Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

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

 

 

NCSU in Oaxaca: At Tierra del Sol Permaculture Farm

This week I’m traveling with twelve students, three faculty members and a videographer from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science. It’s a study abroad program that I organized for Professors Ricardo Hernandez and Julieta Sherk.

Go Wolfpack! NCSU students and faculty with Tierra del Sol staff

Many students are from rural North Carolina and have never been to Mexico before. They are studying sustainable agriculture, horticulture, nutrition, business, textiles, agribusiness and landscape design. They will become researchers, educators, managers and practitioners.

Making plaster clay from mud, water, straw

Mexico is our learning laboratory for comparing and contrasting the way food is developed, managed, commercialized and distributed.

At Tierra del Sol, alternative building materials include bottles and clay

A highlight of the week was our visit to Tierra del Sol in San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca,  in the Tlacolula Valley. We spent the morning on a tour to see small scale farming, sustainable agriculture, organic farming, respect for the land and the cultural history of the Zapotec people.  We talked about how education is the primary mission of the farm.

Leticia Hernandez Fabian bakes corn cakes in wood-fired adobe oven for us

It is a demonstration model for young children and families who want to keep the traditional methods of growing and fertilizing vegetables that have a 10,000 year old history here.

New cabins for volunteers constructed with bamboo, waddle and daub

Staff work with residents of the adjacent village of San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya who want to learn more about sustainable agriculture/permaculture. They also organize programs in the schools.

Biodiverse pond supports talapia fish and a swimming hole for people

Tierra del Sol has been in existence for about fifteen years, founded by Pablo Ruiz Lavalle. The farm manager is Julio Abimael, who is also a beekeeper.

The organizers are planning an internship program and we discussed the possibility of an exchange program where university students could come to work, study, learn and earn university credit for the experience.

Garlic pesto, fresh from the farm

In addition to eating some yummy, home-baked corn bread that we slathered with garlic pesto made in the farm kitchen, the students had fun making mud plaster and applying it to adobe bricks at the base of the Gaia building, covered with a thatch roof.

We take lunch, squash greens soup with Moises Garcia’s family

Recycling is an essential part of sustainability at Tierra del Sol. Baño seco, the composting toilet, is one feature. Both animal and human waste is used for plant fertilizer. Water is recycled and there is attention to using only what is needed, and then giving it back to the earth.

Carrot crop in the Tierra del Sol garden

We compared large-scale farming methods of agribusiness, complete with chemical fertilizers and irrigation systems, with the small, ten-acre plots of land with non-GMO seeds that indigenous people in Oaxaca depend upon for nutrients.

Overall, it was an excellent day.

Bare feet are the best mixing machine

On the van, ready for the next adventure

Bamboo is a wind break and building material

Professor Ricardo Hernandez reflects on day

Lily pond flower

A long view of Tierra del Sol

Solar panels heat water for personal use.

Our guides at Tierra del Sol

After lunch with Moises Garcia and family–Wolfpack Growl!

NCSU in Oaxaca: Monte Alban Archeological Site

Students and faculty from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science are in Oaxaca for a study abroad course on Sustainability in Emerging Countries.

NCSU students and faculty setting out to explore Oaxaca

Here’s what a few students say about our first day at Monte Alban.

“We went to see Monte Alban first to give us background about Oaxaca and culture we are stepping into.”

Climbing the pyramids for a long view of the archeological site

“People here in Oaxaca take pride in this historic archeological site.”

Copal tree flowering and with seed pods — sap used for ritual incense

“You don’t know what people are talking about until you see the significance of this place.”

A long view of Monte Alban, with Observatory in distance

“It was a good foundation for what we would see and experience.”

Monte Alban is one of those spectacular archeological sites that grasp your attention, teach about the sophistication of Zapotec leadership and demonstrate the astronomical prowess of indigenous people.

Guide Pablo Gonzalez explains development of this major Mesoamerican site

The visit there gave students an opportunity to see native plants and understand the local plant life and landscape.

