Category Archives: Photography

Roasting a Thanksgiving Turkey in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

I bet you thought I disappeared! This is my first post since returning to Teotitlan de Valle, Oaxaca, a week ago.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

I came back to my casita filled with aromas created by professional cook Kalisa Wells, who has been house sitting my two adopted street dogs. All kitchen surfaces were covered with culinary ingredients. It was a sight to behold.

A cook’s kitchen, filled with every imaginable local chile variety, herbs, spices

And, then, Thanksgiving was a mere four days later.

Cuni Cuni Guajalote. Yummy Yummy.

From Durham, North Carolina and via Facebook, I ordered organic turkey raised in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca from Cuni Cuni Guajalote before I left. This took some sleuthing, hunting down their whereabouts via the Facebook group Clandestine Oaxaca Appreciation Society — the source for everything Oaxaca.

La dueña de Cuni Cuni — Araceli Jimenez

As it turns out, we decided on two smaller birds instead of a 9 kilo (20 pounder) when we did the pick up at La Cosecha organic market at Macedonio Alcala #806 — enough to feed a crowd that kept expanding beyond local family and intimate friends as I settled back in to village life. We were worried about one big turkey fitting into a basic gas oven.

Merry, Kalisa and Rosario with preparations underway

It was the roasting pan and rack that had us stymied. Neither of us brought a sturdy vessel or rack from the USA and the only thing we could find were flimsy aluminum, so we bought three and stacked them. There were no racks to be found as I cruised the aisles of the super mercado.

Kalisa’s Camote (Oaxaca sweet potato) Pie with the flakiest pastry crust

My eyes lit on a stainless steel dish drainer. Sure, it had those upright racks to hold the dishes vertical and immovable tall sides. I bet my friend Arnulfo and I could figure out a way to modify this, I said to myself. Into the cart it went.

And, here’s how it turned out.

Flattened, cut dish drainer. Be sure to remove plastic feet!

One of the great pleasures of being in Mexico is that we learn to innovate, modify, imagine and manifest. Things we need don’t always come easily, but there seems to be a way to improvise and make it work. I have learned this from my Mexican friends who are masters at adaptation.

Friends and family enjoying Thanksgiving dinner on the patio

And, if you live in Oaxaca, I encourage you to think about ordering your Christmas turkey from Cuni Cuni Guajalote. You will love it. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Yes. This is NOT your Sam’s Club or Walmart frozen commercial turkey.

Organic beet hummus appetizer — veggies from Tlacolula market

How we roasted the turkey!

Kalisa loves butter. I found the local dairy-cheese man from the Teotitlan del Valle market and bought up all the butter he had. Probably five pounds. Kali coated the turkeys in butter, stuffed them with oranges, rosemary, apple peels (no pits), celery and carrot ends, covered the turkey with foil and put it into a hot 450F degree oven for about 20 minutes. Then she lowered the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continued to roast covered at 18 minutes per pound until the drumsticks wiggled easily and the juices ran clear. We didn’t have a meat thermometer. We were also cooking at 6,000 feet altitude using an oven with Centigrade settings, so we converted everything.

Jacki’s family sweet potato recipe

  • 300F = 149C
  • 350F = 176C
  • 400F = 204C
  • 425F = 218C
  • 450F = 232C

We needed this conversion for the camote and apple pies, too. But had to jack up the heat because we are running off a propane tank at a higher altitude. So, it was check, check again, triple check.

Thanksgiving buffet feast.

NOTE: We did not stuff the turkey because this is the most common culprit for botulism.  The turkey must be completely thawed and at room temperature to be stuffed and cooked successfully without risk of infection. Many people stuff a partially thawed turkey (oh, it’s just a little cold in there, it’s okay) and the inside becomes an incubator for the bacteria.

An array of artisanal mezcal

Everyone who came brought something to contribute: mashed potatoes, cranberries, Boulanc rolls, salad, organic black beans, tortillas made with local field corn, chocolate, wine, beer, mezcal. Yes, I smuggled fresh cranberries from Whole Foods but Jacki found them locally.

Setting the table, Teotitlan del Valle.

Earlier in the week, Kali and I made a visit to Macrina Mateo Martinez in San Marcos Tlapazola to get large platters that would serve as pie pans and some extra dinner plates.  They are my go-to family women’s cooperative for fine barro rojo that those of us who live here love to use.

