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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
October 29 to November 4, 2022—6 nights and 7 days— $2,895 for a shared room and $3,495 for a single room. We have 3 single rooms and 4 shared rooms available.
Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico, is meaningful and magical. Celebrations in the villages go deep into Zapotec culture, community, tradition and pre-Hispanic practice. Some say it is the most important annual celebration in Mexico and here in Oaxaca, we know this is true. This tour is limited to 10 participants.
At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we hope to give you an unparalleled and in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations.
Beyond the city, in the Tlacolula Valley, many smaller villages are still able to retain their traditional practices. Here they build altars at home, light copal incense, make offerings of homemade chocolate, bread and atole, prepare a special meal of tamales, and visit the homes of relatives to greet deceased ancestors who have returned for this 24-hour period. Then, at the designated hour, the living go to the cemeteries to be with their loved ones — either to welcome them back into the world or put them to rest after their visit here – the practice depends on each village.
You will learn about this and more as you come with us to meet artisans in three different villages beyond Oaxaca city who welcome us into their homes and their lives during this sacred festival.
Study Tour Highlights:
Visit homes, altars and cemeteries in three Zapotec villages: Teotitlan del Valle, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, and San Marcos Tlapazola
Participate in presenting altar offerings at each home we visit
As a group, build a traditional altar to remember and honor your own loved ones
Learn to make homemade chocolate with the Mexican cacao bean
See a tamale-making demonstration and taste what is prepared
Shop for altar décor at the largest Teotitlan del Valle market of the year
Learn how mezcal is an integral part of festival culture and tradition
We created this study tour to take you out of the city, beyond the hubbub of party revelry and glitz of a Halloween-like experience that has morphed into a Hollywood-style extravaganza in downtown Oaxaca. We will compare how city celebrations complete with costumes and face painting differ from those in villages even as outside influences impact change. Our desire is to give you a full immersion experience that evokes what Day of the Dead may have been like 20 or 30 years ago–mystical, magical, transcendent and spiritual.
Even so, cultural tourism has found its way into the back roads of Oaxaca. We do our best to be respectful by limiting the size of our group to 10 participants, to give you an orientation about to what to expect and do during our visits, and to offer you an intimate, personal experience.
We give you an insider’s view. You have the guidance of local expert Eric Chavez Santiago who will lead this cultural tour. Eric is a partner in Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.
Eric Chavez Santiago is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexican folk art with a special interest in artisan economic development. He is a weaver and natural dyer by training, a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola rug weaving family, who was born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions and customs, speaks the indigenous Zapotec language, and serves as your cultural navigator.
Eric is a graduate of the Anahuac University, and speaks English and Spanish. He can translate language, culture and traditions, tell you about practices in his extended family and how they have experienced the changes over time.
Moreover, he is deeply connected and will introduce you to some of the finest artisans in the region, where you will meet weavers, natural dyers, ceramic artists, and traditional cooks. You will have an opportunity to see artisan craft demonstrations and to shop for your own collection or for gifts, as you wish.
We will be based in a comfortable Bed and Breakfast establishment one block from the market in Teotitlan del Valle for our time together. (You might decide to arrive early and stay a few nights in the city or extend your trip to be in the city afterward.)
Saturday, October 29: Arrive in Oaxaca and travel to Teotitlan del Valle. Check in to a highly-rated, locally owned bed and breakfast inn. Snack box available for arrivals after 8 p.m.
Sunday, October 30: During our breakfast orientation, we discuss how Day of the Dead is celebrated in the villages and then go on a walking tour that includes the village market, church, archeological site, and cultural center. Today you will also visit the homes and studios of rug weavers, candle makers, and silk weavers talking with them about their own family observances. Overnight in Teotitlan del Valle. (Includes breakfast and welcome dinner)
Monday, October 31: After breakfast, walk to the Teotitlan del Valle market to shop for altar decorations to later build a group altar. Bring photos of those you want to remember! Then, we will venture out into the countryside to visit the Zapotec village of San Marcos Tlapazola to meet artisans and discuss their family Dia de los Muertos traditions. You will see demonstrations of red clay pottery and have a chance to buy if you wish. We will come prepared with altar gifts of chocolate and bread to present to the difuntos. On the road, we will stop at a traditional comedor for lunch (at your own expense). We finish the day with a mezcal tour and tasting in Santiago Matatlan, mezcal capital of the world. Mezcal is an integral part of Zapotec celebrations and we will see why. (B, D)
Monday, November 1: After breakfast, travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to meet a noted weaver artisan who will take us to their family gravesite at the village cemetery and talk about history and traditions. Visit a home where a traditional altar tells the story of ancient Zapotec culture. Our hosts will explain the ancient, pre-Hispanic altar offerings and go deep into the meaning of Muertos here in Oaxaca. You will bring your offering of chocolate and bread to put on their altar to honor our host’s ancestors. We will spend the day with this family and enjoy a very special lunch that they have prepared in our honor. – Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien. (B, D)
Tuesday, November 2: After breakfast, we will visit the Teotitlan del Valle cemetery to see preparations being made to honor dead loved ones: cleaning and decorating the graves. Then we will spend the afternoon in the courtyard of a traditional cook, who shows us how to make hot chocolate and tamales with mole amarillo. We’ll have late lunch there and then accompany her to the cemetery while she sits with her loved ones as they return to the underworld. After the cemetery, you will enjoy a before bedtime snack and discuss how participating in Day of the Dead has had an impact on you. Compare and contrast this experience with USA and Canadian experiences with death and dying. (B, L, D)
Wednesday, November 3: After breakfast, we will arrange for any laboratory tests (at your own expense) required to re-enter the USA. Then, we will hold an EXPOVENTA to showcase the work of outstanding weavers representing various villages throughout Oaxaca state, including San Juan Colorado, Triqui, and San Mateo del Mar, and San Pedro Cajones. The rest of the afternoon is on your own. You can arrange a taxi to take you to the city, to neighboring villages or archeological sites. We will enjoy a final goodbye supper before you depart. (B, D)
Thursday, November 4: Departure. We will help you arrange a taxi (at your own expense) to the airport or you may choose to stay on in Oaxaca or visit another part of Mexico. (B) Hasta la proxima!
