Going to Oaxaco
I might be going to Oaxaco with a small group in May 2005. What can I look forward to? What shouldn't I miss?
Visit the Galeria de la Luz and the Alvarez Bravo center. Other than that, you will find many photo opportunities there.
There are many interesting places in Mexico and Oaxaca is one of my favorite ones. The color is wonderful so consider making some images in color even if your normal work is B&W. Many of the buildings in the city are painted, and no one color dominates, with the possible exception of a reddish brown earth color. Pastel colors tend to dominate, such as light blue, yellow, light red, pink, etc. There is a lot of sun on most days so you might want to work with a negative film that is slightly lower in contrast then most.
Originally Posted by david b
One thing you must understand is that you will not be able to use a tripod in any of the buildings that are designed as national monuments or in any of the arquelogical zones. For this you will need a special permit from an organization called INAH, which I believe means Instituto Nacional de Arqueologia e Historia. The contact web site for the necessary permission is http://www.transparencia.inah.gob.mx. See in particular Punto VIII. As far as I know you will need to fill out the forms in Spanish as there is no English track for this, at least so far as I know. Jorge was kind enough to provide me with the original contact on this and he may know someone that you could contact in English in case you don't speak Spanish.
Some interesting places outside of the city are, 1) the ruins of Monte Alban, a very impressive site contracted by the Zapotecas, one of the great indigenous civilizations of Meso-America, 2) Cuilapan de Guerrereo, an ex-convento in partial decay, 3) the Tule tree, of the same family as the Redwood, said to have the largest girth of any tree in the Americas, and 4) Mitla, a Mixteca ruin. But so many others wonderful things to see if I continue I will never stop,
BTW, I am returning there myself in January of the coming year for a brief visit.
Last edited by sanking; 11-19-2004 at 12:49 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Don't drink the water. Make plans on what water you'll drink when there. Be careful about ordering bottled water in restaurants as some places simply re-fill empty bottles from the tap. Don't brush your teeth with faucet water. When you shower, don't let any water get into your mouth. When eating out, don't order something that has been rinsed in water, like a lettuce salad or fruit salad.
This is not bs. I have been down there many many times and I have gotten pretty damn sick on more than one occasion, and I mean sick. Take bottles of liquid Immodium AD - that stuff works great! Take one bottle for every 2 days you'll be there.
I went so far as to buy a bottle of iodine tablets and a silver impregnated portable charcoal water filter. I would fill a gallon container with water, drop in the iodine and let it sit for about 20 minutes. Then I'd pour it thru the filter to remove the iodine. Then I would drink it. If I could, I would boil the water, too.
I know that in some places down there, the sewer pipes (9-inch ceramic) are physically in the same holes as the water pipes. Each have numerous holes in them. When it rains, the sewer lines overflow and empty into the water lines thus contaminating the water. I don't know for sure if this is a problem in Oaxaco, but why risk it?
This isn't jingoism, I know it's true for a fact so be careful. You won't be out photographing if you're spending all your time in the bathroom.
Buy bottled water where you can see the seal is unbroken and keep some with you at all times - like at local food markets. Brush your teeth with it, too.
I've had a lot of mixed results eating out in Mexico, too. Some places are great and others don't practice good sanitation and you'll get sick. To be on the safe side, get all meat cooked well done. Really well done. Get the internal temp up over 180 and it'll kill the bacteria, so I understand.
I've been sick down there and believe me, you won't be walking or photographing if you catch something. The Immodium can be a real life saver, so don't leave home without it. You may be able to get it there at a pharmacy. Pharmacies in Mexico are fantastic - much better than here. You don't need an Rx for most stuff. Also, if you need emergency dental work, the dentists there are all well trained.
Surprisingly, the best food I had was a small hole-in-the-wall taco vendor. He cooked (burned) all the meat right in front of me and served it on tortillas. Delicious and sanitary. I get sick when food suddenly appears from a back kitchen where I don't know what it went thru before it got to me. I also know that restaurants get their meat from uninspected sources so you can't take it for granted like you can here. I had a cheeseburger at a place owned\run by an American couple and spent 2 days in bed afterwards.
All that aside, it's a great place to photograph. I love going there and these concerns won't stop me from going again. Just be careful, ok?
Can anyone else offer practical advice on staying healthy on a short visit?
Mike is of course absolutely right about not drinking water from the tap, but not *exactly* for the right reason. There are no water lines in Oaxaca. Water is brought in trucks, labeled agua para humanos, and is stored in water cisterns. When the cisterns run out, that is the end of water for that residence, hotel, or what not until the water trucks arrive and pump more water into the cisterns. Obviously it is possible for the cisterns to become contaminated with sewer overflow.
