Tag Archives: San Juan Guelavia

Annual Basket Fair in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca: River Reed Weaving

The Feria del Carrizo is happening this week in the Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia. The last day is February 7. This annual fair is growing and this year there were hundreds of people on opening day, Sunday, January 31.

I have made this an annual tradition and this was my fourth year here. I love arriving just before 10 a.m. when the weavers are setting up shop and the cooking fires are roaring. This couple, above, still makes the reed fish traps. They make great lampshades or dried flower holders!

 

Just in time for a breakfast of traditional hot chocolate made with water (or milk, if you prefer). It’s a great accompaniment to hot off the griddle fresh made corn tortillas stuffed with yellow mole and chicken (above right) or squash blossoms , quesillo (string cheese) and mushrooms (above left). This was prepared by the volunteers from the Museo Comunitario, the community museum. Super Yummy!

 

The Community Museum is small, just two rooms and admission is by donation. Usos y Costumbres villages maintain museums to keep cultural history. San Juan was closely tied to neighboring Dainzu (now an archeological site) and Macuilxochitl (across the highway) was once the regional center.

Ancient map reproductions show this as well as a diorama of how salt was extracted from the earth by local women using clay vessels from nearby San Marcos Tlapazola. Villagers were active in the Mexican Revolution that hit the region hard because was dotted with haciendas that indentured indigenous labor, eradicated with the Revolution.

 

Of course, the food goes on all day and if you wait long enough and stay for lunch you can enjoy barbecue goat tacos along with a shot of Tobala mezcal (or Madrecuixe, as your taste dictates) straight from the palenque. Buy a bottle for 200 pesos, about 2/3 less than comparable quality in Oaxaca city!

 

The weavers in San Juan Guelavia work in river reed called carrizo. Their baskets were used by farmers, traders and cooks for centuries, long before the Spanish conquest in 1521.

Anthropologists have written and talked about the risks to this artisan craft of the Oaxaca valley. So much of the reed weaving is now replaced by plastic baskets because people everywhere love the bright colors.

But, preferred among the local ladies is the traditional market shopping basket –that round Carrizo basket with curved palm covered handle that fits comfortably in the crook of the elbow.

I use the low-sided baskets as “shipping containers” inside my luggage. I’ve put mezcal bottles and ceramics inside, wrapped in bubble, surrounded by soft clothes packed snugly and nothing ever arrives broken. Use a flat round tray to cover your stuff and secure with duct tape. Very easy!

 

Above left, the ladies prepare atole, a traditional corn drink. Mix it with chocolate for a special taste. Always served at festivals, it’s the drink of the Zapotec and Aztec gods. Above right, a grandmother ties the sash on her granddaughter’s skirt in preparation for the parade.

Above: This year, there were lots of necklaces strung with reed and bright beads. Some dangled with mini- baskets mini-atole cups (all handmade).

 

And, above right, toy trucks and airplanes and whistles for the children, bird cages and shelves for home decor.

 

How to Get There From Oaxaca City: Take a taxi or collectivo or bus that goes to Tlacolula. Get off at the San Juan Guelavia crucero (crossroads). From there, take a moto-taxi (we call them tuk-tuks into town.) The village is situated about a mile inland on the west side of the Carretera Nacional MX190 better known as the Pan-American Highway.

Handmade Basket Fair, San Juan Guelavia, January 31-February 7, 2016

Each year, the traditional Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia showcases its handmade baskets made from strips of river reed, called carrizo in Spanish. (Thanks, Christopher Hodge for this tidbit of clarification. Carrizo is not bamboo!) This is another artisanal weaving tradition in the Tlacolula valley. If you are on your way to the Tlacolula market this Sunday, making a stop off the Pan-American Highway-MEX 190 is well-worth your time to explore the 5th Annual Basket Fair or Feria del Carrizo. 

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You might even want to stay awhile. The food is delicious. This is homemade, home-cooked food done with local flair. Barbecue, quesadillas, roasted chicken, tortillas made on the comal griddle, atole and mezcal tasting makes this a very special event.  There are even mezcal bottles (empty) covered in basketry.

And, you’ll drive along a beautiful curving road lined with maturing agave fields to get there.

The handmade baskets take center stage. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are plain, coarse and used as storage containers. Others are finely woven and decorated with mini-baskets, which the local Zapotec ladies love for gathering fresh food at the daily markets. Last year there were bamboo fish traps, lamp bases, bird cages, floor mats, and also very pretty flowers made from corn husks. I love these baskets to use around the house for storage and to give as house gifts filled with fresh fruit. The handles are wrapped in palm leaves.

This basket making from San Juan Guelavia is a long-standing tradition. Help preserve it. The way of the world is giving over to plastic and we have a chance to make a difference and buy directly from the makers — usually the generation of grandfathers and grandmothers who are trying to keep the tradition alive.

But to do that, we know that there has to be customers!

San Juan Guelavia is just before you get to Teotitlan del Valle on the right (west) side of the Carretera Nacional as you are heading toward Tlacolula from Oaxaca city. Enjoy. Maybe I’ll see you there!

 

 

Day 2: Portrait Photography in the Markets

First stop is the small village of San Juan Guelavia for the last day of the Feria del Carrizo. This pueblo, just across the highway from Teotitlan del Valle, is famous for its finely woven baskets made from strips of bamboo. We spent about an hour here before going on to the bigger regional Tlacolula Sunday tianguis.

Hanging Out Two, San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca, Mexico

San Juan Guelavia is a friendly town.  If you ask, Podria tomarle su foto? Would you agree to have me take your picture? most people will respond positively. Of course, we always ask first because otherwise how would one get consent to take a portrait with eye contact from the subject when he or she is no more than two feet away?

Guajolote, San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca, Mexico   Huevos Criollos, San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca

At the Tlacolula market, when we asked, the response was predominantly NO. Some people wanted a fifty peso propina (tip).  Others asked us to buy something and then they would consent.

Rug Vendor, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico Selling Chorizo, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

One group of men said they didn’t want to be taken advantage of, to have their photos used in a magazine, even when we explained that we were amateurs taking a workshop to learn photographic techniques.

What do you think about paying someone to take their photo?

Herb Seller, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico From Tlapazola, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

I managed to get some people to agree based on engaging them in conversation, admiring their work, and just trying to figure out who might be receptive. It’s important not to take rejection personally!

Best Turnovers, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico Waiting for the Collectivo, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

After lunch at Comedor Mary, on the edge of the permanent market facing the side of the Tlacolula church, we decided to return to Teotitlan del Valle where we settled in to Drupa’s Cafe. They are so generous here. With excellent WiFi, hot chocolate, pannini sandwiches, coffee and chai latte, we met here with Matt for a learning session on lighting and reviewed each of our ten best photos from Day One, that included feedback for improvement.

Mixtec Basketweaver, Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

These photos here represent my person eleven best of almost two hundred photos I took today.  And, finally, below, a husband and wife of many years, separated by their hand-woven baskets, wait for customers in San Juan Guelavia.

Waiting, San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca, Mexico

Handwoven Basket Fair: San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca

Today was the first of two Sundays when the Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia holds its annual basket fair.  Next Sunday, February 2, is the last day.  They open in the compact zocalo at 9 a.m.  By the time we got there, close to noon, there wasn’t much left.  Before I could say basket, two that caught my eye were snatched up from under my outstretched arm.

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The bamboo used to make the baskets is picked young and green, much easier to manipulate.  Then, it is washed and stripped.  After the basket is complete, the sturdy handles are wrapped with palm leaves. Most of the Zapotec women in the central valleys of Oaxaca prefer these baskets for daily shopping use.  The handle fits easily over the crook of the elbow, is smooth and comfortable.  

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Both men and women are basket weavers.  They are also makers of corn husk flowers, lamp shades, bird cages, decorative woven bottle coverings, and traditional storage baskets for maize.

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Some of the workmanship is so fine, one wonders how fingers can weave the course strips of bamboo, let alone strip the cane and prepare it for the weaving process.  The basket I bought is above, left, held by the weaver who made it.  He was happy and so was I.

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Basketmaking in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca is a craft in decline and I have included this link to an academic paper that references San Juan Guelavia and their struggle to keep this craft tradition alive.

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I hope you get to the Feria (fair) next Sunday.  I paid 140 pesos for a beautiful handmade basket, quite large.  That’s about $11 USD.  A day’s wage here in Oaxaca.  Who knows how long it took to make!  Looks like more than a day to me.  A basket this size for sale at the Tlacolula market would cost double the price, maybe more, and still a bargain at that!

Boys play while parents shop

Boys at play while parents shop

In addition to the baskets, there is lots of home-style cooked food like quesadillas, tamales, and hot steamed corn-on-the-cob.  Come and linger.

Where to Find San Juan Guelavia:  From Oaxaca City, take any bus or colectivo taxi heading to Tlacolula or Mitla.  Get off at the San Juan Guelavia crossroads (which is about 1/2 mile before you get to Teotitlan del Valle, and maybe five miles beyond El Tule).  There are village taxis and tuk-tuks that will take you along the beautiful curving road that leads to the village, set about three miles off the Panamerican Highway 190, nestled in the rolling foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur.