Tag Archives: Food & Dining

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

The New Year can be magical, depressing or just another day. It’s hard to believe that 22 years ago the world waited with baited breath to see if all our technology would collapse. I was pregnant at the time and already living in a Mexican village without a telephone so I wasn’t too worried about what it would mean for me if all the computers shut down.

Back in 2012 we pondered the Mayan doomsday prophecy that the world would end. I wasn’t too concerned then, either – just wanted to be surrounded by people I love.

Well, technology is still going strong and there are more of us than ever before – even with a pandemic, the world population is 7.9 billion, so I don’t think we will be going on the extinct species list anytime soon.

The go-to man for predictions for the last 500 years or so has been the French physician Michel de Nostredame, most commonly known as Nostradamus. For 2022 Nostradamus has predicted asteroids raining down on the earth, massive world hunger, migrant issues, inflation spiraling out of control, the fall of the European Union, shortage of resources leading to a climate war and a massive earthquake.

And it is the season when the message board threads fill with cringe-worthy questions and comments regarding the cheapest way to get from the airport or warning people about waiters scamming them. The underlying vibe of these queries seems to be that the posters are worried about being overcharged or scammed, which suggests they have the expectation that is the norm here. It is not.

The airport: Like most international airports there is transportation. Average cost, per person, is 180 pesos. There is no need to arrange beforehand. Easy. To return to the airport at the end of your holiday expect to pay about 200 pesos for a standard taxi. The variation in cost between coming and going has to do with airport transportation services paying more for their license etc. This is common practice in many places. Don’t overthink it.

Tipping: Tip a minimum of 15% at restaurants. If the beach waiter adds 10% service (which is often how it is done here) be sure to add some extra to show your gratitude for great service. When someone bags your shopping at the grocery store, pumps your gas, delivers food, massages you, pedicures your dry winter feet – tipping is standard etiquette – not charity. Be generous, be gracious and be grateful and you will find yourself surrounded by a community of hard-working people who will go above and beyond to help you.

My theory is that reality will rise up to meet your expectations. So whether it is what the new year has to offer or what to expect on your holiday, move through the world with positive purpose, be respectful of the unknown, seek out the good in each moment – especially in the difficult moments.

See you next month,

Jane

Year of the Tiger 2022: Big Bold Books to Devour

By Carole Reedy

In China, the tiger is considered the king of beasts, symbolizing power and a great deal of nerve. The authors below have proven their power, using the written word as a way to understand our mysterious world. These are the fresh voices of the 21st century exciting us about the future of books and keeping high the bar for fine literature. (Publication date in parentheses.)

Douglas Stuart: Young Mungo (April 14, 2022)
Stuart stunned us in 2020 with his first novel, Shuggie Bain, richly deserved winner of the Booker prize that year. His story of a young boy growing up in Scotland has assured Stuart a place among classical writers. The ambiance of the place and time, the vivid endowment of the characters, and the raw emotion in the novel drew millions of readers who ended up loving little Shuggie.

Stuart may have another hit on his hands with Young Mungo, the tale of two young men, one Protestant and the other Catholic, growing up in Glasgow. Assuredly, it will generate some of the same emotion and tension that drew readers to Shuggie Bain.

Stuart has led a rag-to-riches life, growing up in Scotland, moving to England, and ultimately having a successful career as a designer in New York. With Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo, his writing career is just beginning, and we can look forward to many incisive novels in the future.

Hanya Yanagihara: To Paradise (January 11, 2022)
A Little Life, the lengthy, imposing novel of friendship and pain, put Yanagihara on the map as a brilliant writer. Many of us thought she deserved the Booker Prize that year for her story of the very emotional journey of four young men.

A new twist, but surely another whirlwind of emotion, is presented in her new novel, On Paradise, which spans three centuries and covers three different versions of what the US becomes. Surely the themes of love and pain will dominate, as they did in A Little Life.

Olga Towkarczuk: The Books of Jacob (February 1, 2022)
Get ready for the literary ride of a lifetime. This book is being called the War and Peace of modern literature. Polish wordsmith Olga Towkarczuk has gifted us with books such as Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and taken us on philosophical journeys with her award-winning Flights.

Towkarczuk has clearly taken seriously the responsibility and implications of the Nobel Prize she was awarded in 2018. The Books of Jacob has already won the coveted Nike award in Poland for best novel.

Marcel Theroux of The Guardian explains: “It is a visionary novel that conforms to a particular notion of masterpiece – long, arcane and sometimes inhospitable. Tokarczuk is wrestling with the biggest philosophical themes.” He compares it to John Milton’s Paradise Lost and calls the novel one that “will be a landmark in the life of any reader with the appetite to tackle it.” I hope to be among the first to try!

Emily St. John Mandel: Sea of Tranquility (April 5, 2022)
This young Canadian writer follows up her successful novels The Glass House and Station Eleven (available to stream as a limited miniseries on HBO Max) with her latest glimpse into the future.

The novel begins in 1912 on Vancouver Island and takes us 300 years into the future to a dark colony on the moon. That should pique your interest, but in addition to the metaphysics and time travel, St. John brings the delicate side humanity, as always, to the novel.

This is just the beginning of our 2022 review. In future issues of The Eye, we’ll explore the new books of our favorite and new authors. Perhaps, as I am, you are grateful for the hours of entertainment and contemplation brought to you by these writers.

Understanding Huatulco

By Randy Jackson

The best part of my morning swim in the Santa Cruz Bay is, after I’m done with the exercise bit, when I pull my goggles up on my forehead and lazily tread water while looking around. It is this very spot, this bay, that has always been the epicentre of Huatulco. Oceans battle their containment everywhere. Waves are relentless against rocks and beaches. But we land-dwelling creatures have always needed calm harbours, like this spot, to land and launch our boats (and to swim). This bay has been a gateway to the land and to the sea for centuries, well before the conquistadors made it a shipping and distribution port in the 15th century.

Until the 1980’s, when the Puerto Escondido to Salina Cruz highway (route 200) was constructed, the bay at Santa Cruz was the principal connecting point for this area to the outside world. And here I am, langorously sculling water, one of many of us from that outside world. How many times over the centuries, I wonder, have outsiders looked upon this bay and these hills and stopped to ask: What is life like for the people who live here? Although this is an open-ended question, this sentiment of curiosity about Huatulco remains among many of us outsiders. I seek to scratch that curiosity itch with three more specific questions:

(1) How are people here organised (governed)?
(2) What are the principal concerns (issues) for Huatulco?
(3) What is the plan for Huatulco in the future?

(1) Governance

What most of us foreigners know as Huatulco, is a coastal area within the Municipality of Santa María Huatulco. A municipio in Mexico is an administrative division comparable to what Canadians and Americans might know as counties. It is a constitutionally defined level of government within a state, in this case the state of Oaxaca. The municipality has the responsibility to provide its residents with the public services: water, sewage, roads, public safety (police), public transport, parks and cemeteries. It is also required to assist state and federal governments with fire and medical services, social and economic development, and environmental protection. The municipio has the authority to collect property taxes and user fees, such as business licenses. The boundaries of the municipality are shown on the map below.

The municipal area is 514 square kilometres (±198 sq. mi.), 211 sq. km. (±81 sq. mi.) of which is the coastal zone, known as the Bays of Huatulco (Bahías de Huatulco). On the map, this coastal zone is the area south of Highway 200 between the Coyula River on the west and the Copalita River on the east. This area was expropriated under a presidential decree in 1984 for tourism development under FONATUR (Spanish abbreviation for National Tourism Fund). This decree did not remove any rights or obligations of the municipality for this area, rather FONATUR became the legal property owner. As legal property owner, and developer, FONATUR planned to re-sell its property for specific tourism uses – these were spelled out in a development plan (more on this below). The federal government, through FONATUR, expropriated this land to further the federal objectives of social and economic development through large scale tourism projects, similar to those in Cancun and Ixtapa.

As of 2020, the municipio of Santa María Huatulco (MSMH) has a population of 50,862 people. The three largest urban areas in the municipio are La Crucecita (pop. 19 K), Santa María Huatulco (pop. 11 K), and Hache Tres (pop. 5 K); 30% of the population lives in or near one of the 93 small rural communities within the MSMH. The population of the municipio is increasing at an average rate of 30-35 people per week. People are migrating here in search of employment or to start small businesses. Many people who move here are finding few employment opportunities; the wages are low and Huatulco is relatively expensive. This results in people living in areas without adequate public services.

MSMH has neither the capacity nor the resources to keep up with the increasing demands of the public services they are mandated to provide. Of the $329 million pesos ($17 million USD) MSMH received in 2017, 26% was from local tax sources. Federal contributions were 58% and the state of Oaxaca contributed16%.

The federal funds do not include services for garbage collection, the municipal landfill, drinking water, or sewage treatment for La Crucecita and the Bays of Huatulco. These services, as well as area maintenance and cleaning of the coastal zone are provided by FONATUR. The federal government maintains Hwy 200, and most major arteries of MSMH are built and maintained by the state of Oaxaca.

Desarrollo, the Spanish word for development, is the key term in virtually all the documents relating to Huatulco governance. We outsiders enjoy the Bays of Huatulco, often without realizing we are in the second poorest state in the country; 13% of the population of the state of Oaxaca is illiterate (MSMH a bit better at 8%). In MSMH, 58% of the population has only a primary school education. Social and economic development for MSMH is of primary concern. In its development plan for 2019-2021, MSMH quoted a federal study indicating that in 2015, 49% of the population of the municipio lived in poverty.

Long term progress towards solving these problems relies on one principal industry in Huatulco – tourism. Tourism represents 90% of the direct and indirect economic activity of MSMH. There is no question that the investments by the Mexican government (through FONATUR) for the creation of Huatulco as a tourist destination have fundamentally changed this municipality. Before FONATUR’s “CIP” (Central Integrated Plan) for Huatulco, 2,500 people lived in MSMH. There were no paved roads, clean drinking water or sewage treatment. There were high incidences of malaria, dengue, and intestinal infections. Today progress seems obvious. Yet a central issue remains: to what extent will Huatulco develop as a tourist destination, and how will this impact the local population and environment.

2) Principal concerns (issues) for Huatulco

As centrally important as Huatulco-the-tourist-destination is to the people of the municipio of Santa Maria Huatulco, only the federation of Mexico or the state of Oaxaca has the resources or capacity to determine the future of Huatulco. This brings up the question of just how important is Huatulco to the tourism industry in Mexico, and in the state of Oaxaca?

Statistics from Secretaría de Turismo (SECTUR) in Mexico show that for 2019, Huatulco was the 22nd most popular destination for tourists in Mexico (8th most popular beach resort). In the state of Oaxaca, Huatulco is the second most visited destination for tourists. Oaxaca City (Oaxaca de Juárez) receives 24% of tourists visits in the state, and 32% of the tourism revenue. Huatulco sees 12% of tourist visits in the state, but 44% of the tourism revenue. On average, tourism in the state of Oaxaca comprises 97% national (Mexican) visitors, and 3% international visitors. In 2007, Huatulco hosted 83% national and 17% international visitors. .

Of the four large FONATUR CIP resorts in Mexico – Cancun, Ixtapa, Los Cabos and Huatulco – Huatulco has struggled the most. And not for lack of investment through FONATUR. Between 1974 and 2015, FONATUR has spent $10 billion pesos (± $48 million USD) on CIP Huatulco (source OECD/DATATUR). This is more than what was spent on Ixtapa and Los Cabos combined, and second only to Cancun, where $14 billion pesos (±$672 million USD) were invested. Results, measured by hotel room capacity (re: 2013 Tourism Competitive Agenda) were:

    Hotel Rooms                Annual Occupancy

Cancun 30,027 65%
Los Cabos 12,123 61%
Ixtapa 4,988 45%
Huatulco 3,409 49%

The last major injection of funds by FONATUR to develop Huatulco was under the administration of Felipe Calderón (2006 – 2012), under his “Relaunch Huatulco” plan (Relanzamiento del CIP Huatulco). This plan spelled out specific long term development objectives for each of the nine bays of Huatulco. The sum of this planned development adds up to 20,000 hotel rooms, a second golf course, and numerous residential and commercial properties. Some of the near term objectives of the plan were accomplished, including the expansion of the airport, the pedestrian walkway between Santa Cruz and Crucecita, and the Copalita Anthropology Museum. Yet the hoped-for commercial investment in Huatulco did not follow these initiatives.

Secrets, built in 2010, was the last major resort hotel constructed in Huatulco. Previous to that was Quinta Real in 1996. In 2014 Melia Hotels announced the construction of a 500 room resort, and in 2018 there was an announcement to invest $5 billion pesos ($256 million USD) for a hospital in Huatulco, primarily for medical tourism. Now, years later, neither of these two projects has begun construction.

