Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

Oaxaca WARP Conference Kicks-Off with Marta Turok Wallace Keynote Talk

Marta Turok Wallace is a noted applied cultural anthropologist whose specialty is Mexican textiles. A resident of Mexico City with roots in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, (her parents were ex-pats), Marta was invited by program chair Judy Newland to speak at the WARP (Weaving a Real Peace) textile conference held in Oaxaca, June 8-11, 2017.

WARP attendees gather in San Pablo Cultural Center, Oaxaca

More than 70 people attended the conference. They came from Mexico, the USA, Canada, Poland and Russia.

Applied cultural anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace

What Marta talks about concerns all of us who love indigenous textiles and appreciate the people — women and men — who make them.  She asks questions, makes observations, offers solutions and consultation.  Then she steps back and listens, suggests, guides. She affirms that weavers can create their own destiny, their own future for themselves, their families and their communities. And, that consumers can more fully appreciate the history behind the cloth.

WARP president Cindy Lair welcomes participants

Traditions are powerful in Mexico.  Remote villages throughout Oaxaca continue to weave garments using distinctive iconographic designs particular to place. These weavings are rooted in centuries past, worn by grandparents and great-grandparents. There are garments for daily wear and special ceremonial occasions.

Clothing is cultural identity in Mexico. It signifies where you are from and your status in the community.

Teotitlan del Valle weaver Porfirio Gutierrez talks about history, culture

Yet, over time, clothing has changed (think cotton to synthetic threads, hand-spun to machine-spun) based on cost of raw materials, time to make, and influence of current fashion trends in the larger culture. This has an impact on style, design and quality.  As villages interact with each other because of communication and ease of transportation, there is design-crossover, too.

What is “pure” or “authentic” is no longer relevant, perhaps. Change happens and it is impossible to keep people in a box doing what they have always been doing to satisfy collectors and appreciators of tradition. What we want to do is encourage innovation, collaboration, independence and economic success.

The inversion graph, an aging population of artisans, copyright M. Turok

Marta showed a slide explaining that there is a 50% loss of traditional artisans in Mexico. Artisans are aging out and so few of the next generation are stepping in to continue the work. She asks, Why is tradition dying out?

Is the acquisition of artesania being abandoned by the consumer? What is happening in the communities to impact this change? What is in need of revitalization? How do you prepare artisans to sell at fairs and expoventas? How do they show things, take orders, fulfill and ship? Are goods priced fairly for the amount of time put into making them? What are people willing to pay because something is made in Mexico?  How do you commodify art, handmade?

Scholarship recipients present their work, philosophy of design

So, it’s not only about keeping the skill alive, it is about getting it out into the marketplace?  Once something becomes commercialized, then does that erode its value and also compromise how an artisan is compensated?

As they say, It’s complicated!

Young women from Chenalho, Chiapas, represent their cooperative

And, if one changes the scale of motifs or introduces different color palettes to satisfy marketplace demands, or adapt a textile to another purpose (think going from sarapes/ponchos to rugs to handbags and purses), is this a compromise of traditions?

Important topics of discussion during the conference included appropriation of traditional design motifs by contemporary fashion designers, fair wages, using sustainable and native materials.  “What is Fair Trade, really?” when there are no standard rules.

Speaker Eric Chavez Santiago will discuss commercialization

Marta notes that when something is handmade AND mass-produced, someone is not being paid very well.

Many of us want to meet the artisan, have a personal relationship and buy directly so that the money exchange benefits the maker 100%.  That’s not always possible, so it’s important for us to read labels, and ask who made my clothes.

We also need to be sensitive and conscious to the myth that Mexican handmade items are cheap or that we can bargain just for the fun of it.  Let’s be conscientious about the haggler mentality.

What we also notice is that most weavers are no longer creating cloth for themselves — they are weaving for the marketplace, no longer investing a year of labor to create an elaborate ceremonial huipil.  They may dress in ready-made cotton or polyester purchased at Soriana or Walmart. Why?

SOLD: Hand-woven, embroidered ceremonial huipil, San Felipe Usila. 

[Note: This “stained glass window” huipil, above, is from the Chinantla pueblo of San Felipe Usila, about 12 hours from Oaxaca up a mountain road. I know the makers. It is woven on a back-strap loom, then intricately embroidered in cross-stitch. A special piece. Size L-XL. $500 USD. Time to make: 8 months. Who wants it?]

To dress differently exposes one to racism and discrimination. We heard a story about a Oaxaca village where the mayor was so intent on assimilation, that he forbade any weaving of traditional garments. It took thirty years to rescue the tradition by encouraging a new generation of weavers to bring back their cultural identity.

