Oaxaca Day 6

Following a final pool side coffee in the cool dawn of Oaxaca, we checked out of our hotel and were met by our smiling guide Laura.

  Our destination today was the studio of the Mujeres del Barro Rojo – women of the red clay – located in San Marcos, Tlapazola, about an hour west of Oaxaca City. The morning drive was beautiful through the Oaxaca Valley, surrounded by Sandstone Mesas, passing small towns, farms and Mezcal operations. After about 40 minutes we left the highway and headed up into the hills, bumping along dirt roads through smaller towns until we reached San Marcos, Tlapazola, a small town of 3500. The town was an auditory relief after the endless parades, loud speakers and noise of Oaxaca City. 

We found the Barro rojo studio and by our incredible good fortune it was the studio featured in the book – Mujeres del Barro Rojo. What an experience our day turned out to be! We were met by Elia one of the potters of the cooperative who welcomed us into the studio (along with a number of family dogs), consisting of a closed court surrounded by dwellings housing 4 families. Piles of firewood used in the firing process were drying on the roof tops along with corn. Our lovely guide Elia took us through the construction process of a pot from gathering the iron oxide rich clay and sand, to throwing the pot, to firing and glazing.

During the process we began to chat through our interpreter Laura about life in the village and how the art of the Barro Rojo is gaining respect and becoming known world wide.

Elia told us about her sister Macarina whose efforts, personal sacrifice and travel have brought world wide attention to the work of the red clay potters. Then something magic happened, as Macarina herself joined us. Our conversation morphed into 5 women discussing the emancipation of women in Mexico,  Macarina’s challenging journey to publicize and bring respect to red clay potters,  business practices, village life, dreams, goals, gender bias, the challenge of sexual violence in villages and many other topics. 5 women from very different backgrounds sitting in a courtyard woven together in a very timeless way.

Mary, Laura and Macarina

I will let Mary tell it in her own words.

“What a day! Honoured to spend it with my sister and 2 other sisters who are amazing artists. Change agents and wonderful human beings living in San Marcos, Tlapazola in the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico. One of the sisters , Macarina, has been reshaping the way that women’s voices are heard and respected in her community for her entire life as a gifted potter. Her designs have been on display at MoMa in NYC. Her powerful presence will stay with us for a very long while.”

Anne, Elia, Macarina and Mary

A good day

This day will take a long time to digest and we chatted quietly after leaving the studio. Our side trip to the town Cathedral on the way back to the vehicle was well worth the detour. A beautiful 17th century building kept in immaculate shape by the care taker and in use today. 

Our trip to the airport for our flight to Mexico City included a stop for an excellent roadside lunch.

After an uneventful flight to Mexico we landed in the rain (our story of challenges with the transport to the hotel will wait for another time) and are now at an airport hotel. We leave for Vancouver tomorrow.

This has been an amazing trip, one that will take a while to completely process. Thank you for following along with us!  Until next time – adios por ahora!

Oaxaca Day 5

The Santo Domingo Cathedral, designed by Dominican Friars and built by the local indigenous peoples, is one of the best known examples of colonial architecture in Mexico. It was the focus of our walk today as we explored the church and former friars residence which is now a museum. Our arrival just as the museum opened and with virtually no one inside resulted in some lovely photo ops.

The buildings are unique in many ways. Green limestone construction materials together with a fusion of indigenous and European architecture, as well as features created the help the buildings withstand the seismic activity in the area have created a structure found no where else. The main building construction was finished in 1619. The occupation of the buildings by the military, on and off until 1974, resulted in the destruction and/or degradation of parts of the structures. In 1974 the military vacated the buildings for good and serious reconstruction began. It was inaugurated in 1998 and now consists of the Oaxacan Museum of Cultures, the Francisco Burgoa library, the Nestor Sanchez periodicals library and an ethnobotanical garden.

Highlights for us in the museum was the exhibit on the gorgeous findings of Tomb 7 in Monte Alban and an exhibit on the evolution of the Xolos dogs in Mexico.

Following our morning in the Cathedral and Museum we made our way towards our destination for lunch, BouLenc on Porforio Diaz. Lunch began with an excellent margarita and continued on with absolutely the best Caesar salad we have ever eaten. Anchovies made the dressing sing and the wonderful Oaxacan chicken on top completed a gastronomic wonder! There is also a bakery attached to the restaurant with absolutely amazing apple empanadas. Good thing we are walking a lot.

Tomorrow is our final day here. We have hired our lovely guide Laura from the textile day to take us out to one or two villages that make the red pottery – barro rojo – I am so fond of. My major red clay pottery purchase here in town is on its way to Canada, and I hope to find some other small articles that will fit in my hand luggage. We fly to Mexico City tomorrow night and overnight before our final push home.

Oaxaca Day 4

After yesterday we had a slow start to the morning and a leisurely breakfast in the hotel starting with orange/papaya juice and a cappuccino, followed by chorizo and queso toast with pico de gallo – which was excellent!


At 11 am our culinary experience began with meeting Esperanza a lovely Zapotec woman who was to be our guide and teacher today.


The Benito Juarez  market (one of two markets in the central district of Oaxaca) was our first stop of the day where we were introduced to a zillion types of chilis, as well as cheeses, tortillas and pretty much any type of fresh produce you can image. Exiting with a full shopping bag we stopped briefly at a bakery/chocolate shop featuring sweet breads (bread with sugar and chocolates) as well as mole chocolate, in addition to a pottery store. A taxi was flagged down and we headed for our cooking class at the top of the Alcala.

On the menu of todays class was salsa picante, guacamole (a type beyond your wildest dreams), and   quesadilla de flora de calabara`

Lunch was wonderful but more to come!!

The next course was mole rojo – the signature dish of the day. As mole takes time due to the complexity and number of ingredients required ( 28) – a long leisurely afternoon ensued creating our masterpiece, a sauce which turned chicken and rice into something amazing. 


A tip of the hat to our chef and guide Esperanza. It was a great day – no need for dinner tonight. 

Tomorrow we plan on a major retail excursion in the morning, followed by a trip to the Santo Domingo cathedral museum. Until then buenos noches.

Oaxaca Day 3

Today was scheduled to be an exploration of the Zapotec weaving style and did not disappoint. I had reserved a day trip to a local weaving family through WSE – Where Sidewalks End – a few months ago. The trip looked interesting and had a few good reviews so I jumped and booked it. What a good decision that turned out to be. 

We were met at 9 am by our lovely, informative guide Laura, a trained sociologist whose speciality was educating Mexican law enforcement personnel on dealing with callouts involving domestic abuse. For various reasons she left her profession for tourism and has never looked back. She, her husband and daughter have relocated to Oaxaca from the big city.  On the way out of town we discussed climate change, which is having a huge impact on Oaxaca City. Water can be unavailable for several weeks at a time via the taps, and needs to be purchased by the tank load from water vendors. Temperatures are also soaring here – normal temps of 20 C have been replaced in some cases with 30 plus temperatures. Minimum wage here is about $10 MXN a day, rents $3000 MXN a month – you can do the math. Wireless expats are moving to the city in large numbers, causing further increase in rents and a reduction in affordable housing. Sound familiar?

A 45 minute drive out of the city brought us to the home and weaving workshop Josefina and Javier, plus their three generational family own and run. What a wonderful day! We started with a brief tour of the facility

which quickly morphed into a discussion of Mary’s alpacas and my Icelandic sheep complete with photos of fleece and animals. We had a lively conversation sharing stories of Anne’s Icelandic sheep and the beautiful fiber that comes from these animals and Mary’s alpaca. They were fascinated by the big looms we use at home and enjoyed telling stories of our love for all things fiber.

The dyes that Josephina uses to achieve the beautiful colours are all natural. Indigo gives her a wide range of beautiful blues, pomegranate peel gives her a range of yellows and walnut shells and wood bark creates beautiful Browns, black and beiges.

