Oaxaca - San Agustin Etla - "Ersatz" Provence
Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
235Trip End Ongoing
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Real Time Message: July 31, 2009
Two blogs ago, we were in the process of moving from Prince George, British Columbia to Montreal, Quebec
Those plans were abruptly changed when on July 7 Barbara received an unexpected job offer in Victoria a place we had grown to love during our four-month stay in that city in 2006.
To live again in Victoria - the beautiful capital city of British Columbia was an opportunity we could not turn down. According to a 2008 reader's survey in Condé Nast Traveler, Victoria is tied with Quebec City for third place in the list of Top 10 Cities in the America's.
On July 9, after a moving sale, the movers picked up the remainder of our furniture. Ironically, it was all carefully labelled to go to Montreal but instead, the furniture and boxes went into storage in Prince George awaiting the day when we have found permanent accommodations in Victoria.
On July 13 we turned over the keys of our condo in Prince George to the new owner and headed south in the direction of Victoria with only the barest necessities and camping equipment in the car
So here we are back in Victoria again in search of a condo. The only difference is that Victoria is among the most expensive real estate markets in Canada notwithstanding the economic crisis. This point was brought home by the fact that a similar condo to the one we had in Prince George sells for about $200,000 more in Victoria. But as a friend of mine says, "that's only chump change!"
Our preoccupation with finding a new home here in Victoria leaves little time for blogging. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure, I am still keen on finishing up this wonderful (from our perspective) blog - MEXICO: 23 Destinations to Spend the Winter Months - even if it will take several more months to finish it.
Being back in Victoria continues to be an amazing experience as my encounter with an octopus on my first morning walk along the Strait of Juan de Fuca will attest.
First Time Reader? ......here is the background to this series of blogs:
Mexico: 23 Destinations to Spend the Winter Months
Oaxaca - San Agustin Etla
This trip started innocently enough, as we were making an excursion to a little town located 17 kilometers from Oaxaca. In the end our surprise and enthusiasm couldn't have been greater. How was I to know that on this afternoon we were going to make a little side trip to Provence in the south of France.
Getting here was not as easy as it sounds as there are several destinations in the area which include the name Etla. So our first attempt saw us going completely in the wrong direction. By asking a lot of questions along the way we finally got to the bus station on the outskirts of Oaxaca from which the buses that pass near San Agustin de Etla leave.
Even then it took a wave of a hand from the bus driver to notify us that we had arrived at the intersection where the road leads to our destination. From here we took a "colectivo" or collective taxi (cram in as many people as you can) to get to the village
From the moment of our arrival there was an overwhelming feeling of Provence in the air. Since 1980 when I took my first French course at the University of Aix-en-Provence I had connected to the beautiful landscape of Provence.
With its gently rolling hills, beautiful subtle colours, flowering bushes, blue skies, parched terrain and majestic Cypress trees, it is a landscape that along with Tuscany is one of the classics of Europe.
It was the artist Paul Cezanne whose works made the area around Aix-en-Provence world-renowned.
Of course upon closer examination here in San Agustin Etla there were no olive groves, no vineyards, no fields of lavender, no hallmark chirping of the "cigales" and no high prices so typical of Provence.
By the way I still think the best and most economical way to enjoy Provence in the month of July is to do as I did in 1980 and take a language study course at the Université de Provence (or Université de Aix en Provence) either as a credit or non-credit course
In 1980 it was an abrupt change in lifestyle - just what I needed after a traumatic domestic break-up.
July is the month for the summer courses, which means that the residences are used exclusively for the summer students. The courses are available at other times of the year but for longer periods of time.
While my comparison to Provence is all well and good I would challenge you to go to Provence at this time of year, January, and come away with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Well on second thought it might still be fuzzy but it certainly would be anything but warm.
The point is that there is nowhere in Europe and even North Africa where the temperatures would be as warm and pleasant as in Mexico at this time of the year.
So here in San Agustin Etla is an ersatz Provence available to the visitor in the flip season
My comparison with Provence must not have been lost on at least one Frenchman as parked in front of a house I saw an old Volkswagen with the "F" decal for France prominently displayed.
As we explored deeper into San Agustin Etla, which in this case meant following the village road further up the hill towards the beautiful white church looming in the distance, the beautiful vistas further reinforced the Provence comparison.
If you like the quiet life in a superb surrounding only 17 kilometers from Oaxaca, this may be your opportunity to buy that lot with a view and build a little home of your dreams.
Once we reached the white church further up the hill the scenery more or less went off the scale as we found beautiful reflecting pools near what appeared to be a former country palace.
I expected to find that this was the former summer residence of Maximilian of Habsburg or Maximilian Emperor of Mexico who came to Mexico in 1864
The majestic building yielded few clues to its origin other than the near-by sign "Centro de las Artes San Agustin" and the inscription "Soledad Villa Hermosa" on the facade over the main entrance.
Furthermore the cavernous inside of the building was dedicated to the display of a huge exhibit of hand made paper. It was something that Barbara took great delight in viewing while I spent my time trying to find the only washroom that was strategically hidden in a little corner at the bottom of a staircase. As a result I ended up seeing a lot more of the beautiful exterior of this building with its reflecting pools and cascading waters while Barbara got to see the fabulous paper display.
Information was hard to find as there were no information panels, guides nor other tourists. So basically we were flying in the dark about the beautiful place we were visiting during a one-hour period.
The town of San Agustin Etla is known for its hand-made paper and its best work is on display here at the musem.
According to the following website:
"The Centro de Las Artes de San Agustín (CASA) opened in March 2006. Launched by artist Francisco Toledo, who has since left the project, the Centro de Artes has received support from the state and federal government, including Conculta (National Council for Culture and the Arts) and CENART (National Center for the Arts).
Located in the renovated Vista Hermosa textile mill, CASA is an educational center and workshop which aspires toward 'eco-friendly' technologies."
So there you have it, far from having been the former summer residence of Maximilian Emperor of Mexico as my imagination would have it, the majestic building is a renovated textile mill.
I can only imagine that the Mexican artist Franciso Toledo had a hand in the beautiful surrounding of the former mill
I doubt that the scene would have been as beautiful on a rainy day but to return to one of my favourite themes, it is hard to beat the weather in Mexico during the winter months.
As crazy as our schedule may have been our day was far from being finished as we intended to see Monte Alban on the same day later in the afternoon. That accounted for the limited time we had in visiting this beautiful place.
Had we had the time it would have been great to visit the swimming pools in Villa Hermosa located just up the hill from San Agustin. The swimming pools are apparently worth the visit in itself. Villa Hermosa also has paper workshops that can be visited to get a greater appreciation of the hand-made paper indigenous to this area.
Should you come to these pueblos, do not make the same mistake and schedule anything less than a day in this beautiful region that had me dreaming of days spent in Provence.
Hopefully you will arrive here with more information than we did.
San Cristobal de las Casas - My First Visit to Chiapas