Pencil cactus becomes tree, with poisonous sap

As we climbed the temples and examined the plant life, saw the glyphs carved into the stone, and understood the ancient systems of water retention and cultivation, we gained a greater insight into the importance of Oaxaca as the source of corn that was first hybridized here almost 10,000 years ago and spread throughout the world.

At the top of the Zapotec world, 1,000 BC to 800 AD

We approached from the north side of the Monte Alban. The site is on a mountain-top between the city and the ancient ceramic making village of Santa Maria Atzompa.

Caretakers take a break in front of “Los Danzantes,” the Dancers, carved stone

The glyphs and carvings tell a story of conquest and dominance over surrounding villages, as well as the glyph language of rectangles and circles. Figures carved upside-down into the stone represented conquered leaders from local villages.

Another view of Los Danzantes

The gold treasures from Tomb 7 are on view at the Santo Domingo Cultural Center next to the church. They were wrought by Mixtecs who occupied Monte Alban in the late classical period.

Stelae carved with circles and rectangles — ancient vocabulary

Students participating are studying agriculture, horticulture, landscape design, business, and nutrition. Each day, they have an intensive discussion with their professors about food sourcing, fertilization, bio-diversity and cultural impact on climate change.

In the clouds at the top of Monte Alban

Zapotec rulers lived high above the agricultural valley below. Humans leveled the mountain where the elite lived. The Spanish named the place Monte Alban. When they arrived the mountain was covered in trees with white blooming flowers.

A videographer with the group will make a documentary about the experience

Students will write a paper and receive three-credit hours toward their degree program. We have one doctoral student with us, too.

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History Study Tour, July 27-30, 2017

This may be the only Frida-Diego Tour this year! Our art historian has limited availability. Take advantage of the special offering.

Arrive Thursday, July 27 and depart Monday, July 30, 2017

Cost is $645 per person. (Does not include lodging)

Come to Mexico City to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art. This is in-depth art history education at its best! We offer you a narrated, leisurely cultural immersion that you can miss if you visit on your own. Our expert guide is a bi-lingual Mexican art historian! Come solo, with a partner or friend. Norma Schafer participates in all programs. Small group size limited to 8 people for quality experience.

We will send you the zocalo area meeting location after you register.

 

Arrive by 4 p.m. and meet for a group dinner on Thursday at 7 p.m. We will have a long weekend — three full days —  to learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.

Man Controller of the Universe mimics destroyed Rockefeller Center mural

Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history, and their personal lives together. Theirs is a story of Mexico’s development as a post-revolutionary modern nation.

If you want to register, send me an email.

A few little nips

A few little nips — Frida painted this after Rivera’s affair with her sister

This is an incredible experience! The Rivera murals at the Secretary of Public Education building were like nothing I expected. The scale, the intensity, the variation of themes, the continual flow of connecting  vignettes – just mind blowing! It isn’t just an art tour. It is an intense immersion into the beginning of an art movement, a cultural movement, and a culmination of historic events that come alive. — Christine Bouton, North Carolina

 

Our expert guide is a noted art historian who holds a master’s degree in art history. She will soon begin a doctoral program. She shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists, narrates the expedition, and leads us through these spaces to give you the most meaningful educational experience:

  • Palacio Nacional
  • Palacio Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP)
  • San Ildefonso National Preparatory School
  • Abelardo Rodriguez market
  • Casa Azul — the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
  • Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño

MuralsSEP+Best81-28 

Yes, you can visit these places independently. But it’s not likely you will get the same in-depth knowledge, insights, and perspectives we offer.

 

She called him toad. He was 20 years older. They were passionate about life, politics, each other. They shaped the world of modern art and she became an icon in her own right, creating an independent identity that serves as a role model for women. They were twice married and unfaithful, the subjects of books and film, and art retrospectives around the world.

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park mural covers 500 years of Mexican history

Rivera’s Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park

 

Rivera’s mural at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) covers detailed Mexican history, from pre-Hispanic America to the Spanish Conquest through industrialization, including the French and U.S. invasions, from 1521 to 1930.

