Category Archives: Teotitlan del Valle

2017 Day of the Dead Study Tour, Small Village Rituals and Traditions

The small villages in the Tlacolula Valley outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, are rich in culture and tradition. Perhaps nothing is more sacred here than the Day of the Dead celebrations. This ancient pre-Hispanic ritual to honor ancestors is thousands of years old, as are the indigenous Mexican people who observe it.

Offerings on the altar. Favorite foods, beverages.

Out here in the countryside, observances are elemental. They rarely feature glitzy parades, masquerades, endless firecrackers and Ranchera music that now defines the experience of city celebrations. That’s not to say, don’t celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca City. It is to say, give yourself the added experience of participating in a more contemplative introduction to Oaxaca village practices beyond the city.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead Study Tour: 5 days, November 1-5, 2017

I’m inviting you to come along with me to personally explore the small towns off the Panamerican Highway, where we will meet local families, join them in meals, pay tribute at their altars, welcome the spirits of the dead (difuntos) back to earth, accompany them to the cemeteries where difuntos return to their resting places. We sit with them at the graveside to ease their return.

Sand paintings, part of the tradition, Muertos

Here, off the beaten path, you will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the meaning of Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico.

For several years now, I’ve thought about bringing a group together to discuss the cultural rituals of life and death, differences and similarities. How do we integrate and observe death, dying, grief, mourning and the celebration of life in our own traditions?

La Catrina, making a mockery of death

How do we understand the practices here in Mexico? What can we learn from this mystical and spiritual culture? What are our shared and divergent experiences? On reflection, how will this Day of the Dead study tour alter our own feelings about death and loss?

So, this will be a small group experience of no more than 10 people. We want to have a very low impact in homes and cemeteries where we visit. You are invited to bring your journals, notebooks, cameras, iPhones, sketchpads, or anything else you need to document this personal experience.

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

I will invite resource experts to accompany us on our journey to help guide the conversation, and give you historical and cultural perspectives.

There will be some pre-workshop readings that I will send to you to prepare for the trip and the conversations we will have along the way.

Itinerary, Day of the Dead Study Tour: Rituals and Traditions

  • Wednesday, November 1: Visit San Pablo Villa de Mitla and San Juan Guelavia (Arrive to Teotitlan del Valle on your own by 9:00 a.m. We will designate a meeting place.)
  • Thursday, November 2: Visit a local market, then Tlacochuaya de Morelos and Teotitlan del Valle
  • Friday, November 3: Meet the artisans who bake bread, make beeswax candles, prepare tamales
  • Saturday, November 4: Participate in a cooking class that features ritual foods with a mezcal tasting
  • November 5: Depart on your own to Oaxaca any time after breakfast

What the Study Tour Includes:

  • 4 nights lodging in Teotitlan del Valle at a local guesthouse, starting November 1
  • 4 breakfasts
  • 4 lunches
  • 4 dinners
  • Cooking class and mezcal tasting
  • All daily transportation from Teotitlan del Valle to the villages
  • Bread and chocolate to present at family altars
  • Honoraria to village hosts, artisans, invited speakers and resource experts
  • Packet of materials to prepare you for the study tour (via email)

Cost: $1,195. per person for double occupancy, shared room and bath. $1,495. per person single occupancy, private room and bath.

At the Mitla cemetery, Arturo Hernandez decorates his mother’s grave

The study tour does not include airfare to Mexico, round-trip taxi from Oaxaca city to Teotitlan del Valle, some meals as noted in the itinerary, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, snacks, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

How to Register? Send me an email. 

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before 45 days before the study tour begins. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After the 45-day cut-off date, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before the 45-day deadline, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Marigold flowers, the difuntos follow the scent

How Oaxaca Got Her Name: Guaje Seed Pods

When the Spanish arrived in southern Mexico in 1521, they found a region called Huāxyacac, the Nahuatl word for the pod of the tree Leucaena Leucocephala. Of course, they couldn’t pronounce it easily, so they renamed it with the moniker, Oaxaca. Originally, Oaxaca was pronounced wa-shaka from a medieval Spanish root. Now, the X is silent, so we say, wa-haka.

Ready to eat guaje seed pod. Yummy in the tummy.

