Category Archives: Safety

Oaxaca Safety and Day of the Dead: Come or Cancel?

I’m hearing about people thinking of canceling their Day of the Dead trips to Oaxaca this year. Someone said they were afraid of the Zika virus. I haven’t heard of any cases being reported here. Fear is powerful.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

I returned to Oaxaca five days ago. It was an easy flight from Orange County, California (SNA) to Mexico City on Southwest, then a connection to Oaxaca on Interjet. I arrived in Teotitlan del Valle without incident. Not even an airplane snivel.

Out and about on Sunday in Mitla, I saw tourists. They are mostly Europeans, Germans, Swiss, French, Dutch. Fearless world travelers.

The children's comparsa, Muertos

The children’s comparsa, Muertos

We are rounding the corner to prepare for Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead. Oaxaca is famous for this celebration of life and its continuum. Hotels are usually booked a year in advance.

But fear is in the air. People are asking once again, Is it safe? Should I come? Should I cancel?

The 2016 Guelaguetza is behind us. Observing from my son’s California living room, I heard various numbers: from a 31% to 53% occupancy rate in Oaxaca hotels. This is devastating news to a tourism-dependent city.  Yet, I also heard the auditorium was packed with Mexicans and Europeans. Only the Americans missed out.

My own altar, in memory of dad. This year, we add our mother.

My own altar, in memory of dad. This year, we add our mother.

Why are we so afraid?  I think this is an important question to ask ourselves as protectionism and insularity dominate the political rhetoric in our social discourse. Are we willing to stay put, stay home, close ourselves off from an invigorating world that offers exploration and discovery, and is probably no more or less safe than going to the local mall. Fear is self-protection. It is also paralyzing.

Even Frida returns to celebrate

Even Frida returns to celebrate

I subscribe to Improvised Life. Sally Schneider talks about how important it is to lean into the fear that puts a stranglehold on us. Onward.

It’s true. Oaxaca struggles with its own political upheavals and social justice issues. The zocalo is a gathering place for dissidents and right now, it’s not pretty. The federal and state governments are prone to take impulsive, though calculated aggressive action against demonstrators. We are aware of where these potential flash points can happen and we steer clear. Just like we wouldn’t go into a U.S. neighborhood known to be volatile.

Offerings on the altar. Favorite foods, beverages.

Offerings on the altar. Favorite foods, beverages, pan de muertos

Yesterday, my inbox contained a message from a Day of the Dead tour leader to his clients who seem to be softening on their commitment to visit. In summary:

  • The zocalo occupation is not dangerous, just annoying
  • If there are roadblocks, they are not dangerous, just annoying
  • There is no random violence, nor is there violence focused at the public
  • Protest is a way of life here, guaranteed in the constitution as a way to express grievances
  • The protest leaders and government representatives continue to negotiate

We hope for the best. Meanwhile, life in Oaxaca continues to present its wonderful mysteries, artistic expression, great culinary taste sensations, and an unparalleled opportunity to meet artisans where they live and work.

Sand paintings, part of the transition, Muertos

Sand paintings, part of the transition, Muertos

I urge you to come and not cancel. Day of the Dead is an extraordinary opportunity for examining how we feel about life and death through the eyes of indigenous people. It is with love, not fear. It is with respect for ancestors, not grief.

Oaxaca welcomes you! If you are afraid, buy travel insurance. You should, anyway (smile). Wherever you go.

Over-the-top decorations throughout Oaxaca's centro.

Over-the-top decorations throughout Oaxaca’s centro.

 

Getting Ready for Guelaguetza 2016: The Show Must Go On

Recognizing the upcoming annual Oaxaca celebration of Guelaguetza, a unique interpretation of Zapotec mutual support, sharing and indigenous community sustainability, I have changed the blog banner.

In show biz, the standard is The Show Must Go On when something can interrupt a performance. (I grew up just outside of Hollywood; I know what this means.)

Official Guelaguetza Site

The start of Guelaguetza in Oaxaca is just a few weeks away, to be held on two Mondays, July 25 and August 1.  Performances are always morning and late afternoon, twice daily for these two days.

