Tag Archives: Teotitlan del Valle

Cultural Continuity and Sustainability in Oaxaca’s Tlacolula Valley

I thought it was important for the North Carolina State University Study Abroad students to spend an overnight in an indigenous Zapotec village while they were here in Oaxaca. So, I recommended to Professor Ricardo Hernandez that we include a stay in Teotitlan del Valle as as part of our itinerary.

Teotitlan del Valle church sits atop Zapotec temple, archeological site

The students were here in Oaxaca — the valley and the coast — to study sustainability. Through the experience they learned that the definition is wide-ranging and far-reaching. It has to do with the land and her people, traditions and beliefs, values and practices. It is economic and social and political. It is still small scale agriculture here where farmers use age-old practices rather than technology.

It is instructive to study cultures where people have been successful for generations by transmitting knowledge as a way of life.

The market experience in Teotitlan del Valle

Afterall, this is the region where corn (maize) was hybridized over 8,000 years ago up the road at Yagul. We talked about Monsanto and GMO, how to overcome hunger and develop crops abundant enough to feed people without sacrificing nutrition. We compared the industrialized agriculture of the USA and the disappearance of family farms, and noticed how things work — and don’t — in Mexico.

Olivia, Alysia and Emory enjoy artisanal hot chocolate

I arranged for them to sleep at two local bed and breakfast inns — Casa Elena and Las Granadas B&B — operated by three generations of women. They ate home-cooked and delicious meals prepared from locally sourced, organic meat and vegetables.

After lunch at El Sabor Zapoteco, Reyna Mendoza treats us to nieves de tuna

Teotitlan del Valle is one of the few villages that still operates a daily market. It is a sight to behold entrepreneurial farmers and vendors who sell native corn, squash, beans, squash blossoms, poultry and meat, and more, plus all the household necessities for a home to operate here.

After indigo dye demonstration, the group gathers for a photo, Galeria Fe y Lola

After the market, we toured the church and noted the carved stones inlaid into its walls. When the Spanish arrived, they razed the Zapotec temple and used the stones to build the church walls. The stucco has been peeled away to reveal this part of the village history. We walked around the back side of the church to see the recently restored archeological site that was the temple foundation.

Grace tries her hand at weaving with Omar, while Alysia is next in line

This is a rug weaving village. There are now about 10,000 people who live here and more than 2,000 looms. Only about a dozen families use natural dyes to color the wool they use. We visited one of them — the home workshop of Galeria Fe y Lola –to see the process and learn about this part of the culture.

In Teotitlan del Valle, the Chavez Santiago family makes red dye from cochineal
Professor Hernandez talks with master weaver Federico “Fe” Chavez Sosa

Student takeaways:

  • It was wonderful to be in the village market and explore it on our own.
  • Meeting 26-year old Omar Chavez Santiago from Galeria Fe y Lola was a testimony to artisan life and pride of workmanship — he is dedicated to continuing his culture. This is refreshing to see.
  • The church offered me a glimpse into the blend of Zapotec and Catholic traditions.
  • There is a reverence for community here that we don’t see at home.
  • Families are close-knit, welcoming to outsiders.
  • Everyone was consistently kind.
  • It was important to see the different ways people earn an income: baking bread, sewing, selling food, services and repair work, doctors and teachers, musicians and weavers — it looks like a self-sustaining community.
  • Walking the back streets of the town gave me a perspective for how people live in rural Mexico.
Watch and listen to Omar Chavez Santiago talk about natural dyes
Guillermo decides to take this one home to Wilson, NC

At Gracias a Dios mezcal palenque in Santiago Matatlan at the far end of the Tlacolula Valley, Emmy Hernandez, the daughter of mezcalero Oscar Hernandez, showed us the artesanal process of making this distilled beverage. Agave is an important native plant and agricultural product in the region. It contributes to Oaxaca’s economy and reputation as a tourist destination. This is also a family business and Emmy is the next generation to sustain it.

Mezcal, not at all like NC moonshine, yet still made by the same process

How many different types of agaves are there? They say over 200 types of agaves exist and 30 are suitable for making mezcal. Espadin is cultivated and easily to reproduce, and therefore, the most sustainable. The wild, or silvestre agaves, have a long growth cycle and are rare. I love cuishe (also spelled cuixe) and tepextate and tobala. For everyone harvested, some growers like Gracias a Dios are planting three to replace them. The wild ones are earthy and take on the flavors of the soil they grow in.

We are accepting reservations for 2020 and 2021 university study abroad programs. It takes about a year to plan this program. Please contact us for a proposal. norma.schafer@icloud.com

Agave in the fermentation vats — oak barrels, just like wine-making
Emmy Hernandez, the next generation to sustain artisanal mezcal

Desert Spring, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca — A Week Later

Perhaps it’s the beginning of the rainy season. It has been unseasonably hot here in Oaxaca’s Tlacolula Valley. The temperatures are upward of 91 degrees Fahrenheit. Blessings for rain these last two days to cool us down. The afternoons are now unreliably hot for walking far, if at all. Thermal heat builds up then and the skies open with a downpour, if we are lucky. I am want to sit under the covered part of my patio, Butch and Tia nearby, looking skyward. It’s a week since Mamacita died.

