For Giovanni & Maria

May 2016.

Ports, pottery, and people

Dear Giovanni,

I know you are a seasoned traveler—this, for me, presents a delightful challenge. My goal, whenever planning a journey, is always to craft a unique, memorable, and even transformative experience. But for those who have seen so many wonders across the world, my role is particularly crucial: I must find a way to weave an experience that will compel you to see yourself in new ways, perhaps even helping you understand the extensive travel you have already done in new ways. This Mexican itinerary is, in a sense, simple: it goes back to the basics, encouraging you to immerse yourself in fresh caught fish and authentic artistic processes; it allows you to barter in local markets, and stand in awe before natural wonders. It is a trip that can, if you let it, sculpt you, just as the potters you will learn from shape their clay.

Day 1: Arrival in Manzanillo

You will arrive today in Manzanillo, and be greeted by Hugo, who will be your expert guide throughout the trip. Hugo will help you to start exploring the country’s busiest port city, particularly notable for world-class fishing and seafood.

In the early evening, I have booked a cruise for you around Manzanillo Bay, so you may enjoy the incredible green flash sunsets. This is the sailfish capital of the world, so you will have to return with your boat! Rest tonight at the Casita Copo de Oro.

Day 2: Oaxaca

Arrive in Oaxaca today. Spend the morning continuing to explore Oaxaca City, with its myriad of treasures. I think you will particularly like the pre-Columbian valuables found in tomb 7 at Monte Alban. Indulge your sweet tooth at market stand selling 31 flavors of ice cream, including corn, avocado, cheese, cactus fruit, and more. And though it’s not an ice cream flavor, be sure to try the grasshoppers—a unique and toasty gastronomical choice on offer here.

After lunch, you will head out of Oaxaca and into the uplands of the old Mixteca Kingdoms. Along the way, you will peek into an enormous fortress monastery crumbling away in a small hamlet and learn why there’s such a huge church in this tiny village.

Your next will be a stop at Huamulula. Hugo will welcome you to climb the pyramid sitting atop the village. In the afternoon, you will arrive in Tlaxiaco, an important Mixtex town that will be gearing up for market day tomorrow. Per your request, I have booked you in a hotel on the town square so you can see all the action from your balcony.

Day 3: Tlaxiaco

In Tlaxiaco, the thriving market will be waiting for you just outside your front door. Today, you will be alone together so you can wade into– and drink in the scene. Try the street food—corn chocolate or hot tamales sold by vendors near the fountain.

You will see heaps of avocados and bananas, potters selling their goods from a distant village, and perhaps visit the men selling the biggest bottle rockets you’ve ever seen. These semi-atomic bottle rockets are a common part of any celebration.

Once you’re through with the market, you will head somewhere much quieter—in fact, virtually devoid of people. In a remote little stretch of hills stands one of the most sacred spots in the Mixteca, a pre-Columbian vortex, the home of the oracle. Knowing your interest in religious history, I think you will appreciate the thousands of years of faith represented here – a grand and decaying church sitting above an even older collapsed church, which in turn was built upon a Mixtec sacred site. That site now serves as the graveyard of the nearby village of Achiutla. Cactus, crosses, stone churches, Mixtec terraces and broad vistas will fill your afternoon.

Day 4: Teotitlan del Valle

Today you will return to Oaxaca, and as you retrace your route, you will stop at Teposcolula. It is full of finds from the recent excavation of an ancient Mixtec town. Spend some time in the village and visit the renowned paper artisans, who turn their lovely handmade paper into kites, jewelry and other items.

Later in the afternoon, you will arrive at your guesthouse, Casa Sagrada, perched above the traditional Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle. This is your base for the next three days. Explore the area on horseback, or relax and take traditional Mexican cooking classes or indulge in a massage.

Day 5: Palaces

Head into the arid eastern hills this morning, into a small village with spectacular mineral springs and “frozen” waterfalls formed by centuries of mineral deposits. The views are outstanding, and the cool water pools of the springs are a swimmer’s delight. Your agenda includes visiting the ruined Zapotec palaces in the Place of the Dead, Mitla. Here, marvel at the extraordinarily detailed and precise stone decoration work.

Day 6: Morning market

The day begins with a visit to the small but very active morning market in Teotitlan to see the local folks doing their shopping and selling. I know you collect pottery, so you will surely relish the chance to add to your collection with a visit to a village famous for its works. You will meet some of the leading potters in the region, and will see how they’ve been creating their pots for the past 4,000 years. It’s truly living history. Afterward, embark on an outing to a cemetery of topsy-turvy gravestones draped by the branches of enormous cypress trees. The final stop of the day is the quiet hilltop ruins of Yagul, which includes a large ball court, maze-like palaces and secret stone bath tub.

Day 7: Angelica

Visit with Angelica, one of Mexico’s most exceptional potters and a fine story teller. Indeed, with her pottery she creates stories, many times sculpting in clay the tales her grandmother told her as a girl—ancient legends about witches, totem spirits and the cloud serpent. You will also visit the finest of the pre-Hispanic Zapotec ceremonial centers and one of the great ruined cities of Mesoamerica—the hilltop ruins of Monte Alban. Since this is your last day in Oaxaca, we have allowed plenty of free time for shopping, more exploring, last minute errands or anything else you’d like to do.

Day 8: Farewell

Enjoy an early breakfast before transferring to the airport. I know you’ve had a wonderful time and can’t wait to help you design your next adventure!

Giovanni, it’s been a delight to plan this journey for you and Maria. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me, should the need arise.