Did I mention that the Oaxaca coast is HOT! At 90 degrees Fahrenheit and close to equal humidity, the Costa Chica, the area between Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and Acapulco, Guerrero, is sultry, even in winter. Women here in recent memory, wore wrap-around skirts called posohuancos, and were bare-breasted. In the 1960’s, the Church (ie. Catholic church), evangelizing missionaries and tour guides who began to penetrate the area, urged the women to cover-up. So, they designed a top that is a combo between an apron and a bra to go with their traditional wrapped skirt. And, this is how culture changes! Now, the younger women dress in Western-style clothing and save their traje (traditional festival dress) for special occasions — engagement parties, weddings, Saint’s Day festivities, and other ceremonies.
Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour is for the adventuresome who can ride in a van and travel long distances to get into the remote villages that we visit along the north coast of Oaxaca and southern Guerrero. Before decent roads and vehicles, the intrepid went into these areas on horseback or riding mules. We are lucky for a two-hour ride, not a day-long endurance trail up the mountainside.
In Pinotepa de Don Luis, we visit the Tixinda Cooperative whose leader is famed Don Habacuc Avedaño, the 81-year old who has been harvesting the rare purple snail dye on the Oaxaca coast since boyhood. In years past, he would travel by donkey or on foot from the village tucked into the folds of the coastal mountains to the sea. The caracol purpura proliferated along the Costa Chica then. They are smaller and harder to find now and it takes a day or two to journey to where they can be found, often as far as Huatulco, which is two-days from Pinotepa de Don Luis by vehicle. In the old days, it would take several weeks to get there. Don Habacuc and his compadres would find work along the way to finance their journey.
He is now one of only a few snail dyers left in the village. A rare commodity any way you look at it.
Today, he still climbs the rocks, a treacherous ordeal, with his adult son Rafael (who we call Rafa), to pick the snail from the rocky crevices, often prying them loose with a stick. He has skeins of hand-spun, pre-Hispanic locally grown white cotton draped around his left forearm. With his right hand, he squeezes the snail to activate the protection gland Slot Gacor Hari Ini to release the rare purple dye, careful not to kill the crustacean. He then returns it to the rocks. It takes 50 snails and one hour to dye one skein of cotton yarn that weighs 20 grams. That’s not even 1/2 an ounce. Not long ago, they could harvest and dye 15 skeins in an hour. No longer.
The threads are now used sparingly, as embellishment along collars with embroidery stitches depicting sea life, flowers and birds. Or, they are used as a narrow accent stripe or for the intricate, fine designs woven into the cloth using the supplementary weft technique. Experts are saying this beautiful purple thread may become a way of the past as the snail is endangered and difficult to find.
Our group sits on plastic patio chairs (of the Walmart variety) in a semi-circle on the packed dirt patio of the family compound. Chickens and roosters run underfoot, dipping beaks into buckets filled with water, wings flapping as they run between chair legs and human legs. We are surrounded by the finest back-strap loom woven huipiles and blusas suspended from clothing lines strung criss-cross across the courtyard. Rafa explains the snail harvesting and dyeing process. Don Habacuc is upstairs on a conference call with Mexico City officials about how to put more teeth into the federal laws written to protect the endangered species. This is their livelihood.
We put the brakes on our desire to riffle through the clothes and sit down to a fine, home-cooked meal of chicken or squash tamales and fresh fruit water made with hibiscus flowers — called Agua de Jamaica. Then, we plunge in to shop.
This is only the beginning of our day. We also visit the cooperative that hand-paints Converse tennis shoes that sell for over $250 USD in Oaxaca and Mexico City (if you can find them). This group are also graphic artists who hand-carve gourds and make print art. Then, we are off to visit Sebastiana, an amazing weaver in the same village. It is here that I find the perfect dress to wear to my son’s Southern California wedding in late March!
We are back to our base in Pinotepa Nacional by sunset, ready for dinner, a Margarita, and some chill time in our air-conditioned room!
We are taking registrations soon for the 2023 trip. Write Norma Schafer to get on the list! Mailto:Norma.email@example.com
The beauty of being on this trip is to meet and support the makers directly. Our group came for cultural appreciation and left with some stunning examples of traditional work.
Sunset in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico
My internet connection is funky and while I wanted to publish a post today about our Oaxaca Textile Study Tour trip to the mountain village of San Juan Colorado, it may not happen. The photo download is not cooperating.
Sunset at Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico
So in lieu of hand-spun green, brown coyuche and creamy white native cotton, I’m going to tell you about our first night in Puerto Escondido on the beach after flying in the AeroTucan 13-passenger single engine Cessna Grand Caravan skirting 12,000 foot mountains and not going higher than 9,300 feet altitude.
Patrice Petrillie tells us about the endangered caracol purpura snail
How do we know? We could all see the altimeter. The pilot sat a mere eight feet in front of me!
Patrice Patrillie, director of Dreamweavers Tixinda Cooperative invited our group to the home of a supporter for sunset on the beach, a presentation about the purpose of Dreamweavers to sustain indigenous textile craft, and to participate in a release of endangered baby sea turtles.
Barbara and Sandi enjoying appetizers before the turtle release
Dreamweavers was having an expoventa on Sunday, January 21, and our itinerary dovetailed so that we would return for the event from our wanderings along the coast and in the mountains discovering textile villages in time for the 10:00 a.m. opening.
Being here in time for the expoventa was planned as part of the itinerary for the Oaxaca Textile Study Tour.
I’m accepting names now for people interested in our 2019 trip.
Please send an email.
We put the sea turtles on the sand to make their way to the ocean
Before touching the turtles, we were asked by our host to wash our hands in sand and sea water to eliminate any odors.
The sea turtles are a food staple for indigenous people who live in coastal towns along the Pacific. There is a rescue operation in place to protect them from poachers.
Along the Puerto Escondido coast where we learned about the caracol purpura
The tension is always about honoring the cultural traditions of native people who rely on sea animals to survive and wildlife preservationists who want the species to survive. With global warming, survival is becoming a more difficult challenge for all of us.
As I held this turtle, its flippers were strong, eager to escape
As with the turtles, the caracol purpura, a snail that lives on the rocky coastline of Oaxaca, is at risk of extinction. Mixtec people have used the snail ink for millenia to dye their clothing a brilliant purple, just as the Romans harvested the snail along the coast of Morocco to color the senators’ robes. But, this creature is also endangered and caracol threads incorporated into clothing drives the price up. Yet, this, too, is part of the regional culture as humans interpret their lives through the garments they wear.
The last bit of sunset before we return to town
Comments Off on Sunset in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Photography, Travel & Tourism, Workshops and Retreats
Tagged caracol purpura, Dreamweavers, Mexico, Mixtec, Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, purple dye, sea turtles, textiles, Tixinda, weaving