Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

Covid Got Me, Plus Tinker Bell on the Manialtepec Lagoon

We were in Pinotepa Nacional on our multi-day Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour for intrepid textile travelers — sixteen of us — exploring the weaving and natural dyeing culture of the Costa Chica, when I started to sneeze, get sniffly and then was hit with extreme tiredness. I am always super careful, completely masked. And, yet, I tested positive for Covid. Of course, I dropped out of the tour and spent 24-hours curled up sleeping in the hotel room as the rest of us carried on further north into Zacoalpan and Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero.

After almost three years of managing to escape the dread virus, I am now sequestered in Puerto Escondido at Hotel Santa Fe, resting, drinking lots of fluids, and taking it easy big-time. My symptoms are mild — no fever, slight headache, tired, tired, tired. My son sent me a note: Congratulations on making it almost three years! I was beginning to think I was invincible or was one of those people with an immune system of iron. Having avoided it for so long, it’s a shock to think it finally got me. The good news is, I’ll recover because of all the vaccine and boosters I’ve had (all of them), and I’m not going to die from it. Though I’m hearing of people still succumbing. We must continue to be vigilant. Onward!

We gathered together a week ago to set out on this adventure. In the next days, I’ll be writing and sharing photos of our stops along the way.

We are scheduling this Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour for January 2024. Dates TBA. Get on the list. Send us an email.

For starters, we began with a Puerto Escondido market meander followed by an afternoon and evening on the Manialtepec Lagoon, which is really an estuary inhabited by plankton that glow in the water when the bioluminescence conditions are perfect. And, they were for us. A cloudless sky. No moon. A plankton rich environment in the brackish water. But, first, we began with a boat ride deep into the lagoon for bird-watching, followed by an amazing seafood dinner on the beach, and then, just before sunset, we gathered to release just-hatched Ridley turtles, less than two-hours old, into their natural habitat — the Pacific Ocean. There are only two places where this occurs in the world — here on the Oaxaca coast and in Puerto Rico!

Then, after dark, we rode out into the depths of the lagoon. Flying fish, shimmering with plankton, followed us. We found an ideal spot. I jumped into the water first. About eight others followed. There we were, flapping around and with every movement came sparkles that looked like Tinker Bell had waved her magic wand. The Fairy Dust was everywhere. Raise your knees out of the water and the residue droplets were iridescent on your thighs as if coated in glitter. Move your hands through the water and it looked like a radioactive reaction. Everything glowed in total darkness. An amazing experience!

Our go-to guide company is Lalo Eco-Tours. Consummate professionals. Thank you, Eve.

Oaxaca Artist Gabo Mendoza Takes Us Back to Childhood

During the week that the Esprit Travel + Tours group was with us in Oaxaca, we made a visit to Gabo (Gabriel) Mendoza whose studio is on Xicotencatl near Hidalgo. Originally from Mexico City, Gabo did volunteer work there for many years with street children. He incorporates their childlike curiosity, resilience, and wonderment in his work. He also captures their pain as children of women who work the street. We spent time with Gabo in his studio before going on an all-afternoon, four-stop Oaxaca Eats tasting tour with Lorena.

Creativity has no boundaries for Gabo. He uses paint, amate paper, found objects, sand, glue, and weaving in his art. He explores the abstract and the literal. He takes us on a journey of self-reflection and explores what it means to give up pretenses and model behavior. The joyful, playful and inquisitive nature of the child is fully realized in his paintings that incorporate bright colors and a whimsical drawing style.

Here is a photo essay of our time with Gabo Mendoza in his studio. On Friday, January 20, he is making a presentation at the Oaxaca Lending Library at 4:30 p.m. If you are in town, see if you can snag a ticket!

Oaxaca has a deep and rich art, design, photography and graphic art printmaking tradition. Galleries are all over the city. Before we went to Gabo, we visited Gabriela Morac from Tlacochahuaya who is represented in Santa Fe, NM, and Alan Altamirano, who has exhibited worldwide, at his La Chicharra printmaking studio. Having an art walking tour rounded out our experience to know and appreciate the culture here.

Usually Overlooked, Yagul Archeological Site Offers Stunning Vistas

Along the Pan American Highway from Oaxaca City to Mitla and Hierve El Agua, two popular tourist destinations, lies the seldom visited Yagul archeological site. We know that as the taxis, cars, and vans pass, a guide might point to a faint cave painting on the cliff wall as testimony to an ancient Zapotec group that lived here. Don’t blink. You might miss it.

