Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

Millions of Monarch Butterflies: A Visit to the Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan, Mexico: Study Tour Details

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the State of Michoacan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It encompasses most of the municipality of Angangueo, an old mining town high in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt and the Sierra Angangueo.  Average altitude here is 8,500 feet.
An overnight visit to this tunneled colonial mountain town to explore the butterfly sanctuary is part of our Michoacan Folk Art + Textile Study Tour set to start January 31, 2019.

We may see millions of Monarch butterflies

There are several sanctuaries where the Monarchs gather in colonies that sometimes reach over 20 million individuals. They travel more than 5,000 kilometers (3,107 miles) from Canada to Mexico from November through March, completing several generations of the life cycle.
We will have a half-day plus a full day in Angangueo on February 8 and 9 of our January 31 to February 11 study tour to explore one or two butterfly sanctuaries and the historic mining town. We will arrive from Patzcuaro in time for 12:30-2:30 p.m. butterfly activity. You get into the sanctuary by horseback or hiking. Your tour includes transportation into the sanctuary by horse!

Butterfly life cycle

Six spaces are spoken for! Four spaces are available. Is one of them for you?
Send me an email after you review the complete study tour itinerary and let me know if you want to participate.

To Bargain or Not in Mexico?

The on-going discussion endures about whether one bargains in Mexico with vendors for a lower price. Is it a cultural norm or expectation?  Many say, Yes.

Colorful Oaxaca armadillo now tops my bookcase. I paid the ask price.

Others resist for obvious reasons. Why? The exchange rate is in favor of Europeans, Estadounidenses (those from USA) and Canadienses (those from Canada). Mexicans have always been undervalued for their labor.

Chiapas potter/clay sculptor. Small jaguars are 150 pesos.

They say the average daily Mexican wage is 150-200 pesos. I’ve also heard 88 pesos a day and 100 pesos a day. At today’s exchange rate of 18.2 pesos to the USD, 200 pesos is about $11 USD per day. In Chiapas, where I just returned from, skilled women weavers on the back-strap loom, creating garments with intricate supplemental weft, earn about 30 pesos per hour.

Here’s what my friend and colleague Sheri Brautigam, in her book Textile Fiestas of Mexico, says about shopping and bargaining:

“I know everyone likes to get a deal, but I feel this attitude takes advantage of the position of the artisan who made the item; it’s an exploitation model of the past.

For the most part, artisans are quite humble when they present their work, and they possibly have in mind the price they would like to get for their item. Often, almost immediately, they will bring the price down if they see you hesitate more than a few seconds. They want you to buy it. This is because local Mexicans are ruthless when they bargain, and the artisan — if she really is in need of making a sale for her survival — can be reduced to selling the item for barely the cost of the materials.”

hand-woven huipil takes three months to make.

There is more, of course.  I suggest you get this valuable Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets and Smart Shopping.

The same applies to all artisan craft throughout Mexico, not just textiles. Pottery. Carved and painted wood figures. Masks. Guitars. Silver jewelry. Handcrafted food.

Organic pumpkin pie with corn meal crust, $3 USD, from Jorge Daniel Bautista, Union Zapata

Think about your position when you ask for a discount. You are the person NOT making 200 pesos per day. If an item costs 500 pesos and you want it for 400, in all likelihood it is priced fairly and the extra 100 pesos represents almost a full day of work to the maker. To you, it is a $5 difference. A cup of coffee at Starbucks.

We have this discussion among expats and visitors in Oaxaca all the time — to bargain or not? There is a private Facebook group, Clandestine Oaxaca Appreciation Society, where members address the question repeatedly.

Intricately embroidered blouse, San Bartolome Ayautla, 8 months to make

Many who are proponents of bargaining are like Accidental Tourists, armchair travelers who occasionally get out of their seats, embark on a vacation and think that bargaining is part of the entertainment. Anne Tyler’s protagonist in her novel hates traveling, and does so only “with his eyes shut and holding his breath and hanging on for dear life.” Yet, he enjoys “the virtuous delights of organizing a disorganized country” while pretending he never left home. Does this sound like anyone you know?

Why do artisans lower their prices?

