Tag Archives: brooke o'connor

The Entrance to the Underworld Is Here in Oaxaca

By Brooke O’Connor

The entrance to the underworld is here in Oaxaca, and now we can prove it!

The Mitla Ruins: Home to Multiple Cultures

Approximately an hour’s drive from Oaxaca City is Mitla. The name Mitla comes from the Nahuatl word Mictlan, which means “underworld” or “place of rest” in Zapotec, a Nahuatl language still spoken widely in the region. The Zapotecs emerged from the agricultural communities of the central valleys of Oaxaca, building their capital at Monte Alban (approximately where the state capital, Oaxaca de Juárez, is now); the Zapotec civilization flourished at Monte Alban from about 500 BCE to 900 CE.

At that time, perhaps driven out by their neighbors to the west, the Mixtec, the Zapotecs created a new capital at Mitla. Mitla dates to about 100 CE, but may be much earlier; its earliest extant buildings are from about 450 CE. Its ruins are perfect examples of geometric stone architecture that tell stories of a culture steeped in tradition.

Mitla is considered the main religious center of pre-Hispanic culture in the area; both Zapotecs and Mixtecs frequented this “religious metropolis.” John M.D. Pohl, an archeologist at Cal State at LA, has written extensively on the paintings on doorway lintels at Mitla. His analysis has identified the creation tales of three distinct cultures: the eastern Nahua, the Mixtecs from Apoala, and the Zapotecs from Zaachila.

Eventually these cultures weakened in influence and came under the rule of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma. When the Spanish arrived in 1520, Moctezuma welcomed them to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), only to see virtually all of Mexico conquered and colonized within a year.

Mitla and the Spanish

Here’s where the plot thickens.

In 1552, after the conquest, Mitla was ordered to be destroyed, as were many indigenous religious centers. In 1590, Dominican missionaries began building the church of San Pablo Apóstol (St. Paul the Apostle) atop a platform left by the earlier demolition. They documented how, during construction, they had sealed off the entrances of a labyrinth beneath it.

Francisco de Burgoa, born in Oaxaca around 1600, had joined the Dominican order in 1629; he became a “chronicler,” or historian; in 1674 he wrote about Mitla in a broad-ranging geography that included the “Sito astronómico de esta Provincia de Predicadores de Antequera, Valle de Oaxaca” – the astronomical site of the Province of Preachers of Antequera (Oaxaca de Juárez) in the Valley of Oaxaca.

He described an extensive cavity in the earth at Mitla. When the missionaries went to explore, they found that

such was the corruption and bad smell, the dampness of the floor, and a cold wind which extinguished the lights, that at the little distance, they had already penetrated … they resolved to come out, and ordered this infernal gate to be thoroughly closed with masonry.

The Dominicans sealed all entrances to the tunnel network; the Zapotecs had called the labyrinth Lyobaa, or “place of rest” – i.e., the underworld.

The royal Zapotecs were said to have been buried in Mitla in cruciform graves that were directly beneath the flooring, according to a legend passed down to the Spanish. The Spanish further reported the existence of a Zapotec priest who resembled the Catholic Pope. He was known as the vuijatao, or “Great Seer.” People would travel from all across Oaxaca Valley to consult with the vuijatao, seeking prophecies, judicial opinions, and contact with their departed relatives. The vuijatao lived in what is now called the Group of Columns, where the burial chambers for the highest levels of royalty were located. Families would bring their mummified monarchs to be buried among the columns, where the vuijatao could speak with them.

Mitla’s multiethnic past demonstrates that holiness transcends cultural boundaries. What was formerly the residence of the Zapotec patron deities of death and the underworld is now the residence of twenty-one Catholic patron saints. Every year, the procession for Saint Paul begins within the ruins, with the bulk of the town present. Some locations never lose their sacred meaning.

What’s the Latest?

Now in late summer of 2023, we have some solid and scientific answers from Proyecto Lyobaa: Estudio geofisico del subsuelo en Mitla, Oaxaca (Project Lyobaa: Geophysical study of the subsoil at Mitla, Oaxaca). The project is a collaboration among the Mexican National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and the Association for Archaeological Research and Exploration (ARX Project).

Results from Stage 1 of Project Lyobaa have been released. An archeological team used ground penetrating radar, electrical resistive tomography, and seismic noise tomography for non-intrusive visualization; they combined these results to produce a three-dimensional model of the underground. They discovered extensive rooms and passageways 5 to 8 meters (a bit more in yards) underneath the church of San Pablo, along with evidence of an ancient temple and a giant cavern, right underneath the main altar of the Catholic church.

According to The ARX Project report on the 2022 season of Project Lyobaa,

These findings will help rewrite the history of the origins of Mitla and its development as an ancient site, as well as providing valuable information for the management and prevention of seismic and geological risk in the area.

Stage 2 of Project Lyobaa has already begun; the schedule includes more geophysical scans in other groups of structures. Researchers will work to confirm the existence of further subterranean rooms and passageways, as well as to provide information to mitigate structural risks to the Mitla ruins.

Whenever burial sites like this are rediscovered, uncovered, or tampered with, it opens the imagination to another Hollywood blockbuster. Let’s hope the writers integrate modern Zapotecs and Mixtecs into not just the storyline for accuracy, but as the main actors in the movie.

Seven Regions of Mexican Flavors

By Brooke O’Connor

When someone asks about Mexican food, the iconic taco springs to mind (see the article by the Chaikens elsewhere in this issue). While tortillas are served everywhere throughout Mexico, and provide the basis of some dishes, Mexican cuisine itself varies sharply by region, and offers much more. The regions vary – there might in fact be a dozen distinct Mexican cuisines. When we see a dish described as a la Veracruzana or Oaxaqueña, what does that mean?

With each cuisine comes history and culture – another example of how diverse and colorful Mexico is.


Starting close to home, the state of Oaxaca offers a unique cuisine that can’t be mistaken for any other region. Apart from being known as “The Land of Seven Moles” (more on mole later), Oaxaca produces cheese, chocolate and mezcal.

Because of the diversity of Oaxaca’s climates, and 17 different indigenous groups with their own cooking traditions, Oaxaqueños are proud of their cultural cuisine. They represent the most pre-Hispanic traditions in Mexico, and many families cherish recipes handed down for thousands of years.

What Is Mole, Anyway?

Mole comes from the Náhuatl word mōlli meaning “sauce.” It refers to a family of sauces and not one recipe. There are hundreds of mole recipes throughout Mexico. In Oaxaca alone, there are over 200 known mole preparations. Some are quite complicated, made with over two dozen ingredients like chili peppers, fruits, nuts, seeds, cacao beans, and spices.

It should be noted that the next-door state of Puebla also claims to be the birthplace of mole. Here are seven well-known moles oaxaqueños.

Mole negro (black), perhaps the most popular mole, contains 20-30 ingredients – including chocolate – and is sweet, savory and very rich. Mole Rojo (red) is sweet, savory, and rich like mole negro, but has other flavors like guajillo and pasillo chiles, tomatoes, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, and spices. Mole amarillo (yellow) is much lighter, less rich and contains things like green tomatoes, ancho and guajillo chili peppers, hoja santa, and spices. Mole verde (green) includes green chili peppers, tomatillos, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), hoja santa, epazote, and other leafy greens.

