Archive for February, 2012

A weekend in Capulalpam

13 Feb

Hola todos!
In my most recent field trip, my group and I traveled to the small pueblo of Capulalpam located
in the mountains of Oaxaca. Unlike the city and most of its surroundings, these mountains were
full of vegetation, potable water and refreshingly clean air; the experience was reminiscent of
Vermont during springtime. The trip getting there, however, was pretty trying for some of us.
In order to illustrate our venture up these green monsters, I quote our TA (she did the
program 3 years ago) who said, “it was like riding in the spinning teacups at the fair for 2.5
hours.” Her description did not disappoint. Turn after winding turn, we went up, down and
around a few of these mountains before finally reaching our destination. Though everyone
prepared themselves with a tablet or two of Dramamine, a few of us (myself included) were
feeling a little queasy by the end. Luckily, there were no accidents and the vans’ drivers left with
no more to clean than could be expected from a large group of snacking college students.
Upon arrival, we were all ready to stretch our legs and check out the amazing views from
the hillside town. After learning about the pueblo and talking with the municipal president, we
were shuffled off in small groups to our respective home stays.

The next day, we went to a community farm that produced much of the pueblo’s produce
with the help of many local students who we saw in action towards the end of our day. Among
other things, they grew carrots, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and garbanzo and string
beans. They taught us ways in which they protected their veggies from weeds or bugs while
growing great tasting and healthy food without the addition of pesticides and with minimal use
of added nutrients. Not only was the tour educational, it was also filling and delicious as we were
able to try some of their veggies (probably the only time I’ve ever enjoyed raw beets). That
night, we had the option of going to a traditional healing center and having a limpia (spiritual
cleansing by a healer), an “energy” reading, a massage, and a temescal (similar to a sauna but
much hotter, often used in traditional medicine).


The following day we awoke at 8, packed and ready for the ride home that afternoon.
After dropping our bags off at a local community center, we happily hiked through a temperate
rainforest (who knew!) in true Vermont fashion. With plenty of sights and endless amounts of
fresh mountain air, we hardly noticed the passing of the 3 and a half hours it took to finish our
hike. Throughout, our tour guide (the municipal president) gave us a quick education in local
herbs used in traditional medicine and the environmental history of the land and the conservation
efforts in place there. Finally, we finished up the day at a small restaurant with local trout for
lunch followed by a zip-line. All in all, it was a great trip with some of the best sights and
experiences so far!
Hasta la próxima,
Sarah L.

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Sarah’s fourth week in Oaxaca!

06 Feb

Hola todos!
This is my fourth week in Oaxaca, Mexico and I’m still not bored of the food, the city, or the
people and I don’t expect I ever will. It seems there are endless things to discover here and I will
never stop learning or enjoying this place! For example, this week we traveled to a small town
called Ocotlan that was about a 50 minute drive from the city. Here, we learned about the process
of making mezcal, a popular alcoholic drink in Mexico that has recently enjoyed a lot of
worldwide popularity. In the city, there are multiple vendors for mezcal that can be found in the
streets or in legitimate stores but it’s hard to comprehend how much time and effort it takes to
make such a small amount of the drink.

Firstly, a liquid is harvested from the maguey plant, a type of agave plant which is native
to Mexico, and later distilled into the popular drink. The plants from which this liquid is
harvested take many years to grow and mature, some as long as 40 years. When they are finally
mature the “piña,” or the plant after the leaves have been removed, is taken and roasted in an
open air pit in the earth during a process that takes a total of 5 days to complete (which gives it a
unique smokey flavor). After this, the piña is ground and put in large vats to ferment. After a
period lasting from months to years, the fermented piña is then placed in a distillery. In the
“fábrica” or factory we visited, the mixture is distilled between 1 and 3 times to give a smoother
taste. The most expensive sold by this fábrica was distilled 3 times and had a chicken breast
introduced at this stage to give it a unique flavor.

The culture behind mezcal has put Oaxaca on the map and the rate of exportation has
grown accordingly. This, however, has begun to take a toll on the smaller-scale producers who
often use family recipes passed down from generation to generation and old-school distillery
practices. The guide we talked to said that the recipe used at another local fábrica had been lost
after the owner died because none of his five sons had learned the craft. Also, because of such
high demand, a local artesian who produced an important part of the fábrica’s distillery process
was unable to keep up with his orders. Therefore, the production of the fábrica’s mezcal has been
hindered. These factors are just a few affecting the small-scale and mostly family-run distilleries
now that demands are growing and traditional production processes are struggling to keep up.
In learning about the local economy of Oaxaca and the industries that dominate it, like
that of mezcal production, we are continuing to discover the difficulties and problems that befall
many of the local artesians as they try to make a living here.

In addition to visiting this local distillery, we also traveled to the city center of Ocotlán
and visited a museum dedicated to the famous painter, Rodolfo Morales. The museum was
located in an old monastery whose restoration was a gift to the community by Morales and is
home to many of his original paintings. A mural painted by Morales himself was featured in a
small section of the ex-convent that features many aspects of Mexican life including people
working in the fields, weaving rugs, and selling things at the market.

Luckily, we decided to travel to Ocotlán on Friday, the same day a weekly market was
held in the town square just outside the convent. It was incredibly extensive, selling everything
from bowls of tejate, an ancient Zapotec drink, to leather shoes and backpacks. This market has
been going on for centuries and photos of the market during the restoration of the ex-convent can
be seen in the museum.

Can’t wait to see what the coming months have to offer!

Hasta luego,
Sarah Leidinger

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