Oaxacan Valley Magic

In spite of feeling little love for Oaxaca City, our time spent in the surrounding valley proved to be one of our favorite periods in Mexico. The combination of stunning scenery, glorious weather, interesting villages, ancient ruins, and meeting other overlanders extended our departure time long past what was anticipated.

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The Oaxacan Valley is littered with artisan villages, tending to specialize in a particular craft. First~ rugs. Now, anyone who knows me, knows I am nutty over rugs. Especially hand dyed, hand made, gorgeously designed rugs. Rugs from Istanbul, Morocco, and Thailand currently reside in storage, patiently waiting for this wanderlust to dim. Enter Teotitlan de Valle, THE hub of rug weaving in the area. The small, country, road is lined with everything from mom & pop stores, to large operations, all of them producing high-quality, absolutely gorgeous work. We were not in the market, as we had actually purchased a Oaxacan rug for the camper on the beaches of Baja. Go figure. But, that was certainly not going to stop me from stopping in to see some of the loveliness for myself.

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As always, we stood in awe of the ancient techniques used in the dying process, and the skill and time necessary to create such beauty.

Consumerism thwarted, we decided a visit to a church, quite unique to the area, deserved a stop.

Tlacochahuaya is a small village, a mere hop and skip off of the main road. The sleepy streets were nearly devoid of life, but culture in a different form was on our minds. We had come to see the church.

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Originally built in the late 16th century by the Dominicans, this charming church has been nearly completely restored, amazingly using the original pigments and techniques.

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Along with my obsession with rugs, and glassware, and photos of doors and dogs, pottery has always been high on my list. And Oaxacan black pottery has been on my mind for a long as I considered Mexico a destination. Long ago, back in my days working for a tour operator to the country, I became enthralled with the complex designs, and stunning black tone of the Oaxacan Valley pots. The origins of these design elements date back to the Monte Alban period, when the color was more of a dirt grey. Then, in the 1950’s artisan Dona Rosa devised a way to add the black sheen, using techniques still in use today, making for a more desirable commodity.

In our quest for this more nomadic, minimalistic life, our consumerism has plummeted. Never a big shopper, the lack of space and money, has created a more simple life, but also a life where I am merely a spectator at the numerous markets and street stands we encounter. Taking photos of the beauty surrounding me has replaced the purchasing. And I am good with this. However, I really wanted a black Oaxacan pot.

I REALLY WANTED ONE.

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And so, we headed off to San Bartolo de Coyotepec to see what offerings might be available in our limited price range. I wafted towards the stores, immediately in love. Up close, the design work was impeccable, the color glossy and pure. In consideration of space and funds, I gravitated towards the smaller options, still beautiful in their simplicity and elegance. Seventy five pesos? Um, what? Surely, the lovely 6-inch vase could not be as little as $4. I questioned the saleswoman and yes, the price was correct. Well, screw that, I was going big!

As I began to investigate the larger offerings, I relished the idea of a purchase. Ironically enough, much to my mother-in-laws dismay I am SO not a shopper at home. However, I leave the borders of the United States and want it all; every colorful textile, every piece of blown glass, every festive pillowcase. Even knowing that my cherished purchase would soon be heading to Portland, to join my other such purchases in storage, did not diminish the excitement.

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In the end, I chose three. No, not all for me. Two will go to a couple of dear friends, while one will become a permanent part of my collection from around the world, not so much a bowl, as a memory of a time and place.

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2 thoughts on “Oaxacan Valley Magic

  1. I don’t like shopping either and avoid it as much as possible back in the UK! I do love going to markets when I travel though and because we know we don’t have the money or space to buy anything it takes the pressure off and allows us to just take photos and browse. Those pots are lovely though and great idea to ship your souvenirs home.

    • When we traveled last time I think we shipped home 3 times, always just a set size box with DHL. It’s never inexpensive, and one got snagged in customs and required some explanation and an inspection fee, but it was nice to be able to purchase a few mementos here and there that we appreciate for the memories.

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