Mole coloradito (reddish) includes ancho chili peppers, garlic, tomatoes, sesame seeds, and spices. Mole manchamanteles (tablecloth stainer) is named because of the bright red chorizo grease and ancho chili peppers used in the recipe, but also includes tomatoes, onions, garlic, almonds, plantains, and fresh pineapple. Mole chichilo (made from chilhuacle chile peppers) is also rare; it is similar in color to black mole but not quite as thick, and it’s the only mole among the seven that’s flavored with beef.

Oaxaca is famous for some other dishes. Tlayudas are large, thin, crunchy, partially fried or toasted tortillas, covered with a spread of asiento (lard melted to grease), refried beans, lettuce or cabbage, avocado, meat, Oaxacan cheese, and salsa. Memelas are fried or toasted cakes made of masa topped with different fresh ingredients. An empanada de amarillo is a handmade corn tortilla folded over and stuffed with chicken and yellow mole. Enmoladas are essentially enchiladas covered in mole sauce. A tetela is a triangular empanada or quesadilla that predates the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Garnachas istmeñas, coming from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, are crispy, thin masa cakes with finely ground beef and pickled cabbage. Caldo de piedra is a famous soup of fish and shrimp soup, heated with hot river rocks. (Don’t eat the rock). Tamales oaxaqueños are filled with cornmeal encasing shredded meat and mole sauce, then wrapped with banana leaves and cooked.

Some miscellaneous Oaxacan specialties include chapulines, grasshoppers of the genus Sphenarium, toasted on a comal with or without spices (see the article by Kary Vannice elsewhere in this issue). Nicuatole is a pre-Columbian gelatinous dessert made from ground maize and sugar. Pan de yema is a rich, sugar-coated egg bread; and Oaxaca’s coffee and chocolate are both highly prized.


After Oaxaca, the cuisine of the Yucatán Peninsula is recognized for the variety and originality of its cuisine. There are culinary influences from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East; Yucateco cuisine is unique in its use of spices like cumin and allspice, and herbs like large-leafed Yucatecan oregano. They also make seasoning pastes with ingredients unique to the Yucatán.

It’s interesting to note that the people of Yucatán Peninsula, which comprises the states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán, consider themselves a bit set apart from the rest of Mexico. Probably due to geographic position, they have been culturally isolated and have their own unique ways and beliefs. Many locals consider themselves “Yucateco” as readily as “Mexicano.”

This is where we get cochinita pibil (roast pork marinated in achiote and orange, cooked in an underground oven called a píib), panuchos and salbutes (types of tostadas), sopa de lima (tortilla soup with lime), tzik de venado (shredded venison salad), and pavo en escabeche (pickled turkey).


Nearly half of Mexico is considered northern territory, and Tex Mex border food got its inspiration from this region. States considered norteño are Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon, all on the border; Sinaloa is on the lower Sea of Cortez, and Durango is landlocked right next door.

We find meat, particularly beef, with very large white flour tortillas and rice everywhere. Pinto beans and Spanish rice are common side dishes. There is also some seafood near the coast, and roast cabrito (baby goat). Nachos and burritos originated here, as well as caldo de queso (simple soup featuring potatoes, green chiles, chicken broth, and cheese) and aguachile (a type of ceviche of fresh raw shrimp, cucumber, red onion, lime juice, and water-pulverized chilis).

Sonora produces coyotas, which are traditional cookies made from flour dough and filled with piloncillo, an unrefined brown sugar. The coyota is named for a female coyote; the term is also slang for a female of mixed Indian and Spanish heritage.


The state of Veracruz lies along the Gulf of Mexico, where the port city of Veracruz is located; the state capital, Jalapa/Xalapa, is high in the mountains. Veracruzano cuisine gives seafood a leading role. There are heavy Caribbean, Mediterranean, and African influences in the traditional dishes. This is also the home of the beloved jalapeño pepper; it is believed that vanilla originated here as well.

In many veracruzano dishes, you can find capers and olives, which rarely appear in the rest of Mexico. Pescado a la veracruzana is fish, particularly huachinango – red snapper – with tomatoes, capers, and olives. Other Veracruzano seafood dishes are arroz a la tumbada (a type of thick saucy paella), chilpachole (thick seafood soup), and acamayas (a shrimplike river crustacean often prepared al mojo de ajo).

Not to be missed if you see it on a menu in Veracruz is mole de Xico – Xico is a city in central Veracruz, the mole from Xico is very rich and sweet.


The state of Puebla produces two of Mexico’s most iconic dishes: mole poblano (an especially complex sauce of dried chiles, chocolate, nuts and seeds) and chiles en nogada (picadillo-stuffed chiles with a walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds – see Julie Etra’s article elsewhere in this issue). There are also cemitas and chanclas (Poblano tortas, or cakes, the latter soaked in salsa), chiles capones (simple cheese-stuffed chiles). Puebla also gives the U.S. one of its most popular Mexican dishes, chiles rellenos (again, see Julie Etra’s article).

Puebla is also famous for its soups: sopa poblano (a smoky chili soup), chileatole verde (broth and chiles thickened with masa), and sopa de hongos y poblano (made with mushrooms, roasted and diced poblano chili peppers, corn, tomatoes, chipotles, epazote, onions, garlic, and zucchini flowers)


The state of Jalisco is particularly proud. They have a saying that translates to “Jalisco is Mexico,” because many things we would recognize as traditional Mexican culture originate here – tequila, the rodeo and mariachi bands.

The variety of geography from coastline, snow covered peaks, and the largest freshwater lake in the country allow for a variety of foods. The most well known may be birria (chile-stewed goat or lamb), torta ahogada (the Mexican style French dip – ahogado means drowned), caldo michi (a fish soup), pacholas (a ground meat patty with chili), pozole rojo de Jalisco (a broth-based soup with posole [white corn or hominy], vegetables and a variety of meat and condiments).


Last but not least, let’s not forget that the state of California was Mexican land until 1848. So much of what is considered Cali-Mex cuisine is in actuality a fusion of norteño and Baja traditional cuisine.

There are unexpected influences here of Russian and Chinese immigrants. Moreover, Japanese colonies established the fishing industry in Ensenada and even today, fish and shellfish from these waters are sold to Japan’s global auction market.

Caesar salad and margaritas originated here. Seafood is all around you, so you’ll find an abundance of tacos of tempura fish and shrimp, ceviches, grilled lobster, and seafood cocktails. This area now also boasts vineyards, cheese and olives.

Wherever you travel in Mexico there are bound to be delicious food, hearty smiles and gregarious hospitality. However, I’ve found making a point of eating the traditional food, in the areas where it originated, is particularly satisfying.

There is one caveat. Unless you are a connoisseur of salsas, and have a craving for surprises, it is better to ask how spicy hot the salsa or sauce is. Some salsas are made to be used in very small quantities, while others are to be used liberally all over the plate. I often ask, Este nivel de picante es adecuado para los niños? (Is this spice level ok for kids?) Asked with a smile, people are happy to guide me in the right direction.

