The Traditions Mexico Dream Team
The Traditions Mexico Dream Team
If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go together
Preamble– It has been a long time since I’ve sat to write, months and months. I left off in late May writing about the decision to close down Traditions Mexico (https://traditionsmexico.com/blog/the-end-of-a-journey/) and how this travel company came to be in the first place. (https://traditionsmexico.com/blog/the-birth-of-traditions-mexico/). And then I pushed away from the computer, from the desk, from these 24 years immersed in dreaming up journeys and taking people into the out there. I pushed away from all of this and on wobbly legs walked to the door and into the glaring light of an unknown day. With one hand I shaded my eyes against the blinding light and stretched my gaze into the horizon to try and see what was there, what would come next. Behind me was a thing that I’d built much of my life around, but that was now gone. In front of me my eyes watered trying to make out what was out there. But all I could see were the most ephemeral of mirages, like the whisps of memory that remain upon waking in the morning of some fascinating dream. There is a flavor, there is a sense of something, but no more than that. And so I stood there, no going back, not sure where forward was, in between the two, on the threshold, in limbo.
This is where I have been. Standing there, lanky and unkempt, with my hat askew, trying to figure out what to do with my hands.
But the moment has come to sit at a new desk in a new place and bring these hands to the keyboard once again. It is time to write the story forward into that ephemeral mirage and give it shape and substance. It is time to dream into being the future. But first I must tie the final bow on the gift that has been the past. Some of you are wondering, with care and hope, if we are going to offer tours again. The answer is a simple no. That chapter has closed. It is upon that era that I am tying the final bow. And to close that chapter I want to say a few things about the team that made Traditions Mexico fly.
Traditions Mexico began in that rarefied time after electricity had been invented but before cell phones. It wasn’t even called Traditions Mexico yet, the name was Manos de Oaxaca. In those early years, like so many beautiful small businesses, it was mostly a one person show. I called it a Mom and Pop business without the Mom. But that’s not quite accurate, because from my very first tour I had support. Knowing absolutely nothing about operating a tour, but operating one just the same, I thought it would be wise to bring someone with guiding experience along. And so I reached out to Lora Colten, an old friend who worked as a river guide on the Grand Canyon. She was also a potter and loved Mexico and spoke some Spanish. And since that first tour was a pottery workshop, she was the perfect teammate. For many years I ran the business like this, doing all the planning and communication and preparations and then reaching out to certain friends to come help me during the tours as hosts and assistants. It was a lovely but lean operation back then.
But there comes a time when you can only go so far with a set up like that. There are only so many hours in a day and skills inside our beings. Traditions Mexico really began to spread her wings when I got serious about building a team. I want to honor those people here, recognize their contribution to what Traditions Mexico became and thank them for their ideas, knowledge, love and buena vibra. We collectively nurtured and became a complex organism with a thousand living systems that somehow worked brilliantly most all of the time. This was only possible because of the amazing team that slowly, thoughtfully and deliberately grew around Traditions Mexico. This big hearted enterprise called in like minded people.
It is often said that a tour is like an iceberg; ten percent of the thing is visible to the naked eye and ninety percent is invisible. Meaning that for the easy, interactive, fun, belly-filling, mind-tickling heart-moving 9-day experience to flow an enormous amount has to go on behind the scenes for months and even years before day one. In the last many years of Traditions, most of that was carried out by Adriana Guzman and Alejandra Rios, both Oaxacans by birth. Adriana loved being behind the scenes, organizing, orchestrating and thinking up better ways to do things. Alejandra was the queen of multitasking, working from her desk at El Nahual, her folkart store in Oaxaca, she’d attend to her customers in the shop, make hotel reservations, contact artisans about upcoming visits, make bank deposits, pay guides and sip on hot chocolate all in the course of the morning.
