We spent the night in Gretna, Nebraska just outside Omaha off I-80. Janet Chavez Santiago, my Oaxaca goddaughter is traveling with me. I drive. She feeds me orange slices and bits of smoked turkey jerky. The sun is shining and we move from the flatlands of Indiana and Illinois, crossing the Mississippi River and onto the rolling fields of Iowa crossing over into Nebraska. Today, we will drive seven-and-a-half hours to Denver and do a bit of sightseeing before landing in Taos, NM on Sunday.
We pass an Iowa road sign, Montezuma it says, exit here. Why Montezuma? We are out in the middle of rural Iowa where silos and neat red barns dot a landscape of slender trees with bright green leaves flow with the horizon. Look it up, I say. Montezuma, Iowa, population 1,338 (2019), It was first established in 1848 when local veterans of the Mexican-American War named the city after the last Aztec Emperor of Mexico.
Next to our motel is a Walmart. It is the only place that is walkable and we need a stretch after our picnic supper on a green patch beyond the parking lot. At the check-out, a young Latino is in front of us. He looks at Janet and smiles at me. Where are you from? Our interchange is in Spanish. Mexico, he answers. Where in Mexico? I continue. Campeche, he says. Do you like Nebraska? I ask. Yes, very much, he says and waves goodbye.
When we left Durham, North Carolina, on May 6, we drove eight hours to Columbus, Ohio, to spend two days with friends we met sixteen years ago in Oaxaca. Frances has a nickname. It’s Sam. Her husband is Tom. They are photographers who taught workshops with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator in Teotitlan del Valle and have a collection of Chavez Santiago family rugs. Making art is in their DNA and we immersed ourselves in what I call Sam’s Art Camp, making book covers. Tom became an outstanding woodturner and makes amazing turned wood vessels. You can find them on Instagram at Birch Mountain Crafts.
Our next stop was South Bend, Indiana, a short five hour drive from Columbus. This was the place I lived for almost twenty years, raising a child, opening and closing a cookware shop and cooking school, starting my professional career in university continuing education, marketing, communications and development. Lifelong friends still live there. Who knows when I will get there next.
So, here we are. On our way west. The time changes. The air is dryer. The cooler is filled with food. I have my mezcal. It is a passage overland to what is next.
As we speak, Janet is at the Puebla, Mexico airport. A testimony to her good judgment, she searched the United Airlines website and found that they offer flight service from Puebla to Houston. So, on Tuesday night, I changed her ticket from a Oaxaca departure to a Puebla departure today. Fortunately, I used air miles so there was no charge! I expect she will arrive tonight. The Oaxaca airport is still closed; flights are canceled. According to Chris Stowens, Oaxaca The Year After blogger who is also trying to get out, United has informed customers that they can rebook leaving next week. That was not an option for us. We are set to leave Durham on May 6 and Janet is scheduled for a covid vaccine tomorrow morning at Duke University.
Janet bought two seats on the four-hour bus ride from Oaxaca to Puebla. Another smart move so she wouldn’t have to sit next to anyone. She sent me a photo: Fully masked with a face shield covering her from hair to neck! But she made me promise not to publish it! You can only imagine.
Okay. Now, back to packing.
Want to read more about Oaxaca blockades and the teachers’ disruptions? Click here.
We know them in Oaxaca as bloqueos. These are the blockades that interrupt life, create havoc, close the airport and cancel flights, shut down commerce and generally, make life miserable for many. They are the political tool of unions used to negotiate with the government. History points to this strategy as largely unsuccessful, yet the practice continues and the general population suffers. This is not a gringa rant, but a fact of Oaxaca life. Live there. Visit there. Depend on teachers, taxi drivers, garbage workers, etc. to voice discontent through blockades. One year, I spent three hours trying to get to an appointment in Oaxaca City from Teotitlan, only to give up and turn around in frustration.
I wanted to title this blog Travel Interruptus. Why? Because my goddaughter Janet Chavez Santiago was to fly to North Carolina on Monday, April 26, to help me pack, bring some rugs she had pre-sold, and drive with me to Taos, NM, her cheerfulness and good company designed to keep me alert on what will be a week-long road trip. But an email came in during the early morning hours: Her flight was canceled.
I turned to Clandestine Oaxaca Appreciation Society Facebook Page to see what was going on. You want to know all things going on in Oaxaca? Join this page. Easy answer: Bloqueos. No easy solution. It’s election time and the government is in a do-nothing mode. You want to read more about blockades in Oaxaca and the history of the Normalistas Teachers Union Seccion 22, go to Google. May is protest month in Oaxaca. Travelers beware.
We changed Janet’s flight to leave on Thursday. My friend, Dean Michaels, Oaxaca Eats owner, was stuck in Mexico City, took at bus back to Oaxaca, thankful he was fully vaccinated.
Yesterday, Tuesday, it didn’t seem like the situation was improving. The airport is still blocked and flights are still being canceled. We decided to take our own diversionary tactics. Janet will get to Puebla overland and fly from there.
