A Visit to Santos Reyes Nopala

A couple from Nova Scotia arrived in the small restaurant where we were eating on the second floor food court of  the Mercado in Santos Reyes Nopala. We had spotted them from our balcony seating as they walked through the small park. Gringos stand out in Nopala. It is off the beaten path, sprawling and not pandering to tourism.

The Park Below our Restaurant Seating

Anita helped them through the food ordering process. It will be rare to find an English speaking habitant in the mountains above Puerto Escondido. As is often the case with strangers in a strange land we engaged in conversation with the distinctly tourist couple – she carrying her Moon Travel Guide close to the chest, a crib sheet slathered with notes protruded from the binding.

”We are looking for a possible place to live in Mexico” she reported. “We sold our house; the kids are grown and off on their own. We are here for adventure,” stated with an enthusiasm that left no question about that.

“We like Oaxaca City, but the weather, oh the weather, in Puerto Escondido is wonderful, isn’t it?

We could easily imagine just how terrific the weather might be just now to a couple that had a few days before escaped the frigid climes of Nova Scotia.

“The other day it was colder than Mars! No really! It was minus forty-three; colder than being on the surface of Mars.”

But now like us they were here on a sunny afternoon outing in the mountains above Puerto Escondido, in Chatino land, an area where coffee is grown steeped in history. We had Google-prepped, learning the Chatino people had been in these mountains for more than a thousand years.  Some historians believe Chatino people have been in the area since 2,300 B.C. Many of the natives living and working in Puerto are Chatinos although few speak the language of their grandparents.

One of the sights in the center of town at the City Hall are stelae stone slabs (carved stone slabs). The stelae are from the 6th to the 8th century, now embedded in the surrounding walls. The slabs were found five kilometers from the city. In 1966 they were brought from their original sites by ox teams over steep mountain passes. This arduous task was performed to preserve the stelae as reminders of the classic period of Chatino culture.

Santos Reyes Nopala City Hall

We Noted We had Missed the Annual Cock Fighting – No Problem There!

An Idyllic Mission Setting – Santos Reyes Nopala


Our new companions from way north of the Rio Bravo wanted to see a coffee finca. We were here on a mission to locate a special artisan who was reported on our local Forum to make specially crafted machetes.

On our way to eating we stopped in a local shop. A wide brimmed sombrero caught my attention. We inquired as to where to eat. The amiable shop owner provided information, and would hold the hat for me until our return from refueling our bodies.

Nopala Street Scene


Nopala Nestled in the Mountains Above Puerto About 1-1/2 hours

Upon our return to the hat shop we found the owner enjoying a siesta. I caught a photo before Anita woke him.

Hated to Interrupt a Fine Siesta

We asked about the machete craftsman, if he might know of him? “Yes, you are looking for Señor Mateo Galvan.” There seemed to be little he did not know about his town.

He gave us specific directions and even drew a small map. We learned we were within walking distance (about 4 long blocks as it turned out). Off we headed down a steep road looking for a turnoff to the Panteon (cemetery). The steel foundry would be found directly across the street.

Headed Down the Steep Roadway Towards the Taller (workshop)

We were to look for an abarrotes (grocery store) named Tres Hermanas (three sisters). This was run by Señor Mateo’s sisters. They would direct us from there.

Tres Hermanas Abarrotes

We asked along the way as to where we would find the cemetery. All pointed directly ahead.


The Intersection Across from the Alley Leading to the Foundry Workshop

On the opposite side of the street we spotted the sign “Herrería Galvan” Our destination found.

Anita asked at the grocery and we were directed down a long alley way.

Anita Heads Down the Long Alleyway

As we turned into a small entry we spied three hombres mid-striking a red hot piece of metal laid upon a seasoned stone. I quickly took a photo.


Pounding Hot Steel

54 years and still enjoying the process (art)

Señor Mateo Galivan stopped what he was doing and acknowledged our presence. He was affable. It was easy to see he was excited to have gringo guests explaining that just a week or so before he had also been visited by gringos (see Forum note).

Red-Hot Steel!

He proudly declared he was 83 years old and confirmed the shirtless hombre was his son Ignacio, and the other sledge hammer wielder was his grandson.  Three generations pounding red-hot auto leaf springs into tools. We have read that the steel in leaf springs makes excellent quality knives and gardening implements.

A hand turned bicycle wheel driving a belt pulley bellows stokes the fire steel red hot


Some Tools of the Trade

Well Seasoned Hammer and Palate


Wheel Driven Bellows Stokes the Fire

We learned Mateo Galvan is the first generation machete craftsman however even his ten-year-old grandson was being taught the craft. It will be passed down father-to-son to son and on.

Ignacio brought out two completed machetes both enveloped in stylish sheaths. We learned that the handle of one was crafted from cow’s horn and another was plastic. Both were fashioned as horse heads.

