Botanical and Cultural Adventures

Botanical and Cultural Adventures

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Oaxaca, Oaxaca (Forget New York, New York)

Santo Domingo
People seem to love the idea of New York, New York. There is a lot to do and it is a worldly city...but it has nothing on Oaxaca, Oaxaca!

It is hard to describe the wide range of interesting things to see and do in the city of Oaxaca (wa-HOCK-a). People from around the world love it for different reasons. As a plant person, I am drawn to the state and the region which is one of the world's biodiversity hot spots. Oaxaca has an incredibly high number of endemic species and amazing range of ecological diversity. Surprisingly, an amazing volume of this biodiversity is represented in a single garden in the heart of downtown Oaxaca! The Ethnobotanical Garden focuses on the relationship of this rich plant life and the people. Located on the grounds of the Santo Domingo Church, this botanical garden is a true jewel found just blocks away from the main Zócalo.

Ethnobotanical Garden
The area surrounding Santo Domingo and the Ethnobotanical Garden is the heart of the arts and museums of Oaxaca. Walking the streets with the classic stone architecture, you will sometimes feel like you are in an old European city. There are many different types of galleries and museums showcasing the importance of art throughout the history of the region. Artifacts documenting the oldest civilizations to live in the Oaxaca valley show that art has always had an important role in the life of the people. Likewise, you will see many displays showing how vibrant the culture of art still is today. Government funded galleries, coffee shops, and even the restaurants have art displayed (and often for sale) on every block in the section of town. Sometimes large art installations are even displayed on the street and sidewalks to help draw you in to contemplate the meaning. Also the main street connecting the Zócalo and Santo Domingo is a pedestrian only route (although you do have to watch the street lights to cross the other streets).

The Zócalo is a destination all on its own. It is a family friendly festival almost every single night. Food stands, artisan stands, artists, musicians, and performers all add to the feeling of a friendly party. The Zócalo is truly the center of the town. On one side is the main Cathedral, across the way is the old government building, and on the two sides are wonderful mix of restaurants. Connecting on one corner is another square where the festival continues under the shelter of some trees. Every evening the Zócalo is just a buzz of life and activity.

A cafe on the Zócalo at night
I mentioned the restaurants both around the Zócalo as well as lining the way to Santo Domingo. As a true metropolitan and worldly city, the food ranges from local cuisine, to European/American (great crepes!), and everything in between. My true favorite places to eat are in the various restaurants (and sometimes the homes of entrepreneurial families) surrounding the city. I don't think I will ever get tired of eating all of the various types of mole sauces. Although there are only a few 'types'--negro (black), verde (green), rojo (red), colorado (also a red)--everyone makes their own version.

This is just scratching the surface...and there is more to come in Part 2!

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