Posts Tagged ‘travel’

And, then there was the Festival de los 7 Moles opening buffet lunch set amidst the beauty and tranquility of the Jardín Etnobotánico.  Serendipity and synchronicity brought us there… running into a friend, conversation, investigation (see pots below), and her enthusiasm and powers of persuasion (gracias, Rosa!) had us purchasing tickets on the spot.

While kitchen staff prepared the serving platters and bowls…

Woman in apron and wearing hairnet, scoops cooked rice out of a large bucket.

Dancers gathered on the Alameda for a calenda that would lead people the luncheon.

Two women displaying their long  colorful full skirts

They included a number of small children…

Woman squatting down and clasping hands with a toddler-age boy - both in indigenous dress

The calenda, including the requisite marmota (giant cloth balloon), monos (giant puppets), band, dancers with canastas (see yesterday’s post), and the sponsoring banner of CANIRAC (national association of the restaurant and food industries), made its way up the Alcalá…

Procession with marmota, monos, and banner

before turning onto Constitución and entering the Jardín, where wait staff and divine moles awaited.

Wait staff, wearing black, white, and grey gathered next to table.

Yummm, mole negro

Large green pottery bowls filled with black mole.

Mole amarillo

Green pottery bowls of red colored moles

Mole coloradito

Green ceramic pot with red mole.

Mole verde

Green mole in green ceramic pot

There was also mole chichilo, mole manchamanteles, and mole rojo.  I tried them all!!!  And, I haven’t even mentioned the cervesa, mezcal, aguas, and appetizers of quesillo, chicharon, and tacos filled with guacamole and chapulines (grasshoppers).  You’ll have to switch over to Chris’s blog to see those and much more.  Oh, and for dessert, a scoop of each of my favorite nieves (sherbet); leche quemada (burned milk) and tuna (cactus fruit).

A day filled with light, color, music, fabulous food, and, most of all, wonderful friends — the recipe for a perfect day!

(ps)  There are almost 50 restaurants around town that will be featuring mole as part of this 12-day festival.

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Intricately designed and executed iron gates have been installed at either end of Antiguo Callejón de San Pablo, ushering visitors into the “Old meets new” grounds of the Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo.

Iron gate

Oaxaca’s favorite son and Mexico’s foremost living artist, Francisco Toledo, narrates a video documenting the construction of the gates.  It’s in Spanish, but even if you don’t understand the language, it’s worth watching, anyway.

By the way, today is Toledo’s 70th birthday.  ¡Feliz cumpleaños, maestro!

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Early Saturday morning I was on my way to the doctor’s office, thus walking with purpose.  However, turning onto Constitución, along the south side of Santo Domingo, I had to pause…

Man and woman in stylized Aztec costume in jewel tones.

A photo shoot in progress?  I didn’t actually have a doctor’s appointment, just dropping by for a consultation (common here), so I lingered.

HE was obviously modeling “glamed-up” Aztec.  But SHE…

Woman in stylized Aztec costume in jewel tones.

Hmmm… Japanese???  Of course not!  Comparing it to images found in the codices, it, too, is an extremely stylized expression of  the fashion and hair of some classes of Aztec women.

Close-up of woman wearing purple silk huipil and stylized Aztec hairdo.

¡Muy hermosa!

Update:  I think Sheri is probably correct.  This may be a promotion for, or at least evoke, the annual reenactment of the Donají la leyenda, during Guelaguetza.  It is the legend of Princess Donají, a Zapotec princess who was kidnapped and decapitated by rival Mixtecos.  Her beautiful head was later found intact by a shepherd under a lily.  The body and head were reunited and buried together near, what is now, the city of Oaxaca’s airport.   The face of Donají appears on the official shield of the city of Oaxaca de Juárez.

Official shield of Oaxaca de Juárez.

The elevation and celebration of this story makes me wonder how today’s Mixtecos feel about it…

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The convite (covered in the Uplifting post) is only one of the traditions of the patronal festival of La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.  During the five days of the celebration, the church is filled with floral arrangements and believers stream in and out clutching flowers; the Danza de la Pluma (with Moctezuma, Cortez, Malinche, Doña Marina, danzantes, and soldados) is performed several times; and the cargo holders of the community preside, are honored, and presented with fresh fruits, vegetables, sacred herbs, and beverages.

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Sunday was another amazing day in Teotitlán del Valle.  And I haven’t even mentioned the tacos and tamales we devoured during our three visits this past week!

