Tag Archives: Chiapas

Chiapas Textiles in Oaxaca This Weekend Only — Exhibition and Sale

El Diablo y Sandia Bed and Breakfast Inn is hosting an exhibition and sale of fine quality Chiapas textiles this weekend only, July 19-20, 2013.  The textiles are hand-woven on back-strap looms by the women’s cooperative El Camino de los Altos in San Cristobal de Las Casas.

  •  10 a.m. – 7 p.m. @ El Diablo y La Sandia B&B, Libres #205, Oaxaca Centro Historico, between Morelos and Murguia, Telephone 951-514-4095

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All the funds go to supporting the work of over 130 women and their families. Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico and is predominantly populated by Maya peoples.

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I have known Camino de los Altos for many years.  Each year I add a few pieces to my collection — pillow covers, table linens and dish towels — that are durable and easy to wash.   The work is stunning and 100% cotton.


A group of French textile designers started the cooperative and has transitioned it over to local management.  This weekend show is organized by Ana Paula Fuentes, a former museum director and textile expert.

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The added joy of having the exhibition at El Diablo y La Sandia is meeting owner and host Maria Crespo.  She is selling a private label mezcal that is SO GOOD and so reasonably priced that I had to buy a bottle.  But, before that, I got a good buzz sampling the different varieties she has to offer.

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The green bottles are hand-blown glass from the State of Puebla.  They are the traditional mezcal containers and make a beautiful decorative display. Several antique shops in Oaxaca offer these for sale, too.

El Camino de los Altos welcomes visitors to its San Cristobal de Las Casas shop at Restaurante Madre Tierra, Insurgentes #19, Barrio Santa Lucia. Their workshop is at Cerrada Prolongacion Peje de Oro #3-A, Carrio de Cixtitali.  Telephone (967) 631-6944


Luxury Travel Photography Workshop: Chiapas and the Maya World

8 nights, 9 days.  Arrive November 9 and leave November 17, 2013, starting from $2,545 per person.  See with inspired clarity!

Chiapas and the Maya World photography workshop will tantalize your senses as you travel to one of the most magical places on earth – San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico – a cultural crossroads of international sophistication in the Maya highlands, replete with ancient rituals, mysterious ruins, glorious textiles, superb cuisine, and old world charm.

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We welcome all levels of photographers, from beginners with little or no experience to advanced amateurs.  Professionals who want to work with documentary photographer Frank Hunter are welcome, too.

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San Cristobal is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos due to its unique natural beauty, cultural riches and history.  It lies in a valley at 7,200 feet above sea level surrounded by pine-clad hills where communities of original indigenous Maya carry on many of their ancestors’ traditions.

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This is personalized cultural travel at its best!  Our workshop is limited to 10 photography participants to give you the highest level of attention and service.  You are invited to bring your partner or spouse if you wish.  If s/he is not interested in photography – no worries.  We can help customize a daily program based on his/her interests while the rest of us are out on shoots.

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Your Luxury Travel Photography Workshop Includes

  • Daily photography instruction and coaching with one of the world’s foremost documentary photographers, Frank Hunter
  • Luxury boutique hotel accommodations including daily breakfast
  • Private guided visit to Tonina archeological site, an astounding off-the-beaten-path wonder that rivals Palenque, including a tailgate gourmet picnic
  • Private guided visit to indigenous Maya villages that includes lunch and a pre-arranged photo shoot
  • Discussions with local experts that can include textile collectors, archeologists and anthropologists
  • Welcome lunch
  • Grand Finale Dinner and Best of Week Group Photography Presentation

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Frank Hunter leads this workshop.  Frank is a world-class documentary photographer whose work is in museum collections throughout the world.  He is on the faculty of the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies in Durham, North Carolina and represented by Thomas Deans Fine Arts gallery in Atlanta, Georgia.

