Tag Archives: tour

Rebozos, Guitars and Masks in Michoacan, Mexico

I’ve been back in Oaxaca for almost two weeks, and my mind is still on Michoacan, the last leg of my September journey, and the rebozos woven there. When I came to Oaxaca years ago, I thought it would be the perfect place from which to explore other parts of Mexico, north and south. And so it is.


Sharing the Journey to Ahuiran, Paracho, Michoacan

Ahuiran is a small Purepecha village about an hour and a half from Patzcuaro in the Mexican state of Michoacan, high on the Maseta Purepecha (plateau) near Uruapan. It’s a beautiful drive through fertile farmland, green hills, pastures and tree-lined roads. And, it’s safe. For a complete discussion of Purepecha culture and history, click here.


Ahuiran rebozo concurso: And the winners are …

Ahuiran women are famous for their hand-woven rebozos made on the back strap loom. They wear what they weave. Not many in other parts of Mexico still adorn themselves in traditional traje. Rebozo-making and wearing is a dying art.


This winner has rayon fringe that looks like peacock feathers.

I joined a group of Patzcuaro women friends to go to a rebozo fair, which was really a concurso, or regional competition to select the best of the best. I could not pass up another chance to see great rebozos. I vowed not to buy another. Hah!

Travel with me to Tenancingo, Estado de Mexico, February 3-11, 2016, for the Mexico Textile and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos & More

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We discovered this competition was more than rebozos. It included wood carving and string instrument making, art forms that are translated to furniture, masks, violins, cellos and guitars.

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The judges came from Morelia and they took their time to make their selections. Patience is the keyword for being in Mexico.


We arrived around 1:00 p.m. and waited. Milled around. Fingered hand-embroidered blouses. Ogled the rebozos that were brought in by the weavers to display for the competition.


Watched the passing fashion parade of glittery pleated skirts and flashy fringe. I saw a mask I liked and negotiated a price and bought it long before the judging started. A lovely young man carved it and asked me if I needed a gardner.

I was assured by the lady who embroidered the animal on this blouse (below right) that it was not a dog but a personal spirit protector. Many women were wearing similar blouses that were finely embroidered. Just not my style.

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We looked for lunch. I had my eye on the fish sizzling in oil. (I knew it would be well-cooked.) I walked around the mask table a few more times and did the same to take a closer look at the Paracho instruments. Had an ice cream, and waited some more. In Mexico one learns the virtue of patience quickly.


The Ahuiran rebozos are different from the ikat technique found in Tenancingo de Degollado in the State of Mexico. Here, they are heavier cotton. The traditional rebozos are black with blue and white pin stripes. Now, the color palette is extensive and can include lots of shiny rayon.


The viewing stands filled up with villagers and I noticed a very regal, elegant woman with an extraordinary embroidered blue and yellow skirt. This turned out to be Cecilia Bautista, a Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art.

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Cecilia is proud that she was the first weaver to experiment with incorporating real feathers on the fringes. The idea came to her 22 years ago when she learned about feather work done in pre-Hispanic times by her people, the Purepecha (or Tarascans, as the Spanish called them).

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Cecilia’s family of musicians came to entertain the crowd by playing traditional songs on their string instruments, all hand-made. Women came forward to dance, including Cecilia. These are worthy of a major symphony orchestra performance.


At 4:00 p.m. the judges were ready to announce the rebozo winners. How did they choose? Density and intricacy of the textile weave. How it draped when they put it on. The soft, silkiness of the fabric. Whether it had a straight edge. The length and technical elaboration of the punta (fringe).  There was a special category for puntas that included feathers, too!

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And the mask I bought got the first place prize in the category!


There were six gringas who came from Patzcuaro for this event. Three of us left with a rebozo, priced between 1,500 and 3,000 pesos.

Best61_AhuiranMorelia-45Best61_AhuiranMorelia-48This was a festival day in Ahuiran. There were carnival rides, a special market, lots of vendors, cotton candy and barbecue. All the women came out in their best rebozos. The wives of the village leaders were totally decked out, complete with jumbo hair ribbons and the sparkliest skirts. The more confetti the merrier.