The Second Boundary Marker, one of our favorite spots

My habits are changing. Today, I woke up and got out early (for me), by 7:15 a.m. to walk into the campo while it was still cool, a mild 61 degrees. The sun was barely rising over the mountain range, diffused by cloud cover. It will heat up again today. The fresh air was good for me and the remaining two dogs. Mamacita’s absence is palpable. It was as if her spirit was following us along the trail.

Portrait of Butch, TinType
Butch in full color

One step at a time, I remind myself. No stumbling over loose rocks. No looking out into the distance at the next marker. No pretending that there are three dogs here along with me instead of two. Be in this moment and savor all that is good. Mourn the loss. Take one step at a time. Remember. Don’t blame. Keep your footing.

The First Boundary Marker at the trailhead

We covered the boundary trail that marks the nearby villages San Mateo Macuilxochitl and Santiago Ixtaltepec, walking to the third stone marker that designates the territorial divide. Back and forth, about three miles. I took a 10-minute meditation rest at the entrance to a box canyon where the trail crosses a dry creek. The land is porous, rocky, cactus-strewn, high desert. Sometimes the dogs stop to pick cactus spines from their paws with bared teeth.

Tia almost breathless
Self-portrait, TinType

By 9:15 a.m. the sun is well up over the mountain and heat begins to penetrate. I continue along a wide farm path that borders yet to be plowed corn fields. Butch and Tia run ahead, chase field mice, birds, stray dogs. They go the distance at full running speed, heads down, legs outstretched as if ready to fly. This is good for them. Me, too.

Spiny cactus flower
A common weed with uncommon beauty

At home it’s quieter now. Two hands for petting two dogs. No one vying for more attention than the other. Serene, actually. Even at night there is less barking. I am noting the changes. Accepting what this land has to offer. Taking one step at a time. Understanding the loss.

Desert morning, like a moonscape
Butch on the lookout, TinType

Out and About Oaxaca Family Newsletter

My son was here for a week and returned to Southern California yesterday morning. He arrive three days after my return from Michoacan. What did we do? By choice, not much. We took walks in the campo with the dogs. He came to my Artful Aprons of San Miguel del Valle talk, another sold-out event at the Oaxaca Lending Library.

Crushing roasted agave piña at Gracias a Dios, Santiago Matatlan

We hung out. Talked. Shared memories and regrets, philosophy and politics, hopes. We checked in with each other. We read and took naps on the terrace hammocks. One night, I lit a fire in the chiminea and a log jumped out onto the grass. He was the firefighter. I was contrite.

Espadin agave roasting pit, ready to load, ready in 4 days.

It’s been unseasonably hot here. Almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We moved slowly. We went mezcal tasting with Emmy Hernandez at Gracias a Dios in Santiago Matatlan, with a stop first to visit Arturo Hernandez in Mitla to buy a scarf for his girlfriend. A fact that gives me joy.

Mezcal tasting in Santiago Matatlan. Gee, he’s tall and/or I’m shrinking!

I grilled BBQ ribs. We ate out. We cooked in. We shared meals with our host family and friends. We are blessed to have each other. He gives me advice, which I appreciate. I am tender with mine. He doesn’t need much advice, either. Mostly, we call it feedback. Time together went quickly.

Tomorrow I leave for a full textile study tour in Chiapas, gone for 11 days. I’m not quite ready to leave the quiet of my casita in Teotitlan del Valle. And, my regret is there has been so little time this winter to have time with my friends here, many of whom are seasonal. They are getting ready to go back north and after Chiapas, I return to North Carolina for a while.

Shy Tia stuck by his side all week, nuzzling for pets.

I promise myself that next year will be different. That I will slow down and do less, have time to take classes, learn to embroider or crochet or make something I haven’t before. But, most importantly, to have more time to be with friends — here in Oaxaca and in Mexico, and various part of the USA. And, to be with my California family.

So, I’m rethinking the number of study tours I will offer in 2020, where they will be, when they will be, how long they will be. I’ll keep you posted.

Campo thoughts: Will the Chicago Cubs win the World Series?

Meanwhile, Susie and Bruce arrive this afternoon to move into the casita to care for the dogs while I’m in Chiapas. My suitcase is almost packed.

Winter in Oaxaca, Dog & House Sitting Opportunity

It’s going to be 81 degrees Fahrenheit today in Oaxaca with a low of 55. I have no complaints now after returning here four days ago from very chilly North Carolina, which is not as cold as where many of you live! My bones are warm. Am I trying to tempt you? Yes.

I am seeking a reliable, clean and tidy, culturally sensitive, respectful and mature (this has nothing to do with age) person to stay in my Teotitlan del Valle casita and feed my three adopted dogs two-times daily, morning and night. This opportunity is for ONE person. If I know you, all the better!

Contact me for more information.

I have a Tip Sheet to share with those who are interested. If I don’t know you, then I ask for three references.

Set 1 Dates: Arrive January 30, depart February 14

Set 2 Dates: Arrive February 26, depart March 7

During this time, I am away in Michoacan and Chiapas leading textile and folk art study tours. The dogs must be fed!

Teotitlan del Valle is an indigenous Zapotec village about 40 minutes outside of Oaxaca city in the Tlacolula valley. It is home to 6,000 people, most of whom are tapestry rug weavers. This is a great opportunity to explore Mexico’s amazing weaving culture and live with people who have inhabited this region for 8,000 years. The city is accessible by private taxi, colectivo and buses.

I live on the land of my host family who are weavers. They work exclusively with natural dyes. I do not own the land I live on — they do. I built the casita I live in. And, because this is a Usos y Costumbres village, my casita is legally owned by my family. Being understanding and respectful of this environment is a key ingredient to being here. Relationship and communication are everything.

I am also seeking a dog/house sitter for March 13 to April 13 and April 28 to May 15, 2019

Casita rooftop terrace

Reasons to Come:

  1. Warm your bones!
  2. Giving care to loving animals: Dog-lovers know why!
  3. Practice your Spanish
  4. Explore weaving and natural dyeing
  5. Immerse yourself in local Zapotec culture
  6. Find peace and solace in amazing, pristine, high desert beauty
  7. Write, hike, meditate, retreat
  8. Cost-effective opportunity

This opportunity is for ONE person.

The casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Happy Thanksgiving From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

I woke up early with the wind at my back, ready to get a jump on the Day of Giving Thanks. In Mexico we call it Dia de Accion de Gracias. It is a good day to take a walk and think about all the goodness of life.

An early walk in the campo, Thanksgiving morning

It was close to eight o’clock this morning when I set out to the campo, the wild, unpopulated area of the village, beyond the pale of settlement. The sun was warm on my back. There was a breeze. The day was promising.

The first boundary marker, a stelae from another century

My three dogs were with me, Butch close to my heels, always guarding. Mamacita out in front. Tia running off after birds and rabbits, stopping from time to time to turn around and check my progress.  These are campo dogs, rescue dogs, dogs who have learned to be obedient and stay close.

Butch (foreground), Mama (right) and Tia along the path

This was a day of exploration. I went far beyond where I usually go along the narrow foot path ascending toward the mountain range that is a backdrop to Teotitlan del Valle, part of the Sierra Madre del Sur.  I imagine this to be an ancient trail, the border between our village and the two adjoining us — San Mateo Macuilxochitl and Santiago Ixtaltepec, that the locals call Santiguito.

From the third marker, views toward Tlacochuhuaya

As I made my way along the incline, I was careful not to stumble on loose lava and sedimentary gravel. Rock outcroppings offered natural stepping-stones.

Moonscape-style cactus off the beaten path. Baby Biznaga?

There are three border markers along this route. I had never been to the third. It was glorious out. I figured, Why not?  Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, I reminded myself once again. Let’s figure out where this goes.

A bouquet of lantana by the roadside, growing wild here.

As we reached the third, I could see there was no path up to it, so I made my own switch back path to scale the hill. The dogs followed. A ridge of rock offered me a natural seat from which I could see across the valley to San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya, beyond Santiguito. A perfect spot to meditate.

I imagined those who came before me, centuries past, who sat in this very place, keeping a lookout on the landscape below. In the distance, cooking fires curled skyward and a red-shirted farmer grazed his bull in the lush fields.

Downhill was easy, with a stop at the natural spring for quenching thirsty dogs. Then, a brisk walk home on the back road lined with dried corn stalks and wild marigold fields lining the road.

I covered three-and-a-half miles.

On the final stretch home, between marigolds and cornstalks

Today, a group of Estadounidenses will gather at Los Danzantes for a special Thanksgiving meal after a mezcal toast at the home of my friend Shannon. An adjoining table is with NC restauranteurs who are opening a Oaxaca destination at the Durham Food Court, two blocks from my apartment.

Thanksgiving menu at Los Danzantes, not traditional!

Today will be a change-up from years past. I won’t be cooking. Neither will Kalisa! (I hope.) Instead of sliced, roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, Jacki’s fabulous cranberry sauce, and an array of pumpkin pies, it will be turkey balls and pumpkin pancake at 7 p.m. Nothing traditional about this year for me!

Nature’s display of color, pure and simple

I’m reminded by my friend Betsy, an Anthony Bourdain afficionado, who said, Travel is the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.  And, my friend, Madelyn, who says, Take life with the wind at your back, moving forward, rather than fighting the headwinds that always set you back.

Happy Day for Giving Thanks.

A field of yellow next to the casita

The gift of the season, 75 degrees Fahrenheit