Oaxaca – A City of Vibrance, Color & Soul

Colonial walking streets of Oaxaca.

Cobblestone colonial walking streets of Oaxaca.

A band plays pops tunes in the Zocalo bandstand.

A band plays pops tunes.

Balloon vendor outside the Santo Domingo Cathedral.

Balloon vendor outside the


Instituto Eulogio Gillow 50th anniversary marching band.

A marching band shows up out of nowhere.

Oaxaca, Mexico Bright costumes on the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

Kids proudly show off brilliant

Mexican costumes.

Bright costumes on the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

Not a hair out of place.

Bright costumes on the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico Street vendor sells fruit at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

A street vendor strikes a deal on her fruit.

Pretty girl in a pretty dress at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico Instituto Eulogio Gillow schoolkids play

Schoolkids play McCartney's "Yesterday."

Schoolkids in the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

Happy teenagers.

Street vendor sells roses at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico. Chiclet kid at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico.

9-year-old Chiclet vendor

8-year-old Chiclet vendor Julia at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Julia has a priceless grin...

Little street vending kid at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico.

…but she has been taught it's

worth 50 pesos.

Etno-Bontanical Garden entrance, Santo Domingo Cathedral, Oaxaca., Mexico.

Etno-Bontanical Garden entrance.

Bird of Paradise flower, Etno-Bontanical Garden

Bird of Paradise.

Etno-Bontanical Garden, Oaxaca, Mexico Etno-Bontanical Garden, Oaxaca, Mexico

"Sunburned Tourist" tree.

"Monkey's Desperation"


"Air cactus."

Organ Pipe Cactus, Etno-Botanical Garden, Oaxaca, Mexico

Organ Pipe Cactus.

"Marriage Tree"

"Marriage" has nasty thorns and poisonous fruit.

Valentine's hearts in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Valentine's hearts show up all

over town.

Santo Domingo Cathedral wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico.

A wedding at the Santo Domingo


Santo Domingo Cathedral wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico. Santo Domingo Cathedral wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico. Santo Domingo Cathedral wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico.

The gracious bride invited the

onlookers into the church.

Young Chiclet seller gazes longingly at the wedding in the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico.

This little Chiclet-selling girl was transfixed.

Valentine's Day, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Oaxaca, Mexico (2)

Mid-February, 2012 - Oaxaca enchanted us.  We were visiting during the

week that includes my birthday, Valentine's Day and our anniversary, and

it was a special treat to be staying in a delightful little hotel in such a

spirited and radiant city.

The Zócalo is where it's at in this town, and every time we wandered over

there we found something -- or many things -- going on, especially in the

evenings.  A little orchestra was playing in the bandstand one night to an

appreciative audience.  They weren't the Berlin Philharmonic, and they

sounded much like any small town band, but they played with enthusiasm

and did all the old standard pops favorites that get the little kids around

the bandstand jigging and jumping and running.

A few steps away, the balloon

vendors were lined up, and behind

them the juggling clowns had their

audience in stitches.

Suddenly we heard the loud music of

a marching band in the distance.

They paraded right past, sweeping

us and everyone else up in their

wake.  The band in the bandstand

seemed to try to raise their volume a

little, but it was aural pandemonium

as the two bands played their

hearts out just 100 yards


Behind the marching band

came a dizzying array of

young kids in brilliant Mexican

costumes.  The girls had

primped for hours, getting

every hair and ribbon in

place, and even the teenage

boys got into it, with brilliant

satin shirts and classic

sombreros on their heads.

Meanwhile the band in the

bandstand kept on going, and the jugglers did their

thing, and the street vendors bumped through the

crowd selling their wares.  Fresh fruit snacks are a

popular item to sell, and across from us an old man

bought some munchies for himself and his wife.

A stunning young girl wandered towards us on the arm of her very

proud boyfriend.  I couldn't resist snapping a few photos of her,

which she enjoyed, and then I asked her what the parade was all

about.  She explained that it was the 50th anniversary of the

founding of her school, Instituto Eulogio Gillow.  There was a

stage set up and proud parents filled all the folding chairs and

stood in rows behind and around them.

Suddenly some kids got up on the

stage, the girls with recorders and the

boys with guitars.  The announcer said

they would play "Yesterday" by "John

Lennon" (apologies to Paul

McCartney).  Mark's ears perked right

up, since he is a Beatles fan from way

back, and we were treated to a

charming rendition of the song.

