Tag Archives: Mexico

Is Mexico Safe? My Experience

Is Mexico safe? I just got back to Oaxaca after traveling for three weeks in Mexico City, Estado de Mexico and Michoacan. In Michoacan there is a U.S. State Department Travel Advisory, (I include this link to safety vs. sensationalism.)

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I went to Morelia, Patzcuaro and rural villages. I traveled far out into the countryside in a car with two other women and walked gorgeous colonial towns. How safe was it? Was I scared?

Map of Mexico

The day I returned, a must read tongue-in-cheek post came in about safety in the Distrito Federal (D.F.), the nation’s capitol, from Jim Johnston who writes Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler.  It triggered my wanting to tell you about my journey. Is Mexico safe?

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Me and Mary Anne (from the San Francisco Bay Area) teamed up to take this trip together. Yes, two women of some maturity and a modicum of wisdom traveling independently via bus, taxi, collectivo and sometimes, on foot!


We met up in Mexico City where we walked from our hotel to historic center destinations, often at night. Yes, it was dark. Did I feel threatened or at risk? No. I stayed on well-lit streets with good sidewalks and lots of pedestrians. Mexicans love to meander with their families at night, eating an ice cream cone or nibbling on a torta, pushing a stroller or walking arm-in-arm.

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We took a taxi, arranged by our hotel, to the regional bus station at Observatorio, and bought same day tickets on the Caminante bus line to Toluca. We were the only gringas on the bus. At the Toluca bus station, MA watched the bags and I bought a Taxi Seguro (secure taxi) ticket from the clearly marked stand inside the terminal to Tenancingo de Degollado. The worry was how we were going to get our five suitcases (three of them huge) into a small taxi rather than any safety issues.

Map of Estado de Mexico

Most of our trips in Tenancingo were via group van. But, when we/I (either together or separately) wanted to go to town, we went out to the front of our hotel and hailed a private taxi or jumped into a collectivo, sharing a ride with strangers.

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When we left Tenancingo, our next destination was Morelia, capital of Michoacan. So, we returned to the Toluca bus station and bought tickets on another bus line — Autovias — that serves that part of Mexico. Again, we were the only gringas on the bus (of either gender). It’s almost a four-hour bus ride to Morelia, whose tarnished reputation for being a drug cartel area has had a negative impact on tourism, even though it is safe by strict U.S. State Department standards.

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I don’t know if this is true or not. It didn’t seem like it. I did ask MA, when we were planning this trip, is it safe? Just once. She researched it and reported that the only possible dangerous areas were rural far from where we would be.

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I’ve never been to a cleaner, more pristine city than Morelia. It has an incredible Zocalo, classical music, great restaurants, 16th century colonial architecture, outstanding gardens, churches, universities, libraries, a comprehensive Casa de las Artesanias folk art gallery and is gateway to some of Mexico’s most amazing folk art. No one hassled us. In fact, everyone was warm and welcoming. Did I feel unsafe or threatened? Not for a minute. Neither does Guns N’ Roses!

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Nacho (Ignacio), our pre-arranged taxi driver, picked us up in Morelia and drove us to Patzcuaro, with a stop along the way to Capula, one of the craft villages.  I have friends from the USA who now live full-time in Patzcuaro. We hung out together during the time we weren’t going out to explore the Purepecha villages around the lake, and met the small, but mighty Patzcuaro ex-pat community, including photographer Flo Leyret (link to her photos below).

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Map of Michoacan

We spent the day poking around Santa Clara del Cobre — the copper mining village about thirty minutes beyond Patzcuaro where Purepecha people have been working the material with hand-forging and hammering since the 13th century.


Then, I got invited to go along to a concurso (juried folk art competition) in the village of Ahuiran, an hour-and-a-half north of Patzcuaro, where talented women weave rebozos on back-strap looms. Six of us, all women, drove in two cars over Michoacan countryside, through small villages, across rich farmland planted with corn and potatoes. At the entrance and exit to some villages there were guard posts and community-designated sentries asking us where we were going. It seems the villagers are protecting their territory and this is typical for rural Mexico where there can be land disputes or disagreements. Nothing to be afraid of.

