A Oaxaca, Mexico Visit. Should You Go?

This is a rhetorical question. One I ask myself daily these days. All recent reports point to NO. The city (and state) ebb and flow between Orange (caution) and Red (STOP). Right now, the governor has declared Code Red. The Covid-19 euphemism for DANGER.

Here is what Alvin Starkman, owner of Oaxaca Mezcal Educational Tours, wrote yesterday:

“Thinking of or have plans to visit Oaxaca this Muertos [Dia de los Muertos], or have friends in that category? If you haven’t figured it out by now, know that this morning’s paper confirmed that for the city, no cemetery visits, no parades or comparsas, no cultural events like tapete [sand paintings] or altar displays, no culinary events, no costume contests, etc, etc, etc. The city includes San Felipe del Agua. Other cemeteries include San Miguel, Ex Marquesada, and all the rest. This morning my San Marcos Tlapazola comadres (women friends) told me the same holds true for Tlacolula. I suspect XOXO (Xoxocotlan) will follow suit (let’s hope so), and I think I have already posted about Santa Maria Atzompa. Stay home and come next year (assuming it’s more or less behind us by then).”

All my friends, extranjeros and locals, are hyper-vigilant. They are guarded, distanced, masked when they go out, and mostly stay home except for careful food-shopping forages. But, they report many mask-less tourists and locals.

Most tell me they believe this situation will continue for quite some time.

I’ve been floating the idea of returning to Oaxaca in January. As each month passes, I push the time farther out. Many of us who live in Oaxaca either for most of the year or during the winter months, are struggling with making a decision.

Kalisa, ever mindful of health safety, reminds me there won’t be a vaccine by January. Yep. I realize that. We are all dealing with: How much risk is acceptable? We know the consequences.

Kalisa reports that “The numbers will continue to rise or stay at this already alarming rate. Tourists are roaming the streets and the villages, restaurants are open, Oaxaca is back to Orange, but it has no meaning. Tourists and many locals simply are tired of masks and rules.”

Yes, we have Covid Fatigue. We want this to be over. Now the news reports include promises of several vaccines that may be available in the spring. There is no reporting yet of their effectiveness.

Someone claimed yesterday that this Covid-generated tourism decline now is more severe than what occurred during the 2006 APPO strikes in Oaxaca. I disagreed. So did Alvin, who says:

“It is actually less significant now than 2006 in terms of numbers of tourists. For Muertos week in 2006 hotel occupancy was 3%. I forget the numbers I heard a couple of days ago, but it’s somewhere around 20% right now, so will increase as the month progresses. I suspect it will climb to about 70% because people just don’t get it.”

I recall that the APPO strikes had a negative economic impact for at least five years. It took my artisan friends many years to recover. Visitors didn’t come because they were afraid.

Many of us are still afraid. But the fear is associated with a deadly virus we cannot see. Too bad those who are transmitters don’t light up like a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern.

As I think about ways to return safely — from flying to quarantining, I also think about access to excellent health care should I get sick. I’m told by a close Zapotec friend that there is a short supply of oxygen and many hospitals just can’t get their hands on it. Have difficulty breathing? Then the answer might be, Too bad or I’m sorry.

Are we better off staying put and deferring our return to Oaxaca for a while? What do you think?

As for celebrating Dia de los Muertos, let’s make our home altars to honor our own loved ones. Let’s also remember and honor the over 212,000 individuals in the USA who have died from this disease, as well as those in Mexico and around the world.

This won’t mitigate the loss but it will give us pause to think about the meaning and value of life, and what we can do to protect ourselves and others.

A polychrome figure, perhaps from Oaxaca

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