Photos: Monte Alban and Children by a Church Door, Oaxaca Mexico

 
I went to Mexico back in September, and I posted a few blog items about it (the pyramid in Cholula, traveler safety in Puebla and Oaxaca, etc.) but I didn’t focus much on Monte Alban.
 
I took this picture from atop another pyramid structure, across from these other ruins at the Monte Alban site in Oaxaca. We had a magnificent day weather-wise, as you can see from the mountains in the background. Monte Alban is a very special place, and a Unesco World Heritage site.
 
If you go to my Shutterfly site, I have a page dedicated to the truly incredible stuff I saw while I was in Oaxaca. http://cdeminskiphotos.shutterfly.com/oaxaca
 
Towards the bottom, on the right hand side of my shutterfly page, I have 18 photographs in a scrolling slide show with images of Monte Alban, including some artifacts found in the tombs there that are now on display in the Santo Domingo museum in the city of Oaxaca. One of the most impressive artifacts from Tomb 7, which was the largest cache of items found in any single tomb on the site, was a turquoise encrusted skull (also in the slide show).
 
But no matter how many ancient relics I see, it’s always the people that really make the whole experience come alive.
 
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The largest pyramid in the world: Cholula Mexico

While I was in Puebla, Mexico, I decided to take a day trip to San Pedro Cholula, a village about a 15 minute cab ride away from Puebla. Puebla is the 4th largest city in Mexico with millions of inhabitants, while Cholula is a small town with an ancient history.

I wanted to visit Cholula for it’s archeological site, a pyramid. The largest pyramid in the world, in fact. And the pyramid is certainly there, but the thing is – most of it is covered by dirt and looks like a hill.

Believe it or not, this is the largest pyramid in the world.

According to Wikipedia:

The temple-pyramid complex was built in four stages, starting from the 3rd century BCE through the 9th century CE, and was dedicated to the deity Quetzalcoatl. It has a base of 450 by 450 metres (1,480 by 1,480 ft) and a height of 66 m (217 ft). According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is in fact the largest pyramid as well as the largest monument ever constructed anywhere in the world, with a total volume estimated at over 4.45 million cubic meters, even larger than that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt which is about 2.5 million cubic meters.

Centuries later, a Catholic church was built at the very top of the “hill” (the top of the pyramid). So, you see the pyramid structure at the bottom of the hill (see pic above), but then, you look waaaayyyy up to the top of the hill and you see a bright yellow church.

A view of the church from the bottom of the pyramid

 Again, from Wikipedia:

This is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Church of Our Lady of Remedies), also known as the Santuario de la Virgen de los Remedios (Sanctuary of the Virgin of Remedies), which was built by the Spanish in colonial times (1594) on top of the prehispanic temple. The church is a major Catholic pilgrimage destination, and the site is also used for the celebration of indigenous rites.

You can climb to the top of the hill, or pyramid, by way of a slashed-rock walkway of near vertical incline. Many pilgrims made their way up the hill on the day I visited.

Two women make the pilgrimage up the steep "pyramid hill" - the town is laid out below

 Eventually, you come upon a vertical staircase, the last of your journey before you see the church:

Vertical staircase to heaven - just before you reach the church at the top of the pyramid

The church doesn’t look 400+ years old…

The bright and cheerful yellow paint on this church helps disguise it's age. It was built in 1594.

I wish I could show you what the inside of the church looks like, but it is not permitted. No photographs can be taken inside the church. But the thing that made an impression on me inside this church was the incredible smell. There were dozens upon dozens of live flower arrangements spread everywhere in the church, which is small inside. The entire alter was covered with them and it was lovely. Mexican pilgrims would enter the church, sit in the pews for a few minutes, make a small donation and leave.  I watched in fascination as wave after wave of people came and went. There were no services, and everyone came in and prayed silently.

When I wandered back out of the church, I couldn’t help but take pictures of the town of Cholula laid out in front of me, even though it was a foggy day.

The town of Cholula draped in fog

At the center of the town, is another fortress like structure, which is actually a convent.  It was built in 1549. Of course I wandered down into the center of town to take more photographs of this impressive structure.

Side view of the conventCourtyard of the convent

 

Courtyard of the convent

 
And while I am not a Catholic, I wound up taking one of the most memorable photos of my trip in this courtyard. A nun had come out of the convent, and had set up an umbrella with baskets of things to sell because there was a fair going on in Cholula on the day I visited (which is different story for another time.)
 
Here is my photo:

Nun in Cholula

 
 After having visited the pyramid and the church at the top of the pyramid, I got a sense of Cholula’s ancient past. But it seemed just that – the past. But when I came down into the town center to this convent and saw this nun, suddenly the past and the present had merged together and became one.
 
This woman’s life may not be all that different from her counterparts that lived in Cholula hundreds of years ago. How amazing it is, to find yourself in a place, alone with the past and the present (she and I were the only people in the convent’s courtyard when I took this photo) and to simply be there to observe it.
 
There are so many things about Mexico that I experienced that are nearly indescribable. This moment was one of those.
 
And moments like these are treasures, epiphanies and life lessons about the humanity in us all.

