An Invitation to an Amazing Oaxacan Adventure

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

My October Tour - Village Life in Oaxaca

I am recently returned from a wonderful tour in Oaxaca and am so pleased to have finalized the details for my October 2018 tour - October is a great time to be in southern Mexico, it's harvest time and the hills are green.  People are just starting to prepare for muertos. If we're lucky maybe a big thunderstorm! Plus sunny skies and warm days. This tour focuses on one of my big loves in Oaxaca - the artisan/craft traditions and village life.  Basically we're going to visit as many different artisans, craftspeople, and markets as time allows, try a wide selection of food both traditional and cutting edge including a couple of home cooked meals at our artisan/hosts house, and learn about the enduring dimensions of Zapotec and Mixtec culture all from our homebase, the lively and contemporary city of Oaxaca. Please join me -

Village Life & Folk Art in Oaxaca 
(10 days/9 nights - Oct 12 to 21, 2018 )
A chance to meet  village artisans and explore the folk and food traditions of Oaxaca with a small group of inquisitive, adventurous folks (max 12 people) and our beloved and  inspiring local guides.We want to leave you with a deep feeling for the rich history of family, food, handwork, and sustainability that Oaxaca embodies. 
We'll stay at a charming bed and breakfast(think of it as summer camp for adults) in Oaxaca City and take day trips out to villages where we'll meet with potters, weavers, dyers, carvers, cooks, and other talented,beautiful people. Most evenings are spent at your leisure enjoying the sites of the city or relaxing at our home away from home.  Plus visits to marketplaces (where all the action takes place),  pre-hispanic archaeological sites, &  gilded baroque churches - We'll round out our touring with  nourishing home cooked meals and dining at some of Oaxaca's finest restaurants. 
The Itinerary is as Follows (subject of course to change based on opportunity, whim, & availability)

Friday October 12 - Arrive and check in  at our lovely bed and breakfast (referred to as The Casa) in Oaxaca City for a light meal and get together in the evening - We'll pick you up at the airport if need be.

Saturday October 13 -  After a nourishing breakfast of fresh local fruits and coffee, eggs al gusto (how you like them) and local pastries, we'll gather with Pablo, our charming and knowledgeable  guide and head up to the ancient ruins of Mt Alban, built to be close to the gods. We'll start where it all began. Lunch at the Casa.  Late afternoon we'll stroll into the city and have a Welcome Fiesta at one of Oaxaca's finest.

Sunday October 14th - This glorious day finds us on our way to the Tlacolula market, really one of the longest continuing farmers's markets in the Americas, where indigenous people come from all over the Central Valleys to buy,sell, trade, socialize, eat, and pray. That's pretty much our agenda for the day too.  We'll try pre-hispanic drinks, get our fortunes read by canaries, have a chance to shop, find out what those embroidered aprons are all about, enjoy the Hall of Smoke, and visit the famous and recently restored Silver Church. Lunch means goat barbacoa at our favorite market stall - mariachis included! Later afternoon finds us at the mysterious and magnificent ruins of Mitla. Evening dinner at the Casa.

Monday October 15 -
Today finds us heading out to the famous weaving and rug town of Teotitlan de Valle.  We'll visit an artisan textile making family and they'll demonstrate the rug making process from beginning to end including a spectacular presentation of natural dyes and the chance to purchase direct from the maker. Afterwards, we'll enjoy a meal with the family that includes the grandmother's famous mole. We'll end our Teotitlan time with a visit to their 16th century church, built on an ancient Zapotec site, where you can marvel at all manners of delights, pagan, catholic, floral and otherwise. Evening on your own or dinner provided at the Casa.

Tuesday October 16 -
A free morning and then we'll meet at 1 with the dedicated folks from NGO, microfinance organization En Via and head out to explore women owned food businesses in the Central Valley. I've met fishmongers, chocolate and tortilla makers, bakers and makers of sweets on these small business tours. An authentic glimpse into life in a Oaxacan village.  Your chance to talk art, politics, relationship with some women very different from you. Lunch at women owned restaurant, light dinner at the Casa.

Wednesday October 17th - Our day devoted to the urban life of the city. Visits to my favorite small museums, printmaking studios, shopping, and time to weave into the tapestry of this most Mexican of experiences, life at the zocalo.  Evening finds us enjoying a 7 course tasting menu at NYT reviewed El Criollo for dinner.

Thursday October 18 - Some nature and fresh air with our  morning visit to the hilltop archaeological  site of Atzompa and it's small and noteworthy museum.  After our jaunt we'll travel a short way down the hill to visit with internationally renowned ceramic artist Angelica Vasquez at her  private home studio and gallery where three generations of family potters work. We'll have a ceramics demonstration and storytelling from this maestra followed by a home cooked meal from her daughter. Angela learned ceramics at the feet of her parents and grandparents and has brought story telling with a feminist touch to her ancient craft. I'm really looking forward to this day- Light dinner at The Casa

Friday October 19 - Today, our last full touring day, we'll visit backstrap loom weavers, woodcarvers (the makers of the mythical animal alebrijes) and have an afternoon visit with one of my favorite families, the makers of the famous black pottery of Coyotopec.. Watch how all members of this talented family contribute to make pottery in the same way their ancestors did a thousand years ago. Light dinner at the Casa.

Saturday October 19 - A free day to enjoy at your leisure.  We can arrange a trip to Mt Alban for you or maybe  horseback riding, cooking class,  a massage or take the time to visit in town, shop, and pack. We end the trip with a Farewell Fiesta at the casa, some people say the best meal of the trip!

Sunday October 20 - Travel home or extend your trip with a few more days at the Casa.  We'll arrange airport transport or extra days if you wish.

Cost for the tour is $2,195
It includes-
 all hotel rooms based on double occupancy (+$395 for a single supplement), all meals, guides, transportation and entrance fees while in Oaxaca. Cost does not include airfare/transport to Oaxaca airport, alcohol, laundry, personal shopping (!!!), or tips (which are completely optional).  A $500 non refundable deposit is required to hold your place. We ask that you be committed to the trip and strongly recommend travel insurance to cover you in case of emergencies. Final, non refundable deposits are due 30 days before the tour. Send inquiries to me at Upon deposit, I'll send you an everything you need to know including a packing/ reading list and restaurant recommendations to let you start dreaming on the trip.

About Me -

I've been organizing tours to Oaxaca since 2012.  What was once a side gig has now become my full blown obsession.  I love traveling with packs of inquisitive people through the city and countryside of the state - as one happy tour goer said, "We never knew a place quite like Oaxaca still existed". I've saved you the time and money and done the research and I've crafted something special to make you fall in love with Oaxaca. Many of my past clients have returned over and over. I believe in slow travel, taking our time, going deep (and wide sometimes too), putting our tourist dollars directly into the hands of local people, and I love to go out and platicar (spanish for chat) with Oaxaquenos. I'm an artist, gardener, naturalist, & lover of all things handmade. Hoping you'll join me for a most enchanting trip.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Visiting Local Artists in Oaxaca

A big high point of the tour for lots of people was visiting with expat artist Jean Foss and her husband Chucho at their bright and beautiful home in the village of Huayapam. 

Any tour that starts with a beautiful garden and snacks and mezcal at 11 in the morning promises to be a good visit.

Jean's devotion to her work is inspiring and her love for all things Oaxacan shines through in her style which I might describe as a painterly, folk art version of magical realism.

She has a great website which gives you some of idea of the sheer output of her work. I was even more surprised to learn that she describes herself as someone who works very slowly. 

To Bargain or not to Bargain

There's so many beautiful, handmade, high skill set textiles and other awesome crafts available in Oaxaca.  The question always comes up on a tour about whether to bargain or not to bargain. Basically, bargaining has never been my strong suit.  I like what one of my early tour goers, who now spends months a year in Oaxaca and, rumor has it, owns some spectacular local clothing, had to say about bargaining (from Norma Schafers' blog Oaxaca Cultural Navigator which you can read by clicking here) -
"I never bargain in Oaxaca. If an artisan gets more money than he/she expected from me, and maybe even thinks me a fool, I don’t care. I have so much and most artisans have so little. To buy for a higher price is a way to help without the stigma of “charity”. I have bought things I can’t use, or can’t pack to take home, as a thank you for craft demonstrations. Even if buying from a reseller, rather than the original maker, I think sitting in a market booth for hours is hard work too. " - Jill Bennett

I might add, that if the artisan makes the first move to bargain, which, if it's going to happen, usually happens when you walk away, that, in this kind of instance, it's OK to bargain a little.  Or maybe a little discount if you're buying a big quantity.  But my experience is that the sellers in a Mexican market can be generous and often throw in a little extra something something as a way of saying thank you at the very end of the sale. Without exception, when I buy in Oaxaca,  I always feel like I am getting a spectacularly good price for something beautiful. Most artisans don't charge enough.  (there I said it).....

The Tamayo Museum

It's no secret I adore the Rufino Tamayo Museum on Morelos.  Each room is painted a different color and the very last room is this glorious orange. If you have any interest in Mexican culture or art, this is not to be missed.

A priest.

And a monkey - a chango - the Dionysus of the Americas

And an unknown symbol on a piece of terra cotta.
It's one big, beautiful, universal mystery.  I love this museum.

Saturday Night in Oaxaca

Pro tip - there's almost always a wedding or two on Saturday evening at Santa Domingo and they're almost always followed, rain or shine, by a calenda, a parade of sorts with puppets, and musicians, and dancers with canastas (baskets with flowers and sculptures carried on the head).
Here's a tiny taste spontaneously shot on the i phone.

The Deep Contentment of the Artisans of Oaxaca

 There is a chance to visit with so many talented artisans in Oaxaca and this trip was no exception with highlights from potters, weavers, dyers, and tinmakers.  I have watched Mareya from the Mateo Galan family in Coyotopec do her magic with an exacto knife and a toothpaste cap for years now.  And wow is she getting good.  Her father in law can throw the big pots and she does all the decorative work. They were a little stressed this visit as Lorenzo broke two of his fingers about a month ago and has not been able to work. Yet you can see she has that calm, humble thing with deep pride in her work. I'm pretty sure no two of her pots are alike. She has a huge design repertoire.

This barefoot grandmother gets her workout carding and spinning that big basket of wool to her left everyday. She's contributing to the family rug business and has some serious muscle too.

Josefina Lopez gave the best natural dye demo I've ever been to.  Here she's showing off all the colors from red to bright orange to shades of lavender that she can coax from the cochineal dye.
Can't you just feel her contentment and happiness?

Handspinning cotton high in the hills of Oaxaca, Khadi/Oaxaca is translating Ghandian values of village life, sustainability, & handwork into a beautiful experiment making stunning artisan goods and creating livelihood for hundreds of families. This is fair trade at it's finest.  (Read more about them by clicking here)

And I finally made it out to the town of Barro Rojo, red pottery.  I always see the women from Tlapazola selling their wares at the Sunday Tlacolula market and in town too - O ye of the famed pig toothpick holders.  We always have fun chatting with these women vendors with their pretty aprons and extra long braids.So I was happy to make it out to their bucolic little puebla and visit with a local potter and her family.

It was great to see Marina Martinez demonstrating how she mixes the red and the yellow clay from her community with a little bit of sand and then she hand shaped the classic comal with a corn cob and a piece of leather.  The yellow clay they gather in a pick up truck, the red clay they walk about an hour to gather. Click here for a fun video of her working 
 Really feel extra lucky that we happened to drop in as they prepared their primitive fire, no kiln firing.  It was fun watching skilled masters, all women - sisters and aunts and nieces,  in colorful billowing skirts  building their kiln with boxsprings and shards, and pots, and dung and dried agave leaves, and the roots of carrizo, and strategically placed red hot coals and big sticks of wood.  And sorry no pictures, it's considered bad luck, might make the pots crack! 
I always feel a very peaceful feeling when I come back from villages.

The Ghost of Frida Past

It's always fun to see Frida at her fonda in the Ocotlan market on Fridays.  She's either posing for pictures or busting out the food and her stall - it's almost always busy and with some great live music.