In February 2020, a group of travelers came to together for a Oaxaca Cultural Navigator textile tour in Chiapas. We gathered in San Cristobal de las Casas and spent the next week together exploring weaving villages around this historic colonial city. In the process, many became good friends. It was only a week after the tour ended and everyone went home that we went into Covid-19 Pandemic Lockdown. The group continued to communicate via WhatsApp messaging and formed a strong support for each other during those dark-day years. About a year ago, there was the sentiment to have a reunion, which materialized this past weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We decided to gather together for the International Folk Art Market, staying at the historic Hacienda de Chimayo, about thirty minutes north of the capitol city. We came from Denver, Texas and North Carolina and it was so satisfying to be together again.
We spent a lot of time with Amalia Gue from Coban, Guatemala, and Olga Reiche from Antigua, Guatemala because we are enamored with what they weave.
We are planning a winter 2025 textile tour to visit them. Let us know if you are interested in going with us by sending an email to Norma Schafer.
Eric is busy in Oaxaca preparing for the July 19 and July 20 day tours to Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec and San Pedro Cajonos. We still have spaces open, so if you are in Oaxaca this summer, please come with us. These are two special destinations where weavers create extraordinary cloth from natural dyes in cotton and silk.
Norma leaves on July 12 for the WARP international textile conference in Kent State University, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland. She’ll be doing a presentation on Sunday featuring the textiles of Chiapas and the Oaxaca coast. We will be posting about this conference while it’s happening!
Here is extraordinary pastillage pottery from Santa Maria Atzompa, Oaxaca, made by Enedina Seferina Vasquez Cruz. She was at the Folk Art Market this year. Leslie volunteered in her booth.
We have dates! This tour is confirmed for November 15-20, 2023, 6 days and 5 nights. Please arrive by 3 p.m. on November 15. Registration is open to attend Original 2023. This will get you home in time for Thanksgiving!
We are limiting this 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.
What we will do and see!
Attend VIP opening night with special guests from Mexico’s textile world and a preview party
See the Catwalk — three of them — that features top designers and weavers showcasing their work
Enjoy three full-days of meandering aisles of handmade + designed textiles from throughout Mexico
Learn about textile design and development in private sessions we arrange with experts
Savor Mexico City’s culinary talents at a celebratory group dinner
The tour includes:
5 nights lodging
Invitation to VIP opening night event and ticket
Admission to Original for three days
Transportation to and from our hotel to the Original venue
Celebratory group dinner
Private discussions with textile experts
Textile guide expertise with Eric Chavez Santiago and Norma Schafer
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, five breakfasts, a gala dinner, talks, presentations 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.
Cost: $2,395 per person shared room; $3,195 single room. A $500 non-refundable deposit will secure your reservation.
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 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.
We accept payment with Zelle (no service fee), with PayPal or Venmo (with a 3.5% service fee). Please tell us which payment method you prefer, along with your account name or phone number. We will send you a request for funds to complete your registration.
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. Please maintain all public health precautions. As COVID-19 is waning, mask-wearing is optional though recommended.
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.
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.
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.
Posted onMonday, March 20, 2023|Comments Off on 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:
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.
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 Goodswith 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.
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!
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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