Onwards and Upwards!
Ok well. A lot has happened, let me try and figure out how I’m going to say it all.
So last I left you I got my bundle of goodies to replace all my broken/stolen tech (camera, laptop, phone), I went to the artisan fair and just got that new tire. The day before leaving CDMX I launched my new project, Unus Mundus Project to the world. Which included my revised rethought rererewritten mission statement. So much love and thanks to my amazing brother for helping me find the right words. You understand me better than anyone.
Here it is world!
I believe in the transformative power of creative collaboration
To bridge division and grow connection through shared experience
By creating art and providing a platform for the world’s artisans to share their craft and story
I seek to synchronize art, travel, and exchange through my adventure
So I can help tell the greater narrative of our one world
Let us draw from the Unus Mundus and become far greater than what we are alone.
With the launch of my new project I broke my silence with the world of social media. Now I am in full throttle! I have and will be posting everyday so if you want to follow me on Instagram or Facebook for daily photos, stories and videos check out: @unusmundusproject
As a result of the artisan fair, I made a ton of connections with artisans across Mexico. Before leaving CDMX I took a trip to Tenancingo, a town south of Toluca to meet a family who makes these really unique rebozos. I visited their workshop and they showed me all the processes of their craft. From spinning the thread spindles to weaving their clothes on the wooden looms. Carmen the wife runs the business side of things, creates designs for their products and also prepares thread for weaving, Adolfo or Fito is the head weaver and the one who taught the other weavers in the workshop the craft. Fito works alongside his son and a group of friends from the town. Together they create some of the most unique rebozos I have ever seen, with colors and patterns both brilliant and intricate; craftmanship taken to a new level. That day I bought my first collection of items for my store!
Before I left I bought something kind of ridiculous. A guitar! Yes, yes I know, it’s still to carry that. But I had really been running into difficulty with my mini harp. It only play in one key and I wanted to learn all these spanish songs that required a more versatile instrument. So I told myself, if i can sell the harp, I will buy something else. And then I did! After it was sold Josefo took me to this luthier in cdmx who built his guitar. After speaking with him he said he could make me a mini guitar, custom just for me and my moto! I was even able to pick the color, finish and tuners! It was too good to be true, so now I carry a mini guitar with me. And yes, it is worth every extra pound. No regrets.
By the end, I was in Mexico City for a month. Far longer than I had planned, but my time there was incredibly productive and healing. After many months of silence, reflection, and turmoil, it was freeing to relaunch myself and my project to the world. Sharing for me has always been a way to strengthen my goals and my dreams. The process of finding the language to communicate to others what it is I feel called to do, is critical for my own understanding and growth. And also when others know your dreams, the path becomes clearer; their strength and encouragement is both a fuel and a inspiration to continue moving onwards and upwards.
I left Mexico City via Paso de Cortés, a mountain pass nestled between the Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl volcanoes. It gets its name from history, it was the path that Hernám Cortés used to surprise the Aztecs in 1519 which lead to the invasion of city of Tenochtitlán, present day Mexico City center. A lot of history in that dirt! I didn’t get to see either of the mountain peaks as they were covered by the clouds but after being in CDMX for so long, the free air and smell of pine trees were enough of treat.
A few weeks back I got a message from a fellow rider named Othon Ramirez. He is owner and founder of an adventure touring company in Orizaba, Veracruz called Explora Mexico. Mostly they do 4×4 off road tours but are planning to expand into motos and atvs in the future. He invited me to come and stay and so I road to Orizaba! Othon and his brother Julio met me halfway and we road the rest of the twisty mountain roads of the Route 150 free road together.
Orizaba is a quaint little town, Pico de Orizaba a dormant volcano and also the highest peak in Mexico, is an icon in thick foggy sky of the valley. All the roads are one by ones, which means you just have to make sure you pay very close attention to who crossed last so you don’t get T-boned. A good example of organized chaos. Othon has a mechanic shop with plenty of tools and a stick welder. A few weeks before one of the tabs that hold my pvc tool roll broke, so I was able to weld it up at the shop there. Also I installed a new rear brake light after the guys told me that no one can see mine due to my rack and bag overhang. Othon and I found one that blinks when you brake so even though it’s pretty annoying for whomever is behind me, no one will miss me now!
Interesting story! Orizaba has a public “zoo” that follows the main river walk in town. I don’t like zoos but Othon told me that after circus animals were outlawed in Mexico many circus owners just let the animals roam free, which resulted in the deaths of the animals and also some people. When this happened Orizaba proposed habitats to be build in the city to house a large collection of these circus animals. Lions, tigers, panthers, hippos and many more now have homes by the river and a lot of them within the same cages, living harmoniously together! I imagine they have had a hard and stressful life in the circus and this is maybe something like retirement. Of course being free in the wild is where they should be in an ideal world but I don’t think these guys would survive very long out there considering their upbringing. Either way, Orizaba made a home for these beautiful creatures when the other option would have been death, and that I can get behind.
I went to the local artisan market there in town to check out what the artisans of Veracruz might be up to and what I found was a great surprise! Most of the stands were factory made replicas of mexican style items which isn’t my thing but there was one stand full of natural wool ponchos, shawls and decorative yarn pieces. The ladies showed me photos of their home and the families history of craft and invited me to come visit the workshop the following day. Their home was far up into the mountains on some roads that aren’t on any maps, it took some doing to find it but eventually I was greeted with by a group of beautiful women who I believe we’re as excited to have me there as I was to be there. Victoria and her son, who recently moved back to town from California, spoke English which is always helpful.
The next few days I was able to document all the processes from shaving the sheep, to preparing the wool, spinning the wool into yarn, dying with natural plant and weaving the pieces on a backstrap loom. I learned that one poncho takens an entire sheeps worth of wool, that wool takes a month to handspin and then it takes 10 days of work on the loom to finish the product. The items they made are not simply clothes, they are precious pieces of art made with love and care like nothing I have ever worn before.
We all got very close in a short period of time and it really was hard to leave. I took hikes with the family into the mountains, learned how to make tortillas, ate with them, laughed with them and enjoyed every second I had with each of them. I thought, well I could stay here, learn spanish with them, teach english at the school down the road, have a life here for a while. They encouraged me to stay. But I felt I had to keep moving. Through the time I spent with them I more clearly understood why I am so attracted to visiting and working with the artisans of the world. And here is what I came to understand and want to share with you.
One of the three major elements in Unus Mundus Project is Exchange. We live in a world where the connection between what we own, how it is made and where it comes from, is lost. The clothes we wear have no sentiment, what was craft is now machine and without meaning these items are easily tossed aside.
We are not in short supply of skilled artisans, they are here with us, crafting works built to last a lifetime. But they are struggling to survive in our disposable world. In a time where we must think more carefully about how we contribute to the waste of the planet, I believe perhaps there is a way I can help in a small way.
Knowledge is the best tool for change and I am in a special position to be able to provide that.
I want to bring the artisans of the world to the public. To teach others about their craft so they are not lost forever. To give the artisans an outlet for profit so that they may flourish. And to give the world another choice.
I have and will continue to travel to the workshops and homes of these artisans, documenting their processes and sharing the stories I collect with you. I will take you on my travels through their craft and I will launch a store to sell their precious works.
Each artisan I will know personally, I will have had meals with them, laughed with them and chosen each of the items that I will sell myself. No longer will there be a disconnect. You will know the faces of the artisans, you will see their homes and their hands and hopefully you will fall in love with them just as I did.
Before leaving, I bought my second collection of items for the store. I cannot wait to go back to Veracruz and stay with them for longer, they are very special to me. After saying a difficult goodbye I was back on the road. At the artisan fair I was invited to a gathering of female artisans in Pinotepa de Don Lois, Oaxaca. They asked me to be the photographer for the event and that was happening in a few days, I still needed to ride all the way to the coast!
I took the 150 to the 125 but got sidetracked a few miles outside of Huajuapan when I passed a large gathering of motorcyclists at a bar on the side of the road. I know a moto club when I see one now! I turned my bike around and parked my bright yellow bird in the line of blacked out choppers. As all moto clubs in Mexico do, they greeted with with open arms and plenty of beers. After perhaps one too many beers and darkness rolling in I accepted their offer to ride back to the city where we could put our bikes to bed and continue the party.
Since I returned back to the main city and prefer not to backtrack, I decided to take an alternate route on 15 going south from Huajuapan. It was my first experience with roads that switch lanes at turns, I learned that the hard way. There are arrows on the ground telling you that you have to switch to the left lane but they were so worn I didn’t see them. So I went to take this switchback and a giant semi was on the other side headed straight for me. I twisted the throttle hard, made an emergency swerve and ended up surviving. I made sure to really pay attention to any hieroglyphics I saw on the pavement after that. Route 15 was very damaged and also very scenic, I rode from cactus fields to soaring mountains to jungle ocean breeze within two days. The jungle ocean and massive mountain part came mostly when the road connected back to 125 which took me straight to Pinotepa de Don Luis.
