Category Archives: Workshops and Retreats

Is Mexico Safe? My Experience

Is Mexico safe? I just got back to Oaxaca after traveling for three weeks in Mexico City, Estado de Mexico and Michoacan. In Michoacan there is a U.S. State Department Travel Advisory, (I include this link to safety vs. sensationalism.)

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I went to Morelia, Patzcuaro and rural villages. I traveled far out into the countryside in a car with two other women and walked gorgeous colonial towns. How safe was it? Was I scared?

Map of Mexico

The day I returned, a must read tongue-in-cheek post came in about safety in the Distrito Federal (D.F.), the nation’s capitol, from Jim Johnston who writes Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler.  It triggered my wanting to tell you about my journey. Is Mexico safe?

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Me and Mary Anne (from the San Francisco Bay Area) teamed up to take this trip together. Yes, two women of some maturity and a modicum of wisdom traveling independently via bus, taxi, collectivo and sometimes, on foot!


We met up in Mexico City where we walked from our hotel to historic center destinations, often at night. Yes, it was dark. Did I feel threatened or at risk? No. I stayed on well-lit streets with good sidewalks and lots of pedestrians. Mexicans love to meander with their families at night, eating an ice cream cone or nibbling on a torta, pushing a stroller or walking arm-in-arm.

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We took a taxi, arranged by our hotel, to the regional bus station at Observatorio, and bought same day tickets on the Caminante bus line to Toluca. We were the only gringas on the bus. At the Toluca bus station, MA watched the bags and I bought a Taxi Seguro (secure taxi) ticket from the clearly marked stand inside the terminal to Tenancingo de Degollado. The worry was how we were going to get our five suitcases (three of them huge) into a small taxi rather than any safety issues.

Map of Estado de Mexico

Most of our trips in Tenancingo were via group van. But, when we/I (either together or separately) wanted to go to town, we went out to the front of our hotel and hailed a private taxi or jumped into a collectivo, sharing a ride with strangers.

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When we left Tenancingo, our next destination was Morelia, capital of Michoacan. So, we returned to the Toluca bus station and bought tickets on another bus line — Autovias — that serves that part of Mexico. Again, we were the only gringas on the bus (of either gender). It’s almost a four-hour bus ride to Morelia, whose tarnished reputation for being a drug cartel area has had a negative impact on tourism, even though it is safe by strict U.S. State Department standards.

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I don’t know if this is true or not. It didn’t seem like it. I did ask MA, when we were planning this trip, is it safe? Just once. She researched it and reported that the only possible dangerous areas were rural far from where we would be.

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I’ve never been to a cleaner, more pristine city than Morelia. It has an incredible Zocalo, classical music, great restaurants, 16th century colonial architecture, outstanding gardens, churches, universities, libraries, a comprehensive Casa de las Artesanias folk art gallery and is gateway to some of Mexico’s most amazing folk art. No one hassled us. In fact, everyone was warm and welcoming. Did I feel unsafe or threatened? Not for a minute. Neither does Guns N’ Roses!

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Nacho (Ignacio), our pre-arranged taxi driver, picked us up in Morelia and drove us to Patzcuaro, with a stop along the way to Capula, one of the craft villages.  I have friends from the USA who now live full-time in Patzcuaro. We hung out together during the time we weren’t going out to explore the Purepecha villages around the lake, and met the small, but mighty Patzcuaro ex-pat community, including photographer Flo Leyret (link to her photos below).

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Map of Michoacan

We spent the day poking around Santa Clara del Cobre — the copper mining village about thirty minutes beyond Patzcuaro where Purepecha people have been working the material with hand-forging and hammering since the 13th century.


Then, I got invited to go along to a concurso (juried folk art competition) in the village of Ahuiran, an hour-and-a-half north of Patzcuaro, where talented women weave rebozos on back-strap looms. Six of us, all women, drove in two cars over Michoacan countryside, through small villages, across rich farmland planted with corn and potatoes. At the entrance and exit to some villages there were guard posts and community-designated sentries asking us where we were going. It seems the villagers are protecting their territory and this is typical for rural Mexico where there can be land disputes or disagreements. Nothing to be afraid of.

Michoacan Artisans, Photographs by Florence Leyret Jeune

Patzcuaro 188-79 PatzLakeArtisans-16  [Above left is Purepecha ceramic artist Nicolas Fabian Fermin, from Santa Fe de Laguna, who I met this summer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, with his wife. Above right is Teofila Servin Barriga, another award-winning Purepecha artist whose embroidery has won many international awards. She will be at Lake Chapala, Guadalajara, for the annual folk art market. This rebozo she is wearing will sell for 15,000 pesos.]

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In Ahuiran, we were the only visitors and the best potential customers for these stunning hand-made shawls that started at 2,000 pesos. The elaborate feather fringed rebozos (photos are still in my camera) were commanding a 5,000 pesos price tag, more than most of the local women could afford. But, then, they could weave their own or buy from a relative!

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Why go to Michoacan? For the folk art, of course, and then, there’s the landscape, and the people, the history  ….

On my return to Oaxaca, I took a taxi from Morelia center to the regional bus terminal and bought my ticket the same day. It was a five-hour bus ride to Mexico City Norte terminal. I was the only foreigner on the bus. MA flew direct from Morelia to Oakland, CA on a non-stop Volaris flight. Lucky her. I, on the other hand, got into a secure taxi for the 30-minute ride to the airport to board the Interjet flight to Oaxaca ($116 USD round-trip).

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Okay, so that’s the story. Or at least skimming it. Mexico is a treasure trove of history, archeology, folk art, contemporary art, intellectual discourse and culture. Her cities are beautiful. Yes, some parts are not safe. Most parts are. Some have reputations for being unsafe that have never been true and/or might have been true two or three or four years ago, like Morelia. Morelia is safe now. It is gorgeous. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Map of Oaxaca

Oaxaca has always been safe.

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Join us February 3-11, 2016 for Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More. 4 Spaces Left!

Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More

I just returned to Oaxaca after exploring other parts of Mexico, including a week in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (Edomex), where ikat rebozos or shawls are hand-woven on back-strap and flying shuttle looms by master artisans. This experience was so inspiring, that I want to share it with you. I invite you to return with me for a memorable, curated Mexican textile and folk art study tour.

February 3-11, 2016 – 8 nights, 9 days

Group size limited to 12 people. We have 5 spaces left!

You will arrive and leave from Mexico City

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  • Meet together in Mexico City on February 3 with an overnight there at a historic center hotel
  • Travel to and stay in Tenancingo from February 4 to 10 at a bed and breakfast oasis
  • Enjoy the company of our bi-lingual guide who migrated from the U.S. to Tenancingo to marry a local thirteen years ago
  • Meet the master weavers of Tenancingo de Degollado in their home workshops
  • Learn about ikat warp thread preparation, the complexity of this at-risk textile art and how to differentiate quality
  • Participate in hands-on natural dye and weaving demonstrations
  • Understand the intricacy of a fine hand-knotted punta/repacejo (or fringe) and how it adds to the beauty of the lienza (cloth)

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  • Visit three of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos – magic villages where traditional life flourishes
  • Spend a day in Taxco de Alarcon,with the next generation of William Spratling Silversmiths. At famed Las Delicias, see jewelry making at its finest using Spratling’s original molds with his same excellent handcrafted quality
  • Travel to Metepec, a Pueblo Magico, and stay overnight on February 10 where you will meet outstanding ceramic artists who make Tree of Life sculptures and cazuelas cooking vessels
  • Travel to Mexico City on February 11 to depart for home OR stay on your own through President’s Weekend in Mexico City to enjoy museums and world-class restaurants

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Along the way, you will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites, visit three Pueblo Magicos – Malinalco, Taxco and Metepec — and immerse yourself in some of Mexico’s outstanding folk art.

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You will even have the option to schedule (at your own expense) an evening massage and/or facial given by aestheticians who will come to our B&B from the spa town of Ixtapan de la Sal.

