In Tlaxiaco

28 Jul

It’s a bit lonely traveling where we don’t know people, and with limited opportunities for conversations with local folks. In language school we had a great time talking to Omar and the other teachers and the family we lived with about Oaxacan politics and culture, but now we’re tourists mainly interacting with waiters, hotel staff, and market vendors, some of whom have an inclination to share a few words, and some of whom clearly don’t.

oaxaca 2010 07 25 chalco-yosunua 005

Still, we do want to explore some of Oaxaca’s diverse natural and ethnic regions. So on Friday we paid $6 each to catch the collectivo (van) that runs from Oaxaca City for Tlaxiaco, a market town in the Mixtec highlands two and a half hours northwest. Our van wound its way through the high rutted hills, rising out of the Central Valley. The Mixtec people have lived in this region since long before the Spanish conquest. With the passage of centuries, the land has been exhausted by farming and logging. While some of the hillsides and valleys are still used to raise corn, on others the thin soil is barely covered with sparse grass. We passed many areas where the land has eroded into deeply rutted bare red soil, cut into mazes of ravines and gullies. The exhaustion of the soil, together with lack of government support for small farmers and the import of cheap corn from the U.S., is one of the reasons that so many Mixtec people have left the region for the U.S. or other parts of Mexico such as Baja California. Still, much of the land is still producing corn, beans, squash, and avocados and now that the rains have come, this part of Oaxaca has turned green. Giant sabino trees with their massive trunks, and groves of carrizal, looking like a cross between bamboo and corn, line the edges of the muddy streams that flow through valley fields.

Eventually we reached Tlaxiaco and carried our packs through the crowded, clanging commercial district to the central square, where we checked in Los Portales hotel, walked through the hotel’s restaurant in the graceful old patio, and finally settled into our room .

 oaxaca 2010 07 24 tlaxiaco 024

On Saturdays, Tlaxiaco hosts one of the largest tiangis (markets) in Oaxaca; it draws vendors from all over the Mixteca Alta (upland) region.  Standing on the hotel’s front steps Saturday morning, we saw dozens of vendors setting up their awnings on metal frames. Every stall had a specialty – traditional and modern clothing; CDs and DVDs, often pirated; tacos filled with fried meat, cilantro, and salsa; plastic cups with chunks of pineapple, papaya, and melon; hardware, everything from hammers to plumbing supplies to hand-made wooden saddles; fireworks; books and magazines; and lots and lots of produce. There were piles of tomatoes, greenish yellow mangoes, little mountain peaches and apples, squash blossoms and leaves to make into soup, lilies, all kinds of dried beans, gladioli, piles of sweet bananas, bags of limes, wild orange mushrooms, chrysanthemums, black-skinned avocados, bundles of sugar cane, and piles of dried plants labeled according to their medicinal qualities. We bought sweet pastries and coffee seasoned with sugar and cinnamon and chatted with the vendor who told us she’s trying to learn Mixtec so she can talk with more of her customers.

oaxaca 2010 07 28 J teposcolula huahuapan 035

Finally we walked forty minutes north from the noisy market to the town’s outskirts where we found green fields, wildflowers, and a little river running strong with the recent rains.


One Response to “In Tlaxiaco”

  1. J Vazquez May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    Great article about the Mixtec region! I have that same picture (or one close to it) of the Mixtec landscape 🙂
    If you’re interested in learning Low Mixtec (mixteco bajo) we have a great site, it’s it also shows pictures and videos of the mixtec dress and people. It also has articles about their culture. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed your site.

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