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Late yesterday afternoon, we returned to Teotitlán del Valle for the convite (parade) of unmarried young women and girls, a part of the annual patronal festival of La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.  The sun was shining, the rains of two days before were nowhere to be seen, and the sacred mountain, El Picacho, gracefully, but commandingly, presided as the soldados and danzantes entered the church courtyard.

Soldados and danzantes with the mountain in the background

Bands also arrived to take part…

Band with tuba in front; mountain in background

Canastas (baskets) were lined up, ready to be carried…

Canastas with images of the Virgen Mary lined up.

3 canastas with images of Jesus

Canasta with Virgen de la Navidad woven into the design

The young men of the village gathered…

Young men sitting on a ledge

Young men in profile

Family and friends awaited…

Women standing and facing down the street

And then the young unmarried women and girls, the stars of the evening, raised the canastas over their heads…

Young women and girls in red skirts and white blusas carrying canastas on their heads lined up and

3 young women carrying canastas on their heads

Close-up of 2 young women carrying canastas on their heads

Balancing the canastas, they processed from the courtyard, down several long and cobblestone blocks, turned left, and headed back up another street to where they had begun, to be greeted by proud family and friends, who had gathered to acknowledge and celebrate the young women and girls of Teotitlán del Valle.

For some inexplicable reason, we never cease to feel moved and uplifted by this ritual.

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Yesterday, fellow blogger, Chris, and I drove out to Teotitlán del Valle for their yearly patronal festividad de La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.  The rains came and we didn’t stay long.  But, as we almost always find, just being out there provides much appreciated food for the soul.

Black and white photo of Zapotec woman sitting upright with a rebozo draped on her head.

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Wanna see me pull a rabbit out of my hat?

Creature with long nose with rabbit in hat

Happy first day of summer.

Creatures painted on wall

From the walls of Oaxaca…

Creatures painted on wall

To the walls of Mill Valley…

Reclining bull painted on side of wall

by artist, Zio Zieler



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As hoped, I managed to make my way to the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco for .  It’s the exhibit (I mentioned a few days ago) that celebrates the Zapotec artists of Oaxaca from Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo to those they encouraged and influenced.

On the consulate’s ground floor the scene was a familiar one — signage and conversations en español; the eagle, serpent and green, white, and red of the Mexican flag prominently displayed; waiting room filled with patiently waiting people — a sliver of Mexico in San Francisco.  Climbing the two flights of stairs (elevator was broken) up to the third floor, a friend and I found the exhibit…

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According to the article, Oaxacan surrealism hits the SF Mexican consulate, the consulate’s cultural affairs attache, Marimar Suárez Peñalva, hopes the gallery and its exhibitions will offer Mexican expats an opportunity to connect with the creativity, not just the bureaucracy (my word), of their culture.  However, I don’t know how many of those waiting on the first floor make it up to the third floor; early in the afternoon, we had the gallery to ourselves.

And yes, works by Tamayo and Toledo are included, but I thought I’d feature some of the lesser known artists.  By the way, did you notice the name, Alejandro Santiago Ramírez?  This is the same Alejandro Santiago of the 2501 Migrantes sculptures that I’ve previously written about.

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I’m again in the San Francisco Bay Area, visiting family and friends and taking care of the odds and ends of still maintaining a presence here, while living in Oaxaca.  We’ve had clear blue skies and sun and, except for the high-speed pace and exorbitant price of food, it “almost” feels like home.  Hey, I even bought some resin chairs for my son’s backyard and ate some of the best Mexican food ever (in the USA) at Doña Tomás in Oakland.  (FYI:  The Callos con Sopa de Elote — puréed corn soup with seared day boat scallops and fingerling potatoes, roasted poblano chiles and cilantro, served with arroz achiote — was divine.)

To also keep from getting too homesick for Oaxaca, there are a currently a couple of exhibits in San Francisco I plan to see while here.  I found out about The Magic Surrealists of Oaxaca, Mexico from the Oaxacan surrealism hits the SF Mexican consulate article in the SFBG, which explains…

Aquatint etching

Francisco Toledo’s aquatint etching “Self Portrait”

The Zapotec identity … is one of the unifiers of the exhibit, which contains the works of not only [Rufino] Tamayo and [Francisco] Toledo but also artists who were inspired by their work like Justina Fuentes Zárate, she of the reclining mermaid and arresting red dress. Perhaps the works don’t look similar, but they represent the diversity and breadth of the work to come out of the surrealist Zapotec tradition in Oaxaca.

