Tag Archives: cultural immersion

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Study Tour 2020: Magical, Mystical Muertos in the Villages

October 28 to November 3, 2020 – 6 nights and 7 days, starting at $2,495

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico is meaningful and magical.  Celebrations in the villages go deep into Zapotec culture, community, tradition and pre-Hispanic practice. Some say it is the most important annual celebration in Mexico and here in Oaxaca, we know this is true.

Day of the Dead Altar

Beyond the city, in the Tlacolula Valley, the smaller villages are still able to retain their traditional practices.  Here they build altars at home, light copal incense, make offerings of homemade chocolate, bread and atole, prepare a special meal of tamales, and visit the homes of relatives to greet deceased ancestors who have returned for this 24-hour period.  Then, at the designated hour, the living go to the cemeteries to be with their loved ones  — either to welcome them back into the world or put them to rest after their visit here – the practice depending on each village.

You will learn about this and more as you come with us to meet artisans in four different villages who welcome us into their homes and their lives during this sacred festival.

Study Tour Highlights:

  • Visit homes, altars and cemeteries in four Zapotec villages: Teotitlan del Valle, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, San Marcos Tlapazola and San Miguel del Valle
  • Participate in presenting altar offerings at each home we visit
  • Build a group traditional altar to remember and honor your own loved ones
  • Learn to make homemade chocolate with the Mexican cacao bean
  • See a tamale-making demonstration and taste what is prepared
  • Shop for altar décor at the largest Teotitlan del Valle market of the year
  • Learn how mezcal is an integral part of festival culture and tradition

We created this study tour to take you out of the city, beyond the hubbub of party revelry and glitz of a Halloween-like experience that has morphed into a Hollywood-style extravaganza.  We will compare how city celebrations differ from those in villages by participating in city events first.  Our desire is to give you a full immersion experience that evokes what Day of the Dead may have been like twenty or fifty years ago–mystical,  magical, transcendent and spiritual.

Even so, cultural tourism has found its way into the back roads of Oaxaca.  We do our best to be respectful by limiting the size of our group to 10-12 participants, to give you an orientation about to what to expect and do during our visits, and to offer you an intimate, personal experience.

You have the guidance of local experts Eric Chavez Santiago and his wife, Elsa Sanchez Diaz

Eric Chavez Santiago is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexican folk art with a special interest in artisan economic development.  He is a weaver and natural dyer by training, a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola rug weaving family, who was born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions and customs, speaks the indigenous Zapotec language, and serves as your cultural navigator. 

Elsa Sanchez Diaz is a master of natural dyes and works with us to teach one- to three-day natural dye workshops at her dye studio in Oaxaca city. She leads our one-day study tours to discover artisans in the Tlacolula Valley and down the Ocotlan Highway. Elsa was born and raised in Oaxaca city, and she will share her family traditions and insights with you as your cultural navigator for this tour with her husband Eric.

Both are graduates of the Anahuac University and speak English and Spanish. Both can translate language, culture and traditions, can tell you about practices in their own extended family and how they have experienced the changes over time.

Moreover, both are deeply connected and will introduce you to some of the finest artisans in the region, where you will meet weavers, ceramic artists, apron makers and traditional cooks. You will have an opportunity to see artisan craft demonstrations and to shop for your own collection or for gifts, as you wish.

You will spend the first two nights in Oaxaca City, then you will move to a comfortable Bed and Breakfast Inn based in Teotitlan del Valle for the remainder of our time together.

Angel in Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead bread)

Preliminary Itinerary

October 28: Arrive in Oaxaca City and check in to our centrally-located boutique hotel

October 29: After breakfast, explore the city and the Benito Juarez market to see preparations for Dia de los Muertos, and gallery/shop decorations. We will also catch a comparsa – the traditional Muertos parade – along the pedestrian street as our schedule permits. Overnight in Oaxaca. (Breakfast and welcome dinner)

October 30: Travel to Teotitlan del Valle and check in to our comfortable B&B, take a chocolate making workshop with a traditional cook that includes a visit to the local molino (mill) to grind the cacao bean mixture. See how traditional mole Amarillo tamales are prepared and have a tasting.  We will talk about family altars, their significance and what goes into making one. You will then enjoy comida (late lunch) in the home of a local family.  (B, L)