  • The season is slow and sales haven’t been good
  • They need money for food, to pay rent, to buy gasoline, to buy raw materials, to pay for school books and bus fare — in other words, cash flow
  • There’s a family emergency, and since this is a cash economy, they need cash
  • They may have lower self-esteem because they are the underclass, treated to believe that what they make has little or no value

What do you think?

Why do tourists bargain?

I think about this question in terms of cultural, political and socio-economic disparities. It might include being unconscious about where we are and our relationship to the people around us. We might conjure up the stereotypical image of Mexico thirty or forty years ago and apply it today. Perhaps, we are totally unaware of the daily or artisan wage. We might say, Oh, it’s cheaper to live here, they don’t need as much. We assume that the government takes care of its poor. (There is no social security in Mexico.) We like the power that the exchange rate gives us and the ability to strike a deal.

What is the value of a natural dye wool rug, 8 weeks in the making?

What about the foreign community from the USA and Canada who live in Oaxaca full-time or for many months of the year? We might say:

  • Tourism drives up local prices, from artisanry to rents
  • We learn to identify higher prices and walk away from them
  • We understand that if we buy five or 10 items, we can ask if there is a discount
  • We know that if we use a credit card, the merchant/vendor is paying 16% tax at a minimum
  • We ask if there is a discount for cash
  • We want to buy local and direct from the artisan, so we don’t pay overhead
  • We want the price to be in pesos, not US dollars
  • We are careful because we are retired, on a fixed income, and while we love the art, we can’t usually afford it
  • Art is subjective, and the price is based on what the seller and buyer agree to

What do you think?

I’ve been thinking about bargaining in today’s Mexico consumer environment where class and race drives business and success. Is it institutional racism to bargain and drive a hard bargain with an indigenous person who has few resources, little or no education, and limited health care access?

Juana and her granddaughter, Luz Angelica. Her future?

Only each of us can answer this for ourselves. Are we willing to look at our own buying behavior and make adjustments? What is our personal view of cultural sensitivity?

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

Women of Chiapas Photo Essay

International Women’s Day was Thursday, March 8, 2018.  It’s days later and I now find time to acknowledge, honor, recognize, applaud some of the women we met along the way during our two back-to-back Chiapas Textile Study Tours in February and March this year.

Women make, sell, suckle babies in Magdalenas Aldama, Chiapas

I don’t know all their names.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a Zapatista icon in Chiapas, role model for justice

Their hands, feet and faces are universal stories of women who work hard with little recompense.

Shop keeper, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

Their garments tell the stories of culture, history, creativity and subjugation by Spanish conquerors who imposed clothing style as indigenous identifier.

Maria and her niece, Aguacatenango, Chiapas

Most are women who weave or embroider.

Maruch is her Tzotzil name, Maria is her Christian name, San Juan Chamula district

Some are women who craft pottery — cooking vessels and decorative jaguars, many of them life-size.

This is Esperanza sculpting a clay jaguar, Amantenango del Valle, Chiapas

A few are famous. Most are not.

Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art Juana Gomez Ramirez, Amantenango del Valle

They are mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, nieces.

Rosa, center, and her nieces, Magdalenas Aldama

Some, like Rosa and her husband Cristobal, participated in the 1994 Zapatista uprising to stand for indigenous rights. The movement paved the way for a stronger voice for women.

Producing handmade paper, Los Leñateros, San Cristobal de Las Casas

They carry babies on their backs, harnessed by robozos.

Market day, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

They use rebozos shifted to the front of their bodies so infants can suckle. They use rebozos to carry market vegetables and fruit to the cooking fires.

Lourdes, research coordinator, Museo Textil Mundo Maya

Few are professionals like Lourdes who translates Spanish to English for us, educated in sophisticated cities far away.

Maria Meza, weaving cooperative director, Tenejapa, Chiapas

Others head cooperatives, organizing the business of textile making and selling to sustain families.

A metaphor for indigenous women worldwide, essential and faceless

Some are faceless. We see their progeny.

Manuela Trevini Bellini with PomPom Shawl at her shop Punto Y Trama,

A few are expats from Italy, France, Canada, the United States or Japan, who migrate to the promise land.

Women’s hands make organic tortillas from native corn

We see hands making tortillas, tending the cooking fire, soothing a child’s cry, serving a husband dinner.

Pioneer Swiss photographer, Gertrude Duby Blom, at Na Bolom

Most of all, we know that women’s work begins early and ends late, is continuous, often self-less and usually in the service of others.

Andrea Diaz Hernandez weaves this for eight months, San Andres Larrainzar

Take a moment to consider what women around the world give as we regard those whose photos we see here.

In Yochib, Oxchuc, impaired mobility, health care access hours away

Take a moment to give thanks to all the women in the world. We are more similar than we are different.

Meet the Women of Chiapas: 2019 Textile Study Tour

What will become of the next generation of women?

 

 

 

 

 

Making PomPoms in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

Wandering around San Cristobal de Las Casas last week I discovered Punto y Trama, on Belisario Dominguez #13b, just two blocks off the Andador Real de Guadalupe walking street. What drew me in was the sign on the door that announced PomPom workshops.

Lazaro Ramirez trimming a PomPom to perfection

Then, once inside I immediately noticed the furry wool Chamula woven shawls adorned with PomPoms. A new fashion trend, I noted.

First, you wrap 6 threads of yarn around a tube 150 times.

Slide the yarn off the tube.

PomPoms are big here in San Cristobal. They dangle from everything: necks, ears, wrists, shoulder and handbags, woven string shopping bags, and garments. They serve as functional ties and outrageous adornment. Sometimes they are combined with hearts, beads, Frida portraits, tassels.

Tie the yarn tight with waxed linen

I decided to take a PomPom making workshop, fascinated by another way to work with fiber as part of textile and clothing design.

Cut all the loops open

Cut, cut, cut, holding the yarn ball at the poles

This is a three-hour one-day workshop OR six-hour two-day workshop taught by Lazaro Ramirez, whose family is originally from Magdalenas Aldama. The cost is 350 pesos per session. That translates to about $18 USD at the current exchange rate.

Keep cutting around the equator, turning the ball constantly

Use a sharp scissor. You’ll be cutting bits at a time, like shaving

At the end of three hours I had made three PomPoms. I decided to order the quantity I wanted from Lazaro instead of making them myself.  The class exercise gave me a great appreciation for the time needed to craft one PomPom, which he sells at 15 pesos each. And, each one is perfect.

The green one is almost done but still ragged. Yellow is perfect.

Fifteen pesos each equals about eight cents. That’s eight cents an hour, including labor and materials.

Here is the PomPom and tassel I made. Lazaro made the heart.

Lazaro says you can use wool to make the PomPoms, but synthetic polyester yarn is finer and gives a tight, compact product with glorious colors — electric, like the people here prefer.

Included in the class are heart making and embroidery techniques

I learned all the wrapping, tying and cutting techniques. The most time consuming is to hold the PomPom at the “north and south poles” and to cut along the “equator,” constantly turning until a perfect ball forms. Not an easy task, I learned.

Choose your style of PomPom and heart, examples to make

Inspired, Juanita takes the class tonight.

I intend to use the PomPoms to decorate the checked wool shawls I bought in Chamula last week. They make great pillows, bed throws, or a shoulder covering on a chilly night — with pizzazz.

PomPom adorned wool shawl hand-woven in Chamula, back strap loom

Punto y Trama owner Manuela Trevini Bellini supports #fashionrevolution

#fashrev: It’s estimated that 80 billion pieces of clothing are shipped from factories and distributed around the world.

I constantly ask: Who made my clothes?

 

Bonus–Yochib, Oxchuc, Chiapas: Portrait of Young Girl with Dog

Oaxaca and Chiapas have a lot in common. They are the two poorest states in Mexico, have the lowest literacy rates and in the rural areas there is little or no access to health care.

Chiapas and Oaxaca have the highest percentage of indigenous people in Mexico, yet they are under-represented in politics and business, lack access to education.

Because of the rural character of each state, people are isolated and removed from the mainstream. They produce some of the most exquisite textiles in all of  Mexico.

For this entire time in Chiapas, I am using only my iPhone 8Plus with zoom lens. All the photos you’ve seen since February 12 are from my portable device with very little editing. I’m a devotee. Thinking of selling other equipment!

Thank you for following this adventure. There is more to come. Our Chiapas Textile Study Tour Group 2 starts this coming Tuesday evening.

Join us for 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour, February 27-March 8