17th century church of Santa Ana Zegache
“From November until March, high season in Mexico, an organization, ‘Hoofing It In Oaxaca’, has made it their business to provide visitors with introductions to countryside and villages outside the city in the form of guided hikes along unpaved roads through farming valleys to the area’s distinctive rural towns.”
I joined the group first time on a walk that included a Zapotec weaving village, the second from an ancient Zapotec archeological site to a beautifully painted church. My third outing was by far the most memorable for reasons that will become apparent. It began at the magnificent painted church of Santa Ana Zegache, built by Dominicans in a style known in this part of Mexico as “earthquake baroque” with bell-towers part of the whole, rather than separate structures, giving additional strength to the building. This church is one of many in the state of Oaxaca restored by the Fundación Rodolfo Morales, founded by one of Mexico’s greatest contemporary artists, a Zapotec Native Mexican from the nearby town of Ocotlán.
Leaving Zegache we set off, as we had in previous weeks, on unpaved tracks that took us through the countryside and past farms where the beautiful produce I’d bought in markets all around Oaxaca is grown. Coming into Tilcajete we passed the village cemetery and were soon greeted by the first of hundreds of participants taking part in the wildly costumed community party that takes place every year on Shrove Tuesday.
Most days visitors arrive in San Martin Tilcajete looking for alebrijes, the fanciful wooden figures for which the town is famous, made in family workshops and sold in crafts outlets in Oaxaca and beyond. But on the Tuesday before the austerity of Lent begins, for Carnival, known elsewhere as Mardi Gras, more visitors than usually turn up, cameras in hand to record the festivities for which this community is particularly known.
Not generally a fan of noisy crowded events, I couldn’t turn down the offer for the day’s outing described as “costumed residents of Tilcajete parading through the streets”. Our first encounter with “costumed residents” was with a group who appeared to have dressed themselves in motor oil and little else. It took some doing to make our way toward the town plaza without being hugged and smudged by one of this bawdy group.
The closer we got the more variety and imagination we saw in costumes, body paint and masks. On the plaza the local band played, a mock wedding with a white lace-clad bewigged 6-foot faux bride and his groom was taking place surrounded by the packed-in dancing crowd. The only way to take pictures was to join the scrum and hope for the best.
After the “wedding” the crowd dispersed from the plaza into the surrounding streets and those not parading found seats on benches to enjoy snacks from the food carts. Some of us went farther afield looking for alebrije workshops until we stumbled across our vans, loaded up as more of our group arrived, and headed home. What a day!
The Zapotec Mythology-Inspired Wooden Figures of Tilcajete
For more information & the coming season’s schedule
visit the ‘Hoofing It In Oaxaca’ website:
Next week, another market? Yes, another market,
the friendly indoor neighborhood Mercado de la Merced.
2017's Back to Oaxaca, all episodes.
PortMoresby's first trip to Oaxaca, Anatomy of a Trip.
To read others of PortMoresby’s contributions, click here.