Mexico’s Pre-Hispanic Heritage Lives on in Today’s Names

By Brooke O’ Connor

When we think of Mexico and language, most people think of Spanish; certainly, it is the predominant language. However many indigenous languages are still spoken, like sleeper cells waiting to be called back into the mainstream. One way these languages stay relevant is through names. In fact, Mexico was not this great country’s original name. Anahuac (land surrounded by water) was the Náhuatl name given to this land during pre-Hispanic times.

Names for People

In modern times, pre-Hispanic first names are still very popular. They honor indigenous heritage and show pride in these ancestors. Here are some popular female pre-Hispanic names:

Ameli – Water
Citlalli – Star
Erendirani – Happy, happy to awaken
Itzel – Bright Star
Ix Chel – Moon
Malinalli – Goddess of grass
Nayelli – Love
Quetzal – Jewel, beautiful feather
Xochitl – Flower
Yunuen – Half Moon

And some popular male pre-Hispanic names:

Tonatiuh – Sun
Moctezuma – Stern prince
Ikal – Spirit
Nezahualcóyotl – Coyote who fasts
Canek – Black serpent
Cuauhtemoc – Descending eagle

Names for Places

Many towns and cities have maintained their pre-Hispanic names as well.

Oaxaca, comes from the Náhuatl word Huāxyacac (place of the guaje). The guaje is a tree (Leucaena leucocephala) found around the capital city.

The meaning of Huatulco (Guatulco, Coatulco) is “where they worship the tree” or “wood,” which refers to an ancient legend. During the first century A.D. a bearded white man arrived on a small boat to the beach we now call Santa Cruz. The man was carrying a gigantic log, that somewhat resembled the shape of a cross. Once he got to the beach, he found Zapotec and Mixtec people. The white man planted the log upright without any help from the locals. He then spent some time teaching the local people new agricultural techniques and cultural improvements.

At some point, he left in the same boat he came in on, never to be seen again. Some say that this man was Quetzalcoatl (the god of, among other, more fundamental things, learning, reading, writing, and books).

Two hundred years before the Spanish conquered Mexico, the Huatulco area was colonized by the Mexicas, whom we call the Aztecs. When they noticed the locals worshiped the wooden cross, they called the place Cuauhtolco, a Náhuatl word meaning “the place where the wooden log is adored.”

Later, after the Spanish came, Thomas Cavendish looted and pillaged the entire region. This included many failed attempts to destroy the mysterious log that apparently couldn’t be cut, sunk, or burned. Soon Spanish Catholics took this opportunity to call it a Christian cross and gave it the name Santa Cruz (Holy Cross). One more cultural appropriation to lure the submission of the locals.

Coyula, located west of the national park, represents versatility, enthusiasm, agility, and unconventional methods.

Cacaluta, located to the southwest of Santa Cruz, received its name from the Zapotec word cacalote (blackbird, including a variety of crows or ravens). In this case, Cacaluta has also been interpreted to mean vulture (zopilote in Spanish).

Tangolunda is a Zapotec word meaning “pretty woman.”

From Náhuatl to Spanish to English

As English speakers, we constantly use words borrowed from Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, and many other languages, but did you know we even have a few words from Nahuatl?

Because Nahuatl is still a living language, English speakers are borrowing various words from Nahuatl. For example:


And last but not least – Shack

The others may seem plausible, but “shack”? Etymologist David Gold traces this word back to the Nahuatl word xacalli, (note that the ‘x’ = ‘sh’), also spelled jacalli, meaning “hut with a straw roof.”

There are other words you probably know that may seem Spanish, but come from pre-Hispanic origins. Thanks to John Pint, a writer from Jalisco, we have the following list:

Amate: the ficus tree, and also paper made in pre-Hispanic times out of the tree’s bark. Still used today by artisans, ancient peoples used it for communication and religious ceremonies. A crumpled piece of amate paper found in the Huitzilapa shaft tomb in Jalisco dates back to the year 70 CE.

Atole: a thick drink made from corn flour and water, then sweetened with piloncillo (brown cane sugar) then flavored with cinnamon, vanilla and maybe chocolate.

Cacahuate: a “peanut.” The ancient Mexica used to refer to this ground nut as a tlacáhuatl or “earth cocoa bean.”

Canica: a “marble,” as in the glass balls kids play with. The word supposedly comes from the Náhuatl expression Ca, nican nican! meaning “This is mine right here!” You would shout this if you thought your marble was the winner.

Cuate: from the Náhuatl, “twin.” Today it is used much like “buddy” or “dude.”

Escuincle: the short form of xoloitzcuintle, the Mexican hairless dog breed. Today, the derivative escuincles refers to children. This is not necessarily pejorative, as xolos were considered protectors from evil spirits and the guides who take our souls to the next life.

Mitote: may originally have referred to dancing and drinking. In modern times it means “a mess” or “chaos.” Armar un mitote is to make a fuss.

Petatearse: a petate is a mat woven from reeds or palm fronds. It was also used to roll up a corpse for burial. From this comes the verb petatearse. So, se petateó means something like, “He kicked the bucket.”

Pochote: also called a ceiba, this is the silk-cotton tree, considered divine in ancient Mexico because its branches, trunk, and roots represent the cosmos’ three levels. Many Pochote varieties can be recognized by their trunk’s thick spikes.

Popote: a “drinking straw,” and is derived from the Náhuatl popotli, referring to the hollow reeds which grew all around the ancient city of Tenochtitlán.

Tejuino: a nonalcoholic beer made from sprouted corn. The ancient Nahua viewed it as the “drink of the gods.” If you drink it regularly, they said it will replace the pathogenic bacteria in your colon with probiotics – great idea for someone looking to add to the local organic market!

Tianguis: a street market, or tianquiz(tli) in Náhuatl. A tianguis is referred to as a mercado if it is enclosed. In that case, the name of the Mercado Orgánico Huatulco, held on Saturdays in Santa Cruz, ought to be Tianguis, although mercado most likely clarifies the event to foreigners.

Tlacuache: a possum. This word comes from tlacuatzin, meaning “little fire-eater.” Why is a possum a fire-eater? Let me tell you!

In pre-Hispanic mythology, the tlacuache stole fire from the gods. He grabbed a piece of burning wood with his tail and gave it to humans. So, that’s why the tail of a possum is hairless.

Tecolote: comes from the Nahuatl word for “owl” and is found in the common Mexican saying, “Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere” (When the owl hoots, the Indian dies). It’s interesting to note that Native Americans in the US also think the owl brings death.

Zanate: a bird called the great-tailed grackle in English. Legends say it has seven distinct songs, all of which it stole from the sea turtle. It is thought that in these songs you can hear the seven passions: love, hate, fear, courage, joy, sadness, and anger.

Pre-Hispanic languages are redolent with a rich heritage and deep connection to nature. Names provided descriptions, rather than adornment. We can see today how many Mexican people have several names, yet can go by nicknames that have nothing to do with their official, legal ones. I have yet to understand this phenomenon, but it has something to do with how they feel about themselves and the family names they were given.

In my observation, pre-Hispanic names seem to carry more pride and grounding. Although they are harder for English native speakers to pronounce, I’m sure the people with pre-Hispanic names would be happy if we did our best to (try to) learn!.

The Music of Mexico before the Spaniards

By Brooke O’Connor

When I think of traditional Mexican music, I think of mariachi bands, brass instruments, and loud emotional singalongs. Although fun, they are not the original music from Mexico.

What We Know about Pre-Hispanic Music

Until recently, pre-Hispanic music was believed to be basic and pentatonic (based on a five-note scale). In 1940, for example, the Museum of Modern Art staged a major exhibition of Mexican art; as a “sideshow” to the exhibition, Carlos Chavez, Mexico’s best-known composer/conductor, led a performance of what he called Xochi-pili-Macuilxochitl after the Aztec god of music, claiming that it was a reconstruction of Aztec music. With “all the proof” for the reconstruction being the instruments in the Mexican National Museum and the “crude” illustrations in Friar Bernardino Sahagún’s Florentine Codex (1575-77), Time Magazine was doubtful that what sounded like an “Aztec jam session” represented the real thing: “Flutes and pipes shrilled and wailed, a trombone (subbing for the snail shell) neighed an angular melody, to the spine-tingling thump-and-throb of drums, gourds, rattles. Xochipili-Macuil-xochitl sounded almost as primitive as Stravinsky.”

Despite Time’s outdated prejudices, their skepticism was probably justified. Archeologists and ethnomusicologists have discovered a diversity of instruments – whistles, vessel flutes (ocarinas), conch shells, wood, reed or bone flutes, rainsticks, stone marimbas, stringed instruments and more. Drums were made of hollow wooden cylinders. The huéhuetl was a vertical drum with a skin top, played with bare hands. The teponaztli was horizontal in form, played with a mallet, and had slits that varied the tone. We know these instruments created a variety of tones and they used a diatonic scale (the familiar seven-tone scale), polyphony (part singing and call-and-response), and microtonality (musical intervals smaller than a half-tone). In other words, they were quite sophisticated. It wasn’t just a primitive melody.

Pre-Hispanic Instruments and Their Sounds

Some archeological finds in museums can still be played today. Particularly notable is a triple clay flute found in the Hidalgo region. Unlike most flutes where you use a finger to alternately cover holes, creating different notes, this flute has a piston to modify the airflow.

Near Michoacán, they found whistles made of wood or bone, which were placed inside the mouth. A hunter would hold it between the teeth and the lips and be used to call animals.

We know from murals in the Mayan region, in particular those in the ruins of Bonampak in Chiapas, as well as Mayan vase paintings, there were trumpets – made of wood, clay, or gourds – as tall as the people blowing them. The murals of Bonampak date from the end of the 8th century; in three separate rooms, they depict the rule of King Chan Muán (reigned 776-c. 795) tells us quite a lot about Mayan music, with richly attired musicians, playing a variety of instruments, accompanying the king in procession.

From the Florentine Codex, we also know that Aztec palaces hosted a space for court musicians, the Mixcoacalli (House of The Cloud Serpent), a multi-room space where musicians could practice, build and store instruments, and generally be at the beck and call of the tlatoani (Aztec leader).

It has not been determined what pre-Hispanic music sounded like. However, found artifacts, and references to music in indigenous languages, can give us some insight. Many people in the state of Oaxaca are reviving the memory of ancient tunes. Thus, what is now called pre-Hispanic music, is musical imagination or improvisation with ancient instruments. Though not a complete view, it brings us closer to how music may have sounded in pre-Hispanic times.

The “Day the Music Died”
In Aztec culture, music and dance were considered acceptable gifts to the gods and common practice in day-to-day lives, for commoners and royalty alike. Music was a central focus at parties, preparing for war, obtaining health, ensuring good harvests, asking for rains, and preparing for conquests. Voices were also considered an important component of ritual music.
Musical instruments were boldly decorated and carved according to their musical message. According to the Spanish conquerors, the music was powerful and impressive. This, however, did not prevent them from “killing all the musicians.”

The 20-day month of Toxcatl (approximately May), comprised a feast in honor of the god Tēzcatlipōca, which ended with a celebration and human sacrifice. On May 22, 1520, as Toxcatl was drawing to a close, the Spanish, led by Deputy Governor Pedro de Alvarado, entered the hall and “attacked the musicians first, slashing at their hands and faces until they had killed all of them. The singers – and even the spectators – were also killed. This slaughter in the Sacred Patio went on for three hours” (from an account collected in Miguel León-Portilla (1926-2019), The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico (Boston, MA: English editions 1962 – 2006). None of the Aztecs were armed in any way.

Cortés had been off fighting some rival Spaniards, but he was allowed to return to the Mexican capital in peace. A day later, however, the Aztecs attacked; the war ended a year later – Cortés took the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, on May 22, 1521. Within 50 years Mayan and Aztec temples were destroyed, and the priests, noblemen, and musicians were annihilated. Soon after, there was a school formed in Mexico City to teach a new form of music brought from Europe. This music taught reading from notes, using stringed instruments, and singing in parts. These songs sang praises to Catholic saints, while paganism and all its forms of practice were outlawed.

And What IS the Pre-Hispanic Sound?
In the years that followed, every part of Mexico was pulled into submission, and Spanish music and practices supplanted the native ones. However, in remote areas, there were tribes who refused to conform. They kept some form of worship and integrated their traditional music. We can still see the result of that in some modern-day rituals.

Many pagan and Christian holidays were merged culturally, including music and musical instruments. Some pagan rites were renamed with Roman nomenclature. Or some tribes added Christian gods to their list of gods.

Even today, we can clearly see two sets of holidays practiced by the Huichols of Jalisco. Their ceremonial life is a blend of pagan holy days and Christian rites. During the pagan holidays, more traditional music is played, while on Christian holidays there are violins and strings, a clear reminder of the Spanish. Chiapas also has a similar history, where stringed instruments accompany native songs.

In recent years, there’s been a revival of indigenous practices, culture, and music. Many Mexican musicians have blended flute and drumming into modern scores. But don’t be fooled. The guy standing on the corner with a three-part reed flute and a boom box is playing for the tourist’s ears, and not the indigenous ones. We can appreciate that as its own kind of fusion music.

If you’re interested in learning more:
Kathryn Goldberg’s senior thesis, submitted to Haverford College in 2018, ‘Music and Meaning in Three Zapotec Songs’ (https://scholarship.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/bitstream/handle/10066/20794/2018GoldbergK.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y).
Linguistic anthropologist professor David Tavárez of Vassar College, “Nicachi Songs: Zapotec Ritual Texts and Postclassic Ritual Knowledge in Colonial Oaxaca”

Want to listen?
Antonio Zepeda is a musician and composer of music for pre-Hispanic and traditional musical instruments. According to online music service Last.fm, “Inspired by the sonority of pre-Hispanic musical instruments such as drums, flutes, rattles, water drums, turtle shells, conch shells, ocarinas, clay pots, and log drums, he re-creates with them the mystical ambiance smothered by the dust of history”

Tortillas, Women and Circles

By Brooke O’Connor

It’s impossible to think about Mexican food without immediately thinking about tortillas, whether made with flour or variously colored corn. A legend says tortillas were invented by a humble peasant to feed a hungry king. We have records of corn tortillas being made as far back as 10,000 BCE. Why have they been a staple of the Americas and how have women making tortillas become such an important part of society?

First, let’s look at the making of tortillas. Traditionally, dried corn is cooked in lime water. Not limes from trees, but an alkaline bath made with wood ash and/or white lime powder from the earth. This process creates a chemical reaction releasing the bioavailability of B vitamins, particularly vitamin B3, which is not widely present in traditional vegetable-based diets. Boiling in this water also increases the mineral uptake such as calcium, iron, copper, and zinc by hundreds of percentage points. After the corn is boiled for at least 90 minutes, the skins can be slipped off and the corn can be ground into masa and used for tortillas, or other bases for foods like tamales or sopes.

This process is called nixtamalization, coming from the Aztec language Nahuatal word nextli “lime ashes” and tamalli “unformed/cooked corn dough.”

We don’t know how the process was discovered, but we think it goes something like this. People in the Americas didn’t have metal cooking vessels in 10,000 BCE, and the traditional pottery was not strong enough to cook directly on hot coals or fire. The earthenware pots were elevated above the fire, then hot stones were put into the pot (with the food) to increase the temperature and cook food thoroughly. Limestone is an easily attained and abundant resource in the Americas, so it the heated rocks were generally pieces of limestone. The lime leaching into the water created the nixtamalization, but a side effect was better flavor and aroma in the cornmeal (masa). Soon it became clear that cooking with limestone versus other stones created a superior product, so this became the standard. Most likely the stones were heated in the wood ash underneath the pot, and some ash was likely to enter the food as well. Savvy cooks experimented with various amounts of ash and stone until they achieved the desired flavor.

Once the corn was made into masa, small round balls were flattened by hand, and laid over a large concave piece of pottery called a comal. The comal was treated with a thick layer of limestone dissolved in water, creating a non-stick coating. This would leave a light additional dusting of calcium on every tortilla, making it even more nutritious. Periodically the limestone would be washed onto the comal again, and tortillas naturally slid off the cooking surface, using only fingers. Much safer and longer lasting than the non-stick pans we have today, despite all the advantages of modern chemistry and manufacturing.

Because cooking was traditionally a woman’s chore, tortilla-making was an essential women’s role in Mexican society, but not given much importance. It was just another job in the kitchen. It evolved into micro-businesses for women who developed a particular flair for their nixtamalization process. The skilled tortilla maker began selling to other women, freeing them up to concentrate on other things.

As the industrial revolution hit Mexico, the “wage gap” between women and men became more of a “wage chasm.” However, because tortilla making was not mechanized, it remained an industry owned and run by women. It was an essential strategy used by women of the era to maintain some form of autonomy and financial significance.

Centuries later, we have tried to industrialize nixtamalization, with terrible impact on the environment, the nutritional quality of masa, and excess use of energy resources – not to mention the lack of complex aromas and depth of flavors.

In modern days, the role of women in Mexico has changed. Women who make tortillas to sell, for the most part, are using industrially produced corn meal. The concept of societal roles, and the loss of recognition of traditional flavors, have morphed the tortilla industry into an interesting reflection of society at large. Tortilla making is considered a lower-status job for women. In fact, anthropologist Lauren A. Wynne details how modern Yucatecan Maya women have no intention of making tortillas at home because they consider it lower-class activity, and the qualities of good-tasting tortilla have changed (“I Hate It”: Tortilla-Making, Class and Women’s Tastes in Rural Yucatán, Mexico,” Food, Culture & Society {18:3, 2015}.

An interesting side note to corn and its history, is what happened when the Spaniards came to Mexico. They were enchanted with this new grain. They’d never seen corn before and described it with delight in their letters back home; they created the name tortilla (little cake). They called it this because in southern Spain, where there was a significant Arabic influence, they made small round disks from chickpea flour, and it seemed similar. The Spanish then imported wheat and the flour tortilla was born.

After Europeans began cultivating corn, it became a popular food but led to a pandemic in poorer parts of society because, without nixtamalization, it lacked niacin; the deficiency brought on a disease called pellagra. Symptoms include inflamed skin, diarrhea, dementia, and sores in the mouth. Over time, the skin became thicker, peeled, and bled. If not treated, it was fatal. The same thing happened when Europeans settled in the southern part of the United States. Settlers relied on easily grown corn crops to survive, but neglected to learn the indigenous way of preparation. One could argue Nature herself served up a little social justice.

As most things go, history repeats itself. The traditional ways of cooking are becoming more interesting again, as our food resources become more expensive and less nutritious. There are several cooking schools in Huatulco that offer classes in traditional and modern Mexican cuisine.

There are also still women who make tortillas by hand, with corn they grew and processed themselves. If you are fortunate enough to have organic, indigenous corn, nixtamalized over a fire, and cooked over a traditional comal, you will notice the difference immediately.

Like history, women have always been circular. We have cyclical bodily rhythms, pregnant bellies, round with ripe life. It’s through the family circle we serve our immediate loved ones. We support each other, disguised as crafting circles. It only seems fitting, women will bring this art of circle-shaped tortilla-making back into the mainstream. There is something wholesome and delicious in the process. There’s a connection with the earth, history, and the elements when we connect with indigenous ways of cooking. If you have a chance to make even one tortilla with your own hands, take it. It’s a science and an art, and hopefully, together we can revive the womanly art of circles and tortillas.

Eye on the Writers of The Eye: Brooke O’Connor

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Brooke O’Connor began writing for The Eye in October 2022, and is the most recent member of the Eye staff. She stands out among the already-international Eye team as having lived in the most countries – Mexico is just her latest.

Brooke was born in Los Angeles County and was adopted when she was 4 months old. She was raised in Diamond Bar, California, near Anaheim, until she was a three-year-old. Her family moved to Salt Lake City and Brooke was educated there through high school. She spent a gap year working as a nanny in Syracuse, NY and Mountain Lakes, NJ, before matriculating in a special pre-med program at the University of Kansas, graduating with a BS degree. She decided to spend the summer before med school working in Alaska. There she met her soon-to-be husband, and her plans for further medical study were set aside in favor of marriage. Brooke and her husband lived in Squim, Washington, where they would later start their family with first child – a daughter. After several months of being a stay-at-home mother, Brooke discovered she had a talent for multi-level marketing, and marketing became her long-term career.

The young couple moved to Dublin, Ireland, when her husband’s employment required. Brooke realized that many grocery shops in Dublin were small family enterprises providing both housing and income, so she bought and ran such a shop for three years. In addition, she began coaching others in life choices and business decisions, the beginning of another long-term occupation. Her son was born during that period.

Once again following the employment of her husband, who had family ties in Italy, the family moved to a small town outside Milan. They lived in a rented wing of a castle and although the quarters were freezing during the winters, they lived there for three years until they bought a house in the area. When Brooke was divorced in 2012, she became a consultant for a Los Angeles-based company specializing in interior design and an architectural firm with clients in the Middle East. She spent nine months as their agent in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, promoting their projects.

Later she realized that she wanted her teen daughter to have opportunities that were available in the U.S. but not in Italy, so they moved to Alexandria, VA. Brooke bought and ran a limousine service there for three years. Then, to live closer to her brother, she moved to Denver where she was trained and practiced as a clinical hypnotherapist, specializing in working with people who had experienced trauma. It was in Denver that she met her current partner, Scott, and within a few weeks they decided to be a couple for life. They moved to Salt Lake City when Brooke’s mother needed assistance through an illness.

After her mother died, Brooke discussed quality-of-life challenges with Scott and began to explore places in the world where they could enjoy growing old together. After considering several places that appeared to support a lifestyle they hoped for, Huatulco rose to the top of the list … but they had never been here. After a one-month visit checking out the town, they returned to Salt Lake City, sold everything, and returned to Huatulco to a condo they bought in La Crucecita.

Today, Brooke and Scott are partners in a relatively new business called Better You Marketing. Brooke spends her free time snorkeling in our beautiful bays, writing for The Eye, and working on her memoir. She has always enjoyed baking and, like many of us, is finding baking in our environment a challenge. The culinary skill for which she’s best known is her creative breakfast skillets using leftover ingredients.

Brooke arrived shortly after our long-time Eye writer Brooke Gazer moved to Mérida in the Yucatán. We miss Brooke Gazer but are happy to have a new Brooke join us.

Now and Then: The Modern vs the Zapotec Concepts of Time

By Brooke O’Connor

When I started researching the concept of time in the Zapotec culture versus the idea of time today, there were many changes happening in the world – one of which is the first public availability of AI, or artificial intelligence. New technologies will change the fabric of how we live our lives, as well as our perception of time.

We’ve probably all experienced an AI “chatbot” – the online conversations that you have when you want to “talk” some kind of customer service. Lately, these text-generating chatbots have moved on to writing entire essays. So … just for fun, I typed my topic into ChatGPT, an advanced chatbot released in November 2022 by Open AI, a nonprofit artificial intelligence research laboratory. This is what came out.

The Zapotec culture, indigenous to the southern state of Oaxaca in Mexico, has a unique and complex understanding of time. The Zapotecs have long held a cyclical view of time, in which the past, present, and future are interwoven and constantly influencing one another. This view is deeply ingrained in their daily lives, religious practices, and social structure.

One aspect of the Zapotec perception of time is the belief in the power of ancestors. For the Zapotecs, the spirits of their ancestors continue to play an active role in the present and are often called upon for guidance and protection. This belief is reflected in the Zapotec calendar, which is based on a 260-day cycle, in which the days are named after various deities, natural phenomena, and ancestors. Each day has its own unique characteristics and significance and is believed to be influenced by the spirits of the ancestors associated with it.

The Zapotecs also have a strong connection to the land and their environment. This connection is reflected in their agricultural practices, which are closely tied to the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars. The Zapotecs use these astronomical cycles to determine the best time for planting and harvesting crops. For example, the Zapotecs believe that certain days are better for planting certain crops, depending on the phase of the moon.

Another important aspect of the Zapotec perception of time is the concept of “tequio.” Tequio is the Zapotec word for community work or service, which is an integral part of Zapotec culture. Tequio is typically done on a voluntary basis and is done for the benefit of the community as a whole. It can take many forms, such as building a community house, repairing roads, or planting crops. The Zapotecs believe that tequio is necessary to maintain balance and harmony in the community and that it helps keep the ancestors’ spirits happy.

Religion also plays a big role in the Zapotec perception of time. In Zapotec culture, gods and goddesses are believed to have a significant impact on the perception of time. They are seen as the creators and guardians of time and are responsible for the cycles of the seasons and the passage of days and nights. These deities are also associated with the passage of time in the human life cycle, such as birth, adulthood, and death. For example, the god Xipe Tótec is associated with the planting and growth of crops, and rituals are performed in his honor at the beginning of the agricultural cycle to ensure a bountiful harvest. Similarly, the goddess Cocijo is associated with the rainy season, and rituals are performed to ensure that the rains come at the appropriate time for the crops.

Additionally, the gods and goddesses are also associated with different stages in the human life cycle, such as birth, adulthood, and death. For example, the god of childbirth, Pitao Cozobi, is invoked to ensure a safe delivery, and the goddess of death, Xoxo, is honored to ensure a peaceful transition to the afterlife.

One of the most important ceremonies is the Guelawe, a celebration of the dead that takes place annually, usually in November. During this ceremony, the Zapotecs believe that the spirits of the dead return to the living world to visit their descendants. The Zapotecs believe that the spirits of the dead have the power to influence the lives of the living and that it is important to keep them happy through rituals and offerings.

However, it’s worth mentioning that Zapotec culture is diverse and there are variations between different regions and even towns. There are many different practices, beliefs, and expressions of their culture. Also, the Zapotec culture has been in constant change over the centuries and is still adapting to the present day, thus, this article presents a general view of the Zapotec culture’s perception of time.

In modern times, the perception of time has been largely shaped by advances in science and technology. The invention of the clock in the 14th century revolutionized the way time was measured and perceived. The development of mechanical clocks, and later quartz and atomic clocks, made it possible to measure time with an unprecedented level of accuracy. The widespread use of clocks and watches has also led to the standardization of time across the world, with time zones being established to account for variations in longitude.

In physics, time is not an absolute but relative to the observer, and in theories such as special and general relativity show that the perception of time can change depending on the observer’s velocity and gravitational field.

In modern Western cultures, time is often perceived as a scarce and valuable resource. People are constantly racing against the clock, trying to fit more activities into each day. This has led to the development of time management techniques and tools to help people make the most of their time.

In conclusion, the perception of time has evolved throughout history and across cultures. The Zapotec culture had a complex understanding of time that was closely linked to their religious beliefs, while in modern Western cultures time is often perceived as a scarce and valuable resource. Advances in science and technology have played a significant role in shaping our current understanding and perception of time.

Note: I had to fix some grammatical errors, but then, when I asked how I should tell people this article was written, it responded, “This article was crafted by the deft hand of artificial intelligence.”

One thing is clear in our modern age; time stands still for no one, and if we don’t progress along with the technology we will be left behind.

Why There’s a Rabbit on the Moon

By Brooke O’Connor

My father told me the moon was made of cheese when I was a child.

“See all the holes?” he asked, and I believed him.

Why was the moon made of cheese? He couldn’t answer that, but I wondered if the moon tasted anything like my ham and cheese sandwich on a warm day.

Later, I was told there was a man’s face on the moon. He looked down on the children of the world to see if they were behaving properly and reported to the parents if any mischief was at hand. It was a bit creepy, but my best friend assured me it was only a way for parents to instill fear in us.

The Agricultural Moon

Ancient cultures studied the moon and its cycles, and people were more in tune with those cycles than we are today. Planting under a certain moon cycle could grow stronger crops. Harvesting under a certain moon cycle would yield better-tasting produce.

These practices are being revived. I worked with an organic chamomile farm that harvested on the night of a full moon. Laboratory tests showed the highest level of azulenes (a blue chemical used as an anti-inflammatory and emollient) were available from 11 pm to 1 am on full moons. Their chamomile essential oils were so potent, they were only used for medical purposes. One drop would stain your hand for a few days.

Here in Mexico, the traditional milpa method of gardening – small, intercropped plots typically growing corn, climbing beans, and vining squash –is still in use today and uses the moon cycles to maximize production.

As any gardener knows, one of the essential parts of gardening is factoring in the fauna, and rabbits are omnipresent in that ecosystem. In fact, rabbits have been a food source for humans and other animals for many millennia.

The Moon of Mexican Legends

So how did the Aztecs decide there was a rabbit on the moon?