Teotitlan del Valle tamales with mole amarillo, made by Ernestina

October 31: After breakfast, walk to the Teotitlan del Valle market to shop for altar decorations to later build a group altar. Bring photos of those you want to remember! Then, we will venture out into the countryside to visit the Zapotec villages of San Marcos Tlapazola and San Miguel del Valle to meet artisans and discuss their family Dia de los Muertos traditions. You will see demonstrations of red clay pottery and embroidered apron making and have a chance to buy if you wish. We will come prepared with altar gifts of chocolate and bread to present to the difuntos. On the road, we will stop at a traditional comedor for lunch (at your own expense). (B, D)  

November 1: After breakfast, travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to meet weaver artisans who will take us to their family gravesite at the village cemetery and talk about this village and their history and traditions. Visit homes where traditional altars tell the story of ancient Zapotec culture. You will bring your offering of chocolate and bread to put on their altars to honor the deceased of our hosts.  We will take lunch at a local comedor along the way (at your own expense). Then, make a stop on the way home for a mezcal tasting – Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien.  (B, D)  

November 2: After breakfast, you will visit the homes of selected weavers in Teotitlan del Valle to experience each family’s variation on altar preparation, and see a weaving and natural dyeing demonstration. You’ll then join a local family for lunch and accompany them to the cemetery to sit with their loved ones as they return to the underworld. After the cemetery, you will have a cena (late repast) of bread and hot chocolate, discuss how participating in Day of the Dead had an impact on you. Compare and contrast this experience with USA and Canadian experiences with death and dying.  (B, L, D)

November 3: After breakfast, we say our goodbyes. We will help you arrange a taxi (at your own expense) to the airport, or you may choose to stay on in Oaxaca or visit another part of Mexico.  (B) Hasta la proxima!

Itinerary subject to change based on scheduling and availability.

What Is Included

  • 6 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 4 dinners
  • 2 nights lodging at an excellent boutique hotel in Oaxaca City
  • 4 nights lodging at a charming B&B hotel in Teotitlan del Valle
  • museum and church entry fees
  • luxury van transportation
  • outstanding and complete guide services

What is NOT Included

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $2,495 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,245 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

Natural dyes have strong color, beautiful and more complex than synthetic dyes

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of  30% of the total is due on or before June 1, 2020. The third 30% payment is due on or before September 1, 2020. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After September 1, 2020, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before September 1, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.

Registration Form

Complete the form and Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice by email that is due on receipt.

Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola

Who Should Attend • Anyone interested in indigenous culture and creativity, who wants a deep immersion experience into Day of the Dead practices and traditions, and who appreciates artisan craft — weaving, embroidery, pottery. If you are a collector, come with us to go deep and find the best artisans. If you are a photographer or artist, come with us for inspiration. If you are an online retailer, come with us to find the stories to market what you sell.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 15, 2019, there are no refunds. If we receive a cancelation on or before September 1, 2020, 50% of your deposit will be refunded. After that, there are no refunds.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: Oaxaca and surrounding villages are colonial and pre-Hispanic. The altitude is close to 6,000 feet. Many streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, narrow and uneven. We will do a lot of walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day. We recommend you bring a walking stick.

If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Sitting vigil in the village cemetery, Dia de los Muertos


Cultural Meaning in Magdalenas Aldama: Chiapas Textile Study Tour

Magdalenas Aldama is an hour-and-a-half from San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, on a winding road deep into the mountains beyond San Juan Chamula. Its isolation is protection from the forces of modernization. The Spanish had difficulty getting there to evangelize. Traditions run deep and strong.

Rosa, center, wearing neighboring Chenalho dog paw embroidered blusa

Being remote is a double-edge sword. It guarantees lack of access to education and decent health care. It ensures sustaining traditional practices like building with wattle and daub, creating garments with the back strap loom.

Welcome to Magdalenas Aldama, where liquor is not permitted, per Zapatista custom

This is the same story for many villages tucked into the swales of eight thousand foot mountains around the city.

Close-up textile texture of supplementary weft on back strap loom

On our quest to explore the textiles of the Maya people surrounding San Cristobal de Las Casas, it is important to meet and know the people where they live and work. This is a cultural journey to appreciate artisania, to give support and to put funds directly into the hands of the makers.

Women at the Magdalenas expoventa, photo by Carol Estes

Magdalenas Aldama women weave some of the most beautiful blouses and huipiles in Chiapas. They are intricate textiles with ancient pre-Hispanic Maya symbols that have spiritual and physical meaning. It can take six to eight months to weave a traditional Gala Huipil used for special occasions.

