Handmade Roadwork in Oaxaca

A parade of laborers rebuilt the road from our apartment in Oaxaca to the central zocalo this month – or at least two blocks of it. Like many of the roads here it is paved with stone blocks, and almost entirely by hand they removed the old worn rocks, dug and shaped the new utility accesses and roadway alterations, and laid new mammoth volcanic tiles and bricks.

Reconstruction of Av Alcala, Oaxaca

So many chisels and hammers. Men standing swinging sledgehammers at arm-length chisels; sitting holding onto plastic pipe fashioned into a chisel handle, offset to save their hands from the ringing clanging rhythms returning from the earth on each swing. Men kneeling with smaller tools to plane the rough edges. The sidewalk lines are moving, new bikepath lights and streetlamps and pedestrian benches are set to rise up from the cobble pavement, so although not all the stones are being replaced several neatly shaped swathes are being carted off a stone and fragment at a time. In the parkside nearby where new stones wait for their place, another team of men is shaping and smoothing the characteristically gray-green slabs with neatly criss-crossed chisel strikes until no mark remains.

Reconstruction of Av Alcala, Oaxaca Sidewalk stones Reconstruction of Av Alcala, Oaxaca

So much shoveling, sorting and sifting and lifting. The old stones are carted to the street corners, piled eight feet high wheelbarrow upon wheelbarrow. Later they will pitch these above their heads into waiting dump trucks. The dirt and stone fragments form other mounds, sifted through screens shovelful by shovelful into waste and fill and mortar-bound piles.

Reconstruction of Av Alcala, Oaxaca

The work continues into the nights to avoid the worst heat of the afternoons. Each evening we walk through shifting cordons on makeshift bridges over trenches as the construction progresses, looking up the road every job is taking place, sitting and standing and swinging and sweating. Now the chiseling stops and mortar is mixed, stones are stacked near the leading edge of each effort – the curved curb segments, the smooth sidewalk panes, the rough cubes laid into the street surface in a diagonal grid across the future flow of traffic.

This road seems likely to last another 100 years.