Charles’ father Peter is very connected to a big family in a growing village, Malinaltepec, where he studied local languages and religion and wrote the book “Códices, costumbres, continuidad: Un estudio de la religión mesoamericana.” As long as I have known Charles and his family, I have heard stories about visiting Malinaltepec, its beauty, the family, the food, the language (Tlapanec), and how the town has changed through their many years of visiting. Peter’s compadre Don Felix is no longer with us, but his grown children continue to welcome visitors, and they invited us up to celebrate Easter since it was my first time in the area.
It’s a long drive, but an interesting one. Topes (speed bumps) stud the road, keeping safe the residents of every village we passed through, who were nevertheless often standing in the middle of the road selling cold bags of coconut water. It’s hard to NOT buy them when you’re already slowed to 0.5 MPH to get over the topes.  Amy and Peter took us to stay overnight at Hotel baXar in Pie de la Cuesta – a very cute little beach town with tremendous waves, whales near to shore, and the most chilled out atmosphere.
The hotel was very comfortable and trendy, with lots of thought given to how you can lounge maximally. There were the regular beach loungers, but also suspended outdoor mattresses, nests built of driftwood, and a private crow’s nest all on the beach, plus the restaurant and bar overlooking an expansive view. The welcome cocktail was refreshing, and the pescaditos (fresh fish queso-taco things) were crispy and fresh. The rooms were comfortable, cool, and clean, and even had a baXar specific spotify playlist you could tune into! It was a really fun spot.


I deeply enjoyed visiting Malinaltepec. The ascent into the mountains and watching the valleys fall away below us, the increasingly small towns, and the growing distance between each inhabited area built the anticipation.
We arrived in the late afternoon after a stop in Marquelia to pick up fresh fish for Good Friday, and found that Odelia (the matriarch of the family, Don Felix’s eldest daughter) had slaughtered a pig for our visit. She and her sisters made the most remarkable adobo sauce from scratch, which they served with fresh tortillas. It was transcendent, truly, and every experience we had in her kitchen – a gathering place – stayed like that. We ate some of the best food I have ever had, with fresh masa they ground from corn they grew and fresh coffee they brewed from beans they grew, picked, and roasted. Tamales, pozole, sopes… They brewed atole and at the end of the day served unsold bread from their bakery, the only one in town.
The patriarch (Don Felix’s eldest son) and his wife Teresa hosted us in their home, in their children’s bedrooms. It was very comfortable, and the big news of the town is that wi-fi recently became available. You can purchase 1 hour or 24 hour vouchers at the local corner store and get 1 hour or 1 day of internet! Of course, not everywhere in the town, but it was enough that I was able to do a little bit of (very, very) remote work during our trip.
We got out onto the land with Odelia and her youngest sister Iris, who is leading the Programa Sembrando Vida initiative in their area. Programa Sembrando Vida or the “Sowing Life” program, initiated by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2019, is tackling both rural poverty and environmental degradation in Mexico. With a goal to plant one million hectares of fruit and timber trees within agroforestry systems, the program provides support through trained technicians, state-run nurseries, and educational communities. By offering financial incentives to participants and emphasizing holistic community development, Sembrando Vida aims to alleviate poverty, combat deforestation, and promote eco-friendly practices in Mexico, with potential plans for expansion into Central America. Malinaltepec has land and was given funding from the government plus training in natural farming and organic agriculture, then ongoing funding and equipment to maintain the organic farm for three years. They have not yet learned what will happen at the end of three years, but Iris was rightfully proud of the work she has led. We also went out picking coffee on their hillsides, and picked a couple of kilos each – which of course did not even start to make up for how much we drank while we were there! Eating the berries was fun too.

We were invited to a family member’s 30th wedding anniversary celebration the next village over – a harrowing but beautiful drive – where they had killed and stewed a goat for the celebration. It was fantastic, and the caldo that accompanied it was so rich! Music and dancing followed. We also went up to the top of a local hillside to gather and remember Don Felix, where we smoked fresh cigars Peter brought from Xihuacan and blew smoke into each others’ hair to cleanse one another.

In Malinaltepec, as in many smaller Mexican towns, the festivities leading up to Easter, AKA Semana Santa, are deeply rooted in religious tradition and often blend indigenous customs with Catholicism – which is part of what Peter studied during his research in Malina. Throughout the week, various processions climbed the steep mountain streets, separating men and women, carrying statues and (on Good Friday) silently whipping a cross-carrying Jesus up the mountain. The few streets in the town were decorated with banners and floral arrangements.  The Church put on the Last Supper and had a fantastic floral carpet. The Church had a service starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday, beginning (begatting??) with Genesis. The Romans arrived, Jesus was crucified, and people came in costumes – including a very confusing paper mache family that had exaggerated human heads and one person in full jaguar costume, carrying whips.  We knew there would be a castillo (tower made from wood with fireworks attached), and it was a good one, but we had to stay very late to see it start! After the service, community members served pozole and bread and coffee to everyone gathered in the square. Once everyone had been served, close to 1 a.m., the castillo was lit. It even had Jesus in the casket near the top, and a crown at the very top that lit up and flew off into the sky to close it off.