An Invitation to an Amazing Oaxacan Adventure

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Our 2020 Art Retreat

I am delighted to announce that my friend in all things Oaxaca and an all around creative, loving soul Mija Andrade will be joining me next year in Oaxaca for another amazing art making adventure March 20 to 29.  Mija will be teaching and her focus will be on mixed media and printmaking.

Celebrating & Creating Art in Oaxaca, Mexico
March 20 - 29, 2020
10 days/9 nights

 Please join us as we explore the colonial city of Oaxaca and the surrounding areas, thoroughly enjoying the dance, music, art, food, and history of this very special place that mixes the deep wisdom of ancient ways with the best of what modern Mexico has to offer.  We'll use our cultural explorations and the people we meet to inspire our art making.  Each day we'll go out and add to our journals using prompts and inspiration from our surroundings. We'll also be in the studio exploring different yet complimentary mixed media and printmaking techniques. We'll share our prints with each other and add them to our journals in remembrance of our time together. You'll go home with a journal brimming with Oaxacan inspiration, a treasured momento of your time in this extraordinary place. All skill levels are welcome and no previous
printmaking experience is needed.

What Makes this tour special  -

-We'll be staying at an amazing place that is not your normal bed and breakfast, think of it more as summer camp for adults
-Art making and exploring with a like minded group of creatives
-Visits to a carefully curated selection of world class artists and artisans in their homes and studios
-Great local guides born and raised in Oaxaca
-Lots of personal instruction with Mija Andrade to create your own one-of-a-kind art journal and prints using mixed media and printmaking techniques
-Small group (10 maximum)


Friday- Gather at our home away from home the lovely Casa Colonial, home to folk art, home cooked food, and a lush garden not to mention the kindest, most tender staff maybe anywhere ever. We'll have a light meal for everyone in the evening and get to know each other.

Saturday - We're off, maps in hand, to get our bearings and explore the city's world class museums, dominican churches, and lively zocalo. Plus our favorite off the beaten track boutiques and 
quirkly little galleries. Welcome Dinner at El Criollo

Sunday - Off bright and early with our beloved local guide Pablo Gonzales to visit the bustling Tlacolula Market, one of the oldest farmers' markets in the America's and home to all manner of homegrown food and craft. Then we'll journey further back in time and visit the archaeological ruins of Mitla, one of the last indigenous strongholds when the Spaniards arrived.  It has some of the most unusual architecture in all of Mesoamerica and has inspired artists like Joseph and Ani Albers, DH Lawrence and more. We'll have time to sketch, shop, and try the local sherbets. Dinner at the Casa.

Monday -Today we head out for a private studio tour with master printmaker and children's book illustrator, Enrique Flores, whose folk art motifs celebrate village life in Oaxaca. Picnic lunch and a visit to a handmade paper making factory. This evening you are free to explore on your own or take dinner at the Casa.

Tuesday - Folk art is our focus as we head south of town and visit two places where the whole family is engaged in art making.  First we visit the talented Navarro family of backstrap loom weavers, painters, and poets.  We'll have time to enjoy and sketch their beautiful gardens and learn more about village life. Then we visit the town famous for fantastically painted carved mythical figures and learn about the history of this relatively new art form. Dinner on your own or at the Casa. 

Wednesday - Back at the Casa, art making begins in earnest today. Artmaking in our private studio in the morning.  Late afternoon stroll into town where we’ll  pop into a few printmaking studios and meet some of these young street artists working collectively. Prepare to be amazed by their output. Dinner in town at our favorite hipster restaurant where we can dine on wood fired pizza and swill homemade kombucha.

linoleum carved print by Mija

Thursday -Inspired by the vibrant culture around us, today we begin carving and printing as well as embellishing our art journals.  Lunch will be at the Casa.  Late afternoon we'll stroll into town for a private tour of the Rufino Tamayo Museum and have time for sketching in this colorful space. Dinner will be in town. 

Friday - Today we'll continue to print and share our work with each other as well as finishing our art journals. You'll have created a beautiful, commemorative art book to take home with contributions from your fellow travelers. Afternoon and evening on your own to finish up last minute shopping, get a massage, horse back riding or whatever your heart desires. 

Saturday - We'll end our journey with a visit to the town of San Augustin Etla and a visit with artist and cultural curator Marietta Bernstorff in her hillside home where she'll share news of her latest art and social change project. Afternoon on your own in town with a final farewell fiesta and art show at the Casa that evening. 