The tree is also known by the Maya as Uaxim and in English as Leadtree, White Popinac and Wild Tamarind. The pod, spelled phonetically as either Huaje, Guaje or Huaxya, is not edible. Inside the pod container are small green seeds that plump up in early spring (here, in Oaxaca it is late January and early February). The growing range is from Central America to Southern California.

Peel open the deep purple pod and there you have a tangy, somewhat bitter bright green pea that is rich in protein. My Zapotec friends tell me this is a food staple eaten by the grandparents. That means food for the centuries.

Ready-to-eat guaje seeds. I’ve acquired a taste for them!

It will cure your digestive problems, says my friend Arnulfo.

Ah, just like mezcal, I answer him, and he smiles.

We both know there is truth to folk medicine here in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca. Indigenous food is sustainable.

The land on which I live in Teotitlan del Valle is dotted with these trees. The ones closest to the casita are over twenty feet tall and branches laden with pods hang over the rails of my rooftop terrace now. The pods are within plucking distance. That makes me happy.

Landscape is dotted with guajes, good for erosion control and shade.

When I go up there to read a book in the hammock, I reach out, grab a branch and pick off a pod, open it up and pop the seeds into my mouth. They taste healthy and refreshing. A friend suggested they would be good in salad, too.

There are lots of tips for cooking with guaje seeds from this gourmet food site, Specialty Produce. The ground dried seeds flavor guacamole and traditional Oaxaqueño moles.

When you are in Oaxaca this time of year, give the guaje a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. You’ll find them on comedor tables as a snack, and in markets tied in bundles ready to take home. Be sure to hold the pods up to the light so you can see how plump the seeds are. That’s the It’s Ripe test.

Ripe ones are easily plucked. Open like beans!

 

 

It’s not too late to celebrate Mexico’s Three Kings Day, today!

Here’s my debut feature story at Mexico News Daily published today! I hope you enjoy. Again, happiest New Year.

Celebrate Kings Day with rosca de reyes

 

From Oaxaca, Mexico: Feliz Fiestas y Navidad, Merry Holidays, Chag Sameach

Wishing you all the blessings of peace, contentment, safety and good health at this joyous time of year when we think of renewal, looking beyond the Winter Solstice as the earth turns, the days grow longer and all is well in the land.

Feliz Fiestas from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. Poinsettias. Mexico’s gift to the world.

We are dormant now. Slower. More thoughtful, perhaps. In ancient cultures our attention might turn to the spring planting. May our seeds of new life bring forth all the richness of life that we each deserve.

Christmas in Mexico Photo Gallery: Mexico Travel Photography

Barbara and David Garcia’s magnificent Christmas Tree, Chula Vista, California

For all my Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Parsi, Buddhist, Bahai, agnostic, atheist friends around the world, and those whose religions I do not know, it is my fervent hope that 2017 becomes the year of reconciliation, cross-cultural acceptance and understanding. We have the opportunity to act locally to make change and bring us together.

Whew, I’m finally home in Oaxaca!

Honoring the altar/manger, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca Christmas

After a long night of delayed flights due to weather in Tijuana, a bumpy ride, followed by a five-hour nap, and a late night of traditional Christmas Eve celebration with my beloved Chavez Santiago family in Teotitlan eating stuffed turkey laden with plenty of tryptophan, I am awake to a new day. Almost normal.

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

I’m drinking a great cup of strong Oaxaca coffee. The sun is up and it’s going to be a glorious day.

Celebrating Mohammed’s birthday with Salim Wazir and family, Bhuj, Gujarat, India

This year, Christmas and Hanukkah converge once more. Feliz Navidad. Chag Sameach. Two weeks ago, in Bhuj, Gujarat, India, I celebrated Eid and Mohammed’s Birthday with Salim Wazir and his family. We sat on the floor around a feast covered tablecloth and ate together. My Muslim friends wore white, a symbol of purity.

Boundary line, border crossing, USA and Mexico. #No wall!

My son Jacob and I crossed over the bridge linking the USA to the Tijuana, Mexico, airport. I met a 16-year old returning to Oaxaca who hasn’t seen his mother and sisters in four years.

I said to him, I bet you have a story to tell.

Yes, he nodded.

I could only imagine.

May love and an open heart prevail as we move into 2017.

I saw a mix of people carrying USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua passports going home for Christmas to visit family. I am reminded how connection is so important in our lives. How the Berlin wall fell. That walls cannot break us.

