Tag Archives: travel

Travel Tips: How to Safely Pack Mezcal, Pottery for the Trip Home

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.

Happy to answer any questions you have! Write me here.

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.

Encore: Visiting the Tlacolula Market and Mitla Archeological Site

My friend Chris is visiting from Ajijic, Lake Chapala, Guadalajara within a few days after my son and daughter-in-law returned to New Mexico. And, I’m returning to the USA on March 27, just a few days after Chris goes back home to Guad. So, its a whirlwind of getting ready to leave and sightseeing with Chris. I am returning to some of the same places I was the week before with the kids. It’s funny how even with a return visit to someplace I’ve already been, there is always something new to see.

Here’s what was on the agenda with Chris:

  1. San Pablo Villa de Mitla Archeological Site — We went on Saturday. Admission is free on Sundays if you are a permanent resident or senior. Otherwise, the entry fee is 90 pesos (about $5) per person. There is a new entry process. You wait at the gate at the back parking lot and they let groups of 10 into the site about every 15 minutes. A goodly amount of time to devote here could be more than an hour. I suggest you read up on this historic Zapotec religious site before you go. I also like to go early in the morning to avoid the midday heat.

2. Bia Beguug Weaving Studio with Arturo Hernandez Quero and his son Martin, operate this designer home goods weaving studio where amazing cloth is made on the flying shuttle loom. This is the go-to-place for tablecloths, napkins, bedspreads, throws, and shawls — many of which include natural dyes in cotton and wool.

3. Lunch at Mo-Kalli. Except when we got there, the comedor operated by traditional cook Catalina Chavez Lucas was closed! Strange for a Saturday. So, our alternative was to have lunch at Comedor Mary at the Tlacolula Market. Here, owner Elsa, carries on the tradition of her grandmother Mary, with delicious, clean and safe-to-eat traditional food, including some tasty Mole Negro and Mole Coloradito. Cost is about 200 pesos per person. Even though food is already prepared, please be patient; it can take a few minutes to get served.

4. Sunday Tlacolula Market. This is our weekend go-to tourist attraction in the Tlacolula Valley. If you go on your own, we have a map available for sale to guide you. We got there early, by 10 a.m., and it was still packed. I’m still wearing a mask in densely populated areas, and the narrow aisles of this market makes me cautious. I bring along a rolling shopping cart. Our purchases included a clay flower pot from Tlahuitoltepec, bars to make hot chocolate, locally grown and roasted peanuts, chicken gizzards for the dogs, a painted enamel gourd filled with flowers to gift, limes, a stainless steel strainer, carrizo baskets for packing my mezcal to take back to the USA, a clay bowl from Dorotea and the Red Clay Pottery Women designed with holes to use for strawberries, an armful of lilies, an embroidered Catrina doll handmade by Armando Sosa from Mitla.

There are plenty of handcrafts here of varying quality: clay mugs from Atzompa and Tlapazola, shawls, scarves, aprons, handwoven rugs, jewelry, blouses and dresses, hammocks, woven palm baskets and colorful plastic totebags. Need an extra suitcase? You can get that here, too. If you are a local, this is where to get everything you need to eat and run a household.

You might want to eat lunch at the market by buying a piece of raw grill meat or sausage, cooking it over the open flame along with onions, tomatoes, wrapping it in a tortilla smeared with a ripe avocado. Or, you could take a moto-taxi tuk-tuk like we did to make our way to the kitchen of traditional cook Evangelina Aquino Luis at her Cocina Tradicional Nana Vira, where we had higadito, chiles rellenos, and Mole Coloradito with grilled lamb, washed down with a Victoria beer and melon water. Dessert anyone? Nicuatole, of course.

Then, we came home to rest!

When Visitors Come to Oaxaca: What to See and Do

My son Jacob (mi hijo) and my daughter-in-law Shelley (mi nuera) came to visit for a week and just returned to Albuquerque last Saturday night. We were not hard-pressed to figure out what to do during their time here. Fortunately for me, daily activities also included some resting time, which I appreciated since they arrived the day after my return from our whirlwind Chiapas Textile Study Tour (registrations open for 2024).

What did they want to do?

