Tag Archives: las cuevitas

Sunset at Las Cuevitas 2018: The Sacred Caves of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Beyond the town’s paved roads, back into the hills far from the village center, is the sacred site Teotitecos call Las Cuevitas. It is the third night, January 2, of a weeklong New Year’s observance practiced here in Teotitlan del Valle long before the Spanish Conquest.  For the ancients, the moon set the calendar. A late December -early January super moon would have been an awesome sight thousands of years ago just as it is today.

Sunset at Las Cuevitas, 2018, infused with cooking fire smoke

I arrive by 4:30 p.m. when it’s light enough to find a comfortable seat on a rock outcropping. I am intentionally alone to take in this environment where I live and to do my own meditation about the coming year with no distractions other than the landscape and my neighbors.

The rock mountain has changed dramatically since I was here two years ago. In a beautification plan, I see the steep, stony hillside is planted with young trees struggling to survive this high desert terrain.

Tents are as simple as a large umbrella to protect from wind and sun

The deep holes in which they are planted look like moon craters. Perhaps in ten years this will become a tree-shaded park filled with flowering Flor de Mayo and guaje trees. Ojala!

Dusk brings obscure images of people and distant mounds

But not now. The soil is more hospitable to thorny brush. Careful. A misstep on the rock pebbles will send you tumbling. (It did for me and the protective lens cover of my camera shattered.)

A camp tent and meat on the grill

This third night is less populated, more tranquil with fewer people. Families set up camp and convert the slope to a picnic ground. Some have tarp shelters or elaborate tents, sides tethered to ground with rocks gathered nearby. Ropes anchor tent to boulders.

Extended family gather around the table for a meal together al fresco

Children carry blankets, barbecue grills, wood, charcoal, a bag of meat to cook, a basket of mandarin oranges. I smell charcoal fires and gasoline, the strike of sulphur as a match lights. A wind whips up, carries smoke and cinder. Children hide their faces. So do I. Grandmothers, braids tied with crimson ribbon curl atop their heads like a crown, hover, tend to tender eyes.

Las Cuevitas panorama offer a spectacular valley view

Fragrant greens and wild flowers are traditional here

The language of Zapotec is spoken here. First language for first peoples. People I know and some I don’t, greet me with Feliz Año Nuevo, extend their arms in embrace and a pat on the back.

Packing out the remains of a meal or an overnight stay?

Las Cuevitas is the place to pray for a good year. Mostly, my friend Antonio tells me, people ask for good health. Nothing is more important, he says. In my personal world, God is universal and all human beings are good. It is easy for me to be here, lay a coin on the altar of the Virgin of Guadalupe — Earth Goddess –and pray for a year of good health and contentment. We all deserve blessings.

In the grotto, small caves hold religious altars to accept prayers for good health

A small chapel receives visitors who kneel and pray

Along the rock hill, I see remnants of dreams constructed on the last two nights of the celebration with rocks, moss, fragrant greens, sticks. These are facsimiles of new houses, a second floor addition, a roof, a fence, a stockade for cattle or goats. Dreams come true if you come to Las Cuevitas and build a miniature.

Miniature farm animals are an important part of constructing dreams

Families gather together for the annual celebration

Mostly, it’s about family, intergenerational connection, integration, celebration. Gathering on the hillside to build together, eat together, pray together, play together. Cultural continuity and endurance prevails here despite intrusions from other worlds.

I’m waiting for Sunset at Las Cuevitas

It’s 5:30 p.m. and the sun glows through the clouds. I’m waiting for sunset at Las Cuevitas. Dry grasses wave. Firecrackers are lit and go skyward with a bang. All is illuminated.

The grandmothers, their braids are a crown

Beyond the caves, cows graze on the top of the opposite hill. Families continue to stream in. Women fan cooking fires. Men carry cases of beer, coolers of food. Soon after dark, young men will throw fireballs across the horizon, much like their ancestors did in a test of strength.

