Finally, home to North Carolina and then back to Mexico in two weeks. If you follow me on Facebook you know I’ve been traveling in Eastern Europe. This was a tour offered by one of the largest operators in the world. Their buses and ships zigzag the continents and oceans.
See below for a few treasures I am offering for sale from the trip.
In eleven days, we traveled from Tirana, Albania, to the Dinaric Alps and coast of Montenegro, to historic Adriatic fortified towns occupied by Greeks, then Romans, then Venetians, then Ottomans, then Austro-Hungarians, then Italians and Germans. After WWI, they became part of what we knew as Yugoslavia. The break-up happened after the death of Tito and in the aftermath of the Serbia-Croatian War of 1991. These are new republics.
This is a land of the conquered and conquerors. We entered Kotor, Montenegro, for a one hour-fifteen minute lunch stop, climbed through winding mountain passes to visit crystal clear glaciated lakes and limestone caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, came to Split for a one-and-a-half hour walkabout. A full day in Dubrovnik was pure luxury. We slipped through Bosnia’s sliver of an access to the Adriatic, before entering Slovenia, part of the European Union. We used Lek,Kuna and Euros along the way.
I went out of curiosity, to be a roommate to my friend, and because the cost was low enough to justify the impulse. Will I do it this way again? Not likely.
We all wear name tags and use headsets, move in lock-step according to the schedule. Most mornings, this 43-person group was on the road by 7:30 a.m. (sometimes earlier) to cover miles of territory, luggage packed and loaded, breakfast inhaled. Many of my photos were taken from the bus window. There was no interaction with native people other than shopkeepers we met along the way. Local tour guides provided interpretive historical and cultural commentary during the one- to two-hour city walking tours.
I learned that there are villages in Slovenia where needle lace is still being made. In towns where we stopped, during free time, I tried to seek out antique dealers who were selling vintage textiles and jewelry. The selection was sparse. Eventually, I succumbed to the rhythm of the group, took a deep breath, and went along for the ride.
Note: From Left to Right, #1, #2 and #3. These three pairs of sterling silver earrings are hand-crafted. The first pair #1 is new with delicate, intricate filigree. Price is $175. #2 is vintage and I bought these earrings in the seaside town of Makarska from a silversmith whose family has been in the business for generations. Price is $165. #3 is a vintage pair of large sterling filigree earrings from Kosovo that I bought in Opatija, Slovenia. Price is $395. Mailing for any pair is $12 USD. Send me an email if you are interested. firstname.lastname@example.org You can see the influences of Austro-Hungarians and Ottoman Turks in the designs and workmanship.
What I validated was an important lesson in how I put together experiences for travelers who choose Oaxaca Cultural Navigator excursions: it is more valuable to go deep than wide. It is essential to meet local people to learn about and understand life, culture, values, challenges and opportunities. A middleman interpreting social and political issues isn’t enough. To really be in a country, one must go to where people live and work, take meals with them, share who we are with each other. For me, a small group is defined as ten to fifteen travelers.
Yes, people want to see the world. Most want to see the world for less money, to go to as many countries as possible, to get the Passport stamped. Do do so, one must join the crowds. I heard from fellow travelers that they go on river cruises with 125 people, which they consider a small group. The mega-cruise ships that hold thousands docked in Dubrovnik and Venice, spit out day-trippers who overrun these once beautiful cultural sites. Perhaps they buy a double-scoop of gelato and then re-board the ship for the endless buffet. Imagine these cities now as shopping malls with all the international brands paying high rents, pushing out local artisans and residents — a topic we never discussed.
Still rough around the edges, coming out of Communism with heart and hopefulness, Albania and Montenegro are undiscovered jewels and most promising. Worth a trip back to explore the Ionian coast that borders Greece, worth a trip back for the delicious dark and crusty bread and seafood, worth a trip back to go deeper. We shall see.
Tuesday, September 1 – Wednesday, September 9, 2020 – 8
nights, 9 days
New Mexico was originally part of the Spanish land grant known as New Spain. It calls to me in a way that reminds me of Oaxaca: Vast vistas of mountains and desert punctuated by red and purple skies, stately organ-pipe cactus and gnarly mesquite, Rio Grande River oases lined with scrub oak, and unparalleled art and craft made by indigenous peoples.
Colonized by the Spanish in 1598 and referred to as New Mexico by them after the Aztec Valley of Mexico, the territory was integrated into a new nation after 1821 Independence from Spain. Mexico was forced to cede its northern territories to the US in 1848 in a period of political vulnerability. Deeply rooted locals identify more with Spanish or indigenous ancestry.
