Tag Archives: health

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.


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


Oaxaca Hand-crafted Condiments: Suculenta Food Gallery

Food design gallery Suculenta, on Porfiirio Diaz, Oaxaca

Food design gallery Suculenta, on Avenida Porfiirio Diaz #207-G, Oaxaca Centro

You might walk by the unmarked building painted sky blue and not even notice what’s inside.  Down the street from Boulanc bakery on Av. Porfirio Diaz, closer to Morelos than Murguia, is Suculenta.

Unmarked store front with hidden delicious secrets inside

Unmarked store front with hidden delicious secrets inside

The food gallery is an off-shoot of the bakery where hand-crafted jellies, jams, edible oils, cheeses, herbs and fresh wild mushrooms from the Sierra Norte are featured prominently on custom-built wood shelving and in commercial refrigerator cases.

Pink wild mushrooms fresh from the Sierra Norte, Oaxaca

Pink wild mushrooms fresh from the Sierra Norte, Oaxaca

This is where Paulina Garcia Hernandez works her culinary magic in a small space that yields big — and delicious — results. By her side is Daniel Lopez Gonzalez who attends to procuring deliciousness from the best purveyors.

Daniel weighs wild mushrooms that grower has just brought in

Daniel weighs wild mushrooms that grower has just brought in

Not much more to say, other than a great gift for self or another

Not much more to say, other than a great gift for self or another — to drizzle or spread

Jars of succulent condiments to top, marinate and savor

Jars of succulent condiments to top with, marinate and savor

Shelves are stocked with wild mushroom marinated in vinaigrette, pickled carrots, cucumbers, and vegetable mix. Here you can find organic honey infused with cardamom, too.

Natural light illuminates the interior of Suculenta

Natural light illuminates the interior of Suculenta where Paulina works

All the cooking and canning is done on the premises using fresh organic fruits and vegetables that are local to Oaxaca. Purveyors are selected for the quality of what they produce. Paulina and Daniel establish personal relationships with each.

Paulina's hand-crafted hibiscus (jamaica) jelly

Paulina’s hand-crafted hibiscus (jamaica) jelly

Sibestre cultivates wild mushrooms and brings them from three-hours away

Sibestre Perez Hernandez brings wild mushrooms to Oaxaca from three-hours away

Silbestre Perez Hernandez comes to Oaxaca from Pueblo Manzanito Tepantepec, in the municipality of Santa Maria Peñoles in the Mixteca mountains west of Zimatlan. Here he harvests the most gorgeous mushrooms I’ve ever seen. He delivers them to Suculenta weekly. I was there on a Tuesday morning to watch the harvest come in.

Top shelf, my favorite: kefir cheese in olive oil, bay leaf, whole black pepper

Top shelf, my favorite: kefir cheese in olive oil, bay leaf, whole black pepper

The artisanal cheese is wonderful for omelets, on top of toast or to eat as a post-dinner course with fresh fruit and a glass of mezcal.

A sampling of hand-crafted roibos tea, from XXXX

A sampling of hand-crafted rooibos tea, from Andres Alquiara

Andres Alquiara developed a recipe for rooibos tea that he brought to Suculenta for sampling. I smelled it. Delicious. Succulent! Andres is a barrista and his full-time job is at La Brujula. He has a passion for great food and beverage.

This mixed vegetable medley has onions, chiles and spices -- top on sandwiches

This mixed vegetable medley has onions, chiles and spices — top on sandwiches

This creative food gallery endeavor reminds me of a time past when I owned and operated a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school.  I, too, once made and sold jams, jellies, cheesecakes, and catered meals. Now, I prefer to support those who believe that good food is an essential part of living a quality life.

Flavored oils for eating and cooking!

For example, flavored oils (sesame) and vinegars (apple) for eating and cooking!

Scallions in vinaigrette

Pickled scallions in vinaigrette — another dill pickle version

Suculenta, Porfirio Diaz #207-G, Centro Historico, Tel: 951-321-3756 (closed Sunday)

12 Health Tips for Mexico Travel: What NOT to Eat and Drink

  1. Only drink purified bottled water OR ask for un vaso de agua de garafon — a glass of water from the big blue purified water bottle
  2. Only brush your teeth with purified bottled water.
  3. Do not use tap water for drinking. Hand washing with soap is okay.
  4. Keep your mouth shut when taking a shower!
  5. Never believe it if an establishment says the water is filtered.
  6. Never eat anything “on the street” or in market stalls if it is raw. (I rarely eat anything in markets, either, unless it is well cooked.)
  7. Don’t order a lettuce, fruit or raw vegetable salad unless it is in an upscale tourist restaurant and you know they disinfect the food.
  8. Avoid sushi-style fish. Order fish medium or well done and meat cooked to at least medium. Medium-rare will work in upscale restaurants but it will likely arrive more on the raw side.
  9. Use hand-sanitizer liberally.
  10. Look for restaurants that are crowded. That means the food turns quickly and is fresh.
  11. Carry an Rx of Ciprofloxacin with you. Yes, it’s a powerful antibiotic but it works to kill any bacteria in your system.
  12. Find a pulque bar that serves aguamiel. It is a natural digestive that can ease intestinal problems.

If you get sick, it can take 24-52 hours for the infection to pass through your system (it is a strain of food poisoning like ecoli infection). Stay hydrated with a Gatorade-type drink. Your symptoms will be vomiting and diahhrea and fever, Anything longer and you should seek medical advice. Most hotels will have a doctor who will make a call for a reasonable fee.

If you can get to an Ahorra Farmacia there will often be a doctor in an adjacent office who can examine you, diagnose and then prescribe. You can fill the Rx while you wait.


Day 3: Portraits of the Lupita Lazo Family

Today, our portrait photography workshop participants visited three families in Teotitlan del Valle who had graciously accepted our request to take their photographs. One of these is the family of Lupita Lazo.

Lupita, Hugo, Cristobal and Danny Portrait of Lupita

Several months ago I wrote about Lupita Lazo’s diagnosis of breast cancer (a growing problem in Mexico) and her need for financial help. So many of you responded with gifts of all sizes and we were able to raise over two thousand dollars to help to cover a mastectomy, early chemotherapy treatments and pain medications.

Lupita is hopeful. So is her doctor and her many friends. She has completed four rounds of chemo, with the fifth and most powerful dosage coming up on February 10.  There will be three more rounds after that.

Three Brothers, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico Lupita Lazo, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

The doctor says she is strong. Lupita has changed her diet. She is eating mostly chicken and no red meat, no dairy and lots of fresh fruits and raw vegetables. She tells me that a regular tonic is a mix of beet, carrot, parsley and orange juice. Since she is now unable to work, Lupita’s oldest son Hugo has quit university and is working to help with household expenses. Hugo is twenty years old. Danny is sixteen and Cristobal is ten. Lupe is a widow.


It was a wonderful experience to be with the family today. Lupita is joyful and positive. Her three boys are loving and giving her lots of care, as are her many friends. It meant a lot to us to share this time with them in their home.


For the photographs, some of us are using iPhones and some of us are using digital cameras.  In low lighting, we are learning about using the reflector to take advantage of natural light coming into dimly lit interiors. We are not using flash or any artificial lighting, adjusting the settings on our cameras to accommodate each situation.