I stay until the sun dips into the Sierra Madre del Sur beyond the next village, Macuilxochitl. You can see their church in the distance. Under the mound that rises on the horizon is an unearthed Zapotec archeological site.

Gold glow of the setting sun, Teotitlan del Valle, January 2, 2018

As the sun vanishes, there is chill and I want to get down the rocky slope before the light dims and I can’t find my way.  I want to remember the vast expanse of universe, the valley below, the magnificence of sun, moon, stars and the days that are a gift to make meaningful.

This is sacred space to respect, enjoy and keep clean

 

 

Happy New Year — Feliz Año Nuevo — Let’s Celebrate with Pozole

I decided to have a very small New Year’s Eve birthday celebration, invite a few Zapotec friends and the family I live with to lunch, and prepare pozole. I made this in North Carolina for Dia de los Muertos, but adapted the recipe for ingredients I could find there.

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico — Feliz Año Nuevo

Here, in the Teotitlan del Valle market, I could find fresh Mexican oregano, organic and native corn hominy made by a local family, and tender pork from the local butcher that cost a mere $7 USD for the best cut.

Grilling onion, garlic and jalapeño pepper on the comal to bring out flavors

2 kilos of tomatillos, peeled, disinfected, simmered 20 minutes

After three trips to the car to unload my shopping basket, I sat down at the corner market stand for fortification — a fresh juice cocktail with beets, pineapple, carrot and orange.

Fresh juice respite, Teotitlan del Valle market, with shopping list

Almost everything here in the village market is criollo — or native species. The small heads of garlic come from the neighboring village of Tlacochuaya. You can only buy the heads with giant cloves at commercial grocery stores.

Pepitas on the comal — griddle, toast before peeling

I did have a glitch in my preparation. My search for shelled pumpkin seeds (called pepitas)  failed. So I bought whole seeds in a bulk bag from a spice and chili vendor. When I got home, I proceeded to try to take the skin off. The pumpkin seeds are essential to the green pozole because when ground, they become a natural sauce thickener.

Blend onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers, tomatillo, pepitas to a paste

Then my friend Lupita came over. Much easier, Norma, to toast the seeds on the comal, she told me, then the shell will come right off. She taught me how to toast until the seeds start to pop like popcorn. It took me two hours to yield 1/4 cup of shelled pumpkin seeds, the amount my recipe called for. She sat down to help me and in thirty minutes the amount doubled.

Pozole verde: hominy, pork, chicken bits, spices in casserole

I love green pozole. And, I remembered how easy it was to make this one-pot meal in North Carolina. But, all fruits and vegetables here in Mexico need to be disinfected. I often rinse them several times to get rid of the soil.  Picked fresh organic cilantro and radishes are sold roots and greens. Just to get the ingredients ready was another lesson in paciencia.

Crock pot does the trick for slow cooking pork/chicken with sea salt, garlic, onion

For this Green Pozole (pozole verde) recipe, I adapted ingredients and instructions culled from Rick Bayless, Mama Latina Tips, and Food Network.  I prepared the pork-chicken/onion/garlic mix in a crock pot first, cooking for six hours.

Pozole toppings: radish, onion, cilantro, oregano, cabbage, jalapeño

When lunch ended it was almost dusk. Lunch starts here around three or four o’clock and can end several hours later depending on the quantity of food and mezcal. We had our fair share of both.

A few lunch guests, family and friends

For the next feast we would gather at 10:30 p.m. for a midnight meal with my host family to celebrate the New Year. This is  a long-standing tradition in Teotitlan del Valle, along with the annual pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas.

Pozole, or fresh hominy, rinsed, disinfected and drained

For the interlude, I went up to the rooftop terrace to wait, climbed into the hammock, and gazed at this December 31 Supermoon.  In the distance I could hear the village band playing at the sacred caves — Las Cuevitas. Cohetes, or firecrackers, exploded like gunshot at irregular intervals. Dogs howled. Probably a few coyotes, too.