A ceremonial Gala Huipil, cost is 3500 pesos, 8 months to make

Typical Maya symbols incorporated into the cloth — a story of life:

  • The milpa — corn fields, squash and beans
  • The sacred forest — pine trees
  • The Four Cardinal Points — sun, moon, earth and sky
  • The Toad — harbinger of the rainy season
  • The Vision Serpent  — to guide the way
  • Plus any personal designs preferred by the weaver

The making of cloth on a back strap loom, Magdalenas

During our van ride we talk about what to look for in a quality garment as we approach Magdalenas. We are sewers, embroiderers, collectors, knitters, appreciators of the creative work that women do.

  • How are the seams finished? Are the seams raw and unraveling?
  • Is the embroidery done on cloth that is made on a back strap loom or is it done on cheap commercial polyester or a poly/cotton blend?
  • Are the embroidery stitches small, tight, evenly executed?
  • Is the weaving even and are the supplementary weft threads densely packed?


First stop is to the home of Rosa and Cristobal. They were activists in the Zapatista movement, working for land reform, indigenous rights, access to services, and justice for Maya people. Twelve women in the extended family gathered in the smokey kitchen to prepare our lunch: handmade tortillas, sopa de gallina (free range chicken soup).

Mary Anne enjoys sopa de gallina chicken soup, a rich broth

Babies are tied to their backs with rebozos. Toddlers and youngsters played around their mothers’ skirts. The wood fire was pungeant, smokey, making it difficult to see or breathe.

The best corn tortillas, organic, criollo

After an expoventa in the adjacent barn, we went to the plank wood house of Don Pedro and his son Salvador, just a few blocks away to see their fine handwoven ixtle bags. Women in the family brought traditional Magdalenas huipiles and blusas, woven pocket bags, belts and embroidered skirt fabric.

Young nursing mother waits for a sale

Over breakfast this morning we share our impressions of the experience.

Don Pedro’s wife, wearing traditional huipil (blouse) and falda (skirt)

  • Lanita commented that this is a culture where back strap looms are everywhere. Women can do it a bit at a time, between caring for children, cooking, tending the kitchen garden, after chores are done.

Tortilla making by hand, a woman’s fingerprints in dough

  • Carol appreciates that joy is possible in any circumstance. We see the power of a community of women, and as women travelers, we, too, become a community of women. We made connections. There are ore things that make up the same among us that make us different. 

Children entertaining themselves. No television here.

  • Mary Anne notes that she learned more about the social justice issues of the Zapatistas. They are not a bunch of rebel revolutionaries.

Woman against adobe wall, photo by Carol Estes

  • Cath says that this trip is more than about textiles, although this is a good place to start. To be here is to look beyond the fibers, to look at the totality of life and ask, Where did this cloth come from? Who made it? What does it mean? Where is the woman who designed it?

Norma examining weaving detail, photo by Carol Estes

Textiles are a way into being part of another culture. We could dig in, experience, open up to what else it is we can see and discover. We were excited to find cooperatives where innovative design uses traditional fabric woven on the back strap loom.

Weaving is a way of life, while tending the flock and children

Most importantly, we provided direct support to women, men and families whose work we appreciate, admire and regard with respect.

Don Pedro and son Salvador weave the finest ixtle bags, photo by Carol Estes

Portrait of Patricio, who shows us the way, nephew of Tatik Samuel Ruiz

Photography: Cartier-Bresson Exhibition in Mexico City

The Mexico City exhibition featuring 398 pieces by French photographer-filmmaker Henri Cartier-Bresson closes May 17, 2015 at Palacio Bellas Artes. Please don’t miss it. Considered the founder of photojournalism, this is the first major retrospective since his death in 2004.

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An hour is not long enough to absorb the emotional intensity of Cartier-Bresson’s work. If you love political history, photojournalism, the decades leading up to World War II and the beginning of photography as an important artistic and cultural vehicle for storytelling, you will love this exhibition. I needed more than two hours to do it justice.

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It represents Cartier-Bresson’s interest in painting, drawing, photography and filmmaking. It is an in-depth view of pre and post-World War Europe, of poverty and racism, of what happens on the street among the people. There are also amazing portraits of notables who he was commissioned to photograph.

