The Veria Network’s Under The Sun Series
Oaxaca, Mexico, Episodes: Episode 2 Review
LeRoy heads out to the rug weaving village of Teotitlán del Valle, where sheep have been sheered, and their wool spun, dyed and woven into rugs in basically the same manner, since the mid – 1500s. He watches a villager sheer a sheep using nothing but a simple scissors and rope to tie it down; then takes a fascinating tour with Mariano Sosa, the head of a sixteen family co-op, to witness all the subsequent steps such as washing the wool without detergents, then drying and spinning it into yarn, followed by using plants from an experimental site to create natural dyes – with the process’ uncontaminated water returning to the earth; and finally weaving the most intricate of both traditional Zapotec and more innovative designs into tapestries and rugs.
For the next segment our host remains in the rug village, awakening well before sunrise to accompany Rocio and Malena of the extended family known as Casa Santiago to a mill to have corn ground into masa – in preparation for a lesson back at their homestead. Together with Gloria, the matriarch of the family, they prepare amarillo, the mole used in making a very special and typical festive dish unique to their town, tamales de amarillo con pollo. Breakfast includes hot chocolate also made from scratch, enjoyed in the traditional fashion – with a small loaf of pan de yema or egg bread, for dipping. The quaintness and welcoming nature of each and every family member is both striking and memorable.
Leroy then travels back in time to 16th century Toledo, Spain. The ancient and well-chronicled Old World knife-making technique is still practiced in the town of Ocotlán, by Apolinar Águilar. The master craftsman fashions knives, machetes, swords and much more, using only recycled materials. He demonstrates the use of his wood and skin bellows, stone and mud hearth, and a series of hammers, chisels, and other forging tools he himself makes to his exacting specifications. His products range from letter openers, to hunting and butchers’ knives, to turkey carving and cutlery sets, to martial arts weapons, and custom collector pieces. Even the fine finishes of the blades and handles are creating naturally, without the use of chrome or nickel, varnish or lacquer.
Our adventurer next arrives in Santiago Matatlán, the self-anointed world capital of mezcal (also referred to as mescal), for a visit with Enrique Jiménez, a spirits producer with a pedigree dating to his ancestors’ 1870 arrival in the tiny village. Enrique walks LeRoy through all stages of production of mezcal from the harvesting of agave in the fields, to baking it in a pit over flaming logs and river rocks, then mashing it with the use of a horse dragging a multi-ton stone, to fermenting in pine vats, and finally distilling in a brick and mortar firewood-fueled oven. The sampling of the finished product includes a two-year-old añejo aged in oak barrels, a much younger mezcal, and of course one “with the worm.”
LeRoy concludes his visit to the State of Oaxaca with a much needed relaxing and rejuvenating temazcal and massage. He arrives at the home of Doña Emilia, a retired nurse of Zapotec heritage. After decades of tutelage from her grandmother she has become an expert in the ancient art and science of temazcal. One of the hallmarks of temazcal is the environment in which the ritual is enacted – an adobe hut with water and lava rocks used to create and control steam. It’s akin to a sweat lodge where chanting together with aromatic and curative herbs and branches cleanse the body and soul.
Watching the two episodes of Under the Sun gives the viewer a glimpse into some of the present-day manifestations of sustainable living in the central valleys of Oaxaca – and can just as easily be a precursor to the experiences of those contemplating a visit to the city. Virtually every individual and institution highlighted is accessible by tourists within the context of a couple of well-planned tours to the towns and villages surrounding the state capital.
Alvin Starkman has a Masters in Anthropology and a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. Alvin began traveling to Oaxaca in 1991, taking up permanent residence in 2004. He has written over 90 articles about life and culture in Oaxaca for several Mexico travel publications. Alvin consuls to documentary film production companies working in the region, and leads personalized tours for couples and families to the craft villages, market towns, ruins and more off-the-beaten-track locations rarely visited by tourists. He and his wife Arlene operate Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast, a bed and breakfast experience combining comfort of a downtown Oaxaca hotel, with the personal touch of country inn accommodations.