Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

EXPOventa: Textiles + Jewelry, Oaxaca Centro, Thursday, February 6

We have curated this POP-UP, one-morning-only EXPOventa with the Best of the Best textile artisans we know plus ONE GREAT filigree silversmith who is usually hidden away in his studio in the LaNoria neighborhood of downtown Oaxaca. Please share. Tell your friends. Don’t miss it! Cash sales.

We are winding up our whirlwind Oaxaca City and Villages Folk Art Tour and scheduled this EXPOventa for our travelers. Eric and I want to open it up to the public to give these deserving artisans a chance to show off what they make. Meet the makers. Support the artisans directly. All proceeds go directly to them!

On the Manialtepec Lagoon, Pacific Coast of Oaxaca

Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour 2020 began with a deep dive into the ecology of the region. We left Puerto Escondido in late afternoon for a hour ride north to the Manialtepec Lagoon. We are in the tropics, hot, sultry and a perfect place to escape winter.

It is magical here, where sea and fresh water mix with spring water to create a brackish environment where bioluminescence is created by algae. The phenomenon can be best seen on a moonless night.

Come with us in January 2021–Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

This is a haven for nesting birds and a ride through the fingers of the lagoon reveals colonies of birds waiting to feed just before sunset. The banks of the lagoon host mangroves that have been here for centuries. It is a source of food for indigenous people, a host for sea bass, striped mullet and mojarra.

Along the shores that remind me of bayous and swamps of the American south, we see cormorants, woodpeckers, parakeets, hawks, ducks, heron, egret, orioles and more. Our eco-tour guide is knowledgeable and can spot birds from afar with razor precision. He points to a Peregrine Falcon high in a tree. We don’t see any crocodiles!

This is also where protected sea turtles come to shore along the beach to lay their eggs. We participate in an endangered Ridley sea turtle release, scooping the littles one out of their nesting hole with small jicara bowls, never touching the turtles with our hands. There is a line in the sand where we release them, and watch as they scramble from beach to ocean.

The turtles use their built-in radar to guide them to their habitat. We learn that only about ten percent will survive to adulthood.

After the sea turtle release, we take our seats around a dining table set up on the beach where we enjoy fresh grilled tuna prepared by a local cook. As we eat, the sun sets to the west, giving us another memorable experience.

By now it is dark. We climb back into the boat and travel the waterways back to the main lagoon. Our captain, who grew up on these shores, uses a strobe light to guide us, but I suspect he knows this water like a second skin and has navigated it since he was a child.

He finds just the right spot for us to jump into the warm water from the boat. This is one part of the experience that I love. Move the water with your arms and feet. Watch the droplets sparkle and glow in the dark. (A regular camera cannot capture the image of this phenomenon and so I remember with an impression imprinted in my memory.)

Our goal here is to understand the rich diversity of the Oaxaca coast. To see how indigenous people depend on their natural resources for sustenance. To explore the environment and protect the delicate balance that exists between human and wildlife. And, to enjoy ourselves!

This gives us a footing for exploring textile villages and meeting artisans in the coming days. It is also time to relax and ease into coastal life after the intensity of travel to get here.

I hope you will consider coming with us in 2021 for the next Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. We are ready to accept your registration!

Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour 2021

Arrive on Saturday, January 16 and depart on Monday, January 25, 2021 — 9 nights, 10 days in textile heaven!

Trip is limited to 12 participants–6 single rooms and 3 shared rooms.

To register, please complete the Registration Form and email it.

Indigo and purple shell dye in Pinotepa de Don Luis
Handmade masks for Dance of the Tigers, San Juan Colorado

Cost is $2,795 per person shared room or $3,395 per person for private room. See details and itinerary below.

Please complete this Registration Form and return to Norma Schafer at norma.schafer@icloud.com to participate. Thank you.

This entire study tour is focused on exploring the textiles of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. You arrive to and leave from Puerto Escondido, connecting through Mexico City or Oaxaca.

Natural dyes on back-strap loomed cotton, the finest handmade garments

We go deep, and not wide. We give you an intimate, connecting experience. We spend time to know the culture. You will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy local cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, and travel to remote villages you may not go to on your own. This study tour focuses on revival of ancient textile techniques and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture that encompasses the use of natural dyes, back-strap loom weaving, drop spindle hand spinning, and glorious, pre-Hispanic native cotton.

The weaver and Kristy, who came on our trip from Australia

Villages along the coast and neighboring mountains were able to preserve their traditional weaving culture because of their isolation. Stunning cotton is spun and woven into lengths of cloth connected with intricate needlework to form amazing garments.

San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca, weaver who uses indigo and nanche tree bark for dyes

We have invited a noted cultural anthropologist to travel with us. She has worked in the region for the past fifteen years and knows the textile culture and people intimately. We learn about and discuss motifs, lifestyle, endangered species, quality and value of direct support.