Under the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-18), a review of the tourism sector was undertaken. The 2013 Tourism Competitive Agenda provided a detailed review of CIP Huatulco. This seems to have marked a change in the approach to development in Huatulco. The “build it and they will come” model, which worked for Cancun, Ixtapa and Los Cabos, wasn’t working for Huatulco. FONATUR was restructured away from a purely real estate sales model to a broader development model. Starting In 2016 FONATUR could act as a venture capitalist and invest up to 25% in a tourism venture. They were permitted to contribute land up to a value of $7 MM USD to a tourism project (as long as that did not exceed 49% of the overall project value). The gist of the numerous reports under the Peña Nieto administration seems to have been finding a way to market Huatulco strategically, in line with the specific realities of Huatulco itself, while avoiding further social and environmental problems.

The current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has committed approximately 250 million pesos (±$12 million USD) to Huatulco to improve deteriorated infrastructure, but nothing further. His tourism expenditure priority appears to be building the Mayan Train.

3) What is the plan for Huatulco in the future?
Alas, after a month of research and several interviews, I am forced here to quote Yoda: “Difficult to see. Always in motion the future is.” Nonetheless, I offer up what I have distilled on this information quest.

-There appears to be a recognition among all three levels of government (municipal, state, federal), that the earlier FONATUR CIP Huatulco development model has not succeeded and a new approach is needed.

-It seems obvious to any observer of Huatulco over the years that growth is taking place despite the lack of large-scale resort investments. Tourism statistics show steady growth since 2008. I note a mention in one of the FONATUR planning documents a recognition of the demand in Huatulco for second residences. This seems evident in the construction of new condominiums.

-The state of Oaxaca together with the municipio of Santa María Huatulco have initiated a plan for 2019 – 2023 to Transform Huatulco (Desarrollo Turístico de las Bahías de Huatulco). This is an aspirational document, but with objectives outlined and steps to be followed (without mention of funding commitments). This document recognizes that commercial investment rather than large government expenditures is the path forward for Huatulco. The plan calls for a focused strategic marketing plan to differentiate Huatulco as a unique destination, calling for, among other things, bike paths, pedestrianisation of central La Crucecita, and an overall emphasis on the environment and sustainability. Here one could quote another movie figure, Jerry Maguire, in saying “Show me the money.” Noticeably absent from this Transform Huatulco document is the FONATUR logo.

-The autopista cometh. Connectivity has always been an issue for tourism development in Huatulco. A new highway that connects Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido, and thereby Huatulco, appears to be near completion. This autopista is 17 years overdue, but it looks as if it will be finished in 2022. This shortens the drive from Oaxaca City to the Coast to two hours from the current six. This likely will increase the number of national tourists to Huatulco dramatically. In turn, this will, no doubt, exacerbate the poor social conditions with even more people living in marginal, unserviced areas.

So now, back in Santa Cruz Bay, treading water and watching the on-shore restaurant staff ready tables and umbrellas for the day’s tourists, I wonder what I have actually learned about Huatulco? To start with, things are more complicated and nuanced than I had imagined. There are no clear indicators of the path forward for Huatulco, and problems are many. But I’ve also learned that these problems are well understood and documented, and many people are seeking solutions to them. It occurs to me that Huatulco as a paradise, like any paradise anywhere, is a veneer. A thin strip of coastline with turquoise bays, where children play in the sand and people enjoy themselves. I think Yoda is right, the future IS uncertain for Huatulco, but for now, here we are in this beautiful place.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” ~Pericles

A year ago we were counting down to say goodbye to 2020, which most people felt was one of our worst years. A year later I am not sure we are doing much better. I have been struggling for a week or so contemplating what I would say in my editorial and even as I latched onto something positive it would quickly spiral in my mind and the reality of our collective malaise would come into view.

I am writing this on the eve of American Thanksgiving and coming up with things I am grateful for on a personal level is an easy task. I love most aspects of my life. I have a job that I am excited to go to, I work with dedicated and kind people who exceed my expectations. My daughter is a smart and loving person who is doing well in school and we say ‘I love you’ with the same ease we did when she was four years old. My house is an oasis and a delicious meal is never too far off in the future. This week I have seen the faces of customers who over the years have become friends and I am thrilled that people are traveling again. The sun continues to shine in Huatulco, the ocean is refreshing, the economy is slowly recovering from pandemic shutdowns and I have an amazing support network of friends.

But looking beyond my bubble I am less optimistic. Groups of displaced people continue to push against borders in an effort to improve their lives or even just to survive. Today marks the 100th day since the Taliban took over Afghanistan and much of the population is struggling just to get enough food to survive. Women’s rights in the US are being challenged as violence breaks out on the streets in Wisconsin. Delhi is on lockdown because of poor air quality, while British Colombia is battling mud slides and heavy rains. This year saw record-breaking natural disasters from erupting volcanos, droughts, floods and hurricanes. Nearly two dozen species of birds, fish and wildlife were declared extinct this year.

