Summer 2019 Ethnographic Field Study in Oaxaca, Mexico

June 22

The SOULA team met at CBX to catch their red-eye flight from Tijuana International Airport to Oaxaca Xoxocotlan International Airport.  We quickly jumped into learning mode and traveled to the Monte Albán archeological site, where we learned about the Zapotec civilization.

Buildings still stand at the ancient city of Monte Albán.
Stone tablets at the site are thought to depict medical conditions.

June 23

The next day, we traveled to Santa María Atzompa, a community known for its beautiful handcrafted pottery. Here, we learned how to collect and prepare the barro, shape the pottery, and the firing process. We also learned how to identify the differences between pottery with and without lead paint.

Dr. Larom uses a tool to collect barro at the community’s mine.
Traditional pottery is shaped by hand. The green paint is a signature of the community. Experienced women can create dozens of pieces in one day, depending on the size and intricacy of the design.
Dr. Love checking a gas-powered furnace. The shelves are constructed for each unique batch of pottery.
We explored Oaxaca City and experienced the food and nightlife before the trip to Ixpantepec Nieves. The streets were filled with craftsmen and craftswomen, beautiful architecture, and dancers practicing for Guelaguetza.
The SOULA team shared a platter that included Oaxaca style cheeses, chorizo, huaje pods, chapulines, and more. The cheese was a group favorite. The restaurant staff mentioned chapulines were popular among more adventurous tourists.

June 24- 26

The highlight of the trip was traveling to and living with the community of Ixpantepec Nieves. The students were taught cooking methods, recipes, and agricultural techniques.

Milpa is a common agricultural technique used in Ixpantepec Nieves. Corn, squash, and beans are grown simultaneously. Late rains led to a delayed sowing period. The type of corn grown is subject to the needs of the family. One family preferred to grow red maize because red totopos, large toasted tortillas, were highly requested at marketplaces.
Jonathan blows at the fire to start the fogata. Chicatanas, a type of ant, should be toasted in order to remove moisture, extend shelf life, and enhance flavor.
Cassandra and Maestra Angelina with the cooked chicatanas.
Many dishes are made of ingredients locally sourced in the community. Maestra Angelina holds tortas de huevo that she prepared on the fogata. The eggs were a gift from Señora Beatriz, who raises hens.

June 27- 29

Back in Oaxaca City, the students witnessed more preparations for the upcoming Guelaguetza festival and were further immersed in the food and culture of Oaxaca.

Dancers parade in Oaxaca City after a wedding ceremony.
Ailed, Marco, and Hannah learned how to prepare plant-based versions of famous Oaxacan dishes.
Tortas de calabaza, mushrooms, and squash are cooked on the fogata. All the ingredients were purchased at the Mercado de Benito Juárez. We all agreed that these were some of the freshest vegetables we have ever eaten.
June 29th was filled with trips to mezcalerias, but not without a pit stop to El Arbol del Tule, the thickest tree in the world. The pueblo of Zapoteco de Santa Maria is dedicated to preserving and maintaining the tree.
The distilling process at Mezcal Don Agave is fit for high volume production.
Not every mezcaleria was industrial. Mezcaleria La Costumbre is a family-owned business that still practices more traditional, small-scale methods.

June 30

We visited Tlacolula, which hosts many vendors from different indigenous parts of Oaxaca. The market was filled with foods, textiles, and crafts. Lunch consisted of Oaxacan barbacoa at the food hall, served with warm tortillas and fresh aguas frescas.

A woman prepares tejate at Tlacolula.
After the bustling market, we all traveled to the Zona Arqueológica de Mitla. We were able to explore the rooms of the building, as well as explore underground tombs. Thought to be used by the elite, the rooms and corridors still display intricate hand-carved geometric patterns.

July 1-4

We went back to Ixpantepec Nieves to learn more about the community and its agricultural practices.

Students rode in a truck to Barrio de Guadalupe. The community leaders graciously offered to lead us to cave paintings that were recently discovered in the nearby mountains.
Dr. Larom rests on the cliffside after a long and adventurous hike.
The handprints are thought to date back thousands of years. Archaeologists have not explored the area yet.
The view from the cave. The afternoon storm forms in the distance.
SOULA helped clean Maestra Angelina’s milpa. Rocks were put between the plant clusters. The corridors were cleared so the yunta could pass through. This helps move soil to the base of the corn and destroys weeds.

June 5-7

After a long week, we thanked and said goodbye to members of the Ixpantepec Nieves community. We learned a lot about growing food, sustainability, and using our resources to the fullest extent.

Different types of maize were used at the cooking class at Cocina Prehispanica El Fogon. We cooked mole and tlayudas. We ground the corn using a manual mill and made our tortillas by hand.
SOULA met for a goodbye dinner at El Destilado. Camarones Agua Chile is pictured above. The restaurant also featured a beautiful view of the Templo de Santo Domingo.