My North Carolina friends just left the village after spending a week with me celebrating a belated birthday. It was a bash! Mucho mezcal. Mucha fiesta. Mucha comida. Lots of travel to villages to visit favorite artisans.
We spent a morning with antiquarian Adrian Montaño in Teotitlan del Valle. I met Adrian a couple of months ago when I was visiting with friends Christophe and Rogelio who operate Maison Gallot. But, I had seen him around town, in the market, always impeccably dressed, a woven straw hat topping off the costume.
Adrian lives in a part adobe, part brick and part concrete house tucked into the hillside above the village. He has a wonderful view. He has one very ancient loom. His house is adorned in antiquities and a beautiful altar. He has been weaving since he was a boy. He is now age 75 and still productive.
In the 1960’s, missionaries came to town and began a program of conversion, translating oral Zapotec into English. (Many still do, and call themselves linguists.) They befriended Adrian, who decided that rather than convert, he would learn English from them.
His language skills are impeccable and he speaks Zapotec, his first language, Spanish and English flawlessly. He says it is important for young people to keep the language traditions alive. To earn a living, he teaches Zapotec and English to village youth, and weaves ponchos.
His hidden treasures are a stash of vintage textiles that he wove himself, mostly when he was in his twenties, and those he has collected over the years. We were treated to a Show and Tell. I am sharing the photos of these beauties here.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, most of the textiles woven were bed blankets. They were natural sheep wool or were synthetic dyes most common to the era — red, green and black. Motifs were animals, birds and symbols of Mexican nationalism. Few remain in pristine condition. Storage is a problem and moths love the dark “chocolate” richness of natural wool.
Back then, the looms were narrower and to make a bigger tapestry, the weavers needed to create two exact pieces and then sew them together down the middle. Each side needed to match up! Only the masters could achieve this. These became either blankets or ponchos/serapes.
It was not until the early 1970’s that blankets then became adapted to become floor rugs. This happened when young travelers came to Oaxaca from the USA, saw the beautiful weavings produced in Teotitlan del Valle, understood the beginning craze of Santa Fe Style and worked with weavers to create sturdier floor tapestries.
Many back then brought Navajo designs with them and contracted with weavers to reproduce Native American designs that were then sold throughout the Southwest. Thus, began the rug-weaving boom in the village where I live.
Today, there is a return to natural dyes and to the traditional Zapotec designs that are found on the stone walls of the Mitla Archeological Site. Moreover, young weavers are developing their own style, taking traditional elements and making them more contemporary, innovating to meet a changing marketplace.
Adrian Montaño has a reverence for his roots. He openly shared his collection with us. Many of the weavings had moth holes. Some were pristine. He tells me that those washed with amole, the traditional natural root used for soap, will prevent moths from nesting. But few people use amole these days.
I love Adrian’s ponchos. They are short-cropped and come to the waist. They are designed using the Greca (Greek-key) pattern so named by a European archeologist who explored Mitla.
If you want to visit Adrian and purchase a poncho, please give him a call. (951) 166-6296. Only go with the intention of supporting him by purchasing what he makes.
Love Oaxaca? Love artisan makers? Mark you calendar for this Friday and Saturday, February 14 and 15 in downtown Oaxaca, Mexico. Two big expoventas feature some of Oaxaca’s top artisans. English and Spanish spoken. Debit and credit cards accepted.
We have curated this POP-UP, one-morning-only EXPOventa with the Best of the Best textile artisans we know plus ONE GREAT filigree silversmith who is usually hidden away in his studio in the LaNoria neighborhood of downtown Oaxaca. Please share. Tell your friends. Don’t miss it! Cash sales.
We are winding up our whirlwind Oaxaca City and Villages Folk Art Tour and scheduled this EXPOventa for our travelers. Eric and I want to open it up to the public to give these deserving artisans a chance to show off what they make. Meet the makers. Support the artisans directly. All proceeds go directly to them!
Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour 2020 began with a deep dive into the ecology of the region. We left Puerto Escondido in late afternoon for a hour ride north to the Manialtepec Lagoon. We are in the tropics, hot, sultry and a perfect place to escape winter.
It is magical here, where sea and fresh water mix with spring water to create a brackish environment where bioluminescence is created by algae. The phenomenon can be best seen on a moonless night.
This is a haven for nesting birds and a ride through the fingers of the lagoon reveals colonies of birds waiting to feed just before sunset. The banks of the lagoon host mangroves that have been here for centuries. It is a source of food for indigenous people, a host for sea bass, striped mullet and mojarra.
Along the shores that remind me of bayous and swamps of the American south, we see cormorants, woodpeckers, parakeets, hawks, ducks, heron, egret, orioles and more. Our eco-tour guide is knowledgeable and can spot birds from afar with razor precision. He points to a Peregrine Falcon high in a tree. We don’t see any crocodiles!
This is also where protected sea turtles come to shore along the beach to lay their eggs. We participate in an endangered Ridley sea turtle release, scooping the littles one out of their nesting hole with small jicara bowls, never touching the turtles with our hands. There is a line in the sand where we release them, and watch as they scramble from beach to ocean.
The turtles use their built-in radar to guide them to their habitat. We learn that only about ten percent will survive to adulthood.
After the sea turtle release, we take our seats around a dining table set up on the beach where we enjoy fresh grilled tuna prepared by a local cook. As we eat, the sun sets to the west, giving us another memorable experience.
By now it is dark. We climb back into the boat and travel the waterways back to the main lagoon. Our captain, who grew up on these shores, uses a strobe light to guide us, but I suspect he knows this water like a second skin and has navigated it since he was a child.