So what can we do beyond recycling, eating less meat and all the other little acts that we do to make us feel like part of the solution instead of the problem? What can we learn from this coronavirus experience? We are interconnected. There is so way to move through the world bouncing only on the walls of our personal bubbles.

Our resolutions for 2022 should be to spread empathy and compassion all across the globe. To learn to have civilized conversations with people who don’t have the same political views as our own. Our goal should be to ensure everyone is safe from persecution, has food and shelter. We need to get kids out of immigration detention centers where they are held like prisoners without a place in the world. It’s no longer enough to resolve to exercise more and eat better in 2022- these are drastic times that call for BIG peaceful and loving action.

Let us embrace our interconnectedness and see the suffering of one as the suffering of all as we strive to make our world more inhabitable.

See you in 2022,

Jane

The Mad Scientist of Mezcal

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

While women have always played an important part in making mezcal, the iconic Mexican agave distillate that is almost entirely produced in the state of Oaxaca, tradition has dictated that it is men who actively learn the trade, using a family recipe passed down from generation to generation with little if any deviation. And so when a young woman, not from a mezcal-making family, dives headfirst into the industry, we must take notice.

Twenty-nine-year-old Rosario Ángeles is not constrained by family tradition. While she hails from Santa Catarina Minas, the self-proclaimed “cradle of mezcal,” her parents are tomato farmers, and her siblings are similarly not involved with the industry; not growing the succulent, nor harvesting, baking, crushing, fermenting nor distilling … nada.

It’s not that Rosario is unique in that she is a female distiller. Indeed, there are other women who have learned the profession from family members integrally involved in the business. Where she differs is that she has not been compelled to carry on a longstanding family tradition, doing it just as fathers and grandfathers carried forward a centuries-old way of doing things. On the contrary, Rosario had to read, and more importantly, learn from the few in her village willing to tutor a woman in the idiosyncrasies of ancestral mezcal production.

More significantly, being bright and inquisitive, Rosario had always been an outside-of-the-box thinker. She spent several months in California, not picking grapes, but rather as an au pair girl. And she has taught English in downtown Oaxaca, having obtained a degree in linguistics. But mezcal became her calling. She had become intrigued by the processes employed by her neighbors, and admired what they were doing. However, Rosario has already leapt ahead of most of her fellow villagers, despite having been distilling for less than two years.

I often teach about the myriad of diverse influences impacting every batch of mezcal in a different way: terroir and changing climatic conditions from year to year; variability in the wood used to cook in that sealed in-ground chamber over several days and the impossibility of evenly baking every agave piña (agave heart); the differences in molds forming on the piñas from time to time; the ever-changing quality of the air borne yeasts and of the water from wells, rivers and mountain springs needed in fermentation; and the skill sets involved in distillation, including the impacts of small changes in equipment employed. It’s almost impossible to isolate one impact from another. And who would ever think of even trying, almost all palenqueros having been schooled in the one and only “right way,” since literally childhood?

Rosario is not held back, nor confined, and her innate tendency to experiment and push the bounds of a tradition she didn’t know have never been reined in, by anyone. And so she continually looks to improve upon her craft.

One way has been to examine the effect of isolating a single impact from the rest. The mad scientist does something, I would argue, akin to a medical specialist’s differential diagnosis. She looks for the best answer which will hopefully lead to the optimum outcome. Rosario has now done it three times.

In each case Rosario has kept all but one impact uniform: the same bake, the same means of crushing, the same wooden fermentation vats, the same clay pot stills fueled by the same type of firewood, and the same means by which she achieves a particular ABV (alcohol by volume). And there are several other constants she aims to maintain.

The first experiment was comparing water sources used to add to the baked, honey-sweet crushed agave sub-species known locally as tobasiche. She used well water for half, and river water for the rest. The mezcal using river water yielded a mezcal a little sweeter. For the second, she used a different varietal of agave, cuixe, and allowed half the batch to sit, baked, for six days prior to crushing, watching particular molds form atop. For the other half she waited two weeks prior to crushing. In this case, Rosario and I each had a different opinion regarding our preference, yet both of us acknowledged a subtle difference. And finally, she has decided to evaluate the more or less common belief that using a copper, rather than stainless steel, condenser yields a significantly better mezcal. In this case tepeztate was the species of agave used for the experiment. And yes, this time she threw tradition to the wind; we both agreed that while there was merely a slight though detectable difference in the character of each resultant agave distillate, each was of exceptional quality. So much for the wisdom of the men who know better after decades of production.

I predict that within a further three or so years, Rosario will have achieved a range of mezcals the quality of which will equal, and in some cases, surpass the agave distillates of her fellow villagers with a heritage dating back generations. Most mezcal aficionados I have taken to visit Rosario’s distillery believe she is already there, and some have opined that yes, Rosario’s stable of mezcal expressions is better and more balanced than those steeped in the tradition.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).

Photo: Andrea Johnson Photography

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“History teaches us that man learns nothing from history.”
—Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

The Mexican Revolution began on November 20th, 1910, with a call to arms to overthrow the government of Porfirio Díaz, which favored the wealthy. Here we are, over a hundred years later and the world is still full of similar stories of inequity. I don’t listen to the news too often – maybe a few times a week – and it is always dire. Between elections, Afghanistan, COVID updates, and natural disasters, it seems as if we are slowly self-destructing. But the news that made me the saddest came at the end of September when the ivory-billed woodpecker was declared officially extinct, along with 22 other species. It was an add-on piece of news, the sort BTW update thrown out by reporters – certainly not breaking news like a bombing or hurricane. Where do our concerns as a collective lie when the extinction of 22 species is not breaking news?

Since 1500, over 190 species of birds have become extinct and the ivory-billed woodpecker hadn’t been spotted since 1944. The biggest causes of extinction are loss of habitat through agriculture and housing for humans – in the U.S. alone, 4.8 million acres were converted for agricultural purposes between 2007 and 2018; climate change, which is causing temperature fluctuations and forcing birds to move; and collision with other structures such as powerlines (25 million bird deaths each year), wind turbines (410 000 bird deaths each year), communication towers (7 million bird deaths each year). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that as many as 72 million birds die each year from pesticide poisoning.

The list of lost birds is long and tragic. Do you remember the excitement of finding a feather when you were a child? I can feel the tactile memory of my fingers brushing against the grain. Will future generations only know birds from their likeness produced on a digital screen?

Even if you don’t care much about nature, ask yourself – If the environment we are living in is inhospitable to birds, how long before it is inhospitable to us?

This is the true revolution of our time.

See you next month,

Jane

Holiday / Festival Dates in Oaxaca

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

While November is the month when we celebrate the Mexican Revolution, virtually all towns and villages throughout the state of Oaxaca have their own festival weeks honoring one saint or another. Such an enumeration would be close to impossible to catalogue in a brief article, if not in a book. However, noting bank and government office closures and commemorative dates typically celebrated with festivities, is manageable.

So here goes, with assistance from the listings in Barbara Hopkins’ book, Oaxaca: Crafts and Sightseeing (3rd edition is 1999, currently out of print).

January 1 – New Year’s Day: National holiday with banks and government offices closed, as well as some retail outlets including restaurants.

January 6 – Epiphany, Day of the Three Kings (Día de los Reyes Magos): Bakeries sell roscas de reyes, to be eaten that evening usually at an extended family gathering. There is gift giving to children. The rosca is typically a large wreath-shaped egg bread with one or more tiny white plastic dolls inside representing the baby Jesus (Niño Diós). Whoever finds the doll(s) must prepare and serve tamales to other members of the same group, at a party on the night of Candlemas – see next item.

February 2 – Candelmas (Candelaria): More recently, when several plastic babies are found by separate people, each might contribute to the meal in different ways. Leading up to and including this date, residents purchase their larger Niño Diós dolls, and outfits for them, last year’s clothing often interchanged with those of relatives and friends. They take their finely dressed dolls to church to be blessed in memory of the presentation of Jesus to the Temple. This is the end of the Mexican Christmas season.

February 5 – Constitution Day: This date commemorates the publication of Mexico’s Constitution in 1917, during the Revolution. A national holiday, now celebrated on the first Monday in February; banks and government offices closed.

Tuesday before Ash Wednesday – Martes de Carnaval: Occurring on March 1, 2022, “Fat Tuesday” represents the last day of freedom before Lent. In cities, but more impressively in towns and villages, there are parades with live music, locals decked out in costumes representative of devils and more.

Fridays during Lent – Paseo de los Viernes de Cuaresma: They vary from locale to locale, but tradition in the state capital dictates sale of flowers at Llano park, for the purchaser to present to girlfriends / lovers.

Fourth Friday of Lent (three weeks before Good Friday) – Day of the Good Samaritan: Celebrated throughout Oaxaca’s central valleys, usually from noon to 2 pm. Churches, businesses, schools, parks and street associations gift fresh sweet juices and sometimes other food stuffs to all passersby.

Palm Sunday until Easter – Holy Week (Semana Santa): Holy week begins on Palm Sunday. Sale of intricately woven palms, visits to seven capital churches, with processions around village/town churches as well. Different locales have different mass traditions for Saturday and Sunday, culminating with the Resurrection. Churches solemnly chime, with the march of silence. Banks and government offices are closed Holy Thursday and Holy Friday.

March 21 – Birthday of Benito Juárez: Juárez, the 26th president of Mexico and the first of indigenous origin, held office from 1858 until his death in 1872. A national holiday with banks and government offices closed.

May 1 – Labor Day (Día del Trabajo): Parades, with banks and government offices closed.

May 3 – Day of the Holy Cross, Mason’s Day (Día del Albañil): Parties for construction workers, crosses affixed on construction sites, typically a complimentary meal for all workers. Often dances in the streets with revelry.

May 5 – Cinco de Mayo): A national holiday commemorating Mexico’s 1862 victory in Puebla over invading French troops; banks and government offices closed.

May 10 and thereafter – Vela Istmeña (Vigil/Festival for people from the Isthmus): In Mexico City and elsewhere, Mexicans who originate from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec gather for public/cultural events, with masses and processions showcasing traditional regional dress.

Last two Mondays of July – Lunes del Cerro (Mondays of the Hill): Entire month of July is festive, in particular those Mondays (date is adjusted if a Monday falls on July 18, the date of death for Benito Juárez); celebrated throughout Oaxaca but especially in the capital – Oaxaca de Juárez. The Guelaguetza is performed throughout the weekend leading up to the Mondays; the Guelaguetza promotes Oaxaca’s rich cultural traditions by showcasing regional song, dress, dance and items locally produced for sale and consumption. Spectacular!

August 15 – Day of the Taxi Driver: Celebrated mainly in the state capital. Taxis and colectivos are adorned with flowers and parade through the streets and in the course of daily work taking fares.

August 31 – Pet Day, Bendición de los Animales (Blessing of the Animals): Performed at the Merced church in the capital and also elsewhere. Residents bring their pets and parade them through the streets all dressed up.

September 16 – Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day): Commemorates indepenence from Spain, proclaimed in 1810. The night before (September 15) at 11 pm, people celebrate El Grito (The Cry), during which the nation’s president and all governors and mayors, with support from police and army, shout aloud re independence, typically with fireworks near government palaces. Spectacular! Banks and government offices are closed on September 16.

October 12 – Día de la Raza (Day of the Race): In Hispanic countries, Columbus Day has become Day of the Race, a celebration of the heritage and culture of peoples who were eliminated or exploited by the Spanish conquest – similar to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which has been substituted for Columbus Day in places in the United States. Banks and government offices are closed.

October 31, November 1. November 2 – Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead): Also celebrated on subsequent dates depending on the locale, especially November 1 (All Saints’ Day) and November 2 (All Souls’ Day). The celebrations combine pre-Hispanic roots with Christianity, and include attending rituals in cemeteries day and night, decorating gravesites and home altars, honoring the departed, and parades through the streets in cities, towns and villages throughout Mexico (comparsas). Oaxaca city and environs, along with Pátzcuaro, are recognized worldwide as the best places to experience Day of the Dead. Again egg bread is traditional, as is construction of elaborate colored sand carpets (tapetes). Spectacular! Banks and government offices are closed on the last two dates.

November 20 – Anniversary of the Mexican Revolution: On this date in 1910, Francisco Madero issued a call to arms to unseat the dictator Porfirio Díaz. A national holiday with parades, sporting events and banks and government offices closed.

December 8, 12, 18 – respectively, celebrations of the Virgins of Juquila, Guadalupe, and Soledad: The celebration for the Virgin of Juquila is regional; for Guadalupe, it is national, with banks and government offices closed; and for Soledad, it is regional, although she is the patron saint of Oaxaca state). There are pilgrimages to Juquila, Mexico City, and Oaxaca City throughout the year, but especially with arrivals on the specific dates, with prayers for miracles, parades, and other festivities.

