Tag Archives: travel

A Visit to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: More Than Rug Shopping

So many visitors come to Teotitlan del Valle, brought by tour guides to go rug shopping, but never know the other treasures that the village has to offer. In and out of rug galleries on the main road, off they go to the next destination without ever coming into the center of town. I recommend you don’t make that mistake!

You really need a few hours here or more to explore this wonderful Zapotec pueblo.

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Church Built Atop Ancient Zapotec Temple

Did you know there is an ancient pre-Hispanic archeological site behind the Iglesia de Preciosa Sangre de Cristo (Church of the Precious Blood) in Teotitlan del Valle?  It’s not a high pyramid like those at Monte Alban or Mitla because the Spanish conquerors used the temple stones to build the church foundation and edifice. You need to walk around to the back side to see the remains and then go inside the church courtyard to see stone carvings recovered from the original structure that are embedded in the walls.  Look closely and you will see the rain god Tlaloc and the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl.

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Community Museum: A Living History of Zapotec Life

The community museum, known as Balaa Xtee Guech Gulal or translated from Zapotec to mean In the Shadow of the Old People, is located across from the rug market.  Next to it is the village government building called the Municipio or Palacio.  The entire square was redesigned and rebuilt several years ago into a modern public gathering space and there is ample parking.

In the community museum you can purchase important documentary videos produced by Metamorfosis Documentation Project that explain the history and culture of the village through its very important of Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma.  All sales of the video benefit the ongoing non-profit projects of the museum to preserve and explain traditions. Museum exhibits include old photographs, dioramas, textiles and archeological findings.

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Daily Market: Sustenance of Village Life

You can find market vendors as early as seven or seven-thirty in the morning setting up stalls.  There really isn’t an official time for the market, but it’s going full blast by eight-thirty in the morning and begins to slow down two hours later. By eleven in the morning, only a few fruit sellers are left.  It’s worth it to come into town the day before, spend the night at one of the lovely and basic posadas/hostals, and get up early to get to the market.  I often sit at the periphery just to watch the ladies with their woven market baskets made from bamboo (called canastas) crooked through their elbows, as vendors weigh out the produce and deposit the purchase into the basket.

Here you can get fresh squeezed organic juices. My favorite is beet, carrot, pineapple and orange juice.  Belly up to a comal for a breakfast quesadilla or pick out a savory tamale Teotiteco-style — bean, amarillo, chipil — from one of the women who sell out in the open air. Peel back the husk and use your fingers to eat, just like the locals.  Then, of course, there are the handmade aprons, the uniform of local Zapotec women, sold near the bread vendors.

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Smell the fragrant lilies. Take in the piles of roses. Pay attention to the grandmothers whose braids, interwoven with ribbon, hang down their backs. Catch a whiff of the copal incense coming from the church. Feel your feet on ancient cobblestones.  Immerse yourself and take your time.  The life here is rich and rewarding.

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A Walk to the Presa: The Reservoir Awaits

Egrets, heron, grazing cattle and sheep, herders on horseback or walking with staff in hand are part of everyday life here.  From the village market, walk along Avenida 2 de Abril toward the sacred mountain called Picacho.  When you come to the T, which is Avenida Revolucion, make a right turn and continue along the wide dirt road until you come to the reservoir and dam.  This is the water source for the village’s agricultural endeavors. It is also very scenic and a perfect place for an afternoon picnic.  Did you remember to buy cheese and bread the market?  If you do this, please don’t forget to pack out your refuse!

Gracias y adios!

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Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera: Art History Tour 2015

Come to Mexico City for an art history tour to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art.

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2015 Schedule

  • April 9 – 13, 2015

We will have a long weekend — 4 nights and 5 days, to learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.  Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history.

If you want to register, send me an email.

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Our guide is art historian Valeria Espitia, M.F.A.,  who shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists and narrates the expedition.  She leads us through these spaces to give you the most meaningful educational experience:

  • Palacio Nacional
  • Palacio Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP)
  • San Ildefonso National Preparatory School and Abelardo Rodriguez market
  • Casa Azul — the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
  • Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño

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Casa Azul  — Museo Frida Kahlo is a tribute to the life of both artists. Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño has the largest private collection of Frida and Diego paintings in the world. She was a benefactor and life-long personal friend of Rivera.

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Plus, we will shop for outstanding folk art, and eat at local markets, historic and fine contemporary and traditional restaurants!

