Part 2: In San Clemente, California, in an idyllic setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean and historic fisherman’s pier, Shelley Graner and Jacob Singleton made the commitment on Saturday, March 26, 2022, to spend the rest of their lives together. He is my son. She is the daughter I always wished for. Dreams do come true! The weather was perfect on this stretch of coast likened to the Mediterranean Sea. (Mediterranean-type ecosystems (MTEs), with their characteristic and unique climatic regimes of mild wet winters and warm and dry summers, occur in just five regions of the world: California; Central Chile; the Mediterranean Basin; the Cape Region of South Africa; and Southwestern and South Australia.) The marine layer did not roll in to shroud us in fog. The sun shined and guests gathered to celebrate. Indeed, we did dance the night away.
It’s days later and I still get teary-eyed remembering these moments when they said their vows and embraced. I was also overcome by the reunion of family and friends, many, who I haven’t seen in over 30 years. Jacob’s first cousin Jennifer came from Scotland; his aunt and uncle and cousin Sarah came from the East Coast; Mary and her husband from Chicago. Best Man Patrick has been a lifelong friend since when Jacob was six months old and Patrick was 14 months growing up together in South Bend, Indiana. Elementary and high school friends came to celebrate, as did college fraternity brothers and work colleagues. Our Oaxaca family was well-represented by Eric, Elsa, Santiago, Janet and Omar. Karen and I raised our boys together, hers an infant, mine four years older. We have known each other for 44 years. My brother Fred played oboe with his violinist daughter Becca.
Blessings are many. I have embraced and been embraced by Shelley’s mother Holly, who is a generous, kind and loving person. Her family is as close as mine. Our children have the extended love and caring from in-laws who know what it means to be generous, caring, gracious and emotionally competent. Shelley, too, was nurtured by family: sister Joanne, aunts and uncles, longtime friends like Sheila and Laura.
Today, after more than a year of planning, the newlyweds are in Roatan, an amazing Caribbean island off the coast of Honduras, taking a well-deserved rest. I’m in Santa Cruz, California, with my sister and brother-in-law for the coming week, until I return to New Mexico.
For this wedding, Oaxaca was well-represented: my indigo and native coyuchi cotton huipil was woven in Pinotepa de Don Luis by textile artisan Sebastiana Guzman. It’s all good.
This is Part 1. My son Jacob Singleton is getting married late this afternoon in San Clemente, California. His bride is Shelley Graner and I love her. I also love her mom and family. It’s possibly nearly perfect. It’s 9:00 am here now on the Pacific Coast. My natal family with their spouses and children are together in a shared living space a block from the wedding. We are content together.
After a travel day of mishaps, destination Oaxaca to Tijuana, I spent the night in San Diego with dear friends and took the train the next morning north along the coast. We have been celebrating ever since!
I’m overcome with emotions of being with extended family and friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in over 25 years — my son’s first cousins who came from Scotland, Chicago and Washington, DC, his elementary school and college buddies who I knew well. My Oaxaca family is here, too — Eric Chavez Santiago, his wife Elsa, son Santiago, sister Janet and brother Omar. My dear friends Karen and Steve, who I’ve known for 44 years (we raised our boys together) and are my Taos neighbors now are with us.
It couldn’t be better.
Last night, I woke up at 2 am in tears overwhelmed by the emotional impact of this event — life affirming and meaningful. So much so, I needed to share this despite the fact that it has little to do with Oaxaca.
Beyond the hubbub of Oaxaca City and the famous Guelaguetza cultural dance extravaganza, are the Sierra Norte and Sierra Mixe mountain villages noted for their silk weaving, natural dye culture, and outstanding pottery. We will take you there during the week of July 25-31, between the two Guelaguetza performances on July 25 and August 1. You might want to reserve your Guelaguetza tickets to make this a memorable week immersed in Oaxaca folk art and culture. This is the first time in two years since the pandemic that the folkloric performance will take place on the Cerro Fortin hill above the city.
We will be based in the famous weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, where skilled artisans have been weaving serapes and blankets for centuries. Now, they concentrate on making fine quality rugs for floors and wall-hangings. We also explore the surrounding villages of the Tlacolula Valley where we meet flying shuttle loom weavers, ceramic artists and basket makers. Our last day together is topped-off with an expoventa that features the best artisans from the far reaches of the state.
Monday, July 25: Arrive and check into our B&B in Teotitlan Del Valle and get settled in for the next few days of adventure. Perhaps you will want to purchase Guelaguetza tickets for the Monday, July 25 performance in the city, too.
FYI: We recently completed 4 tours.
All travelers returning to the USA and Canada tested COVID NEGATIVE.
Tuesday, July 26: Day 2 is our orientation day. You will learn about and explore the textile traditions of Teotitlan. We will discuss how the weaving tradition is passed down from generation to generation, visit weaving studios, learn about the use of natural dyes, the meanings of traditional designs, weaving techniques, and how the production of handmade textiles sustains the entire town.
Wednesday, July 27: On Day 3, we will take a two and a half hour ride into the Sierra Norte to visit San Pedro Cajonos and their new silk sanctuary, which opened in 2020. The leaders of the weaver’s guild in this town will walk us through this incredible facility and discuss silk production. We will learn about the history of pre-Columbian silks, the introduction of Asian silk after the Spanish conquest, and the domestication of the species to a wild species also harvested in this town. We will discuss the silk process, how silk worms are cultivated, and watch how silk threads are spun, dyed, and woven on the back strap loom. You will also enjoy a special sale of silk products such as scarves, blouses, dresses and jewelry. A special lunch menu will be prepared for us by the silk weavers on their sanctuary terrace overlooking the magnificent Sierra Norte mountains, complete with local foods including handcrafted tortillas.
Thursday, July 28: On Day 4, we will travel the Pan American Highway that runs through the Tlacolula Valley. We visit a Zapotec women’s cooperative in the San Marcos Tlapazola foothills to discuss the process and tradition of making red clay pottery. The women dig the clay from pits not far from where they live. Our next stop will be Mitla, where we will visit a weaver who specializes in weaving wool and cotton fabric on treadle looms using natural dyes. Before returning to our B&B, we will stop at a palenque to learn about mezcal and have a special taste of the wild species of agave.
Friday, July 29: On Day 5, we’ll get an early start and drive into the mountains of the Mixe pueblo of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec in Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte. This town has a rich tradition of making musicial instruments, textiles and pottery. We will be greeted by a group of weavers and embroiderers who specialize in making cloth using treadle looms. They also use local alder wood, a local natural dye that produces a rich, deep brown-orange on cotton fibers. We will learn about the meanings of their embroidered designs and discuss cultural appropriation. The village was involved in a 2015 dispute with a French design brand that copied verbatum traditional designs that have been part of their cultural identity for centuries.
Our final stop in Tlahuitoltepec will be to a visit with master potter Victor Vasquez, who specializes in large format clay musicians that represent his community’s musical tradition. In his studio, we will learn about his work and see their open fire kilns.
Saturday, July 30: Day 6 is our final day, and we have planned a special grand finale expoventa. We have invited weavers from Oaxaca Coast, Isthmus, and Mixteca to present to us their best selection of textiles. We will see textiles woven on back strap looms from the pueblos of San Mateo Del Mar, San Juan Colorado, Triqui, and San Pedro Amuzgos. We will give you first choice with a preview showing, then open the expoventa to the public after we have first pick. Gala farewell dinner, too.
Sunday, July 31: Depart. We will help you arrange transportation to the airport or to the city to participate in the August 1 Guelaguetza performance.
Oaxaca is the Mexican state with the greatest diversity of weaving techniques; this tour complements the tour of the coast we offer during the winter season and provides a better understanding of textile traditions in this area of Oaxaca.