December 13 – Another Vela Istmeña (see May 10).

December 16 – Start of the Christmas season: Nightly processions (posadas) through the 24th, passing through city, town and village streets, representative of Mary and Joseph seeking a bed for the birth of Jesus. Building of crèches (nacimientos).

December 23 – Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radishes): In Oaxaca City, the zócalo is adorned with stalls where state residents construct scenes of carved radishes of all sizes, representing market activity, crèches, regional dress and dance, heads of famous Oaxacans, and much more, competing for cash prizes. There are smaller competitions with scenes made of dried flowers and of corn husks and stalks. A uniquely state capital occurrence, with other daytime and evening activities. Noche de Rábanos is over a century old. Spectacular!

December 24 – Calendas de Noche Buena (Processions of Christmas Eve): The final night of posadas, with floats representing neighborhood churches from Oaxaca City neighborhoods, local marching bands, and participants in elaborate dress, all heading to and circling the zócalo. Zócalo attendance spectacular!

December 25 – Christmas Day (Navidad): Mostly celebrated at home with family. A national holiday with banks and government offices closed.

December 31 –Noche de la Cruz del Pedimento (Night of Petition) also Nochevieja (Old Night), Año Nuevo (New Year): Banks closed, and government offices have been on skeleton staff for the past two weeks, until January 2. On a hill near the central valley town of Mitla en route to Santiago Matatlán, stands La Cruz del Milagro, where this day and evening people gather near a tiny chapel and large white cross, praying for their needs and wishes to be met the coming year.

If you don’t have easy access to information on these significant dates and occasions, consider hanging on to this edition of The Eye for quick reference.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).

Sea and Field:Dinner by Slow Food Huatulco

By Alfonso C. Rocha Robles
Director, Slow Food México

This first dinner of the Slow Food Huatulco Ecogastronomy community was held on September 15, 2021, at Café Juanita in the Tangolunda section of Bahías de Huatulco. Special guests invited to this dinner were Sra. Minerva Ortiz and her daughters Nancy and María. Local food producers in Bajos de Coyula, they produce and market a variety of products from their community. For this event, they brought a Mexican green called chepil (often used in tamales), camarones (shrimp), tincuiche (tiny fresh-water fish), mirasol chilis, pumpkin flowers, and nanche (or nance, cherry-sized yellow fruit).

The fishermen and food producers supported by the dinner came from the coast, the isthmus, and the Sierra Sur. Jane Bauer, community spokesperson for the Slow Food Huatulco community, opened the doors to chef Alfonso Rocha, international counselor for Slow Food México and Central America, who is here to promote the Slow Food movement in Bahías de Huatulco. During the dinner Jane commented to Rocha, “We are very proud to be part of the Slow Food movement to promote local products and producers, which is crucial to maintaining diversity in our food systems.”

Also served at the dinner were “slow” beverages that are integrated into the Slow Food network in Mexico, such as the slow beer made with blue corn from Michoacán by the brewery La Brü in Morelia, or pulque (a fermented agave drink) from Zacatlán de las Manzanas, integrated into the Oaxaca Mixteca Agave Slow Food Presidium in the Mexican Highlands.

Besides Sra. Ortiz and her family, local fishermen and food producers from La Crucecita provided ingredients for the dinner. In the days leading up to the event, Chef Alfonso dedicated himself to establishing links in the town that will strengthen the Slow Food network in the Bahías de Huatulco region. Alfonso commented during the dinner, “There is great potential to promote traditional foods of the region among local residents and businesses of Bahías de Huatulco because of the great milpa and sea biodiversity linked to local communities.”

The menu for this dinner consisted of four courses, made with more than 20 local foods, including quelites (Mexican greens), vegetables, cheeses, fish and fruits from the region. The menu included the following special slow food dishes:

  1. Tacos of tincuiches with milpa salad and fresh cheese from the Isthmus region.
  2. “Drunk” Ceviche made with Zacatlán pulque and pipicha (a Oaxacan herb with a spicy citrus/cilantro flavor) served on a red corn toast from the Mandimbo community (located on the Copalita River a couple of hours north of the town of Copalita).
  3. Handmade chepil fettucine with ranch egg, creamy pumpkin flower sauce and morita chili with sautéed squid.
  4. Chiapas double cream cheese cheescake with blue corn pinole (ground toasted heirloom blue corn mixed with spices) and a cocoa toast crust from the Mandimbo community.