Discovering Oaxaca

The Calpso Clan (now including Anita’s Brother and Ethel his mate) has wanted to discover more of our area. Some short one to three day trips were on our minds. So we planned a trip westward heading towards Acapulco – but not that far. Our target destination would be within 100 miles or so from Puerto Escondido our home base.

Our plan started with Pinotepa Nacional. Located on the coastal highway 200 (Carretera Costera) 90 miles to the west of Puerto Escondido. The 30,000 residents are mostly Mestizos with surrounding areas of mostly indigenous people dominated by the Mixtec with Amusgo and Chatino Indians as well. Pinotepa comes from the Aztec words pinolli (crumbling) and tepetl (mountain). To the Mixtec, Pinotepa has always been called Ñíí Yu-uku, meaning place of salt.

As our plans jelled Pinotepa ultimately became the end of our planned journey west. We had a particular restaurant in mind and several hotel options.

Earlier in the week our friend Franco the owner of Mana Restaurant on El Morro (more on Franco this coming week)  suggested we checkout the smaller pueblos: Santiago Jamiltepéc and Mechocan. Franco explained these authentic Old Mexico communities would probably be of more interest. So they were added to the itinerary.

Yesterday Anita and I left early. We actually arrived a few minutes ahead of the scheduled 8 AM time to pick-up the Ricardo’s (Anita’s aforementioned brother Ricardo and his woman). They are living across town from us in Bacocho. The four of us headed west out past the Puerto airport.

Follow along our photo journal:

After an hours drive we stopped and ate roadside at a Cocina Economica – yum!

Roadside Stand Coastal Highway 200

This little fellow, a ubiquitous green parrot, entertained us at breakfast.

The Travelers getting ready to load up after breakfast (I think Anita is hiking up her slacks – an action shot).

Also ubiquitous –  colorful signage Mexican Style. 

My BIL – What is he Photographing?

The Ubiquitous Mexican circular entrance with a statue monument.  

A Closer Look  Those things protruding from her head – what? Maybe skewered marshmallows? A bare chested woman statue is probably not something you would see in the U.S. at the entrance of any small community. We have seen several here in Mexico ;-) Mexico’s free ancient spirit thrives – more on bare breasted women below.

Mechocan was our destination at this point – just 5 kilometers ahead. 

Mechocan seemed like a town forgotten out of the past. It was up in the hills and quite isolated, and yet as the sign points out there is a secondary schooling teachers education program that happens there:

Colegio Bachilleres del Estado de Oaxaca (COBAO)
Oaxaca, Mexico (for student teaching at the secondary level)

Program Information:

Student teaching in Mexico is an opportunity for students in ESL (English as a second language), Bilingual Education and/or Spanish to complete eight weeks of directed teaching in Mechocan, Oaxaca, a center of indigenous culture, history, and the arts in south central Mexico. A program agreement between the Collegio Bachilleres del Estado de Oaxaca (COBAO) and the College of Education for student teaching at the secondary level.

We noticed some large satellite dishes that are typical of remote educational processes here in mexico. But other than that there was nothing in this small community that would have indicated a technology invasion in this primitive community.

The ubiquitous Mexican small town ‘Welcome to our town’ sign. We should mention that just a few feet further up this road we were welcomed (NOT) with a wire barricade across the road – this being the main entrance to  Mechocan.

After some confusion and conversations with several people – we learned there was a festival in town happening in mere hours; therefore the road was blocked to vehicles. We were diverted to an area where we could park and walk.

Another colorful sign – in Mechocan. They remain until the need to promote the next event. We like them.

This Woman Befriended Us in the Calle 

The pueblita was alive with preparations for the celebration of the Virgin of Guadelupe. Before the Christmas season “officially” begins on December 16, day when the first Posada takes place, Mexicans join together for the festivities of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Our Lady of Guadalupe, on December 12.   This is one of the most important dates in the Mexican calendar. Actually this celebration can be for several days usually beginning on a weekend.

As we four wandered the streets (wide and nicely paved by the way), little children and most of the populace stared at us – gringos are rarely seen in their community.

We love Architecture! We spied some nicely designed and constructed buildings, even some very upscale – but the old cob (mud daubed) construction was fascinating.

The mujer in the above photo was most kind to us. In the street with Coronas she had sold us in our hands she explained that their community had been an artisan pueblo – “but not so much any more”.

We asked about weaved, embroidered products and wicker furniture. We had been told these kinds of things would be available in this area. But not so much anymore. Any thing like this available would be found in Pinotepa.

Even still the girl called to an older Indian woman who joined our circle. She spoke mostly a Mixtec dialect.  The old woman was taller than most and had a long African mask like face – most exotic we thought – the helpful local girl acted as an interpreter (from Spanish to the old woman’s language). We were invited to follow the old woman to her casa to see some embroidered items.

We traveled several blocks and then through a yard into a dark casita. There were a few dogs, children and obviously several generations of family. Plastic chairs were placed for us to sit down. The old woman went away to get her wares while we chatted with a younger generation family member.

Has this happened to you?

Soon the old woman returned with a large cloth bag of ‘napkins’ or embroidered cloth from place-mat to small table area sized. But, what was first noticed was the old woman came out to us naked from the waist up – National Geographic Style.

The half naked lady proceeded to pull her products from the bag – passing them along to each of us. The work was delicate and colorful – really beautiful. I did not venture out to get photographs – it just did not seem appropriate.

I whispered to Anita, “What is going on? Why is she naked?”

Anita thought it was because she was in her home and comfortable with us – as a gestured of this she was taken to be as she normally is sans a blouse.

OK no problem . Having only been as far on the African continent as Morocco, we just adjusted to this. In truth we had read that there was an African population in this area – but we assumed this was as in “African American” not Out of Africa.

A couple of lovely examples of her work were purchased.

A photo of one of our purchases

Moving along we spotted a small marching band (heard before seen)

Many Curious Gazes as we Wandered Around Town

The Pueblo Public Address System (also ubiquitous for these small communities)

On a hill far away stood some old rugged crosses, The emblem of suffering and shame; And I love those old crosses where the dearest and best. For a world of lost sinners was slain.

Touching to see those old wooden crosses decorated with banana leaf palm fronds (Palm Sunday?). Say what you might about these simple folks – their faith is to be admired.

We rounded a corner. Down the way there was a rare photo opportunity - one in which you had to act fast. A lineup of women carrying a chicken under each arm – food for the fiesta still on the hoof (or yellow chicken feet in this case). The chickens were calm – obviously no idea where they were HEADed OFF to.

These Ladies Will Not Go to the Party Empty Handed. They Come Bearing Chickens

In the above photo the women second from the left has a rather unique and quite costly skirt wrap. We saw several ladies in the community sporting these particular colorful skirts. There is an amazing story about the protected purple dye snails from which this fabric is colored. Read More About This HERE and HERE)

After an hour or so of walking we ended up back near the car. Quite a few borrochos were looking like they probably would NOT making another four hours before the actual celebration began.

Marching in view were a few firework laden toros. Not the expensive Xico Celebration kind – but a more simpler version – still going to be some fun we bet.

The party still about four hours off  was something we decided to pass on – been there, done that. We wanted to move on the Jamiltepéc and then Pintotepa – lots to do.


We drove what seemed to be the Looooongest 15 miles in history to Pinotepa Nacional. It turned out to be quite a large city – larger than Puerto. Perhaps a supply depot in the future – but it had little else in the way of attraction. (To be fair – we were warned that this would be the case by Franco).

Forging on we were going to find the restaurant “La India” as in the original plan. Of course it was all the way across town at the west end. We ere now only about 10 miles from the Mexican State of Guerrero – but we planned to stay in Oaxaca this trip.

Here is proof we made it this far (and no further). The restaurant was empty of patrons, large and rather dark. The menu did not particularly impress us – so we had a few cold beers and some botanas (snacks). It was late in the afternoon. We decided we had had enough fun. We would head back to Puerto Escondido rather than spend the night.

