Tag Archives: San Cristobal de las Casas

Chiapas Festivals and Faces: Photography Workshop

Arrive January 18 and depart January 25, 2016.

Two Options to Choose From:

  • Option 1: $2,395 per person (workshop and  7 nights lodging at boutique La Joya Hotel, all breakfasts, transportation to villages)
  • Option 2:  $1,295 per person (workshop only, includes transportation to villages. With this option, you make your own hotel reservations.)

The historic 16th Century colonial mountain town, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, is our base for making great photographs. Here in southern Mexico close to the Guatemala border, the Maya people hold on to a strong, proud and ancient past. Many on-going rituals and celebrations combine Spanish Catholicism with pre-conquest indigenous mysticism. Traditional hand-woven and embroidered Maya dress is still daily street wear. Before too long, you, too can name villages that people call home by the traje they wear.

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During the week we will take part in village festivals that happen only this time of year, meet indigenous Maya families who are back strap loom weavers and embroiderers, visit historic sites, markets, folk healers and mystics. We offer you an amazing ethnographic travel photography experience that is centered in this compact, magical town where wide avenues are for pedestrians only. Our out-of-town travels take us to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapa de Corso for the Parachicos Festival and San Juan Chamula.

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We are on location with photographer/instructor Matt Nager to create powerful photographs.  You are welcome to use any camera you are comfortable with: basic point-and-shoot to iPhone to DSLR. Our emphasis is on the photographer-subject relationship and good composition, finding the best subject and knowing how to interact with them, capturing a sense of place with interest and an innovative eye. We also cover DSLR camera basics, how to use manual settings, and offer optional coaching on photo editing using Lightroom.

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Who should attend?  The workshop is for all levels of photographers including beginners. We strip down often overly complicated conditions to bring the photographer face-to-face with the subject. We practice both impromptu street photography and classic pre-arranged portrait sessions. We will also cover landscape, architecture and general travel photography.

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The Workshop Covers:

  • Using natural light and responding to different lighting situations
  • Moving from automatic to manual settings (for DSLR cameras)
  • Directing your subject through varying body positions
  • Identifying your own photographic style
  • Finding and executing photographs “on the fly”
  • Night photography and using a tripod
  • Capturing a scene or historical site
  • Learning more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt

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Each day we will discuss different techniques and review best of day images. There will be plenty of time for discussion, feedback, and sharing.  We will address topics such as: How do you stay inspired?  How and when do you ask permission to take a stranger’s photograph? How do you get people to relax, be natural, and not be afraid of the camera? How do you transform the mundane into an interesting photo?

At the end of our week together, we will select our best photographs of the week and hold a group show followed by a celebratory supper, included in the fee.

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About Your Instructor Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. We invited him back to teach this workshop after rave reviews for teaching the People of Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop.

This is going to be a fantastic workshop and I encourage any level photographer to sign up.  I recently had a class with Matt Nager and he is an excellent teacher and a fun person. You will not get a class this good for twice the price!  -Barbara Szombatfalvy, Durham, NC

His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.

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In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal.

His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal.

Matt speaks English and Spanish, and is learning Italian.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

Equipment:  Please bring your camera, your computer or tablet, a cable to connect your camera to your device to upload and edit your photos, a jump drive, extra batteries, battery charger, memory cards, optional tripod for night photography. If you use a DSLR camera, you may wish to bring a portrait lens (50mm) and a longer zoom lens. We will send a complete list of “what to bring” after you register!

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Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change)

Mon. Jan. 18 – Arrive and check-in to La Joya Hotel or wherever else you choose to stay. (D on your own)

Tues. Jan. 19 – Our workshop starts with a learning session, welcome and orientation. We’ll go on a town walkabout, market stroll, capture photos on the fly, and end with a portrait session with well-known humanitarian folk healer. We will have lunch and dinner together as a group, at your own expense.

Wed. Jan. 20 – Learning session and photo review. Depart for Zinacantan for Dia de San Sebastian. This is the most important celebration for this community, with rituals, ceremonies, a horse race, masses, traditional native dances and processions. We have arranged a private portrait session with Zinacantan family. We will have lunch  together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

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Thurs. Jan. 21 – Learning session and photo review. Portrait session with women’s weaving cooperative who come from their village wearing traditional Maya dress. We’ll have an exposition of their textiles, too.  We will have lunch and together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

Fri. Jan. 22 – Learning session and photo review. Today it’s all about food. We go to the local food market to meet and photograph vendors and see all the locally grown food. Then we meet one of San Cristobal’s great chefs for a photo shoot in the restaurant kitchen followed by lunch. We will have lunch together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

Sat. Jan. 23 – Learning session and photo review. Parachicos of Chiapa de Corzo, The Great Feast celebration that honors the patron saints Our Lord of Esquipulas, Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Sebastian includes fabulous masked dancers, rattles, parades, a carnival, and opportunity for night photography.  We will have lunch and dinner together as a group, at your own expense.