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We returned along the same route we arrived on, with volcano peaks on the horizon, men stooping over fields planted with potatoes, Purepecha villages with still a few of the original pre-Hispanic style wood homes called trojes (built without nails) still standing. It was a glorious day. Along the roadside, a spray of wildflowers, mostly cosmos, were coming into their color, necks stretching to the sun, heads waving in the breeze.

Here in Oaxaca, nights have turned chilly. Days are mild and sunny with a light breeze. We celebrate the Virgin of Rosario with bands, parades and dances. At this moment the firecrackers are booming. Soon, it will be time for loved ones to return during Dia de los Muertos. The cempazuchitl is in bloom. All is well in my world and I hope the same for yours.


Aye, My Aching Back! Keep the DSLR or Opt for Lighter Camera?

For the past three weeks I’ve been traveling in buses, airplanes, vans, taxis and collectivos in Mexico City, and the States of Mexico and Michoacan to discover more of Mexico. I’ve walked a fair piece over cobblestones and uneven pathways. I’ve climbed pre-Hispanic archeological pyramids with steps that are taller than me. All the while, hauling my wonderful Nikon D7000 (now getting a little beat up) and the big honker Nikkor 17-55mm photojournalist lens. I get great photos from this equipment, but I’m tired and can feel the weight in my back and shoulders. Is it time to give up this camera and lens?

I asked Italian photographer Alex (Alessio) Coghe, who lives in Mexico City, why he uses a lighter-weight mirrorless camera. Here is what he said. Perhaps this will interest you as you consider how much you want to schlepp around, too! All advice welcome.

My Choice by Alex Coghe

Many times people ask why I moved to mirrorless and compact cameras for my photography. As a commercial photographer, this has been my choice since 2010. In 2009, I spent two months in Mexico. It was my first visit and during it I never used my Nikon equipment, preferring to use an high-end compact camera: the Panasonic Lumix LX3.


When I returned to Italy with a plan to get back to Mexico, I decided to sell all my Nikon gear to buy an Olympus E-P1 with its 17mm pancake lens which is equivalent to a 34mm in full frame. I can remember many friends saying I was crazy.

Well, now I use one camera and one lens and became a converted professional photographer with no remorse. Today, I see many photographers who decide to switch from DSLRs to mirrorless. In particular, I have colleagues who are choosing Fujifilm X series cameras, mostly X100 and XPRO.

Now I need to clarify that I never particularly loved digital reflex. I come from analog photography and I always preferred point & shoot cameras. I never liked the design and the approach of a DSLR, hiding my face behind a black plastic piece simply doesn’t work for what I do in the street.

Moreover, I always preferred to see what my eyes are seeing and not a reflection of the mirror system through the lens. This is an important part of my choice: I prefer to frame through an optical viewfinder. I do not fear the parallax error: Is it not the way the masters have photographed for almost a century?

As of this moment, I work with a Leica X2, a Fujifilm X100S, a Fujifilm X30 and sometimes I still use film cameras.

I am a commercial photographer, mostly working with models.  I am into fashion and and street photography. Small compact cameras allow me to have visual contact with the subjects. This is very important for my kind of approach and way to work because the psychological aspect is very important.

As a street photographer, I need compact, light cameras that allow me to work all day in the street. I also need the discretion and the “invisibility” offered by a small camera. For this reason I think the new rangefinder cameras are perfect for my work. Most of the cameras like this have a fantastic pre-set focus system, so I usually use full manual and zone focus when it comes to street photography.

A camera should not be an obstacle but something that can be an extension of my arm, just to satisfy my approach and get close to my vision.  My choice with the cameras is perfect for me and my work.

Norma’s Note: Thanks so much, Alex for contributing to Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. Now, I have some direction about what I may choose next. So hard to give up what you are used to. But, that’s true in almost anything that requires change, verdad?

Check out Alex’s website for 2015 Day of the Dead photo workshop in Oaxaca!

 Faces & Festivals Photography Workshop in Chiapas, early January with Denver photographer Matt Nager. Discounts for 2 people. Budget options. 

Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More

I just returned to Oaxaca after exploring other parts of Mexico, including a week in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (Edomex), where ikat rebozos or shawls are hand-woven on back-strap and flying shuttle looms by master artisans. This experience was so inspiring, that I want to share it with you. I invite you to return with me for a memorable, curated Mexican textile and folk art study tour.

