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Spanish in Oaxaca

How to Spend Your Downtime in Oaxaca

Any time spent studying a Spanish course in Mexico is without a doubt time well spent, but you might choose a particular city or spot for the sights and activities that it is going to offer you during your time off from studying. If so, then Oaxaca will not disappoint. The city and its surrounding area contains a wealth of potential when it comes to things to do, both with elements of History and the Ancient World about them or pure and simple modernity and cosmopolitanism.

Getting to know the City

Guanajuato

There quite possibly couldn't be an easier city to get know than Oaxaca! Unlike the crazy maze-like streets of Guanajuato, Oaxaca has a grid like system that is easy to navigate and a sizeable zócalo, or main square, which marks the centre of the city. This zócalo is a great place to start upon your arrival in the city, before Spanish classes kick off because besides being a beautiful and elegant plaza in itself, it is a great place simply to sit and take in your surroundings and carry out a bit of people watching. From here, it is only a short walk up Calle Alcalá to reach the magnificent church of Santo Domingo, with its impressive Baroque exterior and equally ornate interior.Why not go along at mass time when the church truly lights up and impresses.

Oaxaca has experienced something of a cultural boom in recent years and is no stranger to a good art exhibition or opening show of a new artist on the scene. It also has many museums, all of which are to be recommended and some time should be set aside in order to visit them. Adjacent to the Santo Domingo church is the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca where you will gain an insight into the lifestyle and culture of the indigenous tribes that dominated the Oaxaca region before the Spanish conquest and the lineage apparent when you look at the much lesser in number, but still present, tribes that are there today.

Getting to know the Cuisine

Mercado

There is one thing oaxaquenos pride themselves on, it is the unique and special cuisine you will be able to experience in Oaxaca. Known as the land of the seven moles (mole is a typical mexican dish made with chilli peppers and chocolate (yes, chocolate) and served with meat), Oaxaca is the perfect place to acquire a taste for this staple Méxican dish and even to learn how to make it, along with many other traditional regional dishes, such as 'cocidos' (a rich stew-like dish) and 'tortillas clayudas' (large, thick tortillas) and to wash it down, some 'Tejata' (a beverage made from maize and cacoa). There are many Cookery schools in Oaxaca and there are even Spanish schools that give you the option of combining your Spanish classes with cooking lessons. If you want to see where all the ingredients are sourced for all this tasty home-style cooking or you simply want to try a few different Mexican snack specialties, then take a casual half hour walk out of the centre to the Mercado de Abastos (literally the Supplies Market) and browse some of the many stalls in what is considered to be Mexico's biggest covered market.

Plan and Play

Although it might well be easy to do in Oaxaca, you shouldn't forget that the primary objective with which you came here was in fact to learn Spanish and with a little focus and careful planning you will be able to come away with both Spanish language skills and a feel for the culture of this part of Mexico. There are without doubt unique experiences to be had and you should grab them with both manos! Why not look up the organisation 'Fundación en Vía' whilst you are in Oaxaca and join in on one of their tours. It is a micro-finance company that gives small interest free loans to impoverished people in the Oaxaca area in order to help them start or expand their own business. They give tours of the enterprises started by the people that they have provided loans to and you can help give a little back during your time in Oaxaca by participating.

Monte

Another interesting trip you could do, perhaps with some of your new classmates from your Spanish language school, is to visit the ruins at Monte Alban. Mexico┬┤s rich history influenced by many tribes and different groups have left a landscape dotted with hundreds of ancient ruins, burial grounds and shrines and this one is found around 9km outside of the city of Oaxaca. It used to be a political centre of the Zapotec people and it is particularly impressive and enjoyable to have a walk around it and imagine it in its glory days. A bit further away (44km to be exact) is the second most important set of ruins in Oaxaca, known as Mitla. They were again built by the Zapotec people but important not for political reasons but for religious ones. You will notice as you walk about these ancient ruins that there is a lot of intricate and ornate mosaic work throughout its five sets of buildings. There is a large column inside the set of church buildings at the entrance that will supposedly tell you the number of years you have left to live depending on how far you can reach round it. Who knew shorter arms equals longer life!

From column hugging to tree hugging, a popular attraction just 9km away from the city centre is to go and see the Tule tree, a tree with the stoutest trunk in the world and one that has made it onto the UNESCO World heritage site list. The trunk has a diameter of nearly 12 metres....I think I would prefer my life prediction from that.

Oaxaca is a fun place to study Spanish, so get out and about and make the most of both the place you are staying and the skills you are learning.