After five days around Oaxaca city and into the rural Tlacolula Valley, our group of 13 people boarded the Little Airplane That Could — the 13-passenger AeroTucan, for a 35-minute flight to Puerto Escondido.
Over the next five days we would immerse ourselves in the the bio- and cultural diversity of Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast.
There we would meet meet a mango grower and an organic peanut butter cooperative, participate in an baby sea turtle release of endangered Ridley hatchlings, swim in the bioluminescent Laguna Manialtepec, explore the delicate ecosystem that supports mangrove trees (worldwide mangroves contribute to 30% of the earth’s oxygen), climb seacoast rocks in search of rare murex snails that give up purple shell dye, understand propagation and cultivation of native pre-Hispanic brown, green and cream-colored cotton, delve into genetics and plant hybridization of corn, coconut, and beans at a federal research institute.
A highlight of this part of the study abroad experience was the day we spent in Tututepec, the ancient Mixtec capitol, in the mountains overlooking the ocean. From this vantage point, 8-Deer Jaguar Claw, the most famous and powerful Mixtec warrior, ruled a vast territory before the Spanish conquest.
After visiting the archeological museum and murals at the cultural center, we went to the home of 27-year-old weaver Luis Adan, who is rescuing the traditions of his people. Luis Adan is researching and reproducing ancient textile patterns using traditional back-strap loom weaving techniques, and native cotton that he grows, cards and spins by hand.
Luis Adan traveled two hours by bus to Puerto Escondido to take us along the rocky coastline searching the crevices for the allusive caracol purpura. Sustainability, we learn, comes in many forms. Luis Adan milks the snail to extract the purple color, applying the liquid directly to skeins of hand-spun cotton or silk. The snail is then return to the rocks, alive, to regenerate. The purple color is woven as as accent color into local cloth, rare and costly.
At the Mango Orchard: most of the mangoes grown along the hot, humid coast of Oaxaca are organic. Farmers use no insecticides and apply a bio-fertilizer mix of molasses and rice flour. Water from wells is pumped using a microaspersian watering system. Along the coast, farmers plant mango, papaya, peanuts and sesame. Whatever they grow depends on market demand.
Growing papaya takes more of an investment because it requires pesticides. Small scale farmers can’t afford organic certification because it takes four years to get a field certified as organic. Farmer Gil told us he pays field workers 200-300 pesos a day when the Mexican minimum way is 100 pesos a day; he has a hard time finding labor.
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