Monthly Archives: January 2008

Guide to Naturally Dyed Rugs in Teotitlan del Valle

We’re developing a detailed street map of Teotitlan del Valle that identifies the names and locations of our favorite weavers who are only working with naturally dyed wool to weave their rugs. This has required quite a bit of research; there are not many of these weavers — about 10 families that we’ve been able to tag so far. A Question for You: I’m going to put this question out there and ask for your comments. Would a detailed street map of the entire village, with a group of recommended weavers located on the map, be of value? If so, what would be a reasonable cost to pay for such a map? What would be the best way to order it, pay for it and receive it? What other information would be useful to include? Restaurants and cafes? Lodging? Walks and hikes?Please send your comments my way! Thanks.

I encourage you to read the comments below that explain how tour guides benefit from taking tourists to where they can get paid the highest commissions, regardless of quality.

More About Braids and Ribbons: Cultural Awakening

I asked Janet (Yah-nette) Chavez Santiago if she knew the significance of the color of ribbons the abuelas use in their braids.  I didn’t hear from her for a few days and when she reported back, I thought, wow, I was really trying to read something more into this than what was really there!  How culturally naive of me, and then I thought, how many of us do this when we travel and even when we think we know a place very well, wanting to find meaning in really small, insignificant practices?

The answer Janet gave me was  simple.  She asked her grandmother, Soledad, who is in her late 70’s and wears traditional Zapotec dress as her daily habit.  Soledad replied that ladies wind their hair in braids using colorful ribbons to keep unruly hair tidy while they are cooking and cleaning, but especially cooking.  Ribbons as a useful tool for hygiene was the underlying meaning communicated.  I asked Janet to ask again about the color of the ribbons, which I notice can be blue, green, red, yellow, and many women from distinct villages choose to use the same color of ribbon.  The answer that came back was that it was personal preference having no grander significance than that.  Peer influence is powerful the world over as to wanting to wear similar costumes.  Why am I not surprised?

Temezcal: Oaxaca Sweat Lodge

Temezcal is an ancient Zapotec ritual practice that continues today.  I’ve had two temezcal experiences, both in Teotitlan del Valle, that were authentic and memorable.  There is something bonding, intimate and spiritual about sharing a temezcal with someone you care about.  Plus it’s really fun.  I took my most recent temezcal at the home of a Chavez family relative who lives next door.  We entered the courtyard around 6:30 p.m. and were led to the rear of the property where we saw the low adobe mound that looked like an oversize oven.  We smelled the wood fire and met the two elderly women who would attend to us.  Me, my girlfriend Sam, young friends Janet and Elsa,  were all bundled up because it was winter and it was cold outside. Dolores was with us, bringing along water and extra blankets.  We took our clothes off in the dark and piled them on chairs and wood planks that we could barely see, then an arm stretched out from within the temezcal cave to give us a hand and guide us in.   Sam and I went first, crawling, head down, naked, through the U-shaped opening one at a time. In the corner was a wood fire, a bucket of water, and a pile of hot rocks.  It was all smokey hot and steamy. The floor was covered with leaves and branches of chipil, a sweet smelling herb brought down the mountain from Benito Juarez.  Sam and I laid down next to each other, bellies to the ground. The two ladies spoke softly in Zapotec and I could see the outline of their bodies and feel the sweep of an arm across my back, switching the fragrant herbs in the air to create heat and a sweet aroma.  Then I felt the brush of herbs on my back and arms, back and forth, back and forth, to release the heat from my body.  I could feel Sam’s skin warm, soft and sticky next to me and the soft mat of herbs on the floor of the temezcal against my belly.  Everything was warm and soft and steamy and smokey. There was one woman beside each of us, naked, pressed close.  It was a hoot when in the language every human being understands — the motion and push of hands — that we were told to exchange places with each other and turn over.  I won’t describe it here!  The only thing possible thing that we could do was climb over each other in the dark and be sure we didn’t poke any sensitive parts.  I could hear the sizzle of water on the hot stones, kept my head down and my nose covered  with a wet cloth.  The heat was intensifying and I could feel a breeze generated by  the switching herbs.  Then,  I heard the oinking of pigs.  I thought, where’s that coming from?  When we could bear the heat no more, we crawled out, limp, wet and totally relaxed.  Dolores wrapped us in layers of blankets and we rested on the straw mat while the younger girls had their turn (it was their inaugural temezcal).  And, then, I heard it again.  The loud grunting of pigs.   Yep, the temezcal was right out there next to the pig stye.  We rested until the heat in our bodies dissipated, sipped water, kept our heads covered, and were told not to bathe for 24 hours.  Why, I asked?  It’s the custom, I was told, and that was the end of it.  It was nearly 9 p.m. and all we wanted to do was go to bed.  I’m certain there are more luxe experiences in Oaxaca City, but what could be better than this?


Restaurants Along the Way

We have taken meals at these eateries and can recommend them.

  • San Martin Tilcajete: “Azucena” on the road to Ocotlan
  • Mazunte: “El Pelicano” and “Un Secreto”
  • Crucecita: “El Sabor de Oaxaca”
  • San Augustin Etla: “Comedor Alheli” (260 pesos for 5 people, plus standard 10% tip, which included roasted chicken, fresh tortillas, rice, sopa de elote, beer or agua fresca)
  • Oaxaca: “Temple,” “La Biznaga,” “Maria Buena,” “Casa Oaxaca,” “Marco Polo”
  • Teotitlan del Valle: “The Sacred Bean” coffee shop, “El Descanso Restaurant”, “Samburguesa,” and “Las Granadas” Bed & Breakfast will also prepare comida with an advanced reservation
I also want to recommend that you check out this Blog for a great commentary on eating in Oaxaca by a very savvy 30-year old New Yorker who lived there for four months:

Lodging Along the Way

  • Teotitlan del Valle:  Casa Josefina “Las Granadas”, contact or 5244232, $25 USD per night includes breakfast
  • Hotel Calli, Tehuantepec, 800 pesos per night
  • Hotel Grifer, Crucecita (Huatulco), 500 pesos per night
  • Casa de los Sabores (Oaxaca), Pilar Cabrera, $75 USD per night
  • Las Bugambilias (Oaxaca), Aurora Cabrera, $85 USD per night,
  • El Pelicano, Mazunte, 500 pesos per night

These are the places we have actually stayed and can recommend.