Sparklers light the way for La Ultima Posada, the last posada, on Christmas Eve

In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, this morning I awakened to cojetes — firecrackers — and the sound of music. Christmas music. Tunes we are familiar with — Silent Night, White Christmas, Joy to the World and Feliz Navidad — sung in Spanish, blared out over a loud-speaker from somewhere in the village. Tunes whose origins are German, American, Latin, religious and secular, some composed by a Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin.

Bedecked for the holidays on the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

In the past thirteen years since I first started coming here regularly, it seems that USA popular culture has infiltrated our local villages more and more. Blinking holiday lights, reindeer on rooftops and x-Box games on big screen TVs are more prevalent than ever.

Oaxaca’s radish festival. Even Porfirio Diaz got kicked out.

Change happens. It is neither good or evil. It is to be discussed, explored, researched and understood. Whatever the next Man in D.C. tries to do, I defy him to build a wall that separates families. He is not my president.

Another babe in arms. Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

This is what dads do in Mexico. They kiss and hold their babies. They don’t want to be separated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Mexico’s Day of the Dead Like Halloween? Muertos Photos in Black and White.

Day of the Dead altar honoring our Dad, 2015. Selenium filter ala Ansel Adams

Day of the Dead altar honoring our Dad, American Federation of Teachers strike for fair wages, 1960’s, Los Angeles. Selenium filter a la Ansel Adams.

We just finished a week of publishing a Day of the Dead Photography Challenge over at the Facebook site I manage, Mexico Travel Photography. You might want to jump over there to take a look at some amazing shots of this spiritual celebration of life and death. Consider joining and participating if you are not already a member.

Preparing the grave with flowers, fruit, nuts and prayers.

Preparing the grave with flowers, fruit, nuts and prayers. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.

What everyone loves about Mexico is her vibrant color. Everywhere. Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration of life and death. There is nothing more vibrant than the flowers that adorn altars and grave sites, market life and costumes.

But, this post takes a turn to Black and White Photography.

Four crosses mark this family plot where generations of people are buried 10 years apart.

4 crosses on family plot where generations can be buried 10 years apart. Copper filter.

A friend asked me today, what is Muertos? Is it like Halloween?  My answer is definitely NO … and SORT OF.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

Here is my short-version explanation: When the Spanish came to Mexico in 1521, they co-opted an indigenous ancestor worship tradition (Day of the Dead) and overlaid it with All Saints and All Souls Day observations. All Saints’ Day begins with All Hallows Eve, or Halloween with deep Catholic religious and spiritual tradition.

At Amate Books on Alcala, a selection of titles on Muertos.

At Amate Books on Alcala, a selection of titles on Muertos, Oaxaca city.

All Souls’ Day commemorates the faithfully departed and is most closely linked to the death and resurrection of Christ.

Skulls in the market. All altars have some form of them.

Skulls in the market. Most altars have some form of them.

The Spanish were very smart conquerors. Rather than obliterating the religious practices of indigenous people, they integrated observances to make conversion much more palatable. It is possible that Muertos was celebrated during another time of year. As with most other rituals, it moved to coincide with a Catholic feast day.

Sitting in mourning and reflection. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Sitting in mourning and reflection. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Before the Spanish conquest, Dia de Los Muertos had no link to Halloween. In recent years the US images of pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, black cats and gauzy synthetic cobwebs have migrated across the border as Mexicans born in the USA visit their family in cities and villages throughout the country. We see this blending of commercialism and ancient tradition throughout Oaxaca.

Calavera sculpture, cutting stone, San Pablo Cultural Center, 2015

Calavera (skeleton) sculpture, chiseling stone, San Pablo Cultural Center, 2015

I’m editing my photos first using Lightroom, a Photoshop editing tool. Then, I convert these photos to SilverEfex, a free black and white software editing tool now owned by Google. It’s easy to download. You can choose filters, film type and manipulate the histogram if you wish. I’m having fun with it and wanted to share what I’ve done with you.

Flowers in the form of a cross, covering a fresh gravesite. Teotitlan del Valle.

Flowers in the form of a cross, covering a gravesite. Teotitlan del Valle. Intentional?

In case you are interested it takes me from 2 to 4 hours to make a blog post. This includes selecting and editing the photos and then writing the text (or vice versa!) Thank you for reading and following.