Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

Ringing the Bells: San Miguel Arcangel Church, San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca

San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, calls to me. Perhaps because it is hidden — escondido — beyond Santa Ana del Valle and Diaz Ordaz, tucked into the fold of the foothills leading to the Sierra Juarez on the way to the eco-tourism center of Cuajilomoyas.

Stepping up into the church patio

Illuminated Saint Michael on the altar

There are dazzling, artful aprons there that talented women embroider with birds, flowers, animals, and plants in a cascade of color. Wearable art! It is all from their imagination. There is no design that shows up twice. You can find them from this distinctive dress each Sunday at the Tlacolula Market, a 15-minute trip from the village.

Welcome to San Miguel Arcangel

Merry modeling an artful apron

I went back last week with my young friend Lupita. She rarely leaves Teotitlan del Valle and its a big world out there along the Pan American Highway MEX 190. We were lucky. When we arrived, the gates to the church patio were open to me for the first time. This was my fourth visit in recent weeks.

Watch the video!

Inside, I said hello to the man who was doing his church volunteer service. I asked him if we could step up to the altar and then enter an anteroom where there were reliquaries and antique treasures from centuries past. He welcomed us. Invited us in, told us to take our time.

Antonio Miguel invites into the anteroom for a look around

Ancient frescoes were painted on lime plastered walls. Deeply carved wood embellished Zegache-style mirrors. A broken clay figure perched under a gilded miniature pergola. Priestly robes hung in a glass case. It was a feeling of old, mystical, medieval. Without restoration, the space felt even more sacred.

Hand painted frescoes of saints adorn walls

Clay figure perched under gilded pergola

I explained to Lupita that it was her people, the Zapotecs, who were conscripted to become stone masons, wood carvers and painters, doing the labor to decorate these buildings of the new religion after the conquest. This was like being inside a fortress, sturdy, solid, everlasting.

Frame of the antique organ

Ascending through the turret, a rest stop for a view

Antonio asked if we wanted to see the antique organ from the same era as the one in Tlacochahuaya. We would have to climb the narrow winding stairs up the turret to the second floor. He went first. The organ was a wood frame with no musical parts. It must have been splendid once.

From the organ balcony, looking into the sanctuary

Lupita makes her way down steep stone steps. I follow her.

He kept looking at his watch. I have to go ring the bells, he said. It’s noon. So we scaled another round of steps to the top of the bell tower, greeted with spectacular views.

Rope bell is suspended with twisted cowhide

Zapotec symbols decorate church support beams

Antonio rang the bells announcing to the entire village it was twelve o’clock. Then he gave me an interview. He lived in Pomona, California, working as a landscaper for 10 years. He is happy to be home in his village!

An inscription, from 1560?

The Virgin of Guadalupe is everywhere, the patron saint of Mexico

 

 

Podcast: Tixinda Dreamweavers Plus Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

Listen to the WEAVE Podcast from Gist Yarn & Fiber

Today, Sarah Resnick from Gist Yarn & Fiber, talks with Patrice Perillie, an immigration attorney based in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and Mixtec weaver Amada Sanchez Cruz from Pinotepa de Don Luis.  She also interviews Norma Schafer at the end of the segment.

Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis

Patrice started the non-profit Tixinda Dreamweavers Cooperative twelve years ago. Her goal was to keep very talented artisans in Mexico instead of migrating to the USA where jobs are limited to cleaning houses and washing dishes in restaurants.

Listen to their story — a 26-minute investment of your time

Tixinda Dreamweavers ethically harvests the endangered sea snail that gives the rare purple dye. The group grows pre-Hispanic native cotton. They use the malacate — drop spindle — to make the thread. They weave extraordinary clothing using the back-strap loom.

Weaving designs, Pinotepa de Don Luis, with cochineal

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator sponsored this Podcast. At the end of the segment, I talk about why we take textile lovers to the Coast of Oaxaca to explore the weaving, natural dyeing and hand-spinning culture.

Spinning and cleaning cotton in San Juan Colorado

Pinotepa de Don Luis is one of five villages we will visit on our January 11-21, 2019 textile study tour on the Oaxaca coast. For our Grand Finale, we attend the Tixinda Dreamweavers Exposition and Sale. A noted cultural anthropologist will travel with us. We go deep into the textile culture of the region. You meet extraordinary artisans where they live and create.

4 Spaces Open: Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

Women of the Ji Nuu Cooperative, San Juan Colorado

 

Zaachila Zancudos: Dancing on Stilts is Cultural Heritage

The Stilt Dancers of Zaachila are called Zancudos because stilts are long and leggy like mosquito legs. Stilts are called zancos in Spanish. The Zancudos are very proprietary about this dance. They consider it part of their  cultural identity and heritage.

Zaachila Bachos Zancudos Buin Zaa

After I wrote the blog post about the Lila Downs concert during Guelaguetza season and published a photograph of stilt dancers there invited from Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec that also appeared on Facebook, I received a deluge of messages from Zaachila Zancudos, critical of my calling the dancers from Tlahui Zancudos.  Many were quick to tell me that they were the first to use stilts to dance. I explained that I only photographed what was presented at the Lila Downs Concert. Yet, the backlash poured in and I wondered why.

I wanted to go to Zaachila to talk with the group Bachos Zancudos Buin Zaa (Zancudos de Zaachila) to find out more about their history and traditions, to understand why they reacted so strongly.

Erick Aragon Rodriguez (left), me, Pedro Aldair Antonio Aragon

On Thursday, Zaachila market day, I arranged to meet with Pedro Aldair Antonio Aragon, age 21 and a zancudo since he was six years old. Aldair invited his friend and fellow zancudo, Erick Aragon Rodriguez, now age 36 who learned to walk the stilts when he was ten, to join us. Kay and Dean Michaels, friends from North Carolina now living in Oaxaca, joined me.

Zancudos sculpture in Zaachila zocalo

There is immense community pride in this dance, originally called Bachos. It is part of village identity. The dance goes back at least 100 years and Aldair carries on the tradition of his father and grandfather, who were also stilt dancers. A bronze monument of a stilt dancer stands in the center of the village zocalo or main plaza as a testimony to this history.

Erick explains that stilts were originally used to cross rivers and arroyos. The land is filled with rolling hills, swales and deep gullies and it makes sense that this became a necessary mode of transportation and navigation around and through the limitations of the landscape. How stilts came to Zaachila is a matter for research. Were they brought by Europeans or an innovation to deal with the terrain?

Entering town, the Virgin of Guadalupe, artist’s adaptation, greets us

The wooden stilts are made in Zaachila. There is a workshop that fabricates and sells them. I am told by the young men that about ten years ago, a troupe of Zaachila zancudos traveled throughout Oaxaca towns to perform the dance. In Tlahuitoltepec someone asked to buy a pair of stilts, which were then reproduced. Tlahuitoltecos from the Mixe region of Oaxaca learned how to use the stilts and created their own steps, using their own indigenous dress. Aldair and Erick say the stilt dancing has been in existence there for less than ten years.

We met at Comedor Denisse for barbacoa de res, there for 51 years

There is controversy. They emphasize that Zancudo is a word associated with Zaachila and should not be used in association with Tlahuitoltepec. They say the word is part of their tradition, culture and to honor the grandfathers. Anthropologists consider dance, language, dress and other forms of artistic expression to be part of cultural identity. I want to understand, not arbitrate.

The softest, best BBQ beef ever!

The Zaachila Zancudos have never gone to an official Guelaguetza because their village leaders field their group of Los Danzantes de La Pluma (Dance of the Feather). About five Zapotec villages in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca perform the Dance of the Feather. Which is selected each year to go to Guelaguetza depends on the office of tourism/government Committee of Authentication.

At Comedor Denisse, mole amarillo, too

Today, there are about 80 people in the Zancudos group. Thirty are ages three to ten years old who are learning the dance. Eleven year olds dance with the adults. From time to time, about 10 to 30 people can show up for a dance or calenda (parade), but for major fiestas more dancers will turn out.

Coming up on Thursday, September 6, 5 p.m.