During the conference, Andares del Arte Popular hosted a curated show and sale of artisans in an adjacent patio. Conference-goers could meet the makers and buy directly from them. It was a wonderful introduction to Oaxaca for WARP.

A conference of weavers, dyers, anthropologists, collectors, textile lovers

I was pleased to to work with WARP to produce this conference. I served as the on-site administrator and conference planner, participated on the program committee, contacted speakers, organized a panel discussion, arranged for hotel, meals, conference venue, transportation, and a one-day natural dye textile tour for all conference attendees.  We went to villages to meet artisans and understand the complexity of the creative work of Oaxaca. On Sunday, 12 women accompanied me on an optional walking tour of Oaxaca with a focus on naturally dyed textiles. More about this in the next posts.

 

 

 

Jumping for Joy at Oaxaca’s Jardin Etnobotanico — Ethnobotanical Garden

North Carolina State University students and faculty jump for joy, a tradition

While I edit and process over 1,500 photos from last weekend’s WARP textile conference in Oaxaca, I thought I’d share with you the last set of photos from the May 2017 study abroad program with North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Sciences from Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden. 

Tuna, the fruit of the nopal cactus, is rich in Vitamin C, makes a delicious drink

The garden was rescued from the hands of developers. In the last century, it was a military horse stable, a shooting range and a garbage dump. The plan was to build a luxury hotel on the site. But, through the efforts of Maestro Francisco Toledo and Alejandro de Avila, and others, the area next to Santo Domingo Church and monastery became the beautiful garden that we know and enjoy today. It opened to the public in 1998.

Cactus trees, over 20 feet tall, offer shade; Santo Domingo backdrop

Our bilingual guide, Georgina Rosas, was exceptionally knowledgeable, explaining that the gardens are divided into the diverse ecosystems that reflect Oaxaca’s desert, mountainous and tropical landscape. One can only enter the garden and explore it through an organized tour.

Guide Georgina Rosas explains botanicals to NCSU student Matt

The English language tours are on Thursday and Saturday mornings, starting at 11:00 a.m.  Tickets are a modest 100 pesos per person — well worth the two-hour walk through the plot. It is off-season and we were lucky.

Reflecting pools and organ cactus fences frame the space

There was our group of sixteen people, plus another four visitors on the public tour. A small gathering in comparison to winters when there can be 30 to 40 people participating.

Flor de Mayo in full bloom hot pink and yellow

It was delightful to be in the garden during the spring blooming season. The Flor de Mayo,  as it is known here in Oaxaca, was resplendent in color. We know it as plumeria rubia or frangipani. Of course, the landscape design students loved seeing it, picked up the dropped petals, and the young women attached them to their hair behind their ears.

300-year-old Biznaga cactus, rare and endangered, an unusual, mature specimen

The tropical section of the Jardin Etnobotanico is a lush oasis filled with palms, fruit trees and a dampness that mimics the climate of Oaxaca’s Pacific coast. Tucked into the far corner of the garden, beyond the plant propagation area, is a two-story glass greenhouse.

A metal bridge at the top of the greenhouse for long views

The greenhouse was designed by Mexican architect Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido. It is a transparent structure with a center staircase that we could climb for a second-story view of the city and adjoining countryside. Georgina says on a clear day you can see the distant village of San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

Looking down through the glass to earth below

We came to find out that Professor Ricardo Hernandez from NCSU is one of the world’s leading experts on greenhouse lighting. He took a special interest in this structure.

Orchids, bromeliads, moss cling to branches, drip in humidity

I think what the garden does best is connect the dots between past and present, and gives us an outlook to conserve the future of our planet. The plants are intimately connected with the indigenous people of this region. We get a perspective for this listening to Georgina.

The Garden is a teaching laboratory for Mexicans and visitors alike.

We hear about agave as a beverage and fiber source. How the leaves are pounded, washed and then the fibers woven into clothing and field bags.

Professor Anne Spafford explains something she sees to student Ricky

We see the stand of corn, growing with squash and beans — all native to Mexico, her gift to the world — and the agricultural system of milpas.  This is the interdependent chemistry exchange between these three plants that give sustenance for the people, and when grown together, nutrients for the soil.

Beneath the walkway, an ancient aqueduct

Sourcing and conserving water has always been a key part of living in Oaxaca. Georgina explains that there was a water capture system and that water came to the city center from San Felipe del Agua in the foothills above the town.

Maize crop, native to Oaxaca, non-GMO, higher fiber and nutrients

When the Jardin Etnobotanico was first conceived of, the space was barren, bare. It needed to be excavated and prepared with raised beds.  In the process, they discovered an ancient water system and well here, as well as a path that led to what we now know as the Pan-American Highway MEX 190.

Cactus flower, another beauty in the Jardin Etnobotanico, nestled among pulque

Today, rainwater is collected in cisterns beneath the patio of the garden as one of the many conservation measures.

Amazing place for reflection and photos

I’d like to personally thank Jardin Etnobotanico founder and curator Alejandro de Avila B. for permission to publish the photos I took in the garden. The space is unique, featuring only Oaxaca plants. It gives us remarkable perspective into the diversity of people and regions in this magnificent Mexican state, and the interdependence of plants to people as source of food and shelter.

This is definitely a space for meditation and contemplation

I also want to thank Professors Ricardo Hernandez and Juliet Sherk for putting their trust in me to organize this study abroad program for North Carolina State University. It was a pleasure to work with them and to know their very talented students.

Nopal cactus flower

This tropical tree produces fluffy seed pods that indigenous people harvested and spun for clothing fiber.

Seed pods emit fluffy tufts

Oaxaca is textiles, culture, history, people and plants. If you want to know all of Oaxaca, please take time out to visit the Jardin Etnobotanico, at the corner of Reforma and Constitucion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Tlacolula Market Meander Map For Sale

It’s Sunday in the Oaxaca Valley. Time to spend the day at the amazing Tlacolula Market. Located about 45 minutes from Oaxaca City on the Carretera Nacional–Mexico 190–between Teotitlan del Valle and Mitla, the market is the biggest and IMHO, the best in the region.

Tlacolula market scene with aprons as cultural identity, meat grilling area

I suggest you get there by 11 a.m. and stay until at least 3 p.m. All transportation points you to Tlacolula on a Sunday. You can take a bus from the baseball stadium in the city or a colectivo from the same point. If you wish, hire a private driver and have him wait for you at about 180 pesos per hour.

I created this map because the market is complex and goes deep. You don’t want to miss anything! The map costs $9 USD. Please order at least 24-hours in advance. I send this to you as a jpg or PDF. You print it out and take it with you — for personal use only!

ORDER YOUR TLACOLULA MARKET MAP HERE!

There are some flash points to avoid for personal safety. The narrow arch that spills out from the church courtyard to the street that connects on the opposite side to the permanent market is where the purse-slashers and pick-pockets hang out. Don’t go through there, go around.

Assessing quality, style and price.

The map indicates my favorite place to eat, places to shop and to explore. You don’t want to miss any of it!  Where to taste the best nieves — ice cream — or sample agua miel, the unfermented first juice of the agave cactus filled with digestive health benefits.

With the map, you will know the streets, where to get cash at the ATM, how the town is laid out, where to get the colectivos, where to park, how far to meander without missing anything.

This map offers an option to those who want to know where they are going before they get there!

ORDER YOUR TLACOLULA MAP HERE!

Thank you for supporting Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We invest a lot of time writing the blog and publishing photos. This is one way to help underwrite our efforts.

Also available by advance order, to guide you to weavers who work only in natural dyes in the rug weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle.  $10 USD

SELF-GUIDED TOUR MAP TO TEOTITLAN DEL VALLE WEAVERS!

Colorful plastic woven baskets, Tlacolula Market. Map to buy!

NCSU in Oaxaca: Crocodiles, Iguanas, Mangroves at Ventanilla Beach

Rooster in the rain, plastic bag lens protector

It was a rollicking day in the skies over Oaxaca yesterday as I made my way back to Teotitlan del Valle from Puerto Escondido via Mexico City, where Tropical Storm Beatriz was having her way with us.

Sheets of rain cover Aeromar window. What do you see?

Sheets of rain fell as I took off in the little Aeromar turboprop. In Huatulco, the news wasn’t so good as flights were canceled, and one North Carolina State University student who decided to stay a couple of extra days, couldn’t get home as planned.

Iguana, happy on a log.

But, I’d like to back-track. Another highlight of the NCSU study abroad trip to Oaxaca was a visit to the Ventanilla lagoon between Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel, where fresh and salt water mix to support cormorants, crocodiles and iguanas.

Crocodile protecting her nest

The bio-diverse tropical ecosystem is home to white and red mangroves, too.

Under the umbrellas in the rain forest

This is a protected area accessible only by canoe, paddles powered by local guides who volunteer as part of the preservation project of the region.

Let’s take the long view and protect our planet

Our admission fees help support the ecology of the region and the endangered species.

Red mangroves, an endangered specie, Ventanilla Lagoon

We started out by van in a down-pour with no inkling of the storm to come the next days. It was wet, wet, wet and I had to cover my camera lens with a clear plastic bag that I bought from a local food vendor on the beach.