Today, New Mexico has the largest percentage of Latino and Hispanic Americans in the USA. America’s First Peoples lived here for thousands of years before European occupation. Anglos, the trappers, merchants and adventurers, arrived much later. This sequence of settlement is important for showing respect and appreciation.
Sheri Brautigam, textile author and operator of Living Textiles of Mexico, and I join together again to bring you this program that starts in Santa Fe, the state capitol and heart of Colonial New Mexico. Sheri lives in Santa Fe and I visit periodically. Our love of place is defined by the majestic natural world, exquisite art, textiles, jewelry and pottery created by Native American people, and a deep appreciation for cultural history.
On many levels, it seems only natural to add New Mexico to our travel repertoire. Here political borders give way to the shared cultural and aesthetic history of Mexico and the American Southwest.
We take you to Native American pueblos to meet favorite weavers and jewelry makers, and to galleries and public spaces where world-class examples are displayed. We introduce you to collectors and purveyors of folk art and craft who will talk about quality, authenticity, craftsmanship and style. We go deep rather than wide to offer insight and perspective.
Any exploration of New Mexico must include a look into the life of artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Our study tour takes you to her summer residence at Ghost Ranch where we spend the night and enjoy a morning walking tour of her favorite painting sites. We visit her Abiquiu winter home where her minimalist style shaped future generations.
Colonial Spanish and Mexican history, architecture and cultural influences
Sumptuous food spiked with rare New Mexico red Chimayo chile and green Hatch chile — try the Hatch flavored pozole or a green chile cheeseburger or buy a ristra to take home
Mezcal infused beverages that transcend Oaxaca origins
Here is the Preliminary Itinerary: Arrive September 1 and depart September 9, including Labor Day Weekend.
Tues, 9//1: Arrive and check in to hotel, welcome cocktail reception
Wed. 9/2: Breakfast with art and cultural history talk,
walking tour of Santa Fe galleries, the Governor’s Palace Portal and historic
sites, welcome lunch. Presentations by noted experts and collectors. Dinner
OYO. (B, L)
Thurs. 9/3: After breakfast, depart for Rio Grande River Kewa/Santo Domingo pueblo to meet Native American craftspeople where we will have private demonstrations of stone inlay and metal smithing, and a home-style lunch. We visit award-winners who exhibit at prestigious galleries and participate in the International Folk Art Market. (B, L) Dinner OYO
Friday. 9/4: After breakfast, we will take a private La Fonda Hotel art history tour, with lunch at the historic Fred Harvey restaurant, followed by a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (B, L) Dinner OYO
Sat, 9/5: After breakfast, we will return to the Kewa pueblo to attend the big Labor Day Weekend Artisan Fair, an all Native American traditional arts and craft event that includes artisans from throughout New Mexico. (B) Lunch and dinner OYO.
Sun. 9/6: After breakfast, depart for Ghost Ranch with a stop in Sanctuario de Chimayo a famous shrine of miracles and Hispanic faith. We will visit the Rio Grande style weavers of the Chimayo region and have lunch at Rancho de Chimayo, overnight at Ghost Ranch (B, L)
Mon. 9/7: After breakfast, morning Art Walk at Ghost Ranch to see the locales where Georgia O’Keeffe painted. After lunch at the Inn at Abiquiu, we will tour O’Keeffe’s winter home in Abiquiu, then return to Santa Fe. (B, L) Dinner OYO.
Tues., 9/8: Breakfast and day on your own. Grand finale
dinner. (D) Breakfast and lunch OYO.
8 nights lodging at a top-rated Santa Fe historic center property within walking distance to the Plaza
1 cocktail reception
a curated itinerary with introductions to some of the region’s finest artisans
museum and other entry fees, as specified in itinerary
private demonstrations, presentations and lectures
private coach and chauffeur to/from pueblos and O’Keeffe sites
outstanding and personal guide services with Norma Schafer and Sheri Brautigam
The program does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation that is not specified in the itinerary.
You can fly in/out of either Albuquerque (ABQ) or Santa Fe (SAF), New Mexico. Check Skyscanner.com for best schedules and fares.
We reserve the right to substitute
instructors and alter the program as needed.
Cost • $3,845 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $4,435 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)
Important Note:All rooms at Ghost Ranch for one night on Sunday, September 6, are shared accommodations.
and Cancellations. A $750 non-refundable deposit is required
to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in three equal payments – on January
22, April 22, July 22, 2020. We
accept payment using online e-commerce only. If for any reason, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC cancels the
tour, a full-refund will be made.
