) Our bus arrived a little after 4:00 and we had another adventurous ride through the mountains back to Oaxaca City. The ride was bumpy, hot and most of us were nauseous. After two hours, we were set free on the street side in Oaxaca City in our smelly clothes and large backpacks. Two things were on our minds: food and shower.


Allison: Day 2

March 14, 2009

img_1986We were off to a later start on the second day of our adventure. It took until about 11:00 in the morning for our bodies to completely thaw from the cold night. Although we had a fireplace in our cabin it did manage to burn out during the night. And when you’re sleeping in an adobe cabin with no heat source in the mountains it begins to feel a little like Minnesota. The temperature reached about 35 degrees Fahrenheit overnight.

Around noon we left for the adventure that would be much longer than the one previous. We covered a distance of 10 miles to the next city—Latuvi. This walk was long and steady with fewer intense climbs. By this time we were used to the altitude change so our breathing was a little more calm and we all felt more comfortable on the hike.

We traveled with a group of 8 on this hike. Turns out it was a perfect number, we all were able to keep up with our tour guide (and sometimes had to wait for him or her). Its amazing how these guides can find their way through the mountains. What a job! What we found interesting was the guides make 150 pesos for guiding us through the countryside. This is exactly $10 (dollars) for the 5+ hour hike we embarked on. Not too much—and you really begin to understand the issues with poverty in Mexico.



Allison: Mountain Hiking

March 9, 2009

Our hiking trip began at 8:00 Friday morning. We walked across Oaxaca City to a bus station where we would soon depart for our 3 day excursion. Backpacks, camping gear, and nausea pills in hand, we boarded the school-bus-like vehicle for a long, winding ride to a small village in the mountains north of Oaxaca. Turns out Dramamine works really well. We fell right asleep and were barely conscious for the 2 hour ride through the mountains!

We arrived in the village of Coajimoloyas—population around 1,000. There was hardly anyone around: A few goats, some stray dogs and the occasional donkey. It was spread out along the mountain side and was quite beautiful. Our excursion began at noon with a 8km hike (about 5 mile). We went up, down, around and through the mountain terrain around Coajimoloyas. Of the three days, this hike was the most exciting.

This first hike was also the most technical—we climbed through holes in an enormous rock, up the side of a cliff, and down steep inclines. It felt more like a rock climbing adventure than an easy  hike.During mid-afternoon it got very hot. Being up in the mountains meant there were no clouds to block the sun. We had clear blue sky—bluer than we could ever imagine—above us at all times. Luckily, most of our hike was among tall pine trees that blocked the sun.

By the end of the day we were quite exhausted. The moment we took off our packs we laid down to rest. A brief rest turned into a 2 hour nap and we were all sleeping like babies.We saw too many amazing things, it would be impossible to share. Plants, animals, geography – we were all breathless (and not just from climbing a mountain all day).


Allison: Tour Day

February 24, 2009

Since the trip to Monte Alban wasn’t enough excitement for one weekend we set off with the rest of our group to tour the area surrounding Oaxaca City. We left at 10:00 in two vans heading out to the countryside…

The first site was the Tule Tree found in Santa Maria el Tule 12 kms from Oaxaca city. This cypress tree is approximately 2000 years old, 40 meters high and 42 meters (140 ft) in circumference. We were sad to see it fenced off, bet it would have looked amazing in a natural setting.

We stopped next at Teotitlan to visit a family of rug makers. It is a craft they have been carrying down through generations. These are some of the finest rugs in the Oaxacan Valley. All the wool is natural, hand spun and dyed from natural materials. They used plants, bugs, powder from pollen, lime and seeds found around the area for producing dyes

Another short bus ride and we arrived at Mitla, an archeological site (not nearly as stunning as Monte Alban) but with beautiful stone carving and detailing. Although the structures themselves were not very intriguing, we found some great jewelry stands nearby and bargained for a few pieces for ourselves.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant next to a Mezcal Factory. Mezcal is a Mexican liquor which is similar to Tequila, however differs in that it is made from the green agave cactus instead of the blue used for Tequila. First the cacti were baked in a fire for 2 or 3 weeks brought in to the barn to be ground up by a mule wheeling a large stone over the large pine cone-shaped plants. Next the grounds were set in large barrels to begin the fermentation process. It was then distilled and collected in clay pots to be taken indoors and bottled.

Last stop: a petrified waterfall and natural mineral spring on the mountain side. The drive up the mountain was unbelievable. Our van driver gave us quite the ride driving fast around the curves and along cliffs of the mountain, but he knew what he was doing… I think. In any case, we saw some stunning views from the van into the valley and the crazy ride was worth it once we got there.

Sadly, my camera ran out of batteries after we arrived to the springs. These springs had formed natural pools of water perfect for taking a dip. It had been rumored among the group these were natural “hot” springs. But it was quite the opposite – these pools were very cold! But we swam in them anyway and had a fantastic time. This was by far, the highlight of our whole trip to Oaxaca so far.

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