He finds just the right spot for us to jump into the warm water from the boat. This is one part of the experience that I love. Move the water with your arms and feet. Watch the droplets sparkle and glow in the dark. (A regular camera cannot capture the image of this phenomenon and so I remember with an impression imprinted in my memory.)
Our goal here is to understand the rich diversity of the Oaxaca coast. To see how indigenous people depend on their natural resources for sustenance. To explore the environment and protect the delicate balance that exists between human and wildlife. And, to enjoy ourselves!
This gives us a footing for exploring textile villages and meeting artisans in the coming days. It is also time to relax and ease into coastal life after the intensity of travel to get here.
This entire study tour is focused on exploring the textiles of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. You arrive to and leave from Puerto Escondido, connecting through Mexico City or Oaxaca.
We go deep, and not wide. We give you an intimate, connecting experience. We spend time to know the culture. You will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy local cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, and travel to remote villages you may not go to on your own. This study tour focuses on revival of ancient textile techniques and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture that encompasses the use of natural dyes, back-strap loom weaving, drop spindle hand spinning, and glorious, pre-Hispanic native cotton.
Villages along the coast and neighboring mountains were able to preserve their traditional weaving culture because of their isolation. Stunning cotton is spun and woven into lengths of cloth connected with intricate needlework to form amazing garments.
We have invited a noted cultural anthropologist to travel with us. She has worked in the region for the past fifteen years and knows the textile culture and people intimately. We learn about and discuss motifs, lifestyle, endangered species, quality and value of direct support.
What we do:
We visit 7 weaving villages in Oaxaca and Guerrero
We meet back-strap loom weavers, natural dyers, spinners
We see, touch, smell native Oaxaca cotton — brown, green, natural
We participate in a sea turtle release with sunset dinner on the beach
We swim in a rare bioluminescence lagoon
We visit three local markets to experience daily life
We travel to remote regions to discover amazing cloth
choice of colors and fibers that show each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume
the work of women in pre-Hispanic Mexico and today
2020 Itinerary — Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour
Saturday, January 16: Fly to Puerto Escondido—overnight in Puerto Escondido, Group Welcome Dinner at 7 p.m. (D)
Sunday, January 17: Puerto Escondido market meander, lunch and afternoon on your own. Late afternoon departure for turtle release and Manialtepec bioluminescence lagoon. (B)
Monday, January 18: Depart after breakfast for Tututepec to visit a young weaver who is reviving his village’s textile traditions, visit local museum and murals — overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
Tuesday, January 19: After breakfast, we go on to the weaving village of San Juan Colorado to visit two women’s cooperatives working in natural dyes, hand-spinning, and back strap loom weaving. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
Wednesday, January 20: After breakfast, we return to the mountain with a first stop at the Pinotepa de Don Luis market. Then, we visit the Converse shoe project where talented artists hand-paint footwear, carve gourds and make amazing graphic art prints. We have lunch with Dreamweavers cooperative members and caracol purpura purple snail dyers in their home, complete with show and sale, and cultural talk. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
Thursday, January 21: After breakfast, we travel up the coast highway into the state of Guerrero, where we visit two outstanding Amusgo weaving groups in Xochistlahuaca and Zacoalpan. They are working to revive ancient designs and incorporate locally grown native, wild cotton. Overnight in Ometepec. (B, L)
Friday, January 22: After breakfast, we begin our journey back to Puerto Escondido, with a stop at the Afro-Mexican Museum to understand Mexico’s black history. We stop in Pinotepa Nacional for lunch and a market meander. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B, L)
Saturday, January 23: This is a day on your own to explore the area, return to the Puerto Escondido market, take a rest from the road trip, enjoy the beach and pools, and begin packing for your trip home. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B)
Sunday, January 24: Attend the annual Dreamweavers Expoventa featuring the Tixinda Weaving Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis. Other regional artisans are also invited, making this a grand finale folk art extravaganza — a fitting ending to our time together on Oaxaca’s coast. Grand Finale Dinner. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B, D)
Monday, January 25: Depart for home.
Note: You can add days on to the tour — arrive early or stay later — at your own expense.
Cost to Participate
$2,895 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
$3,395 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)
Your Tour Leaders: Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC and Norma Schafer is pleased to tell you that Eric Chavez Santiago and his wife Elsa Sanchez Diaz have joined our organization and will co-lead this tour along with our expert cultural anthropologist who lives on the Costa Chica. Eric and Elsa are native Oaxaquenos, possess a broad and deep knowledge of the region and have years of experience working with Oaxaca’s outstanding craftspeople. Both are bilingual. Elsa is an expert teacher and maker of natural dyes. Eric is a Zapotec weaver and dyer who was born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle. He was the founding education director of Oaxaca’s textile museum and is now involved in artisan economic development and sustainability. Both have deep roots in Oaxaca’s artisan communities, are knowledgeable about artisan made textiles and folk art and know the best of the best.
Reservations and Cancellations. A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 30% of the total is due on or before September 15, 2020. The third 30% payment is due on or before November 15, 2020. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After November 15, 2020, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before November 15, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.
We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After November 15, 2020, there are no refunds.
Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.
In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen! Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!
Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 45 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time to our destination.
All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.
Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: We will do some walking and getting in/out of vans. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let us know before you register. This may not be the study tour for you.
Well-Being: If you have mobility issues or health impediments, please let us know. Our travel to remote villages will be by van on secondary roads with curves, usually not for more than two hours. When you tell us you are ready to register, we will send you a health questionnaire to complete. If you have walking or car dizziness issues, this may not be the trip for you.
Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.
Note: Itinerary subject to schedule change and modification.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
We send printable map via email PDF usually within 48-hours after order received. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle