Tag Archives: Oaxaca

Veracruz, Gateway to La Chinantla, Oaxaca

Just as Veracruz was the gateway into Mexico for Hernan Cortes in 1519, I begin my journey here to explore remote textile villages that are part of the Chinanteco and Mazateco regions of Oaxaca state called La Chinantla.

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We start at Veracruz because it is a short two hours by car to cross over the border to Tuxtepec. From Oaxaca city, this trip can take as much as eight hours over winding, two-lane mountain roads of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte.

Cortes landed in Veracruz on Good Friday and name the place The True Cross.

I am traveling with Stephanie Schneiderman of Tia Stephanie Tours. She made this trip on her own three times to research the villages and put the tour in place before opening it up in 2013 to textile lovers and collectors.

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This is the land of fresh fish, seafood stew, a paella-like dish called arroz a la tumbada and ceviche. It is where women have been weaving on back-strap looms and creating glorious embroidered designs for centuries. They are preserved because the region is remote. The conquistadors were more interested in gold, silver and cochineal.

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It’s the end of the rainy season. From the airplane window as we descend into Veracruz, I see the rivers below are full. The earth is forest, spring, olive and lime green. It is the middle of October. I see the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the distance. It is low, flat and warm here. The port city is Mexico’s most important shipping and naval center.

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Our Gran Hotel Diligencias is on the Zocalo across from a stark white cathedral. The square is filled with outdoor restaurants,  son jarocho music and dancers, and late night lechero coffee drinkers. It’s colonial architecture reflects the sequence of conquests: Spain, France and the United States of America.

I will be here for two days before our textile journey begins.

Another Tlacolula Market Sunday, Fiesta of Our Lady of the Rosary

The festival of Our Lady of the Rosary — Fiesta de la Virgen del Rosario — is a big deal in Tlacolula de Matamoros, the county seat for the Tlacolula valley part of the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca.To give you a sense of it, I’ve changed the blog header once again.

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Last Sunday huge crowds gathered under a huge tent for a noon mass in the church courtyard. The sanctuary isn’t large enough to contain everyone who gathered here from the surrounding villages.

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Sunday market day in Tlacolula is always a treat and a special day to meet up with family members and friends, and to buy supplies. This Sunday feast day was even more so.

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The streets were impassable because they had been set up with carnival rides, sideshows and a midway filled with carnival games. It was a juxtaposition to see women in traditional indigenous dress walking alongside bumper cars and pitch ball games.

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What caught my attention was the big top tent right beside the church dome on the skyline.

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We could tell this day was special. Women wore their most glittery rhinestone jewelry. Their blouses, skirts and aprons were embellished with sequins.

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Families strolled with ice cream cones filled with Leche Quemada and topped with frozen Tuna nieves. That is NOT fish, folks! Children everywhere love cotton candy and Oaxaca is no exception.

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Men come to shop for things like cane and iron tools. Women shop for scarves, shawls, aprons and food.

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Sheri and I met up at the rebozo section where she was on a quest. These shawls are ikat dyed and woven with either cotton or artecel, a silky natural fiber that is a recent substitute for more costly silk.

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The ikat shawl is a utilitarian part of the local costume used to wrap babies, groceries, wipe perspiration and shade the head from the sun. We often see women who wrap it turban-style and then perch a basket on top, child in in one hand, a satchel in the other.

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What never ceases to fascinate me are the handwoven, tassled belts that hold up heavy wool loomed skirts, and braids tied with colorful ribbon.

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After lunch at Comedor Mary, including some of the best Mole Coloradito in the world accompanied by a shared cold Victoria beer, we headed down the main thoroughfare on foot to fill our shopping cart with fresh papaya, mandarin oranges, limes and avocados to take home.

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By now, it was late afternoon and time to go home. Sara and Woofy joined us later on the rooftop terrace as we sampled the San Juan del Rio mezcal I had bought the day before, accompanied by a fine sunset to close the day.

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Tlacolula Sunday Market Low-down:

  1. I like to get there early by ten-thirty or eleven in the morning to avoid the crush of people and get deep into the market without elbowing my way through.
  2. If I eat lunch at one-thirty or two in the afternoon, this is earlier than the traditional Sunday comida, so I usually always can get a seat and a good selection of menu items at Comedor Mary.
  3. There’s always a line at the Banamex ATM (located near the pharmacy, the ice cream lane, and across from the church). Be prepared to wait a long time!
  4. If you have a car, park in the lot across from the Pemex on the main street for twenty pesos. This is where the buses from Teotitlan del Valle and San Miguel del Valle go in and out.
  5. Prices drop at the end of the day, by four in the afternoon, when people want to pack up and go home.
  6. Best Finds: embroidered aprons, hand-woven shawls, woven bamboo baskets, red clay pottery from San Marcos Tlapazola, handmade wood toys, painted gourds from Guerrero

Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30, 2015

 

San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca: Mezcal on the Mountain

We didn’t start out planning a trip to San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca. It just happened as we moved into the day. Friend Sheri Brautigam, textile designer, collector and Living Textiles of Mexico blogger, is visiting me. After a roundabout through the Teotitlan del Valle morning market, we headed out to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to visit master flying shuttle loom weaver Arturo Hernandez.

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Don Arturo creates fine ikat wool shawls and scarves colored with natural dyes, including cochineal, indigo, wild marigold and zapote negro (wild black persimmon).  Sheri knew him from the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market where he exhibited in summer 2014.  I’ve known him for years through my friend Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. So, of course, we couldn’t help ourselves and new rebozos made it into our collections.

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It was only eleven in the morning. I asked Don Arturo if he knew the village of San Juan del Rio, where some of Oaxaca’s finest mezcal is produced and sold under private label. He said, Yes, it’s only about forty-five minutes from here.

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I looked at Sheri, she looked at me. We said, Let’s go. I invited Don Arturo to come with us and he said Yes, once more. A native Zapotec speaker, we were lucky to have him with us. He helped find our way!

About Mezcal: The agave piña or pineapple is dug up out of the ground at maturity (seven to twelves years of field growth) and taken to the distillery, where it is roasted over a wood fired, rock-lined pit.  That’s what gives it a smokey flavor. It’s then crushed to yield the liquid that becomes mezcal. Good mezcal goes through two distillations.

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Years ago, Sheri  worked with a seamstress embroiderer Alma Teresa who lives in San Juan del Rio. Sheri designs gorgeous quechquemitls and Teresa crochets the pieces together. To reconnect with her was another reason to go.  Notice Teresa’s blouse and jacket, with the elaborate crochet trim. Seems like some of the most fun days in Oaxaca start with no particular plan.

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We headed out toward Hierve del Agua but made a left turn onto a winding road that soon became unpaved dirt, rough from recent rains. It took a good hour plus to get there from Mitla.  The road ends at the picturesque village, tucked away in a river valley. Houses are built on hillsides.  Other hillsides are terraced with mezcal palenques and maize crops. The stills are at river level.  They use the water to cool the distillation process. This is not yet a tourist destination.

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This village is known for small production, artesenal mezcal. I was on a hunt for reposado. What I found was an extraordinary reposado at a third the price of what I usually pay in Oaxaca city, plus a wild agave (silvestre) mezcal called Tepeztate from a mezcalero who is akin to a winemaker. He produces mezcal that he sells to some of the top hand-crafted brands.

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Sheri got a taste of just distilled mezcal, warm and just out of the still. At eighty-percent alcohol her engine was roaring after just a sip.  I inhaled and almost fell over. Don Arturo joined us. Being the designated driver, I had to be more careful. The whole thing reminded me of North Carolina moonshine, but the resulting product here is so much more refined it’s not even comparable.

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There are now so many varieties of mezcal, depending on the type of agave used and whether the mezcal is aged and for how long. Añejo can be aged as long as twelve years in oak which takes on characteristics of the wood. Wild agave has a distinctive herbal flavor and aroma. You need to taste to see which you prefer.

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This is a full day trip. We could have stayed longer and visited more mezcaleros. But I think we came home with some of the best produced in the village at a fraction of the retail price. If you go, bring your own liter size glass bottles with tight lids. Some bring gallon jugs to fill up. Plan to leave Oaxaca by nine in the morning. You’ll return around seven at night. Don’t go in the rainy season! You will slide all over the road!

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Who to visit?

  1. Redondo de San Juan del Rio, Rodolfo Juan Juarez, mezcalero. Tel. (951) 546 5260. Reposado and Tepeztate
  2. Perla del Rio Mezcal, Ignacio Juan Antonio, mezcalero, Tel. (951) 546 5056. Espadin joven.
  3. Alma Teresa’s clothing cooperative, a block from the church. She is sending two daughters to university in Oaxaca. Her husband went to the U.S. to work years ago and never came back.

