Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Foodie Fest, Wild Mushrooms Fair (Feria del Hongos) in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas

Just a forty minute drive into the mountains from the Tlacolula de Matamoros crossroads at MEX 190–Panamerican Highway — is the village of San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. It is one of several known as the Pueblos Mancomunados for eco-tourism. A Zip-Line crosses the village and mountain bikes are everywhere.

A basket of wild mushrooms. Yummy.

Each year during Guelaguetza time they host a two-day, Saturday and Sunday wild mushroom fair. It is much more than that: it is a natural food lovers paradise.  I went on Sunday when Oaxaca city was filled with 150,000 tourists and all the attendant frenzy and the Tlacolula market nearly impossible to navigate.

Avocados and pomegrantes. Five pesos each.

Not only are the temperatures at least ten degrees cooler at 10,400 feet altitude. What is very cool is the showcase of all the organic foods produced in the region as well as mushrooms.

And a box of dried mushrooms to keep longer

Gathered around the municipal building courtyard, small local growers are selling apples, potatoes, peaches, avocados, fava beans, onions, artisanal chocolate, mushroom cultivation starters and preserves. The fruit is always small, pocked and insecticide-free. Not giant perfection as we know in the USA.

At the entrance on a perfect day, fresh air, clear skies

At this moment, you might ask: What’s the difference between the Spanish words Hongos, Setas, and Champiñones. Hongos are referred to as FUNGI. Setas are called MUSHROOMS. Champiñones are cultivated, commercial mushrooms. Around these parts, the Hongos are always the wild variety. But of course, the locals can tell the difference and name each variety. For example, the yellow ones with the red tops are called amanitas. Delicious sauteed in olive oil and butter.

Ceramics from the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca

They grow flowers here as well as succulents, so there are wheelbarrows filled with plants potted in recycled plastic bottles and yogurt containers. There are artisans from surrounding villages who also make an appearance: potters, weavers and embroiderers.

Homegrown succulents in hanging Clorox pots

Escabeche=onions, carrots, green beans, chiles in vinegar, $3 USD

Along the periphery of the municipal building, small puestos are set up that are equipped with wood-fired stoves and comals. Local cooks prepare everything with the wild mushrooms — tacos, empanadas, mole, pozole. It’s like a progressive dinner where you go from one kitchen to another to taste the specialty of the house.

Chiles rellenos — stuffed with wild pink mushrooms

Mushroom tacos with mole amarillo — our lunch

There were perhaps a handful of hueros  (those with pale skin).  Most visitors were locals from Oaxaca who know that this is where you come to get the most delicious fungi around. It’s the rainy season, but there has been no rain. The vendors from Cuajimoloyas brought the wild mushrooms in from Llano Grande, farther up the mountain where cloud cover ensures the proper humidity.

Viviana Lucia Martinez Zaragoza.

Local pears and apples

On our way out of town, I spotted a pile of beautiful mushrooms perched in the doorway of a comedor. I said to Laurita, let’s stop! Inside we found eighty-year-old owner Viviana Lucia Martinez Zaragoza, who Chef Susanna Trilling says runs the best kitchen in town. I bought more mushrooms. She invited us back for a trout lunch.

The biggest mushroom ever at Sra. Viviana’s comedor

I ate it so fast I almost forgot to take a photo — mushroom quiche

We decided to take the dirt road back from Cuijimoloyas to Teotitlan del Valle that goes through the mountain town of Benito Juarez where there are more cabins and is favorite eco-tourism spot. It was like a ribbon winding through pine stands, sheer cliffs and skirting deep forested valleys. It was not a short-cut, but offered gorgeous views of the Tlacolula Valley.

Plenty of dried fruit and mushrooms for sale, too

Hand-made chocolate from neighboring Papaloapan roasted cacao

The trip back took about an hour. We knew we were close when we saw the village reservoir in the distance. Then, a familiar car was approaching. My taxista Abraham Flores was going up the mountain taking a family home from the Tlacolula Market. This is a small world, though vast in what it provides.

And the band plays on — always a village centerpiece

Grow your own mushrooms, if you wish

A machine-stitched top from Tlahuitoltepec. Nope. Didn’t buy it.

 

Flores y Cantos Mixed Media Art Exhibition at Museo Rufino Tamayo

The opening was last night. The food was amazing. The exhibition ethereal and dramatic. The premise: in the language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, when the two glyphs flower and song are joined, the new meaning is art and poetry.  This concept was essential to the Aztec worldview, according to exhibition creator Carolyn Kallenborn, professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And what do I take with me when I go?

Will I leave nothing here of me on this earth?

