Fiber Arts of the Oaxacan Highlands February 21 - March 2, 2010
The Ancient Realm of the Oaxacan Cloud People
The silk village of San Miguel Cajones in the Oaxacan highlands
Zapotec, Mixtec and Trique indigenous fiber arts
Silk cultivation, spinning and weaving
Wool spinning and tapestry weaving
Master cochineal and indigo dyeing
Cane and palm basketry
Remote colonial churches and convents
A village of 5,000 weavers, the place where the best natural red dye on earth was first cultivated, remote pueblos where a 500-year-old Spanishsilk tradition still carries on, high sierras, deep valleys, lost colonial churches, Zapotec pyramids, indigenous markets and one of the most gorgeous colonial cities in Mexico. Our 9-night journey through the Oaxacan highlands is a spectacular adventure into an ancient world of textiles and beauty. From Mexico’s most famous wool tapestry weaving village, Teotitlan del Valle to a bustling rural market to a remote mountain village where silk is cultivated, spun and woven, to a far off town of backstrap weavers who all dress in bright red huipiles or gowns, this is a tour that looks at Oaxaca’s most legendary wonders and goes far beyond, into the little known reaches of the misty Zapotec Sierra and the land of the Cloud People in the Mixtec uplands.
This trip is built around weaving, dyeing and spinning, arts that have been continuously practiced in Oaxaca for thousands of years. But more, it is about stepping into a different culture, it is about people meeting people through the bridge of common interests. Our interest in textiles opens doors that might otherwise remain closed; it gives us a reason to travel deep into an unknown and exotic land, and come away feeling less like strangers than friends.
remote villages of artisans, and locations of other natural and cultural
wonders, in Oaxaca state in southern Mexico.
Feb. 21 - Mar. 2, 2010
Ten days, nine nights
Trip Price of $1,980 includes all lodging (double occupancy), most meals, all local transport, entry fees, small group travel-6-10 passengers, two guides. Single supplement $300
Day 1, (D) Arrival. Today we will have our first meeting at 6:00 p.m. for an orientation and a Oaxacan dinner.
Day 2, (BL) Oaxaca city is nearly 500 years old and one of Mexico’s finest colonial cities. It is out our front door this morning and we’ll spend the day exploring it. Of course we’ll pay particular attention to threaded things as we wander with a stop at the new national Textile Museum with its rotating collection of Oaxacan and Mexican and international textiles, as well as with a visit to Los Baules de Juana Cata, our favorite textile store in the country that focuses specifically on Oaxacan indigenous weavings. Evening in Oaxaca.
crabapple dessert is prepared for a feast at the Gonzalez home in Teotitlan.
Day 3, (BLD) We move our base camp today to the Zapotec mega weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle where on any given day several thousand weavers are hard at work creating tapestries on 15th century style Spanish floor looms. The creations are nothing short of fabulous. We will be based out of this village for three nights, staying in the homey hotel of Demetrio Bautista, one of the village’s primier natural dyers. Our day will begin with him and a demonstration of dyeing with cochineal and plant materials. We’ll then head deeper into the village to meet weavers who work on looms 15 feet wide, create tapestries commissioned by contemporary artists and have a tasty Zapotec lunch with home made tortillas (and we’ll encourage you to try your hand at making some tortillas…if for nothing else, then to entertain our hosts). Evening in Teotitlan.
Hand-grinding on stone releases the red cochineal dye
Day 4, (BLD) Into the Sierra! Leaving the Oaxaca valley we travel into the 9,000 foot high Sierra Madre and through the pine, oak and agave forests to the ridge-top Zapotec village of San Miguel Cajonos where we’ll meet a collective of silk cultivators, spinners and dyers. In 1530 silk was king in Southern Mexico, but the boom died out by 1600 and today there are only two remote regions where silk is still cultivated. This is one of them. We’ll learn the story and see how these artisans work with this fine thread. There will be an opportunity to purchase gorgeous, hand spun silk shawls. But be prepared; a tremendous amount of work goes into creating these shawls and they are not cheap! In the afternoon we’ll return to Oaxaca valley and our lodge. Evening in Teotitlan.