In central Pinotepa we saw this huge Cathedral

It was a long drive home – arriving a mere 11 hours from departure. We covered a lot of ground and even MORE TOPES! A standard shift car is no fun on Mexican Highways.


A good time was had by all – but we were happy to spend the night in our own bed after a long and adventurous day. Stay Tuned!




  • Jody Noble

    Hi Mr. Calypso. When I also encountered a few of the “nuded torso” ladies myself, on the way to Pinotepa Don Luís, complete with cigars hanging out of their mouths, not speaking a word of Spanish, I got curious, too. These are Mixteca women who wear the typical “enredo” or “pozahuanque” of the region–basically, a heavy piece of hand-loomed fabric wrapped around their lower halves, rolled over at the top, and tied (or not) with a faja or piece of hemp-like rope. When the Spaniards showed up on the Oaxacan coast, they found these ladies with breasts exposed and worked hard at getting them to cover up with blouses. Given the God-awful heat of the region during most of the year, it is understandable they might resist this priestly advice. Seeing them is certainly an experience I’ll never forget. I mistakenly stopped and asked them for directions in Spanish since, of course, we were lost as could be on what could only be loosely categorized as a “road”. They began to speak Mixteco and sent for a translator. You can imagine the kind of directions we got. We stayed lost for quite some time.

  • John Calypso

    Hi Judy Noble. Thank you for the additional information. We had not realized there was primitive African colonies here in Mexico – unusual to say the least. Bare chested and more – well then there is Zipolite – that for another day ;-)

  • Kim G

    Interesting tale. I particularly like the photograph you took of the roadside stand with the watermelons and other fruits on colorful plastic tablecloths.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where the puritans don’t look favorably on bare-chested women either.

  • Andean

    There was an old town, in Ecuador many years ago, “bare chested,” and red skin painted, woman, and men in loin clothes, lived as they had for, probably all their lives. It was a natural scene there, except for the tourist with many cameras, and at some point the woman were than asked/required, to wear bras, quite disconcerting, within their culture. And completely changed the look of the village, ridiculous, really.
    It was never a concern in that area until, that change came into play.

  • John Calypso

    After the initial surprise – we moved on from that and it ended up being a normal environment – odd that – or not. However had this woman been a beautiful young thing – things might have felt different longer – or not ;-)

  • Steve Cotton

    Quite a day! In February I am heading down to Oaxaca and Chiapas. It is good to be back in Mexico — for a bit.

  • John Calypso

    Yes – probably too quick – but we had to be back by early Sunday afternoon. There are so many interesting little pueblitas to visit. ;-) And so little time.

  • Jody Noble

    The bare-chested custom is purely indigenous I believe. The Afro-Mexican culture on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca and Guerrero is fascinating for sure. There appears to be little mixing among the Afromexicanos and the indigenous groups of the region: Amuzgos, Mixtecos, etc. Anthropologist, Dr. Bobby Vaughn, has a little blog/website dedicated to his study of this region:

    Your Zipolite post will be quite provocative; I’m sure.

  • John Calypso

    Hi again Jody – Thank you for the additional information. The woman in question in Mechocan had a definite different look than most there – She was taller and darker with a long face – as well as those in her apparent immediate family (there in the casa) – but I am not an anthropologist ;-0

    We have spent some time in Zipolite and Mazunte – so we do know what to expect in Zipolite ;-) Stay Tuned for that!

  • John Calypso

    Kim – We have many of those shiny plastic table covers here in the casa. They sure help brighten a room or make a grand photo ;-)

  • Laurie Matherne

    I loved the post. Oddly enough, I thought of you and your lovely wife this morning. I wondered if she was still growing her hair out. This post answered that question. At first glance, I felt like this post would ring true of Honduras. However, the fruit were too neatly arranged. Usually our stands are untidy, large masses of fruit. And of course, I have never been befriended by a bare-chested woman in Honduras, although it may be common on the Moskito Coast that is inhabited by Afro-Caribes. When talking with other ladies, though, many confess of going topless around the house as its cooler and not taboo within the home.

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