Category Archives: Oaxaca travel

Feria del Carrizo, San Juan Guelavia — Sunday, February 4, 2018 — Don’t Miss It!

Carrizo is hand-woven river reed. It’s another form of artisan weaving here in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca — the Central Valleys of Oaxaca. The village most well-known for their baskets made from this plant material that is similar to bamboo is San Juan Guelavia. It’s just across MEX 190 Carretera Nacional from where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, about 40 minutes outside Oaxaca City on the road to Tlacolula.

Jessica and the ladies shopping for handmade river reed baskets

The Basket Festival runs two Sundays each year, the last Sunday in January and the first Sunday in February. It has grown to become an extravaganza, complete with a mini-Guelaguetza style dance festival, amazing homemade food including barbecue lamb, hot-off-the griddle tortillas, quesadillas, memelitas, fresh fruit waters, beer and mezcal.

This was a mini-Guelaguetza with lots of dancing

In fact, these local festivals bring out artisanal mezcal distillers who do not export but have managed to bottle and label their elixir. After sharing an agua miel, the first juice of the pulque cactus before it begins to ferment into pulque,  and after lunch on our way out, Jessica and I decided to stop for a mezcal tasting along the roadside.

This giant balloon is not easy to twirl while walking

The 200 peso bottle of local Madrecuishe was every bit as good as those I have bought and tasted from brands that are marked with a fancy art label and exported to the USA where you can buy it for $200 USD. Two hundred pesos, my friends, is $11 USD.

A prayer at the altar with mezcal toast signals that the festival can begin

Some say Oaxaca is changing because of the mezcal craze. Foodies and beverage hounds are arriving by the plane full to frequent mezcal bars and upscale restaurants.

Young children learn the dance traditions early

But, life in our pueblos continue as it has over time with just a few modifications.

The Feria del Carrizo something I always look forward to and I’m very happy when I am here at the end of January to savor the experience. I’ve attended this fair since 2013, its second year.

Barbacoa de borrego (lamb BBQ)–served with fresh squeezed lime & shredded cabbage

Early on, the fair featured the basket makers who sold their craft from the raised platform surrounding the zocalo. Perhaps a few hundred people attended.

Do you see the guajalote feet? Part of the offering to the mayordomos.

Now, the basket vendors line the main street along with carnival rides, pulque and mezcal sellers, and red clay potters from neighboring San Marcos Tlapazola. The raised platform is filled with people eating on portable tables and folding chairs. The zocalo is a constant flow of performers, the periphery is lined with food stalls. Thousands were enjoying a sunny Oaxaca day.

Opening ceremonies featured a group honoring the mayordomos

If you want a taste of village life, spend Sunday, February 4 in San Juan Guelavia. Sip agua miel for 15 pesos. Get a bowl full of barbacoa for 70 pesos. Drink a beer for 20 pesos. Buy a beautiful basket for 150 pesos. Enjoy the dancing and music, and people-watching. It’s free.

 

Video: Oaxaca Study Abroad with North Carolina State University

We organized a spring 2017 Oaxaca, Mexico, study abroad program for North Carolina State University faculty and students from the Department of Horticultural Sciences. Three faculty members and thirteen students came from Raleigh, NC, to study sustainable agriculture, landscape design, natural dyes, horticulture, marketing, and ecology. We visited an organic permaculture farm, archeological sites, sea turtle sanctuary, endangered ecosystems, an organic coffee farm and artisanal mezcal producers. The weeklong program can be customized to any university study abroad program with a focus on culture, community development, business development, sustainability, textile design and more.

Here is the video produced by Rafael Hernandez. I hope you enjoy.

Universities interested in bringing a study abroad program to Oaxaca in 2018, 2019 or 2020 should contact me to discuss costs and itinerary.

 

Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, Coming Soon

It’s time to turn my attention to the annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — when memories return to the people we love who have dropped their bodies and whose souls rest in peace.

In this PBS Series, Borders, this story of Latinos celebrating Day of the Dead in Los Angeles warms my heart and helps bridge cultural understanding.

Thanks to my friend Carol Lynne Estes for sharing this with me so I can share it with you.