The reds and pinks come from the Cochineal (cochinilla) insect that feeds on cactus and needs crushing to obtain the natural red dye. A local women’s Cooperative has grouped together to experiment with producing the insects locally. The cactus leaves are imported from a nearby region and is host to the insects- they are covered with cocoons that incubate them as they mature and are then harvested, dried and ground into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle.

Mixing the colors creates a variety of beautiful shades and combinations. Josephina follows a traditional zapotec method of fermented dying as opposed to a more modern version of using hot water. The clay pots around us had skeins of natural sheep wool soaking in dye for varying lengths of time – general rule of thumb is the longer the richer and more intense the colour.  Josefina uses a traditional mordant fixative, a mixture of a local plant leaf and mountain rock dust. 

We then moved on to spinning techniques, as well as a discussion of natural dyes and ways to set colour in wool. The studio was amazing, multiple looms, as well as one that is 200 years old and has been in the family for generations. 

After some orientation on one of the big looms in the workshop

we were allowed to weave a small item on the 200 year old loom in the studio. One of the highlights of the day.

Our adventures in weaving was followed by an excellent lunch prepared by the family and some retail therapy 🙂 .

We also met extended family members, including a lovely 4 month old baby boy – what a charmer! Muy Bueno!

If you go to Oaxaca I highly recommend WSE! https://www.wheresidewalksend.com/collection/destinations/latin-america/mexico/

Tomorrow we visit the market and cook all afternoon! 

Oaxaca Day 2

A lazy Sunday with no scheduled activities meant we could take our time and see where the day led us. A later breakfast and we headed over to the Cathedral of Santo Domingo.

On the way we passed a familiar artists display area where Mary spied a linocut of Sampson, her cat now in her possession.

Heading up the hill we went past the graphic art museum and the previous nights parade area and turned into a plaza that Juan Pablo had pointed out the night before.

At this point the day was clearly turning into photography of whatever caught our eye on the street and slowly evolved into interesting pedestrian footwear.

We made our way down the Acala towards the Zocalo in search of some lunch (which was excellent).

You can tell already this is turning into be a very not-so-serious day.  After lunch we decided that a swim and a siesta with a book was in order and headed back to the hotel to indulge in all of the above. A full day coming tomorrow on an adventure to a women’s weaving cooperative and a good night sleep is ahead of us. Buenas noches. 

Oaxaca Day 1

Oaxaca did not disappoint. The magic I felt on my first visit here for the Day of the Dead, still palpable in the air. We woke to an azure blue sky and temperatures in the middle 70’s. Breakfast at the hotel was excellent, my salty mushroom toast with an egg and fruit salad a good start to the day. Mary’s mushroom omelet 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻. The salsa verde and fresh tortillas that accompanied the meals elevated them to wow status. And did I mention the coffee!!!!

Following breakfast with cameras in hand we drifted in the general direction of the red pottery shops that i remembered from my visit in 2017. A retail reconnaissance  mission ensued and at least two options were discovered that will allow Anne to secure the missing pieces of her red pottery table and cookery wear. Good news – they ship!!!! Yahoo!!!! Bad news for the VISA 😂

At the Acala we turned left and headed up to Santa Domingo Cathedral. The Acala is free of cars and a wonderful spot for street photography of myriad vendors, holiday makers and explosive colour everywhere -something that is missing in the long Canadian winters.

We wandered through an artists area by the cathedral  and as we turned down the Alcala towards the Zocalo (the large central square in Oaxaca City) one of Oaxacas numerous parades met us. The first parade in Mexico was a military parade in September 1821 to celebrate the recent Independence. Interestingly enough it was modelled on parades organized by Napoleon III who recognized the PR possibilities in a show of military strength. Lots of parallels to that idea throughout history. Parades here are for numerous reasons, to celebrate religous holidays, historical events, weddings, protest movements, civic holidays and sometimes it seems just for fun. This particular one was a protest parade. It was non-threatening and allowed for some excellent photo opportunities.


Following the passage of the parade we wandered down to the Zocalo, moving quickly through the area of tourist vendors, making our way to a remembered  restaurant on the square in search of Soupa Axteca. Muy Bueno! After an hour of people watching and shooting photos we wandered back to the hotel for a rest before our late afternoon photo workshop with Oaxacan photographer Juan Pablo.

Artists area

An amazing two hours spent with a very talented, passionate photographer, with a deep love for Oaxaca and photography. The late afternoon/early evening light and street activity provided us with an abundance of photographic opportunities (street photography, composition,  and a wedding parade) which Juan Pablo showed us how to capture. Who would have thought we would ever be kneeling on a street corner shooting up from the street while taxi cabs and other assorted modes of transportation whizzed by – interestingly no one seemed to think us a bit strange. If you are ever in Oaxaca and wish to spend time with an accomplished photographer and genuinely nice guy, we highly recommend Juan Pablo. https://es-l.airbnb.com/experiences/1502568

Family at the end of a long day

After a very full day we have settled back to the hotel on our hacienda, enjoying Mexican pizza and a bottle of Mexican rojo – both are excellent! See you all tomorrow!

Mexico City

After an excellent sleep we headed up to the hotel roof top restaurant for breakfast overlooking the central square. My omelet and fresh fruit was excellent, Mary had more of a traditional Mexican breakfast, also excellent. The service was perfect , the temperature in the mid 70’s and life is good. 

Following breakfast we met up with our guide, veteran freelance and street photographer Keith Dannemiller   (https://www.keithdannemiller.com) and mapped out this mornings activities of street photography. We had a wonderful morning – wandering the streets of Mexico City, photographing markets, street markets, families, shop owners, murals and some other things I am still working out 🙂 We got into areas that aren’t tarnished yet by tourism. People just going about and enjoying the process of living. Interestingly enough, as we got closer to the central square and the hotel the vibe changed. 

We took hundreds of photos. After a quick edit here are some of our favorites.

Piñata forms waiting to be covered. The bicycle in a tree is a memorial to a cyclist who died.

A drive through Friday afternoon Mexico City traffic to the airport kept us awake 😳 and we are now in the Premium Plaza airport lounge enjoying empanadas and some very nice white wine. Our flight to Oaxaca departs at 6:30. Tomorrow is a quiet day culminating with a city walk with an Oaxacan based photographer in the late afternoon. The down time will be welcome after the last couple of days.

A late addition – so it finally happened. Three lanes of taxis and mini vans collapsing into one on approach to an intersection in Oaxaca ended in a grind of metal and slamming of brakes. All stopped for the in-transit entertainment provided by our driver and another taxi driver arguing and gesticulating outside the vehicles. Everyone is fine, our transit van not so much. The trip into Oaxaca took longer than our flight to Mexico City but we finally made it !!! We are in a nice hotel at the bottom of the Zocalo. More photos tomorrow. Will leave you with some photos of the hotel courtyard lit up for the evening. Buenos noches.

Vancouver to Mexico City

5 am seems early to be pushing a roller bag down an airport, but the line up to get through US security was building by the time we arrived. Mary’s Nexus pass proved invaluable at getting us through in a fraction of the time. All went smoothly as we waited for our flight to Dallas to begin the first leg of our journey.

Flying business class is an absolute pleasure. A comfortable seat, ample legroom and excellent cuisine – very much appreciated by middle aged bodies. I had downloaded the new season of The Crown before we took off, so my inflight entertainment was first class. The production and acting in the new season is outstanding and well worth the time.  Our flights chased the sun today. The dawn departure from Vancouver took us over the Colorado Rocky Mountains and then on over New Mexico

to our first stop Dallas – where we enjoyed the perks of the first class lounge at the airport.

The connecting flight to Mexico City brought us over the immense metropolis of 25 million people at sunset. A long but enjoyable day. The customs line up went quickly and was populated by the usual entertaining cross section of humanity as passengers from our flight and a flight from Amsterdam ended up at immigration at the same time. Partying (and its sometimes unfortunate aftermath) was still going on in a group ahead of us, resulting in one young man’s interesting relationship with a trash can…. As the line built, time was spent chatting to a lovely young Norwegian man from a city close to where our mother was born. He was headed to Puerto Vallarta to help a friend start a tattoo parlour. We do live in interesting times…..

