We hired a van with our tour guide, left Ian to his own devices, and headed out to explore. We stopped at one of the largest trees in the world, which was suitably fat. The gardeners had trimmed the other plants into a dilapidated collection of animals – a duck, a boy riding a bull, a kangaroo.
A dog sunned itself in the street.
We went to a tiny village that has the ruins of a Zapotec temple. I climbed down inside the tomb, which involved crawling along a tiny concrete passage with the weight of the temple above pressing down on you. It was stuffy and tiny and close, and we got tomb water in our shoes. The catholic church in the town was plonked right on top of the ruins of a Zapotec structure, geographic designs and heavy blocks underneath a towering old church.
I saw a lizard scurrying away dragging a fat caterpillar.
We drove up into the mountains, past staked-out or hobbled donkeys and fields of corn and cactus. Villagers farmed, herding goats or leading laden donkeys. At the top of the mountain we found Hierve de Agua (?), a petrified waterfall. The springs that feed the falls are tiny, and the water is full of calcium, so over the years the calcium has cascaded down the side of the mountain with the slow-dripping water, creating this frozen white mass of a waterfall. At the top are pools you can swim in. So we did. It was amazing, floating in a blue pool on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.
We ate a traditional Oaxacan pizza for lunch at a stall by the falls. A very old, very fat little lady cooked the pizza on a wood-fire stove, and a skinny little dog nosed about under the table. It got half my pizza.
Then we went to see a traditional Zapotec weaver, who still uses all-natural dyes in his weaving. He showed us how he gets each colour – the bright red all our chemical colours are derived from comes from a bug that lives on a type of cactus. He put one in Brenda’s hand and squashed it, and a pool of violently red liquid gushed out.
Finally, we visited a mescal distillery – a family operation that still makes everything on the premises. They use the heart of a type of agave (a different type than tequila). It’s chopped up and then cooked in a big hangi – buried underground for up to a week with hot rocks and a fire. Then they use a donkey pushing a huge stone wheel to smash the cooked hearts up, and the pulp is fermented before it’s distilled. They make a number of flavours of liqueurs as well as straight mescal (the aged stuff is smoky like whisky but burns like tequila – delicious!), and we may have tried one or twenty.
At dinner, over two for one margaritas that were all of $2.25 each, a photographer approached us and asked for help – he’d been traveling Mexico taking photos for five years, and wanted us to tell him which of his photos we each liked best, to help him choose pieces for his next exhibition. His pictures were gorgeous, and after we were done Brenda and I each bought a print off him for a measly donation of $50 (five NZ bucks). Ian spent ten minutes telling the guy that he liked the picture of a cat because he likes cats. So much. So very much.
“I bought a postcard when I was here fifteen years ago. I should have brought it to show you! Oh, you’d have liked it so much.”