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Isthmus of Tehuantepec/Mexico

Introducing Isthmus of Tehuantepec

The southern half of the 200km-wide Isthmus of Tehuantepec (teh-wahn-teh-pek), Mexico’s narrow waist, forms the hot, flat eastern end of Oaxaca state. Indigenous Zapotec culture is strong here, with its own regional twists. In 1496 the isthmus Zapotecs repulsed the Aztecs from the fortress of Guiengola, near Tehuantepec, and the isthmus never became part of the Aztec empire. An independent spirit pervades the region to this day.

If you stay around, you’ll encounter a lively, friendly populace, whose open and confident women take leading roles in business and government. Isthmus people let loose their love of music, dancing and partying in numerous annual velas (fiestas) lasting several days. If you’re here for one of these, you will see women displaying wonderfully worked, highly colorful huipiles, gold and silver jewelry, skirts embroidered with fantastic silk flowers, and a variety of odd headgear. Many isthmus fiestas feature the tirada de frutas, in which women climb on roofs and throw fruit on the men below!

Of the three main isthmus towns, isthmus culture is stronger in Tehuantepec and Juchitán than in Salina Cruz, which is dominated by its oil refinery. All three towns can be uncomfortable in the heat of the day, but come the evening breeze they take on a more agreeable air.