We will send you an itemized invoice
when you tell us you are ready to register. If you cancel on or before July 22,
2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After July 22, 2020,
there are no refunds.
If you register after January 22, you will owe $750 plus 1/3 of the balance due. If you register after April 22, you will owe $750 plus 2/3 of the balance due. If you register after July 22, you will owe 100% (if there are openings).
to Register: Send an email to email@example.com
Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice for $750 by email that is due on receipt.
Who Should Attend: Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, photographers, jewelry and textile lovers, historians and those wanting to learn more about Native American art, culture and history. If you love off-the-beaten path adventure, the great outdoors, and the inspiration of the great Southwest as seen by Georgia O’Keeffe, this trip is for you.
Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.
In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen!
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. 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: We may walk a lot on some days. — up to 10,000 steps. We recommend you bring a walking stick if you need something to lean on!
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 plenty of free time to
go off on your own if you wish.
Long before the Spanish conquest of the Americas beginning with Mexico in 1521, Maya land was contiguous. Maya peoples spanned what we now know as Chiapas, the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.
While spoken dialects differ, the language of cloth tells a similar and familiar story of the universe and creation: corn, stars, moon and sun, animals, fertility, and rain, the underworld and the heavens. The plumed serpent god Quetzalcoatl is a predominant figure.
The Aztecs, seeing the blond and bearded Hernan Cortes, confused him for the reincarnation of Quetzalcoatl and welcomed him. Before that, their empire reached as far south as Nicaragua, where they hunted for the feathers to adorn royal headdresses. Their historical outposts are evident throughout Chiapas, mostly through Nahuatl place names.
Maya communities were contiguous until the Mexican Revolution, when geo-political boundaries were drawn separating Guatemala from Mexico. The Usamincinta River was the demarcation line.
Along this river are two very important archeological sites: Yaxchilan and Bonampak. Symbols from fresco paintings here are depicted in the cloth woven by Maya women across the borders. It is also the region of the Lancandon jungle, home to the Lancandon tribal group that speak an ancient form of Maya. They were able to escape Spanish conquest by staying hidden deep in the jungle.
I write about this to better understand the context of the cloth, which has limited boundaries.
On our recent Chiapas Textile Study Tour, one of our travelers, Rosemary, told me she makes frequent visits to Guatemala to collect Maya huipiles. She said she always wondered why she had a hard time finding the huipiles from Colotenango and Huehuetenango in Antigua, until she came to San Cristobal.
These Guatemala villages are much closer to Chiapas than they are to Antigua. She surmised that it was easier to export them here. We found many superb examples of Guatemala textiles mingled among those from Chiapas for this reason.
We asked the weavers we met on this journey what they dreamed of for themselves and their families. What do they want/need? What are their hopes for their children?
I ask our travelers to think of themselves as amateur cultural anthropologists: to ask questions and to understand what is most important for women, children, families, and their economic well-being.
Every artisan we talked with had a similar answer: they need markets to sell what they make. They want their children to have an education beyond sixth grade. They want them to keep the traditions alive, too. They want autonomy and independence from neo-colonialism and government control. They want to be respected for their creativity and traditions.
In other words, they want what we want for ourselves and our children — a life of safety, security and economic well-being, with health care and a just, living wage.
Cultural Tourism: Why are we here?
Why are we here? Is the answer as simple as Cultural Tourism? Is our motivation to experience a world different from our own? We are lovers of the handmade and appreciators of the people who are the makers. We want to meet the makers directly and support them.
In the Academia.edu article What is Cultural Tourism? Greg Richards says, Another major cultural trend that has been important in the growth of the heritage industry has been the growth of nostalgia. The increasing pace of life and the feeling of disorientation and loss associated with modernity has ensured that the preservation of the past has become big business.
I am aware of this as we bring small groups into remote villages. I hope our footprint will be as small as possible. I hope we become observers with heart and empathy. I also want to talk about our tendency to romanticize what many visitors perceive as a simpler lifestyle.
We seem to yearn for a simpler lifestyle.
So, I ask the question of you: Is cooking over a smoky wood fire simpler if it means you or your children will develop emphysema? Is it simpler if you have to travel 20 miles to the nearest health care clinic? What if the school in your village doesn’t have a regular teacher and only goes to fourth grade? Is it a simpler lifestyle when your husband is an alcoholic and family violence is a reality, not a poster? Is it simpler when you find an hour or two a day to weave, after cooking, cleaning, tending children, husking corn, washing clothes?