February 3-11, 2016 – 8 nights, 9 days

Group size limited to 11 people. We have 4 spaces left!

You will arrive and leave from Mexico City

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  • Meet together in Mexico City on February 3 with an overnight there at a historic center hotel
  • Travel to and stay in Tenancingo from February 4 to 10 at a bed and breakfast oasis
  • Enjoy the company of our bi-lingual guide who migrated from the U.S. to Tenancingo to marry a local thirteen years ago
  • Meet the master weavers of Tenancingo de Degollado in their home workshops
  • Learn about ikat warp thread preparation, the complexity of this at-risk textile art and how to differentiate quality
  • Participate in hands-on natural dye and weaving demonstrations
  • Understand the intricacy of a fine hand-knotted punta/repacejo (or fringe) and how it adds to the beauty of the lienza (cloth)

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  • Visit three of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos – magic villages where traditional life flourishes
  • Spend a day in Taxco de Alarcon,with the next generation of William Spratling Silversmiths. At famed Las Delicias, see jewelry making at its finest using Spratling’s original molds with his same excellent handcrafted quality
  • Travel to Metepec, a Pueblo Magico, and stay overnight on February 10 where you will meet outstanding ceramic artists who make Tree of Life sculptures and cazuelas cooking vessels
  • Travel to Mexico City on February 11 to depart for home OR stay on your own through President’s Weekend in Mexico City to enjoy museums and world-class restaurants

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Along the way, you will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites, visit three Pueblo Magicos – Malinalco, Taxco and Metepec — and immerse yourself in some of Mexico’s outstanding folk art.

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You will even have the option to schedule (at your own expense) an evening massage and/or facial given by aestheticians who will come to our B&B from the spa town of Ixtapan de la Sal.

But, primarily, we are here to learn about the art and craft of making a fine rebozo, meet the men who weave the cloth and the women who tie the elaborate fringe.

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Some of the weavers are innovators, like Jesus Zarate, who incorporates intricate floral, bird and animal motifs on the ikat cloth.

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Some, like Fito Garcia, use splashes of color that looks like confetti. Camila Ramos ikat designs employ ancient indigenous symbols and figures.

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The revered master, 82-year old Evaristo Borboa Casas, is a traditionalist. All have received top honors for their work worldwide.


Each technique requires mathematical and technical precision, extraordinary creativity and months of work to produce one rebozo.

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It can take weeks to prepare the ikat warp threads, dye them and dress the loom, with another month or two for the weaving. It can take two or three months to tie a punta, depending on length and elaboration.


After this study trip, I can guarantee that you will better appreciate this textile art form that is at risk of disappearing. Only three or four weavers in Tenancingo continue the back-strap weaving tradition. Sixty years ago there were over 200 weavers working on the back-strap loom.

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Itinerary Includes

  • 8 nights lodging
  • 8 Breakfasts
  • 2 Lunches
  • 3 Dinners
  • Transportation to/from Mexico City and Tenancingo
  • Transportation to all towns, villages and artisans noted in itinerary
  • Gratuities to artisans for demonstrations

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Wednesday, February 3: Arrive in Mexico City, overnight. Dinner on your own. We will stay at a historic luxury hotel on or near the Zocalo. As soon as you register, we will tell you where. You might also like to arrive a few days early to explore the city. It’s wonderful!

Thursday, February 4: Travel as group to Tenancingo, overnight (B, D) Light group supper at our B&B hotel in Tenancingo.

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Friday, February 5: Meet the Best of the Best, Tenancingo’s master rebozeros (rebozo weavers) Fermin Escobar, Evaristo Borboa Casas, Jesus Zarate, Fito Garcia Diaz. Take a ride on the flying shuttle peddle loom. Optional evening massage and/or facial. (B, L)

Saturday, February 6: Malinalco Pueblo Magico. Climb the ancient archeological site (if you wish), the only one in Mesoamerican carved out of the rock face. Visit the workshop of Camila Ramos Zamora and award-winning son Juan Rodrigo Mancio Ramos. See how they work the back strap loom and make natural dyes. Take your turn at the back strap loom. See how the ikat is prepared and dyed. Take time to visit the 16th century Augustinian church with the amazing Paradise Garden Murals. Optional evening massage and/or facial. (B)

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Sunday, February 7: Tenancingo Market Walk, including the weekly Sunday rebozo market where you can find good quality textiles at affordable prices. Late afternoon fiber arts weaving demonstration and mini-workshop. (B, D) Light group supper at our B&B hotel.