Do we only rise up and grow to then die in the ground?

At least let us leave flowers.

At least let us leave song.

Nezahualcoyotl, Aztec Poet

Flores y Cantos invites you to lose yourself in a surreal world of past and future, light, shadow and projected imagery of the ever-present and on-going cycles of nature. As you step into and move throughout the space, you add your own shadow and become immersed in the thoughts of life’s meaning and what is left behind by those who came before you. The artist asks, What will you leave behind?

Tree of life embroidery by Miriam Campos, San Antonino Castillo Velasco

For me, that leads to the ultimate and essential question, What is the meaning of life?

Tito Mendoza’s tapestry illuminated by a visual lake, you are on the beach

The exhibition has as its backdrop the pre-Columbian ceramic figures collected by Oaxaca artist Rufino Tamayo. While the individuals who created these sacred pieces, often deities that also refer to animals, plants, people and customs, are unnamed, we consider their legacy and that of their culture. They who believed in the eternal and the life cycle of birth, death and back again.

Enter into this other-worldly space, reflections

I sit on shallow steps, examining the tapestry of indigenous maize woven by textile artist Erasto “Tito” Mendoza, appreciating the fine embroidery stitches of a tree of life by Miriam Campos, I watch the movement of light, color, sky, water, nature projected. Sound conveys birdsong, waves, thunder-clap, peace, and I am immersed in another world, or is it my own, here and now?

Food for thought

At the buffet table, a visual feast

Carolyn asks us: Think about the following questions —

  1. What do you value that your ancestors passed on to you?
  2. What would you want others to remember about you when you are gone?

In the frenzy of Guelaguetza, the Oaxaca event that attracts thousands to the city, this is a respite that offers calm and consideration.

Carolyn, Miriam and Tito joined by family and friends

I am grateful to be writing about this after the almost two-hour trip from the city back to Teotitlan last night. The city celebration brings much-needed tourism and also Los Angeles-style gridlock. I’m going to be here on the hammock for a while as I think about what Carolyn asks me to re-examine.

Nicuatole pre-Hispanic corn pudding with Teotitlan mole negro tamales

Is life a blur or is there a kernel of meaning in this picture?

Feet up, swinging in the hammock, a meditation on blue skies

 

 

 

 

What About Beezie? Oaxaca Dog Rescue and Finding a Home

This story has a happy ending!

Two days after I returned to Teotitlan del Valle and my home here, I wrote about the skin and bones campo dog that Janie started feeding and named Beezween, which is Zapotec for deer. Beezie leaps like one with his long legs, so it was fitting. I posted Facebook pictures of a dog who looked close to death. I thought, OMG, what am I going to do with FOUR dogs, and I put out the call for a rescue. Beezie needs a home.

Beezie taking a snoozle.

What I got were several generous donations from friends in the US, Canada and Germany to help sustain him until we could figure out a resolution. Thank you to Linda Mansour, Kate Rayner, Judith Grossmann, Barbara Szombatfalvy, Susie Robison, Donna Davis and Karen Nein.

Bottom to top: Beezie, Tia, Butch. Mamacita is missing.

Janie wanted to bring him back with her to North Carolina when she leaves next week. She fell in love! Beezie responded to her by sitting, laying and rolling over. It was a heartfelt bonding.

Janie teaching Beezie to lay down

Meanwhile, I started making buckets of chicken soup and got big bones from the local butcher. Meals were supplemented with chicken livers and gizzards.  My three loved the extra treatment and Beezie started to gain weight.

Healthier Beezie after three weeks of care and feeding

After a ton of research and many phone calls, Janie found that the least cost to transport Beezie to the US via private courier (the airlines are no longer taking responsibility for transporting animals) was out of reach — over $1,500 to start.

Beezie in distress, June 29, 2018

Way back in the beginning of my return and in a panic, I found Rebecca Durden Raab who started a not-for-profit dog rescue organization years ago in San Pablo Etla called Friends of Megan. I contacted her and got the name of the vet, Luciano, who has worked with her for over twelve years. They offer a shelter and dog placement service, including spay/neuter and healthcare. Janie followed up.

Dr. Luciano, the vet from Friends of Megan, with an outstretched hand

Yesterday, Beezie happily (and miraculously) submitted to collar and leash without a fuss. Janie led him down the drive to Omar’s waiting car and they set out for San Pablo Etla and new beginnings. We both cried but knew he would be in good hands.

Beezie sat in Janie’s lap for the entire road trip to Etla

Janie applied for and won a textile residency at Meredith College in Raleigh that starts in September, based much on the volunteer work she did with Galeria Fe y Lola here in the village during the time she house sat and cared for the dogs. She would have had her hands full with a campo dog trying to adjust to city life!

I have used the funds entrusted to me to support Beezie’s journey back to health to buy food and medicines. The funds I did not spend have been donated to Friends of Megan and to the Teotitlan del Valle Spay Neuter Clinic run by Merry Foss.

Beezie. It was hard for Janie to let him go.

Merry’s website is defunct, so if you want to donate, you can send PayPal funds to me using Friends and Family at oaxacaculture@me.com and I’ll make sure it gets to her.

The donations to Friends of Megan are tax-deductible in the USA.

My prayer is that no other starving dogs show up at my front gate!  Three is enough and it’s too hard turning a distressed animal away. There are so many here!

Thanks to everyone for following the journey.

This is not tourist life in Oaxaca. It’s the underbelly of what happens day-to-day, much the same as in other “civilized” countries where animals are mistreated, cut loose to fend for themselves. The overpopulation of dogs here is rampant. I wish I didn’t have to write this story. I’m certain not all stories, those we don’t hear about, end up like this one.

 

Wear Your Apron: Photos From the Feria del Barro Rojo

First, the last day of this year’s (2018) Feria del Barro Rojo in San Marcos Tlapazola is tomorrow, Monday, July 16, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Grammy Award-winner Lila Downs is feria Madrina, charms us all, gives her all

If you go, wear your distinctive Tlapazola apron, like I did. It’s gingham trimmed in folded ribbon that ends up looking like frosting on a wedding cake. Too much fun. And, that’s exactly what it evokes — the hilarity of a gringa (otherwise known as Huera — White Girl) wearing indigenous dress. I get called Huera a lot in these parts.

Oh, those aprons! All handmade icing on the cake

If you don’t have an apron, you can buy one at the fair.

Now, we know I will never pass as a local and even if I tried, I’d never get away with it. But, that’s not the point. The point is to honor and appreciate the local culture and one way I’ve found to do that best is to make a point of dressing like a local. Everyone in the village finds this more than amusing. They like it. They smile, giggle, laugh and wave.

Front and center, beautiful red clay pottery

They invite me to sit with them and have a tejate (not a Tecate, which is a Mexican beer). They offer an embrace and accept mine.

Lila Downs speaks with everyone, congratulates them, shakes hands

Some of the ladies I know from years of meandering and buy from them at the Tlacolula Sunday market and they recognize me.

Beribboned young women comprise the welcome delegation

I have time. I sit a while. Visiting with people and taking your time is another way to show respect. It was late afternoon and my second visit of the day after taking two friends to Mitla. (I decided to return for a more leisurely visit and to pay for a blouse I put on hold.)

Meet Paul Cohen, Lila’s husband, and their son, oh, and me

We broke open a bottle of wild agave tepeztate mezcal and shared a sip or two with fair organizer Gonzalo Artuza from the Oaxaca Government Office of Social and Economic Support in Oaxaca, that underwrote the event.

Red clay with painted design

Sometimes I like to travel solita just to experience the serendipity of what can happen by just being somewhere with no other plan than to just BE.

My apron, bought last year, gives my friends a giggle

Many of the women here are the pottery makers whose work is distributed by and sold under the name of others more famous. Few of them get personal recognition. The fair is a great way to collect this beautiful ware and to offer much-needed economic support in this Zapotec village of about 3,500 people, while directly supporting the women makers.

Sometimes the only roadblock is a bull and a bunch of cows

How to get there: Drive through the main street of Tlacolula and go southwest, toward the coastal mountains. Follow the main road out of town. There are no road signs. In the distance you will see a village straight ahead — that’s San Bartolome Quialana. Don’t go there. Tlapazola is the village to the far right, so as you get closer to Quialana, there is a road (unmarked) that will take you to the right and directly to Tlapazola. This road has curves, straightaways, potholes and some smooth pavement. If you use GPS, it’s pretty accurate. Just look for the church with the rounded red dome off to the right in the distance!

Many farmers are giving over their corn fields to the planting of espadin agave for mezcal production. It is now a high-paying cash crop. The road goes through these fields and it’s gorgeous.

Who can stop taking photos of beautiful, talented Lila Downs? Not me.

And, our last laugh! They are acculturated to be serious!

I want to recommend Maria Aragon Sanchez and Gloria Cruz Sanchez for their excellent red clay dinnerware. Privada del Porvenir #1, San Marcos Tlapazola, Cel. 951 281 3329 and email: lucinam@live.com.mx

 

 

 

In The Cloud Forest at San Antonio Cuajimoloyas, Ixtlan, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oliver Sacks, medical doctor and writer, talks about Oaxaca biodiversity and you can read about it in his Oaxaca Journal.  He talks about coming to Oaxaca for forty years. You can also easily experience the climate range by visiting the Ethnobotanical Garden behind Templo Santo Domingo, where there is a sampling of the microclimates found throughout the state.

The cloud forest at San Antonio Cuajimaloyos, misty mountains

But, nothing quite matches the real thing — a visit to the cloud forest high above the Oaxaca valley floor in the Pueblos Mancomunados where eco-tourism is front and center. A packed dirt road (that could be called a trail) goes between the villages along the spine of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range.

I imagine the Cotswolds might look something like this

Here you will find  rustic cabins, simple and delicious comedors with local food prepared in homestyle kitchens by knowledgeable cooks, and a range of outdoor activities to delight hikers, bikers, runners, climbers, horse riders, and zip line enthusiasts. Some people like to go village-to-village to fully experience the mountains.

Flower gardens and succulents thrive in this climate

Perhaps not much could be better than being up here in a hot summer, when ten to fifteen degree cooler temperatures prevail. But, this has been no usual summer and cool weather in the valley means it is much cooler higher up. But, summer has just begun here and who knows? I may head for the hills again.

A beautiful hill town with vibrant color everywhere

San Antonio Cuajimoloyas hosted a race last Sunday and I decided to go along with Eric and Elsa, since he decided to compete with his Oaxaca running team. That meant leaving Teotitlan del Valle at 6:30 a.m. for the about forty-minute (plus) ride up the mountain on a very curvy road via the Tlacolula intersection.

Under cloud cover everyone is bundled up

We passed Diaz Ordaz and the vegetation started to change: dense pine forest, huge cactus the size of a cow, leafy ferns with arms outstretched ten feet, steep hills, flowing stream beds, an occasional bull plowing a vertical field.

It’s an un-selfie. Too cold to be fashionable.

Atmospheric, colorful houses, tin and lots of weathering

As we ascended, Eric turned on the windshield wipers as we entered the cloud cover. It wasn’t really rain per se. It was more like a soft blanket of drizzle, comforting, though the road was obscured and we couldn’t see more than twenty feet ahead.

Elsa in front of a giant, non-mezcal producing agave. Brrr.

Road signs welcomed us to San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. The scene was like a diffused Rembrandt landscape painting, the subjects in the foreground sharp and those in the background fading out to a blurred gray in the fog.

Runners wait for the horn to signal the race start

Packed dirt path makes for great hiking, biking, running

We climbed the 45-degree angle cobbled streets to the trailhead where the race would begin. There were two groups: the half-marathoners and those running a 10K.  At this altitude, 10,490 feet, I needed to stop for breaths even though I’m a seasoned walker at 6K feet altitude. My Fitbit claims I climbed 23 flights of stairs that day.

Taking a long stretch to get those muscles ready

Those assembled looked much like USA runners and those all over the world. They had on the gear:  hydration packs, polypropylene shirts and shells, familiar shoe brands, caps and scarves for warmth. We live in a small universe with much in common. Perhaps some day, the current government in the USA will recognize that.

A running team posing for the camera

Racers gather at the starting line and sprint as the horn sounds

Gosh it was cold up there! Refreshingly perfect for exercise and to be in nature.

Taking a hot chocolate break away from the cold

While Eric ran (10K in 58 minutes, a great time for him), Elsa and I hung out on the main street in a cafe, sipping Oaxaca hot chocolate and dunking sweet bread into the rich liquid.

After the race, let’s have some water! He’s happy with his time.

By The Way: We haven’t had much rain here since I returned in late June, so I’m hoping the clouds will give enough moisture for the annual Wild Mushroom Festival held in August in Cuajimoloyas. (Who says there’s no Global Warming?)

Another finisher who ran the 1/2 marathon

Onlookers or are they getting their morning exercise, too

On the way down the mountain, a San Miguel del Valle border sign

A view of Tlacolula and Teotitlan del Valle from up high

Where Teotitlan lands end, at the border of Cuajimoloyas, in Spanish and Zapotec

Our stop on the way home included barbecue goat tacos for breakfast at the Tlacolula Sunday market, and home by 1 p.m.

Barbecue goat taco, Tlacolula Market

Eco-Tourism in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas: One to Three-Day Tour Operators

If I am missing anyone, please let me know and I will add them to the list.

P.S. This is not an endorsement. Please do your research and if you decide to go, choose a tour operator best suited to your own needs.