You can see the restoration of this site from the highway. Tucked into the hillside is the outline of a once proud city-state fortress guarding the trade route between Central America and what is now the southwest USA. The ochre colors of the plastered stone walls stand out against the desert landscape and hills beyond. This is not a large site, and it does not have the attraction of neighboring Mitla that boasts extraordinary carvings in ancient stone. It is not as impressive at Monte Alban, the vast city atop the hill outside Oaxaca city, center of Zapotec power noted by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, as the most important city-state in Mesoamerica.

We take the Esprit Travel + Tours group there with special guide Eric Ramirez from Zapotrek. We drive on a dirt road to detour the main entrance and arrive at the foot of the cliffs to get a closer view of the glyphs painted on the face of a stone wall. A few years ago, during an earthquake, the wall face sheered off, exposing a painting in what was once inside a cave.

Eric, who grew up in nearby Tlacolula, and whose ancestors have been farming the land for centuries, tells us that the agricultural crop of agave to make mezcal is changing the landscape and the environment. So many growers are now using herbicides, pesticides, and commercial fertilizers. This is changing the quality of the soil and prohibits anything else from growing. It is even having an impact on locally grown non-GMO corn. The explosion of the mezcal culture in Oaxaca is having a negative impact on traditional crops — the Three Sisters — corn, beans and squash. It used to be that the bean and squash plants would wrap their tendrils around the agave leaves and replenishes the soil with nitrogen.

This is a key reason why so many of us take issue with mezcal tourism, which promotes drinking and overall does not educate visitors about the related environmental impact. I am now meeting the party generation in Oaxaca who fly in for four or five days with little interest in cultural history, archeology or artisan craft. How can we influence this for the better?

An important fact to note: Yagul is the mother source for the hybridization of corn, beans and squash. A World Heritage Site, geneticists have tested seeds found in the caves and determined they are at least 10,000 years old. This site is key to the development and distribution of this essential protein-carbohydrate source of food energy around the world.

This is a photo essay of our experience at Yagul. I hope you will consider making a stop there. I know you will not be disappointed.

Photo Essay: Sculptor Jose Garcia Antonio, Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art

We had the pleasure of hosting Nancy Craft and Esprit Travel + Tours in Oaxaca for nine days beginning on January 3. Nancy brought a group of fifteen people and we took them to all our favorite places to meet some of the most outstanding artisans in Oaxaca. We spent an afternoon in San Antonino Castillo Velsasco with Don Jose Garcia Antonio and his wife Teresita. He is a sculptor who went blind twenty-years ago from advanced glaucoma. Don Jose works in life-size clay figures and is repeatedly invited to participate in the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Teresita is his muse and his eyes. She does the finish work. A total collaboration.

We are happy to organize and host tours for private groups in addition to our public programs. We also offer consulting services to NGOs, as well as designers, wholesalers and retailers who want to connect with artisans to create relationships. Interested? Contact us!

In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca–El Cristo Negro: Black Christ Escuipulas

It’s January 14. This is the date El Cristo Negro is venerated in our village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. The Black Christ has its origins in Guatemala. The figure played an important part of ceremonial ritual during the violent 30-year war against the Maya people there. Yet, pilgrims who have gone there from southern Mexico adopted this miraculous religious figure and brought it home. We know of men from Teotitlan del Valle, now adults in their fifties and sixties, who went on a pilgrimage to the Guatemala town that is the namesake for Escuipulas, when they were in their teens.

The veneration of various Jesus figures stems from the European images of Christ on the Cross that depicts his blackness. The spread from Guatemala to Mexico is attributed to the proselytizing work of one 17th century Catholic missionary.

So, today, I was drawn to the market, said to be one of the biggest of the year, to see what people were getting to pay tribute to the Black Jesus.
Poinsettias (Noche Buena) seemed to be the most popular flower, but I also saw lilies, sunflowers, and branches covered with thorny leaves and berries. Women’s shopping baskets were filled with candles, chocolate and bread. The practice will be to go visiting family members tonight with gifts of bread, chocolate and candles — much like during Dia de los Muertos.

I’ve come to learn that living here is always an opportunity for celebration and community connection.