Your Oaxaca Cultural Navigator is Eric Chavez Santiago. Norma Schafer will also accompany this tour. Eric is a weaver and natural dye expert, and has personal relationships with each artisan we visit. He is a Oaxaca native, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, and speaks Zapotec, Spanish and English. Eric was the founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca from 2008 to 2016. In 2017, Alfredo Harp Helu and Isabel Granen Porrua asked him to open, manage and promote indigenous craft through their folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular. He is now a partner with Norma in Oaxaca Cultural Navigator and operates Taller Teñido a Mano, a family enterprise that creates naturally dyed woven goods for international sales and distribution. Eric is a graduate of Anahuac University and has made textile presentations throughout the world. Our Teotitlan del Valle expoventa will be held in the new Teñido a Mano weaving and dye studio in the village.
Our last road trip on the Chiapas Textile Tour: Deep Into the Maya World takes us to the Maya highlands villages of San Andres Larrainzar and Magdalena Aldama. Many feel that both these villages produce some of the most outstanding textiles of the region. Here, we visit extended family cooperatives where both women and men weave, and a flying shuttle loom workshop that employs over 80 men in a remote village far from the center of town.
Worthy news: We all tested COVID-negative before leaving Chiapas and returning to the USA. This was the fourth tour this season where every participant tested negative.
It is a delight to be here and experience how the textiles are a roadmap to the culture. Weavings incorporate symbols of everyday life and spiritual beliefs. We understand more by seeing, sharing, and learning. We know that for women, the work of weaving is incorporated into other daily activities of cooking, caring for children and elderly family members, attending to the needs of husbands and friends.
Time is a dimension here, not a precise measurement. Life is governed by the rising and setting of the sun, the rotation of the earth, the alignment of moon and stars. The answer to the question is tentative. Oh, maybe eight or nine months, a woman says. Each day is different. She picks up her loom, ties one end to a tree trunk and cinches the waist tie around her mid-section while watching the sheep or goats and children, all is women’s work. Then, she picks it up again while the baby is napping or the husband goes to the field to plant or harvest corn, beans and squash. Work is intermittent and unpredictable.
Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico. Highlands villages are isolated at the far reaches of winding mountain roads. Poverty keeps people in their place. They live in cinder block houses that have no heat. The floor can be packed earth. A wood-fueled cooking fire gives off a smokey essence that penetrates cotton and wool on the loom The fire is a source of light from which to weave as the sun sets.
Perhaps there is an elementary school there with access to a sixth grade education. Yet from this, the creativity of the human spirit rises and some of the most extraordinary textiles emerge.
My advice is to our travelers is to observe and understand. We do not come here to judge. We can compare values, lifestyle and culture in order to appreciate and explore similarities and differences.
I want to share with you this photo-essay of our last road trip together. I hope you enjoy it.
At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we aim to give you an unparalleled and in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations. The Maya World of Chiapas, Mexico, spans centuries and borders. Maya people weave their complex universe into beautiful cloth. Symbols are part of an ancient pre-Hispanic animist belief system. In the cloth we see frogs that signal coming rain, the plumed serpent, woman and man and family, earth and sky, the four cardinal points, moon and sun and stars, birds, flowers, symbols of the natural environment. Each weaver chooses her themes based on what is important to her.
We go deep into the Mayan world of southern Mexico, from February 21 to March 1, 2023. While we focus on textiles, we also explore what it means to be indigenous, part of a cooperative, live in a remote village, have agency and access to economic opportunity. We meet creative, innovative and talented people who open their doors and welcome us.
Our dates of February 21 to March 1, 2023, are reserved in a fine historic hotel close to the pedestrian walking streets and the plaza.
8 nights, 9 days in and around the San Cristobal de Las Casas highlands.
Cost • $3,195 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,895 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)
We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms. Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.
We are committed to giving you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending eight nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles, weaving and embroidery traditions.
