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While I was in el norte, I had no worries about my plants, as I knew my neighbors A&P would take good care of them. It has taken me a week to unpack, put things away, clean (oh, the dust!), and get reacquainted with my garden’s flora and fauna.

I was surprised and delighted this tiny cactus welcomed me with one of its flowers.

Another delight was the presence of Eddie Lizard still hanging out on the outer side of the screen between the atrium and my office. He’s been here a month and a half!

A less welcome sight were these small caterpillars. Thankfully, P took on the task of picking them off with my garden tweezers. They have been munching on my Passion Flower leaves for months and I can’t figure out how to eradicate them. Any suggestions?

After being gone for a month, it’s good to be back home, be warm and dry, and enjoying my garden!

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2022 began with rainbows and ended with fab food, friends, and family — a good way to say hello and goodbye to a year that continued to bring serious challenges to this planet we call home. In my little Oaxaca corner of the world, the year had its circumstantial complexities but also was filled with visits from old friends, becoming more familiar with my Jalatlaco neighborhood, “any excuse gatherings” with my most excellent neighbors, and several adventures with BFFs in and out of the city.

January 13, 2022 – A rainbow surprise from my rooftop terrace in Barrio de Jalatlaco.
February 19, 2022 – Efedefroy stencil outside Xiguela Tienda, Barrio de Jalatlaco.
March 23, 2022 – Classic car on a street in Barrio de Jalatlaco.
April 12, 2022 – Agave quiote decorating the outside of Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco.
May 30, 2022 – Rainy day streets in Barrio de Jalatlaco.
June 4, 2022 – Found objects art on the rooftop of Restaurant Oaxaca Mía, Teotitlán del Valle.
July 15, 2022 – Grasshopper on my rooftop terrace in Barrio de Jalatlaco.
August 27, 2022 – Calenda dancing its way along the streets of Barrio de Jalatlaco.
September 29, 2022 – Chiles en Nogada at Casa Oaxaca Reforma.
October 28, 2022 – Spiffed up La Hormiga food trailer at Conzatti Park.
November 6, 2022 – Murals at the entrance to Barrio de Xochimilco in Oaxaca.
November 6, 2022 – Ensalada Tehuana at La Biznaga on the corner of Magarita Maza and Benito Juárez (one of my favorite intersections).

Words can’t begin to express how grateful I am to you all for reading, commenting, and following my blog. You kept me going during the worst days of the pandemic and continue to inspire me. Thus, my 2023 wish for you is…

I Hope You Dance
Written by Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat
But always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances
But they’re worth taking
Lovin’ might be a mistake
But it’s worth making
Don’t let some hell bent heart
Leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out
Reconsider
Give the heavens above
More than just a passing glance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always)
I hope you dance
(Rolling us along)
I hope you dance
(Tell me who)
I hope you dance
(Wants to look back on their youth and wonder)
(Where those years have gone)

I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
Dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion, always)
I hope you dance
(Rolling us along)
I hope you dance
(Tell me who)
(Wants to look back on their youth and wonder)
I hope you dance
(Where those years have gone)

(Tell me who)
I hope you dance
(Wants to look back on their youth and wonder)
(Where those years have gone)

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Over the past several years, one can’t help but notice that Oaxaca has become much more pet friendly.

In place of the formerly ubiquitous roof dogs menacingly peering down and barking at pedestrians, images of silent dogs and cats look out from walls along the sidewalks.

Veterinary offices have sprung up all over the city, dog walkers have become a “thing,” many businesses are placing water bowls outside their entrances, and restaurants are welcoming pets — cat photos that follow are from the mural outside La Selva de los Gatos Cat Cafe vegetarian restaurant.

Thanks to the efforts of various sterilization clinics in the valley, one doesn’t encounter nearly as many street dogs and feral cats.

If you are so inclined, Huellas de Ayuda Oaxaca and Teo Tails are a couple of clinics that could use financial and volunteer assistance.

Just look at these faces. What’s not to love?

Of course there is the occasional big cat.

And, not to be overlooked, armadillos are known to appear.

No matter the species of animal, on August 31, in celebration of the feast day of San Ramón Nonato, they can accompany their humans to be blessed at Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Merced at 4:00 PM. If years past are any indication, it should be a colorful and lively event.

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How wonderful it was to return to San Antonino Castillo Velasco on Domingo de Ramos and once again see and experience San Salvador atop his burro being piled high with the best and most beautiful bounty.

Covid precautions had caused the 2020 and 2021 Palm Sunday celebrations to be canceled. But, at long last, this year villagers, young and old, on bikes and on foot, in carts and in trucks, once again were allowed to return to the street outside the panteón (cemetery) bearing fruit, vegetables, herbs, breads, flowers…

… and farm animals! Their offerings were received and priced by a committee — to be sold later in the day to benefit a local project. By the way, the price tag for the colt read $4000 pesos.

Once the burro was “filled to the brim,” with only his face peeking out, the priest arrived to bless the offerings and faithful with holy water. Dare I confess, it was hot under the noonday sun and the sprinkling of cold water felt good! The palm fronds, having been blessed, were distributed to all. Fireworks began exploding and the rhythmic sounds of the teponaxtles (drums) and chirimía (small oboe) began playing — announcing the start of the procession. Led by smoke from burning copal and a trail of bougainvillea bracts, the litter carrying San Salvador atop his burro set off on the kilometer long journey to the atrium of the church. They were accompanied by villagers and visitors clutching palm fronds and carrying the remainder of the goods collected.

This is a reenactment of the Biblical story of Jesus entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. A few spectators chose to watch from balconies, but mostly the route teemed with a growing mass of followers as 30+ hardy men bore the litter along the “hazardous” street — ducking wires above and navigating topes (speed bumps) below.

Once inside the church atrium, San Salvador and his burro were carefully maneuvered onto a stage where the priest joined them to say mass. At this point, blogger buddy Chris and I swam against the crowd and made our way to the food stalls set up just outside the atrium — San Antonino’s mouthwatering empanadas de amarillo beckoned.

(ps) Chris made a video of the procession which you can view HERE.

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Our Day in the country’s final destination was San Bernardo Mixtepec. The scenery was spectacular as we drove south from Zimatlán de Álvarez, through the valley, and northeast up into the mountains. It was mid October, nearing Día de Muertos and in the valley there were fields filled with cempasúchitl (marigolds) and cresta de gallo (cockscomb) waiting to be picked for altars. In the meantime, they were being enjoyed by a local grasshopper.

Navigating the narrow, winding, and steep roads, we eventually arrived at the palenque and family home of José Alberto Pablo and his father Mario. Perched on the side of a mountain, it offers stunning views.

Fermentation is done in clay pots in a specially built room, and clay pots are used for distillation. In an eco-friendly feature, he recirculates the condenser water rather than letting it drain into a stream.

At some point in the history of San Bernardo Mixtepec, a persuasive vendor must have introduced the palenqueros to enameled metal condensers. Over time they rust and deposit a small amount of rust into the mezcal — giving it a distinctive yellow-orange color. According to José Alberto, the villagers have become so accustomed to the color, they are reluctant to drink clear mezcal.

José Alberto Pablo, his father Mario, and Craig T. (middle) — a very happy mezcal aficionado.

Yes, we bought! I came away with a lovely rusty tobalá. By the way, they also use stainless and copper condensers to make clear rust-less mezcal — for the less adventurous and to satisfy the mezcal regulatory board.

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Flora and fauna and mezcal, oh my! That pretty much sums up the next stop on my day in the country adventure with friends. After leaving Villa de Zaachila, we headed south to Zimatlán de Álvarez and the working farm and palenque of René Parada Barriga (sold under label, Tío René). René was at a meeting, so his son Moisés capably took over the palenque’s touring and teaching duties.

Tithonia diversifolia (aka, Mexican sunflower) reaching toward the sky.
Agave plantlets waiting to be planted.
Nonchalant cattle relaxing in the shade.
Friendly goat saying, “buenas tardes.”
Tools of the trade.
Omnipresent home altar.
Cooking pit awaiting the next batch of agave.
Fermentation vats.
Copper stills.
Moisés offering a taste.
Sophia filling one of our empty bottles.

We came prepared, bringing our own plastic bottles and René’s wife Sophia poured and sold. I bought a lovely copper distilled Cuish and, once home, transferred it into one of my many empty glass bottles — saved for days such as this. Our next (and last) stop was another palenque. Stay tuned!

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This morning: Four Night Blooming Cereus flowers and one seriously busy bee!

Life in the rooftop garden.

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My trip to el norte is drawing to a close and tomorrow morning, before the sun rises, my day-long journey back to Oaxaca begins. After being away for 5-1/2 weeks, I wonder what changes I will see. In the meantime, a couple of cute animal photos from here and there…

Chipmunk that perches on this rock every morning at my son’s house in upstate New York.
Squirrel feeding station set up by neighbors in Barrio de Xochimilco, Oaxaca.