But, primarily, we are here to learn about the art and craft of making a fine rebozo, meet the men who weave the cloth and the women who tie the elaborate fringe.

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Some of the weavers are innovators, like Jesus Zarate, who incorporates intricate floral, bird and animal motifs on the ikat cloth.

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Some, like Fito Garcia, use splashes of color that looks like confetti. Camila Ramos ikat designs employ ancient indigenous symbols and figures.

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The revered master, 82-year old Evaristo Borboa Casas, is a traditionalist. All have received top honors for their work worldwide.


Each technique requires mathematical and technical precision, extraordinary creativity and months of work to produce one rebozo.

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It can take weeks to prepare the ikat warp threads, dye them and dress the loom, with another month or two for the weaving. It can take two or three months to tie a punta, depending on length and elaboration.

After this study trip, I can guarantee that you will better appreciate this textile art form that is at risk of disappearing. Only three or four weavers in Tenancingo continue the back-strap weaving tradition. Sixty years ago there were over 200 weavers working on the back-strap loom.

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Itinerary Includes

  • 8 nights lodging
  • 8 Breakfasts
  • 2 Lunches
  • 3 Dinners
  • Transportation to/from Mexico City and Tenancingo
  • Transportation to all towns, villages and artisans noted in itinerary
  • Gratuities to artisans for demonstrations

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Wednesday, February 3: Arrive in Mexico City, overnight. Dinner on your own. We will stay at a historic luxury hotel on or near the Zocalo. As soon as you register, we will tell you where. You might also like to arrive a few days early to explore the city. It’s wonderful!

Thursday, February 4: Travel as group to Tenancingo, overnight (B, D) Light group supper at our B&B hotel in Tenancingo.

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Friday, February 5: Meet the Best of the Best, Tenancingo’s master rebozeros (rebozo weavers) Fermin Escobar, Evaristo Borboa Casas, Jesus Zarate, Fito Garcia Diaz. Take a ride on the flying shuttle peddle loom. Optional evening massage and/or facial. (B, L)

Saturday, February 6: Malinalco Pueblo Magico. Climb the ancient archeological site (if you wish), the only one in Mesoamerican carved out of the rock face. Visit the workshop of Camila Ramos Zamora and award-winning son Juan Rodrigo Mancio Ramos. See how they work the back strap loom and make natural dyes. Take your turn at the back strap loom. See how the ikat is prepared and dyed. Take time to visit the 16th century Augustinian church with the amazing Paradise Garden Murals. Optional evening massage and/or facial. (B)

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Sunday, February 7: Tenancingo Market Walk, including the weekly Sunday rebozo market where you can find good quality textiles at affordable prices. Late afternoon fiber arts weaving demonstration and mini-workshop. (B, D) Light group supper at our B&B hotel.

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 Monday, February 8: A day in Taxco de Alarcon, Pueblo Magico, with the next generation owner of the William Spratling silver jewelry workshop, with lunch at famed Las Delicias, Spratling’s home and a silversmith demonstration. The beautiful original Spratling necklace you see on the right, below, is for sale at $7,000 USD to raise restoration money for the ranch. Interested? (B, L)

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Tuesday, February 9: Meet one of Tenancingo’s greatest puntadoras, These are the women who make the elegant rebozo fringes. See if you can tie these intricate knots in a mini-workshop. Afternoon on your own to return to your favorite rebozero, do last minute market shopping or begin packing. (B)

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Wednesday, February 10: Travel to Metepec Pueblo Magico , where we will spend the night. Climb the Mesoamerican Teotenango pyramids (if you wish) or visit the museum. Meet master ceramic artists who create outstanding tree of life sculptures and make sturdy cooking cazuelas. Try your hand in a mini-workshop to make one of the clay figures that adorn Mexico’s famed Tree of Life sculptures. Overnight in Metepec with grand finale dinner. (B, D)

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Thursday, February 11: Leave Metepec in early morning for Mexico City airport to catch mid-afternoon flights home. If you decide to extend your stay in Mexico over President’s Day Weekend you can easily catch a secure taxi from the airport to downtown Mexico City or travel on to another great spot like Oaxaca! (B)

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Study Tour Cost as of October 1, 2015

  • Double Occupancy– Shared Room and Private Bath, $1,695 per person
  • Single Room with Private Bath, $1,995 per person

The study tour includes all transportation between Mexico City and Tenancingo de Degollado, lodging in Mexico City, Tenancingo and Metepec, meals as noted in the itinerary, travel to all artisans and destinations noted on the itinerary, cultural bi-lingual guide services, and grand finale Metepec dinner. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the study tour begins.

