Return Home

We returned home, yesterday, May 4 (2019). Our final weeks were spent with friends and I chose not to blog. We had a fabulous, awesome, sunshiny time and I’ll post a few random shots….ocean, spa, gardens, waterfalls, hiking, music, food.

And now….we WAIT for the Manitoba weather to warm! Surely it will happen soon! Wanted my readers to know we’re safe and we’re home. Hope to see you. Cheers!

Final reflections in Oaxaca

And…a few final reflections in Oaxaca.

Tomorrow is Sunday. Sundays are family days in Oaxaca. It will be our last day here. Lots of businesses will be closed. Streets will be quieter with less traffic.

Of the 31 nights that we stayed here, we pulled a blanket over our bedsheet on 3 nights. Now in early April, I throw off the bedsheet. It’s warm, but when the sun sets, and when there’s a breeze and our two screen doors are open wide, along with overhead fans on high, we remain comfortable…warm but pleasant. There is virtually no humidity so we feel clean and unsweaty all evening long.

Only a few times in the last week of our stay, we heard roosters crowing (right in the city).

Yesterday, we sat on a park bench and noticed a man standing next to us who stood as long as we sat. He was not going anywhere, not doing anything, not moving along. At home, it would be odd to stand in one spot near the street, not crossing it or doing something, whereas here it isn’t. Since we rarely have an agenda, it’s ever so easy to slow-down. Keeping calm and having a lot of patience comes easy. Being spontaneous, in the moment, not thinking or planning ahead, and feeling free to let things happen is our norm. Having an ever-present curiousity of what’s going on around us is very normal too.

There’s a real mix of old and new. It’s trendy now to reuse but here they have surely always fixed everything rather than replace it. This reminds me of my mom…recovering lawn chair frames, cutting up old clothing for rags or blankets, etc. In the modern world, there’s more awareness about conserving water and here it’s always been a way of life.

I feel mostly comfortable being an observer rather than a participant in these foreign lands.

I keep growing a deeper appreciation for what I have.

It’s been fun blogging because it makes me recall and reflect on my experiences.

On Monday, April 8th, we’ll be flying to Mexico City, and then we’ll take it from there. Travelling without a pre-set itinerary continues to work for us.

Cheers!

Mezcal “tour”

Fortunately, neither of us has had a cold or illness while in Oaxaca, but if we would have, I would have considered using Mezcal as a helpful remedy. Or so they say! This is weeks ago now, but I forgot to post the Mezcal portion of a tour we took.Agave fields grow year-round. Irrigation comes from wells but most fields have to wait for the rainy season for natural irrigation. There are also many small archeological sites all around the region where the agave plants are growing.

Wild agave takes from 10-25 years to mature.

Cultivated agave takes from 9-10 years to mature.

They use only the center of the agave plant to make Mezcal; the center is called the piña (same word as pineapple).

They cut of the leaves and use them for fibre for making other things.

From the flower, they take the seeds and plant them, and later transplant them.

The Pre-hispanics knew this process of making Mezcal using a clay pot.

They create a cone-shaped oven with volcanic rocks that is 3 meters deep. They make a wood fire at the bottom of the cone and heat up the volcanic rocks for 5 hours. When the rocks are hot, the put the cut pinas on top of the red hot rocks and bury them with tarps and soil, leaving them to cook for 4-5 days. The agave is converted to sugar in the oven. You can see the pinas laying in a heap at the back wall. Factories buy agave plants from growers.

Then the agaves are removed and a horse pulls the wheel, smashing the cooked agave. In some towns a horse and mill are not used, and this smashing is all done by hand.

The fibres and pulp is put into barrels and water is added. It is left to ferment for 4-5 days or depending on the weather. It could even take until 20 days in the colder season. The fibre floats to the top and the water goes down and it looks like it’s bubbling!

Once fermented, it’s distilled in a copper pot (front of photo, hard to see). Some towns use clay pots instead of copper distilleries. The alcohol is boiled off, and it condenses. The 1st distillation comes out at 40% alcohol and it is poisonous and not drinkable. In the second distillation, the first 4-5 litres have 90% alcohol and that gradually drops down to 30-40%.

