Tag Archives: travel

Mexico Art Show Brings Oaxaca Artisans to Lake Chapala, Jalisco–Party Time

The 18th annual Feria Maestros del Arte happened last weekend at Lake Chapala, Jalisco, about 40-minutes from Guadalajara. I had never been before and I decided it was time! Plus, it gave me a chance to spend some time with friends Chris and Ben, who moved to Ajijic from North Carolina last year.

Estela Montaño with natural dyed wool pillow cover

I knew that Oaxaca would be well-represented among the 87 artisans participating. I was especially eager to see Teotitlan del Valle weaving friends Estella Montaño and Family, and mother-son team Maria de Lourdes Lazo Sosa and Isaac Armando Lazo.

Maria de Lourdes and son Isaac from Teotitlan del Valle

And, there was another good friend, flying shuttle loom weaver Alfredo Hernandez Orozco with his son Yaolt, who make extraordinary cotton cloth home goods and clothing. Their workshop is in El Tule.

Yaolt and his dad, Alfredo, accomplished fly shuttle loom weavers

There were other Oaxaca artisans whose work I know and respect: alebrijes makers, ceramic artists and sculptors, basket weavers, and some very fine clothing weavers from remote areas of the Oaxaca coast and Mixe regions. Many of these are included on our Oaxaca Discovery Tour coming up at the end of January 2020 (yes, a few spaces are available).

Fine, back-strap loomed cotton blusa, San Juan Cotzocon
Women who make red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola
Zeny Fuentes and Family, San Martin Tilcajete
Hand-woven palm necklace by Monica Diaz Martinez

An added bonus of going to the Fair was participating in events hosted by Los Amigos del Arte Popular. This is a non-profit group that supports Mexican folk art. They are appreciators and collectors, and do a lot to underwrite this Feria and provide scholarships for artisans to travel here.

Sally, Chris, Mariann, Norma, Ellen

I also had a chance to connect with friends Mariann who moved to Ajijic from Philadelphia, friend Ellen who comes to Oaxaca every winter, her sister Sally, and locals Elizabeth and Greg who live in Chapala. I also bumped into David and Barbara from San Diego, too.

Meat lovers’ paradise, ribs at Gosha’s, Ajijic, Jalisco
Lake Chapala from the Fair grounds

Unlike the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe that covers the world, this Fair reunites those of us with Mexico-LOVE. While I’m most happy living in Oaxaca, coming to the shores of Lake Chapala is a refreshing change of pace and a great party all the way around. I had to come home to rest!

A collector’s niche
Otomi embroidered wall hanging adds drama to bedroom
Papier-maché Virgin from developmentally challenged Chapala school for women
(R) Michoacan potter Guadalupe Garcia Rios in traditional Purepecha dress

One-Day Tlacolula Valley Folk Art Study Tour

We are your portal to Oaxaca! This one-day customized study tour takes you beyond Oaxaca City and into the villages along the Tlacolula highway to San Pablo Villa de Mitla. We schedule this excursion based on your travel plans and our availability. It is a menu-based, mixed-media approach to discovering the best artisans that the region has to offer. We visit where artisans live and work. You choose your own tour destinations.

We want to give you flexibility and choice. We also want to give you a guided cultural experience, personalized and deep. We have spent years developing relationships with the artisans we visit. This is NOT a “punch my ticket” tour.

You can select to visit four (4) of the following options from this menu of experiences:

  1. A flying shuttle loom weaver who creates beautiful cotton home goods and clothing — El Tule or Mitla
  2. A fine wool rug weaver who works only in natural dyes on the fixed frame pedal loom — Teotitlan del Valle
  3. A beeswax candle maker who is an artist craftswoman — Teotitlan del Valle

CHOOSE FROM ONE OF THE FOLLOWING, EITHER #4 OR #5 OR #6 OR #7. (Each of these villages are about 30-minutes from the main road!)

4. A pottery cooperative in San Marcos Tlapazola OR

5. A family of apron makers and embroiderers in San Miguel del Valle OR

6. A mezcal tasting at a palenque in Santiago Matalan OR

7. An antique dealer on a hidden-away street in San Pablo Villa de Mitla with a treasure trove of vintage finds, with a stop at the famed Mitla archeological site

We give you a full day, picking you up in the city at 9 a.m. and returning you by 6 p.m. If you want to add destinations, the cost is $100 USD more for each.

We don’t go on Sundays, the frenzied day of the Tlacolula Market, when there is a crush of people and visitors, and it’s too difficult to savor the experience. We also select the artisans to visit based on our knowledge and experience about outstanding craftsmanship.

What is included?

  • Transportation to/from Oaxaca City Historic Center
  • Lunch at an excellent restaurant or comedor
  • Translation
  • Expert explanations of art and craft
  • Curated visits to meet some of the best artisans we know

Cost

$300 per day for one or two people. $135 per person additional. If you want more than 4 destinations, the cost is $100 USD for each added stop.

Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer. You reserve for the dates you prefer. Please send us a couple of date options. You are welcome to organize your own small group.  We match your travel schedule with our availability.

This is for a full day, starting at 9 a.m. when we pick you up and ending at around 6 p.m. when we return you to your Oaxaca lodging. Please provide us with hotel/lodging address and phone number.

Reservations and Cancellations

We require a non-refundable 50% deposit via an e-commerce payment service. We will send you an invoice when you tell us you are ready to register and we confirm dates. The 50% balance is due on the day of the tour in cash, either USD or MXN pesos (at the current exchange rate). When we receive funds, we will send you confirmation and details. Be sure to send us the name and address for where you are staying.

If it’s Tuesday, it must be … Where are we, now?

Finally, home to North Carolina and then back to Mexico in two weeks. If you follow me on Facebook you know I’ve been traveling in Eastern Europe. This was a tour offered by one of the largest operators in the world. Their buses and ships zigzag the continents and oceans.

See below for a few treasures I am offering for sale from the trip.

Last stop, Venice, Italy — Adriatic power for centuries

In eleven days, we traveled from Tirana, Albania, to the Dinaric Alps and coast of Montenegro, to historic Adriatic fortified towns occupied by Greeks, then Romans, then Venetians, then Ottomans, then Austro-Hungarians, then Italians and Germans. After WWI, they became part of what we knew as Yugoslavia. The break-up happened after the death of Tito and in the aftermath of the Serbia-Croatian War of 1991. These are new republics.

We started in Tirana, Albania and ended in Venice, Italy

This is a land of the conquered and conquerors. We entered Kotor, Montenegro, for a one hour-fifteen minute lunch stop, climbed through winding mountain passes to visit crystal clear glaciated lakes and limestone caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, came to Split for a one-and-a-half hour walkabout. A full day in Dubrovnik was pure luxury. We slipped through Bosnia’s sliver of an access to the Adriatic, before entering Slovenia, part of the European Union. We used Lek, Kuna and Euros along the way.

Beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia — now a shopping mall with cruise ships

I went out of curiosity, to be a roommate to my friend, and because the cost was low enough to justify the impulse. Will I do it this way again? Not likely.

Vintage shepherdess bag, tapestry weave, found in Kotor, Montenegro — similar to Oaxaca

We all wear name tags and use headsets, move in lock-step according to the schedule. Most mornings, this 43-person group was on the road by 7:30 a.m. (sometimes earlier) to cover miles of territory, luggage packed and loaded, breakfast inhaled. Many of my photos were taken from the bus window. There was no interaction with native people other than shopkeepers we met along the way. Local tour guides provided interpretive historical and cultural commentary during the one- to two-hour city walking tours.

Becoming rare: Mediterranean coral 8mm bead necklace with secure sterling clasp, 20″ long, 57 beads, very good quality, $585 + $15 mailing with insurance. norma.schafer@icloud.com

I learned that there are villages in Slovenia where needle lace is still being made. In towns where we stopped, during free time, I tried to seek out antique dealers who were selling vintage textiles and jewelry. The selection was sparse. Eventually, I succumbed to the rhythm of the group, took a deep breath, and went along for the ride.

On the bus, somewhere along the Adriatic Coast of Eastern Europe
For Sale: Handmade, sterling silver filigree earrings, traditional Adriatic Coast style

Note: From Left to Right, #1, #2 and #3. These three pairs of sterling silver earrings are hand-crafted. The first pair #1 is new with delicate, intricate filigree. Price is $175. #2 is vintage and I bought these earrings in the seaside town of Makarska from a silversmith whose family has been in the business for generations. Price is $165. #3 is a vintage pair of large sterling filigree earrings from Kosovo that I bought in Opatija, Slovenia. Price is $395. Mailing for any pair is $12 USD. Send me an email if you are interested. norma.schafer@icloud.com You can see the influences of Austro-Hungarians and Ottoman Turks in the designs and workmanship.

The coast is known for extraordinary seafood. Here, grilled shrimp and risotto.
For sale, Bracelet #1 — Top: Vintage sterling silver filigree, 6-1/2″.
I can add links to make bigger. $185 plus $9 mailing.
For Sale, Bracelet #2 — Bottom: Vintage sterling silver filigree, 8″ and $85 USD plus $9 mailing.

What I validated was an important lesson in how I put together experiences for travelers who choose Oaxaca Cultural Navigator excursions: it is more valuable to go deep than wide. It is essential to meet local people to learn about and understand life, culture, values, challenges and opportunities. A middleman interpreting social and political issues isn’t enough. To really be in a country, one must go to where people live and work, take meals with them, share who we are with each other. For me, a small group is defined as ten to fifteen travelers.

Old tapestries transformed into restaurant chair pillows
Adriatic coast at sunset, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Yes, people want to see the world. Most want to see the world for less money, to go to as many countries as possible, to get the Passport stamped. Do do so, one must join the crowds. I heard from fellow travelers that they go on river cruises with 125 people, which they consider a small group. The mega-cruise ships that hold thousands docked in Dubrovnik and Venice, spit out day-trippers who overrun these once beautiful cultural sites. Perhaps they buy a double-scoop of gelato and then re-board the ship for the endless buffet. Imagine these cities now as shopping malls with all the international brands paying high rents, pushing out local artisans and residents — a topic we never discussed.

Handwoven silk sash from King Nikolas Museum, Montenegro

Still rough around the edges, coming out of Communism with heart and hopefulness, Albania and Montenegro are undiscovered jewels and most promising. Worth a trip back to explore the Ionian coast that borders Greece, worth a trip back for the delicious dark and crusty bread and seafood, worth a trip back to go deeper. We shall see.

Contemporary Albania rug weaving, market quality
Vintage rug, museum quality, with natural dyes
Vintage Albanian waist belt, tapestry with rolled fringes

Yes! Textiles in Tirana, Albania

I´m in Eastern Europe, starting out along the southern Adriatic Coast of Albania in the capitol city of Tirana. I’m on a cultural tour of the region that has no particular focus, with a friend who needed a roommate. It would never have occured to me to put this on a travel bucket list, but I´m glad I did.

I call this Eastern Europe because it was once part of the Communist bloc pre-Gorbachev, that turned it’s loyalties to China and Mao, a stricter version communism after Glasnost.

Marble bust, Greek style

This is a developing country. It broke its shackles of repression after more than 30 years of isolation, forced labor camps, concentration camps, and extermination of liberal opposition. This is a city of bunkers built between 1960´s and 1980´s out of paranoid fear of invasion by foreign powers. By 1983, over 173,000 bunkers were built. Tirana today dedicated two to the martyrs who died in opposition, a memorial to a holocaust.

Obsolète; Communist era military buttons

With this in mind, the group I´m traveling with visited the National History Museum. The galleries are devoted to Albania history with ties to Greece, Italy, Macedonia and the Ottoman Empire. Artifacts, including marble busts, bronze weapons and jewelry from archeological sites are on display here.

Goddess Appolonia

An entire gallery is devoted to remembering those who suffered and died under the regime of Enver Hoxha. Here, I cried. This is fresh history. Recent history. Living history. And politics here is everywhere.

Wool apron with embroidered embellishment

Albanians love Americans. Woodrow Wilson said Albania should be independent after the Balkans were divided after WWI. In 2007, George W. Bush was the first US president to visit here. Two young students told me it is their dream to go to America. It is heartwarming to be welcomed so enthusiastically by people we meet. The history is dark, yet there is a sunrise to the east in the second poorest (only to Kosovo) country in Europe.

Heavy wool coat with appliqué

There is a small gift shop at National History Museum. It is filled mostly with vintage textiles that are 60 to 80 years old. The cloth is handwoven wool or cotton, embellished with embroidery or appliqué. The symbol of the country, the double-headed eagle, reminds me of some of the indigenous regions of Oaxaca where the same iconography is central to the language of cloth.

Rugs at the New Market, new, I think

I see weaving patterns that look like Zapotec rugs. I see tiny joining stitches that looks like Mexican randa. I see belts woven on backstrap looms embellished with fringed and wrapped tassels. I see the creativity of a people who desired to adorn themselves in beauty, a consistent them worldwide.

Vintage belts in the museum store

There are mostly European visitors here in this city of one million people, in this country of three million. We were told that there are six million visitors here annually now and the country is struggling to keep up with tourism infrastructure. The time to come here is now!

The tiniest stitches on traditional blouse

I am meandering on my own after the museum. I want to go to New Market and head in the direction a museum guard points me to. At a corner, I hesitate. I ask two young people where to find it.

Casey and Ben, Albanian college students, and me

That’s how I meet Casey and Ben. They speak English. I ask them if they will be my guide for the afternoon. They have free time. They are university students starting their first year, and classes are delayed because the registration system is kerfluffled. Along the way they tell me that young people don’t stay here. There is huge unemployment and the jobs are in Italy or Germany. Their dream is to go to the US. They are delighted to help me and I am delighted to give them each 500 Lek, about $5 USD each. Lucky us!

This is an olive-growing country — delicious!

After New Market, I continue on my own to Oda Restaurant and have a traditional Albanian lunch of stuffed eggplant with veggies, corn bread and beer. Then, back to Hotel Rogner for a rest.

Clay pots to store and cook with

Tomorrow, we are off to Montenegro. Who knows what I’ll find there!

Tasty beer at Oda Restaurant

Travel Packing Tips 101: Using Cubes & Baskets

This afternoon I’m boarding an international flight for the Adriatic Coast of Europe, where I’ll be traveling with Hettie on a tour for two weeks — my first tour ever! (We shall see how it goes.)

In my move toward minimalism, I’m attempting to pack lighter (for me) and that means taking one medium sized 26″ suitcase. Yes, it will be checked.

A friend suggested that I share my packing tips with you. I welcome your additions to the suggestions offered below.

After extensive research, I ordered a set of Diniwell packing cubes. A Great way to organize your stuff. These have industrial strength zippers and are deeper than most. The mesh top allows you to see what’s inside.

(Note: For years, I have used clear plastic zipper bags recycled for this purpose after buying sheets, pillows, mattress covers sold in them. Over time, they have torn and are no longer useful. I always liked how I could see what I packed, so I wanted to replace this system with something similar.)

I take a sturdy Oaxaca handwoven basket and stuff it with boots, shoes or toiletries. I use it on the return trip to protect anything fragile I might buy. (On this trip, I intend to discard one pair of shoes at the end.) The bubble wrap and packing tape are in the outside zipper pouch of my TravelPro suitcase, which is now 10+ years old and still durable.

Handwritten packing list — I need to get this on a spreadsheet!

My carry on for this trip will not be a rollaboard. And, I’m not taking a computer, opting for an iPad with keyboard instead. I’ve decided on using my favorite Oaxaca woven shopping bag as carry-on container, along with my Topo duffle-style backpack and my Picuadro cross-body travel bag — it’s tough and sturdy. The money will be in a pouch tucked under my shirt. I have used the backpack comfortably throughout Mexico, India, Spain and Japan.

Cross-body bag will tuck inside woven bag for boarding = 2 carry-ons

Packing List: Clothing and Shoes

  • 1 pair blue jeans (Raleigh Denim is my preferred brand)
  • 1 pair Raleigh Denim bermuda shorts
  • 1 jean jacket (bought from Target)
  • 1 dress (my Zayzelle design made with breathable Japanese cotton)
  • 4 cotton/linen shirts
  • 4 pair underpants
  • 1 bra to pack, 1 to wear — one black, one white
  • 1 nightgown
  • 5 pairs socks, 1 wool and 4 cotton
  • 3 scarves to vary the look
  • bathing suit
  • sun hat
  • boots for urban hiking (Caterpillar brand), sandals (Wolky), flip flops, black flats (Alegria) — foot comfort is essential
Packing cubes stack neatly, making it easy to organize and see what you need

To Wear and Carry on Board

  • Comfy cotton Japanese loose-fitting worker pants
  • Short-sleeve cotton t-shirt and long-sleeve cotton t-shirt for sleeping
  • Linen long-sleeve jacket
  • REI long-sleeve polypropylene zipper jacket in case it gets cold
  • Wool quechquemitl (short poncho)
  • Wool socks
  • Cotton or wool scarf
  • Jewelry pouch — NO BLING

To Carry on for Overnight Travel

  • Neck support pillow (Cozzy brand) — I researched extensively, ordered and returned others, and found this one to be the most comfortable
  • Toiletries/make-up, toothbrush and toothpaste, face wipes
  • Essential medications
  • Ear plugs and eye mask
  • Snacks — power bars, 2 packages Ramen noodles, ginger candy
  • Printed itinerary with record locators, flights, lodging contacts
  • Passport and copies
  • Small travel notebook (Moleskine) and pens
Nylon hanging toiletries bag to lighten load!

Technology: Be sure everything is fully charged before you leave home

  • Fitbit battery
  • iPad and charger
  • Auxiliary power pack and charger
  • iPhone and charger
  • Earbuds
  • Adapter to use in-country
  • USB plugs
  • Power strip, small

Miscellaneous to Pack

  • Umbrella
  • Laundry soap, Tide stick, sewing kit
  • Scissors, nail clips, emory board
  • Shampoo, rinse, creams, lotions
  • Q-tips
  • 2 clothespins for drapes that don’t shut
  • Sunscreen
  • Moleskin padding
  • Hand-sanitizer
The contraption is a hanging clothes dryer — from Japan, of course!

Other ideas

  • Jenny says: Bring clear plastic zipper bags
  • Joan says: Never check a bag — bring wash and wear
  • Helene says: leave plenty of time to get through security to avoid stress
  • Madelyn says: Bring bubble wrap and tape
  • Sandi says: Cut a water bottle in 2 pieces, 1/3 and 2/3; wrap your treasure in toilet paper, insert inside bottle, push both pieces together; great for protecting breakables
  • Becky says: Write a packing advice article

What are your tips? For those of you who can travel for 2 to 3 weeks with a carry-on, please share how you do it!

Please add your suggestions to the Comments!

Dubrovnik, Croatia, coastline