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 Monday, February 8: A day in Taxco de Alarcon, Pueblo Magico, with the next generation owner of the William Spratling silver jewelry workshop, with lunch at famed Las Delicias, Spratling’s home and a silversmith demonstration. The beautiful original Spratling necklace you see on the right, below, is for sale at $7,000 USD to raise restoration money for the ranch. Interested? (B, L)

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Tuesday, February 9: Meet one of Tenancingo’s greatest puntadoras, These are the women who make the elegant rebozo fringes. See if you can tie these intricate knots in a mini-workshop. Afternoon on your own to return to your favorite rebozero, do last minute market shopping or begin packing. (B)

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Wednesday, February 10: Travel to Metepec Pueblo Magico , where we will spend the night. Climb the Mesoamerican Teotenango pyramids (if you wish) or visit the museum. Meet master ceramic artists who create outstanding tree of life sculptures and make sturdy cooking cazuelas. Try your hand in a mini-workshop to make one of the clay figures that adorn Mexico’s famed Tree of Life sculptures. Overnight in Metepec with grand finale dinner. (B, D)

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Thursday, February 11: Leave Metepec in early morning for Mexico City airport to catch mid-afternoon flights home. If you decide to extend your stay in Mexico over President’s Day Weekend you can easily catch a secure taxi from the airport to downtown Mexico City or travel on to another great spot like Oaxaca! (B)

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Study Tour Cost as of October 1, 2015

  • Double Occupancy– Shared Room and Private Bath, $1,695 per person
  • Single Room with Private Bath, $1,995 per person

The study tour includes all transportation between Mexico City and Tenancingo de Degollado, lodging in Mexico City, Tenancingo and Metepec, meals as noted in the itinerary, travel to all artisans and destinations noted on the itinerary, cultural bi-lingual guide services, and grand finale Metepec dinner. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the study tour begins.

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The study tour does not include airfare, taxi from Mexico City airport to Mexico City hotel, some meals as noted in the itinerary, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before December 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 December 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 December 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.


About Travel to Mexico City: The Mexico City Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX) is our gateway city and a Mexico City historic center hotel is our meeting point. You can fly to Mexico City from many United States locations on most major USA airlines. Mexico’s excellent new discount airlines Interjet and Volaris service some U.S. cities, as does Aeromexico.

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 insurance documentation as well as a witnessed waiver of liability form that holds Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC harmless. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, please email us at norma.schafer@icloud.com

We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.


Norma w/Tenancingo hosts Peter & Circe

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Sunday Rebozo Market in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico

Sundays and Thursdays are tianguis open air market days in the ikat rebozo weaving town of Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico. The Sunday market is the biggest and covers over four square blocks in the town center.


Most of the rebozos in the market are sold by the puntadoras, the women who tie the fringes on the hand-woven ikat textile. The cloth, or lienza, is woven by men. The puntadoras usually buy the cloth with the dangling warp thread directly from the weavers. They then spend a month, or two or three to hand-knot the loose warp fringe.


The tighter and longer the fringe, the longer it takes. If it is an intricate design with a long, tight fringe, then the rebozo is even more valuable. Sometimes a puntadora will knot the fringe and then dip it in black dye (or another color) for a uniform color that they think will complement the textile.


A famous master weaver will usually select his own puntadora who will tie the fringes for him. He will then sell the finished rebozo for between 1,600 and 15,000 pesos each. Click to convert to dollars.

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The rebozo market can offer more economical ways to buy. Usually the rebozos there that are knotted with a decent punta can start at 600 pesos and go up to 2,000 pesos. Once in a while, if you take your time and look, you can find a really great rebozo in this price range. That’s why visiting the masters first helps in the education and selection process.