Vegetarian version with choyote squash, hominy and green sauce

On this first day of 2018, as my Teotitlan del Valle family and I sat around the table at lunch, we each shared our wishes for 2018. I wish for continued good health, for continuing to walk three to four miles a day with my adopted dogs, for nothing more than what I already have, except to see my son more often and perhaps the possibility of a man in my life. Vamos a ver!

Supermoon from my hammock on the casita rooftop terrace, Teotitlan del Valle

As this year begins anew, as we each move through the passage of time, I wish for all of us a year of peace, satisfaction, contentment, love and abundance. There is nothing more important than the support of family and good friends.

Thank you all for following Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, for reading, for joining me to discover and explore textiles and natural dyes, and for caring about Mexico.

Happy New Year. Feliz Año Nuevo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

My family is here for the New Year. This past week we celebrated with a mezcal tour led by Alvin Starkman, a pottery tour to Santa Maria Atzompa with Innovando y Tradicion and a family trip to Hierve el Agua and San Juan del Rio.

We ended 2015 with a grand New Year’s Eve fiesta and finished off with a January 1 ritual pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas to welcome the New Year with wishes. Here, everyone is encouraged to have dreams.

This year the sunset at Las Cuevitas was less than dramatic but the festivities carried on in grand style befitting Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.  Like, close to the entire village was here. The band plays on and fireworks continue throughout the day and night.

 

We could call it a family picnic on the hillside but it’s much more than that. This celebration to welcome in the New Year is ancient. These grottos where three altars stand hold magical and healing properties. Make a wish at the altar. Then toss a coin into the small brook. If the coin lands on the plate and not in the water your wish will come true.

A wish for good health and prosperity, with candles, flowers and pesos

A wish for good health and prosperity, with candles, flowers and pesos

Mostly, people wish for good health. They might dream of a new house or a baby or a yard filled with farm animals, a good corn crop, the absence of drought. Abundance is a dream we all wish for, worldwide. We sent a prayer to our mom who just died. Lit a candle. Made our tribute.

The fire log toss, Teotitlan del Valle style at Las Cuevitas

The fire log toss, Teotitlan del Valle style at Las Cuevitas

Here young men play with fire. They soak a special log in kerosene and take turns throwing it off to the next one in the circle. A pre-Hispanic ritual, someone explains to me.

Families gather around campfires. Some have pitched tents and spend the night there New Year’s Eve. There are cooking stoves and the smell of grilled meat fills the air.

 

Each year on January 1, I always like to arrive by 4 p.m. to get there in time for sunset. This gives me a chance to gather rocks and join the locals to build a miniature structure that will symbolize plenty in the year to come.

 

Small plastic barnyard animals are for sale at the entrance to the caves. You can add these to the front yard of your house or build a roof with leafy branches gathered from the countryside. 

As sun sets, the sparklers twinkle and we get into the rhythm of the evening. It is festive and makes us pause to reflect on the past year and the one to come.

This year I had my son, sister, brother-in-law and goddaughter with me, along with friends, so being at Las Cuevitas was a special time. We made wishes, gave thanks, remembered parents and grandparents, and looked out onto the Tlacolula Valley from the mountain top.

More than a few of us played with fire. As sunset became night, the hillside filled with a display of light that could be seen from the Pan-American highway.

 

Wishing you all a 2016 filled with love, all that you wish for including blessings, peace, health, contentment and satisfaction. Thank you for being with me on this remarkable journey.

Un abrazo, Norma.

P.S. If you want to come and spend the night, make your reservations early! There is a limited supply of rooms in Teotitlan del Valle and I know some people were disappointed they couldn’t be here.

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.

Las Cuevitas 2015-19

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.

Las Cuevitas 2015-11

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.

Las Cuevitas 2015-14 Las Cuevitas 2015-4

 

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.

Las Cuevitas 2015 Las Cuevitas 2015-16

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.

Las Cuevitas 2015-22

 

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!