A Finished Example – Waiting to Be Sharpened to a Razors Edge


We Brought This Model Home


We opted for the cow’s horn model. Senor Galvan provided us with chairs as he began to sharpen the machete, his son Ignacio was already honing the tool that would be used to file the final edge on the marvelous machete – truly a work of art. He suggested that as a useful tool, it should last at least five years. Ours would be for a lifetime as a Folk Art collectible. We already own several utilitarian machetes.

The Cow’s Horn Handle of Our New Folk-Art Machete

While the sharpening process continued, we enjoyed conversations with the sister’s and the wife of Ignacio as well as the children that gathered around us to meet these curious strangers. It was a family affair by this time. Children came and went to get a view of the rather odd looking foreigners.

After a half an hour or so we gathered up our new machete needing to head down the road before dark as the winding road was pock marked with holes along much of the way. We arrived down the slopes just as the sun was going down. A fun adventure had been garnered. The day trip is recommended. Stay Tuned!

  • http://sparksmex.blogspot.com/ sparks

    Nice fotos but I’m exhausted after all that ;)

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    Sparks – No one ever said it would be easy. But, seriously I considered a two part story – but then gave way to the extra long report.

    Get some rest.

  • Barbara

    I lOVE experiences like that. What a beautiful treasure from a man who is proud of his work. The humility of these craftsman never ceases to amaze me, along with the pleasure they take from making something of beauty. I have so many memories of searching out someone I’ve heard about. ” To two streets and turn at the bush” or “Look for the house with the missing shutter”. Never did one know what to expect but seldom was one ever disappointed. The basic tools they use to create such amazing things also is staggering. Across the border it would take a factory – here it is a village and a family working together. This post reaffirms my love for this country.

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    Barbara (Babs?) – thanks. I agree Mexican craftsmen are usually down to earth folks that are a treat to engage. Senor Galvan certainly falls into the pleasure category ;-) A truly fine fellow with a friendly and accommodating family to back him up ;-)

  • Andean

    Nice post and thanks for taking us along. I haven’t explored one of those little remote villages for many years so this was a treat — fond memories recalled.
    Did they also make the case for the machete there? Pretty neat stuff.

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    Andean you caught me on that question I had not asked. In as much as that sheath is rather ubiquitous around here, I doubt if they construct them. I have seen pretty much the same sheath in our local mercado – however the accompanying machetes did not match the quality and hand-crafted flavor of the machete. I saw an hombre on the street sporting on of Senor Galvan’s machete – I do believe they are bought and used in the many ways standard machetes are commonly used. The package is quite expensive for the average Mexican I am guessing; 2 to three work days of income to buy. (selling for 600 to 800 pesos).

  • Andean

    Señor Galvan may consider quite a season here — when an ice storm occurs. After reading your post I tryed to run errands but, alas, it took, sometime to get my car out of the block of ice the tires were stuck to! Ya… an ice pick, a flamed torch… than his product came to mind….. :)

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    Andean – the machete would make a serious ice pick ;-)

  • Kim G

    Great post. I loved the whole tour, and the photos. Where but Mexico are you going to see a lime-sherbet colored city hall?

    And how did the Nova Scotians ever find that little town? It’s not even on Google Street View.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we’d love to explore such places on our trip south.

  • Steve Cotton

    Nice adventure. Nice post. I know what you mean about the temptation of two-parters. They seldom break in a convenient point. And we then would miss The Simpsons-style plot device.

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    Kim – “…a lime-sherbet colored city hall?”

    You are a funny guy! The Nova Scotia folks are staying in Puerto Escondido for a couple months apparently while they checkout various areas. I think the visit to Nopala was just a day trip they read about in the Moon Travel Guide? We hope to meet up with them here in Puerto – I will have to ask ;-)

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    Steve – I always feel compelled to get things down while they are fresh in my head – and then as you suggest where to split etc. People can read it in two days and make their own split ;-) Not sure about “The Simpson-style plot device? But I am sure you are right.

  • Kim G

    Funny Guy? LOL…I’m not the one who picked the paint color. Merely describing it.

    As for limes, I’ve always thought that Mexicans should inherit the moniker “limey.” The British aren’t much known for eating limes these days, but Mexicans! They must have the biggest per-capita lime consumption in the world. They eat limes with everything, as you well know, and even paint some city halls to match! Saludos.

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    Funny in that you would draw attention to Mexico’s wild colors – and then describing the color as lime sherbet – well it is probably not the description I would have chose ;-) I think I would have just said bright lime – I liked your adding sherbet. What can I say – I am easily entertained.

  • Christine

    Ah, there is nothing like having a mission to accomplish to make a great day!

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    And if the mission includes a bit of travel -fun!