Guelaguetza, Oaxaca 2016

Guelaguetza, Oaxaca 2016

On July 2, 8, 9, starting at 7 p.m. there are planned parades to celebrate, entertain and attract tourists to Oaxaca. They start at the Piedra de la Cruz, corner of Garcia Virgil and Xoloti, at the plaza where El Quinque restaurant and 1050 Grados ceramics gallery are located. The parade route is traditionally down the Alcala tourist walking avenue, also called the Andador. The convite ends at the Zocalo.

The Zocalo is now a campground for protesting teachers. With the CNTE Section 22 teacher’s union and federal government polarized in their discussions with no mediation or negotiated settlement in sight, we wonder about whether these events will be held, and if so, at what cost.

The federal government says the show will go on.

Like all Oaxaqueños and everyone who loves Oaxaca, we wish for a peaceful, respectful, speedy resolution.

Leaps and bounds above the others, this dance sizzles.

Leaps and bounds above the others, this dance sizzles.

Ticket prices for the Guelaguetza are steep and not all are able to enjoy access. Yet, it is a spectacular interpretive folk art extravaganza that is a sight to behold. It is designed as a tourist attraction that has a much deeper cultural meaning and is controversial because of its exclusivity.

Dance of the Flor de Piña is one of the most popular at Guelaguetza

Dance of the Flor de Piña from Tuxtepec is one of the most popular at Guelaguetza

Asbestos Health Risk for La Flor de Xochistlahuaca Weaving Cooperative. How You Can Help!

An Open Letter from Maddalena Forcella, textile-fashion designer

I am writing to ask you to consider making a gift of whatever size to remove the toxic, cancer-causing asbestos from La Flor de Xochistlahuaca women’s weaving cooperative work space in Guerrero, Mexico.

Flor de Xochistlahuaca cooperative asks for your help

Flor de Xochistlahuaca cooperative needs your help for cancer-free health

On the webpage it explains everything: the roof of asbestos that needs to be destroyed and rebuilt because it is very toxic and a carcinogen and operates like an oven creating uncomfortable working conditions in the extreme heat. In addition, there is a great video about the cooperative and the weavers and the gifts that will be given with each donation. Please take a look.

Goal: $45,000 USD

To Date Raised: $7, 541 USD or 17% of Goal

The goal is ambitious and we need the help from all of our friends – especially those textile lovers and those interested in artisan craftsmanship. I know most of us don’t like to receive petitions for money, but in this case, I know that it is worth it. And, I know that I owe it to the weavers, to their hope for a better future and for their wish to have a work space that is healthy and dignified for the excellence of their textile art. I ask you to please consider participating.

I thank you from my heart and I thank you on behalf of the artisans for your willingness to support this project either through a donation or by sharing it with friends or on Facebook or in any other way you are able: https://igg.me/at/laflordexochistlahuaca

Thank you again for your support and time, I really appreciate it.

Hugs,  Maddalena

Norma’s Note: Maddalena has worked with this group for three years to build their economic development and marketing capacity; this is her last project with them. They live on the border between the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Their handmade weaving work is exquisite, and their health matters! Please support them with whatever size gift you can afford.

 En Español de Maddalena Forcella

Les escribo pidiéndoles unos minutos de su tiempo para que chequen la campaña de fondeo colectivo para renovar el espacio de trabajo de las tejedoras de La Flor de Xochistlahuaca, en Guerrero . Después de tres años de trabajo con el grupo, este es el último esfuerzo que hacemos juntas, el objetivo es ambicioso, así que necesitamos de la ayuda de todos nuestros amigos, especialmente de los amantes del textil y la excelencia artesanal; se que no es lo máximo recibir peticiones a contribuir a una buena causa, pero en este caso se que vale la pena, y se lo debo a las tejedoras, a su esperanza de un presente/futuro mejor y a su deseo de tener un espacio de trabajo digno de la maestria de su quehacer. Entonces doble agradecimiento por si quieres hacer una donación, o ayudarnos a difundir la campaña a través de este enlace entre amigos y conocidos, en Facebook y cualquier otro medio a tu alcance: https://igg.me/at/laflordexochistlahuaca

En la página se explica todo, el techo de lámina de asbesto, que debe ser cambiado ya que es super tóxico y cancerígeno, ademas de ser un horno cuando se esta debajo, también hay un bonito video y fotos de la cooperativa y de las tejedoras, y los regalos que las artesanas enviarán a los donadores.

