I Moved To Oaxaca

Monday, September 13, 2004

I keep meaning to go out to the new Chicken Place, down near the river, but somehow Sunday rolls around and it doesn't work out. For instance, this Sunday for a change we took our Sunday Drive into the southern arm of the Oaxaca valley, toward a little town called Santa Maria A-something. One of my maps shows a little blue pyramid next to it. The drive was nice, and on a piece of highway we haven't yet driven on -- the road to Puerto Escondido. On the map it looks even more twisty through the mountains than Hwy 175, which is why I've avoided it so far. But we were strictly on the flats this trip.

We pulled into the center of town, just off the highway, intending to ask about "las ruinas" to whoever was around the palacio municipal, but there must've been twenty or thirty guys in the plaza! We drove around it and headed back to the highway. We didn't go too far, though, before stopping and giving ourselves a pep-talk, and with courage restored, we drove back into Santa Maria determined to suck it up and ask someone in the crowd about any possible ruins.

Only this time there were closer to fifty campesinos in the plaza, and then we realized, it must be the town meeting. We didn't want to interrupt, so we drove out -- at least this time our tails were held high. G saw a well-dressed guy walking in the street in the direction of the plaza and asked him about the ruins. He answered too fast for G to catch, but I understood him to give us directions to the caves in San Sebastian, a big attraction listed in the guidebooks. Not quite what we wanted, so we thanked him and drove off toward our second target destination: an unnamed map marker between the towns of Santiago Apostol and San Pedro Huixtepec. [update: our fellow diners in this post were from S.P. Huixtepec, and were astounded that we not only knew where it was but had been there!]

Well, San Pedro was easy enough to find, as it too is on the highway, and it looked easy enough to get to Santiago Apostol, as there appeared to be only one road to it, but what none of the maps showed was the maze of streets in and around San Pedro leading to homes and fields. We cruised through town a couple of times, not finding our way, then asked an old guy who spoke English for directions. He told us there weren't any ruins, but the church in Santiago Apostol had some carved stones in the foundation. He gave us directions, though the little town of Santa Ines, and we were off.

I don't think we quite got his instructions right, but we did finally (after asking again) find the road out of town and to Santa Ines, a dirt road but in good repair, and busy with horse and donkey-carts going to and from the fields. Quite a bit of traffic for a Sunday! We reached Santa Ines -- Santa Ines Yatzeche in full -- and cruised through that town, too. We weren't exactly sure which way to go to continue on to Santiago Apostol; most of the roads were dirt and drifted around in random directions. We found the center of town, with the plaza, the mercado, and the church when I spied out of the corner of my eye a big stone outside the church. We pulled over and took a look. It was carved with some guy kneeling down, in profile, with a big headdress and other stuff we couldn't quite make out. Unlike the sweet little plaza in Yucuita, this plaza was pretty run down and only had the one carved stone.

[Update: anonymous commenter Crescencio, who is from Santiago Apostol, says "I lived not to far away from that church that was closed at that time, and I don't know if you know the name of that town with the carved stone, but it's name is San Lucas, it had population once upon a time but some desease killed every body..." Wow! Thank you for the update, Crescencio!]

While I tried photographing the stone in the overhead light, Greg took a walk around the pretty plain church to see if he could spot more stones. He did, but of a different kind: behind the modern church, on a little rise, were the ruins of a much older church, looking like they'd tumbled down in a quake. We clambered through the ruins, took some photos, admired the view of the valley and the Rio Atoyac from the bluff, then got back in the car and tried to find our way to Santiago Apostol and the promise of more carved stones.

We did find our way to the correct dirt road, and it was a short ride before we pulled into S.A. and parked outside the church plaza. What a church! The facade was painted three or four colors, with banners and a big Jesus on top like a birthday cake candle. The church was closed, but an old guy came out to talk with us: he and the other men in town were getting ready to eat lunch after prepping for a calenda, or parade, scheduled for sometime that afternoon. Everybody was happy for us to take photos, and I could hear "gringo!" and "photografia!" every so often as I snapped away at the flower- and saint-decorated baskets the ladies would carry in the parade. He invited us to stay, but since "en la tarde" could have meant anything from "right after lunch" to anytime before dark, and we didn't want to crash lunch, we regretfully begged off.

Oh, and no carved stones, just an old brick oven in front of the church. So on to the next town, Ocotlan, where we'd turn off the dirt road and get back on the paved highway back to Oax-town. Well, we were surprised at how pretty the church in Ocotlan was, so we got out to take a look. The inside was just as beautiful as the outside, and reminded me even more of a cake, only this one looked like a fancy wedding cake. Yummy! And next to the church, on the plaza, we found a little gallery completely covered, walls and ceiling, with a beautiful mural depicting Ocotlan-regional trades. Marvellous!

Back in the car. Wait, what's this? We passed a signed turnoff to one of the many artisan villages in the area, Santo Tomas Jalieza. Only this signed turnoff also had a big blue pyramid sign! We took the turn and drove into the center of town. Now, none of my maps or books mention anything about ruins around Santo Tomas, so I had no idea why the sign would be there, but again, there were carved stones -- two this time -- in the plaza. One, badly worn, had a guy's face with a headdress. The other had some symbols we couldn't quite recognize, and a very recognizable jaguar head in profile. Cool. We asked about ruins and were told, nope, but there's a "tourist attraction" five minutes up the road. Hmm. We gave it a try, but didn't find anything other than dirt fields untouched by car tires, so we gave up and headed back home. Maybe the tourist office knows something.

Oh! But back to Chicken Place. By the time we got home it was 4 o'clock and we were starving for lunch, but as it's almost Independence Day and the feria is back in the Llano, we headed across the street to the park for tacos, tacos from the guy who remembered us from Guelaguetza back in July. I'm sorry, Chicken Place! Maybe next week.


  • Hi! I'm Glad you had a good time in Satiago Apostol, I'm from that Pueblo (town) I don't know if you stay long enough to try the Chapulines (grasshopper looking insects) oh boy! they are so good
    any ways my name is Cresencio and I lived not to far away from that church that was closed at that time, and I don't know if you know the name of that town with the carved stone, but it's name is San Lucas,
    it had population once upon a time but some desease killed every body
    any ways, I got to go.
    it was nice to read your post about my home town,
    by the way I live in Oregon now and I'm planing to go back and eat more chapulines mmmmmmmmmhhhh.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:07 PM  

  • Damn, son...that pueblo sounds like fun!
    You have to give me the direccion to go there...by the way you were expressing your self, i can tell that Santiago Apostol has a breathtaking view>>>

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:30 PM  

  • Crescencio: un mil gracias for the info on San Lucas. And yes, I've tried chapulines. My favorite way is on a tortilla with a little guacamole. It is a perfect ballpark food and should be served at every Chapulines home game!

    Anonymous Too: Directions?! I'd drive to Ocotlan and turn east; you'll find it eventually. Or get to Ocotlan and hire a taxi to take you. They'll know the way!

    By Blogger Bones, at 6:04 AM  

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