Originally Posted by mikewhi
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Thanks, Sandy. I did not know exactly how Oxaca did their water. I imagine that there are some sort of water lines but they are so bad that they've resorted to cisterns. I understand some hotels in San Miguel use cisterns, too, because of the plumbing issues and it's a very old town, too. Of course I mean no denegration towards Mexico about this. I love Mexico, but reality is reality. Interestingly, one can go to Hawaii and live in areas that have no water plumbing, too. I stayed at one vacation home that used a 'catchment' system and I got sock from that water, too. I went to Indianapolis and got sick from city water.
Water\food concerns aside, my comments about photography would be to not forget the opportunities of night photography while there!! Often, night lights in Mexico are plain bulbs hanging from wires. These tend to throw very sharp and dark shadows on walls and streets. This can be very dramatic. Check out my gallery for some night shots. I believe I shot mostly with 30-second exposures using ASA 100 film. I used a hand-held Gossen light meter as it was more sensitive to low light than the Pentax 1 Deg. digital meter was. I would set my camera up and then walk into the shadow and meter while I was in it. Also, if you are photographing a dark scene and it's hard to see what you're focusing on, you can carry a candle, set it next to the subject and focus on the flame and then remove the candle before the shot. A flashlight works well, too. I took with me some Rodinal, fixer and minimum equipment necessary to process film. I would develop the film the next day and go re-shoot anything that was under\over-exposed. This is extrememly important to getting good night shots - finding out the negatives are bad when you get back is too late!
I never really shot people a lot while there. I got mixed reactions from people when I tried. You may get feedback from others here about that. Other than thatn, I pretty much roamed freely around and only got run off a few times. Once by a guy with a 6-foot long machete with the last 3 feet painted red - at 3am in a remote part of town. I tried to talk him out of it, but I didn't speak Spanish, he didn't speak English so the international language of the machete prevailed<g>. Cemetaries can be really interesting. In San Miguel, they had human bones stacked up at the rear of the cemetary. As I was told, people would rent a grave and if they didn't\couldn'gt keep up with the payments they dug up the body and tossed the bones and rented the spot to someone else. They may have burned the bones or gave them to the family if they were around. I don't know if it's true, but there were a lot of human bones there (a doctor with me verified they were human).
Churches are great, too. There are a lot of icons indoors and 'suffering Christs' all over the place. Look for 'God rays' coming thru high windows. Some churches have interesting udnerground areas, too.
If they have bullfights in that town, it can be a good place to photograph.
There should be lots of cactus around. I have a few shots in my gallery of wild catcus in the San Miguel area.
Originally Posted by mikewhi
I could be wrong but my understanding is that there were never any water lines in the city, at least outside of the very old area just below the Arquitos region. You probably have visited this very quaint part of the city, with the small shops, residences and restaurants tucked under the little arches that supported an aqueduct that brought water down from sources in the mountains that surround the city. BTW, I forgot to mention that many houses and hotels have cisterns, in the form of black cylindrical tanks, on the roof rather than in the ground, or in some cases they have cisterns both places.
In any event this is a fascinating place to visit. If ever there was a place that celebrated art and beauty it is Oaxaca. One very prominent Oaxacan once told me, they say we *zapotecs* are not very pretty people, but we have art running through our veins. And the latter part of that sentence is definitely true. If you like art, beauty, color, creativity and originality it is hard to beat this beautiful and in many ways unique city.
From what I've heard Oaxaca is a destination for cavers, as the limestone is very deep in the area and there is an open air pit nearby that is 1400 feet deep called El Sotano. I've seen video of it and it's truely impressive. With that kind of geography you should be able to finds some really interesting vistas here and there.
With respect to Oaxaca, I would also recommend Monte Alban. Early morning light is beautiful in Oaxaca and actually made me want to shoot color, as mentioned above, even though I'm primarily interested in B&W.
I believe that the reaction that some get while travelling out of country (gastro-intestinal problems) is related not to unsanitary conditions but to the different bacterial flora that are common in different environs. I've travelled extensively and quite a few times around various parts of Mexico. My experience couldn't be farther from yours. I've always brushed my teeth with tap water, used ice, eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, drank many exciting drinks, teas, and fresh fruit blended drinks. Never a single problem! And i don't stay or eat in the places designed more for tourists, I tend to ask locals where they eat and look for places where I see locals eating, not the gringos. Anyway just my experience.
I've heard that some can have adverse reactions due to the different microorganisms, which we all have in our guts, but you should be fine after adjusting.
If you like to visit the beaches near Oaxaca I would recommend near Mazunte. Quite a precarious ride through the mountains on a second class bus, but the town is very small and not very touristy.
hope this helps!