On Monday night, while the crowd of 11,000 was in the Auditorio Guelaguetza enjoying the main event, I joined friends Winn and Jacki in Santa Maria del Tule for their First Guelaguetza. There are other villages around Oaxaca, too, that produce smaller-scale guelaguetzas for a fraction of the cost, more accessible and affordable to a wider audience. Yesterday I posted still photos. Today, I’ll continue with video. I hope you can go next year. Definitely GREAT.
Here is the couple from the Mixtec region of Oaxaca
Access to the BIG Guelaguetza under the big top on the Cerro del Fortin of Oaxaca, Mexico, is limited to those who can a) afford to buy a ticket at 1,121 pesos and 908 pesos each plus Ticketmaster fees, and b) those who can stand in line overnight for the limited number of upper deck seats offered for free. It’s a sell-out crowd to 11,000 people every year.
Delegation from Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec give tepache drink gift to crowd
For the past several years, villages around Oaxaca have been offering what I call mini-Guelaguetzas, alternative, smaller versions of the extravaganza that are playing to local audiences who can afford a more modest ticket price. The venues are small, intimate and you can see everything. This makes the experience affordable and accessible.
Las Chinas Oaxaqueñas alway delight the audience
This year, friends and I decided to go to Santa Maria del Tule, famous for the giant 3,000-year old cedar tree. They were hosting their first year Guelaguetza with one performance on the Mondays that the big event took place on the Cerro del Fortin. We went on July 30, the second Monday, and it was just perfect. We even got a parking space on-site next to the stadium.
Cat and mouse courting game played out in dance by Ejutla de Crespo troupe
I bought tickets for 200 pesos each in advance at the municipal building in Santa Maria del Tule. One could also buy them online for a small service fee.
Group from Oaxaca Central Valleys danced with live turkeys
Every seat in the Monumental del Tule, the town’s 3,500 seat outdoor stadium, offered a great view of the circular stage. This is an open-air amphi-theatre, so there is no protection from the weather.
Gifts, usually fresh fruit, were tossed from the stage. We snagged a pomegranate.
Ojala! The 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. performance was held between thunderstorms but there was no escaping the rain which came in droplets and downpours. No one seemed to mind because it’s been so dry here. It hasn’t rained in a month. We knew the farmers needed this for their crops.
La Danza de la Piña Papoalapan and Tlahui women huddled under rain clouds
So, we either covered ourselves in plastic sheeting or pulled out parkas and umbrellas. The show must go on. And it did!
Gosh, that rain really poured but we didn’t budge
So many visitors to and many foreign residents of Oaxaca think that the meaning of Guelaguetza is this performance event, plus all the activities that are held concurrently: the Mole Festival, the Feria de Mezcal, the promenade of artisan vendors on the walking street Macedonio Alcala, and the spectacular calendas or parades.
Masked hombre from the Costa Chica reveals himself
Meaning of Guelaguetza
Guelaguetza is an ancient Zapotec community practice that ensures continuity through mutual support. The giving and receiving of gifts and service is a way to equalize relationships and make sure that everyone is cared for via intertwining relationships. Everyone takes their turn to give and receive. It is part of creating mutual respect. As such, no one goes hungry. There is always corn, bread, chocolate and mezcal to share. There is always help when needed. Sharing is embedded in community as a way of life.
Most of the dances are choreographed to depict village life, courting practices and the wedding ceremony. In pre-Hispanic times, these dances were employed to signal commitment and betrothal in the community before there were churches and Catholic priests to do European rituals.
Man carries the baule, wedding chest, while others bring wedding gifts
Each region has different customs. There are 16 different language groups in Oaxaca and many dialect variations. People marry who can understand each other linguistically.
Tehuanas from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec display heavily embroidered traje
In the Mixtec region, the language is Mixteco. In the Mixe region, that’s what they speak. In the mountains between Oaxaca and the coast, some speak Chatino. The Zapotecs of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec have very few words in common with the Zapotecs of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.
Tehuanas weather the storm. By this time, they are soaking wet, as are we.
True Confession: We couldn’t tough it out to stay for the Danza de la Piña. The show producers removed the pineapples from the stage. It was 7:30 p.m. and we had arrived at 3:30 p.m. Time to eat. Off we went to Restaurant La Superior where we had a fine supper of tasajo (grilled beef) and barbacoa (goat).
How could each Lila Downs Concert be better then those that came before? The Best Ever is what I heard people say who have gone to many in the past. I don’t know, but Lila Downs knows how to dazzle a crowd.
Grammy Award Winner Lila Downs
The Guelaguetza Stadium on the Cerro Fortin in Oaxaca city was full on Friday night, July 27. We got there early to be sure to beat the crowds and that gave us a chance to settle into our seats and audience oggle.
Our diverse group from Israel, South Africa, Italy, Mexico and USA
Love this tapete — handwoven sarape
I was lucky enough to be invited to join a group of friends at the last moment. They had an extra ticket and offered it to me. Thank you, Patrice and Neal! Seems that to snag a primo seat means standing in line all night and someone they know did that for them. I was happy to pay the premium.
Lila loves wearing indigenous dress (traje) from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec!
Beribboned and twirling figures with hand-woven hats
I had some serious doubts about whether my shout out for tickets would yield results. I was not successful finding online tickets via Ticketmaster. Nothing materialized and I gave up … until a few days before!
Whirling dervish cowboy dancer devils
We were in the third row, far left of center, behind the mixing station staff. Not great for photos, but a fabulous spot for listening and watching Lila’s husband Paul Cohen on his badass sax. Even Lila made her way over on occasion. I did my best to get photos, but the strobes and movement of dancers made the conditions very challenging.
Little girl Flor de Piña dancers
In the row behind me, he sang every word along with her
I think what was fantastic about this concert is that Lila brought us her incredible traditional play list, the oldies but goodies. Everyone around us sang along. AND, the performance was built around the dancing and costuming of the annual Guelaguetza event held on the last two Mondays in July at the same venue.
Tlacolula de Matamoros Delegation
Benito Juarez, iconic Zapotec president of the Republic: respect human rights
With Lila’s singing mastery, great musicians and representative delegations invited from Tlacolula de Matamoros from the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca, Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec from the Sierra Mixe, Juchitan women from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, girls from the Papaloapan region of Oaxaca near Veracruz giving us the Pineapple Dance, and groups that are masked, twirling and whirling, the show couldn’t have been better.
La Bandera, the Mexican Flag, iconic and powerful revolutionary image
Lila Downs and Paul Cohen have a strong commitment to social justice issues in Oaxaca and Mexico. Her songs tell the struggle of poverty, lack of education and health care, discrimination, disenfranchisement, pain and tears, hopes and dreams. Together, they have been a powerful voice for human rights.
Lila sings La Llorona and the audience goes crazy
Artist woodcut projected as stage backdrop to band
The dynamic visual backdrop to the stage were photos and video of migrant farm workers, artist woodcuts of peasant life, the work of artisans and craftspeople, marching soldiers with bayonet rifles, heroic President of Independence Benito Juarez, a Zapotec from Oaxaca.
Sax and trumpet with lots of marimba band back up
Saxaphonist Paul Cohen takes a break to enjoy the Flor de Piña dancers
The fun was mixed with the message that we cannot be complacent about politics and world events. Half the seats in the audience were available to adoring fans for free.
Just a forty minute drive into the mountains from the Tlacolula de Matamoros crossroads at MEX 190–Panamerican Highway — is the village of San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. It is one of several known as the Pueblos Mancomunados for eco-tourism. A Zip-Line crosses the village and mountain bikes are everywhere.
A basket of wild mushrooms. Yummy.
Each year during Guelaguetza time they host a two-day, Saturday and Sunday wild mushroom fair. It is much more than that: it is a natural food lovers paradise. I went on Sunday when Oaxaca city was filled with 150,000 tourists and all the attendant frenzy and the Tlacolula market nearly impossible to navigate.
Avocados and pomegrantes. Five pesos each.
Not only are the temperatures at least ten degrees cooler at 10,400 feet altitude. What is very cool is the showcase of all the organic foods produced in the region as well as mushrooms.
And a box of dried mushrooms to keep longer
Gathered around the municipal building courtyard, small local growers are selling apples, potatoes, peaches, avocados, fava beans, onions, artisanal chocolate, mushroom cultivation starters and preserves. The fruit is always small, pocked and insecticide-free. Not giant perfection as we know in the USA.
At the entrance on a perfect day, fresh air, clear skies
At this moment, you might ask: What’s the difference between the Spanish words Hongos, Setas, and Champiñones. Hongos are referred to as FUNGI. Setas are called MUSHROOMS. Champiñones are cultivated, commercial mushrooms. Around these parts, the Hongos are always the wild variety. But of course, the locals can tell the difference and name each variety. For example, the yellow ones with the red tops are called amanitas. Delicious sauteed in olive oil and butter.
Ceramics from the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca
They grow flowers here as well as succulents, so there are wheelbarrows filled with plants potted in recycled plastic bottles and yogurt containers. There are artisans from surrounding villages who also make an appearance: potters, weavers and embroiderers.
Homegrown succulents in hanging Clorox pots
Escabeche=onions, carrots, green beans, chiles in vinegar, $3 USD
Along the periphery of the municipal building, small puestos are set up that are equipped with wood-fired stoves and comals. Local cooks prepare everything with the wild mushrooms — tacos, empanadas, mole, pozole. It’s like a progressive dinner where you go from one kitchen to another to taste the specialty of the house.