Just beyond the

circle of school


celebrations the

madness of the Zócalo continued.  The

juggling clowns had lost some of their

audience when the parade went by, but they

had won it back with their crazy antics.  The

outdoor sidewalk cafes surrounding the

square were filled with happy folks imbibing

and eating, and the band in the bandstand

forged ever onwards, slightly out of tune but

so very charming to watch.

The kids from the school milled around in

animated groups, waiting their turns on stage.  Once up there they danced, sang songs and made music, while the parents'

video cameras took it all in.  It was amazing to me that a group of young teenagers would be so excited to wear traditional

costumes, strut around, and follow the instructions of their teachers who hustled them into groups and lines and got them up on

stage at the appropriate moments.

The vendors seemed well used to all this action.  The Zócalo has stuff like this happening every night.  Sure, it was a

Saturday night, but the press of people, the cacophony of music and noise, and the sight of couples ambling hand in

hand, kids smooching under the trees and prim and proper waiters serving patrons at the more elegant restaurants

around the square were all just part of the scene.

Many of the street vendors had their kids in tow -- kind of.  The babies were strapped to

the moms' backs, alternately sleeping and looking around.  The older kids were on their

own -- but with a job to do selling items out of their baskets.  These ultra slick saleskids

are really well trained.  They sell boxes of Chiclets, candies, bobble toys and cigarettes.

More than one patron at a restaurant bought a cigarette from an eight-year-old kid, getting

a light from the kid as well.  Cigarettes are 10 pesos apiece (about 80 cents), and earlier

we had seen the moms buying the cigarette packs at the little convenience stores around

town.  No wholesale pricing there, but they mark up their product pretty darn well.

Money is what its all about with these kids.  A little brother

and sister stopped by our table as we sipped on a beer.

They were very cheeky and lots of fun.  The boy was 9 (I

couldn't quite catch his name) and his little sister Julia was

7.  They were absolutely insistent that we buy some of their

very grubby looking candy.  How long it had been dragged

around town in their basket and handled by their dirty

fingers I have no idea.  We snapped a few photos of them

and they instantly had their hands out.  "50

pesos!" ($4).  We laughed.  I put my camera up to

take another shot and Julia covered here face with

her hands.  I clicked anyways and she shoved her

hand at me again.  "50 pesos!"

I teased her and said that she had to pay me 100

pesos for talking to me.  Her little lopsided missing-toothed grin got even bigger and she

rolled her eyes in exasperation, laughing.  I don't know if any other gringo tourist ever had

ever challenged her like that before, and she was stumped to find a response.  "50 pesos!"

she said again, seriously, hand out.  We went back and forth like that for a while, giggling.  I

asked her when she was going to finish working in the Zócalo and go home to bed.  She

shrugged.  Things wind down around 9 pm, but she was a street urchin and was probably

used to staying out however long mom needed her to be selling Chiclets.

They hung at the edge of our table for a while, refusing to let go of a potential sale.  Mark

finally came up with the perfect compromise on the 50 peso issue.  He pushed the remains of our little dish of peanuts in Julia's

direction.  "Have some peanuts!" he said.  Like greased lightning, she leapt into action.  She grabbed a napkin, spread it out on

the table, scooped up every last peanut with her sticky fingers, snatched a wedge of lime off another dish and plopped it on the

peanuts, wrapped up the napkin, and shoved it in her basket.  In a flash she and her brother vanished into the night.

The Zócalo is the heart of the action at night, but all of Oaxaca's

historic district is wonderful by day too.  We wandered through the

Zócalo the next morning and it was perfectly neat and tidy without a

single trace of the mayhem that had gone on the night before.  The

stage was gone, the chairs for the audience had disappeared, the

entire square was completely swept, and just a few people milled

around with coffee cups in their hands.  But by nightfall the whole

thing came to life once again.  The stage was set up for a different

performance by a different group, chairs were set out for the

audience, and street vendors wandered through it all.

The Santo Domingo Cathedral has a beautiful botanical garden

behind it, and we decided to take a tour.  Mark loves photographing

flowers, and he got some wonderful shots.

English tours are two hours long and happen just a few

times a week while Spanish tours are an hour long every

hour every day.  We opted for a Spanish tour, but

because there was just one other gringo couple and an

Austrian who spoke fluent English (and Spanish and

French), the guide spoke to us all in English.  What a

lucky break for us.  When our tour finished there were 50

gringos waiting for the next tour which would be officially

in English.  I wondered how this huge group would

manage on the tiny garden paths.

