Category Archives: Oaxaca travel

North Carolina State University Comes to Oaxaca for Study Abroad

The Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, is sending a group of sixteen people to Oaxaca to study organic agriculture, permaculture, indigenous farming techniques, and methods of converting native plants to dye materials, food and beverage. The group includes students, faculty members and a videographer who will document the week-long program.

They arrive tonight!

Sunset at Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

I’ve organized a full week of activities for them that starts with an understanding of Zapotec history and culture as a foundation for our time together. We will explore the archeological site of Monte Alban with a knowledgable local guide that includes a discussion of social and political organization, food cultivation and sourcing, and farming.

Monte Alban archeological site

We will visit Tierra del Sol in San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, have lunch in the home of a local family who farms the land, visit a mezcal palenque to see how agave is cultivated and made into mezcal, and stop at the home of a Teotitlan del Valle weaver who works only in natural dyes.

Corn was first hybridized in Mexico about 8,000 years ago. Remnants, discovered with DNA testing, were found in the caves at Yagul, about five miles from where I live in the Tlacolula Valley. It is one of the most beautiful sites in the region.

Shucking dried corn kernels for planting in the milpas

Then, we fly to Puerto Escondido in that teeny-weeny airplane run by AeroTucan to visit an organic coffee farm, explore the marine biology of the region and tour the Mexican National Turtle Sanctuary in Mazunte where wildlife preservation takes priority.  We have plans to meet with the local university to learn more about Mexico’s commitment to doing things naturally.

I’ll be writing about the study abroad program this week. I hope you’ll follow us.

Plowing my neighbor’s corn field, a five-hour project with bull power

 

 

Preparing for Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead is coming soon. Festivities in Oaxaca will begin in the next few days, and people are now gathering what they need for home altars to honor their deceased loved ones:

  • palm branches to create an arch over the altar through which loved ones pass from the otherworld — a gateway to now
  • smokey copal incense that provides the aroma to guide the way
  • candles that burn continuously to offer light along the journey
  • fresh flowers, especially marigolds, a seasonal offering with a pungent aroma to guide the spirits
Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

  • bread, chocolate, fruit and nuts for the spirit visitors to eat
  • favorite beverages of those who have passed on and will return: hot chocolate, beer, mezcal, whiskey, coca-cola, Fanta orange, atole
  • framed photographs of those who have died (it wasn’t until the 70’s or 80’s, I’m told, that most locals had cameras to capture images)

 See Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Facebook

 

Oaxaca street parades will start on October 30.

On October 31, the Xoxocotlan panteon (cemetery) will host locals and tourists who come from around the world to experience the reverie and revelry of Muertos. I like to start at the old cemetery around mid-afternoon to be present at the magic hour of sunset.

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

On November 1, there are many cemetery festivities, at San Pablo Villa de Mitla in the morning and in the evening at the Oaxaca city Panteon, and in San Augustin Etla.

On November 2, in Teotitlan del Valle, the low-key ceremonies of honoring the dead begin with a mid-afternoon meal at home to ensure the dead return to their graves with full bellies. The villagers then accompany the spirits to the the cemetery (around 6 p.m. ) and sit with them through the night to be certain they are cared for and rest in peace.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

On November 3, in San Antonino Castillo de Velasco, the flower growing village, holds their Day of the Dead celebrations after they have cut and sold cockscomb, marigolds, lilies and more to surrounding villages and city dwellers.

You might also want to add Santa Maria Atzompa to your itinerary.

Sand paintings, part of the tradition,  Muertos

Sand paintings, part of the tradition, Muertos

These are not created as tourist attractions but exist as part of ancient pre-Hispanic ritual in many parts of Mexico. Oaxaca has one of the most vibrant Day of the Dead celebrations.

Locals and seasoned Oaxaca travelers continue the search for the undiscovered Day of the Dead celebration where few tourists descend. The farther from the city, the more likely this is to occur.

Still life with marigolds, Teotitlan del Valle market

Still life with marigolds, Teotitlan del Valle market

I’m in North Carolina with my friend Hettie, and have with me photos of my parents and copal incense. I’ll start making my memory altar in the next few days. Meanwhile, my Teotitlan del Valle family will light incense and place marigolds at the gate to my home to welcome the spirits and guide them back under the shadow of Picacho.

 See Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Facebook

Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad

Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad

After I built my altar last year, our 99-1/2 year-old mom took a downward turn and I left Oaxaca for California. She died on November 15, 2016. I return to California next week to join my family to lay the headstone on her grave just before the anniversary of her death, a ritual that is part of my religious tradition.

This year, my altar will hold them both. I will sit and honor their lives.

Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, April 16, 2013

Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, April 16, 2013

 

 

 

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.