Tag Archives: tourism

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator: What will the future hold?

This is a big question as we try to live in the present and get through each day. One reason I turned my focus to creating The Oaxaca Mask Project, I have come to realize, is that it is a perfect distraction to keep me busy and helpful. I can think about NOW, not what will be.

Note: We will likely start the project up again in the next few weeks. Janet Blaser, a journalist who lives in Mazatlan, interviewed me yesterday for Mexico News Daily. The mask project story will likely appear in the next 10 days. We will begin accepting donations again then, ordering masks to be made, and giving them to people in need.

I started the project soon after I arrived in Huntington Beach, California, for what was to be a one-week visit with my son on my way to Durham, North Carolina. I was there for two months. Now, I’m in NC, just out of quarantine. My plan was to be here until the end of May and then return to Oaxaca for the summer. Now, who makes plans?

Meanwhile, the news came yesterday that Traditions Mexico is closing after 20+ years of operation. They set the bar for many of us who lead cultural journeys and tours in Oaxaca and Mexico. I want to acknowledge Eric Mindling’s passion, heart and generosity for opening doors to indigenous artists and communities over the years and send well wishes to all who have been part of his adventure.

Yes, COVID19 will take its toll in many ways.

On the Southern California coast, April 2020

What we have come to rely on will be no more. The familiar and the dependable will be no more. Life has changed and will continue to do so. We grieve the losses and must take comfort in making positive next steps.

We want to do more than survive! We want to thrive. We want to be with family and friends. We want to explore. For most of us, this is impossible now. I suspect that this will be the case over the next two years.

This got me to thinking about our own Oaxaca Cultural Navigator situation amid this virus and attendant path of destruction. We are a small operation. Tiny, actually. It’s mostly just me. I dream up the programs, organize them, contact the artisans I know and love, handle the bookkeeping, and make arrangements to ensure quality. Now, there is nothing to do but wait.

This is also about others. It impacts the artisans I work with in the villages. It impacts the local experts who provide the cultural guidance I rely on at the Oaxaca coast, in Chiapas and Michoacan, and yes, in Kyoto and Tokyo, to create a rich experience for our travelers. What will it be like for them who depend on people like us to appreciate their work and support them?

We have canceled the Japan textile study tour. We have canceled the Oaxaca Day of the Dead study tour. We are waiting to see about the December writing workshop and the programs set for early 2021. We read that there will probably be a surge in virus infections this fall.

When will we be be able to resume?

If you don’t travel for a year or two or even more, what will that mean for you? How will you make your future travel choices? Where will you go first and next? Will Oaxaca Cultural Navigator be starting over then? What will our collective future hold? Will we ever regain the confidence to travel on a plane or in a van with ten strangers?

Friends here and there are asking me: When will you return to Oaxaca? How long will you be in North Carolina? When will we see you next? My best answer is: I don’t know. Maybe September. Maybe October. Vamos a ver.

Right now, we must be focused on staying healthy and safe. It is difficult to know what the future will bring. Let’s take a deep breath and carry on.

Post-Earthquake Report for San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas: Rumor or Fact

The 8.2 magnitude earthquake shook southern Oaxaca state and Chiapas a month ago on September 7, 2017. What’s the situation in Chiapas now?

I asked my friends Ann Conway, owner of La Joya Hotel, and Bela Wood, owner of Bela’s B&B, for an on-the-ground report about the state of things in and around San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

The best of the best vintage from San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas

What suffered damage there? I asked. What is closed? What is being repaired? Are tourist sites open and safe? What about visiting villages like Zinacantan, Chamula, Tenejapa, and Magdalenas?

I asked because we have two spaces open for the February 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour, and several inquirers express reluctance to commit right now.  (If you are interested, send me an email and I’ll send you the program description.)

Zinacantan man in tradition traje costume

Seems like there is a US State Department Advisory for the area and a rumor flying that Centro Textiles Mundo Maya is closed.

Here is what  Ann and Bela replied.

Bela Wood says, As far as I know all the villages are okay. In the historic center, two churches are closed pending repairs, and the Palacio Municipal is closed for repair.  Otherwise it’s fine. It feels quite safe. In fact we held up amazingly well for the size of the earthquake.

Ann Conway says, Many of our guests are from Mexico and other countries that don’t give much credence to what the US government has to say about safety here in Chiapas. Most of us who know and live in Mexico agree with this.

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Amigos de San Cristobal, an NGO support group, says, Hello Norma, Chiapas was affected by the quake, but the areas with the most damage were on the coast. Some museums are closed but not the Centro Textiles Mundo Maya textile museum.  In the villages of Zinacantán and Chamula all is good. We hope you will come visit us and we look forward to welcoming you. It is safe. 

Centro Textiles Mundo Maya, is the Chiapas textile museum located in the historic center of San Cristobal de las Casas. Here is what they say: We are still standing! We are pleased to share the news that our ex-convent of Santo Domingo was inspected by specialists and is in excellent condition to continue operations. We are waiting for the permits to perform minor repairs and resume our normal activities soon. 

Ex-convent Santo Domingo, Museo Textiles Mundo Maya

As for OAXACA: 

I’ve written before and I’ll say it again, Oaxaca City is safe. There has been very little damage and no loss of life. The same for the tourist destinations of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. Please do not cancel your visit!

 

Sunday Afternoon on the Last Aztec Lagoon: Xochimilco

We packed it in. After a Sunday morning at Casa Azul followed by seeing the largest private collection of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paintings at the Museo Dolores Olmedo, we took an UBER (safe, easy, the only way to get around in Mexico City, despite USA negatives) to the Embarcadero de Nativitas in Xochimilco for a boat ride on the last Aztec canals in Mexico City.

Colorful fun. Fake flower crown vendors, Xochimilco.

Sunday is definitely the day to go. You get the full experience of what it is like to party on the trajineras — the flat bottom boat that can hold huge families,

How about some lively mariachi music? A Mexican tradition.

plus an entourage of mariachis playing guitars, trumpets, accordions and violins.

Sunday is the best day to be on the Xochimilco lagoons for people-watching.

It’s almost like riding a gondola in Venice, Italy. Maybe better. Much more colorful.

Dancing the afternoon away, Xochimilco

Sometimes families bring their own cook and the smell and smoke of grilling meats pervades the waterways. Sometimes families bring their own beer and the bottles pile up for the longer rides through the canals.

You can buy a pig en route, just transfer from their boat to yours.

It is festive, relaxing and the quintessential Mexican experience.  Is it touristy? Yes. But, it’s also real because locals do this as part of birthdays, anniversaries, and any other excuse to have a celebration.

Expand the party and tie two boats together

Sometimes, you see two trajineras tethered together, so groups of forty or more can jump between boats, dance, sing and generally carouse. Children find their entertainment, too, relaxing in the sun, playing games, and dancing along with the adults. Just being together.

It’s a perfect way to enjoy the family, just 45 minutes from city center

The rate is fixed per boat: 350 pesos per hour. We went out for two hours and the next time, I think being out on a four-hour excursion would be better.

Doll island. Some say its haunted.

Then, we could get into the more remote areas where birds and flowers are more prevalent than people.

I had fresh roasted native corn on the cob. Valeria chose esquites.

Hungry? A small boat will pull up and entrepreneurial vendors will sell you grilled corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, chili and lime juice. Thirsty? Beer and soft drinks are delivered the same way.

How about a pulque? Fermented agave sap for Aztec power.

Want a souvenir? Buy a fake flower crown in any color of the rainbow. Need a pit stop? Clean facilities offer service for five pesos.

Buy a synthetic shawl or a plastic doll. Cheap fun.

On the return trip to the docking area, we had a traffic jam.  Boats jammed up against each other, unable to move.

Moving the boat along. You can even buy plants from passing gondolas.

The gondoliers doing a ballet of pushing the long stick into the muck and against the next boat to jockey into a clear passageway.

Straining to move the boats on the last leg of our voyage.

Sometimes, they jumped boats to help each other out.  Muscles straining, taut. Bodies at forty-five degree angles to the water.

The push-pull of getting out of the traffic jam.

I never heard a curse, only the sound of laughter and music from the party-goers, only too happy to spend extra time on the water as the boatmen sorted it out.

A jumble of color at the docking station.

Xochimilco is the last remaining vestige of what the lake region looked like during the Aztec period, pre-Conquest 1521.

Local emptying, then anchoring his launch.

This is how people got around from one island to the next. The people who live here still do. They are gardeners, growers of fruits and vegetables. It used to be that not too long ago the boats were covered in fresh flowers. Today, they are adorned with painted wood.

A remote waterway off-the-beaten path, like a jungle.

The next time you are in Mexico City, allow yourself at least a half-day to enjoy this respite from city life. Perhaps I’ll spend my next birthday here, hire a mariachi band and dance the afternoon away.

A serenade from shore on an island by the lagoon

For now, I’m at my other home in North Carolina, enjoying August heat and humidity, and the comfort of friends.

Norma Lupita, followed by Mexico Lindo. Porsupuesto.

 

Oaxaca Valley and Coast Textile Study Tour 2018

Oaxaca Valley and Coast Textile Study Tour is set to start Sunday, January 14, 2018, in Oaxaca city and end Wednesday, January 24, 2018, in Puerto Escondido, on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast. In between, you will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy great cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, travel to remote villages you may not go to on your own. This is an eclectic study tour with a focus on textiles and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture. It also includes visits to graphic arts studios in the city.

