Oaxaca is a place full of history and magic surrounded by magnificent mountains. I am from Oaxaca so I may seem biased, but The Historic Center of Oaxaca and the Archaeological Site of Monte Albán have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO and the Guelaguetza festival is acknowledged as one of the most prominent indigenous traditions celebrated in Mexico.
The program begins in the capital of Oaxaca. Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s cultural icons. The city has a mixed legacy of Indigenous and colonial traditions – meaning bright colors, soaring churches and awesome food, such as the famous mole negro, mezcal, chocolate, tlayudas made with organic corn, pan de yema and chapulines. On top of a great cuisine, one cannot forget the state’s extraordinary art including alebrijes, folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures.
Next you will go on to visit various communities within the state of Oaxaca and meet with community members and activists. The state has a large native Indigenous population whose culture remains strong in spite of increased tourism. Zapotec and Mixtec are the two biggest ethnic groups in terms of population and area, but there are also a great number of other groups.
Oaxaca has faced multiple struggles throughout the years, including environmental protection, the fight against transgenic corn and teacher strikes. Throughout a series of social movements, many protesters look to indigenous political practices for inspiration.
With all its history, Oaxaca has a great array of ceremonies and rituals, such as drinking mezcal made from three types of agave and experiencing a Temazcal bath – an ancient ceremony consisting of music and chanting and a clean with herbs.
A memorable experience when visiting Oaxaca is tasting the mezcal, a distilled drink from the maguey, which is a type of Agave plant. There are over 200 different species of maguey, all of which are used to make a smoky spirit, which can be seen as an older brother of tequila. Apart from learning about mezcal production and how it has been affected by Free Trade Agreements, you will be able to visit the producers and the palenqueros, who are currently very concerned about the Ministry of Economy’s recent decision to rename their products with the new generic name of “Komil”. Many see this as an act of historical and cultural theft that will have a great impact on producers and consumers.
This 9-day trip in Oaxaca will finish with la Guelaguetza, an annual Indigenous cultural event full of color. The word Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec language and is usually interpreted as the “reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services” in relation to the importance in Indigenous cultures of sharing, reciprocity and extended community. Dancers from the seven regions of the state of Oaxaca (Cañada, Mixteca, Valles, Sierra, Tuxtepec, Costa and Itsmo de Tehuantepec) arrive dressed in traditional garments and share their dances and flavors of traditional cuisine with visitors.
The festivities include a parade with Indigenous groups and lots of local food. The trip concludes with one my favorite places, the Monte Albán ruins. Here you can learn about the roots of these festivals and the ancestors of the people you met along the way.