Pinotepa de Don Luis is a very important town in Oaxaca, it is home to the Tixinda weavers of Mexico. These weavers come from generations upon generations of women who have passed down their craft for over 3000+ years. They are one of the last groups in Mexico that actually grow and hand spin their own cotton. And on top of that they are the last makers of the ancient purple dye called Tixinda, which is milked from the nearly extinct purpura pansa mollusk found in sacred bays on the Oaxaca coast. Illegal poaching has nearly decimated these snails. Only 12 people in the world who are from this area of Oaxaca, know how to properly harvest and milk these snails for the dye.
The gathering was a workshop to help educate the ladies on modern business practices and to show the artisans ideas for new product designs that might be successful or more profitable in today’s market. An example of this would be to change the pillowcase design they were using. Most of them were making the cases with both sides using the complex weaving technique, instead they were encouraged to only use the decorative weaving on one side of the pillow and have the other be plain. This would in turn cut the work nearly in half and make the product more profitable with almost the same style and value. These women are struggling and so is their craft, its hard to believe considering their history and contribution to Mexico and the world but it is true. Over the next few days I photographed their work, the teachings and their story.
The family I was staying with invited me to stay longer and I did. There was a wedding in town and when there is a wedding, the whole town celebrates. So I stayed for the celebrations, food and dancing, explored the town and surrounding cities and again….got really close to the family. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great and beautiful thing to feel so welcomed into another’s life. Never in my life has it happened so genuinely and frequently as it does now. It’s like I have all the lives being offered to me by the world. All these potential futures I could make into something beautiful and amazing. I can’t have them all as much as I love the dream of what that life could be with them, I have to choose. Make hard decisions, walk away for amazing opportunities and incredible people so that I may push the envelope of my potential and bring me closer to my best self.
The relief I felt when I first saw the endless blue of the Oaxaca coast was a full body experience. There was something about it. For those past months I had been in Mexico, not once did I see the Ocean. I had gone through all this pain, all this joy, all these changes in myself and my life. There was something about seeing that water. Sitting on the beach that first night, sand holding me, my bike cooling by the breeze of the waves falling before me. The sun disappearing below the earth’s curve turning the sky into textures of orange and red. Darkness fell and the light of the stars began multiplying above, I stayed and felt the world rotating below me. The salt has kissed my lips and any tension has faded. When the breeze turned to chill I returned to the Phoenix, this fierce machine that carries me into the world. With my widest grin I throw my leg over her, gripped the bars that feel like home and twisted that life back into her, shooting us to our next destination. Not so different from the stars above.
The woman who invited me to the the event in Pinotepa is a woman name Patrice. I don’t know where to begin with that amazing lady! She was a lawyer who worked in Social Justice and Immigration Law for the past 40 some years in Central America. She has lived and worked in Central America since she was in her twenties and has helped and saved the lives of countless refugees and victims across nations. She has a light in her eyes and a flow with her words that makes each stories she tells of her life have a weight that impacts your own. We drank wine together late in the night discussing all the deep questions of the universe and inspiring each other to keep glowing brighter. It’s not everyday I meet a woman who shines like that. I stayed with her in Puerto Escondido for a few days, playing around with my moto sand skills on the beaches and sipping pilsners.
I was told Zipolite was the place to go if your heading East on the coast. It’s one of the nude beaches on the Oaxaca Coast I was told and quite excellent views 🙂 Yes, that was a joke there.
Ok, ok. It was really just the most relaxing time at Zipolite. It was literally like all those daydreams one might have when thinking about being at the beach instead of at work or something. Laying in a hammock, sipping beer or a margarita, sunglasses on music in the background followed by waves….classic. I stayed at a hostel called A Nice Place on The Beach. Very accurately named. There slogan is “A place to come and do nothing”. And that’s exactly what I did.
And finally after a few days of being a turtle at noon on a hot day, I turned my bike North and rode the epic Route 175 to Oaxaca City.
Ok this post is super late I know. I’ve decided I’m gonna stop apologizing for that haha I’m obviously not going get fast with these posts anytime soon. Especially now since I’m doing the social media thing, which actually takes a lot of work. I’m far past Mexico now. In Guatemala and I’ll be here for a few months because I have a few sculpture jobs, work with artisans and a job with a mototours company. This also means I have more time to write so I’ll get on the next post which will be what happens after Oaxaca city up to now!