Zaachila will celebrate her Saint’s Day honoring Santa Maria Natividad. There will be a big parade of Zancudos, going from the church to the Zocalo. 

Everyone is invited. 

Go early! Go to the market. Have lunch. Eat nieves.

We have been talking about cultural appropriation at Oaxaca Cultural Navigator for some time. The new cultural center in Teotitlan del Valle addresses the question of what is cultural heritage and who “owns” it, who has rights, if any, to copy or adapt.

  • Is it disrespectful for a Mixe group to use the stilt dancing developed by a Zapotec group?
  • Is it disrespectful for the Lila Downs concert producer to invite the group from Tlahuitoltepec and not the dancers from Zaachila?
  • Was the Tlahui group chosen because they look more professional or because their traditional village dress is more interesting for a stage production?
  • Is it disrespectful that a Guelaguetza Committee of Authentication has never included the Zancudos in the official tourism office produced Guelaguetza event?
  • These are issues here for Mexicans to decide.

Your comments and opinions are welcome!

After lunch, we said goodbye to Aldair and Erick. Kay, Dean and I could not resist the nieves stalls on the zocalo. There is a line-up of about six permanent puestos. Which one to choose? We picked the busiest, of course, owned by Doña Chabelita who has been there sincce 1966, the oldest in Zaachila. Her grandson just returned from 20 years living and working in Connecticut. Impeccable English. Not sure about immigration status, but who cares!

Dean savoring nieves de vainilla

Doña Chabelita, ready to retire after a lifetime of ice cream making

Melon and pecan nieves. The Best!

A treasure trove of pitaya (dragonfruit) in Zaachila market

 

 

Flouncy Aprons of San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oh, gosh, how to resist these extraordinary aprons of San Miguel del Valle.  The Zapotec community is nestled into a steep hillside 8 km up into the Sierra Juarez from the Tlacolula crossroads on the way to Cuajimoloyas. Remote but accessible by car.

Merry modeling the flounciest apron, which is for sale.

This is a small village of about 1,000 people many of whom are rug weavers that do contract work for Teotitlan del Valle resellers and exporters.

Four Aprons For Sale, Below.

Church on the plaza, San Miguel del Valle, open every day but Friday

But the fashion has turned to heavily embroidered flouncy aprons and this is becoming a more substantial part of the local economy. These are aprons for us to dance in, to wear to parties, to adorn oneself in the color Oaxaca is known for. When I come back to Oaxaca from North Carolina in November, I’m going to have an apron party! Or, maybe I’ll have one in NC, too.

Me, Epifania and #3 Flouncy Apron (for sale)

These are aprons with lots of gathers, pleats and tucks embellished with flowers and birds, scallops and pockets. They take hours to make even though they are machine embroidered. They take a seamstress of considerable skill to manipulate and change the threads, follow the curvature of the pattern drawn on cloth. No two are alike.

Work in progress on the sewing machine

I made my second visit to San Miguel just a few days ago with friend Merry Foss. I was on a quest to find an apron for Barbara Anderson. My first visit was a couple of weeks ago on an Envia Tour with Jacki Cooper Gordon, and I decided I needed to go back on my own, take my time to meander the streets and discover other apron-makers. Merry likes to meander just like me.

Barbara Anderson’s apron — SOLD

When Barbara saw that Envia post, she wrote to ask me if I would find her an apron. I did at Epifania’s workshop. Fani and her husband both sew and embroider. This one, that I knew would be a perfect fit for Barbara, was sold. Someone in the village had given Fani a deposit to hold it for her. I said, sell it to me and make another one. She did. A bird in the hand, as they say.

SOLD. #1 apron for sale, size M, $95 USD plus mailing.

Now, full disclosure: The beauty is in the embroidery work. The cost is in the time to create the design and work it at the sewing machine. The fuller the embroidery, the more expensive the piece.  Though, the finish work leaves much to be desired! Across all the workshops and on the best embroidered pieces, seams are unfinished and ragged. No pinking shears or sergers here. The pieces are sewn together quickly, it seems.

