Mexico – Walk with the Weavers and spend time in the Place of the Gods.
The Zapotec community of Teotitlán del Valle (elevation: 1,670 meters or 5,500 feet) is world-famous for production of colorful weavings (laadi in the local language).
Lying at the base of the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca’s Central Valley the town is within hiking distance of interesting places such as El Picacho, Cerro Gie Bets, which has two possible translations in the local Zapotec language ‘Stone Brother’ or ‘Turkey Vulture’ (Ngul betz). Good friend and local Hugo Antonio Santiago says the second is more likely as all mountains in Mexico have a name related to an animal.
Permission is required to make this hike. Ask at the community museum for a permit.
The Cuevita del Pedimento are three small caves a short walk from town. The site is visited by many to celebrate the New Year on January 1.
Those interested in crafts will find dozens of family workshops open to the public.
A historical note — weaving in this village dates to 500 BC. The earliest weavings used cotton and ixtle and utilized the backstrap loom. Teotitlán would pay its financial tribute to the Aztecs in weavings.
Today’s weavers use peddle looms introduced by the Dominicans.
The fabric of choice is wool. This is due to the introduction of sheep in the valley by Juan López de Zárate in the 1500s.
More than 100 workshops showcase a large selection of handmade products, including rugs, jackets, ponchos and dresses. A few weavers are reviving the use of natural dyes including indigo and cochineal and brazilwood.
Designs include traditional Zapotec glyphs as well as Navajo designs (a contentious issue) and reproductions of famous paintings by Picasso and Escher.
There are about 150 families who specialize in weaving. See the process from carding wool to natural dyes to weaving. Here’s our directory of weavers.
There are several families who specialize in candle-making (velas de concha).
COMMUNITY MUSEUM – Across from the town’s craft market is one of the finest community museums in Mexico. Balla Xtee Guedchi Gulal opened has exhibitions featuring archaeological finds, crafts and traditional weddings. Signage appears in English, Spanish and Zapotec. The museum opened in 1995 and recently inaugurated a display about the Danza de la Pluma. There is a small admission fee and no picture taking is permitted inside. Phone: 524-4463
CHURCHES – The Precious Blood of Christ Church (Preciosa Sangre de Cristo) was completed in 1751 and is considered a prime example of colonial architecture. Pilgrims take note of the Capilla del Cristo Grande located in a private home on Aquiles Serdan #4.
Bird-watchers flock to this community to see the avine species at the local dams.
To see the birds, head north a mile to the Piedra Azul Dam at the foothills of El Picacho. During the rainy months, the Benito Juárez Dam fills to the east. Winter months (November-March) are the best time to see migratory birds, including herons and kingfishers.
Evidence shows signs of Olmec visitation (circa 500 BC) and impressive glyphs are displayed in the community museum. A small but impressive archaeological site is located on the east side of the church.
One the major celebrations is the Danza de la Pluma (‘Feather Dance’ in English and ‘Guyach’ in Zapotec) that commemorates the conquest battles between the Spaniards and the Aztecs.
This dance is performed during the Fiesta of the Precious Blood of Christ the first Wednesday of July (with the proviso that when the first Wednesday is July 1st or 2nd, festivities are conducted the second Wednesday of the month). Dancers (danzantes) wear elaborate headdresses fashioned from painted feathers, which gives the event its name in Spanish, Danza de la Pluma. The week-long celebration includes carnival rides and a basketball tournament.
According to researchers corn was domesticated in the region between Oaxaca and Puebla.
Acelebration of corn (Lani Xte Llub) is organized by the Zapotec cultural group Bali and the community museum. The 2006 event slogan: ‘El Maíz, fuente de vida desde nuestros ancestros hasta hoy en dia.’ There were also fairs in 2007 and 2008
After the second World War, Mexico became a stronger tourism destination for international visitors from the USA, Canada and Europe. Cities like Acapulco became resorts and in this context weavings were sold as decorative rugs.
TRANSPORTATION — From Oaxaca City, taxis and buses can be hailed one block east of the baseball stadium on Niños Heroes. Also the Valle del Norte bus line at the second-class station’s Gate #29 offers daily departures (except Sundays) every hour from 9 am to 9 pm. From Teotitlán, buses leave near the market from 6am-7pm.
If you are driving from Oaxaca City, head east on Highway 190 and when you reach Highway 159, head north for four kilometers.
FIESTAS — January 14 – La Fiesta del Señor de Esquipulas (the Black Christ)
Chiluin Sant/Lunes Santo/Holy Monday – Procession and the best view of the weavings in town as they are used to assemble ‘houses’ made of rugs
September 8 – Virgen de la Natividad
FOOD — The best food is served at personal homes. There are also puestos in the market and a few restaurants in town. El Descanso, Juárez #51, is open every day. The Sacred Bean, owned by Ambrocio Gutierrez, is located at Juárez #49 and specializes in good coffee and chocolate. Tlamanalli, Avenida Juárez #39, is open in the afternoons from 1-4pm, and closed on Mondays and Thursdays.
BANKING — There is one bank in town, but it has no money exchange or ATM. That said, bring Mexican currency to town. Some larger businesses accept traveler’s checks and a few accept credit cards, but mostly you’ll need to pay in cash. There are ATM machines in nearby Santa María del Tule and Tlacolula de Matamoros.
MARKET — The town market is held each morning from 8-10 am across from the church.
WHERE TO STAY — Some of the weavers have rooms for rent, including Las Granadas, 2 de Abril #9. El Descanso also has accomodation.
COMMUNITY WISHLIST — The town’s library solicits environmental resources and children’s books in Spanish. If you have donations, bring them to the Pablo Picasso library between 4-8pm.
TIPS — If you are purchasing a rug, take a measuring tape. Plan ahead and measure a space in your home (wall or floor) where you want a quality weaving, one with a story no less.