As foreigners, we are not permitted by law to actively engage in the politics of Mexican life or we risk that our visas are revoked and we are sent back to our countries of origin, never to return. The Oaxaca teacher’s strikes have been going on for the 16 years I have been in Oaxaca, and long before that. I don’t see an end to it. It is a way of life that we all have to figure a work around for.
Remember 2006 and the years of Zocalo encampments. Early on, I was sympathetic. I was raised in a family of teachers and my dad was a strong American Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO supporter, active in the Los Angeles County teacher’s union, who went out on strike. My brother became a teacher and recently retired after a 30-year career. It seemed natural then, to embrace the grievances as legitimate. Over the years, much has been revealed however, about coercion, financial mismanagement, off-shore bank accounts and more.
This situation is different from the teacher/union culture I know in the USA.
At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we aim to give you an unparalleled in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations. Our hope, too, is that we will all be well and it will be safe enough to travel to Chiapas by March 2022. If for any reason we must cancel this tour, you will receive a full 100% refund. See notes below about COVID vaccination requirements to travel with us and our cancellation/refund policy.
The Maya World of Chiapas, Mexico, spans centuries and borders. Maya people weave their complex universe into beautiful cloth. Symbols are part of an ancient pre-Hispanic animist belief system. In the cloth we see frogs, the plumed serpent, woman and man, earth and sky, the four cardinal points, moon and sun, plus more, depending on each weaver.
We go deep into the Mayan world of southern Mexico, from February 22 to March 2, 2022. While we focus on textiles, we also explore what it means to be indigenous, part of cooperative, live in a remote village, have agency and access to economic opportunity. We meet creative, innovative and talented people who open their doors and welcome us.
Our dates of March 8-16, 2022, are reserved in a fine historic hotel. 8 nights, 9 days in and around the San Cristobal de Las Casas highlands.
Cost • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,295 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)
We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms.
Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.
We are committed to give you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending eight nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles, weaving and embroidery traditions.
Our cultural journey takes us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. We explore churches, museums and ancient cemeteries. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.
Your Study Tour Leader is Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We have invited Sheri Brautigam, author of Living Textiles of Mexico, to participate as our expert resource guide (to be confirmed).
Take this study tour to learn about:
culture, history and identity of cloth
cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation
wool spinning and weaving
clothing design and construction
embroidery and supplementary (pick-up) weft
Maya textile designs — iconography and significance
village and individual identity through clothing
social justice, opportunities and women’s issues
market days and mercantile economy
local cuisine, coffee, cacao and chocolate
quality and value
We work with one of San Cristobal’s best bilingual cultural guides who has worked with weavers and artisans in the region. Alejandro is a native Mexican who knows textiles and can explain the meaning of the woven symbols embedded in the cloth. You will enjoy learning from him.
We will travel in a large comfortable van as we go deep into the Maya world. We promise a sanitized van and all necessary precautions during our visits.
We visit 6 Maya weaving villages
We enjoy home-cooked meals
We meet makers and directly support them
We go far and away, off-the-beaten path
We decode the weaving designs unique to each woman and village
We explore three towns on their market days
We understand the sacred, mysterious rituals of Maya beliefs
Who Should Attend Anyone who loves cloth, culture, and collaboration • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Resellers
Tuesday, March 8: Travel day. Arrive and meet at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. You will receive directions to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet, AeroMar, Volaris or Aeromexico. To find best routes and rates, search Skyscanner.com There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Your cost of transportation to/from San Cristobal is on your own. Taxis are about $55 USD or 800 pesos. Shared shuttle is 180 pesos or about $10 USD.
Wednesday, March 9: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the textiles of the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion, we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church, and visit two outstanding textile shops. We guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. We finish the morning together with a Group Welcome Lunch. (B, L)
Thursday, March 10: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and household supplies. Peer into dimly lit doorways to find hidden textile treasures. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags. Keep your eyes open. Then, we will visit the outstanding textile cooperative founded by Doña Maria Meza Giron. After a box lunch at the centuries- old Romerillo Maya cemetery, we continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamula woman at her rural home. Surrounded by sheep and goats, Maruch will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)
Friday, March 11: After breakfast, we set out for a full morning at Na Bolom, Jaguar House, the home of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic folk art and jewelry. We walk the gardens and learn about Franz and Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and their relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After hot chocolate there we go to the outskirts of town to an outstanding women’s weaving cooperative that was founded over 40 years ago. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. After lunch on your own, we meet in the early evening to visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B)
Saturday, March 12: We set out by foot to a nearby textile collaboration that houses three different cooperative groups, one of which is founded by Alberto Lopez Gomez who was invited to New York Fashion Week in 2020. We hear presentations about creativity, style, innovation, and how to incorporate tradition while breaking new ground. Next, we stop at Los Leñateros, the hand-made paper workshop that is also a graphics arts print studio. You will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B)
Sunday, March 13: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we meander the open-air market, then visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. You’ll find out why. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. (B, L) Dinner on your own.
Monday, March 14: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse yourself into families of weavers in their humble homes. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host a show and sale for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L)
Tuesday, March 15: This is expoventa day! We have invited one of the finest embroiderers of Aguacatenango blouses, an amber wholesaler, an organic coffee grower/roaster, and other artisans to show and sell their work. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)
Wednesday, March 16. Depart. You will arrange your own transportation from San Cristobal to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. The hotel guest services can help. It takes about 1-1/2 hours to get to Tuxtla, plus 1-2 hours for check-in. Connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country.
What Is Included
• 8 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within walking distance to the historic center and pedestrian streets
• 8 breakfasts • 4 lunches • 1 grand finale gala dinner
• museum and church entry fees
• luxury van transportation
• outstanding and complete guide services
The workshop 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 • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,295 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)
Reservations and Cancellations. A $500 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, 2021. The third 50% payment of the balance is due on or before December 15, 2021. 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 15, 2021, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2021, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.
If we cancel for whatever reason, we will offer a 100% refund of all amounts received to date.
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. By the time we travel, it is likely booster vaccinations will be required and you will need that, too.
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: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have high curbs. Pavement stones are slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant at steep angles across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. We 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.
Note from Norma: Like many of us, Winn Kalmon has a permanent residence in Oaxaca as well as the USA (or Canada). One of her favorite places to hang-out is Llano Park, which she describes here. We are far from back to normal, and may well never be, yet the transition to having a vaccine allows us to be cautiously optimistic about travel now. Winn returned to Oaxaca from Taos, NM, just a couple of weeks ago and gives us this report.
Travel Report from Winn Kalmon
In early March 2020, when I returned to Oaxaca after a trip to Chiapas with Norma and a group of fabulously interesting women, I decided to stay put in this wonderful city we all love. Then the Pandemic hit the Western Hemisphere. Oaxaca went eerily quiet as businesses and churches closed their doors, schools sent kids home, and people and vehicles disappeared from the streets. All international flights in and out of Oaxaca were canceled. Unwilling to layover in Mexico City where Covid was raging, I decided to quarantine in the Jalatlaco home that my partner Fred and I rent year-round. My only outings winnowed down to morning walks, when I would venture to nearby neighborhoods and poke through the produce at Pitico convenience store to see what looked edible for that day. Sometimes, I would sit on a bench at pocket parks Panuelito or Jardin Conzatti with my favorite street dog, Sam-Leona (she has many names, given by many people). Then I would scurry back home to spend the rest of the day alone with jigsaw puzzles, e-books, news feeds, and hours of movie binge watching. Getting together with friends over coffee or comida changed to digital connections through with Zoom and WhatsApp – our sole source of companionship.
Just a short walk from my house, Parque Llano is a large community park that runs northward from Calle Berriozabal, between Juarez and Pino Suarez. Four blocks long and a block wide, the park is “guarded” by two lions at each corner, roaring from their high pedestals. Last year, during the months of the pandemic, the city’s precautions required that people stop visiting all parks and plazas. All group activities were prohibited. Our group of women who gathered together for tai chi three days a week, just vaporized. So did the regular Sunday zumba class and other gatherings. Pairs of friends or couples were asked by patrolling police to leave. All the vendors of food and edible treats folded up their carts and tables, removed their umbrellas and disappeared. Yellow tape went up around the entire perimeter of the grand park to prevent people from entering the grounds even for a solitary walk with their dog. Big signs were erected at the park corners. The yellow tape extended from the ankles of the roaring lions to the announcement that park visits were illegal. Parque Llano and its lions went quiet. Even the birds in the massive trees seemed subdued. Only the cicadas, screaming their announcement that the rainy season was on its way, could be heard in the silence.
That was the way it was, until mid-August, when the first international flight left Oaxaca, with me (and my neighbor Judi and friend Martha) on it. I finally went home to Taos, New Mexico.
Now, fully vaccinated, I have returned to Oaxaca and to Parque Llano, which has come back to life. The lions are roaring again as if to call attention to their fresh coats of gold paint, gaudily beckoning folks back. The yellow tape is gone. The shoeshine guys have reclaimed their spots and look at the feet of passersby to see if there is potential business. Food and drink vendors are in their usual spots. A zumba class is meeting again, and I even saw a salsa class by the south fountain and a tai chi class by the north fountain. My tai chi group has still not returned, but they stay in touch, and once all have been vaccinated, they will come back too. The walkers circle the park, with and without dogs, and nod at familiar faces as they pass. Dogs, whether street dwellers or leashed to an owner, check each other out and re-establish their hierarchy after the long year of absence.
As I stroll the park with friend Liz and then sit on a shady bench to chat, I am relieved to see that nearly every person is masked and maintaining social distance. This includes the guy who argues loudly with himself as he marches quickly along the paths. Families are returning. Kids are trying out their roller skates or getting a push from grandpa in tiny, kid-size electric cars. In the evenings, young couples pretzel around each other on benches—that activity didn’t change during this last year, it just went indoors or behind courtyard walls.
Parque Llano is alive and well, and welcoming once again.
Please contact me if you would like to contribute a Travel Report to Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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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 Tours + Study Abroad 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 customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
We send printable map via email PDF usually within 48-hours after order received. 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
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle