Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas Collage: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Martha, Marianne, and Judy arrive from the city for dinner on December 23 and then we gather at the house of the eighth posada.  Earlier, I go to the local morning market and find a fish vendor from the coast.  We eat organic and fresh talapia, squash, potatoes, carrots, onions seasoned with kumquats, candied ginger, carrots, prunes, dates, and raisins all cooked together in the tagine.  Later, I use the head and bones for stock.

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The posadas continue through December 24, when baby Jesus appears on Christmas Eve at La Ultima Posada, the last posada, which is the grandest and most magnificent of all.

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On the street we meet a young woman and her mother who are originally from Teotitlan del Valle, and now live in Chicago.  She tells us she and her family put their name on the list to host La Ultima Posada ten years ago.  They will welcome baby Jesus in 2014.  The cost to host is about $50,000 USD, which includes a magnificent array of food for three days — enough to serve hundreds, two bands, drinks and refreshments, candles, lanterns, decorations.  She explains to us that it is an honor and a commitment to community and God to be able to do this. They meet with the church committee twice during the year to review details that will ensure a traditional celebration.  Service and community cohesiveness is essential for Zapotec life.  They have lived in this valley for 8,000 years.

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On December 24, I make a last minute run to the village market once more to discover it packed with shoppers and sellers at eight-thirty in the morning.  This is likely the biggest market of the year! Every one presses up to buy fresh moss and flowers from the Sierra Norte to make the creche that will bring baby Jesus to their home, too.

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There is fresh pineapple, bananas, papaya, mandarin oranges, apples, and spiced guayaba (guava). Lilies, roses, and flowering cactus lay on tables ready for plucking. Live chickens and turkeys, feet secure to keep them from flying away, lay subdued, waiting.

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Children hide under their mother’s aprons or eat fresh morning bread or sip a horchata. Who can resist the blue corn tortillas?  Not me.

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Piñatas are an integral part of the baby Jesus birthday celebration.  The market is filled with them on December 24.  Children adore the rain of candy.  Me, I adore the perfectly ripe avocados, organic lettuces and eggs.

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I bump into Janet and Jan, expats from France and Holland who winter here. They eat breakfast at the stand set up in the middle of the market, quesdadillas fresh off the griddle.

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Later, I join my family for the traditional dinner at eight.  Elsa brings homemade bacalhau, there is organic salad, roasted pork leg infused with bacon, garlic and prunes, pinto beans, with plenty of beer, mezcal and wine.  Dessert?  Why tiramisu cake from Quemen bakery, of course!

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Omar entertains Christian.  Lupita entertains Christian.  The children kick the soccer ball and jump on the piles of wool waiting for the loom.  We sip spiced ponche (hot fruit punch) made with guayaba fruit sweetened with sugar cane.  Some will go to the church for midnight mass.  Others will go on to aanother supper at midnight.

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Christmas day presents another dinner feast on Roberta’s terrace, this time a potluck with organic lettuces, Annie’s garden arugula, enchiladas with green salsa, roasted chicken, red wine, fruit salad and Susanna Trilling‘s Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding that Jan prepares.  The patio is filled with flowering cactus and the sunset can’t be better.

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All is well with our world.  I hope your holiday season is spectacular, too.  Feliz Navidad! Gracias a todos.

XmasCollage-37              Our next photography workshop is this summer 2014 for Dance of the Feather.  Find out more!


Merry Christmas Oaxaca, Mexico Fruit Salad Recipe

Merry Christmas and happiest holidays to you and your family!  My gift to you is this delicious recipe for easy fruit salad Mexican style, using red and green skin apples and pears for festive color of Mexico to decorate your table.  Seasoned with lime juice, organic honey, and mixed with yogurt, it is a healthy holiday treat as a dessert or side accompaniment to your dinner.  I have made this multiple times recently, adapting a recipe I learned from my neighbor Ernestina, who uses whipping cream instead of yogurt. Let’s save the calories. Enjoy! From my Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, kitchen to yours.




  • 2 red-skinned apples, Delicious, MacIntosh or Gala
  • 1 green-skinned apple, Green Delicious
  • 2 pears, ripe
  • 2 small red-skinned Mexican bananas, peeled
  • 1/4 c. chopped pecans
  • juice of one medium lime
  • 1/4 c. organic honey
  • 1 c. natural yogurt (or more to taste)

Core and cut apples and pears into 1/4″ pieces.  Add to mixing bowl.  Slice bananas into 1/2″ pieces.  Add to bowl.  Add pecans.  Mix well.  Combine honey and lime juice.  Pour into fruit mixture.  Toss well.   Add yogurt.  Stir.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Serves 6-8.

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Optional:  Add small pieces of diced candied ginger and/or 2 T. golden raisins plumped in hot water (drained).  You can also mix in 2 T. of your favorite preserves.  Kumquat, maybe?

Christmas in Oaxaca: Teotitlan del Valle Posadas

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For nine days and nights leading up to Christmas eve, the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico recreates the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.  Each night they sleep on the road, which means they arrive at the home of a host family who welcomes them to their courtyard, then altar room, filled with copal incense and prayers.