Our cultural journey takes us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. We explore museums, churches, and ancient cemeteries. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.
Your Study Tour Leader is Eric Chavez Santiago. Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC founder, will also accompany the group.
Norma Schafer is a retired university administrator and founder of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. She has lived with the Chavez Santiago family in Teotitlan del Valle since 2005, and also lives in Taos, New Mexico. In 2006, Norma started offering textile weaving and natural dyeing workshops, and cultural and textile study tours, concentrating on Oaxaca and Chiapas. She is a contributor to the textile guidebook, Textile Fiestas of Mexico, has been featured in The New York Times, and has published articles in the international Selvedge Magazine and literary magazines. She writes the blog Oaxaca Cultural Navigator about life and art in Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico.
Eric Chavez Santiago is a weaver and natural dye expert. He is a Oaxaca native, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, and speaks Zapotec, Spanish and English. Eric was the founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca from 2008 to 2016. In 2017, Alfredo Harp Helu and Isabel Granen Porrua asked him to open, manage and promote indigenous craft through their folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular. He resigned in September this year to grow the family enterprise, Taller Teñido a Mano, and to join Norma as a partner in Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. Eric is a graduate of Anahuac University and has made textile presentations throughout the world. He is knowledgeable about Chiapas textiles and techniques.
We also travel with a local historian who was born and raised in Chiapas. She is our compass to discern meaning.
Take this study tour to learn about:
culture, history and identity of cloth
cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation
wool spinning and weaving
clothing design and construction
embroidery and supplementary (pick-up) weft
Maya textile designs — iconography and significance
village and individual identity through clothing
social justice, opportunities and women’s issues
market days and mercantile economy
local cuisine, coffee, cacao and chocolate
quality and value
We work with one of San Cristobal’s best bilingual cultural guides who has worked with weavers and artisans in the region. Gabriela is a native Chiapaneca who knows the region. You will enjoy learning from her.
We will travel in a comfortable van as we go deep into the Maya world. We promise a sanitized van and all necessary precautions during our visits.
We visit 7 Maya weaving villages
We enjoy home-cooked meals
We meet makers and directly support them
We go far and away, off-the-beaten path
We decode the weaving designs unique to each woman and village
We explore three towns on their market days
We understand the sacred, mysterious rituals of Maya beliefs
Villages we visit: Tenejapa, San Lorenzo Zinacantan, San Juan Chamula, San Andres Larrainzar, Magdalena Aldama, Chenalho
Who Should Attend Anyone who loves cloth, culture, and collaboration • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Resellers
Tuesday, February 21: Travel day. Arrive and meet at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. You will receive directions to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet, AeroMar, Volaris or Aeromexico. To find best routes and rates, search Skyscanner.com There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Your cost of transportation to/from San Cristobal is on your own. Taxis are about $55 USD or 800 pesos. Shared shuttle is 180 pesos or about $10 USD.
Wednesday, February 22: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the textiles of the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion, we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church, and visit two outstanding textile shops. We guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. We finish the morning together with a Group Welcome Lunch. (B, L)
Thursday, February 23: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and household supplies. Peer into dimly lit doorways to find hidden textile treasures. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags. Keep your eyes open. Then, we will visit an outstanding textile cooperative and then the best pom pom maker in the region. After a box lunch at the centuries- old Romerillo Maya cemetery, we continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamula woman at her rural home. Surrounded by sheep and goats, Maruch will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)
Friday, February 24: After breakfast, we set out for Na Bolom, Jaguar House, the home of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic folk art and jewelry. We walk the gardens and learn about Franz and Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and their relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After hot chocolate there we go to the outskirts of town to an outstanding women’s weaving cooperative that was founded over 40 years ago. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. After lunch on your own, we meet in the early evening to visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B)
Saturday, February 25: We set out by foot to a nearby textile studio founded by Alberto Lopez Gomez, a Magdalena Aldama weaver and designer, who was invited to New York Fashion Week in 2020 and Sweden Design Week in 2022 We hear presentations about creativity, style, innovation, and how to incorporate tradition while breaking new ground. Then, we climb on the van for the 45-minute ride to Chenalho where women combine back strap loom weaving and embroidery to make distinctive huipiles. We meet with an artisan cooperative who host us for demonstrations and lunch. (B, L) Evening on your own.