Now that I am fully vaccinated, I’m looking forward to venturing out and about a lot more and hopefully having more fodder for the blog!

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Snowbirds continue to arrive in Oaxaca. For the past several days, Cedar Waxwings have been flocking to my fountain — the first year they have come to Casita Colibrí. They are great fun to watch and seem to have distinct personalities.

Make room for me!
Coming in for a landing.
What are you looking at?

Though I must say, they make a huge mess!

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Walking around, I often like to make up stories about the people, places, and things I see.

Woof, woof — I’ve overcome my vertigo!
Trapped behind bars, what did I do to deserve this?
Who colorized the shadow puppet rabbit?

These three images from last Sunday’s walk along Panorámica del Fortín, seem to beg for a tall tale or two.

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The “quédate en casa” signs and announcements are ubiquitous in Oaxaca — and apparently dogs are heeding those orders to “stay at home.” Like their humans, some are using the time for rest and relaxation.

Others are working from home.

And still others are chafing at the bit and can’t wait for the restrictions to be lifted so they can go out and play!

Though Mexico hasn’t yet flattened the Covid-19 curve, the government announced yesterday that beginning May 18, “Municipalities of hope” — those towns without any coronavirus cases and that don’t border any towns with confirmed cases, will be permitted to reopen their economy, public spaces, and schools.

For an English language simulcast of Mexico’s Covid-19 Daily Briefing, where detailed information is relayed and announcements like the one above are made, click HERE. If you miss the live 7:00 PM (CDT) broadcasts, the briefings are archived and available from the same site. By the way, note the respectful demeanor exhibited by government officials — quite a contrast to “you know who.”

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In Mexico, the hummingbird (colibrí) is known as the protector of warriors and messenger of the gods — two of the most revered roles in indigenous cosmology. How lucky I am that several of the varieties seen on the poster below continue to capture my attention and fill my heart with joy as they flit from tree to fence to fountain for a bath and zigzag across my terrace playing their version of tag and king of the hill.

Hummingbirds of Mexico and North America poster

Muchisimas gracias to my friend K for the link to this poster from CONABIO (National Commission for Biodiversity). In addition, if these tiny creatures also captivate you, a PDF of the CONABIO book, Colibríes de México y Norte América / Hummingbirds of México and North America is available online with text in both Spanish and English (click title link).

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Art imitating life?

Wall in Oaxaca on Plazuela del Carmen Alto. (Art by Tupac Emiliano)

Or, life imitating art?

On Avenida Benito Juárez, Teotitlán del Valle

You decide!

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At the crossroads.

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Morning walk in Teotitlán del Valle.

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I returned to Teotitlán del Valle late Friday afternoon to view the convite of of unmarried women of the village and Grupo de la Danza de la Pluma 2019-2021 danzantes (dancers) process through town — an invitation to further festivities honoring La Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Though that wasn’t the only activity on my agenda; I would be spending the weekend with my amiga K, who was house-sitting for another amiga N. It would be a weekend in the countryside for this city gal!

I arrived late afternoon on Friday…

Canastas (baskets) lined up in front awaiting the procession under the gaze of the sacred mountain, El Picacho.

Grupo de Promesa de la Danza de Pluma 2019-21 arriving in front of the church, waiting to process.

Guys who launch the cohetes (all bang, no bling rockets) announcing the procession.

The convite begins — unmarried women of Teotitlán del Valle carrying the aforementioned canastas (baskets).

After the convite, an early evening encounter with a burro as mi amiga K and I walked to Restaurante y Galería Tierra Antigua .

Saturday…

Early morning view of the campo in Teotitlán del Valle.

Breakfast gathering of cocineras (cooks) and friends in the cocina de humo at Restaurante y Galería Tierra Antigua.

Encounter with a bull while walking back to the house.

Returning to the church to watch the late afternoon performance of the Danza de la Pluma.

Following the Danza de la Pluma, late night watching the toritos, castillo, and fireworks in front of the church.

Sunday…

During mass, shopping baskets parked in the church atrium.

Off to market day in Tlacolula de Matamoros. The upside down St. Peter encountered in the Señor de Tlacolula chapel.

Taekwondo competition in front of the municipal buildings in Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Returning to Teotitlán del Valle, still life in front of the sacred mountain, El Picacho, seen while walking back to the church in the afternoon.

Final Danza de la Pluma performance in the church atrium at the 2019 Fiesta de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.

It was a lively, delicious, and exhausting weekend. Did I mention, I walked an average of 4.5 miles per day?  Wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Muchisimas gracias to all who made it an unforgettable weekend!

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