Michoacan Artisans, Photographs by Florence Leyret Jeune

Patzcuaro 188-79 PatzLakeArtisans-16  [Above left is Purepecha ceramic artist Nicolas Fabian Fermin, from Santa Fe de Laguna, who I met this summer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, with his wife. Above right is Teofila Servin Barriga, another award-winning Purepecha artist whose embroidery has won many international awards. She will be at Lake Chapala, Guadalajara, for the annual folk art market. This rebozo she is wearing will sell for 15,000 pesos.]

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In Ahuiran, we were the only visitors and the best potential customers for these stunning hand-made shawls that started at 2,000 pesos. The elaborate feather fringed rebozos (photos are still in my camera) were commanding a 5,000 pesos price tag, more than most of the local women could afford. But, then, they could weave their own or buy from a relative!

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Why go to Michoacan? For the folk art, of course, and then, there’s the landscape, and the people, the history  ….

On my return to Oaxaca, I took a taxi from Morelia center to the regional bus terminal and bought my ticket the same day. It was a five-hour bus ride to Mexico City Norte terminal. I was the only foreigner on the bus. MA flew direct from Morelia to Oakland, CA on a non-stop Volaris flight. Lucky her. I, on the other hand, got into a secure taxi for the 30-minute ride to the airport to board the Interjet flight to Oaxaca ($116 USD round-trip).

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Okay, so that’s the story. Or at least skimming it. Mexico is a treasure trove of history, archeology, folk art, contemporary art, intellectual discourse and culture. Her cities are beautiful. Yes, some parts are not safe. Most parts are. Some have reputations for being unsafe that have never been true and/or might have been true two or three or four years ago, like Morelia. Morelia is safe now. It is gorgeous. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Map of Oaxaca

Oaxaca has always been safe.

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Join us February 3-11, 2016 for Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More. 4 Spaces Left!

Sunday Rebozo Market in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico

Sundays and Thursdays are tianguis open air market days in the ikat rebozo weaving town of Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico. The Sunday market is the biggest and covers over four square blocks in the town center.


Most of the rebozos in the market are sold by the puntadoras, the women who tie the fringes on the hand-woven ikat textile. The cloth, or lienza, is woven by men. The puntadoras usually buy the cloth with the dangling warp thread directly from the weavers. They then spend a month, or two or three to hand-knot the loose warp fringe.


The tighter and longer the fringe, the longer it takes. If it is an intricate design with a long, tight fringe, then the rebozo is even more valuable. Sometimes a puntadora will knot the fringe and then dip it in black dye (or another color) for a uniform color that they think will complement the textile.


A famous master weaver will usually select his own puntadora who will tie the fringes for him. He will then sell the finished rebozo for between 1,600 and 15,000 pesos each. Click to convert to dollars.

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The rebozo market can offer more economical ways to buy. Usually the rebozos there that are knotted with a decent punta can start at 600 pesos and go up to 2,000 pesos. Once in a while, if you take your time and look, you can find a really great rebozo in this price range. That’s why visiting the masters first helps in the education and selection process.

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There is a discussion about the unsung role of the women puntadoras who contribute to at least 30-50% of the beauty of the rebozo, in my opinion.

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These women are unidentified, unnamed and it is the weaver who is recognized rather than sharing honors with the woman who makes the beautiful fringe. An issue about acknowledging women and something worth exploring more, don’t you think?


Edible blue mushrooms at the rebozo market. Go figure.

I had the pleasure of traveling with Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico this month on a rebozo tour of Tenancingo led by collector John Waddell. It was a wonderful experience.


That’s why I’m organizing a textile and folk art study tour set for February 3-11, 2016 — to bring you back and share this with you. In February we will focus on the rebozos of Tenancingo, traditional Taxco silver at the William Spratling jewelry workshop, and the Tree of Life pottery of Metepec. I’ll post details of this trip on Friday on this blog. Stay tuned. Or, send me an email and I’ll send you the program description.