Frank grew up in the American southwest and spent his early years photographing people and landscapes of Mexico.  He has taught at the university level for more than 20 years.  Frank is a virtuoso photographer, as adept at digital photography as he is with creating 19th century style platinum/palladium prints.  Don’t be intimated!  Frank also teaches fundamentals of photography at Duke University.

You can read more about him here:

And, if you want more, just Google Frank Hunter.  You will get pages of citations!

Notes from the art gallery representing Frank Hunter:  In a career spanning more than three decades, Frank Hunter has published nearly 400 images, of which we show only a small selection here. All reflect Hunter’s unique combination of technical virtuosity and aesthetic profundity.

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You will learn to take your photography to the next level and see with inspired clarity.

During our week together, we will review each other’s work, give feedback, and offer supportive critique.  The workshop includes a mix of class instruction and being out on the streets to capture the action.   We offer structured group discussion and opportunities for optional private coaching sessions with Frank.

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Technical topics covered include using natural light, aperture and shutter speed, using a tripod, focusing on details, photographing people and taking the time to set up your shot.   Frank says he uses just enough technique to express a visual idea.  He comes from the point-of-view of using your creativity and intuition combined with technical know-how to make better photographs.

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Preliminary Itinerary

Day One:  Arrive and check in to our boutique La Joya Hotel in San Cristobal de Las Casas.  The fireplace will be lit and a bowl of soup with a glass of wine will be waiting for you.  (D)

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Day Two, Three, Four:  Meet with Frank after breakfast to learn, develop and hone your photography skills and aesthetics.  On Day Two we will gather for a welcome lunch.  In the afternoon, go out on the streets of San Cristobal de Las Casas to independently explore and capture the richness of people and place with your camera.  Come back in early evening for a Best of Day Photo Session to review and critique your shots. (B)

Day Five:  After breakfast, travel by private van to Tonina archeological site with a stop on our return in Oxchuc for textile exploration.  Spouses/partners are invited on the expedition and this is included in the program fees.   (B, L)

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Day Six:  After breakfast, meet for Best of Day Five photo review and learning session with the rest of the day on your own for a field assignment. (B)

Day Seven:  Travel by private van to an indigenous village (either San Juan Chamula and/or Zinacantan or Tenejapa and/or Cancuc.  Partners/spouses are invited and this day is included in the program fee.  (B, L)

Day Eight:  After breakfast, prepare and edit your final selections for a Best of Week Grand Finale Group Photography Presentation and Dinner.  Partners/spouses are invited to participate in the dinner and photography presentation and this is part of the program fee. (B, D)

Day Nine:  Depart after breakfast or make arrangements directly with La Joya Hotel to extend your stay. (B)

Each day is designed to give you personal learning time with Frank, plus plenty of time on your own to explore and discover the rich variety of art, architecture and indigenous Maya culture of San Cristobal de Las Casas and environs.  We are flexible and like to improvise (based on group preferences), so the preliminary itinerary is an outline that can vary depending upon other spontaneous opportunities that may present themselves.  Some options could include the Maya Medicine Museum, a healing ceremony with a local shaman, an impromptu invitation to a private home.

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Workshop Cost Includes Luxury Accommodations with an Option to Bring Your Partner/Spouse

4 luxury rooms with King bed, fireplace and private bath

  • Option 1–$3,685 for single person occupying one King room (includes photography workshop and lodging as specified in the itinerary.
  • Option 2–$5,585 for two people occupying one King room when both  participate fully in the workshop (includes workshop and lodging as specified in the itinerary).
  • Option 3–$4,850 for two people occupying one King room when one is a workshop participant, and the other is a non-photographer who is not participating in the workshop. 

Non-workshop partners/spouses join us for breakfast, a welcome lunch, scheduled field trips on Days Five and Seven, discussions with noted experts, and the final group photography presentation and gala dinner.  These activities are included in the cost of Option 3. 

  • 1 luxury twin room with two beds and private bath.  Option 4–$2,545 per person for shared accommodation with both people participating in the workshop.

