Traveler Tales – Susan Ramsey
- Which tour/tours have you taken with us?
I have taken 5 tours with TM starting in 2012 with the Chiapas tour. (Some of the tour names have changed since then). Then, Fiber Arts of the Oaxacan Coast, and Embroidered Flowers that took us to the isthmus of Tehuantepec, Profound Oaxaca, and Day of the Dead in Chiapas.
- Why do you like this kind of immersive travel?
Ever since I fell in love with Mexico on my first trip at age 17, I’ve had the opportunity to meet the local people in their villages. With my study of anthropology in college, I’m fascinated with culture and as a seamstress, weaver, and crafter, I love studying indigenous artisan skills that have been passed down through generations.
- Why us?
Traditions Mexico is the only company I’ve found that allows me access to the Oaxacan and Chiapan artisans whose work I’ve admired in markets and in books. I thank Eric for established long time relationships with families in remote Mexican villages. I get to practice my Spanish and even learn a few words of their indigenous languages. Also, I love not having to plan all the logistical details in getting to theses places. And meeting other tour participants has resulted in many friendships after the tours.
- Share with us something fascinating that you learned.
Of all the artisans I’ve met, I think the most fascinating person is the shell dyer, Abacuc, from the southern coast of Oaxaca. His travel to the coast from his mountain village since he was a young man, camping out on the beach for several months, carefully extracting the purple dye from shellfish and applying it directly to cotton threads is an example of the dedication these artisans have in preserving age-old techniques.
- Share one stand out moment with us?
Being able to clamber over the rocks on the beach with Abacuc to find the shellfish and having him apply the dye, which starts out greenish and quickly turns to purple, directly into my white top allowed me to feel part of this ancient tradition.
- In what way has your travel experience impacted or influenced your life back home?
After many of my trips, I invite a group of friends over for a posole supper and slide show of my travels. My friends have marveled at the remote places we’ve visited. Also, I’ve collected many handmade blouses and huipiles which I wear often. And as a textile artist, I have incorporated many of the handwoven textiles into my own compositions. I’ve realized that even though I embody “first world privilege”, I can not only offer my American dollars towards the support of their families through purchases but also offer my sincere interest in what they do.
- Share with us something you brought home and where is it now?
On our Profound Oaxaca trip, my husband and I visited the Reyes ceramics family near Yanhuitlan. Since I love corn, my husband bought me a large ceramic “corn goddess” figure that sits in my garden all summer. It was the best birthday gift!
- Food that you really enjoyed! Food that you didn’t
I enjoy every single handmade tortilla! But I loved the tamales with tiny mussels from the Oaxacan Coast trip. So unusual! I can’t think of anything I didn’t like.
- A funny anecdote… or a challenge you can laugh about now?
Probably my unsuccessful attempt to make tortillas during a home dinner in Teotitlan del Valle. That night they asked for volunteers to try their hand (literally) at making a few tortillas. The women make it look so incredibly easy! Of course, they’ve probably made thousands of them. Since I’m usually willing to try something new, I thought, it can’t be that hard. But instead of round ones, mine were anything but! More like Swiss cheese with lots of holes. Still, tasty!
- Tips or advice for people thinking about taking a tour like this in the future?
I can’t recommend the Traditions Mexico tours highly enough! Take advantage of the opportunity to meet people whose livelihoods and craft are becoming more precious due to ready made goods entering their lives. Be ready for a new adventure every day, with eyes and heart wide open.