The Oaxaca region is very dry, so most of the

gardens were desert types of plants.  The

botanists at the garden work hard to propagate the species, and

many of the plants they have are endangered.  Those plants have

their flowers and seed pods wrapped in gauze so they don't

accidentally get cross-pollinated and hybridize with something else.

The best part of the tour for us was the funny nicknames of some of

the plants.  The "Sunburned Gringo" tree has an outer layer of bark

that peels incessantly.

The "Monkey's Desperation" tree

looks like it would be a wonderful

tree for a monkey to climb.  It is tall with long limbs

spreading wide.  But the base is covered with hard

little thorns that would prevent even the hardiest

monkey from shimmying up.

The "Air cactus" is a "guest plant" (not a parasite or a

symbiotic plant).  It arrives in the air and settles on a

tree, getting all its nutrients from the air without ever

bothering its host except for sitting in its lap.

The "Organ Pipe Cactus" is familiar

to us from Arizona, and in this

garden it had been planted as

fencing along two paths.

The "Marriage Tree" is a nasty

looking thorny thing.  The needles

are razor sharp and plentiful, and it

produces poisonous fruit.

Everyone in our group got a good

chuckle out of that tree...

Speaking of love and marriage, we were in Oaxaca for

Valentine's Day, which is also our anniversary.  Heart decorations

were everywhere, and love was definitely in the air.

As we came around the side of the cathedral we noticed a group

had gathered in front of the church.  They were very well dressed

-- and there was a bride in the middle.  "Wow!"  I yelled, running

to get a good angle with my camera.  A wedding in the cathedral!!

OMG.  What a place to get married.  For all you future brides and

past brides, this was the wedding many of us dreamed of at one

time or another, complete with a frothy, frilly white dress and the

grandest, most gold-filled, most magnificent cathedral imaginable as a backdrop.

I ran around like a madwoman taking photos.  All the tourists on the plaza started

closing in on the church too.  Most of us were enthralled little girls, seeing our princess

dreams unfold in front of us.  Chiclet-selling girls, white haired heavyset women visiting

from foreign countries, and young girls on the eve of such an event themselves all

pressed towards the cathedral.

This was clearly a very wealthy family, and the father was the

image of pride as he shook hands with his guests around him.

The bride welcomed everyone warmly.  Her friends, all of them

hot babes in stiletto heels and tight, short, brightly colored

dresses, emerged from fancy cars and exchanged kisses with

her.  More than one was a young mom, walking up pushing a

stroller just to hand it off to an older lady waiting outside the

church, giving her instructions for how to keep the baby

entertained during the coming hours of celebration.

The music began and the group dwindled to just the wedding

party as the guests entered the cathedral.  The throng of

enchanted women tourists and vendors hung back just enough

to give them a little space.  All of a sudden the bride glanced

over her shoulder at all of us and waved us in.  She looked

straight at me and motioned for me to come into the cathedral.

"Me?" I pointed to myself incredulously.  She nodded

vigorously.  I stepped over the threshold and received a strong

handshake from her dad.  Holy Mackerel, I was in the middle of

a wedding at this cathedral, wearing shorts and a tourist hat.

The other tourists all filed in, many genuflecting as they entered,

and we filled the back half of the church.  How totally cool.  The

bride and her father made their way down this most splendid of

aisles and the service began.  I didn't feel right about staying too

long, so I snuck back out once the priest got going in earnest.

As I left I noticed one of the Chiclet-selling girls outside the

entrance of the cathedral looking in.  The invitation had been for

all of us to enter, but she had stayed back.  The longing in her

face was touching -- and heartbreaking.

I found Mark at the

far end of the plaza

sitting on a wall.  I

started talking a

mile a minute,

thrilled and amazed

by the whole scene.

He smiled and

listened patiently.

He just didn't get

into weddings like I

did.  The princess

thing is a little beyond him, although I tried my best to explain it.  He hadn't

really known how when you're a little girl wearing a full skirt you have to

spin around and watch it flare out.  He hadn't ever dreamed of being

Cinderella, parading across a grand room in an elegant dress, nor of being

Prince Charming for that matter.  But then, I've seen him ooh and aah over

muscle cars from the 1960's like they were the sexiest of pinup models.

How many old cars can you look at and get excited about?  Apparently, all

of them.  How many princess weddings can make a girl's heart soar?

Definitely all of them.

Oaxaca held us tightly in its clutches and we still had more to see, espeically the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban.

Find Oaxaca on Mexico Maps.