Chiles rellenos — stuffed with wild pink mushrooms
Mushroom tacos with mole amarillo — our lunch
There were perhaps a handful of hueros (those with pale skin). Most visitors were locals from Oaxaca who know that this is where you come to get the most delicious fungi around. It’s the rainy season, but there has been no rain. The vendors from Cuajimoloyas brought the wild mushrooms in from Llano Grande, farther up the mountain where cloud cover ensures the proper humidity.
Viviana Lucia Martinez Zaragoza.
Local pears and apples
On our way out of town, I spotted a pile of beautiful mushrooms perched in the doorway of a comedor. I said to Laurita, let’s stop! Inside we found eighty-year-old owner Viviana Lucia Martinez Zaragoza, who Chef Susanna Trilling says runs the best kitchen in town. I bought more mushrooms. She invited us back for a trout lunch.
The biggest mushroom ever at Sra. Viviana’s comedor
I ate it so fast I almost forgot to take a photo — mushroom quiche
We decided to take the dirt road back from Cuijimoloyas to Teotitlan del Valle that goes through the mountain town of Benito Juarez where there are more cabins and is favorite eco-tourism spot. It was like a ribbon winding through pine stands, sheer cliffs and skirting deep forested valleys. It was not a short-cut, but offered gorgeous views of the Tlacolula Valley.
Plenty of dried fruit and mushrooms for sale, too
Hand-made chocolate from neighboring Papaloapan roasted cacao
The trip back took about an hour. We knew we were close when we saw the village reservoir in the distance. Then, a familiar car was approaching. My taxista Abraham Flores was going up the mountain taking a family home from the Tlacolula Market. This is a small world, though vast in what it provides.
And the band plays on — always a village centerpiece
Grow your own mushrooms, if you wish
A machine-stitched top from Tlahuitoltepec. Nope. Didn’t buy it.
Two days after I returned to Teotitlan del Valle and my home here, I wrote about the skin and bones campo dog that Janie started feeding and named Beezween, which is Zapotec for deer. Beezie leaps like one with his long legs, so it was fitting. I posted Facebook pictures of a dog who looked close to death. I thought, OMG, what am I going to do with FOUR dogs, and I put out the call for a rescue. Beezie needs a home.
Beezie taking a snoozle.
What I got were several generous donations from friends in the US, Canada and Germany to help sustain him until we could figure out a resolution. Thank you to Linda Mansour, Kate Rayner, Judith Grossmann, Barbara Szombatfalvy, Susie Robison, Donna Davis and Karen Nein.
Bottom to top: Beezie, Tia, Butch. Mamacita is missing.
Janie wanted to bring him back with her to North Carolina when she leaves next week. She fell in love! Beezie responded to her by sitting, laying and rolling over. It was a heartfelt bonding.
Janie teaching Beezie to lay down
Meanwhile, I started making buckets of chicken soup and got big bones from the local butcher. Meals were supplemented with chicken livers and gizzards. My three loved the extra treatment and Beezie started to gain weight.
Healthier Beezie after three weeks of care and feeding
After a ton of research and many phone calls, Janie found that the least cost to transport Beezie to the US via private courier (the airlines are no longer taking responsibility for transporting animals) was out of reach — over $1,500 to start.
Beezie in distress, June 29, 2018
Way back in the beginning of my return and in a panic, I found Rebecca Durden Raab who started a not-for-profit dog rescue organization years ago in San Pablo Etla called Friends of Megan. I contacted her and got the name of the vet, Luciano, who has worked with her for over twelve years. They offer a shelter and dog placement service, including spay/neuter and healthcare. Janie followed up.
Dr. Luciano, the vet from Friends of Megan, with an outstretched hand
Yesterday, Beezie happily (and miraculously) submitted to collar and leash without a fuss. Janie led him down the drive to Omar’s waiting car and they set out for San Pablo Etla and new beginnings. We both cried but knew he would be in good hands.
Beezie sat in Janie’s lap for the entire road trip to Etla
Janie applied for and won a textile residency at Meredith College in Raleigh that starts in September, based much on the volunteer work she did with Galeria Fe y Lola here in the village during the time she house sat and cared for the dogs. She would have had her hands full with a campo dog trying to adjust to city life!
Merry’s website is defunct, so if you want to donate, you can send PayPal funds to me using Friends and Family at email@example.com and I’ll make sure it gets to her.
The donations to Friends of Megan are tax-deductible in the USA.
My prayer is that no other starving dogs show up at my front gate! Three is enough and it’s too hard turning a distressed animal away. There are so many here!
Thanks to everyone for following the journey.
This is not tourist life in Oaxaca. It’s the underbelly of what happens day-to-day, much the same as in other “civilized” countries where animals are mistreated, cut loose to fend for themselves. The overpopulation of dogs here is rampant. I wish I didn’t have to write this story. I’m certain not all stories, those we don’t hear about, end up like this one.
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