Also working away in the warm heart of the iceberg were Gayle Romney and Ingrid Edstrom. Gayle was born in the UK but lives in Mexico City and spearheaded our marketing, putting together our newsletters and keeping our Instagram and Facebook beauitful and patiently reminding me it was time to write another blog post. Ingrid with Celtic red hair based in Oregon was our financial wizard. She built amazing systems that made sure we had enough money stored away for costs during the off season, that we never spent a cent of our deposit money until we’d actually earned it and saw that we always got our taxes paid on time. And that let me sleep well at night.
And then there were the faces of Traditions Mexico, our cultural ambassadors, guides and hosts. These were the people that met you on day one and ushered you into the world of traditional people. All of our guide team shared a few things in common: They were bilingual, loved people and enjoyed and understood the cultures of the places they travelled. These were people of big heart and spirit, fun and capable. For any of you who have traveled with us, I don’t need to tell you this, because you lived it. And based on so much feedback from you over the years, you loved it, and them!
Now I’ve gotta be honest, for many years I could not imagine having another person guide one of my tours. Each itinerary was a very personal creation, built around my fascinations with the people and arts of rural Mexico, and my relationships with rural artisans. I could not imagine who could do this other than me? But slowly, carefully, nervously, I began to imagine someone else guiding just the same. And one day I gave the reins of a tour to Carlos Ortega and went home to play with my kids. Carlos didn’t appear out of the blue, he was my compadre and he had been working by my side on tours for years. He knew the way. When he came home from the tour and I saw that the clients were still smiling, I realized this might actually work! Plus, Carlos was a much more patient and gentle soul than I, which is not a bad thing at all on a tour.
And so, with care and consideration and the occasional aligning of the stars, we brought in more guides. Our team in Oaxaca was Carlos, Alexjandra Munuzuri, Ana Paula Fuentes, Antonio Recamier and Priscilla Holder supported by our hosts, Megan Glore and Paulina Schofield. With them we explored the many village-nations that make up this particularly blessed place on earth. Up north in Mexico City Luis Loza was our urban navigator. Further north in Michoacan Miguel Angel Nunez opened the gateway to the land of the Purepecha people. To the far south in Chiapas, the land of the Maya, we worked for years with Chip Morris until he passed. And a continent away, in Peru, Andres Cordero supported by Lourdes Hancco of Threads of Peru, opened the Andes to us. Oh man o man am I glad I stopped thinking I needed to guide all the tours. Just writing this list of names makes me glow, remembering each of these people, the goodness I’ve shared with them and they’ve shared with you, and of course their depth of experience and unique ways of sharing the world.
This post is an offering of gratitude to my behind the scenes wizards and the guides and hosts who collectively Traditions Mexico become what it was. With all my heart and the joy that has come to live within me because of the years of working with all of you; the Traditions Mexico Dream Team, the hundreds of artisans of deep lands who welcomed us into their world, and all of you who have traveled with us, I give thanks. This has been a worthy thing to do with one’s precious days.
A blossom is a temporary thing. It is a flower’s purpose to appear, make the universe more beautiful for a moment and then disappear. Traditions Mexico blossomed with this team of people, with this world or artisans, with these curious travelers. Pull together all the diverse moments of these years and what you have is a flower of vitality and human thriving. A flower shines towards the blue sky, lets loose it’s perfume and hosts bees. Then it lowers its neck and drops its pedals. There is a time for everything to come and go. But a flower doesn’t flower just to be a pretty thing under the sun. It flowers to pollinate a fruit. And a fruit grows to nurture a seed. And seed exists to give birth to a whole new thing.
It is by no means a stretch to imagine the time of Traditions Mexico as being a field of ten thousand flowerings. Each person who worked at Traditions Mexico was a flower in this field. And in each of them fruit ripened and seeds were planted through their experiences working with us, with you, with the artisans. These seeds are now landing in new soil as the flower of Traditions Mexico has passed. Some have gone on to guide on their own. Others to work with artisans and others to put their hands in the soil. The giving, the collaborations, the beauty and the buena vibra continues.
What seeds have been planted in you from your blossoming with us?