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Sun. Jan. 24 – On our last day, we will visit the church at San Juan Chamula, then prepare for the last presentation and Best of Week Show. We will have lunch and celebratory group dinner together.  Lunch will be at your own expense. Dinner is included in your workshop fee.

Jan. 25 – Depart

You are welcome to come early and stay later. You might want to go on to Tonina, Palenque, Bonampak or Yaxchilan to explore Maya archeology, or go further and cross the border into Guatemala or Villahermosa, Tabasco. We can recommend archeologist-led tour guides who can help facilitate customized travel plans at your own expense.  We can also recommend where you can enroll in a San Cristobal de Las Casas cooking class that features local indigenous meals.

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The workshop includes all instruction and personal coaching, transportation to three villages, cultural guide services and celebratory buffet supper at the end of our Best of Week Show. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the workshop begins.

The workshop does not include airfare, lodging, meals, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

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About Preferred Lodging: We will be based in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas at La Joya Hotel, our preferred lodging partner. La Joya is a small boutique hotel with five rooms.  We have reserved them all for this workshop! Previous workshop participants have described La Joya Hotel as “a sophisticated oasis” and a “fantasy home away from home.” If you wish to stay at La Joya Hotel, please register as soon as possible since space is limited.  All rooms have king size beds with private bath. 

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You can also check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom or other online resources for best prices and levels of accommodations. All reservations for lodging will be made and paid for by you directly with the lodging provider.  You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel. We will send you a list of recommended hotels after you register and make your deposit.

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before November 1, 2015. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After November 1, 2015, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before November 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

About Travel to San Cristobal de Las Casas: The Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ) airport is the gateway city, about one-hour from San Cris. You can fly there from Mexico City on Aeromexico or Interjet. From the USA, Delta Airlines has a codeshare with Aeromexico. Both airlines are located in Mexico City Terminal 2. United Airlines flies between Houston and Oaxaca and does not serve TGZ. UA is located in Mexico City Terminal 1. There is taxi and shuttle van service from TGZ airport to San Cris starting at about 700 pesos. You can also take an ADO overnight bus from Oaxaca to San Cristobal. If you book your stay at La Joya Hotel, we will arrange taxi airport pick-up and delivery for you at your own expense.

International Travel Insurance Required. We require that you purchase trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for documentation. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

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Tonina, Hidden Chiapas Archeology Gem: The Road Less Traveled

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Few people make Tonina, the classic Maya archeological site just beyond Ocosingo, Chiapas, a travel destination. Instead, they choose to go between San Cristobal de Las Casas and Palenque directly, bypassing the most vertical site of the ancient Maya world. It’s another three hours by road to reach Palenque, which demands at least one overnight stay. (Do you see us at the top?)

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From San Cris, Tonina can be navigated in about a day-long round-trip, giving you several hours at the site.  We left at seven-thirty in the morning and planned to return to San Cris by seven in the evening, including a one-hour stopover in Oxchuc to stretch and see textiles.

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It’s a long and winding road. We traveled from seven thousand foot mountains studded with pines to lowlands bordering the Lancandon rain forest filled with tropical vegetation, banana palms and adobe huts with thatch roofs.  The mountains fall fast to almost sea-level over this almost three-hour journey, so the road curves sharply. Ginger is a great antidote.

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This is EZLN territory, and Zapatista politics for and by the people prevail here. It is not unusual to come across an occasional roadblock demonstration. This is a common method for anti-government protest in both Chiapas and Oaxaca. There are grievances here. Sometimes for a donation, vehicles may pass. Other times, it’s important to know alternate secondary routes and have a full tank of gas when passage on the main highway isn’t possible.

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At Tonina, we had an on-site Maya guide who participated in site excavations ten years ago. He played here as a child.  Our multi-lingual guide who traveled with us from San Cristobal, anthropologist Mayari (meaning Maya princess), fluidly translated between Spanish, English and Tzeltal, the regional Mayan dialect.

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There were at most ten other people at Tonina. From the top of the Pyramid of the Sun there is a spectacular view of the Ocosingo valley. Mayari tells us that Frans and Trudy Blom would fly in a single engine Cessna to Palenque and the Lancandon rainforest in the early 1950’s.  She made that trip, too, with her archeology father as a child.