Itinerary subject to change based on scheduling and availability.
What Is Included
6 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 5 dinners
6 nights lodging at a charming B&B hotel in Teotitlan del Valle
museum and church entry fees
luxury van transportation
outstanding and complete guide services
the cultural experience of a lifetime
What is NOT Included
The program 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 • $2,895 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,495 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 June 15, 2022. The third payment is due on or before September 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 September 1, 2022, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before September 1, 2022, 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: You are required to be FULLY VACCINATED to participate. You must send Proof of Vaccination (this includes all boosters) by email on or before June 15, 2022. You can take a photo of the documentation and forward it to us. All participants are required to wear N95 OR KN95 face masks, use hand-sanitizer and practice social distancing while together. We will sanitize vans and keep the windows open when traveling 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. We will send you an e-commerce invoice by email that is due on receipt.
Who Should Attend • Anyone interested in indigenous culture and creativity, who wants a deep immersion experience into Day of the Dead 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 find the stories to market what you sell.
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.
Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: Oaxaca and surrounding villages are colonial and pre-Hispanic. The altitude is close to 6,000 feet. 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 study shoes.
If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments or you are immunocompromised, 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. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.
The 18th annual Feria Maestros del Arte happened last weekend at Lake Chapala, Jalisco, about 40-minutes from Guadalajara. I had never been before and I decided it was time! Plus, it gave me a chance to spend some time with friends Chris and Ben, who moved to Ajijic from North Carolina last year.
And, there was another good friend, flying shuttle loom weaver Alfredo Hernandez Orozco with his son Yaolt, who make extraordinary cotton cloth home goods and clothing. Their workshop is in El Tule.
There were other Oaxaca artisans whose work I know and respect: alebrijes makers, ceramic artists and sculptors, basket weavers, and some very fine clothing weavers from remote areas of the Oaxaca coast and Mixe regions. Many of these are included on our Oaxaca Discovery Tour coming up at the end of January 2020 (yes, a few spaces are available).
Juan Toribio from San Juan Cotzocon, whose work I wear with pleasure
An added bonus of going to the Fair was participating in events hosted by Los Amigos del Arte Popular. This is a non-profit group that supports Mexican folk art. They are appreciators and collectors, and do a lot to underwrite this Feria and provide scholarships for artisans to travel here.
I also had a chance to connect with friends Mariann who moved to Ajijic from Philadelphia, friend Ellen who comes to Oaxaca every winter, her sister Sally, and locals Elizabeth and Greg who live in Chapala. I also bumped into David and Barbara from San Diego, too.
Unlike the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe that covers the world, this Fair reunites those of us with Mexico-LOVE. While I’m most happy living in Oaxaca, coming to the shores of Lake Chapala is a refreshing change of pace and a great party all the way around. I had to come home to rest!
Finally, home to North Carolina and then back to Mexico in two weeks. If you follow me on Facebook you know I’ve been traveling in Eastern Europe. This was a tour offered by one of the largest operators in the world. Their buses and ships zigzag the continents and oceans.
See below for a few treasures I am offering for sale from the trip.
In eleven days, we traveled from Tirana, Albania, to the Dinaric Alps and coast of Montenegro, to historic Adriatic fortified towns occupied by Greeks, then Romans, then Venetians, then Ottomans, then Austro-Hungarians, then Italians and Germans. After WWI, they became part of what we knew as Yugoslavia. The break-up happened after the death of Tito and in the aftermath of the Serbia-Croatian War of 1991. These are new republics.
