Situated in Southwest Mexico, Oaxaca city is nestled in the valley between the Sierra Norte and Sierra Sur mountain ranges, widely known for its history and ruins of Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations, some of which still exists today. The city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site popular for its well-preserved cuisine and cultural festivities such as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, when the streets are vibrant with colorful skulls, candles, and an air of melancholy that is at the same time a joyous celebration of death.
Discovering Oaxaca documents an Aire Libre Running experience in the heart of Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead festivities, and the culture and landscapes in the Sierra Norte mountain range surrounding the city. It’s a running retreat like no other, with a focus on transcending ourselves, creating community with a group, and connecting to the spirit of a place. Hakim Tafari, an LA-based runner and yogi, leads the mindfulness practice, and his influence is apparent in the film: every chapter of the retreat begins with a meditation, setting intentions and focusing minds and bodies on the moment to get the full intimate experience.
The group then moves from the cobblestone streets of the city to narrow mountain trails where Zapotec messengers once ran to deliver messages to communities spread across the hills. Cold, misty, and mysterious, this rugged landscape is home to the Pueblos Mancomunados (Commonwealth Towns), a community of eight separate villages who came together to create an ecotourism project focused on sustainability and mutual support. The film captures the kindness of these mountain residents who welcome a group of strangers to their homes, offering blessings in their ancient language and give a new meaning to what we consider family.
The experience is as much about letting go of ourselves as it is about being open to new ideas and values. Participants arrive as strangers, each holding tightly to their pretenses, but slowly allow themselves to be present, returning to that childlike state when we are happy to share and explore.
Or as one participant, Caleb, describes it at the beginning of the film,
“I just haven’t felt this much freedom in a long time.”