Viva Mexico! Happy Independence Day!

September 16 is Mexican Independence Day. All this past week every city, town and village I’ve traveled through — from Mexico City to Tenancingo de Degollado to Morelia, Patzcuaro and Tzintzuntzan — is preparing for the celebration.

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Right now, in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, the zocalo is filled with families waiting for the mayor to speechify.  On September 15, a tall castle built of bamboo appeared. At ten o’clock at night the wheels at the top of the castle will spin and propel firecrackers and a pyrotechnics display skyward announcing the independence once again.

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Flags, bunting, parades, musicians and red, green and white jello cups dominate the landscape. Across the land, mayors, governors and the President will shout out La Grita — the call for freedom from Spain that Hidalgo yelled in 1821. Children will wear the colors of their country. There is even a Liberty Bell. This is a photo tribute to Mexico and her Independence. untitled (197 of 378)RebozoMkt+Anniv-5Malinalco 41-26 Metepec 48-2Malinalco Best 59-38

The feast of the season is the red, white and green taste treat called Chiles en Nogada, created by the nuns in Puebla for General Iturbide who became Emperor of Mexico after independence from Spain.

Mexico Colors-14 Michoacan-3 Mexico Colors-11I’m not sure that Mexico can be topped by any other country for her widespread use of red, white and green. From confections to cake decorations to adornment on buildings, the color of the flag dominates everything this week.

Mexico Colors-10 Mexico Colors-8Mexico is a country of do-it-yourselfers. The Parisina fabric store (it seems like there is one in each medium to large size town) is filled with enough notions, textiles and glitter to outfit each man, woman and child in the country’s colors.

Mexico Colors And, if you need a flag, look no further than your neighborhood street corner, where you can get one in any size. Add a feathery hair adornment, a horn, a drum, and a whistle and you’ll be ready to join any band in town.

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At the Feria del Rebozo in Tenancingo de Degollado, State of Mexico, I saw many finely woven shawls that were in the colors red, white and green. They were hung like flags on display and I know that many women coveted them.

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Michoacan-7 Michoacan-6 Michoacan-4 Mexico Colors-12 Mexico Colors-5Michoacan Even at Casa Azul, home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, an exhibit of her clothing featured a skirt in patriotic colors.  Diego_Frida_July2014-102 I’m writing this on the night of September 15. The firecrackers just went off. I heard the mayor call La Grita. Time to go to sleep, if I can sleep. Who knows how for how long the firecrackers will crackle and sizzle and burst with sound. Sending wishes for peace and freedom for all.

Michoacan-6 Michoacan-9 On September 16, we’ll go to the zocalo for the parade. Every Independence Day needs a parade, yes?

Pueblo Magico Malinalco: Hand-loomed Rebozos and Pre-Aztec Pyramids

The magical town of Malinalco in the State of Mexico is a short thirty-minute ride from Tenancingo de Degollado. One of Mexico’s greatest rebozo weavers, Camila Ramos Zamora, and her family live and work here.

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Her father was a rebozo weaver from Tenancingo and he moved to Malinalco to marry Camila’s mother. They established a workshop that makes some very amazing ikat/jaspe rebozos on the back strap loom. Some use natural dyes. Most have intricate, lengthy fringes called puntas or rapacejos, that in my opinion represent fifty percent of the beauty of a rebozo.

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This week, Came’s son José Rodrigo Mancio Ramos, received the special award for a major piece using natural dyes in the National Rebozo Competition sponsored by FONART and held in Tlaxcala. He carries on the family tradition for creating and executing outstanding textile art.  The punta on his winning piece is made in the pointed style preferred by the Spanish aristocrats who came to Mexico in the 18th century.

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I visited Camila Ramos Zamora’s two shops in Malinalco as well as the amazing Augustinian church built in 1560. I’ve never seen such detailed, dramatic frescoes as these. The church is a sight to behold.

