ghostly cactus in the mist, Sierra Madre Del SurWith only one full weekend left, mi amiga de clase, Sherry, and I decided to go for broke on sightseeing. We signed up for a tour that would pretty much hit every key site we had yet to see outside of the city of Oaxaca. That included the second major Zapotec archeological site in the area, Mitla, as well as the countryside of Teotitlan del Valle and a Mezcal fábrica. But first, we were headed to a unique natural phenomenon found in only three places in the world. Hierve el Agua is a series of springs in the mountain where the water is heavy with calcium carbonate. As a result, the thousands of years of water flow have built up what looks to be frozen or petrified waterfalls. Did I mention we were headed to the mountains? I mean way up in the Sierra Madre del Sur, accessible largely by unpaved or partially paved roads. Did I also mention how fiercely it’s been raining for the last two weeks? Apparently, that’s washed out the “free” road, so our tour van was forced to take the “paved” road. Which was so scary, it had me flashing back to every story I’ve ever read about rickety buses in Mexico plunging off cliffs or being swept away in sudden mudslides. Not that we were in a rickety bus, but for the road, well, think of the wildest stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway around Big Sur. Now imagine that around every blind corner could be a stalled truck full of campesinos, or some stray goats, or a herd of burros. Now imagine your van is being driven at excessive speeds through thick fog by a young Mexican who is blasting Lady GaGa on his stereo. I tried to divert myself by taking in what scenery I could see through the thick fog. We did pass a lot of rustic and artisanal Mezcal fabricas, where the agave was being crushed traditionally by stone wheels pulled by burros. However, that didn’t fill me with confidence for the state of any other drivers who might be on the road.

goats in the mist of the mountains above Oaxaca

At least the many untethered goats, burros and chickens we passed all had enough sense to stay out of the road. And they didn't seem to have been drinking Mezcal.

up in the sierra madre del sur

I think I mentioned that we were headed very high up in the Sierra Madre del Sur.

As we unloaded from the van and headed down the path to the waterfalls, I noted that the path seemed to be very strangely constructed, with very arbitrary steps.

the road down to Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca

Until I realized we were actually walking on the calcified deposits of the upper falls.

the amphitheater, hierve el agua, oaxaca

Then we came to a massive field of calcified water over which the springs still flow.

pool at Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca

Opening out to the strangest vanishing edge pool ever, hacked out of the calcified water formation.

By the way, the water is not hot, despite the name which means “Boil the Water” in Spanish. The water bubbles, so I guess whichever Spanish explorer stumbled on the place assumed it was hot and didn’t bother to check.

edge of Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca

This is me standing way too close to the edge. It's at least a 200 foot plunge down the other side of the mountain.

T Shirts at Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca

And this is what I didn't see because I was standing on top of it.

After this wild and remote phenomenon, Mitla was a complete strange change of pace. It is one of the most elaborately decorated of the Zapotec cities, with designs still found on rugs and fabrics made today in the villages.

Mitla, Oaxaca

All of ancient Mitla was constructed without masonry, but with intricately pieced together stones. Some of the original red decorative plaster can still be seen.

But Mitla sits in the middle of a bustling town. In fact, many of its ancient walls have been used as foundations and walls for fairly modern houses and courtyards.

san pablo church and ancient Zapotec wall in Mitla

A tradition started by the Spanish, who knocked down most of Mitla and used the rubble to build the church of San Pablo smack on the site of Mitla's most sacred spot.

Even in the rain, I’m loving Mexico more than I thought I would. But I’m really starting to hate the Spanish.

All of today’s pictures here.