Monthly Archives: February 2012

Mixteca Women Who Weave: Oaxaca Show and Sale, February 25

Cochineal dyed rebozo from the Mixteca

Judith Radtke and Jo Ann Feher just told me about this great show and sale coming up on Saturday, February 25 in Oaxaca City.  If you are in town, they invite you to stop by.  You will also have an opportunity to meet the women who weave these wonderful pieces in cotton, wool and natural dyes.

Weavings, Weavers and Wine

Saturday, February 25, 2012 — 5 pm – 7pm
Jose Vasconcelos 104 (runs off Tinoco Y Palacios), Figueroa, Oaxaca, Tel. 516 – 71 43

Enjoy Wine and Cheese.
View exquisite hand weavings by Mixteca Weavers.
Meet the weavers: Edith, Marcellina and Edith Inez.

The book, Weaving Yarn, Weaving Cultures, Weaving Lives: A Circle of Women in Oaxaca, Mexico will also be available for sale.

All proceeds go to the weavers.

Learn tapestry weaving in a workshop with Federico Chavez Sosa, March 14-17, 2012 in Teotitlan del Valle.


Macuilxochitl, Tlayuda Capital of the Tlacolula Valley, Oaxaca

Church at Macuilxochitl

What makes Macuilxochitl unique is more than its gorgeous three-domed church that stands proudly in the center of the zocalo, waiting for continuing restoration. This is a village noted for its tlayudas.  These are the extra-large sometimes marigold-colored tortillas that are made in the traditional way using masa pressed by hand and then toasted on the comal until the dinner-plate sized discs are puffy and toasty brown on both sides.

My story today is about tlayudas and the hands of women who make them.  We enter into the smokey, cavernous space called kitchen, obscure and mysterious.  This is a large adobe brick structure that holds the cooking stove, comal, and a flock of chickens that nest under the wood-fired stove.


This is not easy work.  First, you must prepare the large rock-sized balls of masa, ensuring that they don’t dry out and are the right consistency for kneading. Then, you take a fist size piece and form it into a ball, flatten it and bring it to the tortilla press, where between two sheets of plastic wrap, you press and press and press again using all your upper body strength to make this staple as flat and transparent as possible.


With nimble fingers you spin it like a pizza dough to stretch it out even more, then lay it gently on the very hot, lime-coated comal (griddle), taking care not to burn fingers.  With thumb and forefinger, the tlayuda gets turned every 30 seconds or so to be sure that it cooks evenly and doesn’t burn.  It needs to be toasty and not soft.  There are so many ways to make masa into tortilla variations.

Today, this masa is more white.  Sometimes, it is yellow or has a red or blue tinge, depending upon the type of organic, locally grown corn used.  Perhaps it is a blend of white and blue or white and red, which gives it a more subtle shade.

Jane tries her hand at the press

The tlayudas go into a tall, multi-colored basket, stacked and covered with cloth, ready to take to market.  We try our hand at the labor-intensive task.  After two or three tries, we are tired.  This is work and we sit to rest.  Our hosts keep at it.  This is their livelihood.

Macuil, as the locals call it, is also a Zapotec village of skilled stonemasons, called albañiles, who work in construction, building traditional adobe houses and more contemporary ones made with brick or concrete block.  As an agricultural village, it is also noted for raising sheep (borregos) and growing tending the milpas (small plots of corn, squash and beans).  Within walking distance from Teotitlan del Valle, Macuilxochitl is also accessible from Pan American Highway 190 via a moto-taxi tuk-tuk or collectivo.

Tlayuda Recipe:  One large flat, crunchy tortilla toasted and dry, about 12″ in diameter.  Smear with black bean paste.  Drizzle with green or red salsa according to taste.  Add shredded string cheese or Oaxaqueño string cheese, shredded chicken, diced tomatoes, Julienne red peppers and onions that have been sautéed until soft, top with thin slices of avocado.  Mexican version of pizza.  Cut into triangles and serve.  Great entrée with salad or as an appetizer.

Portrait Photography Workshop: Capture Your Experience, April 2-9, 2012, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden: Rooted in Cultural History

Rather than give you another review of Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden, I thought I would share this excellent article recently published in Garden Design Magazine. It has lots of photos of this remarkable space.  Thanks to Mary Ann Walsh who follows this blog and shared the link with me.

Check the Garden for availability of guided tours in English, usually available Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11 a.m.  You can only enter the garden as part of a guided visit which lasts two hours.

You can see some of the same design elements in this garden that recur in some of the more recent renovations — the Museo Textil de Oaxaca and the Centro Academico y Cultural San Pablo funded by the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation.

When Alejandro de Avila B. returned to Oaxaca after completing his PhD at University of California at Berkeley, he became the director of the Ethnobotanical Garden and then later, curator at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.  He continues to have an important impact on the development of arts and culture in the city and is an extraordinarily knowledgeable resource.

Chiapas Retrospective: San Cristobal de las Casas Textiles, Food, Lodging, Shopping

Huipil, San Andres Larainzar, Mercado Sto Domingo

In retrospect: The best of San Cristobal de las Casas! Now that I am back in Oaxaca, settled into my comfy room with my Zapotec family in Teotitlan del Valle, I revisit my travels to San Cristobal de las Casas.  With Oaxacaqueño organic coffee from Nuevo Mundo in hand to wash down the almond paste and chocolate croissants leftover from the San Cris authentic French  bakery on Real Guadalupe, one of many in San Cris, I am reminiscing.

Pozole con Pollo at Gorditas

San Cristobal de las Casas is a perfect city for eating, sleeping, strolling, exploring indigenous culture, shopping for textiles and amber, and sitting at sidewalk cafes watching the world go by.  The world is well-represented here. There are travelers from just about every European country, the U.S., Australia,  and Asia.  The cuisine reflects this.  Someone told me that San Cristobal is, per capita, the most international city in Mexico.

Food Highlights

At Comida Thai, Real de Guadalupe #84, you can dine as I did on an incredible, authentic spicy red curry in coconut milk with chicken, for 85 pesos.  Close your eyes and you could be in Bangkok. Chef Sutharee Nagavajara is young, talented and welcomes you to the 11-seat restaurant she operates with her husband Carlos Sanchez Andonaegui.  Don’t miss it!


Enjoy authentic Italian cannelloni or pizza or house made pasta (fettucini, spaghetti) with a choice of toppings at Napoli Italian Restaurant on Ejercito Nacional #8 between Av. Gen. Utrilla and Av. S. Dominguez. Chef/owner Romero is from Italy and has been in San Cristobal for over 10 years, in Mexico for more than 20 years.  The restaurant seats 12 and the joy is in sharing a table with strangers who become compadres. It was SO GOOD I ate there three times!

Pie de Queso and other Goodies in Tierra Madre Bakery

In Plaza Madre Tierra on Insurgentes across from the Mercado de Dulces y Artesanias is the MOST wonderful bakery, a welcoming cafe, and gallery that features the textiles from Los Caminos de los Altos Cooperativo.



Stop for homemade dark chocolate (amargo) truffles flavored with tequila at Cafe Yik (on the zocalo or Anandor Av. 20 de Noviembre).  Buy some after dinner to nibble on during your walk “home.” Have a lunch of pozole con pollo at Gorditas on Av. Miguel Hidalgo for under $5USD.

Splurge for dinner at Restaurante Babel, also on Real de Guadalupe.  For under 160 pesos per person you can get the menu of the day that includes a first and second course, a glass of good Argentine wine, and coffee.

Where I have included links to TripAdvisor Reviews, this means the location does not have their own website.

A Good Night’s Sleep

My home away from home in San Cristobal de las Casas is Bela’s Bed and Breakfast, Av. Dr. Navarro #2.  She is Numero Uno on Trip Advisor, so get your reservations in early.  The breakfast includes unsweetened natural yoghurt, a mixed fruit bowl,  homemade granola with plenty of nuts and seeds, eggs cooked to your liking, bacon, juice, and extraordinary coffee.  Bela is a great host and the five-room adobe, and tile casa is built around a lush patio of flowering plants and local decor.  Bela gives you a good map, and tips for eating, touring and shopping.  From $45 per night for shared bath, $70 per night for private bath.


Best back up is Posada del Abuelito on Av. Tapachula #18. Rebecca and Rob run a lovely hostel that caters to backpackers who like to share dorm space. But there are two lovely, very clean rooms with private bath for 280 pesos per night, including a breakfast of fresh fruit, bread, coffee and access to the kitchen.


Textile Lovers’ Shopping Galore

Carmen wears Las Margaritas ceremonial huipil with natural dyes

I discovered Tienda de Artesanias Karmelita, Av. Gen Utrilla #31-A on the day before I was set to depart back to Oaxaca. Karmelita’s has the best quality at reasonable prices.  Shop here if you can’t get to a pueblo (still iffy, since someone might take you to a place of poor quality and higher prices) and if you don’t know much about textile quality.  No website. Phone (967) 100-1996 or  I got a gorgeous ceremonial huipil from Las Margaritas pueblo at a fraction of what a similar one sells for at Sna Jolobil (museum quality, museum prices) and of better quality than any other shop in town.  The one above is handwoven wool with natural dyes.

The outdoor market at Santo Domingo church can yield special finds if you know what to look for.  I found a gorgeous huipil, finely woven on a backstrap loom with intricate bordado weaving from the village of San Andres Larainzar for 700 pesos– that’s $58USD (double that in a gallery).

Adriana from Chenalho

In the market on my last day I also found two extraordinary huipils from the village of Chenalho high in the mountains outside of Chamula with handmade cloth and intricate embroidery for 250 pesos each (that’s $22USD).  Look at the handwork.  Turn the cloth inside out to see how the stitching and weaving is finished.  Look for tightness of weave, for the quality of the finish work, the binding off around the neck and armpits, hems.  Chenalho women and children were massacred by paramilitary extremists during the Zapatista era and I wanted to support them with a purchase.

Sneak Preview! Last night at a party, I met Ann Conway and John Do, who met years ago while they were Peace Corps volunteers.  The plan to open La Joya Hotel San Cristobal this coming August 2012.  See to keep up with their progress.


Tribute to the Women of Oaxaca by Lila Downs. Disfruta bien! Enjoy!

“Era importante para mí hacer un tributo a algunas mujeres de mi país que muelen maíz y lo llevan al canto y lo celebran como un milagro que a mí me ha inspirado mucho para poder seguir caminando y cantando.” ~ Lila Downs

“It was important for me to honor the women of my country that grind corn in song and celebrate it as a miracle that inspired me a lot to keep walking and singing.”~ Lila Downs

Video footage filmed in the Tlacolula valley of Oaxaca and the village of Teotitlan del Valle. Disfruta bien! This is where I get to live. Thank you Lila Downs and Paul Cohen for all you do.

Upcoming Oaxaca workshopscreative writing, photography, weaving and natural dyes — give you this sense of place.

Read more about the traditional trajes (costumes, dress) worn by Mexican women with commentary by Sheri Brautigam on Living Textiles of Mexico.