Through the jungle swamp, Ventanilla lagoon, Oaxaca

I think the resulting images give you a sense of the wonder, the tropical humidity, and gauzy landscape shrouded by clouds and rain.

Diving bird drying its wings

By afternoon, the rain cleared. We spent the rest of the day enjoying lunch under the palapa and swimming in a Puerto Angel protected cove. (more about this in another post)

Cicadas hug a tree trunk

First stop en route, fresh coconut juice at roadside stand, Highway 200

We made a stop along the highway to sample fresh coconut, both the milk and the flesh. It was a refreshing break from the heat and gave us a chance to meet some of the local people who make a living harvesting from nearby trees.

Amber, a doctoral student, enjoying fresh coconut milk

Eating fresh coconut with salsa, roadside stand, Pacific Coast Highway 200

An offering of fresh, spicy peanuts — too hot for me!

Anna, Brianna, Kia and Makayla, camaraderie

A marker on the roadside, so we know where we are

Crocodile pond reflections

Professor Ricardo Hernandez and guide talk about preservation, biodiversity

In the lagoon, the families who protect the wildlife explain that they rescue parrots, alligators, crocodiles and monkeys that have been kept in captivity.

David wanted to take this species home, rare color

When the pets get too big and the owners don’t want them anymore, the refuge offers a safe place where the animals and reptiles can be cared for.

Ricky explores the wildlife refuge. These white tail deer were rescued.

Diorama feels real, snap, crackle, pop

David, enjoying the adventure

At the beach, examining the flora, a dreamy gauze

Reptile eggs have a soft, leathery shell. These chicks were just hatched. The reserve has a program to rescue and release.

Baby crocodiles, just hatched

An important message for us all, despite what Agent Orange says

Sea bird takes flight

Endangered sea turtle, National Turtle Center, Mazunte

NCSU, National Turtle Center, Mazunte, Oaxaca

There is also a reforestation project to protect and preserve the mangroves.

 

 

NCSU in Oaxaca: Saving Sea Turtles

Oaxaca is one of the most diverse states in Mexico. It’s Pacific coast is rugged, rocky, with swirling turquoise water, warmed by ocean currents. Our group from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science has been based in Puerto Escondido, a favorite spot for world-class surfing, too.

NCSU students take part in sea turtle release

This is a global sea-turtle nesting area, among the top five in the world. Preservation efforts to protect the eggs are a priority by volunteers and wildlife preservation group.  Several species have been on the brink of extinction.

Amanda and Ricky’s expressions of delight, fascination say it all

Harvesting sea turtle eggs has been banned by the Mexican government since the early 1990’s, but ancient cultural traditions are powerful. Coastal indigenous communities have depended on turtles and turtle eggs for food long before the conquest. It is difficult to change ingrained habits.

Green sea turtles, just born, ready to go to the ocean

Poachers still roam the beaches in the midnight hours to find nesting sites and steal eggs.

Sunset illumination on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast

One of the most incredible experiences of this journey with students and faculty was to take part in a baby turtle release on the coast just north of Puerto Escondido. We arranged this through our wonderful hosts at Hotel Santa Fe.

John couldn’t be happier — he’s about to release a baby turtle

The gender of a sea turtle depends on the warmth of the sand and where the eggs are laid in the nest. Climate change has a huge impact on future populations and reproduction.

Students hear environmental protection practices from volunteer

I remember visiting the coast village of San Mateo del Mar in 2008 to meet the Palafox family weavers. Located on the coast, surrounded by lagoons, the fishermen of the village depended on sea turtles for food.

Nearby luxury beach homes at water’s edge

A huge pile of turtle eggs graced the center of the dining table at the lunch prepared for us. I couldn’t eat, and I know it was rude to pass the bowl without taking one.

Watching the turtles move toward the sea — fascinating

This week, there were faces filled with delight as each student scooped up a tiny baby turtle with a coconut shell bowl to carry it from the nest to the edge of the sand, where it would make its way into the ocean.

Wolfpack tribute on the beach near Puerto Escondido

The group left Oaxaca yesterday. They are an amazing set of young people, smart, curious, sensitive and courteous — a tribute to North Carolina State University. I am impressed by their intelligence and caring, and I will miss them.

It was a privilege to work with the faculty at NCSU to develop this program.

A big, brilliant Oaxaca sky over the Pacific Ocean.

Our donations to participate in this activity help to fund the on-going preservations efforts of the sea turtles along Oaxaca’s Pacific coast.

Baby turtle before release

Volunteers patrol stretches of beach throughout the night. If a volunteer encounters a poacher who finds a nest before s/he does, the volunteer can offer money or most likely backs away to avoid confrontation.

Another view, sea turtle release