Sunday, July 25, 2010

Is it July 25 already?

Don't touch! Even the skin of these chiles can burn your fingers!

Lots of cacti, most of them edible

Red-barked trees hugged by cacti

Interesting, knobby bark

An advantage of visitng during the rainy season is that the cacti are alive with blooms!

Hmmm, blogging has slowed down a bit, mostly because we are both fit and enjoying morning activities, coming home for a short siesta, and then going back out for evening entertainment. I expect the rhythm of my days would be quite different if I were here studying and writing curriculum, but for a little less than 2 weeks, a free-form kind of life has been great fun!

I'll write more later about our apartment and host, our cooking classes (we've learned a second mole -- mole verde -- which is good with fish, pork and rabbit), our trips to the mountain villages where we bought some beautiful museum-quality things, and the concerts we've seen. In the meantime, I'm trying to blog different photos than the ones I've put up on Facebook for those who are following us on both sites. I'm also investigating ways to consolidate all of my photos in one place, both to share and to keep for myself, but more about that later.

The above photos were taken at the Ethno-Botanic Gardens that are part of the Santo Domingo Cultural Center. I'm not sure what it looked like in the days when Santo Domingo was a working convent, but certainly not like this! When the monasteries and convents were nationalized in the mid-19th century by Benito Juarez (a son of Oaxaca, btw), these grounds were turned over to the military and housed soldiers and stables for their horses. Everything was pretty-much flattened although archaeological traces remain under the surface.

About ten years ago, another set of do-gooders, similar to the ones who restored the Textile Museum, gathered donations and began the process of turning the space not into a re-creation of what it would have been like before nationalization, but more of a gathering place to preserve all of Oaxaca State's varied flora in its unaltered state. Oaxaca has some of the most varied species of several plants -- chiles and cacti, for example -- in the world.

The hard work of these plant activists has paid off in spades. The garden is not huge but is cleverly broken into several zones and, as it is a work-in-progress, there will probably be many more as the garden expands. The most popular zone is the Edible Zone where huge squashes bloom next to several varieties of chiles, potatos, corn and runner beans.

You are only allowed to tour the garden as part of a group with either an English-speaking or Spanish-speaking guide in the mornings. This is not only because you could get lost on the pathways but because many of the plants are dangerous to the touch, being either poisonous or prickly, or both. As you can see from the photos, the textures of the trees and cacti are so unusual that I had to restrain myself several times from reaching out and touching.

Our guide was very knowledgable but not pedantic, and the two hours flew by. I've begun to consider including a science element in the lesson plans that I hope to generate from this trip to Mexico and can't wait to do more research and visit again in the future.

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