We include a trip to the Sunday Tlacolula market outside the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, as an integral part of the creative writing experience at our annual women’s writing and yoga retreat held in early spring each year. Why? Because the market stimulates the senses and gives participants triggers from which to jump off into writing about their own lives and experiences. It’s a great way to enjoy the local culture and see how locals go about about shopping for food, household items, and the necessities of daily life in contrast to our own.
Tlacolula de Matamoros, as it is properly called, is a ten minute bus ride from Teotitlan del Valle where our workshop is based. It is the commercial and political hub for the region. All the Teotitlan buses go there on market day, making numerous round trips up until about four o’clock in the afternoon.
Villagers from throughout the Tlacolula valley congregate in Tlacolula, arriving by private car, taxi, collectivo or community-operated bus. You can identify the villages people come from by the style of clothing they wear, plus the names on and colors of the vehicles that bring them.
It was only a few minutes after we got to the corner that the bus came to pick us up. It was already packed, standing room only, because we didn’t get on where the bus originates at the church, so the nine of us squeezed in and clung the the overhead railing. The ride was seven pesos per person. That’s about five cents.
One of my favorite stopping off points is Tlacolula’s Chocolate la Tradicion chocolate maker. The shop is on the right side of the street about three blocks from the bus station as you walk toward the church. Here, they combine roasted cacao beans, cinnamon, almonds and sugar, then put it through a grinder to make mole. Usually families have their own recipes and the molina will prepare the blend exactly to family specifications. Yummy. They sell the prepared chocolate along with the famous Oaxaca handmade wooden frothers and all hot chocolate drinking accoutrements — a Oaxacan ritual staple. When you visit, dance to the music and tell them I sent you!
Here, everything is fresh and available in the cacophony of street vendor frenzy. The aisles go on for city blocks and are actually cordoned streets covered with plastic awnings, lined with a hodge-podge of sellers. They sell from tables piled high with butchered chicken or fresh fruit or kitchenware or spices or recycled clothing or hardware or field plows. They sell from rolling carts and backpacks. They sell from bicycles and tarps spread on the asphalt. Whatever you need to eat or replenish for your household is available here.
This is also a tourist mecca. There is always something to bring home as a useful remembrance: a fine handwoven bamboo basket, painted gourd bowls, colorful cotton shawl with delicately macrame tied fringes, a floral patterned apron, an embroidered blouse, or a high quality tablecloth and napkins.
Take a rest and have lunch at Comedor Mary on the block that borders the far side of the church. Run out of pesos? Stop in the Banamex ATM on the street where the Teotitlan vendors sell their rugs.
I always pinpoint the church courtyard as a meeting place just in case we get separated. This time, having a local cell phone really came in handy because the market is definitely big enough to get lost in, especially for first-timers.
My favorite things to shop for at the Tlacolula market are:
- handwoven cotton or nylon hammocks–made locally
- red clay pottery from the village of San Marcos
- glorious, wildly embroidered floral gingham aprons
- finely woven bamboo baskets with palm leaf handles
- chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla — all from Mexico
- tablecloths and napkins from Mitla
- a silk (really rayon) ikat rebozo (shawl) with a fabulous punta (macrame fringe)
- and lots of photographs!