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The study tour does not include airfare, taxi from Mexico City airport to Mexico City hotel, some meals as noted in the itinerary, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

Question: Why aren’t all meals included?

The best answer I can give is that we all have different body rhythms and eating habits. Some of us like a bigger meal during the day, some prefer to eat lightly or not at all at night. Some love their steak and potatoes at 8 p.m. while others prefer a salad. Some like quieter time rather than a daily group experience. I try to make this trip individualized with room for enough personal preference and variation to meet everyone’s needs rather than one size fits all.

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before December 1, 2015. 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 December 1, 2015, 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 December 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.


About Travel to Mexico City: The Mexico City Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX) is our gateway city and a Mexico City historic center hotel is our meeting point. You can fly to Mexico City from many United States locations on most major USA airlines. Mexico’s excellent new discount airlines Interjet and Volaris service some U.S. cities, as does Aeromexico.

International Travel Insurance Required. We require that you purchase trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for insurance documentation as well as a witnessed waiver of liability form that holds Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC harmless. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, please email us at

We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.


Norma w/Tenancingo hosts Peter & Circe

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Sunday Rebozo Market in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico

Sundays and Thursdays are tianguis open air market days in the ikat rebozo weaving town of Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico. The Sunday market is the biggest and covers over four square blocks in the town center.


Most of the rebozos in the market are sold by the puntadoras, the women who tie the fringes on the hand-woven ikat textile. The cloth, or lienza, is woven by men. The puntadoras usually buy the cloth with the dangling warp thread directly from the weavers. They then spend a month, or two or three to hand-knot the loose warp fringe.


The tighter and longer the fringe, the longer it takes. If it is an intricate design with a long, tight fringe, then the rebozo is even more valuable. Sometimes a puntadora will knot the fringe and then dip it in black dye (or another color) for a uniform color that they think will complement the textile.


A famous master weaver will usually select his own puntadora who will tie the fringes for him. He will then sell the finished rebozo for between 1,600 and 15,000 pesos each. Click to convert to dollars.

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The rebozo market can offer more economical ways to buy. Usually the rebozos there that are knotted with a decent punta can start at 600 pesos and go up to 2,000 pesos. Once in a while, if you take your time and look, you can find a really great rebozo in this price range. That’s why visiting the masters first helps in the education and selection process.

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There is a discussion about the unsung role of the women puntadoras who contribute to at least 30-50% of the beauty of the rebozo, in my opinion.

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These women are unidentified, unnamed and it is the weaver who is recognized rather than sharing honors with the woman who makes the beautiful fringe. An issue about acknowledging women and something worth exploring more, don’t you think?


Edible blue mushrooms at the rebozo market. Go figure.

I had the pleasure of traveling with Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico this month on a rebozo tour of Tenancingo led by collector John Waddell. It was a wonderful experience.


That’s why I’m organizing a textile and folk art study tour set for February 3-11, 2016 — to bring you back and share this with you. In February we will focus on the rebozos of Tenancingo, traditional Taxco silver at the William Spratling jewelry workshop, and the Tree of Life pottery of Metepec. I’ll post details of this trip on Friday on this blog. Stay tuned. Or, send me an email and I’ll send you the program description.


Levine Museum of the New South Features Oaxaca Cultural Navigator Photo

The Levine Museum of the New South opens NUEVOlution! Latinos and the New South on Friday, September 25, 2015, in Charlotte, North Carolina. It can be seen until October 30, 2016. After that, the interactive, bilingual exhibition will travel throughout the United States starting with the Birmingham (AL) Civil Rights Institute and the Atlanta (GA) History Center.  I hope you have a chance to see it.