 

 

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You can buy a road map of Oaxaca state at the Proveedora, corner Reforma and Independencia, in the Centro Historico. Comes in handy for exploring and having an aventura, like we did.

Coming Up: Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop, Starts Jan. 30, 2015

Mystery of Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico

Procession, Dia de los Muertos

Procession, Dia de los Muertos

You may have noticed that I changed the blog banner to a night-time Oaxaca, Mexico, Day of the Dead cemetery scene. Rituals are ancient, family-centered and mystical. Dia de los Muertos will start at the end of October and continue through November 3 this year.  In Teotitlan del Valle, the traditional November 2 cemetery ritual moves to Monday, November 3, because November 2 falls on Sunday.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

September brings rain. It has always been this way. (The ancients did not worry about global warming.) The circle of life is complete and comes around once again. The rains bring the October profusion of wild marigold blooming throughout the countryside, coming just in time as Mother Earth’s gift to decorate altars and grave sites to honor deceased loved ones.

Copal incense burners

Copal incense burners

Muertos is coming. The season is changing. This week, the night air turned chilly and I wrap myself in a handwoven wool rebozo.  Hot chamomile tea is on the stove. The corn has tassled and is ready to harvest.  There is a full moon and the evening sky sparkles. Days are still warm, but the afternoon winds bring with them a whisper of winter.

Xoxocotlan Ancient Cemetery

Xoxocotlan Ancient Cemetery

In the next few weeks, our Oaxaca snowbirds will return. Visitors will arrive to experience the wonder and mystery of Muertos, and bring with them much needed tourism dollars that artisans depend upon.

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

In the central valley of Oaxaca, we will light copal incense, gather marigold flowers, decorate homes and reflect on the meaning of life and death, memory and relationships. The scent of the copal and marigolds help guide the dead from and back to their graves.

Sueño de Elpis-Muertos Marigold Art Installation

Sueño de Elpis-Muertos Marigold Art Installation

Portrait Photography Workshop Starts at the end of January. Taking Registrations!

 

 

 

A Prayer for Guadalupe

Many women in Mexico are named Guadalupe in honor of the Virgin, Our Lady of Guadalupe, who many say was Aztec high-priestess Tonantzin and Earth Mother, adapted to the religious needs of New Spain.

Our Guadalupe is a woman in her early forties with thick, luscious long black hair that hangs down to her waist. Most of the time she wears it braided with ribbon in the local Zapotec style. Lupe is a widow and mother of three boys. Her youngest is age eight. She has aspirations for all her children to go to and complete university.

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Lupe was just diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery to remove the tumor. Depending on biopsy results, the follow-up treatment will be either chemotherapy or radiation. We are waiting to hear.  As I write this, I am waiting for flights that will take me back to Mexico today. As soon as I get to Oaxaca, I will be able to find out more.

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The cost of the surgeon is 18,000 pesos. That’s about $1,350 USD, a substantial out-of-pocket amount for a weaver who is always working to make ends meet anyway. Then, there will be the cost of treatment. We anticipate that Lupe will not be able to work for a while, so there mayl not be enough to buy food or pay for school tuition and books.

Friends of Guadalupe:

Make Your Gift for Breast Cancer Treatment

Click the PayPal button above to make your gift. It will be deposited into my Oaxaca Cultural Navigator PayPal account and I will convert it to pesos and give your gift to Lupe.  If you want to send along messages or prayers for healing, please include this.  If you just wish to send money from your account to mine, my PayPal account is oaxacaculture@me.com

Breast cancer does not discriminate and affects women of all ages, at all economic levels and in countries throughout the world. I am certain there are many stories like this one.

Lupe-2Several Oaxaca expat women have pledged to help Lupe with her expenses. If many more of us come together to offer a small gift, we can make a big difference for Lupe and her family and share the cost of her treatment and recovery. Will you join us?

Lupe says she wants to pay back what is given to her by weaving rugs and cleaning houses. We think that’s too much to ask for a friend recovering from this diagnosis and treatment.  We believe she needs to concentrate on taking care of herself.

Let us join together to do a small part to repair the world. Thank you, And, can I add your name to the Friends list?

Norma Hawthorne

Friends of Guadalupe

For a complete list of donors, click on the link above!