It’s been some years since I wrote about how I pack mezcal bottles, pottery and other fragile artisan crafts to take back to the USA after my stay in Oaxaca. For the most part, I can claim 99.5% success that all will arrive undamaged. Only once, did a plate arrive broken! Basically, what I do is consider my largest piece of luggage to be a shipping container. You CANNOT carry-on mezcal bottles. They have to be transported in checked bags!
Over the years, I have carried three to four bottles of mezcal back to the US with each return visit. I declare three bottles. Each customs officer will be different and may or may not ask you if you are bringing any liquor with you. I always offer that I’m bringing back three bottles, even if they don’t ask specifically. My packing success has included Uriarte Talavera dinnerware from Puebla, ceramic face planters by Don Jose Garcia Antonio from Ocotlan, black pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec, carved wood and painted figures (alebrijes) from Jacobo and Maria Angeles. Of course, I don’t worry about textiles or palm baskets.
How To SAFELY Pack Mezcal and Pottery, and other Fragile Crafts:
Bring or find bubble wrap and packing tape. Bubble wrap is called burbuja de plastico or plastic bubbles! You can buy this at any DHL, FedEx or UPS shop in downtown Oaxaca. Office Depot, Walmart, and Soriana also stock this. There is a comprehensive shipping supplies store at the corner of Independencia and Pino Suarez.
Buy at least TWO reed-woven, rigid waste baskets from any mercado. I prefer those with straight sides. These are carrizo (river reed) woven when green in the village of San Juan Guelavia. You can easily find these at the Sunday Tlacolula market, and in and around the Benito Juarez market, or the Sanchez Pascuas or La Merced markets in downtown Oaxaca. Next, find a woven flat tray that fits the opening diameter of the wastebasket. This will serve as your cover. I can fit three mezcal bottles in one of these wastebaskets. The other, I pack with pottery.
Of course, each bottle and fragile item must be encased in bubble wrap! When an item has arms, legs, necks, tails, remove what you can and wrap separately. Be sure to fill in any gaps/open spaces with crumbled newspaper or tissue. For the mezcal bottle necks, I wrap this several times to be certain it is the same thickness as the bottle body.
Using a permanent market, write what’s inside on the packing tape in case you forget!
Fit your bottles into the basket. If there are any gaps, stuff them with socks, underwear, clothing. Put the top on. Tape the top to the basket, wrapping the tape around several times so it is secure. Nothing inside the basket can move. The fit has to be tight! I also keep on hand, empty water bottles and paper boxes. I crush the bottles and cut the boxes, put them inside the basket to ensure a tight fit.
Position the basket(s) inside your luggage and surround it with clothes, shoes, chocolate, coffee, and other unbreakables. Everything must be a tight fit. Nothing can move or you risk breakage.
Don’t be in a hurry to unwrap the packages after you get home. Fragile is as fragile does.
Note: It’s cheaper to pay for an extra piece of luggage to go on the airplane than it is to send a package via DHL, FedEx or UPS. NEVER use Estafeta, Castores, or other Mexican shippers. Boxes are inspected (more like, dismantled) at the border for customs purposes resulting in loss and broken pieces. Mostly because they unwrap everything to inspect and don’t repack well. I’ve had this experience and won’t repeat it.
There you have it.
I’m returning to the USA from Oaxaca in a few days. Before I get to Taos, I’m traveling first to Nashville to visit my goddaughter Kathryn, who just moved there from Durham to take a job at Vanderbilt. I’m excited to see her. Then, in early April, back to Albuquerque to visit with hijo and nuera for a few days before returning to Northern New Mexico. Along the way, I won’t touch what is inside the shipping container aka large piece of luggage. Everything I need to get to will be in the second, smaller bag.
When you get home and unload, these baskets are useful for containing yarn, thread, knitting, weaving, and sewing supplies; pantry storage for potatoes and onions; wastebaskets; holding hand weights; linen closet storage for wash cloths, sundries and toiletries. Plus, they are made from natural materials, so can be completely recycled.
We go deep into the Mixteca Alta, a mountainous region of the Sierra Madre del Sur in the north of Oaxaca state that is situated between the capital city and the Oaxaca coast. Home to Mixtec-speaking people and other language groups (among them Chatino, Zapotec, Triqui). This tour will explore the predominantly Mixtec pueblos situated a few hours northwest of the city, her history, landscape, and handcrafts including textiles, ceramic, and palm weaving. This will be our first offering of this destination which is far off-the-beaten-path where tourists don’t usually travel. Nestled in the folds of the mountain range are villages that are still making utilitarian and beautiful objects just as they have for centuries.
Wintering in Oaxaca? Wrap up your stay with this adventure into the Mixteca Alta!
