Tag Archives: Michoacan

Rebozos, Guitars and Masks in Michoacan, Mexico

I’ve been back in Oaxaca for almost two weeks, and my mind is still on Michoacan, the last leg of my September journey, and the rebozos woven there. When I came to Oaxaca years ago, I thought it would be the perfect place from which to explore other parts of Mexico, north and south. And so it is.

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Sharing the Journey to Ahuiran, Paracho, Michoacan

Ahuiran is a small Purepecha village about an hour and a half from Patzcuaro in the Mexican state of Michoacan, high on the Maseta Purepecha (plateau) near Uruapan. It’s a beautiful drive through fertile farmland, green hills, pastures and tree-lined roads. And, it’s safe. For a complete discussion of Purepecha culture and history, click here.

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Ahuiran rebozo concurso: And the winners are …

Ahuiran women are famous for their hand-woven rebozos made on the back strap loom. They wear what they weave. Not many in other parts of Mexico still adorn themselves in traditional traje. Rebozo-making and wearing is a dying art.

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This winner has rayon fringe that looks like peacock feathers.

I joined a group of Patzcuaro women friends to go to a rebozo fair, which was really a concurso, or regional competition to select the best of the best. I could not pass up another chance to see great rebozos. I vowed not to buy another. Hah!

Travel with me to Tenancingo, Estado de Mexico, February 3-11, 2016, for the Mexico Textile and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos & More

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We discovered this competition was more than rebozos. It included wood carving and string instrument making, art forms that are translated to furniture, masks, violins, cellos and guitars.

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The judges came from Morelia and they took their time to make their selections. Patience is the keyword for being in Mexico.

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We arrived around 1:00 p.m. and waited. Milled around. Fingered hand-embroidered blouses. Ogled the rebozos that were brought in by the weavers to display for the competition.

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Watched the passing fashion parade of glittery pleated skirts and flashy fringe. I saw a mask I liked and negotiated a price and bought it long before the judging started. A lovely young man carved it and asked me if I needed a gardner.

I was assured by the lady who embroidered the animal on this blouse (below right) that it was not a dog but a personal spirit protector. Many women were wearing similar blouses that were finely embroidered. Just not my style.

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We looked for lunch. I had my eye on the fish sizzling in oil. (I knew it would be well-cooked.) I walked around the mask table a few more times and did the same to take a closer look at the Paracho instruments. Had an ice cream, and waited some more. In Mexico one learns the virtue of patience quickly.

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The Ahuiran rebozos are different from the ikat technique found in Tenancingo de Degollado in the State of Mexico. Here, they are heavier cotton. The traditional rebozos are black with blue and white pin stripes. Now, the color palette is extensive and can include lots of shiny rayon.

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The viewing stands filled up with villagers and I noticed a very regal, elegant woman with an extraordinary embroidered blue and yellow skirt. This turned out to be Cecilia Bautista, a Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art.

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Cecilia is proud that she was the first weaver to experiment with incorporating real feathers on the fringes. The idea came to her 22 years ago when she learned about feather work done in pre-Hispanic times by her people, the Purepecha (or Tarascans, as the Spanish called them).

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Cecilia’s family of musicians came to entertain the crowd by playing traditional songs on their string instruments, all hand-made. Women came forward to dance, including Cecilia. These are worthy of a major symphony orchestra performance.

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At 4:00 p.m. the judges were ready to announce the rebozo winners. How did they choose? Density and intricacy of the textile weave. How it draped when they put it on. The soft, silkiness of the fabric. Whether it had a straight edge. The length and technical elaboration of the punta (fringe).  There was a special category for puntas that included feathers, too!

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And the mask I bought got the first place prize in the category!

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There were six gringas who came from Patzcuaro for this event. Three of us left with a rebozo, priced between 1,500 and 3,000 pesos.

Best61_AhuiranMorelia-45Best61_AhuiranMorelia-48This was a festival day in Ahuiran. There were carnival rides, a special market, lots of vendors, cotton candy and barbecue. All the women came out in their best rebozos. The wives of the village leaders were totally decked out, complete with jumbo hair ribbons and the sparkliest skirts. The more confetti the merrier.

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We returned along the same route we arrived on, with volcano peaks on the horizon, men stooping over fields planted with potatoes, Purepecha villages with still a few of the original pre-Hispanic style wood homes called trojes (built without nails) still standing. It was a glorious day. Along the roadside, a spray of wildflowers, mostly cosmos, were coming into their color, necks stretching to the sun, heads waving in the breeze.

Here in Oaxaca, nights have turned chilly. Days are mild and sunny with a light breeze. We celebrate the Virgin of Rosario with bands, parades and dances. At this moment the firecrackers are booming. Soon, it will be time for loved ones to return during Dia de los Muertos. The cempazuchitl is in bloom. All is well in my world and I hope the same for yours.

 

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?

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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!

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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.

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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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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.

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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

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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.

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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!