Our 2020 group and one of the weaving cooperatives we visit
Market meander, Puerto Escondido

What we do:

  • We visit 7 weaving villages in Oaxaca and Guerrero
  • We meet back-strap loom weavers, natural dyers, spinners
  • We see, touch, smell native Oaxaca cotton — brown, green, natural
  • We participate in a sea turtle release with sunset dinner on the beach
  • We swim in a rare bioluminescence lagoon
  • We visit three local markets to experience daily life
  • We travel to remote regions to discover amazing cloth
  • We support indigenous artisans directly
  • We attend Dreamweavers annual sale at Hotel Santa Fe
  • We escape WINTER in El Norte
Hand-painted Converse tennis shoes at Pinotepa de Don Luis art studio

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • the culture, history and identity of cloth
  • beating and spinning cotton, and weaving with natural dyes
  • native seed preservation and cultivation
  • clothing design and construction, fashion adaptations
  • symbols and meaning of regional textile designs
  • choice of colors and fibers that show each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume
  • the work of women in pre-Hispanic Mexico and today
Rare skirt (posahuanco) fabric dyed with caracol purpura, cochineal and indigo

2020 Itinerary — Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

  • Saturday, January 16: Fly to Puerto Escondido—overnight in Puerto Escondido, Group Welcome Dinner at 7 p.m. (D)
  • Sunday, January 17: Puerto Escondido market meander, lunch and afternoon on your own. Late afternoon departure for turtle release and Manialtepec bioluminescence lagoon.  (B)
We release just hatched baby Ridley turtles into the Pacific Ocean
  • Monday, January 18: Depart after breakfast for Tututepec to visit a young weaver who is reviving his village’s textile traditions, visit local museum and murals — overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
  • Tuesday, January 19: After breakfast, we go on to the weaving village of San Juan Colorado to visit two women’s cooperatives working in natural dyes, hand-spinning, and back strap loom weaving. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
  • Wednesday, January 20: After breakfast, we return to the mountain with a first stop at the Pinotepa de Don Luis market. Then, we visit the Converse shoe project where talented artists hand-paint footwear, carve gourds and make amazing graphic art prints. We have lunch with Dreamweavers cooperative members and caracol purpura purple snail dyers in their home, complete with show and sale, and cultural talk.  Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
  • Thursday, January 21: After breakfast, we travel up the coast highway into the state of Guerrero, where we visit two outstanding Amusgo weaving groups in Xochistlahuaca and Zacoalpan. They are working to revive ancient designs and incorporate locally grown native, wild cotton. Overnight in Ometepec. (B, L)
  • Friday, January 22: After breakfast, we begin our journey back to Puerto Escondido, with a stop at the Afro-Mexican Museum to understand Mexico’s black history. We stop in Pinotepa Nacional for lunch and a market meander.  Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B, L)
Understanding the slave trade and cultural history, Afro-Mexican Museum, Costa Chica
  • Saturday, January 23: This is a day on your own to explore the area, return to the Puerto Escondido market, take a rest from the road trip, enjoy the beach and pools, and begin packing for your trip home.  Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B)
  • Sunday, January 24: Attend the annual Dreamweavers Expoventa featuring the Tixinda Weaving Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis. Other regional artisans are also invited, making this a grand finale folk art extravaganza — a fitting ending to our time together on Oaxaca’s coast. Grand Finale Dinner. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B, D)
  • Monday, January 25: Depart for home.
Sea and insect motifs adorn collar embroidered with snail dye and indigo

Note: You can add days on to the tour — arrive early or stay later — at your own expense.

Cost to Participate

  • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • $3,395 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)
We visit the mask-maker, too
Picking native pre-Hispanic green and coyuchi cotton, Amusgos, Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero

Your Tour Leader: Norma Schafer, director of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, will again lead this popular tour. We sell out each year so don’t hesitate to register if you are interested in participating.

An intricate floral bodice, woven into the back strap loomed cloth, San Pedro Amusgos
Village chapel, Zacoalpan, Guerrero

Some Vocabulary and Terms

Sunset dinner on the beach, somewhere north of Puerto Escondido, Manialtepec Lagoon
On the Manialtepec Lagoon, a night it is bioluminescence–Let’s go swimming!

Who Should Attend

  • Explorers of indigenous cloth, native fibers
  • Collectors, curators and cultural appreciators
  • Textile and fashion designers
  • Weavers, embroiderers, dyers and collectors
  • Photographers and artists who want inspiration
  • Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

Full Registration Policies, Procedures and Cancellations– Please READ

Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, where Amusgo women make extraordinary cloth
Shuko with award-winning coyuchi and cochineal huipil, Dreamweavers

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of  30% of the total is due on or before September 15, 2020. The third 30% payment is due on or before November 15, 2020. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After November 15, 2020, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before November 15, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.

We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After November 15, 2020, there are no refunds.

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.

History of the Mixtec nation and 8-Jaguar Claw Chieftain
Hand-carved jicara gourds, rattles and lamps

Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!

Fuschina dye, preferred by the women of Santiago Ixtayutla, Jamiltepec

Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 45 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time to our destination.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: We will do some walking and getting in/out of vans. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let us know before you register. This may not be the study tour for you.

Indigo and coyuchi cotton huipil, detail

Well-Being: If you have mobility issues or health impediments, please let us know. Our travel to remote villages will be by van on secondary roads with curves, usually not for more than two hours. When you tell us you are ready to register, we will send you a health questionnaire to complete. If you have walking or car dizziness issues, this may not be the trip for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Note: Itinerary subject to schedule change and modification.

AeroTucan, between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido, a 35-minute ride


Tlacolula Market Meander in B&W Plus TinType

I’m at Zicatela Beach Puerto Escondido after taking the little plane that could, aka AeroTucan, at 7 a.m. this morning. Our coast of Oaxaca textile tour will start on Saturday. Meanwhile, my long-time Ohio pals Sam and Tom are staying at my casita and caring for my dogs Tia Margarita and Butch.

Yesterday, their first full day in Oaxaca, Sam, Tom and I went to Tlacolula to get cash (there are no ATMs yet in Teotitlan del Valle), and spent a fair amount of time meandering. Sam and Tom are professional photographers. I’ve always aspired to be like them. What I’ve learned is that the beauty is often in the detail. And, often in the grainy detail that using a darkroom can get. Except with digital trickery.

They like using the iPhone App TinType, and so do I. Here’s a sampling of the Not-on-Sunday market in black and white. Slower paced. Almost spare. Time to notice details. And, I like the artsy, old-timey results.

I’m no longer hauling around my big, heavy very professional Nikon equipment. In fact, I’d like to sell it. I also bought an Olympus mirrorless camera a couple of years ago, and find that it’s too weighty for me now, too.

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Study Tour 2020: Magical, Mystical Muertos in the Villages

October 28 to November 3, 2020 – 6 nights and 7 days, starting at $2,495

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico is meaningful and magical.  Celebrations in the villages go deep into Zapotec culture, community, tradition and pre-Hispanic practice. Some say it is the most important annual celebration in Mexico and here in Oaxaca, we know this is true.

Day of the Dead Altar

Beyond the city, in the Tlacolula Valley, the smaller villages are still able to retain their traditional practices.  Here they build altars at home, light copal incense, make offerings of homemade chocolate, bread and atole, prepare a special meal of tamales, and visit the homes of relatives to greet deceased ancestors who have returned for this 24-hour period.  Then, at the designated hour, the living go to the cemeteries to be with their loved ones  — either to welcome them back into the world or put them to rest after their visit here – the practice depending on each village.

You will learn about this and more as you come with us to meet artisans in four different villages who welcome us into their homes and their lives during this sacred festival.

Study Tour Highlights:

  • Visit homes, altars and cemeteries in four Zapotec villages: Teotitlan del Valle, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, San Marcos Tlapazola and San Miguel del Valle
  • Participate in presenting altar offerings at each home we visit
  • Build a group traditional altar to remember and honor your own loved ones
  • Learn to make homemade chocolate with the Mexican cacao bean
  • See a tamale-making demonstration and taste what is prepared
  • Shop for altar décor at the largest Teotitlan del Valle market of the year
  • Learn how mezcal is an integral part of festival culture and tradition

We created this study tour to take you out of the city, beyond the hubbub of party revelry and glitz of a Halloween-like experience that has morphed into a Hollywood-style extravaganza.  We will compare how city celebrations differ from those in villages by participating in city events first.  Our desire is to give you a full immersion experience that evokes what Day of the Dead may have been like twenty or fifty years ago–mystical,  magical, transcendent and spiritual.

Even so, cultural tourism has found its way into the back roads of Oaxaca.  We do our best to be respectful by limiting the size of our group to 10-12 participants, to give you an orientation about to what to expect and do during our visits, and to offer you an intimate, personal experience.

You have the guidance of local experts Eric Chavez Santiago and his wife, Elsa Sanchez Diaz

Eric Chavez Santiago is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexican folk art with a special interest in artisan economic development.  He is a weaver and natural dyer by training, a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola rug weaving family, who was born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions and customs, speaks the indigenous Zapotec language, and serves as your cultural navigator. 

Elsa Sanchez Diaz is a master of natural dyes and works with us to teach one- to three-day natural dye workshops at her dye studio in Oaxaca city. She leads our one-day study tours to discover artisans in the Tlacolula Valley and down the Ocotlan Highway. Elsa was born and raised in Oaxaca city, and she will share her family traditions and insights with you as your cultural navigator for this tour with her husband Eric.

Both are graduates of the Anahuac University and speak English and Spanish. Both can translate language, culture and traditions, can tell you about practices in their own extended family and how they have experienced the changes over time.

Moreover, both are deeply connected and will introduce you to some of the finest artisans in the region, where you will meet weavers, ceramic artists, apron makers and traditional cooks. You will have an opportunity to see artisan craft demonstrations and to shop for your own collection or for gifts, as you wish.

You will spend the first two nights in Oaxaca City, then you will move to a comfortable Bed and Breakfast Inn based in Teotitlan del Valle for the remainder of our time together.

Angel in Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead bread)

Preliminary Itinerary

October 28: Arrive in Oaxaca City and check in to our centrally-located boutique hotel

October 29: After breakfast, explore the city and the Benito Juarez market to see preparations for Dia de los Muertos, and gallery/shop decorations. We will also catch a comparsa – the traditional Muertos parade – along the pedestrian street as our schedule permits. Overnight in Oaxaca. (Breakfast and welcome dinner)

October 30: Travel to Teotitlan del Valle and check in to our comfortable B&B, take a chocolate making workshop with a traditional cook that includes a visit to the local molino (mill) to grind the cacao bean mixture. See how traditional mole Amarillo tamales are prepared and have a tasting.  We will talk about family altars, their significance and what goes into making one. You will then enjoy comida (late lunch) in the home of a local family.  (B, L)

Teotitlan del Valle tamales with mole amarillo, made by Ernestina

October 31: After breakfast, walk to the Teotitlan del Valle market to shop for altar decorations to later build a group altar. Bring photos of those you want to remember! Then, we will venture out into the countryside to visit the Zapotec villages of San Marcos Tlapazola and San Miguel del Valle to meet artisans and discuss their family Dia de los Muertos traditions. You will see demonstrations of red clay pottery and embroidered apron making and have a chance to buy if you wish. We will come prepared with altar gifts of chocolate and bread to present to the difuntos. On the road, we will stop at a traditional comedor for lunch (at your own expense). (B, D)  

November 1: After breakfast, travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to meet weaver artisans who will take us to their family gravesite at the village cemetery and talk about this village and their history and traditions. Visit homes where traditional altars tell the story of ancient Zapotec culture. You will bring your offering of chocolate and bread to put on their altars to honor the deceased of our hosts.  We will take lunch at a local comedor along the way (at your own expense). Then, make a stop on the way home for a mezcal tasting – Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien.  (B, D)  

November 2: After breakfast, you will visit the homes of selected weavers in Teotitlan del Valle to experience each family’s variation on altar preparation, and see a weaving and natural dyeing demonstration. You’ll then join a local family for lunch and accompany them to the cemetery to sit with their loved ones as they return to the underworld. After the cemetery, you will have a cena (late repast) of bread and hot chocolate, discuss how participating in Day of the Dead had an impact on you. Compare and contrast this experience with USA and Canadian experiences with death and dying.  (B, L, D)

November 3: After breakfast, we say our goodbyes. We will help you arrange a taxi (at your own expense) to the airport, or you may choose to stay on in Oaxaca or visit another part of Mexico.  (B) Hasta la proxima!

Itinerary subject to change based on scheduling and availability.

What Is Included

  • 6 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 4 dinners
  • 2 nights lodging at an excellent boutique hotel in Oaxaca City
  • 4 nights lodging at a charming B&B hotel in Teotitlan del Valle
  • museum and church entry fees
  • luxury van transportation
  • outstanding and complete guide services

What is NOT Included

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $2,495 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,245 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

Natural dyes have strong color, beautiful and more complex than synthetic dyes

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of  30% of the total is due on or before June 1, 2020. The third 30% payment is due on or before September 1, 2020. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After September 1, 2020, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before September 1, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.

Registration Form

Complete the form and Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice by email that is due on receipt.

Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola

Who Should Attend • Anyone interested in indigenous culture and creativity, who wants a deep immersion experience into Day of the Dead practices and traditions, and who appreciates artisan craft — weaving, embroidery, pottery. If you are a collector, come with us to go deep and find the best artisans. If you are a photographer or artist, come with us for inspiration. If you are an online retailer, come with us to find the stories to market what you sell.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 15, 2019, there are no refunds. If we receive a cancelation on or before September 1, 2020, 50% of your deposit will be refunded. After that, there are no refunds.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: Oaxaca and surrounding villages are colonial and pre-Hispanic. The altitude is close to 6,000 feet. Many streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, narrow and uneven. We will do a lot of walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day. We recommend you bring a walking stick.

If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Sitting vigil in the village cemetery, Dia de los Muertos