And, then I read the NPR story, In Mexico, Mixed Genders And ‘Muxes’, about a Galería de la Raza exhibit.

Parade of Muxes in traje of Juchitán

Photo from the exhibit

Searching for Queertopia revisits the experiences of Alexander Hernandez’s participation and Neil Rivas’ visual documentation of what is called, the Vela de ‘Las Intrépidas.’ This event, a 3-day celebration, is held annually in the town of Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, México, in honor of its Muxe community.

Hmmm… maybe I’ll take the ferry over to “The City” tomorrow.

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My mom was a folk dancer.  She had studied ballet, tap, and acrobatic dancing when she was young and brought that training and muscle memory along with her when she took up folk dancing in her mid thirties.  I spent many hours over the years watching her dance; the Kamarinskaya from Russia, Swedish Hambo, Fandango from Portugal, Mexico’s Jarabe Tapatio, and so many more.  In addition to being a talented dancer, she made her own costumes.  A dressmaker’s dummy was a permanent fixture in her bedroom, yards of colorful cotton fabric and braid were piled next to the sewing machine, and in the evenings her hands and eyes were often occupied embroidering pieces for a new costume.

Mom died in 1989, but not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.  So, on this Mother’s Day, this is for you mom…

Multicolored huipil with peacock design


Jewel toned embroidered huipil with peacock design

Zinacatán, Chiapas, Mexico

Black skirt embroidered on the diagonal with flowers

Zinacatán, Chiapas, Mexico

Black dress with gold-tone embroidery on sleeve and bodice.

San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Geometric yellow and red embroidery on purple skirt with lace bottom

Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Close up of the back of a brightly embroidered huipil on black velvet

Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

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We, who live or spend a significant amount of time here in Oaxaca, can’t say it too many times…

Are Americans safer in Mexico than at home?

Robert Reid Lonely Planet author

Every week or so I get asked, ‘Is it safe to go to Mexico?’ I had always said, if you’re thoughtful about where you go, yes. But after my most recent trip there, I’m changing my answer… to a question:

Do you think it’s safe to go to Texas?

To be clear, violence in Mexico is no joke. There have been over 47,000 drug-related murders alone in the past five years. Its murder rate – 18 per 100,000 according to this United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime report – is more than three times the US rate of 4.8 per 100,000. Though Mexican tourism is starting to bounce back, Americans appear more reluctant to return than Canadians and Brits (5.7 million Americans visited in 2011, down 3% from 2010 – and, according to Expedia, more than four of five bookings were adults going without children). Many who don’t go cite violence as the reason.

What you don’t get from most reports in the US is statistical evidence that Americans are less likely to face violence on average in Mexico than at home, particularly when you zero in on Mexico’s most popular travel destinations. For example, the gateway to Disney World, Orlando, saw 7.5 murders per 100,000 residents in 2010 per the FBI; this is higher than Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, with rates of 1.83 and 5.9 respectively, per a Stanford University report (see data visualization here, summarized on this chart, page 21). Yet in March, the Texas Department of Public Safety advised against ‘spring break’ travel anywhere in Mexico, a country the size of the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy combined. Never mind that popular destinations like the Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica have far higher homicide rates (36, 42 and 52 per 100,000). Why the singular focus?

Before you nix Mexico altogether, consider these five things:

[Read full article HERE]

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It’s been a week since the end of Semana Santa and I’m still sorting through photos and videos and reflecting on impressions and feelings.  However, I’m finding that, with too much thinking, the experience slips through the fingers and the magic vanishes.

Thus, I give you the night of Pascuas (Easter) at Carmen Alto…

And then, the hisses, bangs, and brilliant explosions of a castillo…

Flaming castillo

brought Semana Santa to a spectacular close.

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I’m from the cradle of modern mountain biking; Marin County, California.  In fact, it has become so popular in Marin over the past 30+ years, traffic jams have ensued at trail heads and battles between hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers over safety and environmental issues frequently make the headlines of local papers.

With this recent article in the Wall Street Journal, it looks like mountain biking has “officially” come to Oaxaca.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the wise Zapotec elders up in Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte will find a way to keep the peace.  And, more than that, I’m hoping all you mountain bikers out there will be respectful of this beautiful land and her people.