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There is a discussion about the unsung role of the women puntadoras who contribute to at least 30-50% of the beauty of the rebozo, in my opinion.

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These women are unidentified, unnamed and it is the weaver who is recognized rather than sharing honors with the woman who makes the beautiful fringe. An issue about acknowledging women and something worth exploring more, don’t you think?


Edible blue mushrooms at the rebozo market. Go figure.

I had the pleasure of traveling with Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico this month on a rebozo tour of Tenancingo led by collector John Waddell. It was a wonderful experience.


That’s why I’m organizing a textile and folk art study tour set for February 3-11, 2016 — to bring you back and share this with you. In February we will focus on the rebozos of Tenancingo, traditional Taxco silver at the William Spratling jewelry workshop, and the Tree of Life pottery of Metepec. I’ll post details of this trip on Friday on this blog. Stay tuned. Or, send me an email and I’ll send you the program description.


Pueblo Magico Malinalco: Hand-loomed Rebozos and Pre-Aztec Pyramids

The magical town of Malinalco in the State of Mexico is a short thirty-minute ride from Tenancingo de Degollado. One of Mexico’s greatest rebozo weavers, Camila Ramos Zamora, and her family live and work here.

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Her father was a rebozo weaver from Tenancingo and he moved to Malinalco to marry Camila’s mother. They established a workshop that makes some very amazing ikat/jaspe rebozos on the back strap loom. Some use natural dyes. Most have intricate, lengthy fringes called puntas or rapacejos, that in my opinion represent fifty percent of the beauty of a rebozo.

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This week, Came’s son José Rodrigo Mancio Ramos, received the special award for a major piece using natural dyes in the National Rebozo Competition sponsored by FONART and held in Tlaxcala. He carries on the family tradition for creating and executing outstanding textile art.  The punta on his winning piece is made in the pointed style preferred by the Spanish aristocrats who came to Mexico in the 18th century.

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I visited Camila Ramos Zamora’s two shops in Malinalco as well as the amazing Augustinian church built in 1560. I’ve never seen such detailed, dramatic frescoes as these. The church is a sight to behold.

Here’s a note from Mexico expert Silva Nielands: The Paradise Garden murals in the monastery were not painted by the Augustinians who built it, but by the indigenous people who were taught the painting process.  The murals are a mix of European (saintly) themes full of local imagery.  The plants, animals, etc. are all important to the indigenous culture and are like a full encyclopedia of the herbal/medicinal, etc.  http://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/peterson-paradise-garden

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Many towns in Mexico were settled by different Catholic orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians and Jesuits, missionaries competing for converts. The Augustinian church dominates the central zocalo and is the only Catholic church in Malinalco.

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I admired the black rebozo this woman on the left was wearing as she and two friends exited the church. One friend jumped in to help her put it around her shoulders so I could see the weaving and the very long fringes. I think they were delighted that I noticed and paid them special attention!

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My friend Mary Anne hiked up to the archeological site which she reports is an easy, shaded climb up about 400 shallow steps through amazing landscape.

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Our group from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico wandered Malinalco independently to explore and discover.  We all met up at Las Placeres for a great lunch on the shaded patio complete with tamarind mezcal Margaritas — mi favorita.

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This experience has been so wonderful, that I want to bring you here with me.

  • So, I’m scheduling a study tour from February 3-11, 2016  to learn about and meet the rebozo weavers of Tenancingo.
  • Meet in Mexico City on February 3 with overnight there.
  • Travel to and stay in Tenancingo  from February 4 to 10
  • Participate in hands-on workshops and demonstrations
  • Travel to Metepec and stay overnight in Metepec on February 10
  • Travel to Mexico City on February 11 to depart for home OR stay on your own through President’s Weekend in Mexico City to enjoy the museums and world-class restaurants

In addition, we will take a day trip to the silver capitol of Mexico, Taxco, a Pueblo Magico, explore the Pueblo Magico ceramics village of Metepec and the Pueblo Magico village of Malinalco.

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We will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites and immerse ourselves in Mexico’s folk art. We’ll even have the option of a respite with massage and facials.

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Send me an email if you are interested in this study tour!

More information coming soon.

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