ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
Did you know that each year U.S. residents make more than 20 million trips to Mexico? Yet, most rarely venture off the comfort zones of their beach resort. ExpertFlyer is taking a deep dive with an art and cultural travel series where we interview experts from three global destinations, including Mexico, India and the United Kingdom. Our first interview features Stephanie Schneiderman, owner of Tia Stephanie Tours, specialists in Mexican and Columbian cultural vacation experiences.
You are a specialist in Mexican and Columbian cultural tours. Is there a growing demand for cultural/art experiences in Mexico?
I think travelers already know that Mexico is a popular beach destination, to places like the Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta/Nayarit, Los Cabos, but some of the traveler set are recognizing that Mexico has so much more to offer, more in the interior of the country and more related to Mexico’s history and people. This awareness has come through touch points such as: the new wave of chefs who are introducing more authentic flavors of Mexico in U.S. restaurants; Mexico Tourism’s messages that include Adventure and Culture (not just Sun & Beach); areas of Colonial Mexico have been popular for awhile, such as San Miguel de Allende, but some people are going further afield to have more authentic experiences with interactions with the people of Mexico. This segment is already traveling the world for cultural and human experiences, but they realize that they don’t have to go to Paris for Art, Italy for Cuisine, Bhutan for Culture, Egypt for Pyramids; they can see all of that, in their singular expression in Mexico, just a 3-4 hour flight from most U.S. cities!
If one is interested in this type of experience, which areas of Mexico do you recommend?
I recommend that everyone go to Mexico City. They will be very grateful they did and will make it a return visit, assured. This is based on our experience introducing travelers to this cultural powerhouse and world class capital city. I call it the “I never knew” phenomenon: “I never knew Mexico City had so many museums (164 and counting), “I never knew Mexico City had such ancient history,” “I never knew Mexico City had world class contemporary art galleries and architecture,” “I never knew the cuisine in Mexico City ranges from delicious street tacos to high end contemporary Mexican cuisine, fine dining experiences,”and on and on.People also love exploring Oaxaca, which is about 4-1/2 hours to the east of Mexico City. Oaxaca has a singular regional artistic expression, dating to Rufino Tamayo and expressed today by many artists, such as Francisco Toledo and others who express with color, fantasy and “magical realism.” Going to Oaxaca City, one can explore numerous art galleries that work with established and emerging artists. Traveling to the communities that surround Oaxaca City, one can visit Zapotec weavers, wood carvers, potters and other artisans that Oaxaca is known for. And, the cuisine is world renowned, given its over seven variants of “mole,” including, black, red, almond, green, yellow, and many other flavors of this sacred sauce that combines dried chili peppers, seeds, nuts, sometimes cinnamon, chocolate, peanuts and other herbs for an indescribable flavor.
I also recommend, for travelers who might already be on the Yucatan Peninsula, that they go deeper and explore communities such as Valladolid and Merida, Yucatan, to visit ancient Maya sites, such as Uxmal and Ek Balam, and also venture into the less visited State on the Peninsula: Campeche. Campeche City is a UNESCO World Heritage City and is a walled city that fended off pirate attacks in the 17th and 18th Centuries. It sits on the Gulf of Mexico and is home to unique cuisine, based in sea food, combined with Mayan dishes using turkey and corn as ingredients. In Southern Campeche lie some of the most important and remote Maya sites that will make travelers feel like true explorers. Calakmul was once a great empire and surrounding sites of Ixpujil, Becan, Chicanna and others are marvels of Mayan architecture and art. We love Campeche and invite travelers to explore it!
Travelers yearning for a rich art experience travel far and wide to places like France, Italy, Spain, etc. How is Mexico emerging as a major player in the global art scene?
Mexico has always had a vibrant art scene. I think people are beginning to recognize this. In the 1920’s to 1950’s Mexico was the place to go to learn about, meet with and learn from the great Muralist artists, such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco. In the 1960’s and 1970’s Modern Art Galleries and many Museums in Mexico were established, such as the Modern Museum of Art (MAM) and the Galerias de Arte Moderno (GAM). Even the 1968 Olympics demonstrated the creative talent of the architects and graphic designers who came up with some of the most iconic images of any Olympics (remember the pop-art ’68 graphic?). Today, Mexico City is home to Zona Maco, the internationally renowned Contemporary Art Fair that takes place every February. Top Galleries, Collectors, Art Enthusiasts flock to Mexico City to attend this Fair and to view and collect cutting edge art. And some of the most important Contemporary Art Collections are in Mexico City, including the recently opened Museo Colleccion Jumex, and Kurimanzutto, art gallery.
