Tag Archives: las cuevitas

Happy New Year 2015 — Feliz Año Nuevo From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

For the past five weeks I’ve been recovering from knee replacement surgery, first in North Carolina with dear friends who took great care of me, and then in Santa Cruz, California with my family.  I returned to Casita Alegria on December 30, just in time to celebrate another New Year’s Eve birthday with intimate friends in Teotitlan del Valle, where I live.

Las Cuevitas 2015-7

On the eve of the new year, we each wrote our 2014 regrets and our 2015 hopes and wishes, folded the piece of paper and in a private moment of reflection tossed the paper into the fire blazing in the chiminea on the patio.  For me, this was a time of letting go of past, concentrating on now and focusing on  future.

Las Cuevitas 2015-8

An honored tradition here in Teotitlan del Valle is the January 1 pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas.  This is a feast day, a day of gathering in the hills behind the village at an ancient pre-Hispanic Zapotec site and looking ahead to what the new year will bring.  The caves, or rocky grottos, hold altars for prayer and making offerings.  Poinsettias, lilies, fresh eggs, candles and money are symbols for the season and starting anew.

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Families gather on the hillsides, start bonfires, bring picnic suppers, light sparklers to mesmerize both adults and children. The day is warm, the early evening balmy.  The sun sets at Las Cuevitas and the entire village, or so it seems, has assembled, puts on an extra layer of clothing to protect themselves from the coming chill. The band plays. Vendors sell soft drinks, pastries.  At a comal, a woman prepares quesadillas for sale.  It is festive, intimate.

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There is an almost full moon. The hillside glows in wonderment of prayer and promise as strewn rocks become constructions of possibility:  a new home, a corral for livestock, a second story.  Zapotec dreams are always tied to the land.

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As for me, my knee is healing.  I am ambulatory with the aid of a walking stick made from a piece of beautiful twisted North Carolina dogwood. I am able to drive my manual transmission car and continue to do my exercises.  The pain and discomfort has subsided but it is still with me.  I’m hoping to be able to walk more than 5,000 steps a day very soon.

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Sending you wishes for a new year filled with good health, contentment, satisfaction and connection. One in which we live in peace, make peace with the past and look forward with hopefulness.  Blessings to all.

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People of Oaxaca: Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30. There is room for you!


Sunset at Las Cuevitas: Rare Green Flash in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

I recently learned that green flash is a rare phenomenon that occurs at sunset in a clear atmosphere, usually captured looking west over the Pacific Ocean.  (It can happen at sunrise, too.) I was looking west into a clear sky on January 1, 2014, when I took this photograph at the Las Cuevitas celebration in Teotitlan del Valle.

Sometimes, the light refracts, bends and the green becomes a jagged wave in the sky.  A California consulting firm was looking for just such a photo, found it on my blog and asked if they could license rights to use it. I agreed.  Whoot, whoot!

And, did you see the two photos selected for publication in Issue 4 of the Minerva Rising on the theme of “Mothers”?

Upcoming Photography Workshops

Day of the Dead Photography Expedition Tour — October 2014

Portrait Photography Workshop Tour: People of Oaxaca — January 2015

What I have learned about photography is the result of having participated in the workshops I have organized over the last several years.  Our instructors are outstanding, patient, knowledgeable teachers who have published large bodies of work.  They are working photographers and experienced instructors. You get to practice what you learn.  Oaxaca and Teotitlan del Valle is our learning laboratory. The satisfaction of becoming a better photographer is amazing!

All Night Party Called Las Cuevitas

Seven years ago I wrote one of my first blog posts called Sunset at Las Cuevitas. Las Cuevitas is an annual Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico tradition that draws the entire pueblo to the caves up in the grassy, nopal cactus dotted hills beyond the village.  Festivities start on the night of December 31 and continue through November 3.

Sunset at Las Cuevitas 2014

Sunset at Las Cuevitas 2014

This is a rocky, sacred pre-Hispanic ritual site now holds a small chapel.  Three three niches form altars where offerings are made and prayers are whispered. Families come to sleep in the open air or under tarps held high by poles or pitch tents.  Others come for the day and stay well into the night, bringing chairs, blankets and picnic baskets.  Vendors sell all types of snacks and food lest you come or get hungry: sugar wafers, just made French fries drizzled with chili salsa, tamales, even donuts.

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As the sun begins to set, the warm afternoon turns to chill.  Women wrap themselves in wool shawls or put on sweaters and bundle up their children.   Men wear jackets and baseball caps.  The line to enter the grotto snakes down the dusty path lined with sellers of hand-embroidered tortilla covers, copper bracelets for good health, and quesadillas made on wood-fired comals.

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The mood is festive.  At five in the afternoon an outdoor mass begins at the grotto. Then the band plays.  We sit on the hillside and watch pre-teen boys strike matches to light sparklers and fire balls, while others construct rock houses and make roofs of twigs and dried grass.  Everyone is eating something.

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Today the new president begins his three-year term, a voluntary and elected position.  The newly initiated volunteer police force that starts their one-year service term today are present to keep the peace, more symbol than necessity.