On October 28, I’ll participate with friends in a Raleigh, NC, Day of the Dead 5K Race to raise funds for the Brentwood Boys and Girls Club of Raleigh. I plan to wear my Day of the Dead T-Shirt acquired years ago from deceased artist Arnulfo Mendoza at La Mano Magica in Oaxaca. His family always gathers graveside in Teotitlan del Valle to celebrate his life.

Then, later that night, a celebration with my friend Barbara S. and her husband.

I’m thinking about where to build my altar  at home in Durham, a tradition to celebrate the life and memory of my parents, Dorothy Schafitz and Ben Beerstein. I’m thinking of a candlelit and flower-strewn path of marigold petals leading to a fall harvest table laden with oranges, flowers and mezcal.

Will you be in Oaxaca for Christmas?

Come with me on a one-day cultural immersion.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

I find Day of the Dead to be a soothing, multi-cultural approach to honoring memory with traditional Mexican fiesta style. It fits well into my world view of attending to the spiritual part of being human, a hankering for mysticism in a concrete jungle, and remembering ancestors, giving thanks to them for the life they created in us.

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

Soon, I’ll investigate my local Mexican markets and convenience stores where I might be able to find some of the necessities for altar making and not succumb to the Halloween frenzy.

May the preparations begin.

Post-Earthquake Report for San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas: Rumor or Fact

The 8.2 magnitude earthquake shook southern Oaxaca state and Chiapas a month ago on September 7, 2017. What’s the situation in Chiapas now?

I asked my friends Ann Conway, owner of La Joya Hotel, and Bela Wood, owner of Bela’s B&B, for an on-the-ground report about the state of things in and around San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

The best of the best vintage from San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas

What suffered damage there? I asked. What is closed? What is being repaired? Are tourist sites open and safe? What about visiting villages like Zinacantan, Chamula, Tenejapa, and Magdalenas?

I asked because we have two spaces open for the February 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour, and several inquirers express reluctance to commit right now.  (If you are interested, send me an email and I’ll send you the program description.)

Zinacantan man in tradition traje costume

Seems like there is a US State Department Advisory for the area and a rumor flying that Centro Textiles Mundo Maya is closed.

Here is what  Ann and Bela replied.

Bela Wood says, As far as I know all the villages are okay. In the historic center, two churches are closed pending repairs, and the Palacio Municipal is closed for repair.  Otherwise it’s fine. It feels quite safe. In fact we held up amazingly well for the size of the earthquake.

Ann Conway says, Many of our guests are from Mexico and other countries that don’t give much credence to what the US government has to say about safety here in Chiapas. Most of us who know and live in Mexico agree with this.

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Amigos de San Cristobal, an NGO support group, says, Hello Norma, Chiapas was affected by the quake, but the areas with the most damage were on the coast. Some museums are closed but not the Centro Textiles Mundo Maya textile museum.  In the villages of Zinacantán and Chamula all is good. We hope you will come visit us and we look forward to welcoming you. It is safe. 

Centro Textiles Mundo Maya, is the Chiapas textile museum located in the historic center of San Cristobal de las Casas. Here is what they say: We are still standing! We are pleased to share the news that our ex-convent of Santo Domingo was inspected by specialists and is in excellent condition to continue operations. We are waiting for the permits to perform minor repairs and resume our normal activities soon. 

Ex-convent Santo Domingo, Museo Textiles Mundo Maya

As for OAXACA: 

I’ve written before and I’ll say it again, Oaxaca City is safe. There has been very little damage and no loss of life. The same for the tourist destinations of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. Please do not cancel your visit!

 

Follow Me Cultural + Photo Walking Tour, Christmas Posadas: One Day in Teotitlan del Valle

Christmas in Oaxaca is magical. In ancient villages throughout the central valleys, indigenous Zapotec people celebrate with a mix of pre-Hispanic mystical ritual blended with Spanish-European Catholic practice.

A moment’s rest. Christmas Posada, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

They retrace the Census pilgrimage (Roman command to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Cesar’s census) of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The posadas in Teotitlan del Valle are held for nine nights, culminating with the last posada on Christmas Eve. Each host family serves as innkeeper for the night, throwing a big party, and welcoming guests into the home.

Cradling Baby Jesus at the altar, Teotitlan del Valle

The procession is elaborate and takes the pilgrims and the litter carrying Mary and Joseph from one inn to the next, through the winding cobblestone streets of the village, touching each neighborhood. Women carrying beeswax candles and children with sparklers guide the way. Altar boys illuminate the streets with candle-topped stanchions.

The last posada, Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Copal incense leaves an aroma trail. Church officials send firecrackers skyward to announce the coming of the pilgrims to the next neighborhood. It is solemn, festive and spiritual.

Wishing you season’s greeting with health and joy always.

What could be better than to experience one day of this celebration with those who lives here? This is an informal cultural immersion walking tour, so be prepared to walk, and then walk some more! Please bring your camera if you like. You will have permission to take photos.

  •      When:  Friday, December 22 — One Day ONLY
  •      Time:  1 p.m. to 9 p.m. (approximate end time)
  •      Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
  •      Cost:  $125 per person includes late afternoon supper

Who is this one-day study tour for? Anyone interested in knowing more about how Christmas is celebrated in a Mexican village. All amateur photographers are welcome, from no to mid-level experience, and anyone interested in photo tourism and who wants a more personal travel experience.

Group Size Limited to 8 People: We welcome children and young adults ages 12 and over.

Parking lot, Tlacolula market sky, Sunday before Christmas

You will follow me into the homes of Zapotec families to talk about and observe the celebrations and decorations. You will have plenty of photo opportunities to capture images of people and place. You will take home memories that cannot be duplicated, to be treasured and shared for a lifetime.

Nochebuena flower or poinsettia, native to Mexico, Christmas full-bloom

What You Will See:

  • Behind the gates, behind the walls, honest village life
  • Food preparation for special occasions
  • Homes and altar rooms elaborately decorated for Christmas
  • Candlelit processions, complete with incense and mysticism

During the day, we will visit several family homes to see how they celebrate Christmas. We will bring chocolate and bread to the altar in greeting, a tradition.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

After dark, we will take part in the procession that will carry Mary and Joseph on litters from one home to the next on their recreated journey to Bethlehem.

Photography Opportunities–What You Will Do:

  • Attend to natural and artificial lighting to get the best shot
  • Practice street photography on-the-hoof
  • Request permission from people to take their photos
  • Discuss photo-taking etiquette, When to ask or not?
  • Create portrait opportunities with the people you meet
  • Gain access to family compounds
  • Point out great photo opportunities
  • Explore night photography challenges and opportunities
  • Go home with a portfolio of your experiences

The pilgrims entering the altar room, Teotitlan del Valle

We DO NOT give instruction on how to use your camera. This will not be about camera settings or technical information. You will want to know your camera before you arrive. We will not offer an editing session or instructions on how to edit.

Food preparation area for posada participants

We DO provide a rich, cultural immersion experience, with all types of cameras welcome: mobile phone cameras, film, DSLR and mirrorless, instant, Poloroid, etc.

What to Bring:

  • Your spirit of discovery and adventure
  • Your camera
  • Extra batteries and charger
  • Extra storage disks
  • Optional tripod, if you wish
  • Notepad and pen

Lodging Options: You may wish to make this a day trip and return to Oaxaca city on the same night. Or you may wish to spend the night in Teotitlan del Valle (or perhaps several). Choose Casa Elena, Las Granadas B&B guesthouse, or La Cupula. Make your own reservations and pay your hosts directly.

Watching the procession go by, Teotitlan del Valle

About Your Photo Walking Tour Leader: Norma Schafer is an experienced amateur photographer who enjoys taking portraits as much as capturing the pulsating world of Oaxaca village life. Her photographs have been exhibited at Duke University, The Levine Museum of the American South, and featured in two chapters of the award-winning book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico (Thrums). She is most interested in the aesthetic of photography, rather than the technical details, acknowledging that to get a good photo, one must know how the camera works first!

The musicians always lead the way, announcing the coming of the procession

How to Book Your Reservation: Send Norma an email to let her know you want to participate. We will send you an invoice to make a PayPal payment to secure your place.

Cancellations: If, once you make your 100% prepaid reservation, and you find you are unable to attend, you may cancel up to 30 days in advance and receive a 50% refund. After that, refunds are not possible. You are always welcome to send a substitute in your place.

Even a blurry photo evokes mood and sense of place

Trip Insurance: We strongly encourage you to take out trip cancellation and medical evacuation insurance. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is when traveling in any foreign country. Since this is a one-day excursion, trip insurance is not mandatory, but highly advisable.