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There is magic on the walls of Oaxaca.

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You  never know what you will see when you take another route home.

 

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Even leftover decorations from a Día de la Samaritana agua station in front of an abandoned building are beautiful in their own way.

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Seen on García Vigil at the corner of Jesús Carranza.

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If you are in Oaxaca and it’s the fourth Friday of Lent, it must be Día de la Samaritana, an “only in Oaxaca” celebration.  This Day of the Good Samaritan was inspired by the Gospel of John story in the New Testament where a tired and thirsty Jesus, on his way to Galilee, asks a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Sychar for some water.

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Decorating a well outside the Cathedral

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Sign proclaiming the day, seen on the Alcalá

His request was highly unusual because, according to the Old Testament, “Jews regarded the Samaritans as foreigners and their attitude was often hostile.”  The woman complied with his request and the rest is history.

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Scene at the well outside Templo de San José

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Live actors waiting to reenact the scene

Celebrating the Good Samaritan in Oaxaca began in the atriums of churches at the end of the 19th century and is a popular and much-loved tradition.  Thus I joined thousands of Oaxaqueños and visitors, clutching cups, and wandering from one decorated agua station to another sampling their offerings.

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Samaritana station serving nieve at the Municipal Palace

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One of scores of agua stations on the Alcalá

People of all ages, from small children to grandparents, lined up at bougainvillea and palm decorated booths in front of churches, restaurants, businesses, schools, and even the city’s municipal office building for the traditional Día de la Samaritana free aguas.

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Hand painted ollas in front of Templo de Sangre de Cristo

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Hand painted jicara gourds waiting to be filled with tejate

These “water stations” are often decorated in a violet shade of purple, the color of Lent, symbolizing penance and royalty.  And, the ollas (pots) holding the aguas seem to get more decorative every year.

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Agua stations along the Alcalá

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Watermelon and mint agua station on García Vigil

We are not talking plain water, these are divinely flavored aguas frescas made with fresh fruits, herbs, flowers, and more — jamaica (hibiscus), horchata, chilacayote (squash), tamarindo, sandia (watermelon), tejate, and nieve (sorbet).  Even taxi drivers played the role of Good Samaritans.

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Nieve station in doorway of lingerie store on Independencia

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Taxi drivers host agua station on the Alameda

In previous years, the aftermath hath wrought mountains of garbage — cans overflowing with plastic and styrofoam.  However, this year, in the name of the environment, an appeal was made for people to bring their own cups.  And, I think a majority complied!

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On the Alcalá above Santo Domingo

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An olla with Agua de chilacayote (type of squash)

And me?  After almost two hours, three aguas (watermelon with mint, cucumber with mint, and chilacayote), a nieve of leche quemada and tuna, and being surrounded by smiling people enjoying this celebration of generosity, I returned home with my heart full of love and gratitude for the traditions of Oaxaca.

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After a few nights of a drop or two, we had an real rainstorm last night.

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The sound of rain lulled me to sleep last night.

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This morning I awoke to clear a clear sky and a glistening garden.

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While no one believes this is the start of the rainy season, it is much welcome evidence that Cocijo hasn’t forsaken the valley of Oaxaca.

Cee’s Flower of the Day

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Yesterday, Mexico celebrated el Día del Artesano (Day of the Artisan).  Alas, I’m a day late in recognizing the men and women whose artistry in carrying on traditions and renewing and enriching them with their own creative spirit contributes to Oaxaca’s vibrant cultural life and economy.  However, the entire month of March has been designated “month of the artisan,” so here are several of the artesanas and artesanos who I have had the honor and joy of knowing and visiting over the past year.

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Emilia Gonzalez, wool spinning and dying in Teotitlán del Valle

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Juan Manuel García Esperanza, silver filigree, Ciudad de Oaxaca

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Carrizo basket maker from San Juan Guelavía

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Barro rojo (red clay) potters from San Marcos Tlapazola

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Mural painters in San Martín Tilcajete

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Weaver from Santo Tomás Jalieza

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Eligio Zárate, potter, Santa María Atzompa

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Jesús Sosa Calvo, wood carver and painter, San Martín Tilcaje

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Seamstress, embroiderer, crocheter, Sra. Gutiérrez from Teotitlán del Valle

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Don Luís, weaver, Ciudad de Oaxaca

A very special thank you to Don Luís, whose weaving studio shares a wall with my apartment and I have the pleasure of seeing and hearing most every day.  The rhythmic sounds of his loom are one of the songs on the soundtrack of my Oaxaca life.