Oliver Merino, who is coordinating the exhibition, contacted me last year to ask if the museum could include one of my photographs of Oaxaca Day of the Dead practices in the exhibition. Of course, I said, YES! There is nothing I could be more satisfied with than to contribute to the dialog about human rights, personal respect and dignity, and cultural appreciation for every human being in the world, and especially for Latinos in America.

(Note: the photo below is not the one used for the exhibition.) If you would like to volunteer or know more, please contact Oliver.


Latino communities throughout Mexico and the United States are getting ready for the end of October celebration that honors deceased loved ones. The practice is celebratory and filled with magical ritual.  So different from how we mourn and remember in the USA.

In Oaxaca, things are gearing up!

Photography Workshop in Chiapas, January 2016.



Pueblo Magico Malinalco: Hand-loomed Rebozos and Pre-Aztec Pyramids

The magical town of Malinalco in the State of Mexico is a short thirty-minute ride from Tenancingo de Degollado. One of Mexico’s greatest rebozo weavers, Camila Ramos Zamora, and her family live and work here.

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Her father was a rebozo weaver from Tenancingo and he moved to Malinalco to marry Camila’s mother. They established a workshop that makes some very amazing ikat/jaspe rebozos on the back strap loom. Some use natural dyes. Most have intricate, lengthy fringes called puntas or rapacejos, that in my opinion represent fifty percent of the beauty of a rebozo.

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This week, Came’s son José Rodrigo Mancio Ramos, received the special award for a major piece using natural dyes in the National Rebozo Competition sponsored by FONART and held in Tlaxcala. He carries on the family tradition for creating and executing outstanding textile art.  The punta on his winning piece is made in the pointed style preferred by the Spanish aristocrats who came to Mexico in the 18th century.

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I visited Camila Ramos Zamora’s two shops in Malinalco as well as the amazing Augustinian church built in 1560. I’ve never seen such detailed, dramatic frescoes as these. The church is a sight to behold.

Here’s a note from Mexico expert Silva Nielands: The Paradise Garden murals in the monastery were not painted by the Augustinians who built it, but by the indigenous people who were taught the painting process.  The murals are a mix of European (saintly) themes full of local imagery.  The plants, animals, etc. are all important to the indigenous culture and are like a full encyclopedia of the herbal/medicinal, etc.

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Many towns in Mexico were settled by different Catholic orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians and Jesuits, missionaries competing for converts. The Augustinian church dominates the central zocalo and is the only Catholic church in Malinalco.

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I admired the black rebozo this woman on the left was wearing as she and two friends exited the church. One friend jumped in to help her put it around her shoulders so I could see the weaving and the very long fringes. I think they were delighted that I noticed and paid them special attention!

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My friend Mary Anne hiked up to the archeological site which she reports is an easy, shaded climb up about 400 shallow steps through amazing landscape.

Malinalco Pyramid

Our group from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico wandered Malinalco independently to explore and discover.  We all met up at Las Placeres for a great lunch on the shaded patio complete with tamarind mezcal Margaritas — mi favorita.

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This experience has been so wonderful, that I want to bring you here with me.

  • So, I’m scheduling a study tour from February 3-11, 2016  to learn about and meet the rebozo weavers of Tenancingo.
  • Meet in Mexico City on February 3 with overnight there.
  • Travel to and stay in Tenancingo  from February 4 to 10
  • Participate in hands-on workshops and demonstrations
  • Travel to Metepec and stay overnight in Metepec on February 10
  • Travel to Mexico City on February 11 to depart for home OR stay on your own through President’s Weekend in Mexico City to enjoy the museums and world-class restaurants

In addition, we will take a day trip to the silver capitol of Mexico, Taxco, a Pueblo Magico, explore the Pueblo Magico ceramics village of Metepec and the Pueblo Magico village of Malinalco.

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We will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites and immerse ourselves in Mexico’s folk art. We’ll even have the option of a respite with massage and facials.

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Send me an email if you are interested in this study tour!

More information coming soon.

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