Master weaver Otilia creating a silk shawl
Day 5, (BL) This morning our travels begin with a stop in the old hacienda village of Xaaga with it’s wide streets and cactus fences. We’ll visit a home workshop weaving table cloths, beadspreads and yardage on rickety but effective flying shuttle looms. Clackity clackity clackity…Then we travel a zig zagging dirt road up a mountain side to the little hill town of Roaguia, locally very famous for the mineral springs named Hierve el Agua with their “frozen” water falls. We’ll take a good long gander at this natural wonder. But what we really came here to see is a family of basket weavers who take the local high country palm and plait it into baskets and mats. They’ll even prepare us a simple and tasty peasant’s lunch of Oaxacan beans, home grown tortillas, avocados and farmer’s cheese. Evening in Teotitlan.
sleeping mat (petate) of palm leaves in the village of San Lorenzo.
Day 6, (BL) Once again we pack our traveling bags, bidding Teotitlan adios and heading toward the horizon. We’ll stop and visit a man who creates baskets, large and small, from carrizo, an abundant bamboo-like grass that grows throughout the Oaxaca valley. Then to a foothill village where a local villager-run cottage industry creates a fine assortment of hand made papers and paper products, including paper jewelry. We continue, leaving the Oaxaca valley and the Zapotec lands and climbing into the high and very bumpy plateau that is the land of the Mixtec people. During our journey we’ll stop to stretch our legs and explore an immense, crumbling fortress monastery before arriving at our destination of Tlaxiaco. This important regional town is the hub of all that’s happening in this neck of the woods, and we’ll be at the center of it with our plaza side hotel. Evening in Tlaxiaco.
Day 7, (LD) We travel to the land of the Trique Indians this morning. The Trique wear some of the most lovely clothing in Oaxaca in the form of their laboriously woven and brocaded, full length huipiles, or gowns. Here we will visit with weavers and see why it takes months to make one of these huipiles. This is one of the last regions in Oaxaca where almost all the women still dress traditionally. Then on to the small, hillside village of Cuquila which dates back over 1,500 years. Above the town are still to be found the stone temples and foundations of the old city. For those (like ourselves) not up to the steep hike to see the ruins, several dedicated villagers have put together a small community museum to showcase some of the finds from the ruins as well as to highlight the weaving tradition of the village- which is what brings us here in the first place. Our host, Emiliano Melchor, is the muscle and inspiration behind the museum project. With him we will enjoy a country lunch made from home grown corn and beans and learn how his family spins wool into fine thread and weaves with backstrap looms. Returning to Tlaxiaco we will find the town rather busy. It is Friday evening, which means tomorrow is market day, the biggest market for many, many miles around happens right here, and through the night the vendors will be moving in their stalls. Evening in Tlaxiaco.
spindle, silk cocoons, and hand-spun silk
Day 8, (BL) As we sleep the town square outside of our hotel will finish metamorphosing into a market. The first rays of sunlight will find, at our front door, a busy market filling fast with people from the far corners of the Mixtec highlands. You have the morning free to explore the market and soak in all the texture and aroma of this ancient and essential weekly custom. Then we load up once again and continue our journey, returning now to Oaxaca, with a stop enroute, to visit the enormous and ancient cathedral of Yanhuitlan, sitting in the middle of a miniscule village. Why is it there? You’ll have to come along to find out. In the afternoon we arrive in Oaxaca where we’ll set you free to run wild or put your feet up for a well deserved rest. Evening in Oaxaca.
Day 9, (BD) Today we take it slow, catching our breath, soaking up beautiful Oaxaca city, doing last minute shopping or sight seeing. The morning is open. We will meet for lunch and visit with an organization in town that is working to rescue the weaving tradition of a remote group of women weavers in the Mixteca. We will learn about what they are doing and see the weavers’ work. We’ll also visit the fabulous Regional Museum…where there are almost no textiles at all…we’ll give our eyes a rest from threads and look at 1,000 year old pots, intricate Mixtec gold jewelry and Spanish swords all housed in one of the most beautiful colonial structures in Mexico. Then it is time to thread up nicely for our final dinner and farewells. Evening in Oaxaca.
Day 10, Arrange to leave any time today. There is abundant taxi service to the Oaxaca airport, about 25 minutes from our hotel.