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Today is International Women’s Day and I’m choosing to celebrate the day by honoring the women borrowers of Fundación En Vía, Oaxaca’s successful microfinance organization.  The feminization of poverty continues to be a global issue — “women and girls fare worse than men and boys on a range of factors that may predispose them to poverty, including having their own source of income, ownership and control of assets and decision-making within their households.” — UN Women and the World Bank unveil new data analysis on women and poverty.

Tereza López López and her daughter – Comedor de Tere (diner), San Miguel del Valle.

A few statistics are in order to appreciate the incredible need this program is attempting to meet in Oaxaca.  According to a 2010 report by Coneval on poverty in Mexico, 67.4% of the people of Oaxaca live in moderate or extreme poverty and En Vía reports that 93% of their borrowers do not have a high school diploma.

María Zacarias Hernandez Hernandez – Mandiles (aprons) and bolsas (bags), San Miguel del Valle.

En Vía “works to promote women’s empowerment, the well-being of their families, and the strengthening of their communities by providing participatory programs that encourage the growth of income-generating businesses and personal development.”

Petronila Lopez Garcia – Tapetes (rugs), San Miguel del Valle.

They “do this through the unique combination of educational programs, interest-free micro-loans and responsible tourism.”  A series of eight basic business classes are given before the first loan of 1500 pesos is given.  Borrowers have ten to fifteen weeks to repay the loans.  Currently, En Vía has a 99.8% repayment rate.

Sara Ruiz Lorenzo – Velas (candles), Teotitlán del Valle.

In addition to required attendance at monthly business classes, free optional enrichment courses are offered, including classes in computers, English language, and women’s health.  And, after repaying their loans, borrowers can apply for additional loans to continue growing their businesses.

Ludivina Vasquez Gutierrez – Tapetes (rugs) and bolsas (bags), Teotitlán del Valle.

Where do you and I come in?  En Vía offers a variety of Responsible Tourism experiences — including their twice weekly tours to visit borrowers (often in their homes).  It is incredibly uplifting to hear the women describe their businesses and involvement in the program and especially to see the pride they have in what they have learned and accomplished.  FYI:  76% of En Vía’s revenue comes from their Responsible Tourism fees.  Believe me, it’s well worth it and I guarantee you will come away enriched by the experience.

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From gnarled tree limbs throughout the city…

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purple blossoms have emerged.

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Set against clear blue skies, it’s jacaranda time…

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a not-so-subtle sign that spring is on its way.

Posted to Thursday Tree Love

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Visiting friends equals playing tour guide and exploring the sights, sounds, and tastes of Oaxaca.  Thus, last Thursday off we went to the new-to-me, little known, and hard to find north-of-the-city archeological site of Suchilquitongo.

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While the site is small and the excavated tomb is closed, for the views alone, it was well worth the trip.

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Let us all raise a glass to the hummingbirds and bats of Oaxaca.

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Without the work they do pollinating the flowers on the quiotes (stalks) that shoot up from the agave,

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there would be no maguey piñas to harvest and cook…

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and no mezcal to drink!

*Mural by Lapiztola on the side of the Palenque Mal de Amor (makers of Ilegal mezcal) 2+ miles north of Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca.  Check out their other mural at the palenque HERE.

 

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On Sunday in San Juan Guelavía for the Feria del Carrizo in the municipal plaza, the sounds of a procession drew me next door to the church.

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A procession!  I’m not sure if the occasion had anything to to with patron saint, San Juan Bautista.  However, what I do know is that I love being surprised and delighted by Oaxaca — a place I am proud to now call home.

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Yesterday took us to San Juan Guelavía for the eighth annual Feria del Carrizo.  I missed it last year (I was up in el norte) and it was good to be back.  The feria just keeps getting bigger and better and its continued success is good news for the community.  And, I got to reconnect with Teresa Hipolito who wove two lampshades for me in 2015!

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Because plastic baskets have gained popularity as the shopping basket of choice, the village saw a severe decline in the demand for their handcrafted baskets made from carrizo (Arundo donax, Spanish cane, Giant cane, Wild Cane, and Colorado River weed) — a tall perennial cane that grows along river banks in Oaxaca.

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Baskets woven from carrizo have been used as carriers and storage bins since before the Spanish set foot on the soil that became Mexico.  Thus, San Juan Guelavía decided to hold a fair to help rescue the craft of weaving their beautiful and traditionally utilitarian creations from carrizo and give a much-needed boost to the economy.

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Besides baskets and bird cages, the artisans have branched out to weaving lampshades, decorative bottle covers (they make great gifts, especially when filled with mezcal), fashioning toys, earrings, and much more.

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As with most ferias and special events in Oaxaca, there was music, folkloric dance groups from schools in the area, craft vendors from nearby villages, mouthwatering food…

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… and absolutely adorable children.

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In a village of about three thousand, there are currently about thirty families who work with carrizo — that’s a large percentage of the population!  And, the very good news is that the skills and pride are being passed down to the younger generation.

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The fair is held the last Sunday of January and the first Sunday of February.  If you missed it yesterday, it is definitely worth a visit next Sunday — perhaps on your way to or from Tlacolula’s weekly market.  San Juan Guelavía is about 40 minutes east of the city.  By the way, there are a couple of workshops along the road that leads into town that are also worth a stop.

(ps)  For more cute kids photos from the feria, see Oaxaca-The Year After.

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If it’s Saturday, it must be wedding day in Oaxaca.

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They are scheduled one right after another at several of the churches, especially those on Macedonio Alcalá (the walking street).

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As a result, there is a lot of waiting by the wedding parties, bands, and monos.

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All dressed up with someplace to go!

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How lucky can a gal get?

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On day five back in Oaxaca, a last-minute invitation found me venturing behind an unassuming red iron door at Libertad 24, San Antonino Castillo Velasco and being greeted by welcoming figures of all shapes and sizes gathered throughout a large earthen courtyard.

This is the home and workshop of Grand Maestro, José García Antonio, also known as the blind potter.

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Losing his sight to glaucoma, he continues to sculpt sensual and evocative figures from the local barro (clay).

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He was married to his beloved wife, Santa Teresita Mendoza Reyna Sanchez, in 1987.

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Her face and body are etched in his memory and continue to provide a model for many of his female figures.

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The twinkle in those all-seeing sightless eyes and the artistry in those gifted hands give form and life to his creations in clay.

“It would seem that the hearts of the potters of Oaxaca are made of clay. Their emotions, intuitions, joys, fears and fantasies flow through their bloodstream until arriving at the hands which knead the clay and, as if by magic, transform it into exquisite ceramic sculptures.” (quoted from “The Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art.”)

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Day one back in Oaxaca…

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Warm sun, blue sky, and rocking horses parked on Calle de Mariano Abasolo.

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Vendor from Puebla with a truck full of dramatic wooden dancing horses from Zacatecas.

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It’s good to be home!

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‘Tis Christmas Eve and I’m in el norte.  A light snow is falling and all are excited.

Lighted reindeer in snow

Ornaments from Oaxaca hang alongside those passed down through four generations — and the newly collected continue the one-new-ornament-a-year tradition.

My grandson is keeping a close eye on Santa’s progress around the globe.  While awaiting the arrival of our late night visitor, it is time for Ernie Villarreal’s version of Pancho Claus by Chicano music legend, Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero.

Pancho Claus

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through la casa

Not a creature was stirring, Caramba! ¿Que pasa?

Los ninos were all tucked away in their camas,


Some in vestidos and some in pajamas.


While Mama worked late in her little cocina,
El viejo was down at the corner cantina.

The stockings were hanging con mucho cuidado,


In hopes that St. Nicholas would feel obligado


To bring all the children, both buenos y malos,


A Nice batch of dulces and other regalos.


Outside in the yard, there arouse such a grito,


That I jumped to my feet, like a frightened cabrito.

I went to the window and looked out afuera,


And who in the world, do you think que era?

Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero


Came dashing along like a crazy bombero!

And pulling his sleigh instead of venados,


Were eight little burros approaching volados.

I watched as they came, and this little hombre


Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre.

¡Ay, Pancho! ¡Ay, Pepe! ¡Ay, Cuca! ¡Ay, Beto!

¡Ay, Chato!
¡¡Ay, Chopo! ¡Maruca and ¡Nieto!

Then standing erect with his hand on his pecho


He flew to the top of our very own techo.


With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea,


He struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea.

Then huffing and puffing, at last in our sala,



With soot smeared all over his red suit de gala.

He filled the stockings with lovely regalos,


For none of the children had been very malos.


Then chuckling aloud and seeming contento,


He turned like a flash and was gone like the viento.


And I heard him exclaim and this is VERDAD,


Merry Christmas to all, And to All ¡Feliz Navidad!

Piñata against sky in Oaxaca

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