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The trip includes:

  • 4 nights lodging at a top-rated, historic center hotel
  • guided discussions by art historian Valeria Espitia, MFA, educated at UNAM and Southern Methodist University
  • visits to folk art galleries
  • introduction to Norma’s favorite restaurants (meals not included)
  • transportation to Casa Azul and Dolores Olmedo Museum

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Preliminary Itinerary

  • Day 1, Thursday: travel day, arrive and check into our hotel.  Join in for an optional group welcome dinner (arrive by 6 p.m.)
  • Day 2, Friday: guided visit to SEP, San Idlefonso, and the Abelardo Rodriguez market where Rivera’s students painted, optional group dinner
  • Day 3, Saturday: guided visit to Palacio Bellas Artes and Museo Mural de Diego Rivera, optional folk art shopping
  • Day 4, Sunday:  guided visit to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño
  • Day 5, Monday: depart

Be ready to WALK and then, walk some more!  Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase to pack the treasures you pick up along the way.

Cost:  $695 per person double occupancy.  $995 per person single occupancy.

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What the trip doesn’t include:

  • breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, alcoholic beverages
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • museum admission fees
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services

Cost:  $695 per person double occupancy.  $995 per person single occupancy. Maximum: 6 people.

Optional: Arrive early and/or stay later to discover Mexico City and her incredible museums and restaurants. We will provide you with a list  of recommendations to explore on your own. $200 per day per person additional. Tell us your dates and we will make your hotel reservations and include this in your invoice.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance is due 45 days before the program start date.  Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will send you an itemized PayPal invoice.

Please understand that we make lodging and other arrangements months in advance of the program.  Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts.  If cancellation is necessary, please tell us in writing by email.   After 45 days before the program starts, no refunds are possible.  However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before the 45 day date, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

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Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a signed and witnessed waiver of liability, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  Unforeseen circumstances happen!

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

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This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary and substitute leaders without notice.

Veracruz, Gateway to La Chinantla, Oaxaca

Just as Veracruz was the gateway into Mexico for Hernan Cortes in 1519, I begin my journey here to explore remote textile villages that are part of the Chinanteco and Mazateco regions of Oaxaca state called La Chinantla.

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We start at Veracruz because it is a short two hours by car to cross over the border to Tuxtepec. From Oaxaca city, this trip can take as much as eight hours over winding, two-lane mountain roads of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte.

Cortes landed in Veracruz on Good Friday and name the place The True Cross.

I am traveling with Stephanie Schneiderman of Tia Stephanie Tours. She made this trip on her own three times to research the villages and put the tour in place before opening it up in 2013 to textile lovers and collectors.

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This is the land of fresh fish, seafood stew, a paella-like dish called arroz a la tumbada and ceviche. It is where women have been weaving on back-strap looms and creating glorious embroidered designs for centuries. They are preserved because the region is remote. The conquistadors were more interested in gold, silver and cochineal.

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It’s the end of the rainy season. From the airplane window as we descend into Veracruz, I see the rivers below are full. The earth is forest, spring, olive and lime green. It is the middle of October. I see the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the distance. It is low, flat and warm here. The port city is Mexico’s most important shipping and naval center.

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Our Gran Hotel Diligencias is on the Zocalo across from a stark white cathedral. The square is filled with outdoor restaurants,  son jarocho music and dancers, and late night lechero coffee drinkers. It’s colonial architecture reflects the sequence of conquests: Spain, France and the United States of America.

I will be here for two days before our textile journey begins.

Art History Tour: Mexican Muralism, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico City

The Mexican Muralists, and especially the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are the focus of our Mexico City Art History Tour: Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.  Arrive on November 13 and depart on November 17. DiegoFrida4Group-77 This intensive study tour takes you into off-the-beaten path public art spaces and those that are more popular where Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros worked. DiegoFrida4Group-65 Be prepared to walk, explore, discover, discuss and enjoy the Old World beauty of Mexico’s capital city.  You will learn more in three days about Mexico, her culture and ethos, than you ever imagined, and how Rivera and Kahlo helped define a national identity after the 1910 Revolution. DiegoFrida4Group-84 If you are intrigued by

  • the mystery of Frida’s relationship with her mentor Diego Rivera, whom she married twice,
  • social and political history of pre- and post-revolution Mexico,
  • Mexican Muralist Movement as populist outcry and government tool,
  • Aztec archeology,
  • Colonial and Belle Epoque architecture,
  • Mexico City as a food, culture, and art mecca,

This program is for you!

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Our art historian has postponed her graduate studies in Europe for one year, so we are fortunate to be able to offer this program again.

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If you have never traveled to Mexico City, this is a great introduction to the historic center and Casa Azul, the home Frida and Diego shared. Plus, we visit the Dolores Olmedo Museum that holds the largest collection of Diego’s and Frida’s work.