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After most of us climbed to the top (not me this time, because of my new knee), we enjoyed a picnic lunch back at the site entrance, where a small, excellent museum hold pieces excavated from the site.  When I was in Mexico City recently, a huge exhibition (now closed) on the Maya world at the Palacio Nacional prominently featured treasures from Tonina.

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Then we back-tracked to Oxchuk.

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Oxchuk weavers work on a back strap loom and then embroider the textiles by hand.  If you turn off the main highway and venture onto the town’s main streets, you will find family run shops supplying huipils to the women of the local community.  The quality is first-rate and the price is about half of the cost as in San Cristobal.  Definitely worth a deviation. We were a curiosity since I suspect not many tourists make a stop there.

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By now it was dusk and as we approached the intersection beyond Huixtan to turn onto the highway just about fifteen miles from San Cristobal, there was a roadblock demonstration. We turned around, bought two five liter jugs of gas at a roadside stand, asked a local man and his son to go with us (for a fee), and set off on an alternative back road through the mountains that would take us into San Cristobal.  They carried official local papers authorizing travel across mountain communities.

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We arrived back at our hotel only an hour later than we had planned. For reassurance at the outset, I called our hotel to tell them our whereabouts and route while our very competent guide Mayari notified ATC Tours to track us on GPS.  Risk of danger? Little to none.

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One of our participants said this was definitely an adventure story worth retelling! It was the last day of our two week Oaxaca and Chiapas art and archeology study tour. What a grand finale, wouldn’t you say?

Chiapas Textile Museum: Maya Art on Cloth

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The contemporary Maya world spans political boundaries and crosses southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. Here in Chiapas there is a rich textile tradition that endures as cultural identity and pride. The Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya, The Textile Center of the Maya World, is the place to begin to see the finest examples of woven and embroidered cloth coming from throughout the Maya world.

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No one comes to San Cristobal de Las Casas without buying at least one piece of handwoven cloth! We advise you come here first before you shop. That way, you will be able compare quality and price after seeing the hundreds of fine textiles on display in the museum, and then making a stop at the adjoining Sna Jolobil gallery where deep pockets help.

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We were told that eighty percent of the items for sale in the Santo Domingo Church market are made by machine or imported from China. The market fills the entry area to the textile museum so the temptation is strong to forage first.

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Yesterday, as I wandered this market, I did find a beautiful back strap loomed and embroidered huipil from Cancuc for about $70USD and two incredible Chenalho short blusas, also hand loomed and embroidered, for $18USD each. So, there are still bargains to be found of authentic garments if you know what you are looking for.

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At the textile museum, the group from Penland School of Crafts had a private tour of the collection in English complete with an introductory video in English, too.  We began to identify the designs of the cloth and embroidery with the villages where they are made.  We saw the evolution of garment design with the introduction of Spanish lace and off-the-shoulder style. Many of those on exhibit are Guatemalan pieces since the cultural border is porous.

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The detail work on the cloth is precise. The embroidery is exact. We sat down to a work table to create an embroidery sampler in the style of San Andres Larrainzar to better understand the textile making process.  Needless to say, none of us was good enough to go into business.

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One of us tried his hand at the back strap loom, and he managed to use the sheep bone pick with some ability to push back each weft thread to make a clean straight line.  Then, with some heft and force, he used the shuttle to add to the tight piece of cloth.  It takes three months, working five hours a day, to make a twenty-four inch wide traditional ceremonial sash, which was on the loom today.

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Around the world, machinery and technology is replacing hand work. Mechanization creates precision and lower cost.  What we lose is the beauty and variegation that is transmitted by the soul of the maker. This visit gave us a greater appreciation for indigenous culture, the beauty they create.

We organize small group workshop study tours for up to 10 people. If you and a group of friends or your organization wants a customized learning experience, please contact me.

 

Zinacantan Textile Flowers, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

They speak Tzotzil here in the Maya highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.  San Lorenzo Zinacantan is a village nestled in a beautiful valley about thirty minutes from San San Cristobal de Las Casas.  It is a popular Sunday tourist destination combined with a visit to the mystical church at San Juan Chamula (which I will write about in another post), just ten minutes apart.

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Zinacantan people yielded to the Spanish during the conquest.  They enjoyed more favors and received fertile land in exchange for their loyalty. Today, the Zinacantan hillside is dotted with greenhouses where flowers grow in abundance to decorate church and home altars, and are a key part of festivals.

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The village replicates these flowers in their embroidery that embellish cloth created on back strap looms.  Over the years we have seen the patterns change from simple red and white striped cloth to sparkly textiles that incorporate synthetic glitzy threads of gold and silver.  Much of the embroidery is now machine stitched, though the designs are guided by expert hands.