Sunday, February 26: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we meander the open-air market, then visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. You’ll find out why. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. (B, L) Dinner on your own.
Monday, February 27: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse yourself into families of weavers in their humble homes. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host a show and sale for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L)
Tuesday, February 28: This is expoventa day! We have invited one of the finest embroiderers of Aguacatenango blouses, an organic coffee grower/roaster, and a pottery artisan to show and sell their work. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a Regret’s Sale (just in case you have any) and a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)
Wednesday, March 1. Depart. You will arrange your own transportation from San Cristobal to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. The hotel guest services can help. It takes about 1-1/2 hours to get to Tuxtla, plus 1-2 hours for check-in. Connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country.
What Is Included
• 8 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within walking distance to the historic center and pedestrian streets
• 8 breakfasts • 4 lunches • 1 grand finale gala dinner
• museum and church entry fees
• luxury van transportation
• outstanding and complete guide services
The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.
Cost • $3,195 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,895 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)
Reservations and Cancellations. A $500 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 50% of the balance is due on or before October 1, 2022. The third 50% payment of the balance is due on or before December 1, 2022. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 1, 2022, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2021, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date less the $500 non-refundable reservation deposit. After that, there are no refunds.
If we cancel for whatever reason, we will offer a 100% refund of all amounts received to date, less the non-refundable deposit.
All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.
NOTE: All travelers must provide proof of vaccination for COVID-19 to travel with us. You must also wear CDC-approved face masks, use hand-sanitizer, and maintain all public health precautions.
How to Register: First, complete the Registration Form and send it to us. We will then send you an invoice to make your reservation deposit.
Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have high curbs. Pavement stones are slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant at steep angles across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day at a moderate pace. We recommend you bring a walking stick and wear sturdy shoes.
NOTE: If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the program for you.
Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
Our Programs: Study Tours + Workshops
Dye Workshops All Year. Set Your Own Dates.
Individuals & Groups Welcome!
Hands-on Dye Workshops + Textile Experiences
We offer textile experiences in our studio where we weave and work only in natural dyes.You can see the process during our textile tours, dye workshops or customized weaving experiences. Ask us for more information about these experiences, customized scheduling, and prices.
Oaxaca has the largest and most diverse textile culture in Mexico! Learn about it.
1-Day OaxacaCity Collectors Textile Tour.Exclusive Access! We take you into the homes and workshops of Oaxaca State's prize-winning weavers. They come from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Mixteca, Mixe, Amuzgos and Triqui areas and represent their weaving families and cooperatives here. For collectors, retailers, buyers, wholesalers, fashionistas.
1-Day Oaxaca Textile Walking Tour When you visit Oaxaca immerse yourself in our textile culture: How is indigenous clothing made, what is the best value, most economical, finest available. Suitable for adults only. Set your own dates.
February 5-13, 2023: Bucket List Tour: Monarch Butterflies + Michoacan. Spiritual, mystical connection to nature. Go deep into weaving, pottery, mask-making and more! We haven't offered this tour since 2019 and we anticipate it will sell out quickly.
Stay Healthy. Stay Safe. In Oaxaca, wear your mask. Questions? Want more info or to register? Send an email to Norma Schafer.
Maps: Teotitlan + Tlacolula Market
We require 48-hour advance notice for map orders to be processed. We send a printable map via email PDF after order received. Please be sure to send your email address. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map After you click, be sure to check PayPal to ensure your email address isn't hidden from us. We fulfill each map order personally. It is not automatic.
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle