Category Archives: Mexican Holidays

A Book Worth Having

Lots of things going on at Abrazo these days! We will update soon on our progress with our work in Oaxaca and Chiapas but in the meantime, a carrot….. If you’ve ever traveled  in Oaxaca, the Yucatan or Chiapas, you are familiar with the strange fruits, odd trees and crafts that are unique to this region. Author Svetlana Aleksandroff of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, has recently produced a visual delight of a book that identifies and celebrates the flora, legend and craft of the Mayan culture. “Plants in the Mayan Culture” covers everything from coconuts to incense burners in its richly designed pages, walking the reader through the use and traditions surrounding  plants in the region of the Maya. Don’t look for literature but enjoy the visual feast. Check for availability in the US on their FB page: http://www.facebook.com/plantsinthemayanculture

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Filed under Chiapas, Indigenous Culture, Living in Mexico, Maya, Mexican Holidays, Mexico, Oaxaca, Uncategorized, WBTW

A Few of my Favorite Things in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

This is by no means a “top 10” list (maybe we’ll just start with 5) but these are some of the things I love to do/eat on my regular

Shopping! My favorite thing...

trips to San Cristobal for our work with  indigenous artisans from the highlands. ( I will be back there in a week and no doubt will have more to add…)

1. Wander. It is such an amazing city, well preserved from colonial times with high points to climb to, back streets to explore, and unprecedented people watching…The indigenous people (the majority of the population), especially the women, still dress in traditional clothing of their villages. Men from the warmer lowlands walk the chilly high altitude streets  bare-legged in hand woven tunics, and those from high altitudes walk the same streets in furry, sheep felt rugs that look like bear skins. —very fun and challenging to sort by their costumes, (see http://bit.ly/yBfkUg    for a fabulous lo res pdf book about these people and their textiles by Chip Morris, currently only available at Na Bolom museum/B&B in San Cristobal).

2. Eat French pastries. Not to be missed on the Real Guadalupe, made by real French people!

3. Cruise the markets… WOW! Santo Domingo (every day though the government is threatening to relocate it), the Mercado de Dulces (an indoor sweets and craft market, great on any day but especially rainy days) are the two big ones.

4. Slurp frozen yogurt sticks at the creamery (right) off of Real Guadalupe where there is also a daily vegetable market, hmm, near where the walking street ends).

5. Visit the locals market. (You can find it in any guide book) Huge and full of interesting things to see, but, like any market, be vigilante for pick pockets, etc. and be careful about taking photos. Many people take great offense at taking pictures of them or even their wares. Ask (you will probably have to pay) but even if you just wander through, it is fascinating.

More stories and pictures in a few weeks!

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Filed under Chiapas, Indigenous Culture, Indigenous Mexican women, Living in Mexico, Mexican Holidays, Mexican textiles, Mexico, San Cristobal de Las Casas, travel/shopping in Mexico, WBTW, Women Artisans

The Civilized Art of Riding Buses in Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico

ImageI’ve had a lot of people ask me recently about taking buses in Oaxaca and Chiapas so I think it’s time to weigh in. First, this information isn’t necessarily true for all of Mexico, I’m just speaking from personal experience living there. I’m also not an expert on the second class buses. Hey, I’m over 50, I’m done with chicken buses!

Compared to the US, Mexico has traveling by bus totally dialed. The buses (first class) generally run regularly, service lots of cities,  are clean, new (ish), and offer many levels of service to choose from.

When was the last time you were on a bus and the driver, dressed in a suit, came into the passenger compartment to give a welcome speech describing their services, itinerary, and offering to be of service if there were any concerns? (Okay, back again to the fact that I no longer ride the chicken buses.)

One bus company that I love and use regularly which I also find reasonable is ADO, http://www.ado.mx They basically control the market in Oaxaca, Chiapas, and I am guessing the rest of Mexico. You can check schedules online and if you’re lucky, buy a ticket online if their system is working (this rarely works for me). I LOVE the Platino service which is like riding business class on a plane, wellll, maybe not EXACTLY like that  but for a bus, pretty darn good:  personal video, cushy reclining seats, etc. The GL service is also very comfortable. Cost isn’t bad either. I can take a bus RT to Mexico City from Oaxaca for about $90.

As for safety (everyone’s concern) all I can say is that I have never had a problem, ever. This may seem like a commercial for this bus company but seriously,  I have ridden the bus (different first class companies) during times of strife, even all night buses by myself during times of strife and believe me, the bus doesn’t leave the station if it’s not safe on the road…That has been my experience…

I regularly take the night bus to and from Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas, and for those of you wanting to visit both cities, it is perfect. The bus leaves around 8:30 in the evening and arrives around 8 am, either way.

Something that I find wonderfully unique about the bus experience in Mexico compared to the States is that is on long trips when two drivers are required, one crawls into a little cubby under the bus next to the luggage and sleeps while the other drives. The drivers switch every 4 hours or so. When you wake up at your destination, they are there, in their suits, wishing you good travels…

Recommendations? Buy your ticket ahead of time for better seat choices (trust me, it will matter when you are at the back of the bus for hours of curvy roads and smelly toilets), dramamine, sleeping aids if it’s a long trip, long pants and a fleece jacket as they are always over air conditioned, and ear plugs/buds.(If you are on the economy first class buses, movies (often gory ones) are played constantly over the sound system so there is no escape.)

Down side? At the end of the day, it’s still THE BUS.

Do you have stories about buses in Mexico? I’d love to share them with our readers! Please comment or post on my FB page http://on.fb.me/kgQvzE

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Filed under Bus travel in Mexico, Mexican Holidays, Mexico, Oaxaca, San Cristobal de Las Casas, travel/shopping in Mexico, WBTW

A Best Kept Secret

The local hills surrounding Oaxaca city.

Preparing for my upcoming 6 week trip to Oaxaca takes no time at all compared to the amount of time I spend explaining the weather there. Yes, that’s right, the weather. When I mention to friends that I will be spending a healthy chunk of summer in Southern Mexico, they almost invariably gasp and stare at me incredulously… “How could you spend summer THERE? it must be blistering hot!”  Well, I will let you in on

Many varieties of orchids thrive all over Oaxaca state.

a little secret: summer is one of the best times to travel to Oaxaca. The inland area has pretty much the most perfect climate I have ever experienced with year ’round temps ranging  from  45  to 90 degrees and very low humidity (see: http://www.oaxacalive.com/weather.htm for more info.).

So, instead of staying in Oregon where it is hot, dry  and windy (Hood River), I love to travel to Oaxaca where everything is green, green, green,  flowers bloom in the fields and on road sides, and the short, sometimes daily, and often fierce, rain storms clean the air and wash the dust away (until the mud that flows onto the roads dries and turns to dust, that is). That leaky roof that hasn’t “needed” to be repaired for the last 7 months will have to wait until the dry season, the dying of fabric grinds to a halt because nothing dries when it is raining, and  the ladies will get lots of embroidery done indoors.

If you haven’t ever thought about Southern Mexico in summer, you should, but bring an umbrella, just in case.

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Filed under Living in Mexico, Mexican Holidays, Oaxaca, travel/shopping in Mexico, WBTW, weather in Oaxaca and Chiapas

Top Ten Favorites about Oaxaca, part two!

A five foot high ceramic figure at the home of one of the Blanco sisters daughters.

Let’s see, we have five favorites so far, including my favorite parking garage and some good places to drink and read. Here are a few more which might tweak your interest!

6. Ruins. We all know about the Monte Alban ruins, which are amazing, and those of Mitla and Yagul, but the latest (and very convenient) discovery is just across the hill from Monte Alban and not well known yet. If you would like to see ruins in the process of “recovery”, that is to say, excavated and then in the process of preservation through reconstruction, you can go to the ruins above the village of Santa Maria Atzompa (toward the town of Etla from Oaxaca) and walk amidst a reasonably large site that has VERY few visitors and “restoration” in process.

7. And, after visiting the ruins above, the town below is not to be missed for the ceramics. The village of Santa Maria Atzompa hosts some of the greatest diversity of styles of any of the ceramic villages in  the state of Oaxaca. Ask around for the homes of Angelica Vasquez Cruz, artisan of the year for Mexico, 2009, Dolores Porras, an icon in Mexican ceramics, the Blanco family, and then of course, there is the local cooperative ceramic market where you can take a break for a comfortable lunch.

8. Good Bread! The only place in Oaxaca for good, European style bread is at Pan & Co. Their main location is in Colonia Reforma but the most convenient place in Centro is on Garcia Vigil and the street that intersects the entrance to Santo Domingo Church. It is right on the corner and they have great fresh yogurt as well as pastries. Too bad they “redesigned” their store, as it now looks like a trendy coffee place…

9. Museo Belber Jimenez, on the corner of Tinoco and Palacios, downtown Oaxaca. This museum/store is a wonderful mix of the rare and the exceptional,  much of it  for sale! You will find samples of William Spratling silver, rare textiles, and who knows what else, but I guarantee the quality will be fabulous!

10. Molinos! These traditional “grinding” stores host rows of traditional electric or hand grinders where they pulverize everything from cacao beans to make the famous Oaxacan chocolate to combinations of chiles for making molé and other fabulous Oaxacan dishes. I once walked by one of these places when they were grinding chilies and the small amount of chili “essence” in the air almost brought me to my knees with the intensity of the “heat” in the air! You can find a number of these places (Mayordomo is the main chocolate purveyor in Oaxaca)  one street off the Zocalo toward the Benito Juarez market.) Don’t forget to sample the chocolate!

Clearly, these are just a sampling of my favorites. I hope you don’t mind if I continue to indulge myself with another installment soon!

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Filed under Living in Mexico, Mexican Holidays, Mexico, Oaxaca, Santa Maria Atzompa, travel/shopping in Mexico, WBTW

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca and Chiapas

“Dia de los Muertos” as Day of the Dead is known in Oaxaca, is a celebration not to be missed that lasts anywhere from 2 weeks to months, depending upon one’s perspective.

For those of us who come to observe, the 31st of October, and most importantly, the 1st and 2nd of November are the days not to be missed at the cemeteries and the zocalos where activities surrounding this most important holiday always abound. BUT, if you come in the days and even weeks before then, you will see markets brimming with the sugar cane, flowers, bread, calaberas (sugar skulls), and other adornments used in the construction of the home altars everyone constructs, be they rich or poor.

Even in our small pueblo of San Pablo Etla, we have local bands that criss cross the hilly dirt roads followed by a costumed and very animated dancing troupe  assembled from the youth of the village. They gather for the “comparsa” which is a traditional musical parade followed by a small play acting out battles with the devil which involves lovers, elders and various other masked characters. There is beer, dancing, live turkeys and general enthusiasm all around.

The women in these pueblos busily embroider for months ahead of Dia de los Muertos to earn the money they need to buy the mole, fruit, flowers, and special treats enjoyed in life by their departed family members. They assemble these items on their altars to entice these spirits to come back for a night to drink, eat and enjoy their worldly indulgences.

For me, it is an amazing experience to observe all this but even more, I enjoy visiting with the ladies, who come down from their mountain villages to deliver the most amazing embroidered blouses you can imagine!

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Filed under Day of the Dead, Living in Mexico, Mexican Holidays, Mexico, Oaxaca, San Pablo Etla, travel/shopping in Mexico, WBTW

Eugenia and Inspiration

Eugenia and some of her flowers.

The Christmas holidays are officially over today with the return to classes. It has been a wonderful, magical time filled with all the color and light that Oaxaca is so famous for. But with all of this, it has also been bittersweet.

Some of Eugenia's and Moises's work from corn husks, 100% natural colors.

There are children here who continue to go hungry, who don’t know the magic of Christmas that my child knows, and people who struggle every day in hopes of creating a better life for their children.

Yesterday I was at the home of a family who makes spectacular art work out of corn husks. Their story is familiar: a family with four young children, the father leaves for the States to find work and never returns, abandoning the family and leaving the mother with the responsibility of raising these children herself.

This family has very little that is obvious on any material level. As Eugenia looks around their austere home, she explains that they have nothing, not even a comfortable chair to sit in because all the money she earns making her corn husk creations goes to feeding her children and putting them through school.

Her oldest daughter has just graduated from medical school and is now doing her year of service as a doctor in the remote pueblos before she receives her title in the spring. She has two other sons in high school and one other who has graduated and is an artist in his own right, making earrings, figurines and flowers with his mother.

It is women like these, who despite their hardships have managed to create an example for their children of hard work, dedication, and determination in creating a better life for themselves and their children.

In my business I have met so many inspiring women like Eugenia who have faced tremendous obstacles in their lives, who have somehow managed to thrive despite the odds and go on to create beauty in the world and in their children. It is indeed a privilege for me to know these women and to support them in their enterprises.

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Filed under Corn Husk Flowers, Mexican Holidays, Oaxaca, Uncategorized, Women Artisans