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival, painted this mural at Palacio Bellas Artes

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival;  Palacio Bellas Artes mural

Plus, you will have lots of options for independent exploration: shop for outstanding folk art, and eat at local markets, historic and fine contemporary and traditional restaurants! Visit the Anthropology Museum.

Lunch at the gourmet Mercado San Juan

Lunch at the gourmet market, Mercado San Juan

See our reviews on Trip Advisor!

Base Trip Includes:

  • welcome dinner at renown restaurant Azul Historico
  • guided discussions by an expert, bilingual art historian educated at UNAM and graduate Southern Methodist University
  • introduction to Norma’s favorite restaurants (meals not included) and folk art galleries
  • transportation to Casa Azul and Dolores Olmedo Museum
  • complete travel packet and readings sent in advance via email

DiegoFrida4Group2-5 copy 

Preliminary Itinerary

  • Day 1, Thursday:  Meet for group dinner at 7 p.m. at an excellent zocalo area. Dinner included in your tour cost. Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Day 2, Friday: guided visit to SEP, Colegio de San Idlefonso, where Diego met Frida, and the Abelardo Rodriguez market where Rivera’s students, including Pablo O’Higgins, painted. Lunch and dinner on your own. Includes museum admission fees. Overnight in Mexico City.

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28, this one mocking the bourgeoisie

  • Day 3, Saturday: guided visit to Palacio Bellas Artes and Museo Mural de Diego Rivera. Optional folk art shopping or visit to Anthropology Museum. Lunch and dinner on your own. Includes museum admission fees. Overnight in Mexico City.

Palacio Bellas Artes built during Porfirio Diaz presidency

Palacio Bellas Artes built during the 30-year Porfirio Diaz presidency

  • Day 4, Sunday:  guided visit to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño. Includes transportation, admission fees. Lunch included.
  •  Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Depart on Monday for home.

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional looks like Europe

Be ready to WALK and then, walk some more!  Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase to pack treasures you pick up along the way.

  • Cost is $645 per person for the tour package.
  • Cost DOES NOT include lodging
  • Includes all city transportation, museum admission fees, selected meals as specified in the itinerary

Please make your own lodging arrangements, reserve and pay your hotel directly. You are asked to book your hotel in the Historic Center of Mexico City within walking distance to the Zocalo. We recommend Hotel Catedral or Chill Out Flat or El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. 

Tiffany glass ceiling at El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

Tiffany ceiling, El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

What the cost does not  include:

  • hotel accommodations/lodging
  • meals except noted in itinerary, alcoholic beverages
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services

MuralsSEP+Best81-22 MuralsSEP+Best81-21MuralsSEP+Best81-24 

 

You might like to arrive early to stay later to discover Mexico City and her incredible museums and restaurants. We will give you a list  of recommendations to explore on your own.

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Reservations and Cancellations.  Full payment is requested to reserve. Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will send you an itemized PayPal invoice.

If you cancel on or before July 1, 2017, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Frida died July 12, 1954 not long after she painted these watermelons

Frida died July 13, 1954, at age 47, soon after she painted these watermelons

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a signed and witnessed waiver of liability, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

 

To register, email us at norma.schafer@icloud.com. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

Frida’s sketchbook & journal; notice the deformed leg from childhood polio.

This workshop is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary and substitute leaders without notice.

A note to Frida from Diego two years after her death … “you live in my heart.”

Paint brushes in Frida’s studio at Casa Azul, exactly as she left them

Mexican Anthropologist Marta Turok to Give Keynote at WARP Textile Conference

Marta Turok, the noted Mexican applied anthropologist and specialist in folk art and textiles, will give the keynote address at the WARP (Weaving a Real Peace) International Conference in Oaxaca, on Saturday, June 9, 2017.

I’ve been working with WARP and program chair Judy Newland for the better part of a year to help organize the conference. Marta just wrote this morning to summarize the remarks she will make.