The wild and cultivated agaves all go through exactly the same process. They make blends too. Raw chicken or turkey breast is wrapped and put in the copper pot, or apple, watermelon, pineapple, and banana.

We found the mezcal’s smoky flavour to be very prominent. The various Mezcals we tried were very distinctly different from one another so that it was easy to determine which flavours we preferred. We both much preferred the Mezcal made from wild agave rather than cultivated agave. There you have it!

Tequila is more industrialized and the agave plants used to make Tequila takes just 3 years to mature. Mezcal is more artisanal. Wild agave mezcal is never aged in oak barrels – you don’t wait 20 years for plants to mature and then place it in a barrel.

INFO FROM THE INTERNET:

Oaxaca is world-renown for its deliciously intoxicating mezcal.

-typically drunk straight and at room temperature

-sipped rather than shot

-to use salt & lime would be an insult

-sometimes served with sour orange slices and sal de gusano (a powder mixture of salt, spices, and ground up worms that is actually much more palatable than it sounds)

Mezcal is similar to tequila in that it is made from an agave plant but mezcal is more complex, both in terms of taste and production. Many different types of agave are used for mezcal, whereas tequila is actually a type of mezcal that only uses blue agave. Additionally, mezcal’s underground roasting process gives it a unique smoky flavor.

45 minutes outside of Oaxaca city to the village of Matatlan is where many of Mexico’s famed mezcal distilleries are located. Complimentary tours and plentiful tastings of both mezcal and crema de mezcals are offered. Often, tours that go to Mitla and/or Hierve de Agua will also stop at one of the Matatlan mezcal distilleries which is what we did.

Central de Abastos market with Paulina

Sure we’ve seen a ton of markets, but when Paulina invited us to join her, driven by Julian, we were keen to go (for a few hours) and curious to see the largest market between Mexico City and Guatemala City….Central de Abastos. It spans about 10 city blocks! Hundreds of merchants, trucks and narrow walk ways with no design or order that could be known to anyone who’s new to it. Tarp upon tarp upon tarp, hung above us, to create the shade wanted by vendors and shoppers alike. Everything is gathered together in “neighbourhoods”, so that if you’re looking for a bouquet of wild roses, you’ll also find the elaborate arrangements for limousines, caskets, and cathedrals.

We walked with Pauline who knew where to find the artisanias, the shoes, the bread, the chocolate (above).

The herbs….my most favorite cilantro, heaped with roots still attached.

The fruits and vegetables coming all the way from Puebla in truckloads were found in a different “neighbourhood”.And those travelling to Oaxaca from the coast were selling produce such as salt-dried fish, coconuts, pineapples, and banana leaves (above).I’ve never before seen so many bushel-size baskets of chiles.

In the vast “neighbourhoods” stocked with fruits, the scent was most delicious! Paulina helped us identify foods unknown to us, like the potato who married an apple, jimajika.When we passed the buckets piled high with nopal leaves (prickly-pear cactus) Paulina made a mental note that we had not eaten them and within an hour of returning to our Airbnb, she had cooked a batch of Npal soup with shrimp and eggs and delivered it steaming to our door, for lunch!She also purchased the sweet bread spiced with anise and promised to prepare it with chocolate for breakfast tomorrow morning.When I saw these, I said to Paulina, “I’ve heard about the night of the radishes” celebrated in Oaxaca on Dec. 24th. She informed me that they grow smaller special radishes for that night only. I didn’t know!I’ve really enjoyed eating blossoms and think this display is very pretty!Others are displayed less prettily, but all are tasty!They clearly favor the squash blossoms in their cousine, but the squash itself is also sold (above).Chilacayota is used for preparing flavored water. Paulina made a pitcher of this for us too (with pineapple and lemon rind).I didn’t photo all the meats available, but snapped a few of the live animals for sale. These turkey’s legs are tied up so they were very content with their food before them.We saw a lot of turkey eggs for sale throughout the market too.Paulina said a woman such as this woman would keep birds inside her house and the eggs she is selling are eggs from this bird that I don’t have a name for (not chicken, turkey or quail).There are prepared foods to buy too including many restaurants.Cooking in the market is done on these small grills using charcoal.Toasting corn on such a grill, over charcoal.With the labor-intensiveness of mole, it makes sense that one can buy it ready-made!So many honey bees had come along with the honey to the market! There were bees inside the honey jars and bags and many swarming around us!This is the “neighbourhood” in which we purchased a pottery basket for Paulina. I also purchased a natural colored 100% cotton loom-woven table cloth, because Paulina had a dear friend in the market who offered my a special price. Now I have to carry it, but oh well, I’ll find a way!