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I’ve been coming to San Cristobal de Las Casas for years searching for a chal embroidered by hand to no avail. This time, Patrick, our guide took us to the home of Antonia, one of Zinacantan’s most accomplished weavers and embroiderers.  Among the hundred chals (shawl or tzute) available for purchase, I found a blue one all hand embroidered. Technology is winning out over the made by hand ethos.

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Identity is defined externally by the indigenous garment.  Some say the Spanish imposed this upon local people in order to know where they came from and to keep them in their place. Others say the design of the garment endures because of cultural pride.  The young woman above is from the village of Chenalho.  I can tell because of the design of her beautiful huipil.

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She is the tortilla maker at Antonia’s home, who keeps the fire going, makes us a fresh quesadilla of local cheese, cured chorizo, avocado and homemade salsa to remember the visit. Food is memory, too.

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Nothing is wasted, not even the smoke. It curls up from the comal to cure the meats that hang above it. The corn is criollo, locally grown and ground by hand, pure and wholesome. Here in the shadowy adobe kitchen there is magic.

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It is impossible to take photographs inside the church at Zinacantan. It is forbidden and cameras can be confiscated if you are found to violate this. Can you imagine a church altar spilling over with flowers from ceiling to floor, fresh, with an aroma of lilies, roses, gardenias and lilacs. The swirl of scent is like an infusion of incense, designed perhaps to bring one closer to god.

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I organized this art and archeology study tour for Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.  If you have a small group interested in coming to Oaxaca or Chiapas, please contact me.  I have over 35 years experience organizing award-winning educational programs for some of America’s most respected universities.

The Journey Begins: San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Most of our Penland School of Crafts travelers continued on with me from Oaxaca to explore Chiapas. Our journey began at the ADO bus station where we boarded an overnight luxury bus called the Platino with twenty-five reclining seats, leaving at 8:30 p.m. and arriving in San Cristobal de Las Casas at 7:30 a.m. the next day.   ChiapasBest45-16

Our destination, La Joya Hotel, is our base for exploring the art and archeology of the region. It’s a long and winding road! I recommend taking ginger drops in water, eating some crystallized ginger and taking a sleep aid! Hosts Ann Conway and John Do prepare a spectacular first night Thai welcome dinner after we visit Sergio Castro and his museum. Next, bed!

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Chiapas vies for the title of Mexico’s poorest state along with Oaxaca.  It is a sorry competition.  Both states are filled with isolated mountain communities that have little access to health care, education, nutrition and employment. Rural life is tied to the land where people cultivate corn, squash and beans and weave on backstrap looms. The result is the creation of magnificent textiles, a tourist draw. Isolation has preserved tradition at a huge cost and the politics are complex.

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Chiapas is rich in Maya culture filled with pre-Hispanic, indigenous folk practices blended with Spanish-introduced Catholic beliefs.  Known as syncretism, we can see this in every corner of life ranging from food to textiles to religious celebrations today.  The Mayan world spans southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras and her political borders are artificial and seamless.

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Our expert first day guide is Patrick, fluent in English, who studied archeology and history at University of California at Berkeley, son of a Mexican mother and Irish father. His uncle was the famed Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, who mediated the peace treaty with the Zapatistas and the PRI.

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We learned much from Patrick about Spanish colonialism, the cultural and political history and the life of indigenous people. One cannot visit Chiapas without putting the textiles into the context of the people who make them.

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That’s why we include a visit to the Sergio Castro Museum as an introduction to Chiapas life on the first day, after a walking tour of the great pedestrian avenues of San Cristobal de Las Casas with Patrick.  Much has been written about Sergio.

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Sergio Castro is a hero, folk legend and medicine man who treats indigenous people who have suffered burn injuries at no cost.  Donations from visitors like us help fund medicines and supplies. He has won many humanitarian awards.

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We see everyday and ritual clothing. We see the skull rattle and string instrument made from gourds. We learn about the Maya language variations and the Lancandon tribe in the forest who escaped Spanish colonization.

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The photos on this post include our walking tour around San Cristobal de Las Casas, and our visit with Sergio Castro to see his textile collection of the region and understand his work.

We are not guides but educators. Norma Hawthorne Shafer has spent over 35 years at major universities organizing and delivering award winning educational programs for adults. When you travel with us you can rely on getting an in-depth experience from local experts who are most knowledgeable in their fields. We can include hands-on workshops to enrich the learning experience. Our forte is developing customized programs for arts and cultural organizations like we did for Penland School of Crafts.