The Big Tree
It has the greatest circumference of any tree on earth. It is exactly 43.04 metres tall. It is exactly 2100 years old. It weighs exactly 637.107 tons.
So our guide tells us with utter certainty, as we look at what is undoubtedly a very big tree. Set in the churchyard like many a Welsh yew, it has provided a second focus for this village for many generations. A different sort of contemplation, and another vocation to follow, for the ten peso fee to see the tree sustains a surrounding ring of gardens, gardeners, and keepers of the tree.
In the great branches, I can see nests of birds, hives of bees, roosts of bats. I can almost hear the vast cities of insects who carve out their palaces in the bark, an ancient inheritance. And the great canopy provides a home to many other tenants. Beyond the physical limits of the tree, invisible boughs shelter another ecosystem. Shops of souvenirs, drink, clothing, food, all are protected from harm, and flourish.
A dog walks down the street and cocks his leg at the postcard stand. Nobody minds.
An aimless ramble through the centre of Oaxaca took me past the tourist stalls and squares to the astonishing indoor market. The entrances are all protected by guardian pairs of grasshopper sellers. Stalls spread out before you. They're so closely packed, and each so full of stock, that it's impossible to get any sense of scale. Spice stalls piled high, with proprietors somewhere above you, booze stalls, trinkets, practical items.
At one end is the meat section. Unstable pyramids of octopus suckers buffer softly against slabs of tripe. Here's the great honour guard of plucked yellow corn-fed chickens, defining my path, stretching off stalls too small, all legs, claws, and unblinking eyes. Ladies skilfully remove giblets. Meat hangs. The lack of space makes these stalls a 3d experience. Meat stretches up above your head. Through a window in the sausages, the master butcher is crafting another masterpiece. Neither an inch of space or an ounce of protein is wasted. It is a procession through a sacred grove of flesh.
Next up, logically, is the hat section. A number of stalls are so full of hats, you can't even get in. Inside are stallholders whose stock has coalesced around them. When they go home, you could probably make a plaster cast of the hole and get pretty close to knowing what they look like.
Round from this is a stall full of alarming pottery phalluses. A lank haired bored looking lad can't summon the enthusiasm to try to sell me one. I quickly move on.
There's mask stalls, and leather stalls. There's a whole area selling lacy clothes. The only thing you can't buy is anything modern. Everything on sale in this place could have been here 50 years ago. You can't buy a phone or a TV, but you can buy spices and a wicker basket.
It's the sheer number of elbows this place has that sticks in the memory. People flow in and out, colliding at every intersection and finding a way though. Woe betide the careless tourist who stops to look at something. You'll be carried along like a log in the current.
There's the way out, through the canyon of raging meat grills. Menus are thrust at you in the smoke, buskers wail. I emerge startled and unsure into the fresh air, and after a few seconds thought, turn back around for another run through.
The day after the wedding, there was to be a barbecue at the grandparents' house. 'Just a small event for close friends and family'. When I got there, there were about 100 people, and 4 professional caterers. The sound system was going, so I dug in with the enclave of Brits.
In accordance with British law governing our behaviour abroad, the 6 of us annihilated all the beer at the party in the first hour, and started inventing cocktails. There were no glasses, so we were provided with small pink children's beach buckets.
An hour from Mexico city is Teotihuacan. A city and temple complex, once home to 200,000 people. It features two giant pyramids, dedicated to the sun and the moon, and covers many square miles. Walking down the extraordinary avenue of the dead, towards the pyramid of the moon, crossing great empty plazas flanked by lesser temples and platforms, the scope and scale of it astonish. By the entrance, the first large interpretation board helpfully explains that the city was built by people, and not aliens.
Arrival in the car park is hot and dusty. There's a fairly large cactus near where we park. Tom, Jamie's brother, is amazed. 'That's the biggest cactus I've ever seen'. We stop for photos with the cactus. Around the corner is a larger cactus. More photos. We get inside the site and many large cactuses greet us. Eventually we return to the car. Tom no longer thinks much of his original cactus.
Built between 200BC and 250 AD, the site reached its peak around 450 AD, before collapsing some time later. The main civic buildings appear to have been trashed and burned by the desperate residents of the city following a prolonged period of economic failure. It's much like Hull in this regard.
The most authentic thing about this place is actually the tat merchants that line the avenues, aggressively selling roughly baked jaguar calls and weird replica masks. Their voices and the bustle of their mobile markets give the truest impression of life in this place. I bet you could have picked up some strange and wonderful gifts here 1500 years ago.
In the car, heading back to the city, I contentedly blow my jaguar call until the other passengers threaten to leave me behind.