  • Soak at Hierve el Agua mineral springs
  • Climb the archeological site at San Pablo Villa de Mitla
  • Taste mezcal (of course) in Santiago Matatlan, Mezcal Capital of the World
  • Dine in some of Oaxaca’s finest restaurants and comedors
  • Visit 3M and the Mujeres del Barro Rojo in San Marcos Tlapazola
  • Shop for hand-woven home goods
  • Explore the vast Abastos Market
  • Meander the Teotitlan del Valle and Tlacolula markets

Jacob has been here many times before. A world traveler who has lived and taught English in Japan for a year, Shelley had never been to Oaxaca. I know this won’t be her last visit.

Soak at Hierve el Agua. The toll road beyond Mitla is open and it only takes 45-minutes to get to this spectacular ancient Zapotec ritual site from Teotitlan del Valle. (More like 1-1/2 hours from Oaxaca City.) It’s mid-March and extremely hot here now — reaching the mid- to upper-80’s Fahrenheit. Jumping into the pools is a refreshing respite. Know that these are not true hot springs. The water is mineralized but it’s still a chilly, though refreshing plunge. Lots of food and drink stalls at the entrance to satisfy hunger and thirst, including micheladas, fresh coconut water, and snacks. Note that in addition to the tollroad, you will be stopped in the village to pay a per person passage fee, and another fee to park at the site. There are colectivos to take you there from Mitla. Some take a tour to get there or hire a taxi for the day. The tours only give you about an hour there, so beware you may not be able to spend enough time if you go this route.

Climb the Archeological Site at Mitla. Second only to Monte Alban, the post-classical archeological site at Mitla combines Zapotec and Mixtec cultures as expressed through the carved fretwork on the facades of the ancient temples. This is where Zapotec royalty were buried and Mitla was designated a Pueblo Magico a few years ago to acknowledge the historical importance here.

Eat at Mo-Kalli in Tlacolula. This obscure comedor is operated by Traditional Cook Catalina Chavez Lopez who is recognized as one of the best in Oaxaca. The small restaurant has about four tables and can seat 18-20 people if filled. It rarely is. There is no menu! This is mole country and featured here are usually seven different moles including: negro, coloradito, rojo, verde, amarillo, estofado, sigueza, and sometimes more. They come as a tasting selection for you to decide which you want to order. Depending on this, you will get the mole accompanied by either beef, pork or chicken and plenty of hot-off-the-comal tortillas. Order a cerveza or a fruit water to wash it down. This is the REAL Oaxaca. Tell her I referred you.

Taste Mezcal at Don Secundino 1914 in Santiago Matatlan. Another off-the-beaten path palenque where 30-something mezcalero Jorge Alberto Santos Hernandez makes amazing wild agave mezcal that rivals the best in Oaxaca, including my favorite, tepeztate. The palenque is named in honor of Jorge’s grandfather and his birth year. The family has been making mezcal for generations. This palenque is not easy to find. There is no signage, anywhere. It is hidden back in the campo off a dirt road leading from the highway. Google maps can help you get there — sort of! Best to call for an appointment and directions. Jorge speaks a bit of English. 52-951-185-4350. Tell him I referred you.

Visit 3M and Mujeres del Barro Rojo. 3M is none other than Macrina Mateo Martinez and the Red Clay Women are the cooperative she founded with family members years ago in San Marcos Tlapazola. Macrina may be the most famous of the women potters in the village of San Marcos Tlapazola where they trek into the foothills to dig the clay they work into beautiful pottery — bowls, plates, salseros, mezcal cups, comales and cooking vessels.

They ship worldwide and Macrina shows her work in New York’s Museum of Modern Art gift shop. Oh, and they have been to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, too. Why do we love Macrina? She is the story of independent, courageous indigenous women who have chosen not to marry in favor of career and an exit strategy from machismo culture.

Shop for Hand-woven Home Goods with a stop to visit Arturo Hernandez in Mitla. Arturo’s workshop features cotton and wool textiles often colored with natural dyes. He specializes in home goods — tablecloths, napkins, dishtowels — but also weaves glorious rebozos, shawls, scarves, ponchos and quechquemitls. We know many designers who work with Arturo to make private label cloth sold around the world. Call ahead to make sure they are there! 52-951-189-9147

A forage deep into Abastos Market. This is the biggest wholesale and retail market in Oaxaca state. Some say it rivals any Mexico City market, too. Going there is not for the faint of heart. You can get lost. It’s like going through the souk in Marrakesh. Watch your pockets and purses. There are thieves who prey on visitors. However, with caution, you can meander and enjoy EVERYTHING that Oaxaca has to offer — from food to handcrafts to the outdoor grill kitchen where you can eat a fresh-off-the-comal tlayuda. This is where vendors come to shop and resell. Shop like you are a local by going here! Jacob and Shelley found the barbecue grill kitchen where they had goat tacos. You can get this at the Sunday Tlacolula market, too.