From Friday, April 13, 2012 online Wall Street Journal…

Blazing Trails in Mexico

Mountain biking is rare in Oaxaca—but not for long


Mountain biking on the Tequila Trail near Oaxaca, Mexico – Trevor Clark

IT WAS EARLY. Hours from sunrise kind of early. My wimpy headlamp struggled to break through the predawn drizzle, and I could barely see my front tire or the trail ahead. Roots, rocks and stumps all seemed to be in cahoots, working together to upend me.


WHEEL WORLD | Riding out of the village of Benito Juárez in Oaxaca –  Trevor Clark 

I tried to become one with the bike. I tried to feel out the trail with my other senses. I tried to anticipate obstacles, but I am no Zen master. My mountain biking skills are rough under the best conditions, and I was in the jungle in the dark.

My mate’s more powerful headlamp suddenly provided a snapshot of a sharp turn and a wooden footbridge ahead. Then, lights out. I made an educated guess, went straight and took a hit that emptied my lungs: “Huhhhhh!” Cold water rushed into my clothes and pack as I lay in the stream, bike still on my feet, straight up in the air.

For a few moments, I laughed hysterically at my predicament and the fact that I was OK after missing the bridge. Then I picked myself up and kept moving.

We made it to the peak of Piedra Larga, a 10,761-foot-high lookout, for breakfast, corn-based hot chocolate and sunrise. As the sun slowly emerged from a thick layer of fog, we found ourselves hovering above a golden sea of clouds. The scenery was worth every blind pedal stroke.

HIGH ROAD | Taking in the view from a rock spire in the Sierra Norte – Trevor Clark

Seven of us had come to the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, Mexico, a forested mountain range in the northern part of the state. Oaxaca is known as the country’s culinary and cultural center, and many visitors experience it through cooking classes and gallery walks in the capital city. We, instead, were mountain-biking part of an ancient Zapotec network of walking trails that have connected eight villages to each other and the rest of the world for eons.

Mountain biking is fairly new to Mexico…. [Read FULL ARTICLE]

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As promised…

And, there is SO much more!!!

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Church bells and scorpions; I must be back in my new home.

My return to Oaxaca was long and bumpy, with thunderstorms populating almost the entire trip.  A rocky ride was had by all.  The pint-size Embraer landed at 11 pm — pretty late for Oaxaca’s little airport.  However, as we alighted from the plane, the land crew provided welcoming umbrellas to protect us from the downpour, as we dashed across the blackened tarmac to the terminal.  With luggage retrieved, green light received, and boleto purchased, I jumped into the waiting and wonderful white airport van.

First to be dropped off, I pulled and dragged my suitcases up the two flights of stairs (trying not to awaken my sure-to-be sleeping neighbors along the way) and into the waiting embrace of Casita Colibrí, only to be greeted by carpenter’s tools strewn about and my bathroom door off its hinges — evidence of a project that was 2/3rds completed when I left six weeks before.  Not a problem, I told myself.  Then, my toilet wouldn’t flush.  No big deal, I told myself.  However (drum roll, please), when I came face-to-face with a scorpion in my bathroom sink, that WAS a problem!

I tried to be a “grownup” but it was my first real live scorpion and it totally freaked me out.   Eventually, I managed to send it on its way to the big alacrán casa in the sky.  I will spare you the details but suffice it to say, among other things, it involved saran wrap and duct tape.  Scorpions tend to carry on their scorpion business at night and, needless to say, sleep has not come easily since my close encounter.  However, like a good former reference librarian, I’ve done my research and discovered that the sting of the local variety of scorpion may be painful but is generally not deadly to healthy adults, lavender is used in France as a repellent, and people in the US Southwest report success using cedar oil to keep these creepy creatures out.  Now to find one or both…   In the interim, I reluctantly purchased and used one of several toxic sprays found on Soriana’s shelves — moderate peace of mind must be achieved if I am to get a good night’s sleep!

It took almost a week, but unpacking has finally been completed, suitcases stored, apartment has been tidied, carpenter has put my bathroom door back on, I’ve  fixed my toilet, and the pantry has been restocked.   I again awake to church bells chiming, geckos chirping, and colibrís zipping across my terrace.  My African Tulip trees are in bloom…

… and tonight I’m going to watch the Guerreros de Oaxaca play the Piratas de Campeche with my best friend in Oaxaca!  It’s good to be home…

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