Tourism opportunity from Oaxaca drought

17th-century church in Benito Juárez reservoir can be explored by visitors

Tourism opportunity from Oaxaca drought

Fishermen from Jalapa del Marqués, Oaxaca, have found a new way to make a living due to the severe drought in the southern part of the state.

The Benito Juárez reservoir, situated in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, has lost more than 80% of its water as a consequence of the three-year-long drought, with adverse effects for more than 1,000 local people who rely on fishing for their livelihood.

But as the reservoir suffers one of its worst crises ever, there has been a positive effect on the local tourism industry. A centuries old Zapotec-built church has fully emerged from beneath the reservoir water and is attracting tourists from other parts of the state and beyond.

For the past month, approximately 50% of the fishermen from Jalapa del Marqués have worked as tour guides, transporting sightseers to the site by boat.

While the Dominican church, built in the 1600s and submerged by the artificial reservoir 50 years ago, has been partially visible in recent yearst is the first time in 10 years that the whole structure has been revealed.

A decade ago, excessive mud made it impossible to reach the church. But now, parched land surrounds the building and tourists can disembark from the boats to admire and walk around the stone structure, still damp from the reservoir’s declining water levels.

Guides explain to tourists that the Asunción de María church was once part of the important provincial town called Yudxi. In colonial times, indigenous groups such as Mixes and Chontales came to the town from the nearby mountains to sell their produce. Yudxi also happened to be the only Zapotec town in the isthmus to oppose the Spanish crown.

One fisherman, now working as a guide, managed to catch two mojarra in the half-hour he waited while tourists took photographs of the old church and walked through what was once the church garden and orchard. But he pocketed 150 pesos (about US $8) from the outing.

Other fishermen are still trying to eke out a living from fishing the reservoir’s scarce remaining water. Financial aid promised by the state government has not arrived. Farmers are also losing crops and cattle are dying from the effects of the prolonged drought.

Help might soon be on the way. The National Water Commission yesterday declared an emergency in the affected regions, freeing up national disaster funds.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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