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We are providing this extraordinary photography expedition in collaboration with San Cristobal’s newest gem, La Joya Hotel, offering the elegance of a boutique hotel and the hospitality of a bed and breakfast.  Our hosts are world travelers and art collectors Ann Conway and John Do who are happy to arrange customized daily excursions for partners/spouses at an added cost.  This might include guided travel for bird watching, hiking, visiting a coffee or cacao plantation, orchid greenhouse, handcrafted sterling silver and amber jewelry boutiques, museums, and indigenous regional markets for textile or pottery shopping.

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Partners/spouses can also enjoy a relaxing spa day, take a cooking class or Spanish lessons, adventure out on their own or relax and read in the secluded rooftop patios or graciously appointed private living room.  The choices are myriad.

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To add-on nights in San Cristobal de Las Casas either before or after the workshop or extend your travel to such destinations as the famed Maya archeological sites of Palenque, Bonampak and Yaxchilan, please contact Ann Conway at La Joya Hotel directly.  www.lajoyahotelsancristobal.com

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Booking Your Travel and Getting to San Cristobal de Las Casas

You can fly round-trip directly to Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ) from Houston, TX, on United Airlines.  From Tuxtla we can arrange for airport taxi pick-up to bring you to San Cristobal de Las Casas if you wish.  Cost of transportation is about $60 USD.  Once you register and send us your flight information, please let us know if you would like this added service.

Your other options are to fly to Tuxtla directly from Mexico City on Aeromexico or Interjet.  ADO Platino offers luxury overnight bus service from Oaxaca and other cities in Mexico directly to San Cristobal de Las Casas.

Please Note:  Workshop fees include entries into museums, and archeological sites that are part of the itinerary.  We also make gifts on your behalf to local families who welcome us into their homes, cooperatives and studios.  The workshop does not include tips/gratuities for service, alcoholic beverages,  travel insurance, air flights, transfers from Tuxtla Gutierrez to San Cristobal de Las Casas, and meals that are not part of the specified itinerary.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit based on your preferred options is required to guarantee your workshop reservation.  The final payment for the balance due (including any additional costs) shall be paid two months before the program start date.  Payment is requested by PayPal.  We will send you an invoice when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.  We have this service available and are happy to provide you with a cost.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact normahawthorne@mac.com  Since we are in Oaxaca, Mexico, most of the year, we are happy to arrange a Skype conversation with you if you wish.

This program is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

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On the Road to Tenejapa, Chiapas, Mexico

Tenejapa is a Tzeltal-speaking Mayan village in the Chiapas highlands about 45 minutes by collectivo from San Cristobal de las Casas.  Though it is off-the-beaten-path and receives very few foreign visitors, Tenejapa is alluring because of its vibrant Thursday market and its fine textiles — among the finest in southern Mexico.   I heard that Maria Meza, one of the founders (along with Chip Morris) of the famed Sna Jolobil cooperative, now operates an independent women’s cooperative in Tenejapa.

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That was enough incentive to get me out of bed early on Thursday morning despite a bit of la gripa, walk past the San Cristobal de las Casas daily street market on Av. General Utrilla, up past the Santo Domingo Church and around the back of the giant local food market to search for the location of the collectivo to take us to the village.  

Along the way we were sidetracked by opportunities to shop and buy and oggle: lengths of skirt material from Zinacantan, sheared sheep from Chamula, medicinal herbs, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

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Fay was more than tempted by the Zinacantan assortment and succumbed to a rare impulse.

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And, at every corner along the way:  Donde esta el colectivo a Tenejapa?  There, tucked away on a side street was the taxi station.  Que milagro!

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Fay, my Canadian traveling companion and I were off on an adventure!  We eschewed the idea of hiring a private taxi for 600+ pesos and opted for the shared taxi ride to the pueblo that costs 25 pesos (about $2 USD) each way.  Amazing.  We climbed into the highlands along a curving mountain road with two other very friendly people plus the careful young driver and got to practice our Spanish along the way!

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The taxi deposited us just past the zocalo around 10:30 a.m.  The market street was bustling with vendors selling everything from tools, cooking and sewing supplies, yarns, back-strap loomed waist cinches to hold up the tube skirts, other traditional Tenejapa clothing plus imported jeans and t-shirts.  What I noticed is that the young people here are still adhering to traditional traje (dress), which is an indication that the culture is very strong.

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Tenejapa is noted for its integration of Chamula and Tenejapa groups.  The two co-exist, respect each other’s differences, and have their different religious practices in the same town — unusual in this part of the world.  Commerce on the market street was conducted by both Chamulans and Tenejapans.

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It is difficult to take photographs here in public places.  More than once I was reprimanded with some vigor and had to put my camera down.  When I asked Maria Meza if I could take her photograph after making a purchase, she quietly agreed but would not meet my eye.  Privately arranged photo sessions in the future will be on my list of what to prepare for when I return!

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The market place was patrolled by village officials doing their cargo (required public service) in full Tenejapa regalia — back-strap loomed sash embellished with red bordado, beribboned straw hat with dangling multi-colored blue, purple, red, orange wool ball tassles, white woven shirts and short white pants with cuffs ornately decorated with brocade weaving.  From their shoulders hung both ixtle and wool woven bags, practical and beautiful.

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I could not bring myself to even try to sereptitiously take photographs of the officials out of respect for local customs — and for fear of losing my camera! (I heard Internet tales about people being thrown in jail for taking photos!)  But, the vision is still imprinted in my mind.

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As we left town, a group of young women was entering one of the shops from the sidewalk.  They were dressed in extraordinary hand-woven huipiles.  We asked, Where are you from?  Cancuc, they replied.  I asked if I could take their photo.  They giggled and evaporated indoors.  Later that afternoon, a Cancuc huipil was on display at Na Bolom Gallery (see above).  The next best thing under the circumstances.  Fay saw a used one from Cancuc the following day in a textile shop on the walking street Real Guadalupe.  She bought it right up!  It was a beauty.

Now, I’m back in Oaxaca after the eleven-hour overnight bus trip, living in my little Teotitlan del Valle casita.  There’s no hot water yet, but one bathroom and the kitchen is functioning and the views are outstanding.  More about this next!




Chiapas Pottery Village Amatenango del Valle

Bela, of Bela’s B&B, our favorite San Cristobal de las Casas home away from home, invited us to go along with her to the pottery village of Amatenango del Valle on a quest to replace a ceramic chiminea.  The village is about an hour from the city by taxi in the pine forest highlands where sheep graze and Mayan farmers plant their milpas of corn, squash and beans.  

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Our first stop was at the home pottery of Esperanza Perez Gomez, one of the finer artisans in town.  She works with her sister and together they shape and paint fabulous jaguars, chickens, doves and serving dishes.

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Here the pots are made from local clay and fired in a kiln that is a platform of metal grating surrounded by stones, then covered with wood and cow or sheep dung.  It is all “cooked” above ground and probably doesn’t reach much higher than 800 or 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, considered low fire in the pottery world.  The pieces are decorative and not designed for cooking.

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The stalls that line the road entering into town are lined with clay kitsch and women vendors dressed in their hand-embroidered huipiles, which are every bit as interesting as the clay vessels their families produce.

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In addition to making pottery, Esperanza and her sister have a small notions shop where they also make and sell pleated polyester aprons and two styles of huipiles — one is a cotton-candy birthday cake extravanganza of ruffles and lace and the other is a more traditional geometry of squares and rectangles.  The younger women seem to gravitate to the frilly, but it also appears as if it is an individual preference.

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The older women absolutely resist having their photo taken.  Here, behind Fay, you can see Esperanza’s mother running for cover, her chal (shawl) pulled over her head in a quick exit.   Esperanza has more experience with foreign visitors so she agrees to pose.

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We were not successful finding the size chiminea that Bela needed to replace the one in her dining room.  However, while she was looking, Fay and I peeled off to inspect the corn stalls and the women wearing gloriously colored textiles.  In the process, I met a charming young woman selling fresh steamed corn.  I asked for it drizzled with lime juice, salt and a little chili.  A mayonnaise smear is also an option.

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This is traditional, REAL corn!  Huge meaty kernels, filling and delicious.  It’s no wonder that maize is mother earth of Mesoamerica!

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And, did I buy a huipil?  Of course, I did.  Who could resist either the design or this beautiful face?  As I tried them on, all the vendors gathered around me, a cacaphony of color.  As soon as Fay pulled out the camera, they evaporated.

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Since there were four of us traveling together, we were able to share the cost of a private driver, 600 pesos total for five hours!  There is also a collectivo — a shared taxi or combi — that you catch near the market above the Santo Domingo Church.

Tonina, Chiapas: Atop the Mayan World

The Mayan archeological site of Tonina is breathtaking.  The Moon Handbook on Chiapas says it is one of the best sites that no one seems to know about.  In fact, there were only about ten people there when we visited.  About midway between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque, and a few miles off a side road from Ocosingo, Tonina is in the heart of Zapatista E.Z.L.N. country.

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Tonina boasts the highest pyramid in Mesoamerica.  May I boast that I managed to climb to the summit?  Ojala.  The Acropolis has more vertical gain than any other known Mayan structure.  It is really steep.

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Our taxista Ricardo drove me, Fay, Gayle and Dennis to Tonina from San Cristobal de las Casas on a two-and-a-half hour, winding ride on an S-curve mountain road lined with pine forests and valley vistas.  We went through Zapatista country and dropped down into the semi-tropical Ocosingo valley where ripe fruit hang from banana trees and cowboys ride the fence line that corral herds of cattle.  They say the best cheese comes from Ocosingo.

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By the time we arrived it was almost noon.  I could feel the altitude although we had dropped almost 2,000 feet from San Cristobal’s altitude of nearly 7,000 feet.  It was a dry, very hot day.  Bromeliads hung from the trees and wild begonias grew between the ancient stones where Mayan aqueducts once held water.

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Fortunately, we were wise enough to share in the cost of a wonderful local Spanish-speaking guide who lived in the nearby village of Nuevo Jersalen and participated in the archeological excavations.  He was both knowledgeable and patient as we carefully made our way higher and higher up the seven levels of the site.

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Between the four of us, we were able to help each other out with translations and got most of what he explained to us.  While he said the guided visit would be two hours long, in fact we were there with him for three hours.  Without his helping hand, it would have been impossible for me to climb to the top!

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I climbed the last, very steep part almost hand-over-hand, never looking down, going across the face of the stones from left to right.  Slowly.  Slowly.  And, then suddenly I was at the top where the vistas are extraordinary.

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Once, many years ago when I had first visited Chichen Itza and Uxmal, my dream was to go to all the major Mayan sites in Mesoamerica.  I’ve almost completed that dream and have added Tikal, Palenque, Bonampak and Yaxchilan to the list.  I never imagined that Tonina would be on par with those other more famous sites, but I was surprised to discover that it is a worthy equal.

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After getting down from the top we spent some time in the wonderful museum where the original stone carvings, glyphs, funerary masks, stelae, and clay vessels that had been excavated are on display.

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Tonina survived for 200 years after the fall of Palenque.  As the Mayan world was crumbling around them, the leaders focused more and more on death, sacrifice, and doom.  At the museum, I talked with students from Moscow University who speak fluent Spanish and are involved in translating the glyphs from Tonina as part of their thesis.

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More archeological digs are happening at Tonina.  As recently as four years ago, a new tomb was discovered.  This is a site you do not want to miss!

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On the way back, we made a stop at Oxchuc where cloth woven on back strap looms are embroidered and worn by indigenous women from the region.  It was a great day!

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