We are going to an important Oaxaca source for basket weaving, back-strap loom weaving, silk cultivation, and pottery. We invite you to round out your knowledge of Oaxaca beyond the central valleys of the Zapotec capital to learn more about some of the 16 diverse indigenous groups that inhabit the state.
Our road into the mountains will be winding and there are distances to travel. Some days, we may be in the van for an hour or two at a time. While we won’t do a lot of walking or hiking on this route, we ask that you be travel-ready with stamina for a road trip and an unparalleled adventure.
Day 1, Thursday, March 7: Arrive in Oaxaca city, lodging in the city one night. Overnight: Oaxaca City. Meals included: none
Day 2, Friday, March 8: Today, we get on the road first to visit Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan convent and learn about its history. This imposing structure was built just 20 years after the conquest in the 16th Century by the Dominican order atop an important Mixtec temple site – a trading center, religious and cultural hub for the region.
Then, we explore Geopark Mixteca Alta, which is considered to be the most geologically complex region of Mexico. This community project is part of the UNESCO Global Geopark system and showcases the biodiversity and amazing landscape formed by erosion and layers of million-year-old rocks caused by the interaction between nature and society.
Here, amid this beautiful landscape we find a workshop of traditional potters in the town of Tonaltepec that use natural fermentation inks from barks of the local trees to create a special decoration on the pottery pieces made here. Lunch with the family.
Overnight in Tlaxiaco. Meals included: Breakfast, lunch
How to Register: First, complete the Registration Form and send it to us and tell us which payment method you want to us to make your deposit.
Day 3, Saturday, March 9: This is market day in Tlaxiaco and we will get there early, right after breakfast. This is the largest market of the region, where artisans come to sell palm weavings, textiles, leather work and ceramics. After wandering the market and lunch, we travel to San Andres Chicahuaxtla, where we will meet a cooperative of Triqui pueblo weavers who specialize in supplementary weft and very fine gauze weaving techniques on a back strap loom. On our way back to Tlaxiaco, we will stop in Santa Maria Cuquila to meet a cooperative of weavers who specialize in creating traditional huipiles with back strap looms.
Overnight: Tlaxiaco. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch
Day 4, Sunday, March 10: A place I’ve always wanted to go! Come with us to El Porvenir, San Pablo Tijaltepec to meet a collective of embroiderers. They specialize in the technique of smocking that produces whimsical figures depicting wildlife and barnyard animals on the bodice design. After lunch with this group, we travel on to San Mateo Peñasco, where we will learn about the silk production. The town traditionally supplies cultivated silk to the coastal weavers of the Mixteca Baja. Silk, a protein-based fiber, absorbs cochineal, caracol purpura and indigo like none other!
Overnight in Tlaxiaco. Meals included: Breakfast, lunch
Day 5, Monday, March 11:
After a leisurely breakfast, we return to Oaxaca city where you will have the afternoon on your own, but along the way we stop in Nochixtlan for lunch and market day. Gather in the evening for a Gala Grand Finale Dinner at a highly-rated city restaurant.
Day 6. Tuesday, March 12: Return to your home countries or extend your trip in Oaxaca on your own.
Travel Day. Meals included: None
Note: Schedule is preliminary and is subject to change throughout our tour, depending on artisan availability, etc.
What Is Included
5 nights lodging at top-rated hotels
Grand Finale Gala Dinner in Oaxaca City
Museum and park entry fees
Luxury van transportation
Complete guide and translation services
The tour 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 artisans, guides, and alter the program as needed.
Cost • $2,395 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $2,995 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 15, 2023. The third 50% payment of the balance is due on or before January 7, 2024. 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 January 7, 2024, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before January 7, 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 and bring 6 antigen testing kits to travel with and test along the way. You must also wear CDC-approved face masks, use hand-sanitizer, and maintain all public health precautions as requested.
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: The Mixteca Alta is almost 7,000 feet high. To get there, one must ascend secondary roads that are paved yet winding. We will do some walking in the villages and in the Geopark. If you have motion sickness, please bring medication and ginger chews. We rotate seating on the van to give everyone a chance to sit up front! 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.
I never knew that visiting the Monarch butterflies in Mexico should have been on my bucket list until I got there. Tucked into the mountainous forests of Estado de Mexico is the terminus of the butterfly migration from North America where the noble Monarchs winter and reproduce. The experience is mystical, magical, life-affirming and memorable. I’ve always felt that being here is one of those moments that inspire and validate our existence on the planet, and gives us pause to appreciate the constant cycle of nature at its most magnificent.
