Monday, March 31, 2008

scenes from the mercado

Wal-Mart is in Mexico, but the mercardo still thrives, for now at least. The sights, smells, colors are always fascinating. And Wal-Mart does not sell grasshoppers with chile and limon! (as shown in the second photo)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A sacred well and the end of time....

I have seen the tall golden spikes of the maguey used in alters at this time of year, these maguey flower were placed outside the garden surrounding the sacred grove

This small town has a sacred well that is formed by the roots of some very old (as in thousands) trees called Auhuehuates, they are a kind of cypress and I think related to the cypress trees we know in North Carolina, although these trees keep their leaves all year. I read about this town on the Mexican textiles site and was intrigued.

The villagers have built a walled garden around the trees, and obviously value this very ancient, sacred site. The trees looked stressed because of the dry season and the water was very far down past the massive roots into a pool at the bottom. It was hard to tell how deep the water was because of the dark roots. Every year in Oaxaca (and indeed in many, probably most, other places in the world) the ground water level drops and most of the surface water is contaminated.

When I was riding back in the collective taxi (these taxis do not leave until there are 3 people in the back and 2 passengers and the driver in the front) the ladies in the back seat were chatting in Zapotec and I was talking to the driver in Spanish, the ladies were listening of course.

I expressed concern for the tree, the fact that it looked a little sick and the water in the well at the bottom of the roots was so far down. Everyone at this point burst into laughter which continued for at least a few seconds, they then told me that the idea that the tree would ever die was just simple not possible, the idea was so ludicrous that it made them laugh.

In their minds this tree and sacred spot had been of their lives and part of their history for untold generations and would live forever. However, when they stopped laughing, we did talk about the fact that water is less available every year, but they simply could not wrap their minds around the inevitable conclusion, and maybe that is a good thing.


I have been to Ocotlan before on a market day. That was fascinating, but it also makes it harder to see the town. So I decided to go back there and I also wanted to go to a small village near there called San Miguel Tilquiapam. I found out about this small town on the Mexican Textiles site. The person who created this resource for Mexican textiles has a mission of visiting and documenting the rapidly disappearing traditional dress and textiles. Here is the link on his site for San Miguel Tilquiapam.
Here is his picture of the church, and here are some photos of the current restoration. (I am pretty sure that this is one of the designs that Morales the artist that has done so much for Oaxaca has created)
Here are the pictures of the church that I took a few days ago.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

a very different kind of garden

A few days ago I went to Santa María Coyotepec which is famous for the black pottery that is sold all over Mexico. But off a dirt lane is another kind of garden, a garden where insects are not only encouraged but raised and harvested. Here you can learn about the lifecycle of the cochineal beetle and how it attaches itself to and feeds off of a type of nopal cactus, and how this beetle is harvested and used to dye the rugs made in Teotitlán del Valle. This dye is also used even today in some of the foods and beverages you may be eating, if you see the ingredient called carmine on the label, you are eating a dried, ground up insect,the Grana cochinilla fina, known as cochineal. This carmine red has been used for thousands of years as color for textiles, feathers, paper, and colonial murals.
When the Spanish arrived they quickly discovered the world wanted this brillant red and it created great wealth, it became the third source of wealth in Mexico after gold and silver. Many of the elaborate gold encursted interiors of the churches are the result of the revenue from the cochineal, of course, as usual the Indians were exploited as labor and did not benefit directly from the cochineal. When synthetic dyes were invented the use of this dye world wide fell but the rug weavers continued to use this dye, and I have read that in the past few years the use of this dye is increasing, so check your food, toothpaste etc. labels for carmine!
in the pictures you can see the almost fungus like look of the beetles growing and feeding on the nopal cactus, in the other photo you can see the small woven containers in which the beetles are placed in the egg laying part of their cycle, this woven container is then put onto a fresh nopal leaf and the beetles leave to begin the cycle anew. The first picture is a close up of the insects, if you click and open for a full size view, you might be able to discern the insects.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I want one of these

This of type outdoor kitchen is typical here. Everyone has some version of this. But I think that this example in the small restaurant at the eco tourism cabanas in Ixtlan is one of the better examples I have seen.

walking an ancient road in Ixtlan

Part of my hike in Ixtlan was along an ancient trail, called the camino real. This trail is centuries older than the conquest and was used to carry trade goods from the mountains hundreds of miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Walking along this same path trod by indigenous people for thousands of years was a special treat. The walk back down along this ancient trail and many other mountain trails took about 4 hours through many different kinds of forests and micro climates. Of course, a guide is necessary both so I would not get lost, and because the community controls access to their lands, as they should. ( the wires you see in the cloud photo are not from electric lines, there are none, but instead are part of the fire observation tower structure that we are standing on)

where Pacific winds mingle with Gulf de Mexico winds


I think I mentioned that I was going up to the Sierra Norte a few days ago, to spend the night in the cabanas and go on a long hike up to the cloud forest. In this place called Ixtlan de Juarez (to distinguish it from thousands of other Ixtlans in Mexico, because Ixtlan is a very common place name in Mexico, I believe it means land of...)
Anyway, this community owns in common many acres of mountain forest, most of which is of very high biodiversity and unique in many ways. The community land is managed with an emphasis on conservation, there is some cutting and selling of the timber, but I saw no evidence of anything remotely like clear cutting, and little evidence of timber harvest at all. In some parts of Mexico, Michoacan state for example, local indigenous people have actually been murdered while trying to protect their forests from ´¨ timber pirates¨, who come and steal the timber. I asked my guide if this was a problem here and he said no. I then asked why other parts of the country had more problems, and he said that in Michoacan he knew that the land in danger was edijo land, which means that was given to indigenous families after the Mexican revolution to partly compensate for the land that was taken from them after the Spanish conquest. This sounds good but in practice this often means that as the land gets handed down from family to the many children the land portion for each family gets samller and poorer. Edijo land generally cannot be sold except under special conditions. My guide said that since the community owned the land where I was in common, every member of the community was vigilant and united in defending it, instead of a single person defending his small plot.
This part of the sierra norte has one of the highest points that enables the cloud mist from the Pacific to meet and mingle with the cloud mist from the Gulf of Mexico. This means that walking from one side of the ridge to another you experience miro climates, the Pacific air is much cooler than the Gulf of Mexico side, for example. All this mist also creates moss that sways in the wind and hangs high from huge and very old trees.
A comment on the picture of me that my guide took.... I think I look like the witch waiting for Hansel and Gretel.

how to be invisible

How to be invisible:
1. be a member of an indigenous group that has been oppressed and abused for centuries, you can be easily recognized by having darker skin, sharper features, and smaller stature than the dominant group
2. Be a victim of bad luck and bad choices ( having as many children as possible is a big advantage in becoming invisible)
3. By your very presence, make passersby feel guilty or angry that you are reminding them of the poor and disadvantaged, so you must not be acknowledged.

So do I give them pesos? Yes, every time I pass by, but I have no illusions that my tiny contribution will change their lives, my passage is as random to them as the rare rain in the dry season, as random as the sickness that takes the next baby. But, by giving them a peso and a smile, I think just for that moment I help make them visible and human.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

a walk in the Sierra Norte

I went back to Cuyjimoloyas a few days ago, this is the village in the mountains above the valley of Oaxaca that has a project to help perserve their forest and their culture. At 10,000 plus feet the air was fresh and crisp. Our guide knew a great deal about the healing and medicinal plants on our hike. He showed us a herb that cures hang overs, a tree with a resin that when applied to a broken bone heals by stimulating the rebuilding of the bone material internally, a red flower that when placed in the ear cures ear ache, a plant for toothache and much more. The huge maguey (type of agave) are a different type from those used to make mezcal or tequilla, our guide said the interior of the tall flower stalk is eaten in vinegar.

the silent march(Friday before Easter Sunday)

Very solem and sad, no one talks during the march which depicts the scenes leading up to the final moment of the story. The night before was the night everyone is supposed to visit 7 churches, the 2 pictures at the top show one of the gilded alters of the many churches here.

se vuelve me loco (drives me crazy)

I am sitting in an internet cafe listening (against my will) to the gringa girl talking on the internet phone and I am reminded of how irritating it is to listen any conversation by practically everyone under 30. Not because I have a youth bias, but because they use ¨like¨ at least 2 or 3 times per sentence, and sometimes even more often, to modify every single verb and almost every single adjective or phrase.

This appears to have little to know with intelligence or knowledge base, it is almost universal in this under 30 demographic. I am sure this same demographic group is totally unconscious of how they use ¨like¨ because they all use it.

OK back to travel notes, like, you know, like appears to be like here to stay.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

gardens and flowers.

Everything that is blooming now are dry season flowers, with only a few exceptions where gardens are watered all the trees that are blooming now have not had rain since the rainy season that in most places ended in September. There is also a wonderful botanical garden behind the main cathedral which offers tours twice a week which features plants from all the varied areas of the state of Oaxaca. (Remember you can click on any of these photos to view a larger version or download if you like.) The first purple blooming tree is perhaps my favorite that blooms at this time of year. They stand out from the dry season landscape, you can even see them from the plane as you come into Oaxaca, the name of this tree is the jacaranda.