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On the hillsides, campfires burn, rockets shoot skyward, balloons and papel picado separate earth from sky.

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As we approach the grotto to add our candles, prayers, and offerings, I see that we are in the perfect spot for the upcoming fireworks display, a perfect ending to my perfect day in southern Mexico.  The celebration will continue through the night, all day and night on January 2, and end on January 3.  Good things come in three’s here.


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I was so close, I had to stay out of the raining hot cinders.  The cracking sounds were deafening.  It was an amazing spectacle to see a man dancing, holding a cow above his head spewing circles of light.  TheN two men followed holding female figures high as the fireworks circled and the crowd was mesmerized.  The band played on.

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Next?  That brings us up to Day of the Three Kings, January 6, when we will find the markets filled with round holiday breads infused with candied fruits and several little plastic baby Jesus figures.  The bread is called rosca de reyes, and Mexican children will receive their Christmas gifts on this day.  Whoever gets the baby Jesus is obligated to host a tamale party on February 2, Dia de la Candelaria, the last event associated with Christmas.

May the party continue!



There were fewer than ten extranjeros (foreigners) in the crowd.  Most of us who were there are connected to local families and live on their land or rent from them. Las Cuevitas is probably the closest thing I can think of to July 4th as a family day of picnicking, partying, and enjoying life.

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And, don’t you agree, Omar’s smile is like a brilliant sunset!


Las Cuevitas: Building New Year Dreams

New Year wishes and dreams come in many forms.  In the U.S.A. we open a bottle of bubbly, raise a toast  and dance the night away.  For some, the ritual for watching the New Year arrive involves peering into the television to party-on with Times Square revelers.  Some of us may get really serious and make a list of resolutions that require dedicated devotion to change.  This can be a time of celebration, of renewal and of making and attempting to keep commitments.  A noble endeavor.

Teoti Las Cuevitas Family Sparkler

I remember growing up in Los Angeles and crawling out of bed to join my little sister and brother in front of the television to watch the Pasadena Rose Parade.  We dreamt of being there, of getting a great curbside view of the pageantry, the floats, the horsemanship of bygone T.V. cowboys who we adored.   We lived twenty miles away but the early morning January 1 ritual of snuggling in front of the television was our way of welcoming in the new year as children. Eventually, both my brother and sister marched in that parade when their high school bands won the competition to participate.  I was their cheerleader.


Each year as the clock counts down and the calendar page turns, we can take part in the process to pause, assess, and reevaluate what is important in our lives.  It can be a turning point, a marker, an opportunity and a blessing.  New Years celebrations are universal and timed to different cycles.   Chinese New Year  marks the end of winter when celebrants decorate with red paper cut-outs, forget grudges and wish each other peace and happiness.   Ramadan is the most sacred for observers of Islam, when the focus is on spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship.   For Jews, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, offers an opportunity to amend behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done.  Many traditions mark an annual observance to acknowledge the mysteries of life, to rebuild, rededicate and look to a better future.

P1030349  Flower Poinsettias

In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, each year on January 1 and January 2, villagers begin the annual cultural and religious festivities known as Las Cuevitas.  After a family meal, they process together  en mass as a community to the caves in the foothills beyond the pueblo.  Clustered in extended family groupings, they approach the grotto where the virgin appeared, make an offering and a new year wish, then move inside the serene on-site chapel to give and receive blessings.  In years past we have participated, joining our adopted Teotitlan del Valle family to find a suitable rocky outcropping to gather rocks and build our dreams.

Sparklers at Las Cuevitas Building the Casita

Dreams take the physical form of houses, barns, cars, a new plow.  But the dream is also spiritual and along with firecrackers and food, the altar is the hillside where the collective assembles to give prayer in hope for a better world for families, loved ones, and extended community.


Today in North Carolina we will move through our farm, gather rocks, sticks and branches, and leaves.  We will build another house in symbolic solidarity with our Mexican friends and land that we love.

Happiest new year to you all.  May your dreams be filled with abundance, peace and well-being, good health and contentment.  May your family and friends be surrounded by warmth, generosity and hope.  Welcome 2013.   Feliz y prospero año nuevo.

Papel Picado at Las Cuevitas


Feliz Navidad: Christmas in Oaxaca

The winter solstice is upon us and there is a sliver of moon hanging in the sky like an oyster shell, illuminated and alluring. In the southern part of the northern hemisphere Oaxaca is celebrating Christmas with her traditional pomp, ceremony, somber ritual and ubiquitous brass band.  From the city to the villages,  women are preparing tamales with mole, patting the corn tortillas, and simmering the guacalote (indigenous turkey) for the feast day.  The wood fires curl skyward from the comal where the tortillas will cook. Children will run underfoot and bring ingredients or utensils.  Men will sit with a beer or mescal after their work at the loom or wood carving table.  They will all gather at the church for La Ultima Posada (the last procession on Christmas eve) where there will be an all-night celebration after Baby Jesus is rightfully restored to the manger of his birth.

Here are some of my favorite scenes of Christmas in Oaxaca to share with you:  Feliz Navidad — Happiest Holidays.  May all your seasons be filled with peace, joy and love.  -Norma