Les mando un gran abrazo y mis agradecimientos sinceros

Maddalena

Is Mexico Safe? My Experience

Is Mexico safe? I just got back to Oaxaca after traveling for three weeks in Mexico City, Estado de Mexico and Michoacan. In Michoacan there is a U.S. State Department Travel Advisory, (I include this link to safety vs. sensationalism.)

Patzcuaro 188-67

I went to Morelia, Patzcuaro and rural villages. I traveled far out into the countryside in a car with two other women and walked gorgeous colonial towns. How safe was it? Was I scared?

Map of Mexico

The day I returned, a must read tongue-in-cheek post came in about safety in the Distrito Federal (D.F.), the nation’s capitol, from Jim Johnston who writes Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler.  It triggered my wanting to tell you about my journey. Is Mexico safe?

Morelia Best-27 Morelia Best-15

Me and Mary Anne (from the San Francisco Bay Area) teamed up to take this trip together. Yes, two women of some maturity and a modicum of wisdom traveling independently via bus, taxi, collectivo and sometimes, on foot!

MexCityAnthroMuseo2014-9

We met up in Mexico City where we walked from our hotel to historic center destinations, often at night. Yes, it was dark. Did I feel threatened or at risk? No. I stayed on well-lit streets with good sidewalks and lots of pedestrians. Mexicans love to meander with their families at night, eating an ice cream cone or nibbling on a torta, pushing a stroller or walking arm-in-arm.

Patzcuaro 188-72

We took a taxi, arranged by our hotel, to the regional bus station at Observatorio, and bought same day tickets on the Caminante bus line to Toluca. We were the only gringas on the bus. At the Toluca bus station, MA watched the bags and I bought a Taxi Seguro (secure taxi) ticket from the clearly marked stand inside the terminal to Tenancingo de Degollado. The worry was how we were going to get our five suitcases (three of them huge) into a small taxi rather than any safety issues.

Map of Estado de Mexico

Most of our trips in Tenancingo were via group van. But, when we/I (either together or separately) wanted to go to town, we went out to the front of our hotel and hailed a private taxi or jumped into a collectivo, sharing a ride with strangers.

Patzcuaro 188-30

When we left Tenancingo, our next destination was Morelia, capital of Michoacan. So, we returned to the Toluca bus station and bought tickets on another bus line — Autovias — that serves that part of Mexico. Again, we were the only gringas on the bus (of either gender). It’s almost a four-hour bus ride to Morelia, whose tarnished reputation for being a drug cartel area has had a negative impact on tourism, even though it is safe by strict U.S. State Department standards.

IndepDay_Gar_Dar_MA-47 Patzcuaro 188-70

I don’t know if this is true or not. It didn’t seem like it. I did ask MA, when we were planning this trip, is it safe? Just once. She researched it and reported that the only possible dangerous areas were rural far from where we would be.

Morelia Best-33 Morelia Best-40

I’ve never been to a cleaner, more pristine city than Morelia. It has an incredible Zocalo, classical music, great restaurants, 16th century colonial architecture, outstanding gardens, churches, universities, libraries, a comprehensive Casa de las Artesanias folk art gallery and is gateway to some of Mexico’s most amazing folk art. No one hassled us. In fact, everyone was warm and welcoming. Did I feel unsafe or threatened? Not for a minute. Neither does Guns N’ Roses!

Morelia Best-6 Patzcuaro 188-28Patzcuaro 188-37

Nacho (Ignacio), our pre-arranged taxi driver, picked us up in Morelia and drove us to Patzcuaro, with a stop along the way to Capula, one of the craft villages.  I have friends from the USA who now live full-time in Patzcuaro. We hung out together during the time we weren’t going out to explore the Purepecha villages around the lake, and met the small, but mighty Patzcuaro ex-pat community, including photographer Flo Leyret (link to her photos below).

Patzcuaro 188-83

Map of Michoacan

We spent the day poking around Santa Clara del Cobre — the copper mining village about thirty minutes beyond Patzcuaro where Purepecha people have been working the material with hand-forging and hammering since the 13th century.

SantaClaradelCobre-4

Then, I got invited to go along to a concurso (juried folk art competition) in the village of Ahuiran, an hour-and-a-half north of Patzcuaro, where talented women weave rebozos on back-strap looms. Six of us, all women, drove in two cars over Michoacan countryside, through small villages, across rich farmland planted with corn and potatoes. At the entrance and exit to some villages there were guard posts and community-designated sentries asking us where we were going. It seems the villagers are protecting their territory and this is typical for rural Mexico where there can be land disputes or disagreements. Nothing to be afraid of.

Michoacan Artisans, Photographs by Florence Leyret Jeune

Patzcuaro 188-79 PatzLakeArtisans-16  [Above left is Purepecha ceramic artist Nicolas Fabian Fermin, from Santa Fe de Laguna, who I met this summer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, with his wife. Above right is Teofila Servin Barriga, another award-winning Purepecha artist whose embroidery has won many international awards. She will be at Lake Chapala, Guadalajara, for the annual folk art market. This rebozo she is wearing will sell for 15,000 pesos.]

Patzcuaro 188-68

In Ahuiran, we were the only visitors and the best potential customers for these stunning hand-made shawls that started at 2,000 pesos. The elaborate feather fringed rebozos (photos are still in my camera) were commanding a 5,000 pesos price tag, more than most of the local women could afford. But, then, they could weave their own or buy from a relative!

SantaClaradelCobre-21 SantaClaradelCobre-9

Why go to Michoacan? For the folk art, of course, and then, there’s the landscape, and the people, the history  ….

On my return to Oaxaca, I took a taxi from Morelia center to the regional bus terminal and bought my ticket the same day. It was a five-hour bus ride to Mexico City Norte terminal. I was the only foreigner on the bus. MA flew direct from Morelia to Oakland, CA on a non-stop Volaris flight. Lucky her. I, on the other hand, got into a secure taxi for the 30-minute ride to the airport to board the Interjet flight to Oaxaca ($116 USD round-trip).

Morelia Best-30 Morelia Best-3

Okay, so that’s the story. Or at least skimming it. Mexico is a treasure trove of history, archeology, folk art, contemporary art, intellectual discourse and culture. Her cities are beautiful. Yes, some parts are not safe. Most parts are. Some have reputations for being unsafe that have never been true and/or might have been true two or three or four years ago, like Morelia. Morelia is safe now. It is gorgeous. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Map of Oaxaca

Oaxaca has always been safe.

TeotiCanastaLupita61314-30 FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-7Final Hierve A-3

Join us February 3-11, 2016 for Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More. 4 Spaces Left!

Food Alert! Guzina Oaxaca Opens in Mexico City

Casa Oaxaca is one of our favorite go-to restaurants in Oaxaca.  Sit on the roof. Overlook the spectacular roofline of Santo Domingo Church. Indulge in a tamarind mezcalini. Follow this with a perfectly prepared seared sea bass or duck tacos. Each sauce that accompanies is an art form in its own right. Finish with something made with Oaxaca chocolate and then walk down the Macdeonio Alcala to walk it off.

Now, when you are in Mexico City you can enjoy Oaxaca food at is finest.  Chef Alejandro Ruiz has opened Guzina Oaxaca in the upscale Polanco neighborhood where Quintonil and Pujol share addresses.  Guzina, which means kitchen in Zapotec, the predominant indigenous language of Oaxaca, showcases some of Oaxaca’s finest ingredients, include mole and mezcal.

It is also pricey.  Entrees are about 350 pesos or $25-28 USD. But if you have an appetizer, a cocktail, wine, entree and dessert, you could spend about $70 USD per person. But, then, Mexico City is one of those places with European ambience and style, a bargain if your economy is the dollar.

Food writer Leslie Tellez tells her story about Guzina Oaxaca. And, you can read more on Trip Advisor and El Chilango, too.

Chef Ruiz is not the only Oaxaca entrepreneur to make a foray into Mexico City.

Remigio Mestas Ruiz, textile curator, promoter of indigenous weaving and textile traditions ,and a man with a social conscience, opened Remigio’s at Isabel la Catolica #30 several years ago  His Oaxaca gallery, Baules de Juana Cata in the Los Danzantes patio, is where Oaxaca textile lovers go to find the very best backstrap loomed garments created with Thai silk and Egyptian cotton by the finest weavers.  These are all available in Mexico City, too.

More good reasons to come to Mexico City, don’t you think?

Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo: Art History Tour in Mexico City, November 13-17, 2015.  

Oh, and did I mention that Mexico City is safe?

This restaurant tip came from one of my readers. Got tips about Mexico and Oaxaca you want to share? Send me an email.