Xochistlahuaca is in the Guerrero mountains, where corn grows on steep hillsides and everything is lush and green. It’s 4,000+ residents primarily belong to an indigenous group called Amuzgo, many of whom speak Nomndaa rather than Spanish.
Since 2002, Xochistlahuaca has provided it’s own community police and governed itself somewhat independently from the rest of Guerrero (a right of indigenous communities under the Mexican constitution) and since 2004, it has hosted Radio Nomndaa, the only Amuzgo-language radio station. (Radio Nomndaa advocates for indigenous rights and has been a target of state and federal police.)
Amuzgo women weave shifts, called huipil, and scarves. The linen-like fabric often incorporates design motifs of flowers, animals and legends, and sometimes it takes three months to make a single piece.
They sell these pieces at a boutique run by a cooperative of 28 women, which was founded by Florentina Lopez de Jesus in 1969, and also on certain Saturdays, at an early morning casual street gathering where a few hundred women mill about with bags, pulling out handiwork and naming their price. Mostly the buyers and sellers are Amuzgo women but Sonia and I were there, and later we saw another woman, an Afro-Mexican tourist.
There are no banks and no ATM’s in Xochistlahuaca, so bring plenty of cash. Huipils run anywhere from US $30 to $250, and you’ll want to buy them all.
We hitched a ride with some people from our Playa Ventura hotel to Ometepec (where, from a car window, I caught a glimpse of a church that reminded me of Sufi shrines), and from there, took a collectivo a winding few hours. (Definitely break out the dramamine.) Our fellow passengers, a young Amuzgo couple, asked me for name suggestions for their yet-unnamed three-month-old son. Talk about pressure.
There isn’t much to do in Xochistlahuaca beyond eat amazing food in restaurants that are likely to be the upstairs of someone’s house (the area is known for soft cheese), hiking the hills (you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of town) and ambling around taking photos.
There’s a river with rapids (the San Pedro?) just before Xochistlahuaca, with a calm, swimming spot near the road. Otherwise the current is rough, although I braved the rapids and wedged myself between rocks, letting the water pound me. (Swim in clothes. The Amuzgos are more modest than many Mexicans and don’t seem to wear bathing suits.)
Most people wear traditional clothes, although at a wedding we attended, the bride work a fluffy white dress and some of the younger women wore short, tight numbers.
If men aren’t in jeans and button-downs, they are in loose, white pajama-like outfits, with the shirt open to the waist. Women wear huipil and for less formal occasions, polyester lace shifts over long cotton dresses.
Many Amuzgos are Catholic, but there is a growing number of Protestants (missionaries started coming in the 1940’s), and there’s lot of magical thinking concerning hexes, medicine men, the power of heavenly bodies (more deaths are thought to occur during solar and lunar eclipses) and the power of specific burial rites.
The wedding was Presbyterian and certainly seemed, to my Protestant upbringing, to fit the bill. There was no alcohol, much prayer and many religious songs. The ceremony, held in the town’s central auditorium, was a curious mix of unfamiliar traditions (children’s games, a receiving line where the bride and groom spoke to everyone and accepted gifts) and familiar trappings (an official procession, a sit-down dinner).
Invited guests had seats at the table, but anyone in town was free to wander in and watch the proceedings from the bleachers.
Once the sun sets the streets are dark, since there are no street-lights, and most shops are closed. Some businesses close but leave doors opened and lights on, and people gather and chat in their entryways. There is at least one cantina (it happened to be very noisy and directly below our hotel), but it definitely seemed a men’s place more than a women’s place.
There are two small hotels in town, and ours was empty but for us. We ended up in something called the “presidential suite” (about $20), with no wifi (though we paid extra), no hot water and a broken lock, so that we piled furniture against the door before sleeping. The suite was funny, like a kingpin’s idea of luxury, circa 1987. It had hideous red-orange walls, a black laquer dining set and china cabinet, two love-seats and a coffee table. Oh, and a TV that is, apparently, just for looks, since neither the remote or the power button enticed a picture.
We were comfortable enough, and the comedy of the room compensated for it’s shortcomings. Our two days in Xochistlahuaca was time well-spent.