Sunday - Head off to your next destination... recharged, renewed
and inspired.

Trip Details - $2,195 based on double occupancy.  $395 single supplement. We will make every effort to find you a roommate but if unable, single supplement charges apply.  Partners who want to come without taking the art instruction are welcome. (inquire about discount)  Pretty much everything is included once you get yourself to Oaxaca.  The tour fee covers lodging, most meals, ground transportation guides, entrance fees and some art materials are covered by the tour. Airfare, alcohol, tips, laundry and any personal shopping are not covered and will be additional expenses. In addition, we'll send you a small list of art materials to bring and an inspirational reading list upon registration. A $500 non-refundable deposit holds your space. Any questions or inquiries can be sent to

About Us - 

Mija Andrade

I'm an artist, mama, collaborator, and creative instigator who loves to dance, sing and dress up. On my first visit to Oaxaca in 2009, I connected in a deep way with my Mexican roots and  fell in love with the rich, colorful culture. Since then, I've made many trips to southern Mexico and love to share all that I find inspiring about this region of Mexico. I knew I was an artist at a very young age and enjoy sharing in the creative process with others. I've been teaching for 12 years and work in many mediums, having developed my own personal style of building layers upon layers, representing the depth and complexity of the world and ourselves. I've been working in the non-profit art world for over a decade and bringing people together through art is my passion. On this trip, our journals will become vessels, holding our stories of exploration and art making in this amazing place called Oaxaca.

Jewel Murphy

I first traveled to Mexico & Guatemala in 1979 on a wanderlust/walkabout during my college years. Since then I've concentrated my journeys on the Yucatan Peninsula, Chiapas & Oaxaca and have been organizing tours to Oaxaca since 2011. I like gathering together and traveling with packs of inquisitive and engaged, creative people. I like putting our tourist dollars directly into the hands of local people. I like taking it slow. I like going deep and wide. Good food is important. Cross cultural encounters keep me going. My areas of special interest are early Dominican Churches (the older the better), contemporary art, traditional artisans with an emphasis on textiles, natural history and food and sustainability.  I have recently retired from my 25 year career as a florist and owner of an award winning retail store and can now be found watering plants, birdwatching, swimming and making art in Eugene, Oregon when I am not obsessing about all things Mexico. 

Trip Details - $2,195 based on double occupancy.  $395 single supplement. We will
make every effort to find you a roommate but if unable, single supplement charges apply.  Partners who want to come without taking the art instruction are welcome. (inquire about discount)  Pretty much everything is included once you get yourself to Oaxaca.  The tour fee covers lodging, most meals, ground transportation guides, entrance fees and some art materials are covered by the tour. Airfare, alcohol, tips, laundry and any personal shopping are not covered and will be additional expenses. In addition, we'll send you a small list of art materials to bring and an inspirational reading list upon registration. A $500 non-refundable deposit holds your space. Any questions or inquiries can be sent to

Monday, June 10, 2019

Homemade charcoal in Oaxaca

Primitive skills

Here's something beautiful I happened upon at the Ocotlan market - do you see what I see? It's a big old beautiful bag handmade from, I think, commercial rope using a knotless netting technique. The bag is full of homemade charcoal, probably on its way to a mezcal operation somewhere in the hinterlands or maybe for cooking up in the mountains. It's always seemed counter intuitive to me that one would desire wood that's already halfway burned but charcoal burns hotter and cleaner than wood.  Bonus points it's much lighter and thus easier to transport too. So yeah it's not all briquettes for your barbecue.  The art and science of making charcoal is alive and well somewhere deep in Oaxaca.  Here's a link if you'd like to learn more about making charcoal.

The Weaver at Work

Oaxacan weaver
Add captionThe Weaver 

In Teotitlan de Valle - creating with thread and light

Keeping a Travel Journal

I always make handmade journals for everyone  on my tours.  This year I really made sure to carve out the time to work on mine.  Maybe while I was At a concert or waiting in a restaurant or just hanging out at the Casa, I kept my hands busy.  It's a good strategy for me.  And here's some things about journaling - 1) I'm not a particularly gifted sketch artist but I stick with it.  The more you do, the better you get. I promise for you too. It's inevitable.  2)  I have developed my style and a lot of it is about the materials I use. it's kind of child like. Draw with a black pen  Shade with a grey marker and add color later. But for you it might be water colors or big lettering and lots of writing or maybe you dig landscapes.  Find what materials  and themes you like and stick with it. (Are you sensing a theme yet?) 3) The sum is greater than the parts so that the more you do, the richer your book becomes.  
Not every page is going to be a 10 but if you keep going back and adding more to those weaker pages they will develop layers and interest too. 
And I'm committing myself to sa of public a little book of Oaxaca drawings so stay tuned.
And enjoy these samples from my March 2019 trip.