So yeah…..we’ve seen a ton of markets, but they’re so colourful and real, and it wasn’t dirty or disgusting or smelly at all, just plain interesting to browse around! Not to mention the prices….this is a WHOLE-SALE market and the low prices are almost unbelievable!! We purchased oranges and mangoes, the items we can handle in bulk! 🙂 The local bus, Ruta 20, was quick and easy to catch and a relaxing way of seeing more of the city, back to La Scala and Xochimilco where we lived. Back at home, when we opened our packages (most of which Harold had been carrying for us), Paulina was so surprised that we had purchased the green pottery basket for her and Julian as a gift!

(Purchased gift not photoed, but similar to the sand coloured bowl with terracotta relief on top, with a handle). She clearly loved it when we came upon it in the market and we certainly didn’t “take it away from her” when we purchased it; we thought she had understood we were purchasing it FOR HER, but only when we returned home did she understand. She was clearly surprised and grateful for it.

Visiting the market with Paulina made it a really fun morning!

(P.S. And there was SO much more to see than I have photoed or posted …..of course!)

The generosity of our hosts, yummy dishes, and daily wandering

First and fore-most, we have especially enjoyed Oaxaca because of our wonderful hosts. They spoil us! This morning Paulina was at our door bringing steaming cups of hot chocolate which is traditionally eaten with sweet anise flavored bread. On the same day, in mid-day, she came with a pitcher of iced tamarind water, just prepared. Yesterday, it was two bowls of nopal (prnkly pear cactus) soup made with shrimp, tomatoes and an egg dropped in. All delcious! And so kind of her. Today, in return, I brought her four blouses, two towels, repellent, unopened cough syrup, unread spanish books, etc. which I don’t want to take with me as we depart (in a few days from now)!

Always, our table is graced with fresh flowers compliments of Paulina. Currently I have both greenhouse roses from the Pueblos and wild roses. We have relaxed a lot, in Oaxaca’s parks.

And attended to our personal needs. Harold getting a haircut. Dapper-looking if you ask me.

And we’ve sampled and tasted yummy eats in many restaurants. A complimentary appetizer of “fish something” spooned onto crunchy tortillas along with pickled onions and spicy salsas. A dessert somewhat like French toast served with fruit and fruit syrup.

A simple lunch of quesadillas, filled with squash blossoms and herbs, also called empanadas, in the very old neighbourhood of Jalatlaco.

And we returned to a favorite restaurant called Los Danzantes. Banana butter for the banana bread, and spicy salsas for the blue corn tortillas.

A bowl-shaped mound of rice and shredded chicken with red mole and platano on the far side. Harold had lasagne made with mushrooms picked in the North Sierra mountains. We couldn’t resist sharing a dessert we already knew from our former visit….goat milk flan, figs, honey, chocolate.

This evening, they closed the roof, although there’s no rain in this dry season, and it’s beautifully warm at night. On our way home, it was very odd to see this number of street dogs. They are not so common here, however, they all seem to have found each other.

Our days in Oaxaca are coming to an end soon.

Day of the dead

It seemed bizarre to see so many skeletons and Day of the Dead symbols on city walls. So finally, I inquired about it and learned a lot! These wall paintings are neither strange, gruesome, or spooky to the locals. The Day of the Dead is anything but dead, celebrated from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 or longer. A time to reminisce, laugh, joke, dance, and hold parades. Food stands are set up, bands play, etc. To Oaxacans, celebrating death is just like celebrating life – they are part of the same cycle. A day when the souls and spirits of loved ones return home to their the families. Now wouldn’t that be wonderful?!?! People hold vigils in the cemeteries. They are proud of their decorated gravesides. Children and soldiers return first. The ending of life is not final to them. People don’t have to wait until they die too, to be reunited with their loved ones. Theorists think the day of the dead tradition aided the Catholic priests in converting the indigenous. Jesus rising from the dead was believable to them because all their relatives returned each year. That makes sense! Marigolds are the flower of the dead and they are brought in by the truckloads, strewn and heaped everywhere, we are told. It is thought that the smell of the marigolds guides the souls homeward. In some villages families leave a trail of marigolds from the grave to their home! Altars are made and copal wood incense is burned; this too guides the loved ones home. Apparently the vigils in the villages are particularly interesting to observe.

After hearing this explanation, it changed the way I viewed the skeletons in comical mocking costumes that are worn on tee-shirts, as ear rings and painted on walls. I’ve gained some understanding of the Oxacans who scoff and laugh at skulls and skeletons, and at death itself. I’m into health and wondering if this might be a healthy attitude toward death; embrace it light-heartedly rather than fear it. Still, I think the best idea is to “die young as late as possible!” (quote by Ashley Montagu)

Birthday Party

The owner of our Airbnb, Julian, celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday. It was a Monday afternoon. We were told the “eating hour of the day” is 2:00 and that we should arrive at 2. Of course, we’ve heard it a million times….we all know there is Mexican time and our time, yet we forgot, and so we arrived punctually! And sure enough, the party started more than a full hour later than we had expected. They had a large turn-out of about 75 guests and seemed super pleased that we had come. They love a big gathering! At the party, someone asked me my age, which is not uncommon here, and they referred to us as gringos, which is also not uncommon. When they asked how many children we have, they seemed perplexed and incredulous when we said we don’t have any! I always quickly follow it with saying I love children and worked with them for nearly 30 years in my career as a teacher. That seems to help, a bit!

This clay pot holds 20 gallons! It was filled with a drink made of rice, almonds, melon, pecans, and sugar. Ice was continually added. Delicious! Paulina and Julian were outstanding hosts! Cross ages! Such close families! Nieces and nephews repeatedly hugging and showing affection to their uncle Julian on his 70th birthday!The birthday boy! These guys played and sang all afternoon (a 3 hour set). The others knew all the words and there was plenty of singing along.

Lunch was rice, black beans, chile relleno (hot chile pepper stuffed with chicken and veggies), pork, and tortillas. Served in their garage attached to the house, with tarp for shade from the sun. Our place is up the stairs! Harold and I brought guacamole and tortilla chips served on small plates and nuts (served as appetizers) and a bowl of tiny chocolate hearts which were passed around after lunch. Perfect accompaniments that were appreciated again and again. The musicians stopping for some lunch. As usual here in Mexico, I observed lots of touching and togetherness – a kiss on each cheek, Paulina rubbing the musician’s shoulders and back repeatedly. They really respect the old people!

They continued to party much longer after we left too. Family stays together for a long day here!! They give everyone a hug when parting, but we chose to slip out, Canadian style. It was a lot of fun meeting new people and participating in the Mexican way!

Day to day living

Sunday morning….need a walk and fresh fruit.Excellent marimba players at the market. They willingly allowed me to try, so I played La Cucaracha, which they immediately repeated as a duet when I handed back the mallets. We know all the vendor owners and they know us. I’m SO happy that it’s mango season. Surprising to myself, prefer the small yellow ones! I have made up my own personal expression: “A day without a mango is a day without sunshine.” Or versions thereof….A day without a mango is a day without joy. Fresh Oaxacan coffee beans for Harold. In the southern states of Mexico, a large %age of the world’s organic coffee is grown (they don’t use fertilizer or weed killers). Next to it, an ancient grain grown by the Aztecs has made a comeback here too, and amaranth bars are sold everywhere on the streets. Fresh cheese…I unroll it at home and slice it finely, placing it in the freezer, since we don’t use it quickly enough, and I don’t particularly like the flavour when it matures.

I sampled tamarind and chapulines ice-cream. It was EXCELLENT! Chapulines = grasshoppers!

Rock and roll band playing at this fountain where we’re seated on the back side. All the benches are filled on this Sunday night at the Zócalo.

Street artist drawing a crowd. Ending the evening at La Mezcalerita where we have an artisanal beer instead of Mezcal.

Another Saturday night

After a full day of touring around the villages, we still had plenty of energy for a walk to the Santo Domingo plaza. Street life is so vibrant and colorful here!

Weekdays and weekends alike, there always seems to be a fiesta for a saint or virgins or a family celebration. Fireworks firing off in all directions, bands playing…..centred about a church and the streets near the church.

You can’t miss seeing them, they’re so tall! Each time we encounter the wedding dolls walking the street, they’re wearing a different outfit, and it’s always fun to cross their path.

Globos – gigantic balls made of bamboo covered with thin tissue paper lead the way in parades. Fastened to rods, they are carried like lollipops. Their purpose is to announce in large letters, the name of groups of marchers they represent. Los monos are interspersed among the marchers. These more than 10 feet tall dolls are dressed in over-sized clothing. They dance and twirl to the band’s music and they are fun to watch! Some are caricatures of the bride and groom but others are just imaginative. Here the big balloons name the wedding couple that’s being celebrated

Corn on the cob placed on a stick and served with toppings is by far the most popular street food in Oaxaca! That’s my own conclusion, but I’m certain I’m right about it. I wish the corn boiling on the street corners was the sweet corn served with butter we have at home!

Corn is the world’s most widely grown food, is it not? No other food crop produces as much food per unit of land, isn’t that right?The Oaxaca Valley is the “cradle of corn” where corn was invented perhaps as long as 10,000 years ago!! The evidence is based on excavations of rock shelters and caves. A small grassy weed with tassels and stone-hard pods of tiny kernels was transformed through a ton of work into maize. The Zapotecs and Mixtecs claim there are more than 150 varieties of native corn (criollo) in Southern Mexico. So much diversity in the native corn!! I’m pretty sure they hope to remain GMO free. The wedding celebrations continue, including a guy on stilts. He is balancing on ten-foot high poles, and twirling around! I couldn’t take my eyes off him, watching his every step, somewhat fearful that he’d come falling down on top of me! We didn’t see the elaborately costumed, intricate and choreographed groups of people on stilts that I have read about! That would have been spectacular!

A quick peek inside…wedding ceremony in session. The “party” outside of the church is waiting for the couple to exit. It’s growing darker, and the guy on stilts is still managing his walk-about with the occasional twirl. It looks so tough to do! There’s going to be some explosive fire crackers eventually! Each tripod is loaded with them. Firecrackers waiting to be lit. Guessing this is THE second-most popular street food in Oaxaca….Oaxacan style ice-cream made of shaved ice. Dinner at La Biznaga….the first time we have returned to a restaurant; returned for their tortilla soup. I’m rarely interested in eating three meals a day but I try to accommodate Harold and go for a little something. Just another Saturday night in Oaxaca. 🙂

Fundacion En Via…..responsible tourism making a difference!

The En Via Office.

We heard about “responsible tourism” tours and found their office not far from our Airbnb. We decided a book a full-day tour with them with the following agenda:

San Miguel de Valle – A village 37 km from Oaxaca – population 2,800

1. Woman making chocolate & mole

2. Woman making machine-embroidered aprons

3. Woman running a restaurant – have lunch there

Teotitlan del Valle – Largest village 30 minutes from Oaxaca – population 6,000

4. Stop at the local church to use the bathrooms

5. Woman weaving handbags (sister to the woman we see next)

6. Sister (to the woman we just saw) and their mother weaving rugs on large looms

We learned first-hand about this foundation from the volunteer, Suzanne, who was our guide for the day. While Norman, our driver, was driving us to the villages, Suzanne told us about how our “tour fees” are supporting women in this area. The process of how the women get and payback their loans was of most interest to me. So I am recording the details in my own words (as I learned it from Suzanne) even though they have an excellent website (which I haven’t perused).

The En Via Foundation:

En Via was started by two men in 2008 (by Carlos and __) and it was founded in 2010. Presently Carlos and Viviana are at the head of the organization.

The MISSION of En Via: Fight poverty & empower women giving them skills and tools. There are three programs: a) microfinance b) education c) responsible tourism.

They have five paid staff as well as volunteer staff. Sometimes college students or others from abroad get grants and are working for En Via, teaching college students, etc.

En Via is working in 6 different villages around Oaxaca. Oaxaca is the poorest state in all of Mexico.

There are 250 women in the program now.

3400 loans have been given out.

En Via is not interested in expanding but rather they want to do what they do and aim to do it better! They are, however, willing to serve as a model.

I learned what Microfinance is:

Mirror-finance is available all around the world. Microfinance are financial tools provided on a very small scale. It’s for women in poverty who have ideas of what they would like to do but they don’t have the means or the tools. It’s for the women because women are always more likely to spend the profits of their business on their families. Many of these companies are often for profit and will provide loans with 30% interest for even as high as 70%-200%. One other company in this region (KIVA) is offering loans at 76%. The reason the interest rates are so high at 30% or more is because the people receiving the loans have no bank accounts, no credit history, and there’s no info on the people who are lending the money. They are accustomed to paying their bills in cash, and therefore the payback loans have to be collected in cash. This means that Administration is labor intensive.

En Via is a non-profit organization and have 0% interest on their loans.

Women have always worked. Many of them were working at their weaving, for example, before they had the support from En Via too. But they can contribute differently with the loans than without them (more power).

The PROCESS of getting a loan, and paybacks:

There is no advertising. It is only through word of mouth. A mother tells her sister, who tells her aunt and also her niece, who tell their cousins who tell their daughters and their grandmother. The largest community En Via works in has 6000 people and the smaller ones are perhaps 2800, so everyone knows everyone.

En Via holds a weekly meeting in each community. If someone is interested in getting a loan, they attend that weekly meeting and speak to the organizer.

There are two things a woman must do to qualify for a loan:

1. She must find two other women to join her. Each of the three woman will receive their own loan, but loans are only given out to a group of 3. The 3 women hold each other accountable for the payback and they support each other. Sometimes the 3 who start-up together stay together and sometimes they change.

2. The other thing they must do is attend 10 business classes in their own community, offered by En Via (before they can receive their first loan). It’s not just a “hand-out” and “Good-Luck!”

The first loan women receive is $1500 pesos ($100 Cdn roughly) each. Payback of that loan is expected in 10 or 15 weeks (non-optional!) After that, they decide if they want a second loan. The second loan goes up to $2500 pesos ($175 Cdn). The three women can determine their payback schedule for the second loan. When women pay back their loans, all three women must pay back their loans on the same day. That pay-back money goes back into the programs. En Via goes to each village to collect the payments.

If one of the women can’t make their payback, or doesn’t show up (she’s forgotten, she or her family is sick, etc.) a minimum payment of 20 pesos can be made (that’s just over $1.00 Cdn). But there is no extension on the rest. The other two women can make the minimum or the entire payment on her behalf. Then all three of their loans stays in tact. If that minimum payment is not made, all three of them are fined 60 pesos ($4 Cdn). More than 3 missed payments within a loan period means they can not receive another loan; they’re out.

En Via has a 99.7% repayment rate! It is working!

They can get additional loans too. Three years ago, a maximum of $4500 pesos could be loaned. Now $7500 pesos can be given ($500 Cdn).

Within a loan period, the women are expected to host one tour (a small van of 10 people and an En Via volunteer will visit, where they show what they are working at, and answer questions about how the loans is helping them).

Different types of businesses women have:

En Via does not make judgements about what is a good business because the people’s views are very different from ours. We are talking about VERY SMALL businesses. For example, one family was operating a hardware store. They were aware that no one in their community sold cleaning supplies. So the woman of this family had the idea to seek cleaning supplies. When she received an En Via loan, the first thing she purchased was a single metal shelving unit which she placed in the family’s hardware store. The second loan she received purchased a shelf full of cleaning supplies.

Some of the businesses include: selling tortillas, raising chickens, operating a hardware shelf, opening a restaurant, making cheese chocolate and mole, and creating and selling artisanal work. Many have more than one source of income; they might sell tortillas from 8 until noon, and then weave all afternoon. They depend on multiple ways of earring a living.

The Education component of the program:

The women learn

⁃ How to figure out their profit

⁃ What is a fair price

⁃ How to separate their money into living expenses, business expenses, investment, and savings. They use a physical box or can system.

