Tag Archives: tours

Tootling Around the Villages in Oaxaca

We weren’t exactly going off on a tangent, getting sidetracked, or wandering aimlessly. We had a plan. I spent Thursday and Friday last week taking friends to visit artisans down MEX 190 — the Panamerican Highway — to visit makers I have known for years.

Oh, and did I say it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit here and -5 degrees F in Taos?

Then, on Saturday, North Carolina friend Chris arrived for a five-day visit from Ajijic, Lake Chapala, Guadalajara, where she has been living for the past six years. It’s Sunday. Chris, Kali, and I just came back from a full morning at the Tlacolula Market, the famous tianguis regional free-for-all that takes hours to navigate. (We sell a market map if you want to get around on your own.) It was a shopping spree galore followed by lunch at Mo Kalli, in the Tres Piedras neighborhood of Tlacolula on the other side of the highway. I’m in awe of what traditional chef Catalina Chavez Lucas prepares — a tasting of most of Oaxaca’s famous moles all prepared to perfection, complete with Victoria and good mezcal to wash it down.

On Thursday, Jeff, Amador and I covered textiles and ceramics, starting in Mitla, continuing on to Teotitlan del Valle where we spent time with my host family who started Galeria Fe y Lola about twenty years ago and work only in natural dyes making the most glorious hand-woven rugs. We went on to San Marcos Tlapazola to visit Macrina Mateo Martinez and her sister Elia who are part of a fifteen-woman cooperative. Macrina’s work is so good it is featured in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Elia is heading off to Japan in November to teach a ceramics workshop. Jeff and Amador own Apostrophe-Home in San Diego and they were on a look-see/buying trip.

After visiting Macrina, we headed to Mitla to meet Arturo who weaves on the backstrap loom and works mostly in natural dyes to create amazing home goods and clothing. He is weaving new scarves and shawls with cashmere and the colors are juicy, strong and clear. Then, we went off to see Epifanio, the antique dealer who has a shop hidden down a side street where he has a collection of vintage jewelry, pottery, metates, and tchotchkes that are irresistable.

The following day, I met with Marj and Al from Chicago to take them down a similar path, but ending up in Santiago Matatlan, the Mezcal Capital of the World, where we met with Jorge and Yesenia. Jorge is a thirty-six year old mezcalero who learned from his father and grandfather, and he named his brand in honor of his grandfather Secundino. What they produce is delicious, with rich, earthy flavors and the wild agaves are spectacular at about half the cost of more commercial brands. You would never find this palenque. There are no signs directing you there, and even though I’ve been there multiple times, I still got lost this time and had to call them! Ooops.

Culminating the week was our Tlacolula market outing, where we bumped into Macrina and Elia, Fe, Lola, and Janet, sipped on frothy chocolate tejate, a drink made with toasted corn, sought out Armando who hand makes and embroiders dolls, and generally overindulged ourselves on tasting chocolate and fresh roasted peanuts. By the time we finished, we had a rolling cart filled with baskets, pottery, mandarin oranges, peanuts, a spatula, two steel comales, and pounds (so it felt like) of chocolate.

As we were 1/4 through the market making our way to the parking lot, I spotted a tall, strong, young immigrant from Venezuela, wearing a cardboard placard asking for help. I asked him to help us schlepp and carry the totes and cart and promised him a reward for his service. I asked him about why he left. He said there is no work there and the country is corrupt and dangerous. He is passing through with his wife and two-month old baby on his way to the U.S. His baby was born in the Panama forest. I support immigrant rights through organizations like Raices and Mazon and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Meeting him gave us an opportunity to help someone directly who is seeking economic and political freedom. We tipped him handsomely.

Please recommend us for our day excursions and extended tours. We welcome friends, family, designers, and gallery/shop owners and can help source Oaxaca artisan craft and meet the makers directly. Thank you.

Day of the Dead Etiquette and Behavior: Teotitlan del Valle Cemetery

Last year, 2022, Day of the Dead in Teotitlan del Valle was a frenzy. Big tour buses and mini-vans each holding 24 to 36 passengers unloaded face-painted visitors in front of our cemetery. I had made a plan this year to go early and not stay very long, expecting the same thing — travelers looking for mezcal shots, pointing their cameras in locals’ faces without asking permission, and having a roaring good time. I noted that tour guides had not prepared the visitors for an experience that included cultural sensitivity and respect. In 2022, foreign visitors outnumbered village residents two to one.

This year, I was very surprised to see only one face-painted visitor, no buses or vans, and very few tourists between 5 and 6:30 p.m. I thought, perhaps it was because the village municipal authorities made a policy to collect a toll from the buses and vans.

Oh, but how I was misled! My good friend Ani, who has been living here since 2003, went to the cemetery to pay her respects to our dear friend Juvenal, who died from Covid at the front end of the pandemic. He was fifty-two. She reported to me that the buses and vans showed up at 7 p.m., disgorging revelers who came to party. I narrowly escaped the assault.

The benefit of visiting earlier is that I saw Teotiteco familes enjoying the balmy fall evening, sitting around the gravesites of their loved ones, telling stories, eating peanuts and oranges, maybe taking sips of mezcal or beer. I mistakenly assumed that the panteon had returned to how it was pre-Pandemic.

So this brings me around to visitor behavior and etiquette for visiting cemeteries in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead.