Here’s a note from Mexico expert Silva Nielands: The Paradise Garden murals in the monastery were not painted by the Augustinians who built it, but by the indigenous people who were taught the painting process.  The murals are a mix of European (saintly) themes full of local imagery.  The plants, animals, etc. are all important to the indigenous culture and are like a full encyclopedia of the herbal/medicinal, etc.  http://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/peterson-paradise-garden

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Many towns in Mexico were settled by different Catholic orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians and Jesuits, missionaries competing for converts. The Augustinian church dominates the central zocalo and is the only Catholic church in Malinalco.

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I admired the black rebozo this woman on the left was wearing as she and two friends exited the church. One friend jumped in to help her put it around her shoulders so I could see the weaving and the very long fringes. I think they were delighted that I noticed and paid them special attention!

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My friend Mary Anne hiked up to the archeological site which she reports is an easy, shaded climb up about 400 shallow steps through amazing landscape.

Malinalco Pyramid

Our group from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico wandered Malinalco independently to explore and discover.  We all met up at Las Placeres for a great lunch on the shaded patio complete with tamarind mezcal Margaritas — mi favorita.

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This experience has been so wonderful, that I want to bring you here with me.

  • So, I’m scheduling a study tour from February 3-11, 2016  to learn about and meet the rebozo weavers of Tenancingo.
  • Meet in Mexico City on February 3 with overnight there.
  • Travel to and stay in Tenancingo  from February 4 to 10
  • Participate in hands-on workshops and demonstrations
  • Travel to Metepec and stay overnight in Metepec on February 10
  • Travel to Mexico City on February 11 to depart for home OR stay on your own through President’s Weekend in Mexico City to enjoy the museums and world-class restaurants

In addition, we will take a day trip to the silver capitol of Mexico, Taxco, a Pueblo Magico, explore the Pueblo Magico ceramics village of Metepec and the Pueblo Magico village of Malinalco.

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We will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites and immerse ourselves in Mexico’s folk art. We’ll even have the option of a respite with massage and facials.

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Send me an email if you are interested in this study tour!

More information coming soon.

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Teotitlan del Valle Weaver Recognized by Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian

Norma’s Note: Weaver Porfirio Gutierrez called to tell me about his recognition from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  He asked if I would share the news. Congratulations to Porfirio and to all the outstanding weavers of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico — many of whom deserve recognition and are unsung cultural heroes. I’m happy to share this with you.


My name is Porfirio Gutiérrez and I am a weaver from Teotitlán del Valle. We follow your blog and refer many friends who want to learn more about Oaxaca. I am writing because I thought you might find my recent award from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to be newsworthy. Once a year candidates for their Artist Leadership Program are selected. I am proud to announce that I have been chosen for 2016. Below is more information about how I became a participant and what this means to our village.

Porfirio on loom #1

Like many people in our village, my family has descended from generations of Zapotec weavers going back as far as anyone can remember. As you know, Teotitlán has been known for its fine weaving since pre-Columbian times. In spite of our long-standing reputation for fine work, the economic downturn and other factors have hurt our livelihood and threaten the existence of our traditional art.

Dying Indigo

In our town, other components of our Zapotec legacy are about to vanish forever. My parents speak Zapoteco, my siblings and I speak Zapoteco and Spanish, but our children speak mostly Spanish. The same pattern is true with our art; my parents spin, dye and weave. My siblings and I have these skills to some degree, but most of us have had to find outside work in other fields to sustain our families.

The youth in our village may never know the all of arts of their ancestors unless they are shown by the remaining masters who are still practicing our ancient techniques. In an effort to sustain our Zapotec art of weaving, I proposed to the NMAI to bring together experts with a group of interested people in our village for a workshop on traditional plant and cochineal dyes.


We are very fortunate that the NMAI wants to support our efforts and is going to help us with a 4-day training program. During this workshop students will see where dye plants grow in the wild, learn how to make them into dyes, and explore color combinations. NMAI will come to Teotitlán to oversee the program and make professional video that will be posted on their website.

The Smithsonian’s NMAI Artist Leadership Program is truly an important step towards sustaining Zapotec culture and our traditional art form. Their video will give a glimpse into life in Oaxaca. Please visit our website for more information.