There are also monthly business classes which they MUST attend for 2 years! If they miss classes, the group of 3 can not increase their loan amount.

The education has been expanding to become specialized:

-how to incorporate leather on their woven bags and learning to identify quality leather

-learning from a vet, for those raising animals

-learning from someone in agriculture, for someone growing garlic

-workshops on natural dyes

Etc.

About the women and the communities:

Most of the women have a primary education only. Most are married. Some of their husbands may have gone to the US to work.

All of them speak their native Zapotec language as their first language. Most speak Spanish as their second language (only the oldest women do not). Crops commonly grown in the village of San Miguel where we visited are milpa, beans, and corn…3 crops grown at once, in one field.

The street signs in the villages are in Zapotec and in Spanish.

Rainwater and wells (and some large hoses) is where the source of their water; water is scarce and precious!

The church was built on top of the Zapotec temple. The Zapotec carvings can still be seen. The designs in the old Zapotec remains are incorporated into the rugs. Every community has a saint. The biggest community, Teotitlan has a high school. Away in the mountains, sheep are raised. There’s also a place in the mountains where silk worms are raised. And cotton grows where there’s more water. There was life in the village of Teotitlan 10,000 years ago!!! This is the community known for it’s weaving, using traditional designs.

If you are a godmother, you get to pay for all the special events….graduations, birthday parties, confirmation, etc.

Responsible Tourism:

They achieve 0% interest on loans because they also have Responsible Tourism that supports the organization. People pay $850 pesos per person for a small full day tour including lunch. $120 goes to the van, gas, and driver. $70 goes to the lunch. And the rest of the $660 goes into the programs.

They have many tours going out in the high season and just 2 per week in low season, but En Via is able to keep the loans going throughout all seasons.

Tourists get a deeper sense of the culture and traditions. Oaxaca has depp cultural traditions and these tours give a deeper appreciation for the beauty of the culture, traditions, and the people.

Entering San Miguel del Valle. The sign proudly welcomes us to their indigenous community, established in 1450!

It’s relaxing and interesting to be driven out into the countryside.

The woman who made chocolate and mole:

She told is she used her loan for

-buying ingredients

-buying a scale to measure her ingredients

-buying a phone so she could get special orders

After she’s washed, seeded and dried her Chile’s, and measured out all her ingredients for one recipe (gathered the laurel leaves, the avocado leaves, cinnamon, etc. etc.) she takes her batch of ingredients to have it all ground (and she can get this done right in her village).

Her biggest sales come on the day they celebrate “The day of the dead”.

Her brother works in LA and when they have big events in LA where there is a demand for and interest in mole, she ships mole to her brother.

She sells to the tourists who come when she is a host (just 1X per loan cycle).

Other than that, she has no other aspirations. She learned the recipe for making chocolate and mole in a workshop and follows the recipe exactly, not dreaming of changing a thing. I didn’t get her recipe unfortunately.

I’ve read mole recipes however, and they include 17-30 ingredients, depending on the kind of mole. Ingredients include: 7 kinds of chile, 2-3 kinds of nuts, raisins, marjoram, oregano, avocado leaves, laurel leaves, sticks of cinnamon, cumin, plantains, tomatoes, chocolate, pumpkin and sesame seeds. The ingredients are chopped, ground, and sautéed together to make a sauce to slather on chicken.

This one up-close is 3-Dish, that’s how layered the thread is.

I love her aprons hanging on the concrete wall. These photos look fantastic in large view and before they are reduced.

The young woman who makes the aprons:

She started her business 5 years ago, but started with En Via 3 years ago.

She has 30 outfits of her own – Women always wear an under slip, a dress, and an apron to match. She has 30??!!!!! She makes them so I suppose that’s why.

She wears a specific apron with a specific dress. Sometimes she tries to combine an apron with a different dress but this is a new and recent idea that has been suggested to her by outsiders. She knows of one lady who wears an apron with a skirt rather than with a dress.

There used to be 10 other women in the village who made these aprons but people have been learning and now there are 20-25-30 women making them. Each community has their own style or designs. Some communities have just one piece. These aprons are only worn here in this community.

Her father fixes and sells sewing machines.

Her mom used to use a treadle sewing machine. That is how she learned.

An industrial machine costs $10,000 pesos ($700 Cdn).

She will pass this knowledge along to her own kids, if they are interested in it.

The elaborate aprons are worn for special occasions – fiestas, reunions, weddings, funerals.

Some mothers start putting fancy aprons on their children from early on – age 2. As they grow older, the kids choose if they want to wear them or not (for school). All women in the community wear the dresses with aprons, always. And all the girls wear them too when they attend special events. The young woman said she is invited to fairs sometimes, in Mexico City, but her expenses are too high for her to profit from her displays there, so she’s not so keen to take her products elsewhere.

The landscape. The hill is referred to a “sleeping woman”; the big bump being her breast. Then we went to a woman’s home who has established a restaurant in her home, using the En Via loans. It was a delicious lunch of stuffed hot peppers (not too hot), filled and rolled tortilla dipped into mole sauce and covered with cheese and cilantro, rice, steamed veggies, chicken breast, black beans, and best of all….mole sauce!

Then we stopped at the local church to use their decent bathrooms. 🙂 Of course, it was constructed directly on top of the foundations of the indigenous temple. And you can still see the original foundation and it’s inscriptions and artworks.Have you ever seen SO MANY fresh flowers in one church? They line the sanctuary on all four walls placed at every saint with multiple vases. Fresh! Daily! This seemed to me a particularly nice Guadeloupe.

I enjoyed the quiet and deep shade of the large peaceful grounds set on a small hill with a nice view of the surroundings. It’s a relaxed tour, we’re just a small group, and then we are off to visit more women in the afternoon.

The family of three women who weave bags and rugs:

First, the woman, standing holding wool yarn, who made bags (living in a large concrete building). She learned to dye her wool using pecan shells (from her mother’s tree), indigo (plant that has been boiled, fermented and dried), cochineal bugs that have been dried, and marigolds for the yellow dyes. Lichen and pomegranate are used in some places too. It takes her two full days to fully make one bag. (14 women in this town have also formed a Co-op; each of them made their own handbag design.)

The hand-woven wool rugs feature pre-Hispanic designs like dragons, jaguars, eagles, skulls, and geometric patterns from the archaeological sites.

Nopal, hanging from the rafters. The Spanish went crazy for the cochinea, exporting a lot of it to Europe – the crimson dye made from the insects that live of nopal (prickly pear) cactus. Used for centuries by the ancient Zapotecs and Incas, etc., they are still using them today.

Teotitlan de Valle is known for it’s tapetes – hand-woven wool rugs colored with natural dyes.

The woman working the loom is the sister to the woman who made the handbags. She and her mother weave rugs at their home. They are two individuals working at one business. The mother does not read or write. The younger woman started working with wool at the age of 8: washing, carding, spinning, weaving. They have been with En Via for 7 years. Before this, they were both working at weaving, but they were being brought the wool and told what to make, working for “the Casas Grandes”. Now they buy their own wool and make their own designs.

There was a lot of income disparity between the weavers. “The Casas Grandes” is where big buyers come, where they export rugs. They have a demand and therefore they go to the weavers in the villages, bringing them wool and telling them the sizes and patterns they want to have made, and they pay the weavers very little for their work. These rugs get re-sold for a lot of money. So the villagers are doing piece-work so they have a steady income. Now, with the En Via loans, they are able to get their own wool, create their own designs, and sell their work independently. They go door to door to stores in their town. They have been invited to bring their rugs to fairs elsewhere too, but it’s expensive for them. They bring their rugs to Tlacolula (TLACOLULA) market each Sunday.

The biggest challenge for the En Via organization has been TRUST……Initially, before it took off, people struggled to trust the founders and operators. Trust can continue to be an issue for newcomers who lack experience with the company.

Important people on our tour:

Suzanne – A volunteer from Minneapolis – Been living in Oaxaca since 2003.

Susan – Is tutoring at The Oaxaca Learning Center – Murguía 703, Oaxaca.

Ruth – Interpreter/Translater from Spanish to English and English to Spanish.

I really enjoyed meeting the women and talking with them about their business! Microfinance, education, and responsible tourism…a good approach!