By Robin Anderson, Crooked Trails Mexico Director
I’m often asked what first drew me to Oaxaca when I began my 15-year love affair with this region of Mexico. Frankly, nothing beyond the promise of a Spanish language immersion program offered by the University of Washington really captured my attention. I craved language fluency, and Spanish had always stood out as truly the most beautiful to my ear.
Oaxaca sounded cool. But, there were snatches of conversation and catch phrases I heard as my departure date crept closer. Words like ‘culture’, ‘indigenous’ and ‘artisanal’ swirled around me, but I didn’t pay too much attention to those. I had an intense aversion to the entire travel industry that, in my experience, crafted neat and tidy ‘cultural’ experiences with box lunches and a nice view from a bus while crippling poverty went unmentioned. I assumed it would be the same in Oaxaca. I would focus on language, making friends in the community, and leave the romanticizing to others. Not that I was anticipating a lot of tourists – Oaxaca was still relatively new on the scene, and was certainly nothing like the Mexico that most Westerners travel south of the border for.
My travel snobbery didn’t last long. Oaxaca is a heady, intoxicating experience from the moment you set foot in it, and when I think of it in a snapshot, I see vibrant reds of textiles, deep shiny black pottery, and the blue-green hilly terrain that is so rough and challenging, it discouraged Spanish conquistadores from total take-over, which is why there exists such indigenous cultural preservation today. I was in love, immediately and intensely, with all of it.
I found in Oaxaca the veneer of mainstream tourism was thin and penetrable, and right beneath the surface, there existed a depth to the region that subtly kept calling me back- I just never finished wanting to ask questions, to know more, to uncover. While it’s true that there are miles of art and history to wade through, what made Oaxaca extra potent was the unspoken invitation from the communities to continue to ask, listen, learn- not just about the snapshot of who they were once upon a time, but how as a people, and a region, they have adapted and responded to an ever-changing world.
The layers that began peeling back revealed community organization to a degree I hadn’t experienced before. In the 15 years I’ve been traveling and working in Oaxaca, I have learned of sustainable farming practices that have successfully fought the fight against corporate agricultural giants in order to maintain their food staple, maíz. I’ve hiked through exquisite trails that linked Zapotec villages, created and maintained by the community members, which allowed their own cooperative and alternative economic source. I found women in villages deep in the rough terrain of Oaxaca that are determined to cultivate and utilize their own traditional plant medicine, in response to the lack of healthcare that plagues rural regions such these.
Oaxaca has asked me to consider what it means to be a traveler, and a global participant, more than any other place I’ve been. I invite you to step into this experience with an open heart, with the joy of knowing that you are participating in something holistic, unique and supportive of cultural and environmental preservation in its purest sense. I’m more than happy to share my knowledge of this area and help you create your own unforgettable experience in this extraordinary part of the globe.
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