I have had many wonderful visits to the towns of the Isthmus, but nothing was quite as magical as attending the Vela Zandunga last May. We were visiting our friend Julin Contreras, who invited us to go to the celebration. Upstairs in the bedroom, women were dressing with a flurry of anticipation. One pulled out incredible costumes and doled them out to me and my amigos to wear. Another woman did our hair and lent us heavy gold necklaces and jewels. In the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the whole month of May is dedicated to the ritual dance of the vela. A Vela is a ceremonial gathering where the women come together to show off their beauty and grace. Elaborate costumes inspired by the fashion of the early 1900s are created months in advance.
At each vela, a young woman is chosen to be the princess. In Tehuantepec, the final and most important event of the season is the Vela Zandunga. It is at this dance that a young woman is chosen for the highest honor of Queen. That night I felt like Cinderella at the ball, and dancing with the other zandungas, young and old, I felt the unity, sisterhood, and sense of belonging that a woman has in the Isthmus. The meaning of a true zandunga is a woman who radiates beauty, enthusiasm and pride - and these women truly bear that honor. The Vela Zandunga tour is a chance for all of us to indulge and live the life of a zandunga, learning about the matriarchal culture of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, complete with private tours, cooking classes and participation in a memorable series of fiestas included in the adventure. Come with me, dress as a native in elaborate costumes and enjoy the tropical sounds of live bands as we dance under the stars with my friends, the Tehuanas, in this most moving and exciting region of Oaxaca. Arrive and depart from the nearest airport in Huatulco, Oaxaca.
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