Meander Teotitlan del Valle to shop for rugs, get there in time for the daily 8:30-10:30 am. market, see the archeological site (behind the church), and get a great grilled taco de cecina (pork) at Restaurant Tierra Antigua. Teotitlan del Valle is where I live and you can find excellent lodging here for a fraction of the cost of comparable locations in the city. It’s also centrally located to all the sites I’ve noted above. Oaxaca culture is found in her villages, where indigenous language is still spoken and many still wear traditional daily dress.

Enjoy your stay! Oaxaca is a very special place.

2024 Bucket List Tour: Monarch Butterflies + Michoacan Folk Art

Come with us to Mexico, February 1-11, 2024, 10-nights, 11-days

Back by popular demand! 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 Michoacan and 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.

We did not anticipate offering this tour again until 2025, but we were cajoled into organizing it sooner so you wouldn’t have to wait so long! Now, we have only a few spaces open!

But this is not all! After this first part of our tour, we travel to the magical craft and folk-art towns of Michoacan:  Patzcuaro and the indigenous Purepecha towns surrounding Lake Patzcuaro, plus Ahuiran, Santa Clara del Cobre, and Paracho. 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 we know very well. We NEVER take you into any locations that are dangerous or threatening.

This tour is limited to 14 travelers. We have five single rooms and 4 shared rooms available.

We start in Mexico City to learn about history of Mexico through a walking tour focusing on the Mexican Muralism Movement with an art historian. Our journey continues to Michoacán where we do the outdoor expedition to visit the sanctuary of the Monarch butterfly. We end this tour in Patzcuaro, a colonial city awarded with the recognition of Pueblo Magico. Here we spend some days to learn about the strategic location next to the lake and the different oficios (artisan wares) in some of the towns around the lake, such as, copper, wood, ceramics and textiles.

Thursday, February 1: Arrive in Mexico City. Gather for NO-HOST dinner. Meals included: none. Overnight in Mexico City.

Friday, February 2: Breakfast, welcome and orientation. Morning art history walking tour featuring the Mexican Muralism Movement – Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros. Welcome lunch at one of the best downtown restaurants. Afternoon discussion about Michoacan textiles with noted cultural anthropologist. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch. Overnight in Mexico City.

Saturday, February 3: After breakfast, depart to butterfly sanctuary with stop at Zirahuato archeological site. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch. Overnight in Zitacuaro.

Sunday, February 4: Visit El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch. Overnight in Zitacuaro.

Monday, February 5: Visit a second butterfly sanctuary. You may choose to ride a horse if you like. In the afternoon, we depart for Patzcuaro and check in to our cozy hotel. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch. Overnight in Patzcuaro.

Tuesday, February 6: After breakfast, we will participate in a hands-on cooking class. You will eat what you prepare for lunch. Afternoon Patzcuaro Walking Tour, visit galleries and museums. Meals included: Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Overnight in Patzcuaro.

Wednesday, February 7: After breakfast, we travel to Santa Clara del Cobre where artisans make hand-hammered copper pieces. Then on to Cuanajo where we will meet a family of weavers who work on back strap loom the technique of warp faced weaving. Then we make a stop in Tupataro where we learn more about the history of the Patzcuaro and visit some of the most amazing frescos on the ceiling of this small, historical church. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch. Overnight Patzcuaro.

Thursday, February 8: This is a long day around Lake Patzcuaro to artisan villages. Our first stop is in Tucuaro we visit a master woodcarver who makes the carnival mask for the celebrations of Lent and Easter. In Santa Fe la Laguna, we will learn about the lake and its importance to the surrounding towns including Patzuaro.

Then we visit Tzintzuntzan, where we learn about the fine satin stitch embroidery made by a collective of women who specialize in embroidering the village traditions in scenes depicted on multi-colored fabric. Then we learn about the chuspata fiber used to weave utilitarian pieces such as rugs, mats and even living rooms! In town, we visit a family of potters that specializes in high temperature ceramic pieces. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch. Overnight in Patzcuaro.