  1. Please do not dress up in costume or paint your face! Locals don’t like it. This is not the tradition here (nor is it in Patzcuaro). Face painting comes right out of the movie Coco and has nothing to do with Day of the Dead. Nor does Halloween. Like many things, foreigners introduce ways that are culturally inappropriate and erode customs.
  2. Observe how local people dress and comport themselves and do the same.
  3. Come with flowers for graves, Day of the Dead bread, and candles. You can connect with a family this way if you make an offering to their loved one.
  4. Please do not arrive drunk or bring mezcal into the cemeteries. This is not your celebration. You are a visitor who needs to be respectful and circumspect.
  5. Walk slowly. Smile. Say hello. You may be invited to sit when you show that you understand and care.
  6. Please do not point your camera lens in someone’s face. I see this time and again. It happened to me in the village market and it doesn’t feel good. It feels invasive. Ask for permission if you are within six feet of another. Panorama photos can be taken without asking permission.
  7. Understand that you are stepping on sacred ground. This is an 8,000 year old tradition. Please let’s help keep it that way.

If anyone has any other tips or comments they want to add, please send me an email and I’ll publish them. Thank you for reading and listening.

Day of the Dead Decor + Oaxaca Day Tours

We have some Day of the Dead decorations for sale on our new website Shop Oaxaca Culture. I’m leaving for Oaxaca early Monday morning, so if you want to purchase, please do so before 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 22, to give me a chance to package up and mail to you! Send me an email.

We have a few spaces left on our one-day Day of the Dead Tours in Oaxaca. If you or anyone you know will be there during this auspicious time and would like to explore and go deep into indigenous culture, meaning, and to meet artisans, please register or pass the information along! Thank you.

To know more about Day of the Dead, read these!

Why Day of the Dead is Not Halloween

Reflections on Day of the Dead

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!

Where is Zacoalpan, Guerrero? Find It on the Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour

The Costa Chica of Oaxaca actually includes the southern part of Guerrero state, stretching from Puerto Escondido north to Acapulco. We don’t go quite as far as Acapulco, but we go deep into Amuzgo territory. The Amuzgo ethnic group encompasses northern Oaxaca and southern Guerrero. As in many parts of the world, political boundaries have nothing to do with tribal affiliations. I have seen this in India, China, Chiapas and Guatemala, too.

Selection of beautiful huipiles

Some years ago, I discovered the weaving family of my friend Jesus Ignacio when Instagram was in its infancy. I saw through his photos that the workmanship was extraordinary and he was dedicated to reviving ancient patterns, many lost to common memory. I knew that our itinerary took us to Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, and learned that Zacoalpan is a nearby sister village where back-strap loom weaving also has important traditions. I added this family to our tour.

2023 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour–Registration Open!

Supplementary weft technique yields dense design – 8 months of work

During our first visit a few years ago, Jesus showed us examples of textile fragments he was able to find and replicate. The family grows their own native, pre-Hispanic cotton on a small plot that he and his father tend. They grow coyuchi brown, soft green and creamy white. His mom, aunts and cousins process the cotton by hand, separating the fibers and taking out the seeds which they save for future planting. They roll a petate around dried corn leaves and beat the cotton on top with two hefty sticks to soften it. Then, they card and spin it using a malacate or drop-spindle. The cotton is then ready for the back-strap loom.

Raw native green cotton

I describe all this because the preparation is an integral part of the weaving process and takes a lot of time. To calculate he cost of a hand-made garment, we must factor in all the steps in the vertical production process — from growing to the final blusa or huipil.

Not only does the family use native cotton, they also use natural dyes: indigo, cochineal, wild marigold (pericone), nanche bark, zapote negro (a local fruit), and occasionally purple snail dye which they buy from Pinotepa de Don Luis across the Oaxaca-Guerrero border.

Native coyuchi brown and creamy white cotton

I want to share with you these words that Jesus wrote to me a few days ago. He doesn’t speak English, but he uses Google Translate. I’m copying what he wrote verbatim. When I read it, it makes me cry.

“Thank you friend Norma for visiting us. The Zacoalpan textile workshop teacher has been very talented, I have focused on helping her to spread her backstrap loom arts, even though I do not have compensation from the teachers, but my passion is to spread our ancestral knowledge. I feel so grateful for your visit in my humble home where we are struggling with stereotypes.

A study in humble— Jesús ‘ aunt

“I have always dreamed of going very far for the world to know our arts. I know our textiles are in danger of extinction, but I have not been able to make a lot of progress due to lack of support. The only support we have had is from your trip to our workshop. I have been a young dreamer, sometimes it makes me sad because I have not found a job in my profession, which is civil engineering. I have become very sad because our Mexico lacks employment. My dream is to become a better construction engineer but I have not been able to find work to practice my profession.

“My only dream is to have a house of my own and work. Sincerely, I am deeply grateful for your support in purchasing the art we make. I also have a dream that one day I will get to know your country, the USA, friend Norma. It is my only wish.

“I used Google translate.”

Jesús, Norma and his mom

Find Jesus on Instagram: @textil_zacoalpan

I’m sharing the contact because we don’t want them to have to wait another year for our visit to sell something! They ship internationally. Please support them. Our group was the only one to visit in the last two years. The work is finely made and exceptional. You must be able to do a wire transfer to his bank account. I use the App Remitly to send wire transfers to Mexico.

Ancient double-headed eagle design revived