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Oaxaca Day of the Dead Photography Workshop, October 2015

Chiapas Festivals and Faces Photography Workshop, January 2016

For example, the exhibit features photographs taken during the coronation of King George II of England. But Cartier-Bresson concentrates on the expressions of people in the crowd and not the regal procession. Some are using raised mirrors to watch the parade, and to do so, they must turn their backs to the King.

 

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Cartier-Bresson uses this as a metaphor for how the people must turn away from monarchy and embrace a republican government.

Program Notes: Impressions of Africa. “He took little interest in local customs or ritual feasts, as he did not want to get drawn into “Exoticism” or what he called “detestable local colour.”  In a style very much influenced by the European New Vision (high angle shots, geometrical compositions, repeating motifs) he tended to photograph subjects like children playing in the street, dockers at work or the effort of rowers in a boat: in other words, the rhythm of African life.

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Aligned with the intellectuals and artists of the time, he was a powerful voice in support of Communism, active in the Spanish Civil War and the French Resistance.

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As a contemporary of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Cartier-Bresson came to Mexico to photograph, and many of the images shown capture the poor and disenfranchised, including children and prostitutes.

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As I moved through the exhibition, I learned more about photography by seeing this work. Cartier-Bresson shunned fiestas and processions, the formalities of organized life. He concentrated on what was messy and spontaneous.

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His technique was to find a backdrop with texture and interest that he liked and then wait for people to pass through the space.

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As we walked from Palacio Bellas Artes to see the Diego Rivera mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon on the Alameda, I stopped to take photos of young men practicing their skateboard moves a la Henri Cartier-Bresson — perhaps — and a man sitting on a steel post mid-sidewalk, waiting, surrounded by passersby who paid no attention.

Man on Steel Post Man on Steel Post-2

The Decisive Moment, an essay by Cartier-Bresson, describes his philosophical approach to photography and is considered a foundation for all photographers.

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2015 Day of the Dead Photography Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico, is the place to be for Day of the Dead  and you will capture it with your camera: parades, cemeteries, family traditions, special food and decor, markets, fiestas and faces. Follow the copal incense and marigold trail. Starts Sunday morning, October 30 and ends Thursday night, November 3.

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Cost:  $995 per person. Price includes all instruction, feedback sessions, personal coaching and transportation to and from Xoxocotlan and Teotitlan del Valle cemeteries. Does not include food or lodging.  We will provide you with a list of hotels and B&B’s to choose the level of accommodation you prefer after you register. Then, make your own reservations directly. Come early or stay later, too.  We will recommend sightseeing and other activities!

  • Limited to 10 participants. Small Group. Personal Attention.
  • Beginners and more experienced photographers welcome.
  • Bring any camera: DSLR, iPhone or Point and Shoot!
  • Registration is now open!

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This is a hands-on photography workshop for learning and improving technique while you experience Oaxaca’s famed Day of the Dead rituals.  By the end of the week, you will better use your camera for visual storytelling, photojournalism, portraiture and cultural discovery.

Your Workshop Leader is Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. We invited him back to teach this workshop after rave reviews for teaching the People of Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop.

His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. Matt speaks English and Spanish.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

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His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Dallas Morning News and the Rocky Mountain News.

In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal. 6_Zapotecs-7

This cultural immersion workshop tour offers you a deeper appreciation for the food, religious symbols, rituals and family celebrations both in Oaxaca city and in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.

You will learn to:

  • Use natural light and respond to different lighting situations
  • Include portraits in your travel photography
  • Direct your subject through varying body positions
  • Identify your own photographic style
  • Find and execute portraits “on the fly”
  • Practice street photography
  • Use skills you learn through daily assignments
  • Learn more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt
  • Contribute to a gift for subject families — included in your workshop fee

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During our week together, we will review each other’s work, give feedback, and offer supportive critiques.  The workshop includes a mix of class instruction and being out on the streets to capture the action.

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Technical topics covered include natural light, exposure, manual camera settings and night photography. We will offer optional editing sessions using Lightroom photo editing software.  13_Sunset@Xoxo1a Xoxocotlan2014-14

Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change) 

Day of the Dead Workshop Expedition 2015

Day 1, Saturday, October 30:  Meet after breakfast at a central location in Oaxaca City where we will have a welcome and learning session, with a review of camera settings, exposure and using natural light. Then, we’ll hit the streets and local markets! Option is to meet up for a group dinner at your own expense. 2014DOTDTeoti-28

Day 2, Sunday, October 31:  We meet after breakfast. After showing your best work of Day 1, with review and feedback, we will have a learning session on night photography.  At 3:30 p.m. we depart for the famed Xoxocotlan cemetery for an extraordinary Day of the Dead extravaganza.  Matt is with us every step of the way for coaching and technical support. This could be a late night, so be prepared!  We will stay until at least 10 p.m., maybe later! Includes transportation to/from Xoxocotlan.