Friday, February 9: Our first stop is in Ahuiran, here we meet a family of shawl weavers made with cotton and rayon threads that are woven on backstrap looms. These shawls have amazing, knotted fringes and the weavers use feathers woven into the cloth to decorate them. Next, we travel to Paracho where learn about the tradition of handmade guitars. This town inspired the guitar for Coco (Disney Pixar 2017 movie). Our last stop is in Aranza to visit with a family that we think may weave the finest clothes in Mexico. They work with one ply 100% cotton to make blouses and shawls with a special technique on a backstrap loom that we can only describe as being like lace. But the cloth is woven by hand picking and twisting the warp threads to create this effect. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.

Saturday, February 10: Leisurely day on your own after breakfast to meander Patzcuaro streets, pack, do any last-minute shopping. We then meet for a Grand Finale Dinner to celebrate our time together and memories made.  Meals included: Breakfast and dinner. Overnight in Patzcuaro.

Sunday-February 11: Departure. We will assist in scheduling shared van transportation from Patzcuaro to Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City at your own expense. The hotel can also help you make taxi arrangements if you plan to go on to visit other Mexican towns.

Note: Schedule is preliminary and is subject to change throughout our tour, depending on artisan availability, etc.

What Is Included

  • 9 nights lodging at top-rated hotels
  • 9 breakfasts
  • 7 lunches
  • Grand Finale Gala Dinner
  • Museum and entry fees
  • Optional Cooking Class
  • 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 instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $3,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $4,595 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

[  ] Yes, I want to take the optional cooking class at $165 per person additional

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, 2023. The third 50% payment of the balance is due on or before December 1, 2023. 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, 2023, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 1, 2023, 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.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: The butterfly sanctuary is at 10,000 feet altitude. To get there, one must ascend a steep pathway or ride a horse to the destination. Generally, the altitude is 5,000 to 7,000 feet in the various locations we will visit. Streets and sidewalks in colonial towns are cobblestones, and narrow. We will do a lot of walking. We will 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.

ORIGINAL! Mexico City Textile / Fashion Extravaganza, November 2023

We are now taking registration to attend Original 2023, Our artisan friends on the committee confirm that the event will happen this fall. While they tell us the dates aren’t yet set in stone, we anticipate the three-day weekend fashion event will be held November 17-19, 2023. We will likely plan this for travelers to arrive Wednesday, November 15 and depart on Monday, November 20. This will get you home in time for Thanksgiving! 

We are limiting this textile immersion experience to 10 savvy travelers who are interested in the Mexico’s indigenous textile design, and the merging of traditional clothing with contemporary, innovative fashion. This is the top national textile event in Mexico and encompasses the work of over 400 textile artists from throughout the country. 

Original was developed by Mexico’s Ministry of Culture as a way to take the offensive against the international fashion industry that is appropriating the cultural patrimony of Mexico’s indigenous weaving communities. The term cultural appropriation describes the process of copycat fashion for economic gain by international clothing designers. We have heard too often of designers coming to Mexico, copying a village’s ancient designs, then producing these garments with exact replicas of the weaving or embroidery patterns, putting them on the runway, and marketing them as their original pieces without offering attribution or compensation to the communities that attach their indigenous identities to this clothing. The event term, Original, references the true origins of Mexico’s indigenous designs.

Put in words of the Ministry of Culture:

Original is a permanent cultural movement, generated from the Mexican Government, dedicated to raise awareness for the value of the artisanal work and the rights of collective ownership; it aims to build a new ethic in the relationship of the artisans and their communities with the national and international design industry. Each year, Original brings together textile artisan women and men from the the creative towns and communities in al Mexico to showcase their work.”

Our long weekend together will include lodging, four breakfasts, a welcome dinner, talks, presentations, dinners with cultural anthropologists and top artisans invited to participate in Original. The weekend will also include guide and translation services, visits to Franz Mayer and folk art museums, transportation, and expert educational experiences to go deeper into the language of cloth. 

What: A five-day textile experience in Mexico City

When: November 15-20, 2023 (tentative dates)

Cost: $2,395 per person shared room; $3,195 single room. A $500 non-refundable deposit will secure your reservation. If, when confirmed, the dates turn out to be different and you are unable to attend, we will offer you a full, 100% refund of any monies you have deposited. 

To register, please send an email to Norma Schafer.

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $500 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your spot. We anticipate the event dates will be finalized and announced by July 1, 2023. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of  50% of the balance is due on or before July 1, 2022. The third 50% payment of the balance is due on or before September 15, 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 15, 2022, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before September 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date less the $500 non-refundable reservation deposit. After that, there are no refunds.

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.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read