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Mexico City is easy to fly to from anywhere in the United States and Canada. The city is safe, clean and hospitable.  Our friendly hotel is located just two blocks from the Zocalo, the Palacio Nacional, the Catedral and the Templo Mayor archeological site of the Aztec power center. DiegoFrida4Group-5 Questions?  Contact Norma Hawthorne.  DiegoFrida4Group2-7

One Day in Capulalpam de Mendez: Oaxaca’s Pueblo Magico

High in Oaxaca’s Sierra Juarez, the mountain range to the east of Oaxaca city that borders the state of Veracruz, nestles Capulalpam de Mendez, one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos. The village is terraced into the mountainside and the views are breathtaking. Indeed, the altitude can take your breath away at almost 8,000 feet (2,350 meters, 7,710 feet to be exact).

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We are on a two-day adventure, me, Hollie and Carol.  We call it an adventure because none of us had been up this road before.  Little did we know what would be in store for us further along.  Before long, we will be called Las Tres Mosqueteras — female version of the Three Musketeers.

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We leave Oaxaca early Sunday morning in my faithful La Tuga (10-year-old Honda Element) to take the switch-back federal highway MEX 175, first to Ixtlan de Juarez, where Mexico’s reformist hero Benito Juarez was baptized close to his birthplace of Guelatao.  We climb nearly 2,000 feet in the distance of 62 kilometers or about 38 miles. The precipices are harrowing and the jam-packed shared taxis pay no attention to the solid yellow line that goes the distance to separate the two-lanes.  It takes the better part of two hours to make the trip.

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Soon we are in a bio-diverse ecosystem of pine, cedar and oak dripping with ferns, bromeliads and moss. It is a rainforest up here with water run-off, gurgling streams filled with trout and lots of roadside restaurants to eat them fresh.

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I took one seat out of La Tuga so I can haul an easy-chair and ottoman to an ESL teacher friend, the only gringa at University of Sierra Juarez in Ixtlan. On the return, I carry back a locally crafted pine dresser made from sustainable wood.

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After sleeping overnight at the very comfortable Ecoturixtlan ecotourism lodge (try the zip line), I propose we go further up the mountain a few miles more to Capulalpam. I had heard about it but had never been there and everyone is up for what’s next.

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Once we get there, we are lucky to find a comedor open for breakfast at the central market. The eggs are perfect and the climate even more so. We meet farmers and  innkeepers who tell us that there are only a few Zapotec speakers left in the village. We decide this a perfect spot for a writing retreat or just to chill-out for a few days.  Next time.

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Since the historic church doesn’t open until noon and it is only 10:30 a.m. local time (an hour later in Oaxaca City, go figure), we decide to scout out the road to the highest point in the village. There’s an overlook up there and we ask directions.

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Go to the end of the pavement. Take the dirt road up, says a local woman.  So we do.  I turn left, climb higher, shifting between first and second. With each curve there is a vista more spectacular than the one before. Then, we face it.

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A seventy-degree hill (okay maybe I’m exaggerating just a bit) rutted from rain run-off with a base of gravel and rock. I stop the car.  Carol says, Well, we could get out and walk. I say, Well, I think we can make it. Let’s see what La Tuga can do. I press the clutch, push the stick into first and up we go. Except we make it only about half way until the clutch starts to burn and the car begins to swivel sideways dancing toward the edge.

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I brake. Oops, I say. Roll down the window and honk, then yell,  Necessito un ayudante. I need a helper.  Ayudame. Help me. Un hombre. Un hombre. A man.  A man. Hilarious, you might think, despite the fact that we are independent women trying to make our way in the world solita. Alone. Hah.  Hombre, I yell again.  Two children materialize at the top of the hill and look down at us. I imagine they are thinking, Gringas Locas.

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Then, David appears. He runs to the passenger side of the car as Hollie is attempting an exit, tells her to get back in. Carol is unusually quiet. David guides me, tells me how to exactly turn the wheel so I can back down slow, straight and sure. Thank goodness my Spanish is good enough!

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At the base of the road, I turn the car around around. David invites us all into his house to meet his wife Martha and drink fresh guava juice.  His view hanging over the mountain side was pretty darn good.

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But, we still want to find the Mirador, the very top of the mountain. David offers to guids us up there and climbs in the back seat. Amazing views.

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We joke about our adventure all afternoon. Later, we invite David and Martha to join us for a trout dinner, exchange phone numbers, and I get contact information for his two adult children, a son and a daughter, who live in Los Angeles and who he hasn’t seen in seven years.

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If I hadn’t made that turn, I wonder what this story would be like.

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P.S. Find the whole wheat bread baked in the wood fired clay oven.  Stay overnight at Hotel Chorromonte, 01 (951) 53 92052, with WiFi, beautiful, clean, from 200 pesos a night. Eat breakfast at Comedor Mau-Mau in the village market operated by Betzabeth Cosmes Perez.

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