Sold Out! Contact me to add your name to the waiting list.

Study Tour Itinerary*

1) Sunday, Jan 14. – Arrive in Oaxaca City and check into our comfortable bed and breakfast inn.

2) Monday, Jan. 15 – After breakfast, we will introduce you to Oaxaca folk art and textile culture with a noted local expert. Then, we’ll explore more with afternoon visits to meet textile collectors and artisans, and graphic artists. We will gather for a welcome dinner at one of Oaxaca’s outstanding restaurants. (B, L, D)

Hand-carved gourd art from Pinotepa Don Luis

3) Tuesday, January 16 — Natural Dye and Weaving Textile Study Tour in the Oaxaca Valley, a full-day exploration into the small weaving and dye studios of some of Oaxaca’s greatest artisans. We will travel by luxury van and have lunch at a great village comedor (family restaurant). (B, L)

Wild marigold over-dyed with indigo will become green

5) Wednesday, January 17 – Half-Day Natural Dye Workshop: Indigo Blue. You will understand the principles and chemistry of working with indigo, then make a cotton shibori scarf. Afternoon on your own. Oaxaca is famed for fine silver and gold filigree jewelry. We fit in a silver jewelry expoventa, too. (B)

6) Thursday, January 18 —  Fly from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido very early in the morning, settle in and relax at our hotel on the Pacific Coast beach. Includes airfare from Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido. (B)

Tending the dye bath in Teotitlan del Valle

On Oaxaca’s coast, we will be joined by a Cultural Anthropologist who has been working with local weaving villages for the past six years.

7) Friday, January 19 to Sunday, January 21 – – Leave after an early breakfast. Follow the textile trail high into the mountains to visit the famed weavers of San Pedro Amuzgos and San Juan Colorado, where they use back strap looms and natural dyes.  We’ll stop at coops, visit markets, and have a few surprises along the way. On Friday, we’ll visit remote weaving villages of Tututepec and Huazolitlan. Overnight on the Costa Chica.  (B, L)

8) On Saturday, January 20, we will go to Converse workshop where they hand-paint tennis shoes in fantastic floral and fauna, then to San Juan Colorado, then to visit Odilon Morales in Amuzgos, have lunch there, and return to Pinotepa. Overnight on the Costa Chica. (B, L)

Intricate figures woven into Pinotepa Don Luis textile

Odilon’s aunt, from San Pedro Amusgo, embroiders cloth together for huipil

9) Sunday, January 21 – We’ll return to Puerto Escondido leaving Pinotepa Nacional early in the morning to arrive in time to attend Dreamweavers Expoventa, a highlight of our textile study tour, to be held at our hotel. This is a textile extravaganza with the Tixinda Cooperative from Pinotepa Don Luis! They bring their finest garments dyed with murex (purple snail), woven with coyuchi (natural wild Oaxaca brown cotton), and posahuanco skirts You will meet the weavers, see demonstrations, and be amazed by what they make. Plus, the artful hand-painted Converse tennis shoes will be here, too. (B)

10) Monday, January 22 – We’ll take a three-hour early morning or late afternoon birding/ecology tour on the Manialtepec lagoon — beautiful and fascinating — where you will see a rare bio- luminescence…one of only two lagoons in the world to have this phenomena. And, perhaps a surprise visit from Chatino embroiderers (we are working on this).  (B)

Chatino blouse detail, cross-stitch. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

11) Tuesday, January 23 — This is a day on your own to take a day trip to the sea turtle sanctuary in Mazunte/San Agustinillo, or to explore the town of Puerto Escondido, and begin packing for the trip home.  Grand finale dinner to say our goodbyes. (B, D)

Fine example of Chatino bag from Barbara Cleaver

12) Wednesday, January 24 – Transfer to Puerto Escondido or Huatulco airport and your connecting flights home. Please schedule your departure after 12:00 p.m. (noon). (B)

Sunset on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca in winter

Our resource experts are Sheri Brautigam, author of Textile Fiestas of Mexico, and Barbara Cleaver, collector and owner, Hotel Santa Fe, Puerto Escondido. Sheri will travel with us on the coast to offer her textile expertise. You can read more about Dreamweavers Expoventa in Sheri’s book.

*Note: Itinerary is subject to change. You may want to arrive early in Oaxaca city to acclimate to the 6,000 foot altitude. You may also want to stay later at the beach or travel elsewhere in Mexico when the study tour ends. After you register, we will provide you with hotel contact information if you want to make these arrangements directly.

Odilon Morales promotes his people through Arte de Amuzgo cooperative

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • the culture, history and identity of cloth
  • carding and spinning wool, and weaving with natural dyes
  • clothing design and construction, fashion adaptations
  • symbols and meaning of textile designs
  • choice of colors and fibers that reflect each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume
  • graphics arts to express Mexico’s social, political culture

I have invited textile collector Sheri Brautigam to join me at the Oaxaca coast to give you a special, in-depth experience. Sheri writes the blog Living Textiles of Mexico and is recognized for her particular knowledge of Oaxaca textiles. She is author of the Thrums Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping. (I’ve contributed two chapters with photos, one for Tenancingo de Degollado and the other for Teotitlan del Valle!)

What Is Included

  • 10 nights lodging at top-rated accommodations
  • 10 breakfasts
  • 5 lunches
  • 2 dinners
  • luxury van transportation for day trips as outlined in itinerary
  • complete guide services
  • airfare from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido
  • transfer from Puerto Escondido to Huatulco airport

Example of very fine Amusgo back strap loom weaving

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary.  We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost to Participate

  • $2,695 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • Add $400 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)

Who Should Attend

  • Textile and fashion designers
  • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors
  • Home goods wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source
  • Photographers and artists who want inspiration
  • Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The first 30% payment is due on or before October 15, 2017. The second 30% payment is due on or before December 15, 2017. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 15, 2017, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2016, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico

The Terrain and Walking: Oaxaca is a colonial town on a 6,000 foot high desert plateau surrounded by 12,000 foot mountains. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, some narrow and some with high curbs.

The stones can be a bit slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight but we do tread with caution.

If you have mobility issues or health impediments, please let me know. I would encourage you to consider that this may not be the study tour for you. When you tell me you are ready to register, I will send you a health questionnaire to complete first.

 

From Mexico City: Under the Cathedral, An Aztec Empire

Far below Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest in the Americas, lies the archeological treasure trove that was once Tenochtitlan, the City of the Aztecs. It is known as Templo Mayor.

Archeological discovery continues in Mexico City under the Cathedral

First discovered and excavated in 1978, archeologists believe there are seven pyramid levels beneath what is now visible at the site next to the great Catholic church.

Only a fraction has been excavated under the Cathedral

It was the Spanish practice throughout New Spain, in Mesoamerica and South America, to destroy indigenous religious/cultural edifices and use the building materials to construct churches and administrative centers on top of the toppled.

Braziers used for sacrifice in Templo Mayor Museum

Each layer, filled in with silt by a succession of Moctezuma‘s, who built taller and grander edifices to mark their ascendency to lead the Aztec empire, now sinks into the swamp that underlies the great North American city.

Stucco and painted friezes in the Eagle Temple, Templo de las Aguilas, Tenochtitlan

Most of the buildings in the historic center of Mexico City are sinking, leaning and are at risk of toppling. The entire Zocalo area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for this reason.

Entry to Carmelite Ex-convent Santa Teresa, circa 1616, Mexico City

Next to the Templo Mayor is a contemporary art exhibition space that was once home to Carmelite Ex-Convento de Santa Teresa, built in 1616. You will pass by as you exit the archeological site onto Moneda Street that borders the Palacio Nacional.  Click here for a printable Map.

My camera is square; the floor isn’t. Extreme slant!

The Ex-Convento is leaning dramatically. Its front gates have always been closed. Over the New Years holiday weekend, when Jacob and I visited the Templo Mayor, lo and behold, the gates were open and I wanted to explore. As I stepped over the threshold, we entered a dizzying space — stepping onto a steeply tilting floor. My instincts were to grab the walls.

Sistine Chapel-esque, Ex Convento Santa Teresa ceiling

When I stay in Mexico City, I usually choose the Hotel Catedral, just two blocks from the Zocalo at Donceles 95. Nothing fancy. Good customer service, basic rooms, clean, and a delicious breakfast.

Torment of Cuauhtemoc, by David Alfaro Siquieros, at Museo Bellas Artes

There is so much to revisit, see and do, within eight square blocks. I never tire of repeating visits to the Rivera, Orozco and Siquieras murals. I never tire of eating at Azul Historico or Los Girasoles or El Mayor. I never tire of people watching.

I’ve watched this dig develop over the last two years

I always ask for a room at the back of the hotel facing the Cathedral. For the last several years, I have watched a vacant colonial house being transformed into an archeological dig from my hotel window.

On the walking street, Francisco I. Madero, Mexico City

All around the area there is transformation related to restoration and archeological discovery. Beneath Argentina Street you can see newly exposed Aztec carved stone covered by plexiglas pyramids. It gives perspective about where we walk and what came before us.

Black Christ, Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City

Mexico City is now one of the world’s most important travel destinations. It is safe and filled with amazing art, culture, food and shopping. I hope it’s on your bucket list.