Mama Dorothy’s Apple Pie baked in a barro rojo plate

I’m very happy to be back in the village, surrounded by mountains, warmed by the sun, a hammock on my rooftop handwoven by the daughter-in-law of Mitla’s Arturo Hernandez. Despite the barking dogs and crawling critters, I am now embracing a slower pace of life — for the moment.  Tours and workshops start up in mid-December!

Feliz Fiestas, amigos.

2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour: Deep Into the Maya World

We have 2 spaces open for February 13-22, 2018.

We have 3 spaces open for February 27-March 8, 2018.

Are you in?  Send me an email. Here is the program description:

Chiapas Textiles + Folk Art Study Tour: Deep Into the Maya World — 2018

We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms.

Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.

Zinacantan man in tradition traje costume, hand-woven straw hat

I am committed to give you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending nine nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles and weaving traditions.

Our day trips will take us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.

Humanitarian healer Sergio Castro with vintage textile collection

Take this study tour to learn about:

• the culture, history and identity of cloth • spinning wool and weaving with natural dyes

• clothing design and construction

• symbols and meaning of textile designs

• choice of colors and fibers that reflect each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume

• mystical folk medicine practices that blend Maya ritual and Spanish Catholicism

• Chiapas folk art and handcrafts

• Chiapas amber — rare and affordable gemstone

• market days and village mercantile economy

• local cuisine, coffee and chocolate

• how to determine the best textile quality and value

• cultural history, nuances and the sociopolitical history of Maya people

I have invited textile collector Sheri Brautigam to join me to give you a special, in-depth experience. Sheri writes the blog Living Textiles of Mexico and is recognized for her particular knowledge of Chiapas Maya textiles. She is author of the Thrums Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping. (I’ve contributed two chapters with photos, one for Tenancingo de Degollado and the other for Teotitlan del Valle!) Recommended reading for the trip!

San Cristobal is international crossroads for great food

I have also engaged one of San Cristobal’s most well-informed guides, born and raised in San Cristobal, a fluent English-speaker who will travel with us to give bi-lingual services. His interest is in cultural anthropology and local history.

We will travel in a luxury Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van as we go deep into the Maya world.

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, February 13/27: Travel day. Arrive and meet me at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. I will send you complete directions for how to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet or Volaris or Aeromexico. There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Cost of transportation (about $55USD) from airport to San Cristobal is on your own. Those who have arrived by dinner time can go out for an optional meal, on your own.

Textiles from the weaving villages of Cancuc and Oxchuc

Wednesday, February 14/28: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the Textiles in the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, and meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church. We will then guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. (B, L, D)

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Thursday, February 15/March 1: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and often textiles. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags here. Then, we will visit the outstanding textile cooperative founded by Pedro Meza and his mother Doña Maria Meza Giron.

Romerillo cemetery is rocky, steep, protective and festive

We’ll also stop in Romerillo to see the larger than life pine-bough covered Maya blue and green crosses. Return to San Cristobal del Las Casas for lunch and dinner on your own.  Lunch along the way. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)

An amazing ceremonial cloth, handwoven, modeled by Sheri

Friday, February 16/March 2: We go to a wonderful weaving cooperative outside of town that was founded over 40 years ago. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. In the early evening, we visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B, L)

Clay and wood carved artifacts

Textile museum figure, traditional clothing

Saturday, February 17/March 3: Amantenango del Valle and Aguacatenango to see the whimsical and functional wood and dung fired pottery – the way its been done for centuries. Wonderful roosters, spotted jaguar sculptures and ornamental dishes. This is a textile village, too, where women embroider garments with designs that look like graphic art. In neighboring Aguacatenango, we will pull up to the small zocalo in front of the church. Within moments, ladies with their beautiful embroidered blouses will appear. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Whimsical Amantenango chicken pots

Sunday, February 18/March 4: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Then, we’ll meet weavers and embroiderers in their home workshops. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. We will then continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamulan woman in her rural home surrounded by sheep and goats. She will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider.(B, L) Dinner on your own.