Candid comments on traveler safety in Puebla and Oaxaca Mexico

When I told friends that I was going to Mexico on vacation, most of them said Oh No! or It’s too dangerous for Americans! or The US State Department has warnings about travel to Mexico!

Everyone I spoke to also thought I was completely nuts for travelling alone. Solo. By myself. Me, myself and I.

But let it be said: I am a New Yorker. If you live or work in New York City, you’ve experienced the highs and lows of what human beings have to offer. Most NYers have street sense – and I’d like to think I have some.

So.

I spent 8 days in Puebla and Oaxaca Mexico by myself, with a minimal knowledge of Spanish. A woman all alone in the great big country of Mexico. And guess what happened to me? Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Not only did I meet nice and helpful people, I wandered around churches and parks, flea markets and mercados, the zocalos at night, restaurants, and shops. I took taxi’s to small villages – BY MYSELF.

I went to the huge Pueblan bus station, asked for a ticket in Spanish, found the right gate, and took a 4 and a half hour bus ride to Oaxaca BY MYSELF. (The ADO GL bus is phenomenal, extremely comfortable, has 2 bathrooms – one for men, one for women – and offers movies and a beverage service, for the not-so-back-breaking price of about $35 bucks USD).

I spoke to people on the street, asked directions in the worst imaginable broken Spanish, and ate what the locals eat in the places where the locals eat. I took out my camera whenever I fancied, and took candid shots of people everywhere. I used cash everywhere I went.

Never, EVER did I feel in danger.

Not even when I went to the huge, somewhat dark and close-quartered mercado in the city of Oaxaca – when the staff of my hotel told me not to go because they thought it was not safe for tourists! I walked through the mercado, bought a cookie and a glass of juice, smiled at some of the old ladies selling fried crickets, and walked around at ease.

The only precaution I took while in Mexico was that I did not drink the local water. I drank only bottled water,  used it to brush my teeth, and all of the drinks I ordered were without ice. But, I ate soup at least a half dozen times, I ate green salads (to the horror of some who warned me not to), and I ate street food. I ate candy bars made of pepitas and honey. I never got sick. I never had a stomach ache. I never had any digestive trouble of any kind.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every place in Mexico is safe. I imagine it’s not. Everyone talks about “the trouble near the border”. It’s as if someone from New York would feel badly if they heard there were riots in Chicago. We wouldn’t like to hear that, we wouldn’t want it to happen, but it wouldn’t be something that would affect us directly while walking down the streets in New York. So it is in Puebla and Oaxaca, it is not touched by the troubles at the border.

So if you have a sense of adventure…if you want to experience the richness of Mexican culture, cuisine, and heritage, then plan a trip to Puebla or Oaxaca and leave your fears at home.

Also – a smile is free, needs no translation and is always well received!

Photos from Puebla and Oaxaca Mexico!

Photos of my trip to Mexico are now up for viewing on my site: http://cdeminskiphotos.shutterfly.com

The first page is Faces of Mexico, which is an homage to the people of Puebla and San Pedro Cholula, the first two stops on my trip to Southern Mexico.  The people I saw in Mexico really inspired me, their faces were so expressive and wonderful.

Man taking a rest on a bench near the Puebla Zocalo

My hope was to capture images of people going about their daily lives, and I took a lot of photos of people buying and selling things, sitting at rest, making food, praying in church, and just doing what they normally do. I especially treasure some of the photos I got of parents and children, because I really observed a lot of tenderness and care of children while I was in Mexico.

Little girl held by her father at an open air market in Puebla

I will write other posts about Puebla, because I kept a travel journal while I was away and I want to share more of my observations from the trip.

The second page is dedicated to my visit to the state of Oaxaca. Oaxaca is a state filled with contradictions. One the one hand you will see crushing poverty, as it is one of the poorest states in Mexico, and yet you will also see a tremendous amount of culture and artistry everywhere you go in Oaxaca.

One face of poverty in Oaxaca

Oaxaca is home to several archeological sites and I am thrilled to say I was able to visit Monte Alban, which is a Unesco World Heritage site. It is no wonder why, once you have been there. On the bottom of the Oaxaca photo page I posted a film strip of 13 photos from either the Monte Alban site directly, or some of the artifacts from Monte Alban which are housed in a museum of culture, which is attached to the church of Santo Domingo de Guzman in the city of Oaxaca.

The wonder of Monte Alban in the Mexican state of Oaxaca

In addition to Monte Alban, I also toured the place where Dona Rosa’s family makes black pottery in the Oaxacan countryside, and I visited a family of wood carvers on that trip as well. The amazing craftspeople that I met are documented on my Oaxaca page too.

Dona Rosa's Black Pottery Shop - Oaxacan countryside

I hope you will take a look at the nearly 100 photos I have posted on those two pages – with more to come! I took nearly 600 photos on my trip, and I know there is so much more to share about these amazing places in Mexico.

Please enjoy!

Winging it down Mexico Way

Well friends, I’m off.  I’m headed to Southern Mexico, to do some writing, relaxing and exploring. When I return I’ll be posting pictures and stories of my trip into the Spanish Colonial past of our friends and neighbors to the south!

Viva Mexico!