You’ve got an interesting tour coming up in August that showcases the work and lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Tell us about that and the Botanical Gardens exhibit opening this month?
We are excited that simultaneously, several exhibits are taking place in the U.S. that feature the art and lives of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and the art of Mexico. In Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), “Diego and Frida in Detroit” opened in March, and exhibits never seen before, “cartoon” sketches of Diego’s work for the Detroit Industry Murals, commissioned by the Museum and funded by Edsel Ford in 1932. The exhibit covers the lives and art of Diego and Frida during their stay in Detroit. Diego was happy, painting and being admired by all; Frida was miserable, given the bitter cold of the Winter, the attitude of the local society towards her, and she sadly had a miscarriage. But it was here, that she began to experiment with art and techniques, including engraving, with her friend and accomplished artists, Lucienne Bloch.
The New York Botanical Garden exhibit is called, “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden and Life”, and will focus on the botanical elements used in many of Frida’s artwork. The exhibit opens on May 16.
Taking these two blockbuster exhibits, we coordinated and designed a tour to complement these exhibits and learning experiences. Our “Diego and Frida in Mexico City Tour” will lead travelers to important historic places that were pivotal in the lives and development of both artists and their lives as a couple. We will see where the first Murals were painted in the 1920’s, in the Antiguo Colegio San Idelfonso, which happens to be where Frida went to high school! Visiting the Murals at the Palace of Fine Arts, we will be able to compare and contrast the art, techniques and political messages of the “Big Three”, Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros, as while they were part of the Mexican Muralist Movement, each had different ideas and artistic expressions. Travelers will enter the “Blue House,” Frida Kahlo Museum to see where Frida grew up and to imagine her in her Studio, in her Garden surrounded by her beloved animals, and sadly in her bed, where she was often in pain, due to a childhood trolley accident. And, visiting the Diego and Frida Studios in San Angel neighborhood, we will see the space that their friend and architect Juan O’Gorman designed for them to work and live separately and sometimes together! That was the life of Diego and Frida!
This tour takes place August 8-16, 2015 and will include wonderful dining experiences, including some of Frida’s favorite dishes! Visits to the archeology site of Teotihuacan and the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco are also places that Diego and Frida loved to visit.
You offer very niche experiences like your Mexican Textile tour. Talk about that and some of the other unique twists you offer to travelers who want to go deep into Mexican culture and history.
A central aspect of Mexico’s history and present day landscape, is an understanding and appreciation of the country’s original people and ancient civilizations that emerged from hunter, gatherers to building grand cities, with great accomplishments in art, astronomy, math, writing, etc. These civilizations were the Maya, Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Toltec, Purepecha, Totonac, Huastec, Aztec and many other groups. While we visit these sites, we always remind our travelers, and it is apparent, that these original peoples of Mexico are still present and they represent the living cultures of Mexico today. About 10% of Mexico’s population is indigenous (original), and each ethnic group has different expressions in dress, language, food, customs, rituals, etc. On our Textile Tours we are particularly interested with the rich textile traditions, dress as cultural expression, weaving and dying as master techniques and art, iconography and symbols embedded in the weaving. We visit communities on the Coast of Oaxaca, for example, to see how the Mixtec dyers climb on the ocean rocks in search of the sea mollusk that emits a purple dye, for their women to weave the lovely purple wrap skirt they are known for. We visit Maya weavers in the Highlands of Chiapas near San Cristobal de Las Casas, followed by the Lowlands (Palenque, Yaxchilan and Bonampak) to see how weaving has not changed in over 3,000 years.
Our Textile Journeys attract textile enthusiasts, curious travelers, collectors, and all are very grateful to travel to locations they have never been to before. Even the most seasoned Mexico travelers have called some of our tours, “Off the Grid” and “Bold”. Mexico is a vast and diverse country and one could spend a lifetime exploring it. We aim to go broader and deeper into this extraordinary country, and to help facilitate these experiences for our travelers.