This is a land of the conquered and conquerors. We entered Kotor, Montenegro, for a one hour-fifteen minute lunch stop, climbed through winding mountain passes to visit crystal clear glaciated lakes and limestone caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, came to Split for a one-and-a-half hour walkabout. A full day in Dubrovnik was pure luxury. We slipped through Bosnia’s sliver of an access to the Adriatic, before entering Slovenia, part of the European Union. We used Lek,Kuna and Euros along the way.
I went out of curiosity, to be a roommate to my friend, and because the cost was low enough to justify the impulse. Will I do it this way again? Not likely.
We all wear name tags and use headsets, move in lock-step according to the schedule. Most mornings, this 43-person group was on the road by 7:30 a.m. (sometimes earlier) to cover miles of territory, luggage packed and loaded, breakfast inhaled. Many of my photos were taken from the bus window. There was no interaction with native people other than shopkeepers we met along the way. Local tour guides provided interpretive historical and cultural commentary during the one- to two-hour city walking tours.
I learned that there are villages in Slovenia where needle lace is still being made. In towns where we stopped, during free time, I tried to seek out antique dealers who were selling vintage textiles and jewelry. The selection was sparse. Eventually, I succumbed to the rhythm of the group, took a deep breath, and went along for the ride.
Note: From Left to Right, #1, #2 and #3. These three pairs of sterling silver earrings are hand-crafted. The first pair #1 is new with delicate, intricate filigree. Price is $175. #2 is vintage and I bought these earrings in the seaside town of Makarska from a silversmith whose family has been in the business for generations. Price is $165. #3 is a vintage pair of large sterling filigree earrings from Kosovo that I bought in Opatija, Slovenia. Price is $395. Mailing for any pair is $12 USD. Send me an email if you are interested. firstname.lastname@example.org You can see the influences of Austro-Hungarians and Ottoman Turks in the designs and workmanship.
What I validated was an important lesson in how I put together experiences for travelers who choose Oaxaca Cultural Navigator excursions: it is more valuable to go deep than wide. It is essential to meet local people to learn about and understand life, culture, values, challenges and opportunities. A middleman interpreting social and political issues isn’t enough. To really be in a country, one must go to where people live and work, take meals with them, share who we are with each other. For me, a small group is defined as ten to fifteen travelers.
Yes, people want to see the world. Most want to see the world for less money, to go to as many countries as possible, to get the Passport stamped. Do do so, one must join the crowds. I heard from fellow travelers that they go on river cruises with 125 people, which they consider a small group. The mega-cruise ships that hold thousands docked in Dubrovnik and Venice, spit out day-trippers who overrun these once beautiful cultural sites. Perhaps they buy a double-scoop of gelato and then re-board the ship for the endless buffet. Imagine these cities now as shopping malls with all the international brands paying high rents, pushing out local artisans and residents — a topic we never discussed.
Still rough around the edges, coming out of Communism with heart and hopefulness, Albania and Montenegro are undiscovered jewels and most promising. Worth a trip back to explore the Ionian coast that borders Greece, worth a trip back for the delicious dark and crusty bread and seafood, worth a trip back to go deeper. We shall see.
Norma Writes for Selvedge Magazine Issues #89 + #109
Creating Connectionand Meaning between travelers and with indigenous artisans. Meet makers where they live and work. Join small groups of like-minded explorers. Go deep into remote villages. Gain insights. Support cultural heritage and sustainable traditions ie. hand weaving and natural dyeing. Create value and memories. Enjoy hands-on experiences. Make a difference.
What is a Study Tour: Our programs are designed as learning experiences, and as such we talk with makers 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. We create connection and help artisans reach people who value them and their work.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
We Contribute Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
Meet Makers. Make a Difference
Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university, textile and artisan development experience. See About Us.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your independent travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, curators, universities and others come to us to develop artisan relationships, customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Select Clients *Abeja Boutique, Houston *Selvedge Magazine-London, UK *Esprit Travel and Tours *Penland School of Crafts *North Carolina State University *WARP Weave a Real Peace *Methodist University *MINNA-Goods *Smockingbird Kids *University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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). SOLD OUT.
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. 6 SPACES OPEN.
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.
One-Day Custom Tours: Tell Us When You Want to Go!
New--Ruta del Mezcal One-Day Tour.We start the day with pottery, visiting a master, then have lunch with a Traditional Oaxaca Cook who is the master of mole making. In Mitla, we meet with our favorite flying shuttle loom weaver, and then finish off with a mezcal tasting at a palenque you will NEVER find on your own! Schedule at your convenience!
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. SOLD OUT!
March 28-April 3:Screenwriting for Film + Television with Harry Werksman, Golden Globe award winning writer. Develop character, plot, scene. Learn what it takes to pitch a story. Take your ideas from concept to delivery. NEW!
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