Let me tell you …

As many good stories start, this one started long ago and began with a god. Quetzalcóatl is related to the gods of the wind, of the dawn, of merchants, of arts, crafts, and knowledge. He was also the patron god of the Aztec priesthood, and of learning and knowledge. Quetzalcoatl was one of several important gods in the Aztec pantheon and is known as the Precious Serpent or Feathered Serpent.

One day, shortly after Mexico was created, Quetzalcóatl was curious to see this beautiful land and transformed himself into human form to walk around and explore. He was amazed at the exquisite variety of trees, flowers, and terrain he found. He walked far and wide. The sun was hot, the day was long, and he became tired. As the moon rose, and the stars started to twinkle, he realized he was hungry and started searching for food.

As Quetzalcóatl looked for food, he tripped over a rabbit.

“Who are you and what are you eating? I am hungry and looking for food.” The god said.

“I’m just a little rabbit, and I eat grass. I will gladly pick grass for you to eat because I see you are a great god,” the rabbit said.

“I will die of starvation if I eat grass. There must be something else.” Quetzalcóatl said.

The rabbit replied, “Very well, I will offer myself to you as a sacrifice. Eat me and you will have the energy to continue your journey.” =

“You are very brave for such a small creature!” Quetzalcóatl said.

“I am here to serve you.” The rabbit said.

Quetzalcóatl was touched by the courage and dedication of the rabbit. He picked him up and caressed the soft fur. Then, instead of eating him, he held the rabbit up to the moon and imprinted the rabbit’s silhouette. The rabbit would forever be known for his good heart and sacrificial attitude.

This is why the Aztecs say there is a rabbit on the moon.

It’s interesting to note that the Chinese and Japanese also have myths about the rabbit on the moon. The Japanese story talks about a god disguised as an old man who wanders in the forest for food. A monkey offers some stolen fish and a fox offers some nuts, but the rabbit has nothing to offer but grass. The rabbit then offers himself to the old man, and the god reveals himself, then gives the rabbit eternal life on the moon.

I always scratch my head when myths of different cultures collide, particularly when they are so specific but geographically distant. What does it mean? Could there really be a rabbit on the moon?

I doubt it, but there’s definitely a connection in human history yet to be discovered.

Things I Wish I’d Known about the Climate
before Moving to HUX

By Brooke O’Connor

If you come from a country north of the border, here are some things you may not know about Huatulco’s climate; here’s my experience of how I learned to adjust.

The Sun

Full sun in Huatulco means a UV index of 11+ most of the year. Check out this chart to see what that means for your skin type – the chart shows the time it will take before your skin starts to burn.

I did not believe I could burn within 10-15 minutes. I was wrong. We are close to the equator and closer to the sun.

My must-haves:
● Long-sleeved rash guard from 12 pm-4 pm if on the beach
● Wide-brimmed hats
● Good sunglasses with a UV rating
● Reef-safe sunscreen (more on that later)
● Homemade after-sun treatment – aloe gel mixed with generous amounts of lavender essential oil. This is magic and will take out the red overnight if applied liberally after a shower.
● Shop in the morning, stay indoors until late afternoon


All that sun and the abundant humidity make it hot. Heat stroke is a real issue. Cervesas and margaritas are delicious on a hot day, but dehydrating alcohol needs to be balanced out with water.

Fortunately, the needed water comes in many forms. Suero drinks (electrolyte drinks), agua de sabor or aguas frescas (fruit-flavored waters), and good old agua natural from the bottle. Drink some of each daily.

Fortunately, the needed water comes in many forms. Suero drinks (electrolyte drinks), agua de sabor or aguas frescas (fruit-flavored waters), and good old agua natural from the bottle. Drink some of each daily.

I’ve heard of several people going to the hospital for IV fluids because dehydration sneaks up like a pouncing jaguar. The minute I feel a headache, or dizziness, I know I’ve got to kick into gear and guzzle some form of agua.

My must-haves:
● Salt liberally with good natural sea salt, not table salt (which contains only sodium). Sweat drains the body of essential minerals that keep things going – like your heart!
● Drink a good amount of water in the morning, then keep track during the day. Drink half your weight in ounces or half your weight x 30ml per day.
● After every alcoholic drink, have some water.
● Eat more fruit! It contains mostly water and a lot of vitamins and minerals. The ladies selling sliced fruit on the beach are wonderful.


Almost everybody sweats, some of us more than others. The crossroads of humidity, heat, and menopause have drastically increased my output. This created the perfect storm for rashes and constantly wet clothing.

My must-haves:
● Only natural fiber clothing – linen, cotton, and silk.
● Lowered my sense of modesty. No one here cares if you have fat arms or cellulite. Be cool.
● A quick rinse-off shower during the day.
● Body powder. I have an assortment, from lovely smells to medicated, depending on the body part and the need. Use liberally.
● Forget makeup. It melts off. Hurray for tattoo brows and eyeliner. Embrace the lip gloss.


Humidity brings mold. It’s that simple. No more waiting to do laundry. No more balling up towels on the floor. Wear it, wash it, dry it well, and store it in an area with ventilation.

The key is never letting the mold take hold. Mold is hard to kill, and many items have to be thrown away after the smell and black spots appear, like my favorite straw hat.

Bugs like dark places where there isn’t a lot of movement. I used to clean my closet every year in the states. Now it’s a weekly job. Under sofas, beds and chairs can quickly become spider hangouts. But there are ways to keep critters at bay.

Things I do now:
● Empty the beach bag immediately. It either needs to be washed or hung out to dry. Nothing waits till tomorrow.
● Never start a load of laundry unless I’m committed to seeing it through to the end of that day.
● I don’t like chemicals, so I use diatomaceous earth powder in the dark corners, and occasionally around window sills. It dehydrates most bug bodies while keeping a nontoxic home for myself.
● We embrace and encourage the house geckos. They don’t seem to harm anything, and they go into dark places to hunt. Diatomaceous earth only harms invertebrates, so I know I’m not poisoning them.
● We have a bat. I only know this because it leaves poops on the windowsill. Although not my favorite animal, it keeps the mosquitoes away, and it hasn’t tried to suck my blood on the full moon, so I think we’re safe.
● Keep as many items as possible in bins, baskets, and containers so it’s easy to pull out and put them back.
● Silicone packets. I used to throw them away as soon as I opened a package. Now I deliberately put them in everything I can. They can be reused by drying them in the oven. Check out this how-to info: http://www.wikihow.com/Reuse-Silica-Gel


Fruits and vegetables grow like crazy here. They also wither and die quickly. They haven’t been sprayed with chemicals or bathed in bleach, so the natural bacteria do their job.

On top of that, fresh produce needs to be washed and disinfected because the soil here is healthy, and has organisms we don’t find in the north. It can cause some tummy upset if your gut biome isn’t used to it. I know some people use a few drops of bleach in the water, but I use a colloidal silver preparation called Quality Day – you can buy at the supermarket in the veggie section.

Things I do now:

● Shop several times a week and keep food rotated.
● I opted for special fridge containers to preserve fresh fruit and veggies.
● Cook large batches in the morning (cooler time to cook), and freeze individual portions.
● Immediately put baked goods into sealed containers and in the fridge.
● Dry my fresh cheese (if it’s wet), and put it in the fridge without a cover. After one day it goes in a sealed container.
● Use thermal bags to do shopping.
● Take antiparasitic medicine every 6 months.
● Make sure the refrigerator is working at the right temperature.