But this is not all! After this first part of our tour, we travel to the magical craft and folk art towns of Michoacan, including Morelia, San Juan Capula, Patzcuaro and the indigenous Purepecha towns surrounding Lake Patzcuaro. We meet with famous artisans and those off-the-beaten path whose work is recognized as Grand Masters of Mexican Folk Art by Fundacion Banamex. We meet weavers, potters, embroiderers, mask-makers, coppersmiths. We explore in safety and security, led by a local guide whom I know very well. We NEVER take you into any locations that are dangerous or threatening.
This tour is limited to 12 travelers. We have five single rooms and 4 shared rooms available.
Here is our preliminary itinerary:
Day 1, Sunday, February 5: Fly to Mexico City and check in to our comfortable hotel located near the Zocalo, the historic Aztec archeological site Templo Mayor, and excellent restaurants. Day and evening on your own.
Day 2, Monday, February 6: After breakfast, welcome and orientation, join us for a walking tour of Mexico City that includes stops at Bellas Artes and Museo Franz Mayer. Afternoon on your own. Group Gala Welcome dinner. (Breakfast and dinner included. Lunch on your own.)
Day 3, Tuesday, February 7: After early breakfast, we load luggage onto the van and leave CDMX for the town of Angangueo. Here we visit San Felipe de los Alzati, and the archeological site of Zirahuato, When we arrive, we enjoy a walking tour in Angangueo and check in to our hotel. Overnight in Angangueo. (Breakfast and lunch included. Dinner on your own.)
Day 4, Wednesday, February 8: After breakfast, we pack up again and travel to El Rosario Monarch Reserve in the Sierra Chincua to observe the winter home of the majestic Monarchs. In late afternoon, we get back on the van to travel to the historic colonial city of Morelia, capital of Michoacan. Overnight in Morelia. (Breakfast and lunch included. Dinner on your own.)
Day 5, Thursday, February 9: Orientation walking tour in the Historical area of Morelia. We have lunch together and then you have the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore at your leisure. (Breakfast and lunch included. Dinner on your own.) Overnight in Morelia.
Day 6, Friday, February 10: We leave Morelia for Patzcuaro after breakfast, making a stop in San Juan Capula to visit the town where ceramic Catrina figures captivate collectors’ attention. We arrive in Patzcuaro, check in to our comfortable hotel and participate in an orientation walking tour of the historic town. Overnight in Patzcuaro. (Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.)
Day 7, Saturday, February 11: After breakfast, we explore the artisan towns around Lake Patzcuaro, including Tupataro, Cuanajo, Santa Clara and Tzintzuntzan. Overnight in Patzcuaro. (Breakfast and lunch included. Dinner on your own.)
Day 8, Sunday, February 12: After breakfast, you have the day to yourself. Maybe you want to revisit sites around town or hire a private taxi to take you back to one of the artisan villages. We join together in early evening for a Grand Finale Dinner. (Breakfast and dinner included. Overnight in Patzcuaro.
Day 9: Monday, February 13: Transfer to the Mexico City airport. You may also choose to depart to Morelia airport or Guadalajara airport. Airport transportation is on your own. We will help you make arrangements. Breakfast included.
Shared Room: $3,360 each person, two beds
Single Room: $3,985 one person, one bed
Non-Refundable Deposit to Reserve: $500.
About your Oaxaca Cultural Navigator Eric Chavez Santiago
Eric Chavez Santiago is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexican textiles and folk art with a special interest in artisan development and promotion. He is a weaver and natural dyer by training and a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola textile group. He and his wife Elsa are founders of Taller Teñido a Mano dye studio where they produce naturally dyed yarn skeins and textiles for worldwide distribution. Eric is a business partner with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, too. He is trilingual, speaking Zapotec, Spanish and English and is a native of Teotitlan del Valle. He is a graduate of Anahuac University, founder of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca education department, and former managing director of folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions, culture and community.
Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC founder, will accompany this group.
What is Included:
8 nights lodging
Expert bilingual guide services
Museums and archeological site admissions
Luxury van transportation
An educational experience of a lifetime
What is NOT Included:
Required international travel insurance
In-country COVID test
Required vaccines, PPE and hand-sanitizer
Any meals, snacks and taxis not specified in the itinerary
All alcoholic beverages, tips for guides and services, and personal purchases
Reservations and Cancellations. A $500 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your spot. You can make your reservation deposit using one of the following (please tell us which payment method you prefer):
Zelle bank transfer with no service fee
PayPal request for funds with a 3% service fee
Venmo request for funds with a 3% service fee
The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 50% of the balance is due on or before September 15, 2022. The third payment 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 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date less the $500 non-refundable deposit. After that, there are no refunds. If we cancel for whatever reason, you will receive a full refund.