Textiles from the village of Cancuc, Chiapas

“My talk will focus on how I learned that a project requires a methodology. It begins with a good assessment (diagnostic) in order to draw a master plan.  There are many imponderables as the project continues and one has to be constantly evaluating to see how to make adjustments.  

This diagnostic includes understanding the role of crafts production and marketing in the community/region, the number of craftspeople/families involved, the capacities that exist and those that need to be developed, how raw materials are acquired and distributed, what the means of production are, what markets one wants to target.   

The approach should be integral, analyzing the environmental, cultural and socio-economic issues surrounding the community and the group.  The clearer the goals, the more investment in capacity building and decision-making, the better chance the group will be able to appropriate the process.”

Applied anthropologist Marta Turok to speak in Oaxaca

Click Here to see the complete program and to register. It’s not too late!

Other conference speakers include Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation representative Lorena de la Piedra, Zapotec weaver Porfirio Gutierrez, designer and natual dye expert Rocio Mena Gutierrez, University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty member Carolyn Kallenborn, social entrepreneur Ana Paula Fuentes, and founder of Chamuchic project Claudia Muñoz Morales.

There will be an expoventa (exhibition and sale) of folk art and textiles on June 9 in the ex-convento San Pablo patio presented by Andares Arte Popular.  On Saturday, June 10, conference-goers will travel to villages to meet textile artisans as part of their conference registration.

Here is the complete Program

Saturday, June 9, 2017

8:00 a.m. Breakfast

Morning Sessions –

9:30 Cindy Lair, WARP President – Welcome and Acknowledgments

9:45-10:30 Marta Turok, our keynote speaker from Mexico City, an applied anthropologist who focuses on socio-economic artisan development in Mexico; she is considered one of the foremost experts on Mexican Folk Art and will discuss her work and what it means for artisans in a global world market

10:30-11:15 Lorena De la Piedra will discuss the work of the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation, it’s commitment to artisan development, bringing products to market and the natural dye culture of Oaxaca

11-30-12:15 Porfirio Gutierrez, Teotitlan del Valle master weaver, will present innovation and preservation in Zapotec Weaving – the evolution of design and the incorporation of innovative materials

LUNCH from 12:30 – 1:45pm

Afternoon sessions

2pm-3pm Panel Presentation followed by roundtables discussions with all attendees participating

Topic: Working with Indigenous Artisans to create fashion and design projects, bringing products to market, design influences, integrity of design, cultural impact, ethical issues and challenges.

  • Rocio Mena Gutierrez: WARP member and panel moderator, founder and designer of Zikuri Natural Dyes, Mexico City
  • Ana Paula Fuentes: consultant/textile designer currently working with Fabrica Social
  • Claudia Munoz Morales: textile designer, creator of the initiative Viernes Traditional, counselor for Impacto Textil and leads the Chamuchic group
  • Carolyn Kallenborn – Associate Faculty at University Wisconsin Madison has worked with textile artisans in Oaxaca since 2003, and produced/directed the film, “Woven Lives”

3:00–3:30 Attendees will select discussion questions prior to meeting and break into small groups with leaders to talk about issues/ideas facing textile artisans around the world, including attribution, copyright, and working with foreign designers

3:45 Scholarship winners 5 minute presentations

1:00–7:00 ExpoVenta – a marketplace of regional artisans at San Pablo Cultural Center

6:00–7:30       Reception with visits to Museo Textil de Oaxaca which is next door

Saturday, June 10, 2017

8:00 a.m. Breakfast – we will have the WARP Annual Meeting during our Saturday breakfast

9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Natural Dye Weaving and Textile Tour, includes van transportation, lunch and visits to artisan studios with demonstrations and discussion of the natural dye tradition in Oaxaca, Mexico. Participants will meet weavers of rugs, home goods, handbags and clothing in their home studios. Tour will make four stops. You will see weavers working on the flying shuttle loom and tapestry loom. See traditional carding, spinning and dyeing methods using cochineal, indigo and other local plant sources. We offer honoraria to artisan-demonstrators on your behalf. Tour provider is Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.