Rainy Season vs Dry Season

When I moved to Huatulco, I imagined the rainy season meant monsoons and months of flooding. What it really means is the possibility of rain. Many times, there are evening showers or overnight pours. Very few days are rainy all day.

Hurricanes don’t usually hit Huatulco. This part of the Pacific is the birthing place of many storms, and because of our unique position, we will only get the tails of it for a day or two.

The dry season is exactly that. Dry. No rain for about six months. So when the rains come, we rejoice. The trees come alive again, the fruits start to grow, and the animals are relieved from the relenting heat.

Coral and Sea Life

Whether you believe in climate change or not, one thing for sure is the temperature of the waters has gone up. This causes the coral reefs to become covered in algae, which chokes them from getting sunlight, and they eventually die. When the coral dies, the fish population dies.

A few things we learned:
● Do NOT touch the coral reefs. Not only can you get cut, but you can damage the reef.
● Treat yourself to good, reef-friendly sunscreen. Unfortunately, they don’t sell it everywhere. When I find it, I stock up.
● Do not take the seashells or pieces of coral home. There’s a hefty fine if they find sand, shells, or coral in suitcases at the airport. Removing these essential parts of the ecosystem is eroding the beaches and damaging sea life.
● Don’t touch the animals in or out of the water. They aren’t pets and can be damaged.


Overall, we’ve found Huatulco to be one of the healthiest and most beautiful places to live on the planet. With a little preparation, all things are possible in paradise!

Zapotec Writers:
Not as Boring as History Class Led You to Believe

By Brooke O’Connor

An issue about Mexican writers would be remiss if we didn’t include some original writers in Mexico: the Zapotecs. Although Spanish is the legal and most widely spoken language, Zapotec is still one of the largest indigenous language groups spoken, comprising 58 different variations among different communities.

Many dialects and traditions are being lost to modernity, but there are some champions of Zapotec, publishing bilingual and trilingual books. More on that later.

The earliest preserved Zapotec writing is from 600 BCE, and we know this Mesoamerican script was used for well over 1,500 years. Just as they do today, Zapotec peoples had many uses for writing in the ancient thriving society. However, time has left us more monolithic billboards than personal journals.

The earliest known inscription comes from San José Mogote, northwest of present day Oaxaca City; San José Mogote reached its political peak before the establishment of Monte Albán, southwest of and closer to Oaxaca City (more writings have been preserved from Monte Albán than from San José Mogote). Many of the large engravings from San José Mogote detailed competitions and the development of urban life. They chronicled the succession of leaders and winning of battles. This led archeologists to believe that writing during this time was used mostly for political and civic education. They’ve since found those conclusions to be false.

The earlier (600 BCE to 200 ACE) writings in San José Mogote appear to be related to sacred topics; self-sacrifice, the proper oral invocation of ancestors to ensure success in warfare, the taking of captives, ritual combat with captives, and how-to manuals on burning humans alive to petition for agricultural and human fertility. Political topics included strategies and plans written by members of the elite class, designed to create division in society with the aim of developing more power as leaders.

In addition, these elites promoted an elaborate ideology that centered on a primordial covenant between humans and the divine; the ideology depended, of course, on the populace following the elites. The authors masked the inequalities between the classes, and used these ideas to create messianic movements, binding the people to one political party or another. There are other writings showing resistance to these movements, and how the elite plans didn’t always unfold as expected.

People wrote on many media – wood, pottery, leather, cloth and paper bark. These items were more portable for trade, as well as written communication between elites in all areas of ancient Oaxaca. Unfortunately, the soft nature of these media makes them highly perishable. With the ravages of time, most are lost to us.

A few items survived, or were documented when the Spaniards came. Translation can be tricky, and sociologists are taking a second look at Spanish accounts of ancient writings. It seems there may have been some creative liberties taken, to promote the narrative that “Savages need to be tamed.” The friars sent information back to Spain, and the more exotic and titillating the better.

The characters of early written Zapotec were not like the written language seen today. Many symbols represented an idea, rather than denoting the phonic sound of a letter, group of letters, or a syllable. Numbers were portrayed with lines and bars.

When the first Spaniards came, the indigenous wanted to communicate freely (arguably more than the Spaniards did), so as early as the late 16th century, Zapotec peoples appropriated the Spanish alphabet to render their own language graphically. They wrote stealthily about their traditions though. They hoped to come to an amicable agreement for the Spaniards to leave, in peace, after learning a bit about the culture. By subverting the colonial gaze, they were able to keep intact some of the important cultural identity and family issues, and still talk about exploitive political practices. Lucky for us, the Zapotecs have continued to use the alphabetic script today, and we can begin to understand more of this rich culture.

Zapotec language is full of imagery and deep meanings. It is formal and respectful, particularly to elders and people not in your immediate family. It’s a language that commands a level of humility on the part of the speaker. The natural world is invoked regularly. There is a sense of connection to the earth, the ancestors and human kind.

If you want to experience this magical, dream-like writing I highly recommend Red Ants by Pergentino José, who was born in 1981 in the Zapotec village of Buena Vista in the municipality of San Agustín Loxicha, in the mountains a couple of hours north of Zipolite. He writes both poetry and prose in Loxichan Zapotec, which he has described as “the Zapotec of the coast,” and Spanish. In 2006, he wrote the bilingual Spanish/Zapotec Y supe qué responder /Nyak mbkaabna (I Knew What To Answer); in 2013, he published a tri-lingual (Zapotec/Spanish/English) collection of poems, Ndio dis mbind /Lenguaje de pájaros /The Language of Birds. The volume is beautifully illustrated with paintings by Raga Garcíarteaga. It is difficult to find as a book, but you can download it from the publisher: http://www.avispero.com.mx/storage/app/media/libros/lenguaje-de-pajaros.pdf.

Red Ants was first published in 2012 in Spanish as Hormigas Rojas, but included expressions in Loxichan Zapotec; it was translated to English in 2020 by Thomas Bunstead, who chose to keep the Zapotec passages. Red Ants is the first ever translation of a Zapotec author. It’s a collection of short stories that are neither linear nor logical, but rather surreal, with an intoxicating perfume of culture and connection to the land. Each story builds on the last, from a different angle and perspective. There are underlying themes in these modern stories that speak to the Zapotec people’s experience through history: forced change, imprisonment, longing for a simpler time, loss of autonomy, grit to overcome even when bruised and broken, but never losing connection with the natural world.

I invite you to take time reading this. Think about the complexities of translating one language to another. Translation is always less about the actual words, and more about meaning in a sentence. Hence, translated into stoic English, we have a mystical sensation, with animals and imagery expanding in ways we may not immediately grasp. Sit with it, and let the ancestors of this land breathe understanding into you.

If you’re interested in hearing what Zapotec sounds like, and see some of the work being done to preserve and understand these languages, check out this site from the Zapotec Language Project of the University of California at Santa Cruz: https://zapotec.ucsc.edu/. The University offers an online dictionary, monthly language classes, and audio samples of native speakers. For example, this “scary story” spoken by Samuel Díaz Ramirez: https://zapotec.ucsc.edu/slz/texts-query.php?lg=&content=&query=match&text=SLZ1089-t1&parse=no