An Invitation to an Amazing Oaxacan Adventure

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 - A relaxing morning and breakfast in the lovely Santa Fe dining room. The first of many fresh coconuts to drink. Aclimate to the warm weather and take a boat ride out to the Roca Blanca. I'm hoping for turtles and dolphins and some birdwatching and Alison wants to fish. Lunch is beachside and once back in Puerto 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 $2,895 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.

Friday, September 14, 2018

March Creative Retreat in Oaxaca

 Village Life & Folk Art Traditions in
Oaxaca Mexico

Friday March 8 - Sunday March 17   2019
10 days / 9 nights
 We'll discover ancient wonders, grand architecture, stunning natural settings, tiny villages, bustling local markets, and special boutique museums on this carefully curated tour. We'll explore the ingredients of sustainable village life including food, clothing, craft, and ritual. Along the way we'll visit with select potters, weavers, carvers, candlemakers, and cooks in their homes and studios. We'll enjoy homecooking and eat at street stands, hipster bistros, and five star restaurants. All this with the lively, multicultural city of Oaxaca as the backdrop. What makes this tour special is that we'll make time every day to stop in our travels and record our impressions of this ancient, magical, and bustling place through journaling, photography, writing or what other creative pursuit you choose to pursue. Slow travel at it's best.

$2,195  (based on double occupancy)
 includes all meals, lodging, transportation, guides &  entrance fees in Oaxaca.  Does not include airfaire, personal shopping, alcohol, & optional tipping.
(Couples and singles both welcome and we can pair you up with a roomate if need be)

Friday March 8th - We'll arrange pick up at the airport and have time to get settled before we gather and get to know each other in the evening at the enchanting Casa Colonial, our book and art filled home away from home. Light dinner

Saturday March 9 -After a lovely home cooked breakfast full of fresh fruits and local dishes we get oriented and explore the city.  Our walk takes us past baroque churches, artisan workshops, small museums and ends at the always lively zocalo.

Sunday March 10 - Up bright and early and off with Pablo to explore one of the longest running farmer's markets in the America's where local  people have come to buy, sell, trade, and socialize for centuries.The market is the heartbeat of the village. Get your fortune read by a canary, try prehispanic drinks, listen to a local band and find yourself the perfect embroidered apron. And we'll visit the recently restored Silver Church, rightly considered a Baroque masterpiece and very much a site of pilgrimage and prayer today . Lunch will be goat barbacoa at a market stall and then we'll head to  the ancient architectural wonder of Mitla where the likes of DH Lawrence and Josef and Annie Albers all found inspiration. Light meal at the Casa upon our return.

Monday March 11th =-We'll head off to visit the prosperous and famous weaving town of Teotitlan where we'll visit with a local family who will show us how they clean, card, spin, dye, and weave rugs of tremendous beauty. This will include a really inspiring demonstration of natural dyes made from plants, animals, and minerals. You'll have a chance to purchase directly from them. (sidenote: I'm always sure I don't need another rug when I enter and I leave wondering how many I can fit in my suitcase.) Afterwards a home cooked meal with the family and visit to the village church where catholic and pre hispanic traditions are practiced side by side.Light dinner at the Casa.

Tuesday March 12th - A day devoted to town life - we'll visit several printmaking collectives, my two favorite small museums, and a carefully curated selection of boutique shopping, delicious local food, a stunning baroque church and time in the always entertaining zocalo make for a perfect urban day. Dinner just down the street from the Casa at NYT reviewed El Criollo where we'll enjoy their ever changing seven course tasting menu.

Wednesday March 13 - A morning outing to the villages with En Via where we learn about microfinance and visit women receiving loans generated directly  from our tourist dollars.  Visit small home based family businesses.  This is our chance to talk parenting, politics,self care and any other topics with women very different from ourselves.  A rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of rural life in Oaxaca. This is often the highlight of the trip for many of us, myself included.  Dinner in town at my favorite hipster restaurant - think wood fired pizza,kombucha,and artisan cocktails with an international crowd.

Thursday March 14th - We'll spend the morning out in the beautiful village of  Etla visiting their papermaking factory and restored textile mill.  Lunch with a local artist and activist in her hillside home where we'll learn about art and social change in Oaxaca.  The afternoon takes us to the home studio of a potter who is both an innovator, a feminist, and deeply grounded in her village beliefs and stories.  Dinner on your own or dine at the Casa.

Friday March 15th -Our final day of folk art finds us out in the famous black pottery town where we'll visit with a very talented family of potters.  We'll see the whole process from handling the clay to final firing and burnishing - essentially exactly as their ancestors did 1,500 years ago. And a visit to the Folk Art Museum. Lucky us we'll be there for the final day of their show featuring images of the Guadaloupe by a variety of Mexican textile artists. On our way back we'll stop in a town famous for carving and painting mythical animals including many used for the movie Coco. Evening on your own or enjoy dinner at the Casa.

Saturday March 16th - a free day where we can arrange cooking class, horseback riding, massage, or use the time for last minute shopping and exploring.  Late afternoon put on your party clothes and we'll gather for a magnificent final fiesta in the outdoor gardens of the casa.

Sunday March 17th - Happy St Patrick's Day & on your way home or to your next destination feeling deeply inspired and with renewed faith in humanity.  Seriously this tour can do that for you.


I first traveled to Mexico & Guatemala in 1979 on a wanderlust/walkabout during my college years. Since then I've concentrated my travels 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. I like seeing what happens when people from different parts of the world encounter one another. I like being part of a bridge between my country and our neighbors to the south.My areas of special interest are early Dominican Churches (the older the better), traditional artisans with an emphasis on textiles, 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 includes pretty much everything (lodging, transportation, meals, guides, entrance fees, etc) Not included is airfare, personal shopping, alcohol, laundry, and tipping, which is totally optional but recommended. All deposits and payments are non refundable so we ask that you be committed to this trip and recommend trip insurance.  Single supplement is additonal $395  Email me or use the contact form to the right of the blog for additional information about deposits and further details and questions you might have -

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Art Retreat With Rogene Manas

Announcing our dates for 2019!

March 22-31, 2019

Join artist  Rogene Manas (author of Artful Paper Clay) and cultural curator Jewel Murphy for 
10 Days/9 nights
of art making and touring and digging deep into the cultural riches of
 Oaxaca, the creative center of Mexico.
Cost is $2,195 and includes ALL instruction, lodging, meals, transportation and guides.
$395 additional for single supplement 

What makes this tour special?

• A small group of like minded creative people (max 10)
• A focus on art and art making in one of the culturally richest areas of Mexico
• An opportunity to study closely with Rogene MaƱas and learn her mixed media techniques, 
• Private visits with sculptors, painters, and printmakers in their home studios 
• Spectacular meals at some of Oaxaca's best restaurants (no skimping here - we take food very seriously and want to make sure you experience everything from street food to homecooked comfort food to  four star dining)
Plus an unusual, inspiring, soulful, and art-filled home away from home  to make art, enjoy Oaxacan cooking, socialize, have fun, meet new friends and rejuvenate. 

The Itinerary -
Our days (unless otherwise noted) will be spent making art in the mornings and exploring the museums,stores, galleries, churches, restaurants and historic areas of Oaxaca in the afternoons and  evenings. Plus we'll visit with local folk artists, indigenous craftspeople, and contemporary artists. While  many of our evening meals will be at our bed and breakfast ,you always have the option to explore other dining scenes on your own. In addition, the light filled art studio will be open most hours for you to work outside class time. We intend this to be an inspiring, rejuvenating, soul nourishing exploration with a group of creatives. 

Friday March 22nd - Today we'll gather at our home away from home and get settled.  We'll arrange to pick you up at the airport and have a light meal for you upon arrival

Saturday March 23rd - Art making in the morning followed by a  homecooked meal at the Casa.  Afternoon outing to explore the town and visit  the Church of Soledad (the patron saint of Oaxaca),our two favorite artisan co-ops and enjoy a fabulous welcome meal and rooftop dining at one of Oaxaca's best restaurants.

Sunday March 24th - Art making in the morning followed by the best Sunday brunch in the City at one of Oaxaca's finest followed by visits to the world class Textile Museum and San Pablo Cultural Center and time in the wonderful zocalo. Dinner at the Casa

Monday March 25th - Morning art making and lunch at the Casa. Afternoon visits to the 20 November Market including stops at the chocolate grinders, the Hall of Smoke, the grasshopper vendors and more. This bustling city market is so alluring.  Find chilies, incense, pinata's, handicrafts, whatever your heart desires. Dinner at the Casa 

Tuesday March 26th - Morning art making followed by lunch with a local artist/activist at her hillside home in San Augustin Etla. She'll talk about art as an agent for social change and tell us about her many projects.  Afterwards we'll visit a local paper making micro enterprise and the San Agustin Cultural Center once home to a major textile mill. Dinner at the Casa.

Wednesday March 27th - Today we'll switch it up and leave in the morning for the hilltop village of Atzompa where we'll hike the ancient ruins and visit the charming community museum followed by a visit to the home of ceramic artist Angelica Vasquez. Part storyteller, part potter Angelica's demonstration is a kind of performance art. Then her children make us a meal showcasing some of the finest Oaxacan home cooking I have encountered.  Late afternoon and evening at the Casa. 

Thursday March 28 - Art making in the morning followed by lunch at the Casa and a lovely afternoon stroll into town. A visit to the Rufino Tamayo Museum, collective printmaking studios, and galleries -also may include day drinking and mezcal. Get a feel for the richness and diversity of art in Oaxaca.
Dinner is a 7 course tasting menu at NYT reviewed El Criollo.

Friday March 29th  -  A full day of folk art and  touring.  We'll start at  the indigenous market in Ocotlan and  taste prehispanic fermented drinks, have our fortunes told by a canary, peruse leather belts, wooden combs, machetes, horse saddles, and shop for the popular Mexican peasant blouses and maybe find the famous chile de agua.  On the way back visit makers of the  alebrijes, the mythical carved animals and stop in San Bartolo Coyotopec where we'll have a demonstration of making the black pottery the town is famous for. It's a chance to see a thousand year old craft in action. Dinner will be at the Casa.

Saturday March 30th - Our final day and you're free to explore on your own, go shopping or finish up your final art projects. And we can arrange a trip to Mt Alban, horseback riding in the country, a cooking class, a massage and temazcal, or whatever your heart desires. Then an early evening Fiesta at the Casa featuring live music in the gardens and outdoor dining.

Sunday March 31 - Time to pack your bags  and  bid farewell - If needed we'll arrange airport transport. 

About Rogene -

Rogene will be teaching her 3rd workshop in Oaxaca - These workshops are designed for people of all skill levels who want to work with mixed media. This year our art making will take inspiration from the colors, textures and paper mache making traditions of Oaxaca.  Our projects will include Saint Cards, Box Niches and Paper Clay Totems, combining collage, paper clay and painting techniques. On our last day together, we have a small exhibition of our work at the Casa.

Rogene has been making mixed media art full time since retiring from her international card company 10 years ago. Her new book, "Artful Paper Clay" is all about a process she developed in her never ending search to find fun and forgiving ways to make art.She has been teaching mixed media workshops in Oregon, Washington, California, and Mexico for the last 9 years. Here work has been greatly influenced by her love of the folk art of Latin America and from spending winters in Mexico. Visit her website for more 

About Me 

I first traveled to Mexico & Guatemala in 1979 on a wanderlust/walkabout during my college years. Since then I've concentrated my travels on the Yucatan Peninsula, Chiapas,  & Oaxaca and leading 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. And I like to eat good food. I like seeing what happens when people from different parts of the world encounter one another. I like building a bridge between my country and our neighbors to the south.  When I'm not otherwise obsessed with all things Mexico, I can be found watering plants, birdwatching, swimming and making art in Eugene, Oregon. 

Trip Details -
$2,195 includes pretty much everything (lodging, transportation, meals, guides, entrance fees, etc) Not included is airfare, personal shopping, alcohol, laundry, and tipping, which is totally optional but recommended. All deposits and payments are non refundable so we ask that you be committed to this trip.  Email me or use the contact form to the right of the blog for additional information about deposits and further details and questions you might have.

How Many of these Latinx Writers Have you Heard Of

I'm a book lover and consider myself fairly well read.  And I remember the first time I went into a bookstore in Mexico and realized I didn't recognize any of the authors, not one. There is such a great wealth of Latin American literature that we in the States miss out on and it's not just Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Octavio Paz.

In fact, the oldest library in the New World can be found in Mexico in Puebla.  And if you're a book lover in Oaxaca there are a couple of places worth noting. Amate books is the go to English language bookstore in Oaxaca where you'll find a very good selection of books on Oaxaca, Mexico, art, and politics plus a fine wall of masks.  The Botanical Gardens behind Santa Domingo have an extensive library devoted to all things (you guessed it) botanical. And then IAGO, the graphic arts institute across the street from Santa Domingo has an extensive collection of art books and makes a fine spot to while away some time perusing art books and drinking coffee in their charming courtyard.  Plus in Santa Domingo proper there's an old library worth visiting just for the visuals - loads of old parchment books housed in wire covered cabinets. Also of note is the not english language bookstore at the south end of the Alcala called Libreria Educal.  It's a nice store and also has postcards and CD's all in Spanish. Also worth noting, because it can be confusing, is that most books in bookstores will still be covered with plastic and you can't paw through them.  Typically one asks the store owner if you can look at the book and they'll take the plastic off for you. At least that's how I think it works. No one has ever refused to open a book for me and I don't think there has been the expectation to buy it.

Here's a link to an alternative reading list.....a Latinx literary canon. As per usual, I had not heard of any of the writers, because we of the United States persuasion are so incredibly uneducated about the wealth of Latin American writing. Let me know in the comments if there are Latin American writers you like.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Why were the BeatlesOnce Banned in Mexico

They absolutely love the Beatles in Mexico. In fact, they've dedicated a whole day in Mexico City where people dress up in Beatles attire otherwise known as Beatles Look Alike Day. And they say the Beatles are played more in Mexico than anywhere else in the world.  I remember being in a church up in Ixtlan in northern Oaxaca chatting with some young band members who were giving a concert that day. They wanted me to know that they didn't just play church music - they played Beatles covers as well, and could I tell them what the lyrics to the song Michelle translated to in Spanish.* I mean this was really rural Oaxaca. Pretty sure none of those kids had ever even been to Oaxaca City - going to Ixtlan was the big city for them. But they loved the Beatles.

Still it hasn't always been that way. In the 60's and 70's rock and roll was banned in large swathes of Mexico. The conservative right considered it too decadent, prurient, and a negative influence on young people. And the radical left thought it was too western. "Why would we want to import the colonizer's music when we already have our own strong cultural music traditions?", was the thinking.
Santana was denied a permit to play in Mexico City and nary a Beatles song was found on the airwaves.  But times have changed and globalization is real.  And there's something I love about Mexico meets the Beatles.  I'm going to call it one of the upsides of globalization.  Check out this link for more fun photos -

*The other thing they wanted to ask me was, "Didn't I think their friend looked Chinese?".  Big hilarity ensued when I agreed with them.

The Number One Grain in All of the World

The roots of corn run deep in Oaxaca.  One of the first known cobs of corn was found in a cave less than an hour east of the city. Some say this is the first known cultivation of corn but my research would lead me to conclude that there may have been at least one other hybridization, which has given us what we now know as zea mays, happening concurrently  in the American Southwest. Still I always like to pay homage and take a deep internal bow to that little cave when we drive past on our way to Mitla.

 Indeed corn runs deep in all of Mexico as evidenced by the saying, "sin maiz, no hay paiz" (without corn we have no country). You find it used for everything from food and drink to weaving (as a starch to stiffen string) to children's toys (think corn husk dolls), to used as tools for pottery and, my personal favorite, a cork to hold whatever brew your gourd drinking container might hold. And please remember, that the sweet corn you might eat on fourth of July in the States is completely different from most of what you find in Mexico where the harder and starchier corns reign supreme and are used for tortillas, tamale masa, atole drinks and a host of local food variations.  Also the elote, found on menus of many American hipster restaurants, is NOT what you'll get in Mexico. Elote refers to the time of the year when the dent/meal corn is still very soft and milky. There's a zillion ways to use it from tea, to meal, to ice cream and more.  It's considered a special delicacy by those in the know.

Corn is the most harvested grain in the world and definitely one of the greatest gifts Mexico has given us. As you can imagine, the anti GMO movement is alive and well in Oaxaca.  My postcard image above came from a whole Anti GMO series produced by Franciso Toledo. In Mexico, being anti GMO is considered patriotic.

How I Became an Ally

We all travel for different reasons and travel feeds us all in different ways but without a doubt, for me, one of my favorite parts is having my mind opened to new and different ways of understanding the world.. And I know it's happened to everyone who has traveled, that tiny snippet of a conversation you might have had in a bus station or at a bistro table that has made a lasting impact on your thinking and the way you see the world. . You'll never see that person again and they probably don't remember the moment.  This is one of those stories.

A little over 10 years ago I had this far flung and not particularly carefully crafted idea that I wanted to start organizing tours to Mexico.  Seemed like learning Spanish might be a good first step (:)) so I figured out how to work remotely and was living with a family in the old colonial city of Merida, State of the Yucatan in Mexico and enrolled in a Spanish study course four days a week for a month.

During that trip a friend from Houston flew down for a long weekend.  I went to the airport to meet him and, as is the custom in many small airports in Mexico, we found ourselves heading back to the city center in a collective taxi.  Typically many airports will have a transportation kiosk that gangs people up according to which part of town they're going and then you ride together. Which is exactly how we found ourselves sharing a cab with a lovely woman from Villahermosa and her teenage daughter.

It was the day Pavarotti had died and someone, I can't remember who, brought up news of his death. The woman shared with us that she had seen Pavarotti at the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza when he performed there in the late 90's!!!  Now I'm not an opera fan, but that must have been pretty amazing. My friend, who IS an opera fan, was even more excited. And, as often happens to me in Mexico, I am happily surprised by the sophistication of the discourse. We talked about music a bit and it was the first time I heard the phrase "musica folklorico" as it might be applied to contemporary music. In short we were what the Mexicans call "platicar"ing….a sort of friendly kind of chatting with people you don't know well.

Eventually the subject came around to what's brought you to Merida. "Oh I'm studying Spanish and my friend is down here visiting.  We're going out to the Gulf Coast to the beach for the weekend. Maybe do a little birdwatching. What about you?"  Well as it turns out she had flown into Merida with her daughter to go to the American consulate to apply for a visa.   Seemed like a long way to come for a visa. "Isn't there a consulate in Villahermosa (that big, bad, hot, humid, oil town I had visited in my 20's)?", I wondered aloud.  Well yes there is, but the lines and the wait are longer and the outcome is uncertain and she thinks she has a better chance of obtaining one from this consulate than the Villahermosa one.  Plus, she tells me, she's in a little bit of a time crunch because her daughter, who is married to an American and lives in Texas, is having a baby and she wants to be there for the birth.  Wants her younger daughter to be there too. It was her first grandchild.  I wished her good luck.

 I'm embarrassed to say that, up until that time, it had never really occurred to me that the only impediment facing a Mexican who wanted to travel to the States were the same ones facing me wanting to travel to Mexico.  Essentially I had always thought that, as long as you had enough money, you could get yourself in. It was only the poor campesino/farmworker who didn't have enough money to get a passport and a ticket that had to "sneak" in.  My, probably more affluent than I,  taximate still had to jump through way way more hoops, face more uncertainties and pay more to visit my country than I do to visit hers.  Check my passport dates and make sure there's enough money to pay for the plane ticket and away I go. Here was a woman of considerable means, well at least enough disposable income to wrangle a ticket to see Pavarotti, and still having troubles.  Her crime?  Wanting to be at the birth of her first grandchild. I guess you could say I got woke to the lopsided rules about visiting between our two countries. I think it's what is known as a double standard. I really consider this encounter one of the first I had that put me on the path to wanting to learn more about our immigration system and how we can right it. And I always wonder how my Pavarotti friend is doing visiting her grandchildren in the states.