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Day 3, Monday, November 1:  You will have the morning on your own to prepare your best of the Xoxocotlan cemetery. We will meet midday to share our work with a feedback and learning session, then get back on the streets to catch the calendas and other processions. Some may want to share an optional taxi to San Pablo Villa de Mitla for their Day of the Dead festivities that start mid-afternoon

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Day 4, Tuesday, November 2:  We leave for an afternoon and evening in Teotitlan del Valle after our morning learning and photo feedback session.  You are paired with another workshop participant to share a traditional meal with a local host family and go with them to the village cemetery. To be embedded with a local family is an amazing cultural immersion experience to learn more about indigenous customs and traditions.  We return to Oaxaca city mid-evening. Includes transportation and lunch.

Day 5, Wednesday, November 3:  We meet after breakfast to share experiences and photos of the day. You’ll have the rest of the day on your own to meander and prepare your Best of Week photo presentation.  We get together in early evening for a Best of Week photo presentation followed by goodbyes. Please feel free to invite guests! Then, we’ll meet for an optional group supper (expense on your own).

What You Should Bring

  1. Camera, either Digital SLR camera with lens(es) — wide angle, zoom, and/or fixed focal point 50mm, or iPhone or Point and Shoot
  2. Optional tripod for night photography
  3. Laptop computer for photo editing
  4. External hard drive
  5. External card reader
  6. Extra batteries (2) and battery charger
  7. Memory cards (at least 2) and jump drive
  8. Pen and notepad
  9. Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, sun hat

(Before the workshop starts, we will send you a complete packet and information guide with suggested packing list, and other useful information.)

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Cost:  $995 USD.  Deposit to reserve your space is $500. Workshop includes:

  • All instruction and coaching
  • 1 lunch as specified in the itinerary
  • Transportation to villages included in the itinerary
  • Gift to local Teotitlan del Valle host family
  • Comprehensive pre-trip planning packet (via email)

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Not Included:  The expedition does NOT include lodging, meals that are not specified in the itinerary, airfare, taxes, tips/gratuities, travel insurance, liquor/alcoholic beverages and optional transportation.

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About Recommended Accommodations: We will be based in Oaxaca city for this workshop. We will recommend several outstanding hotels and B&B’s where you may choose to stay, complete with contact information and estimated pricing. You can also check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom.  All reservations for lodging will be made and paid for by you directly with the hotel.  You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel.  We will send you a list of recommended hotels after you register and make your deposit.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will reserve your space.   The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before August 1, 2014.  We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After August 1, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before August 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

We require that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, and at least $50,000 USD of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com  We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

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This workshop is produced by Norma H-Shafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to alter the itinerary and substitute instructors without notice.

Don’t let this workshop pass you by!

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Witness For Peace in Oaxaca Works for Sensible Policy

Tonight, Stephen and I are going to hear a Witness for Peace (WFP) presentation at 7:30 p.m. at the Community Church in Chapel Hill (106 Purefoy St.) about their work in Oaxaca.

Tony Macias is one of four WFP team members  in Oaxaca and former assistant director of North Carolina Student Action with Farmworkers. He and his co-worker Moravia de la O arranged for a local delegation — Sharon Mujica, Alan Young, Eduardo Lapetina and Jane Stein — to visit the region and they just returned.  They will be sharing their experiences and points of view about the economic conditions, immigration issues,  and community survival in Oaxaca.

Witness trips seek to equip both travelers and their audiences to press for sensible and humane economic and immigration policy.

This is important work!  We see the impact of the severe international economic crisis on the streets of Oaxaca — there are fewer visitors than usual, and this is having a huge impact on the ability of crafts people and artists to sustain themselves.

My goal is to help bring affordable travel to Oaxaca and bring visitors in contact directly with artisans who create extraordinary work.  We are all in this together!  Abrazos fuerte.  -Norma

This is the flyer I’ll be distributing tonight. Please pass the flyer!