SOLD. #2. For sale, size S-M. $85 USD plus mailing.

How to Buy

  • Send me an email. norma.schafer@icloud.com
  • Tell me your name and mailing address
  • Tell me the Number of the Apron that you want to buy.
  • I will send you an invoice that includes apron and USPS priority mailing cost.
  • I will ship between September 17-20, after I return to the USA

Finished seams and dangling threads are a problem for quality control throughout our Oaxaca region. But, these garments — as in many other towns — are made for the local women. It’s the embroidery that matters most to them. Many of these pieces are used for daily wear — washing, cooking, baby-tending, cleaning, going to market. So they get used up fast. Another version of FAST FASHION? Perhaps. Is it up to us to influence the quality of something in order to meet a global fashion demand? What changes in the process?

SOLD. #3 apron for sale, size M-L, $95 USD plus mailing.

Perhaps it’s only gringas like me who want a piece to last, with finished seams, edges that match, dangling threads clipped.

I must confess, this type of fanciful, flouncy stitching is a departure for me, but it has also captivated me. Fun to wear. Frivolous. Brings a smile. The fabric can be a cotton-poly blend, or pure polyester or maybe even rayon. Not the best. Shiny — brillo — is what the women here like. Wash it, dry it fast, wear it again. My tendency is to go for natural dyes and hand-woven cloth. But, I’m smitten.

#4 apron for sale, size S-M, $70 USD plus mailing.

A beautiful hill town with a corner chapel

We arrived in San Miguel del Valle around 2 p.m. Just in time for comida — afternoon lunch. The fare of the day at Comedor Tere — an Envia supported enterprise — was fish. Mojarra to be precise. A whole fish, deep fried but not greasy, served with nopal salad, delicious black bean puree, rice, salad and homemade tortillas, plus a pitcher of fresh guava juice. Total cost for two, 100 pesos (that’s about $5 USD total, $2.50 each).

Tere disinfects everything and I eat lunch with confidence.

Meal of the day, mojarra, tender and moist.

Tere used her interest free Envia loan to expand her hours and offerings, opening a family-style restaurant beyond the carry-out service she used to do exclusively.

Recycled bottle recycling bin. Now that’s creative.

In Mexico and anywhere, I find it’s important to have time to wander villages, meet people serendipitously and see what one can discover. Time and being open to a new experience gives us a chance to explore possibilities beyond the beaten path. It’s the approach I like to take on my tours, too. Keep enough open time to see what and who pops up!

Niche in the church wall. How old is this? Centuries.

Leslie’s Regrets Sale: Clothing From Chiapas and Oaxaca

I had this crazy idea of starting an on-line e-commerce website marketplace to sell and resell new and like-new Mexico clothing AND my own dress design.

(Skip the story, if you like, and scroll down to the goods.)

(I’ve been making and wearing the same dress pattern in different fabrics for the last several years. I thought, oh, I could make and sell these dresses too, because women have stopped to ask me where I bought  it!)

I bought a domain name and tried to set up a Shopify store for the last two weeks. I’m frustrated. I can’t seem to get it. Too complicated. Too much time invested without decent results. Not good enough to publish, yet.

Meanwhile, I promised my friend Leslie, who did more than what was required to support artisan weavers and dyers on trips she took with me to Chiapas and the Oaxaca coast, to help her sell what she bought and has not worn.  So, here are six beautiful pieces of clothing. You buy from me and Leslie ships to you from Denver, Colorado. Easy. You get it in a few days! See below on how to buy.

#1. San Antonino embroidered and crochet blouse in black and white

#1. SOLD. Flowers galore like a summer garden filled with pansies in a subdued palette of black, white with a tad of blue/gray for accent and depth. A masterful piece of embroidery work from one of the greats in the Oaxaca village of San Antonino Castillo Velasco. Brand new, never worn. Easy wash by hand or in machine on gentle, cold water, hang to dry. No ironing needed. Size Medium. $225 USD includes 3-day priority shipping in continental USA.

#1 detail of B&W San Antonino blusa

#2 San Mateo del Mar double-weave shawl, deep purple

#2. This stunning shawl was made on the back-strap loom in the Oaxaca Coast community of San Mateo del Mar. In 2017, the town was hit by an immense earthquake and the village was decimated. Many weavers suffered, losing their homes. We bought this at an earthquake relief sale on our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour to benefit the weavers. It is 100% cotton and 100% made-by-hand. One-of-a-kind. For those of you who love graphic design and making a fashion impact, this shawl will fulfill all your wishes. Note: The shawl photographs black but it is a deep purple. New and never worn. 22-1/2″ wide x 75″ long. $200 includes 3-day priority USPS mailing in lower 48 states.

#2 has a beautiful drape, fine details

#3 Rayas Red and White, Chiapas back-strap loom

#3. This is a comfortable, 100% cotton blouse made on a back-strap loom from finest quality mercerized thread. It’s brand new and one-of-a-kind. The traditional design on the white stripes are added during the weaving process (not embroidered) and is called supplementary weft. Very fine and detailed needlework to embellish the neck and sleeves. We bought it at one of the best cooperatives in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, where Mayan weavers create extraordinary textiles. Machine wash on gentle or hand wash and hang to dry. No need to iron! Measures 23-1/4″ wide across the front and 26″ long from the shoulder. Size M. $110 includes priority USPS 3-day shipping to 48 states.

#3 shoulder detail with finished neck edge and sleeve cap

#4 Rayas in Red and Yellow, Chiapas

#4. This is a comfortable, 100% cotton blouse made on a back-strap loom from finest quality mercerized thread. It’s brand new and one-of-a-kind. The traditional Maya frog design on the yellow stripes are added during the weaving process (not embroidered) and is called supplementary weft. Very fine and detailed needlework to embellish the neck and sleeves. We bought it at one of the best cooperatives in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, where Mayan weavers create extraordinary textiles. Machine wash on gentle or hand wash and hang to dry. No need to iron! Measures 23-1/4″ wide across the front and 26″ long from the shoulder. Size M. $110. Includes USPS priority 3-day shipping to lower 48 states.

#4 Rayas Red and Yellow detail

#5. Fine Cotton Gauze Huipil-Tunic, San Pedro Amusgos

#5. SOLD. Fresh and refreshing: a breathable top, simple and elegant. We visited the remote village of San Pedro Amusgos high in the mountains about eight hours from Oaxaca City. Here they weave cotton on back-strap looms just as they have for centuries. This is a beautiful, lightweight collector’s garment with a white-on-white bodice. Called supplementary weft, the design is woven into the cloth, a difficult maneuver by a master weaver. It is not embroidered! This is new and never worn. Perfect over a skirt, jeans, silk or linen slacks. Wash by hand with a mild soap and hang to dry. Measures 23-3/4″ wide x 29″ long. Size M. $200. Includes USPS priority mail shipping to lower 48 states.

#5 detail of bodice, Amusgos tunic

#6. San Juan Chamula Cape, Chiapas

#6. SOLD. Shades of Gray. This is a traditional cape or shawl, called a Chal, hand-woven in the Chiapas village of San Juan Chamula. This particular textile is one of the finest examples of back-strap loom weaving, coming from the Sna Jolobil Cooperative at the Museo Mundo Maya. The wool is hand-carded and spun using the ancient drop-spindle. This is a total made-by-hand garment. The warp threads are cotton and the weft is a soft, pliant natural gray and cream color sheep wool. The edges are strongly woven with very colorful cotton threads to accent the gray body of the garment. Tie it closed with a hand-made tassel and VOILA. Fun to wear or to use as a bed or sofa scarf. Take the tassels off and make a pillow! Measures  24″ square. $145 USD includes USPS 3-day priority mail to anywhere in the lower 48 states.

#6. Detail of San Juan Chamula cape

How to Buy!

Send me an email: norma.schafer@icloud.com

  • Tell me which piece(s) you want by number.
  • Tell me your complete name, mailing address and email.
  • I will send you a PayPal invoice.
  • As soon as I receive payment, I will confirm and we will prepare for mailing. You should be receiving your order within 5-7 days.