There is a huge feast for invited guests:  tamales, roasted beef or pork, homemade tortillas, wild turkey called guacalote.  I can smell the charcoal cook fires from a distance.

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The villagers gather at the front gate.  Hosts distribute tamales and atole (women have been cooking for days), men sip beer and mezcal, children blow whistles. The celebration is grand, festive.  Then, at around 6:30 p.m. the procession leaves the host home and passes through the streets of village, up hills, through narrow alleyways, from one side to the other,  until they come to the home of the next night’s host family and the celebration continues.

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It is both solemn and celebratory.  Women, men and children are selected by each host family to do the honors of leading the procession and light the way with handmade beeswax candles decorated with beeswax flowers, birds, and glittering pendants.  Followers cover their heads in scarves as if in church. 

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The men who handle the fireworks and shooting rockets are out in front to guide the way with sight and sound.  From all corners of the village we can hear them until late at night, and then again in the morning as a wake up call.  I arise at six to the blast of a rocket. Behind the fireworks are the altar boys carrying crosses, then four young women carry the palanquin of Mary and Joseph.


On this night, our procession must have picked up more than 300 people along the way as the route passed through every corner of the village and ended at a home not more than two blocks from the one we had left.

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Up hill and down, across cobbled streets, we picked our, way careful of potholes and uneven stones and construction materials.  The streets were swept clean and watered so there would be no dust for us.  We must have walked three miles at a steady shuffle.

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Those who didn’t process waited in doorways.  The older people who had difficulty walking made it part of the way and then dropped off, as did the parents carrying sleeping babes on their shoulders, and holding toddlers by their hands.


On the night of December 24, the baby Jesus appears in the altar room of the host family for La Ultima Posada — the last procession.  This is the biggest party of them all and it will continue through the night and into the morning.


Visitors are welcome to join the procession.  You can spend the night at Las Granadas B&B or at Casa Elena, both excellent establishments.  You can start out having comida at Las Granadas prepared by Josefina and then end the night with a glass of wine or a cup of mezcal!

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A Word About Night Photography

It is difficult!  In the ideal world, one would use a tripod to hold the camera steady, avoid flash, use manual settings on your camera to manipulate the shutter speed, aperture, and film speed/ISO.  That means constantly changing settings for various lighting situations.  In very dark situations, like during this posada on streets barely illuminated, one gets a golden glow.  I also turned off the automatic focus setting on my camera and lens and used manual focus.  The lens has a hard time reading light and will not focus otherwise.  With my bad eyes and very low light, that meant guessing, which is why many of my photos were blurry.  Those you see here have a warm, golden glow typical of low light, night photography using a hand-held camera.  I was able to adjust some of the photos using Lightroom photo editing software.  We teach all this in our Oaxaca Cultural Navigator photography workshops.  We learn about the camera and immerse ourselves in the indigenous culture, too.

Don’t Fly Aeromexico and LaTuga Arrives

This story is not unique.  Many of us will suffer this travel season! Including Robert Reich.

Yesterday was much, much better than the day before when Aeromexico denied me boarding on my flight to Oaxaca, put me on standby on a series of over-sold flights, knowing full well I’d never get on but keeping me hopeful until the bitter end.  Why they didn’t say, honey, get on a bus, we have overbooked each flight by 10-15 people to start with, I don’t know?

I arrived in D.F. from Austin at noon on Aeromar, who damaged my laptop screen by treating carry-on as a checked bag.  I  filed a claim and we will see what happens next.  It took me two hours to get through Mexican immigration and customs what with the holiday crowds and not enough staff. I arrived to get my boarding pass 30 minutes before departure.

They jockeyed me between various agents, managers, and lines at their Mexico City Terminal 2 counters. By 7:30 p.m., the last agent said, maybe we can get you out on the first flight in the morning.  The operative word here is maybe. When I asked where I would sleep, the clerk merely shrugged and said quien sabe?  Who knows?

NO, they would not refund my money, saying it was a United ticket, not theirs.  They tried to blame Aeromar for being late, which they weren’t. No way were they going to help me get to Oaxaca.

Customer service has never been their strong suit.  Since Mexicana went belly-up, there is only Aeromexico to serve Oaxaca from Mexico City.  Why care about the customer when you run a monopoly?

That’s when I decided F. this.  I forfeited the ticket, took a taxi to TAPO the regional bus station and  bought a ticket on an overnight ADO GL first class bus to Oaxaca.  I figured I would spend over $100 on a hotel room in D.F. with no assurance of getting to Oaxaca any time soon.  The bus was a better bet.  For $55 USD I had a reclining seat and wheels.  With a sleep aid, I even got a few hours of snoozle.

Thank goodness yesterday was better.  Last night, Justo called as we were finishing up a snack at Omar’s Taqueria in Teotitlan del Valle.  We are here, he said.  LaTuga is in Teotitlan.  Justo and his brother Federico shared the driving on what must have been a non-stop two-day journey from Austin to Oaxaca to get my 2004 Honda Element here.