Can we really know about people and their lives by interacting with them for a few hours and buying what they make? With this purchase, are we practicing cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation? By just being here, what is our impact on how people live and work? Will change happen? What is authentic, anyway?
This comes as a just-in-time-reminder for me about cultural sensitivity and travel to indigenous parts of the world where handmade textiles still flourish. My trip to India was bumped up a day, so I am on an airplane this Monday morning.
If you go to the Cloth Roads website, you can join the mailing list and download the guide for free. It’s common sense and worth the reminder. Some of the tips are to prevent what I’ve seen on guided tours, where participants launch into grabbing and shopping before the local women have a chance to present themselves and their histories.
If you are traveling in 2017 to countries where amazing textiles are found, please take this guide with you.
If you are traveling to Mexico, please bring Textile Fiestas of Mexico by Sheri Brautigam. I contributed two chapters, one about the rugs of Teotitlan del Valle and the other about the rebozos of Tenancingo de Degollado.
As I embark for Delhi, Gujarat and Mumbai, I think about what it means to appreciate cloth and the people of India and the people of Oaxaca who cultivate the raw material, weave and dye, sew and fashion.
There were six of us trailing Magdalena into the village panteon at 5:30 p.m. for the annual ritual of sitting at the grave site to pay respects to loved ones gone. It was All Souls Day, November 2 in Teotitlan del Valle. The ritual in the village is an ancient one, predating the Spanish conquest of 1521. On November 2 the souls return to their graves for another year after having made a 24-hour visit that begins at 3 p.m. on November 1 and ending at 3 p.m. on November 2. The church bells toll for 24-hours marking the time and in the bell-tower you can see the men who have volunteered from each section of the village to pull the heavy bell chord day and night.
Earlier in the day after breakfast we had taken bundles of flowers to the graves of Magda’s son and husband, putting them in urns filled with water to keep them fresh. The tombs throughout the courtyard were covered with lilies, roses, and marigolds. Freshly quartered oranges, pecans, and peanuts were set in neat little piles to feed the souls before the returned to the earth. In the morning, the cemetery was quiet, reflective, reverent. It was empty except for a few men who were cleaning the dirt paths between the graves and keeping the urns filled with water so the flowers would stay fresh. We tip-toed gently to read the names of the dead on the elaborate crosses at the heads of each grave. Why, we asked, were there so many crosses on each grave site? Magda told us that a cross is put there when a person is first buried and then second one is added at the one-year anniversary when the family gathers for a memorial. Each family may have several plots in the cemetery, and after ten years a burial place can be re-used — a much different and more recycleable approach to burial than in the United States. Ten years is about the time it takes for the body and bones to decompose; new earth is added and the cycle begins again.
As we entered the cemetery at 5:30 p.m. we saw a large tour group of about 15-20 people with very serious cameras and flash equipment strolling the cemetery. They were part of a well-known U.S. organization that organizes adventure travel around the world in addition to publishing a monthly magazine that has been in existence for well over 100 years. The people were boisterous, took photos without asking permission, and invaded the tranquil ritual sanctuary of this small village cemetery. The use of flash was ubiquitous. I noticed the photographers just a few feet away from elderly couples sitting at the grave sites, their camera lenses pointed directly in their subjects faces, holding flash strobes, and taking photos repeatedly to get the best shot. They didn’t appear to have much awareness of their impact. We were uncomfortable. Our own small group gathered and decided that there was not enough ambient light by that time (there were few candles in this cemetery as compared to Xoxocotlan) to allow us to take reasonable photos without using flash and being invasive. So, we decided to leave after about a half hour.
We talked about this experience over dinner and then the next morning. It seemed to all of us that the well-known travel company had not prepared people for the cultural experience of going into a small village environment. It appeared that their approach was not as participants but as observers — there to capture an image and leave. We discussed the impact of being from the U.S. and how others’ behaviors from the same country can reflect on all of us. Each tourist has a responsibility to behave respectfully so that as a group we will be welcomed back. As Americans, it is easy for us to forget the historical experience of our indigenous hosts. We must own our own part in the history of colonizers. Americans and Europeans must be aware of our impact as we travel. The cemetery experience brought to light both the positive and negative aspects of what it means to participate in ancient rituals and the responsibilities that accompany that. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to be sharing the home of a local family and were invited by them to go to the cemetery. We were not convinced that the other group even engaged in any conversation in preparation for their visit.
If you have thoughts and ideas about this dilemma that you would like to share, please add to the commentary. Thank you.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
We send printable map via email PDF usually within 48-hours after order received. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle