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March 4, 2006
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:: South of the z?calo ::

South of the z
The only local church to compare with La Soledad, in terms of the crowds of worshippers it attracts, is the ancient San Juan de Dios , right in the heart of the old market area. Here villagers and market traders who've come to town for the day drop in constantly to pay their devotions.

Saturday, by tradition, is market day in Oaxaca, and although nowadays the markets operate daily, it's still the day to come if you want to see the old-style tianguis at its best. Ind?genas flood in from the villages in a bewildering variety of costumes, and Mixtec and Zapotec dialects replace Spanish as the lingua franca. The majority of this activity, and of the serious business of buying and selling everyday goods, has moved out to the new market by the second-class bus station. This is the place to go for fruit, vegetables, meat, herbs and spices, and a range of household goods from traditional cooking pots to wooden utensils and furniture. The old Mercado Benito Ju?rez , downtown, still sells the bulk of village handicrafts, such as rebozas (shawls), rag dolls and green china, as well as plenty of fruit, veg and flowers. Be warned that it's very touristy - you're harassed far more by the vendors and have to bargain fiercely - and the quality of the goods is also often suspect. Sarapes , in particular, are often machine-made from chemically dyed artificial fibres: these look glossy, and you can also tell real wool by plucking out a thread - artificial fibres are long, thin and shiny, woollen threads short, rough and curly (and if you hold a match to it, a woollen thread will singe and smell awful; an artificial one will melt and burn your fingers). There are numerous shops around the z?calo and on Alcal? that will give you a good idea of the potential quality of items you can buy in the market, or try the Regional Association of Craftswomen of Oaxaca at 5 de Mayo 204 (daily 9am-8pm).

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