I couldn’t have been happier.  I will get the car at 2 p.m. today.  Yesterday, I got my flight-damaged MacBook Pro laptop screen replaced within 24-hours at Laptown, a computer repair service in Colonia Reforma.  Manager Octavio came to pick it up at El Diablo y La Sandia B&B where I was staying.  Extraordinary customer service.

Now, I’m ready to put all this behind me and get down to enjoying the holiday seasons of posadas, mole and mezcal.  Saludos!

Want to get a car to Mexico?  Contact Justo for reliable transport service.

Travel Tips From Experience

  1. Book the same carrier all the way from your departure city to your destination.  It’s not worth it to “jump” airlines to save a few bucks.
  2. Never book and pay through a third-party carrier. I bought my Aeromar and Aeromexico flights through United.  It’s a United ticket, they said. We are not responsible.  Even though they get paid!
  3. See if there is a baggage handling agreement between carriers.  Aeromexico does not have one with Aeromar or United.  I had to take my bags off the carousel, and would have had to recheck them, and go through security again.
  4. I wanted to save time by getting this expensive connecting flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca.  I usually always take the bus, convenient and cheaper.  This time should have been no different.
  5. Fly United direct from Houston to Oaxaca if you can.  This route saves a lot of hassle.



Legalizing a Car for and Driving to Mexico

Check in with Aeromar is easy, and the new Austin to Mexico City service began only a couple of months ago. I am waiting for the flight.  A K-9 unit is trolling the seating areas. The dog is sniffing everywhere. We are only five hours from the border.

Justo told me he got the call last night.  The paperwork is ready.  Once the papers are ready, you have only three days to cross the border. It happened faster than he expected.  Muy rapido. He will leave early Thursday (tomorrow) morning and plans to arrive in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, by nightfall on Saturday. His brother Federico, who lives in the village, will meet him at the border and they will make the trip together.

The last two days have been filled with logistical details for La Tuga to continue on without me.

I bought MAPFRE Mexican car insurance for one year ($312USD) from Allstate agent Roger Morse after extensive online research about coverages.  U.S. car insurance does not offer coverage.  Legally, only a Mexican auto insurance policy will protect you, your vehicle, and keep you out of jail!  You can read a lot about people who didn’t heed this.

I had the car checked out once again for a telltale front left end rattle.  The Round Rock, TX, Honda dealer, after a thorough evaluation, said La Tuga is safe to drive and they couldn’t hear anything, repeating what Cary (NC) Honda told me last week.

I met with Justo to go over the route, the process of bringing a car into Mexico, to give him the insurance policy, and pay him another installment for services to legalize the car and drive.

The Process to Legalize a Car for Mexico 

This is the busy season when U.S. citizens of Mexican origin make a little extra money to buy a car, legalize it, drive it to Mexico and sell it for a profit.  Justo asked me a couple of weeks ago for the copy of the title, photos of the VIN number on the car’s dashboard and doors, and other documentation to give to a private customs broker he has worked with for the past 10 years.

 It usually takes three days for the process to get the paperwork approved in the Mexican system, but this time of year it can take a couple of weeks or more.  The customs broker, called an agente aduanale, does the legal work and applies for the permits.  The cost is $1,500.  I pay half in advance and the final payment before I leave.  I also give Justo $750 and will pay the other half when he delivers the car.  $500 of that will cover expenses (gas, motel, return bus ticket, and any gratuities to local police) along the way.

The VIN number of the vehicle is then deleted from the U.S. system and added to Mexico’s system, registering the car as a legal vehicle there. They check to make sure the vehicle is not stolen or salvaged and that the title is clean.

At the Nuevo Laredo border where Justo will cross, he will collect the pedimento (paperwork) and get the holograma, a sticker that goes on the windshield.  He will attach the pedimento to the title and give these to me in Oaxaca, where the car can then be presented for Oaxaca license plates. He will also present a list of what is packed in the car along with the value. Each of passenger is allowed $500USD worth of goods without paying duty.  He will declare any excess and pay what is asked.

Let me add, that this process only works for permanent residents and for citizens of Mexico.  If you are in the country on a tourist visa, you can’t do this.  Someone else will need to own the car!

This morning, when I picked Justo up at his house in South Austin, he told me he will be leaving at 2 a.m. tomorrow morning.  He will drive from Nuevo Laredo to Saltillo, south of Monterrey on day one, and spend the night someplace safe.  He will pass through San Luis Potosi, Mexico City, Puebla, and then arrive in Oaxaca.  Federico, his brother, is a taxista in the village, and will travel with him.  Muy rapido, he tells me this morning!

We will see each other in Oaxaca.  He drives away with La Tuga,  I wait for the Aeromar flight, and tell you about this last leg of the journey.

P.S.  If you are interested in the services of Justo Lorenzo Martinez, please contact him.  He is a personal friend, competent, reliable, and knows the process.   I have turned my car and its title over to him and trust that both he and La Tuga will arrive safely in Oaxaca.  Hasta Sabado.