The tour and COVID-19: Many believe that the epidemic is waning, however, data say otherwise. The virus continues to mutate. You are required to be FULLY VACCINATED to participate. Fully vaccinated is defined as all vaccinations required by the CDC including boosters. You must send Proof of Vaccination (this includes all boosters) by email on or before December 1, 2022. You can take a photo of the documentation and email it to us. All participants are required to wear N95 OR KN95 face masks when visiting artisans and it is strongly suggested that you use the mask when you are in crowds of people or indoors. We also use hand-sanitizer and practice social distancing while together. Please note: You MUST also provide proof of international travel insurance including $50,000 of emergency medical evacuation coverage.
Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room and how you want to make your deposit
Who Should Attend • Anyone who wants a bucket-list experience, who is interested in indigenous culture and creativity, who wants a deep immersion experience into textile practices and traditions, and who appreciates artisan craft — weaving, embroidery, pottery. If you are a collector, come with us to go deep and find the best artisans. If you are a photographer or artist, come with us for inspiration. If you are an online retailer, come with us to buy and find the stories to market what you sell.
All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received by December 1, 2022 or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.
Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: While we are primarily transported by van, there will be some walking/hiking in the butterfly sanctuary and as we walk in towns and villages. In addition, many streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, narrow and uneven. We will do a lot of walking. We recommend you bring a walking stick and wear sturdy shoes.
If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour 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. Adaptability, flexibility and respectfulness are essential. We encourage a no-whining attitude. There is adequate free time to go off on your own if you wish.
Love Oaxaca? Love artisan makers? Mark you calendar for this Friday and Saturday, February 14 and 15 in downtown Oaxaca, Mexico. Two big expoventas feature some of Oaxaca’s top artisans. English and Spanish spoken. Debit and credit cards accepted.
Shuko Clouse is here. She opened Mano del Sur recently, a beautiful online shop that combines her Japanese aesthetic — simplicity and quality — with Mexican handcraft excellence. Shuko came to Oaxaca to restock the shop.
She takes her time. She curates each item. She meets the makers and engages with them. She holds an article in her hands and savors its creation. She kneels down to touch a wool rug whose life is created on the loom. She traces the pattern with her fingertips, asking about ancient design origin.
It is a marvel to go shopping with Shuko. She chooses carefully. Selects one or two items that are the same. She is not a volume shopper. I learn from her. Take your time. Each moment with a handmade article is a blessing for the maker and eventually, the buyer.
Don’t rush. When I was in Japan, I saw that a large room with one extraordinary vase containing one exquisite flower was enough. This is antithetical to my own collecting sensibilities. It is a struggle to keep my living environment spare, and I confess I am unsuccessful. But I aspire to this — one object, beautifully crafted, as focal point.
Meanwhile, Shuko and I travel the villages; to San Marcos Tlapazola to visit the women makers of red clay pottery; to Mitla to see the weaver of natural dyed wool and cotton; deep into a Mitla neighborhood to visit the antique dealer whose eclectic collection tempts all; to old adobe houses of Teotitlan del Valle where humble weavers work magic.
What is a Study Tour: Our programs are designed as learning experiences, and as such we talk with weavers about how and why they create, what is meaningful to them in their designs, the ancient history of patterning and design, use of color, tradition and innovation, values and cultural continuity, and the social context within which they work. First and foremost, we are educators. Norma worked in top US universities for over 35 years and Eric founded the education department at Oaxaca’s textile museum. Our interest is in creating connection and artisan economic development.
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!
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Toursd are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop weaving relationships, customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
*Selvedge Magazine-London, UK
*Esprit Travel and Tours
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
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.
One-Day Custom Tours: Tell Us When You Want to Go!
Oaxaca has the largest and most diverse textile culture in Mexico! Learn about it.
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.
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.
October 27, 2023: Day of the Dead Ocotlan Highway Tour. It’s Market Day! The biggest of the year. See special altar food and decor, visit artisans, explore culture, eat at a traditional open air cocina de humo (grill kitchen).
October 29, 2023: Teotitlan del Valle Altars and Studio Visits to natural dye and weaving artisans who invite you to their altar rooms to share family traditions. Meet a traditional beeswax candlemaker. Eat mole and mezcal in a local family comedor.
Go on all 3 Day of the Dead Tours -- Get a 10% Discount
2024 Tours Go Deep, Not Wide
January 13-21, 2024: Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. Very popular! Get your deposit in to reserve. For intrepid travelers. Visit 7 back-strap loom weavers. Explore the culture of cloth and community. SIX SPACES OPEN!
Stay Healthy. Stay Safe. In Oaxaca, wear your mask. Questions? Want TO REGISTER or more info? 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 your order is 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