Category Archives: Oaxaca travel

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Celebrates Her Patron Saint Today

The patron saint of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico is the Virgin of the Nativity — La Virgen de la Natividad. It is celebrated here on September 8, today.

Los Danzantes de la Pluma, Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Los Danzantes de la Pluma, Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

There are two days of fiestas that started on September 6 with a Parade of the Canastas, this year’s group of Las Danzantes de la Pluma (Feather Dancers), and dances and fireworks last night.

Janet Chavez Santiago in the Parade of the Baskets, Convite de las Canastas, Teotitlan del Valle

Janet Chavez Santiago, Parade of the Baskets, , Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Today, starting at 1:00 p.m., there is a festival all day in courtyard in front of the church. The Dance of the Feathers is a spectacle, but it is also an important three-year commitment the young men make to the church, religious and cultural traditions of the Teotitlan del Valle.

Come see how high they leap, Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle

Come see how high they leap, Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle

Fiesta time brings live music, traditional dancing, lots of beer and mezcal, and a chance to visit one of the most beautiful villages in the Oaxaca valley.

Unmarried young women in the Convite de las Canastas, Teotitlan del Valle

Unmarried young women in the Convite de las Canastas, Teotitlan del Valle

The band is a very important part of the tradition

The band is a very important part of the tradition, with pre-Hispanic flute (left)

If you decide to spend the night, consider Casa Elena or Las Granadas B&B. Both offer wonderful hospitality.

Felipe Flores has a 2-year volunteer commitment on the village police force

Felipe Flores has a 2-year volunteer commitment on the village police force

Lupita Chavez joins the young women's processions this year

Lupita Chavez joins the young women’s processions this year

 

Flags blew in front of her smiling face at the perfect moment

Flags blew in front of her smiling face at the perfect moment

Holding up papier mache chickens, at the parade start

Holding up papier mache chickens, at the parade start

Clown serves as distraction for crowd and dancer cheerleader

Clown serves as distraction for crowd and dancer cheerleader

Pre-Hispanic Zapotec carvings embedded in church wall

Pre-Hispanic Zapotec carvings embedded in church wall

The conquerors of Mexico built churches atop indigenous temples, using the stones and carvings for foundations and to attract the people to the new religion.

Festival banners and balloons lead the procession

Festival banners and balloons lead the procession

Entering the staging area inside the church courtyard

Entering the staging area inside the church courtyard

Lining up to begin the procession through town

Lining up to begin the procession through town

Ana Paula Fuentes visited with other friends for lunch

Ana Paula Fuentes visited with other friends for lunch; at the fiesta

Janet Chavez Santiago in front of Teotitlan's church

Janet Chavez Santiago in front of Teotitlan’s church

Preciosa de Sangre de Cristo Church, Teotitlan del Valle

Preciosa de Sangre de Cristo Church, Teotitlan del Valle

Starts Today: Mexico Markets 5-Day Photo Challenge

Starts TODAY, Monday, September 5. FIVE-DAY PHOTO CHALLENGE: MEXICO MARKETS. All are welcome to participate at the Facebook Group Mexico Travel Photography.

This is for photography enthusiasts of all levels, including beginners. SHARE to expand participation!

Rules: 1 photo per day. Each photo must be labeled by day, ie. Day 1, Mexico Markets. Day 2, Mexico Markets, etc. with location, if you can.

Let’s see your Mexico’s Markets! And, Happy Labor Day.

Day One, Mexico Markets Photo Challenge. Benito Juarez Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

Day One, Mexico Markets Photo Challenge. Benito Juarez Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

Good Friday in Oaxaca, Mexico: Procession of Silence

Holy Week or Semana Santa in Oaxaca, Mexico, is coming to a close for 2016. On Good Friday, the Procession of Silence that re-enacts the trial, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus (14 Stations of the Cross) starts around sunset and winds through the main streets of the historic center.

Leading the procession is Archbishop Jose Luis Chavez Botello and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Antequera, Oaxaca.

(FYI: Oaxaca was named Antequera in 1529. Later, it reverted to Oaxaca, adapted from the Nahuatl Huaxyacac, which was Hispanicized to Guajaca. The predominant tree of the region is the guaje, which produces an edible seed pod, the source of Oaxaca’s name.)

Spanish Catholicism came to Mexico with the conquest and many areas here observe Semana Santa with devotion that include influences from indigenous tradition. In Oaxaca city, the Procession of Silence is probably more akin to its Iberian Peninsula origins.

Solemn, spiritual, filled with the images of belief and sacrifice, the procession draws visitors from throughout the world. At its apogee, the crowd was at least 10 people deep.

 

The mystery is further heightened by the metered beat of a drummer, candlelight, rebozo draped women, hooded men, the eerie sound of crosses dragging on the cobbled streets, and the illumination of a full moon.

I usually spend Easter week in Teotitlan del Valle, so this was a new experience. What I heard about from friends beforehand was the description of men wearing pointy hats, a reminder of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. Let’s be clear. We don’t want to confuse the two!

 

The conical hood, called a capriote, hides the face of the person wearing the nazareño cloak. This is a garment of Medieval origin and associated with the Passion of Christ.

I am not Catholic nor am I religious, but I consider myself spiritual, observant and respectful, so understanding the rituals and traditions of Catholicism in Mexico, where I spend a good part of my life, is important to me.

We had a great perch on the rooftop patio at Mezzaluna, at the corner of Garcia Virgil and Allende, in clear view of Santo Domingo Church and the procession as it passed below. This is the corner where the procession began and ended.

Cost of admission was a delicious pear and gorgonzola pizza, sueros (I like mine plain, Victoria beer. fresh squeezed lime, and a salt-rimmed chilled glass) and mezcal. The house espadin mezcal was especially delicious, especially since it came in a double-shot tumbler size glass!

As the procession ended, the crowd dispersed to fill the walking street/andador Macedonio Alcala, the adjacent artisans markets, and restaurants open late to feed all the hungry visitors.

 

As I walked by Templo de Sangre de Cristo at the corner of Alcala and M. Bravo, I was moved to enter where I saw figures carried in the procession at rest inside the church. The altar was draped in red cloth as were all the saints in their wall niches. People sat in silent prayer.

Back on the street, I passed Ave. Morelos, where the full moon hung low in the sky, a backdrop to street lights and headlights. As I meandered back to where I stay in the city, it was a perfect ending to a great day and a reminder that life is in the beauty of each moment.

And, of course, there are the children, who hold all the promise of a future yet to unfold.

 

 

 

 

 

Semana Santa–Easter Holy Week in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

As I write, someone is in the bell tower pulling the rope that rings the campana — a clarion call to gathering. Today is El Lunes Santo in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.  You still have time to catch a taxi or colectivo from Oaxaca to arrive for the 9 a.m. mass in the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo church. Afterward, the procession will begin from the church courtyard and wind through the village, an all day event. Just listen for the music to find it!

LunesSanto13-30

Teotitlan del Valle is divided into five different administrative units that are part of the Municipio, the volunteer usos y costumbres municipal governing body. Each of the five sections will host resting places along the route that symbolizes the Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross.

LunesSanto13-11

On Good Friday, there will be two separate processions — one carrying the Christ and the other the figure of Mary. They will come together in the village municipal courtyard in front of the rug market where a mass will be celebrated before they are returned to the church.

Here are some links to posts, photos and videos about Semana Santa in Teotitlan del Valle:

LunesSanto13-7

Easter Sunday is a quiet day here, celebrated in the home with an elaborate meal and gathering of extended family.

 

Agave Beverage of Choice? Aguamiel, Pulque and Mezcal

Here we are in Oaxaca, Mexico, center of the universe for the cultivation, production, distilling and bottling of agave nectar we call mezcal.  Mezcal is hot. A hot commodity, that is.

I stand corrected! Agave is not a cactus. It is a succulent. Thanks to reader Andrew for bringing this to my attention. I’ve changed the post title.

A local friend told me his uncle sold his espadin agave field for 40,000 pesos when it reached maturity after seven years. It takes a long time to make $2,200 USD equivalent here, even at today’s exchange rate. But, that’s a lot of lana (money) and a farmer is happy to hold this crop for a while. The price of agave piña has risen exponentially, 15 times greater than it was seven years ago, according to Alvin Starkman, operator of Mezcal Educational Excursions.

For the last week, I’ve been drinking a cup of aguamiel in the morning. Zapotecs in the know say that aguamiel has curative, medicinal powers and aids in daily digestion. I’m a believer.

 

Aguamiel is the sap that comes from the heart of the agave when you cut the top off.  Honey water. That’s what they call it, and it tastes like it. After one day unrefrigerated, it begins to ferment and after a few days will become pulque. An acquired taste. After four days of fermentation, you are drinking pure bubbling alcohol that goes from clear to cloudy. Some flavor it with fruit or oatmeal to sweeten the taste.

Last week, I tasted tepache in the Tlacolula market. (Find the stand next to the row of ice cream vendors on the rug sellers street.) This is pulque with fermented fresh pineapple. A half a cup before lunch and I needed the arm of a friend to steady me. But, it sure was tasty. In the U.S. with the absence of pulque, some tepache recipes call for beer and pineapple!

 

Which brings me to mezcal, the epitome of distilled beverage in these parts.

 

I am not even close to being knowledgeable, but I now have about 14 bottles of locally produced mezcal in my collection. I added the last six — plastic bottles, mostly with the Coke label, filled at the source — during a day-long mezcal education tour with Alvin Starkman. (Plenty of tasting, too.) Nine family members and friends joined me. Those who flew away, left with officially bottled and sealed beverages, thanks to Alvin.

It takes an education and time to understand mezcal and one-day is just the beginning. So is a collection of 14 bottles. Hardly enough to matter to the serious collector.

On the trip with Alvin, I learned that I like tepeztate and clay distilled espadin. Clay gives the mezcal the flavor of loam and fire. I used to really like añejo and reposado, and these are very smooth. Now, however, what tickles my nose and throat are the nuances of the herbs and earthiness of the wild agaves.

 

Stick your nose in the glass. Inhale. Get that full smokey aroma from the roasted-over-wood agave heart (called piña or pineapple) into your lungs. Then sip. Just a little bit. Second sip, take a little more. You’ll see that what might have felt harsh to your throat at first is now subtle and delightful.

 

Each type of cactus will make a different type of mezcal. Maybe it’s an espadin distilled with a turkey breast (pechuga de pavo) hanging over the copper pot. Now, there’s a flavor worth trying. Is it fermented in oak, pine, a bull skin, plastic or stainless steel, and for how long? This impacts the flavor. Is it made from a tobala, Karwinskii or madrecuixe agave. Are fruits or poleo (wild mint) added for flavor? And what about that worm?

 

And what about the microclimates and soil types? Yes, the same agave will produce a different taste with a variation in soil temperature, altitude, and whether the field is shared with weeds or with squash and beans, and when it was last plowed.

 

Whether you live here or are visiting, mezcal is worth knowing about. It is an ancient artisanal craft on par with rug weaving, natural dyeing, clay making and more recently wood carving. Getting out to the palenques on country back roads is a unique experience.

 

Meeting the men and women who grow the agave and distill it is even more amazing. Many live very simple, humble lives and their production is small. They may not be certified but what they make can be every bit as delicious.

 

When you go to the source, you are able to buy, too, at a fraction of what you would pay for a bottle in the city. But, it’s not really about price, it’s about the adventure!

Mezcal Factoids, thanks to Alvin Starkman:

  • No 2 batches of mezcal is the same
  • Mezcal improves with age
  • 95% of tequila is made from blue agave in Jalisco, Mexico
  • In the State of Oaxaca there are about 8 species of agave used to make mezcal
  • Each of these species has as many as 20 sub-species resulting in many flavor profiles from just the varietal of the plant
  • On the other hand, while tequila has different flavors resulting from different influences, only blue agave can be used to achieve them
  • While most tequila is made with 100% agave, it can be made with as little as 51% agave bsed sugars. Read the label carefully, especially the more popular commercial brands made in the most industrialized way.

 

  • True artesanal mezcal uses natural yeast in the environment
  • Gusano worm in a bottle of mezcal changes the flavor of the spirit significantly, while some stil use it as a marketing tool
  • Most artisanal agave grows without irrigation
  • The most accepted theory is that the Moors brought the distillation process to Spain, and the Spanish brought it to the New World where they found agave

 

A Few Mezcal Resources:

  • Mezcal Educational Tours
  • La Mezcaleria — a new favorite, where to taste/buy aguamiel, pulque and artisanal mezcal — on the Macedonio Alcala walking street in the first block beyond Santo Domingo Church on the right
  • Las Mezcalistas — Susan Coss and Max Garrone, consultants and aficionados, talk about all things mezcal on their blog

 

 

Note: Most of these photos were taken on the trip with Alvin Starkman. Others were shot during an independent adventure I took with my son, sister and brother-in-law to San Juan del Rio the week before.