Our driver Christian met us at the airport and transported us to the Art Deco Gran Hotel – a 30 minute ride through heavy traffic which looked like absolute chaos to the uninitiated but must have made some sense, as there were no accidents and nobody died on our trip from the airport. 

The Gran Hotel Mexico City was originally built in the 1890s and was considered a great retail Plaza/mall until the 1960s when it was converted into a hotel. It’s right on the main plaza across from the palace and the cathedral and is an extraordinary work of art all on its own. We were met by our concierge Daniel and taken to the front desk of this amazing hotel where we were greeted at the front desk with flutes of champagne before being transported up to our room.  And yes, we are pretty tired after a 12ish hour day 😀

Looking forward to spending more time photographing the art deco stained glass and amazing wrought iron of the structure tomorrow when the light is better.

Tomorrow we spend the morning on a photographic exploration of the historic district around the hotel before heading to the airport for the final leg of our journey to Oaxaca. 


The complex history of Mexico, ranging from its beginnings as one of the six cradles of civilization in 8000 BC through to the modern day, is one of intertwined wars, revolutions, invasions and conquests. The resulting rise and fall of numerous civilizations (probably the most famous being the destruction of the Aztec Empire by the Spaniards led by Cortez in 1517-1521) has led to a culture unique to Central America. Textiles, art and food are like no where else in the world. Ecosystems range from high desert to lush jungle and everything in between. The rise of mass tourism in the last few decades has turned a small portion of the coastal areas into the all inclusive resort enclaves, populated by the majority of northern tourists who come the country for a winter break. It is away from these resorts that the true vibe and magic of the country can be felt. 

My sister and I leave tomorrow for our first destination, Mexico City, where we will spend a day in the historical district of the city working with a local photographer on our street photography. Following that we fly to a small city in the SW corner of Mexico that both of us have visited before and look forward to experiencing again – Oaxaca. Plans include workshops in street photography, cooking, weaving, as well as some high level retail activity in some of the stores that specialize in the famous red pottery (barro rojo) produced in the area. Time will also be spent relaxing in the warm desert air. 

As always blog posts will be posted on my FB page with links to the blog. You can also follow along at www.travelswithanne.ca

We look forward to sharing the journey with you. 

Tweedsmuir Park Lodge Day 3

A smokey dawn found me down at the Hide by the river. The quiet was interrupted once by a bear foraging along the opposite sandbar but the real show was about to come.

Following breakfast we headed up the road to start our river drift with Bryn as our guide again. We were welcomed by a large sow doing some kick fishing up river as we climbed into the raft and started our journey downstream.

Rivers are conducive to conversations, our ramblings covering everything from climate change, to history, to philosophy as well as bears and the ecology of the river. Mergansers kept pace with us, at one point fishing right off our side. How a 7 inch fish got into a bird not that much bigger was interesting to watch.

Merganser with fish

Our next stop was to watch a small black bear moving along the edge of the river. Black bears are not common here, as grizzlies will kill and eat them. When they are spotted they generally spook easily and head into the bush. This fellow posed obligingly for me before disappearing up the bank. The remainder of the drift passed peacefully and we headed back to the Lodge for lunch.

Black Bear

Three short hikes into different areas were the focus of the afternoon. Highlights included a squirrel larder – fir cones arranged under partially decayed roots of a long dead hemlock (giving new meaning to the term root cellar), – some spectacular moss, bear day beds scraped into the dirt, a brief glimpse of the Bella Coola River full of glacial silt and more mushrooms.

The end to a perfect visit came this evening with the visit to the Lodge grounds of a grizzly sow, ambling among the cabins eating berries. Turns out her name is Perfect. Magic!

This is an incredible place. Accommodation, naturalists, logistics, food all A+. I highly recommend a visit here. You must drive in – “The Hill” is worth the experience as a stand alone. We head home tomorrow after an incredible week. Thank you for following us on this journey!