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Oaxaca: Ethnobotanical Garden and El Tlapanochestli Cochineal Farm

August 4, 2017

When I boarded my tiny plane to Oaxaca in Mexico City I realized I had very little idea of how this trip was gonna go. I had read about Oaxacan textiles, heard much about the city from friends – but I had never even been to Mexico. What did I know, really?  My Spanish was mostly Portuguese with an accent and I had one week in the city with no settled plans. I didn’t really have any clear expectations about what would happen.

Maybe this is what made it such a rich and surprising trip. I learned a lot – and not just about textiles. I enjoyed suprising (to me) food, like chapulines and the meandering conversations with old ladies on the bus. On my first day I decided to join a guided tour of the excellent Ethnobotanical Garden in the city center (see giant cacti above). The tour was a great introduction to where things in the market come from, to what you can make from what and to the current state of many local artisanal traditions.

The next day I decided to venture out to the nearby town of Santa Maria Coyotepec and visit El Tlapanochestli, a Cochineal farm and research center. The place was quite deserted which meant I got a full guided tour and got to ask tons of questions. Oaxaca is the birthplace of carmine colourings. Much of the city was built on the wealth generated by the colonial exploitation of cochineal, which was domesticated and perfected there long before. I learned about the process of growing nopales – the cacti cohineal feed on – and of reproducing cochineal bugs. It’s very labor intensive and caring for these tiny bugs is pretty much like caring for chickens or other domesticate animals. The result is the best palette of reds, pinks and purples ever: a real feast for the eyes.


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