My Brush with Indigenous Justice

Many years ago, on  one of my many early trips to the Yucatan, I stayed in the small Yucatecan puebla of St Helena. This was pre cell phones or I'd show you pictures!!!!!

My friend and I were visiting the Puuc region, most famous for the nearby ruins of Uxmal, and we decided to forego the pricier resort hotels near the ruins in order to get a little taste of village life.

And dear reader,if you might allow me a slight digression: I want to be clear. I have no beef with the pricier hotels near the ruins.  In fact, I have a sentimental attachment to the Hacienda Uxmal ever since, for reasons I still cannot figure to this day,  another friend and I found ourselves with the best room in the place - it was a split level suite vaguely resembling an upscale tv set from the 1960's  show Bewitched with a touch of Mexicana and a gorgeous tiled veranda that looked out over the pool.  The only thing I had done is asked, like I had read to do in a guide book, for a room in the "old part".  Hotel literature told us the likes of Jackie Kennedy and Reza Pavlovi had stayed there.
Although now the late Shah has been replaced with Queen Elizabeth in the current hotel bio. It must have been the off season.  I'll never know what possessed the staff to show two slightly overheated and bedraggled strangers a kindness. Needless to say we booked an extra night and they will always have a special place in this traveler's heart.

 (photo credit NPR)

 The tiny puebla of St Helena did not disappoint. Uniformed schoolchildren frolicked in the street, a wake and a funeral happened, and in the mornings, sauntering in their embroidered white tunics, the women, with brightly colored  plastic tubs of corn on their heads, on their way to visit the molino, the corn grinder, the first stop in preparing to make the day's tortillas. This is an archetype that has been played out daily in small villages all over Mexico for centuries, but this was the first time I'd seen it. The temperatures were high and the church bells rang at 6 and noon and then once more in the evening. We never made it to the tiny community museum near the church.

It was enchanting and we  found ourselves having dinner at the only restaurant in town, a charming hut on a hillside owned by a German woman. The electricity had gone out so we were dining by candlelight and, as travelers often do, we had struck up a conversation with the only other diners, a couple from Belgium.  And, in the way of strange coincidences that often happen in Mexico, my dining companion had studied on  Navajo reservation some twenty years before with a colleague of the couple. A Good time was being had by all.

 In the middle of our most enjoyable meal, a couple of local men came in and had a serious and animated conversation in Spanish with our hostess who went over to her cash box and gave them some money. Later, she explained to us that there had been a dsipute between two men in town resulting in a firearms being discharged and one man in the hospital.  The man with the gun was now claiming he was out hunting turkeys but still found himself in jail.  The two men in the restaurant were friends of the guy in jail. The only way they were going to spring their buddy  was to essentially crowdfund his bail village style.  Our hostess had donated to the cause. But unlike bail the way we may think of it in the states, the funds being raised were going to pay the wounded man's hospital bills and help support his family while he recovered. In short, the offending party had to make it right and the victim was supported in their recovery.  This struck me as both incredibly practical and extremely compassionate. I think this is the first example of indigenous wisdom and restorative justice that I had ever witnessed.  It was a different set of values in action. The goal seemed to be to restore order and equilibrium not to punish or shame.  Suffering was kept to a minimum for all involved yet some sacrifices were made. How smart was that? Just seemed like a good way to turn a hard situation around and make it win win for everyone.

Back in the Saddle

I'm back to blogging and pretty excited.  I really have been using the blog as a placeholder to promote my tours and it seems every time I want to start  with some new content, there are technical difficulties galore including updates, apps, and endless trying to figure out how to post photos on a phone. Finally, not to be daunted by technology, I am here dear reader ready to post.

 I have actually done 3 tours since I last blogged in any way other than to promote the tours, which means I have some things to say. And there was an R &D trip to the Oaxacan Coast somewhere in there. Plus I'm going to start doing a little travel writing.  Hope you tune in from time to time.  I tend to blog in chunks so you can get several new posts at once. I'll cover everything from places of interest in Oaxaca, amazing artisans I have had the pleasure to meet, churches, textiles, fashion, food, culture natural history and social justice. An finally, a big shout out to all the amazing people who have shopped, dined, walked, drunk and danced their way through Oaxaca with me.  I have learned so much seeing the beautiful people and land through your eyes.

(Above is a pic of my haul from my latest trip in March - lots of carved wood and some other goodies too.  Can you tell which communities these pieces are from?)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Mixteca Baja & San Pedro Amuzgos - A Backroads Cross Cultural Encounter

Please join me  for an eleven day exploration of a small, magical area of the northwestern edge of Oaxaca, just a few hours inland from the surfer, resort town of Puerto Escondido. It's  where we'll encounter people speaking a variety of indigenous languages, both Mixteco and Amuzgos and wearing their local dress. We'll visit bustling markets and farmers and skilled folk artisans in six different pueblas allowing us to go both deep and wide.The traditions are old, the coconuts fresh, the tortillas delicious, and the people are sometimes shy, but mostly charming and fun.  Plus it's green and lush and there are flowers everywhere.  This was a trip of a lifetime for myself and my pal Alison Albrecht last November and we can't wait to do it again this year and bring you with us. Accomodations are surprisingly good for as remote as we sometimes are - only two days with cold water showers amigas!!! But most days with a swimming pool at the end. It's not a trip for the faint of heart - it's hot as heck and the food is of the local variety but you will meet many wonderful people, experience things you never knew existed, and feel your faith in humanity restored (seriously).  Full disclosure, this is our first tour we have done here and we're pretty sure several places have never hosted foreigners before and we're not sure exactly what to expect. We are all travelers here.  Makes it more fun, don't you think?  But we made friends on our scouting trip who happily enlisted as our helpers in putting the tour together. They want to meet you and share their culture with you and Alison and I want to go back and visit them. We are hoping for cross cultural encounters of the best kind. The itinerary is as follows -

The Mixteca Baja & San Pedro Amuzgos - A Backroads Cross Cultural Encounter

Wednesday November 13 -Arrive Puerto Escondido for two nights at our classic four start colonial hotel The Hotel Santa Fe.We'll enjoy a welcome dinner and then  local criollo popcorn and a movie plus we'll learn a few words of Mixteca

Thursday November 14 - We'll start the tour with a visit to the mercado and learn about local food and drink and a little bit of Mixteco history.  Plus the first of many fresh coconuts. Afternoon lunch at the lovely Santa Fe dining room, an afternoon to relax. Later we'll meet for a get together and go over our itinerary, have a little study group, fashion show and  crash course in  Amuzgo and Mixteca textiles.  Cocktails and dinner ensue.

Friday November 15 -
We'll leave Puerto by 9 on our way to the town of Pinotepa Nacional. En route we'll stop in Tututepec, a puebla that has been inhabited for the last couple of thousand years. Their charming community museum houses many important artifacts of this ancient culture. And visit with a young weaver working to bring back the traditions of his community.  Wood fired cooking for lunch at a local truck stop. Evening in Pinotepa.

The home of a busy weaving family in Pinotepa Don Luis
Saturday November 16-
Off bright and early to Pinotepa de Don Luis where we'll meet with the local muralist who will describe for us the town history and culture as depicted in his paintings.One of these murals depicts a sacred rock.  I really want to hear that story.  This  young man also does quality control for the local collective that has a contract handpainting Converse tennis shoes for their Mexico City store.  We'll visit this talented team who have  taken the traditional skill of gourd carving practiced by many in this community and translated it to not only painting but printmaking as well.  We'll have a demonstration of the gourd carving and hopefully they'll pull a print or two. On our way back to Pinotepa a very special stop at the home of a local potter in the neighboring village of Jicayan. We popped in on her unexpectedly last year but this year she'll be expecting us and I'm hoping for a demonstration.  Her work, mostly utilitarian comals and water vessels, is classic and timeless and she is a master. Evening at Pinotepa, time for a swim and off to a fun dinner.

These pots are made to hold water keeping it cool and fresh.
Sunday November 17 -
 This morning we'll take the windy road for a short(ish) hour and a half drive to San Pedro Amuzgos where we'll spend the next two nights at the quaint and charming Mother Earth Cultural Center which we'll have all to ourselves.  We'll meet the first of many backstrap loom weavers who will also demonstrate cleaning, carding and handspinning cotton, a nearly forgotten art in the Americas.  Learn more about symbolism and technique.Be humbled by this ancient wisdom. Dinner at a local fonda where we'll see how fresh corn tortillas are made and drink homemade tepache, a fermented pineapple beverage. Maybe a stop at the church just before Mass to learn about their famous sundial.

Handspinning the native cotton.
Monday November 18
This is the double whammy of good shopping days. For those on the textile hunt, we have it on good authority that the Amuzgos weavers come down from the mountains from 5 to 8 AM to sell their wares. Quality varies and prices are unbelievably good. Plus it's fun to shop on the streets and watch this town wake up. Breakfast from our friend Gaby and her mom at their streetside fonda. Then we're off to the tiny puebla of Guadeloupe where we'll visit a master weaver. She's invited her friends to come down to her lovely home where we'll have a weaving demonstration, have a chance to shop some fantastic goods, maybe a fashion show, look at embroidery, talk with local women and have lunch together. Also this is a rare chance to custom design a piece for yourself. Amuzgos weavers are considered some of the finest in Mexico and you'll see why. A relaxing last evening in San Pedro Amuzgos - time to journal and gather for our study group where we'll share insights.

Tuesday November 19 -This morning we head back towards Pinotepa and stop in the Mixtec community of  San Juan Colorado and visit a weaving co-operative and learn about natural dyes, the revival of local cotton, and fair trade. See more fine backstrap loom and handspinning in action. Another chance to buy weaver direct. Then a visit to the first of several mask making families we will visit. Evening back in Pinotepa. Yes to the swimming pool.

Who made your clothes? The joy of buying maker direct.
Wednesday November 20 -We'll head back to Pinotepa de Don Luis and start with a visit to the church and their local market which I adore. The town  moonshiner with her bespoke label also has a lovely dress and handicraft shop in the back corner of the market. It's fun to poke around and shop here and have fun with the salespeople.Maybe try some fresh cheese or local sweets. After our town visit we'll head to the local Perez Hernandez family where the young women of the family entertain us with all manner of  weaving magic and bright colors at their homestead. Also another gourd carving demo and,seriously luck us, a dance performance. Evening in Pinotepa

We're hoping he gets his neighbors together for a dance performance!

Thursday November 21 - A quick stop at the bustling market in Pinotepa Nacional full of cured tobacco, fresh fish, local cheeses and chiles, plus all manner of wedding wear, cowboy hats, leather belts, local clothing and more. This is life without Amazon or a big box stores.  And on our way back to Puerto Escondido, we'll have our last village stop in Huazatotitlan where we'll visist woodcarvers and hear stories of how the tiger came to have mirrors in its' eyes and other local lore. Lunch in the village. Evening back at the Santa Fe.

Friday November 22 -Time back in civilization to process and unwind.  Schedule your massage, swim in the ocean and we'll meet for a mid afternoon/early dinner/farewell fiesta/show and tell of all our goods before heading off for a magical swim in the bioluminescent waters of Manialtepec Lagoon.

Natural coyuchi and indigo dyed backstrap piece
Saturday Nov 23 - Head home from Puerto Escondido or Huatulco,extend your stay at the coast, or travel inland to Oaxaca City. Thanksgiving is the following Thursday the 28th.
Details of our Most Excellent Adventure
 Total cost is $2,795 11 days/10 nights beginning and ending in Puerto Escondido. Price is for double occupancy. Single supplements are available for most of this trip by request .You are responsible for getting yourself to our hotel in Puerto (we're happy to help with details) but after that it's all on us.  Everything else, all meals, transportation, tours, guide services and even a complimentary massage are included. Please note however we recommend budgeting in personal spending money for textiles, masks and other goods. More than you think. Supporting local artisans is the best way to support their cultures. Tour price does not include alcohol, tips, or laundry or personal shopping. Puerto Escondido has a daily flight from Mexico or Oaxaca City and the Huatulco airport (about ninety minutes south) has several daily flights.

Please email me directly at for further details or use our contact form on the right. A $500 non refundable deposit will hold your place. Please be committed to the trip when registering. We do recommend trip insurance. Space is limited. Price is double occupancy although single supplement may be available for parts of this trip by special request.