San Juan Chamula Sunday market

Monday, February 19/March 5:  We will set out by foot after breakfast for a full morning at Na Balom, Jaguar House, the home/of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic and jewelry collections. We walk the gardens and learn about Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After hot chocolate at Na Balom, we make a stop at the hand-made workshop that is also a graphics arts hand-print studio. You will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B)

Ex-convent Santo Domingo, Museo Textiles Mundo Maya

Tuesday, February 20/March 6: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse your-self with a family of weavers in a rural home. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host an expoventa for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L))

Rosa with Barbara, and a Pantelho blue emboidered top

Wednesday, February 21/March 7: Men from Magdalena Aldama who weave bags made from ixtle, agave cactus leaf fiber, join us at our hotel after breakfast. Accompanying them are the women who make flashy beaded necklace strings and beautiful hand-woven huipils. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)

Our 2016 group with hosts Rosa and Cristobal, Magdalena Aldama

Thursday, February 22/March 8: Depart. We will coordinate departures with included van service from San Cristobal de las Casas to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. Please schedule your flight departure time for mid- to late afternoon. You will connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country. If you are going from Tuxtla to Oaxaca, you can fly direct on AeroMar. We will coordinate departure times and your trip will cover the cost of transportation from the hotel to the airport.

What Is Included

• 9 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within easy walking distance to the historic center

• 9 breakfasts • 6 lunches • 2 dinners

• museum and church entry fees

• luxury van transportation

• outstanding and complete guide services

• transfers to Tuxtla Gutierrez airport from San Cristobal on March 8

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) • $2,895 single room with private bath (sleeps 1) 

How to Register: Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you a PayPal invoice that is due on receipt.

Who Should Attend • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Home goods wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

Market scene, Chiapas

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 15, 2017, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2016, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have high curbs. The stones can be a bit slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let me know before you register. 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 plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Detail, cross stitch needlework bodice

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 30 days before departure. In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 30 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen! Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!

Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 30 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time from San Cristobal.

Workshop Details and Travel Tips. Before the workshop begins, we will email you study tour details and documents that includes travel tips and information. To get your questions answered and to register, contact Norma Schafer. This retreat is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

Indigenous, organic, non-GMO corn — staple of life

Exvotos: Mexico’s Naive Folk Art Painting of Thanksgiving

In the third room of Casa Azul you will see a small sampling of a vast collection of exvotos amassed by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It is said they had one of the largest collections of these small tributes of thanks to a saint for a miracle, for saving a life, a favor received.

Domera Morales Rojas Milagro con ce vida. Cholula, Puebla. 1940’s.

These are charming, naive paintings on laminate, tin, paper or cardboard, made by the person giving thanks.  It usually includes a personal message below the scene, along with the name of the petitioner, and sometimes a date. You often see misspellings, incomplete sentences. A hammer and nail was all that was needed to attach the ex voto to the shrine in offering.

New ex voto painted by Rafael Rodriguez, collectible, riding a guajalote.

It is now difficult to find antique ex votos.  Many we see are painted on distressed tin or steel to look old.  Buyers can be deceived and pay a higher price than the piece is worth.

A prodigious miracle. Lupema Lora Rosales. Zacatecas. Circa 1940. Vintage.

Yet, my tried and true motto is: If you like it, buy it.  You may never see a piece like the one in front of you again. Meaningful mementos are important.

My other motto, that I learned a long time ago is: There will always be a sale. That is, there will always be something to fall in love with.  If you pass it by, there will be something else, but it won’t be the same!

Saved from octopus strangulation in Baja, California, by Rafael Rodriguez. New.

Back to ex votos.

The day after my visit to Casa Azul last week, I took the Australian group to Bazaar del Sabado in Plaza San Jacinto, San Angel. This is now my favorite place for imaginative, creative shopping in Mexico City. The bazaar, held only on Saturdays, is filled with contemporary art, jewelry, clothing, textiles and artisan designed wares.

Early ex voto, 1931. Saved from pulminary sickness, infinitely grateful.

Adjacent streets are lined with boutiques, galleries, and street artisans selling crafts from all over Mexico. Painters and print makers show their work displayed on easels in the surrounding parks. It is a lively place to meet, eat and spend the day.

Vintage exvoto, giving thanks for safe journey on treacherous mountain road.

My greatest discovery was the small shop operated by Karima Muyaes, whose father was an antique dealer and one of the original founders of Bazaar del Sabado. Karima is a talented painter who is in process of publishing a collection of her vast body of work.

Giving thanks for surviving this train robbery in Chihuahua in 1937. Reproduction.

The shop has a selection of fine contemporary ex voto reproductions and I became enamored with the idea of owning one, a la Frida and Diego. Karima is forthcoming about what is old and what is a reproduction. After I bought a blue six-headed sea monster who, ojala (god willing), did not strangle the supplicant, Karima and I talked about our mutual love for Oaxaca.

You need a magnifying glass to read this old one!

She also told me she had a few vintage ex-votos at her home and invited me to come to visit, which I happily did. The environment is a visual feast in tribute to the work of her father, his collections, and her amazing paintings.

Galley proofs of Karima’s new book, The Color of Spirit

She is in process of putting together a photo book of her life’s work. I had a chance to look at the early galleys and meet the graphic designer from Chicago who is working with her on her project.

Portrait of me and Karima in her living room, Mexico City; her paintings

Painting on ceramic, by Karima Muyaes

I am thinking of purchasing a few ex votos for resale. If you are interested, please let me know. norma.schafer@icloud.com

Painting on canvas, unframed, by Karima Muyaes

Tabletop still life, home of Karima Muyaes

It is likely I will meet Karima again before I leave Mexico City to return to North Carolina on this trip. We will probably visit her studio, where I will take more photos to share with you.

Paint brushes, home of Karima Muyaes

Vintage sterling silver milagros –folk charms, a father’s collection

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Yagul Archeological Site: Oaxaca’s Hidden Treasure

Yagul is one of those magical places in Oaxaca that not many people visit. When I first went there in 2005, it was mostly rubble, secreted away up a hill beyond Tlacolula, on the way to Mitla. Access was (and still is) a narrow, cracked, pot-holed macadam pavement.

Stunning view of the Tlacolula valley and beyond

In those intervening years, there has been progressive archeological restoration, with good signage, uncovered tombs, and vistas of the Tlacolula valley that are unparalleled.

Over the rock wall, the valley below

I guess I love this site most because of the caves where the remnants of early corn (maize) was carbon-dated to 8,000 years ago. It tells the story of human kind in Mesoamerica, the resourceful people who developed the edible kernel from teosintle.

Yagul has a ball court, too. About the same size as Monte Alban.

There are cave paintings here, but they are not open to the public. One can only enter by arrangement with INAH and go accompanied with an archeologist.

How old is this cactus? Others, the size of trees, dot hillsides.

I also love it because of the peace, tranquility, the wind on the mountain top, the open spaces with extraordinary views, the ability to walk and climb unfettered by masses of visitors piling out of tour vans, unbothered by vendors selling replicates and fake jewelry.

Judy and Gail descend from the highest platform

Climb to the top of the mountain to discover another tomb. Imagine that you are standing sentry, guarding the trade route between north and south, protecting your Zapotec territory.  Once a foot path, the road is now called the Pan-American Highway.

A recently uncovered passageway beneath a mound

Yagul is only about seven miles from where I live. I take friends there who come and visit. In June, Judy and Gail went with me. As I roamed the land, I realized that there has been more unearthed there in recent months: Two entry ways at the top of one of the mounds.

Where recent dig uncovered an entrance

There are lots of mounds in this valley. Most of them are said to be archeological sites waiting to be unearthed.  They have been covered for centuries by dirt, rocks, weeds. The Mexican federal government does not have the resources to uncover them all.

Original limestone plaster walls of Yagul

There are a handful of small sites under restoration along this route from Oaxaca to Mitla.  Near Macquixochitl is Dainzu, a significant site undergoing restoration.

Wild flowers in rock outcroppings, rainy season

Close to Tlacolula is Lambiteyco with a small museum. When I drive along the road, I see foundations of platforms that could once have been temples.

Courtyard of one of the ancient residences, Yagul

Few stop at these sites. Why? Perhaps because they are not as fully developed as Mitla or Monte Alban. Perhaps because they are not as famous or promoted as heavily. They offer tourists an opportunity to explore and imagine what lies below.

Frog sculpture near the tomb, where you can climb down and enter

Yagul is a great destination for families where most of the area is accessible to walking, hiking and climbing.  If you are so inclined, bring a picnic or a snack. Sit under the shade and think about life here centuries ago.

Cactus trunk, woody, strong enough for shelter

It’s worth it to come out here and stay a few days to explore the region — a nice contrast to the city. Stay in Teotitlan del Valle, at either Casa Elena or Las Granadas B&B. Both offer posada-style hospitality at reasonable cost. Hosts can arrange local taxi drivers to take you around to visit the archeological sites.

Taking a break under the shade