Mexican Colours

Nearing Oaxaca as the bus twisted around the bends in the road, the sun slipped down behind the mountains, revealing them to be a series of profiles: dark velvet outlines of sleeping beings lying head to head, their noses and lips rising reaching skywards, some aquiline, some rounded, some more delicate.  

In the Zoccolo beside the cathedral, the square joyfully hummed with flutes, marimbas and  chatter. Couples of all ages strolled hand in hand under the trees, children running free holding onto enormous bright pink and orange sausage shaped balloons. There seemed to be almost as many vendors as there were people, selling tamales and tacos, soup and cakes and delicate birds made out of dried grasses. Women with long braids hanging down their backs walked about trying to sell the colourful embroidered clothes loaded upon their arms and onto their backs. I found myself smiling and smiling at this sense of fiesta on a Monday evening, at how the Mariachi bands burst into their serenades with comical timing, at how the grinning young girl half walked, half danced, her glossy black ponytail swinging behind her, making her way towards something good across the square, at the baby tightly wrapped up in a shawl strapped to the back of his mama as she sold coloured sweets, at the long line of people waiting for corn on the cob from the guy working exuberantly from his tiny stall, vigorously smothering the corn in mayonnaise, rolling it in cheese and then squirting it with six kinds of chilli sauce, ranging from vermillion to deep umber. I seemed to have burst through the cobble stones into a magical world where everything is designed to be as fun and colourful as possible. 

And then, walking home, I noticed a group of tiny older women, their dark braids woven with crimson cloth, cooking and eating and talking together upon the low wall. They had pitched up tents and made a little village in the square. A large sign demanded justice and care for indigenous widows. Their husbands had been killed in a massacre in 2010.

Cali (my travelling companion) and I headed up to Teotitlán del Valle, which is a village where everyone makes carpets. Pastora, from the women’s collective welcomed us and demonstrated how the natural dyes are made using herbs and barks and cochineal beetles which live on the cactuses nearby. She changed the colours in a flash by adding a few drops of lemon or a pinch of wood ash; orange turned to lime yellow, plum to fuschia. Later she unrolled the carpets and pointed out the symbols: of the four cardinal points, water, thunder, light, of the commmunity.

After another long bus ride, we arrived in San Agustinillo on the coast near Mazunte, Here the air is warm, the light crystalline and the sea clean. As Miriam, a local healer, gave me one of the best massages of my life, my inner vision was awash with colours, lime green, amber, ochre, sand, rust reds, spiced orange, deep turquoise, emerald green, hot pink, saffron, on and on they swirled in front of me, an endlessly moving sea of colours. 

Before going to bed I went to look at the inky ocean under the stars. I thought of the shadowy whales swimming out in the distance. The moon lit up a band upon every wave turning it silver and iridescent the instant before it crashed into white foam.



Natural dyes for wool


White cochineal beetle on cactus, squashed beetle on hand, some with a drop of lime added