Tag Archives: safety

Guelaguetza 2014 Photo Out-takes — Oaxaca Folkloric Fesitval Dazzles Crowd

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It’s more like a party than a traditional performance. Oaxaca’s annual Guelaguetza folkloric festival draws crowds from throughout Mexico and all over the world.

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If you hang around the stage at the end while most of the crowds leave, you might be handed a small cane cup filled with mezcal and get a close-up photo, too.

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I hosted a group of Australians and we had third row seats. That’s the luck of the draw, plus mostly getting to the tourism office early.  We bought these tickets in early June.

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Even photo out-takes are worth looking at!

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For a discussion about the cultural and political controversy surrounding Guelaguetza, see my July 24, 2014 post.

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People ask me all the time if Oaxaca is safe.  There were 11,000 people in the audience, plus all the performers. Instead of the crush, we did the WAVE!

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The exit is through a narrow underground tunnel and then down the Cerro del Fortin steps.  Most of us left that way!  Everyone was calm, helpful, friendly, gracious and orderly.

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We took a few minutes to stop and look at the stunning views of the city and the Santo Domingo Church below.

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Is Oaxaca safe?  YES!

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One big crowd pleaser is the Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma. It is a story of the Spanish conquest over the Aztecs. Many villages do this ritual dance. It is an important part of indigenous Mexican identity.

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The chief dancer is the Moctezuma, and featured are two girls, each representing the duality of Mexico — The Malinche and Doña Marina – who are one and the same.  How high the dancers leap is a feat of pure prowess and determination.

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Everyone in the crowd was hoping to catch a pineapple — one of the Guelaguetza gifts thrown — actually hurled — from the stage into the audience by each village represented.

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If we had our hands and a hat up, we got bread, radishes, lettuce, palm hats and fans, rolls, tortillas, sticky tamarind fruit, ritual bunches of fragrant greens.

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I managed to catch a bunch of bananas that I shared with my neighbors in keeping with the meaning of Guelaguetza. Only the front row received the pineapples. I think the organizers were afraid of injury!

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By the time we left the auditorium it was almost 10 p.m. We were hungry and thirsty. Somehow, sweet rolls didn’t seem enough. My mantra: time for a mezcal margarita and a good meal. This is the hour most Mexicans have their dinner! It was way past my bed-time.

Guelaguetza2014-29Our group of five women walked about six blocks to La Biznaga where we were lucky to find an open table. Beware: the margaritas are especially potent! The spinach lasagna (yes, Italian) was wonderful. Safe? Yes!

How safe is Mexico City for a single female traveler?

This question just came in: How safe is Mexico City for a single female traveler?

This is my experience.  I have been flying from the USA directly to Mexico City for the last several years. I do this to know Mexico better.  Usually I travel solo, alone, single, without a companion.  The Mexico City airport is very safe and secure.  I always buy a taxi ticket from the Taxi Seguro ticket stand in the airport after you exit from baggage claim.  This secure taxi service is licensed and registered by the Distrito Federal (D.F.) officials.  The cost from the airport to the historic center is about 200 pesos.

Mexico City is filled with culture, art treasures, stunning architecture, great restaurants and street food.  It is where Diego Rivera murals adorn public spaces to visually convey the history of Mexico from pre-Conquest to the socialist ideals of Communism.  It is filled with energy and beauty.  It is clean and overall safe. Definitely worth a stopover, in my opinion.

In the historic center I walk everywhere with my BIG Nikon camera and small purse (long straps crisscrossed over the my body) — to FONART, to Palacio Bellas Artes, to Mercado de San Juan, to Museo de Arte Popular, and to Palacio Nacional.  You need a taxi to the anthropology museum in Chapultepec Park.

If I’m there on the weekend, I will call a friend to go with me to Lagunilla flea market.  This is an all-day adventure.  There is a Saturday and Sunday Plaza del Angel antiques market in the Zona Rosa that is safe and accessible, and perfect for solo traveling.

I have taken the Metro with friends, but not yet solo.  Taxis are reasonable and plentiful.  Your hotel can call you a taxi they know to be secure and safe.  One Australian friend who has lived in D.F. for four years says to only take the white radio taxis that are available at marked corner stands.  I’ve used red and gold city taxis with no problem.

On past visits, I have asked my hotels or B&Bs to arrange a car and driver for a full day of sightseeing at about 100-120 pesos an hour.  We’ve gone to Casa Azul, the Dolores Olmeda Pineda Museum, and Xochimilco. The driver stays with us.

Two nights in Mexico City only gives you one full day, so I recommend at least three nights minimum to really get a flavor for the city.

As with all travel anywhere — in the USA or any foreign country — be mindful of your surroundings, only take cash out of an ATM during the day, keep your camera slung across your chest, don’t walk and use your SmartPhone at the same time (someone can easily grab it), check the taxi seat and floor before departing to make sure you don’t leave anything behind, stay alert, move away from people you think are suspicious.  I always carry my Passport with me for identification, but I’ve heard advice to the contrary.

I’m in Chicago this weekend and a platoon of policemen were heading toward Water Tower Place on the Magnificent Mile this morning for patrol duty.  Locals say there are a lot of iPhone thefts in that neighborhood, so there you go!

What else would you like to know?

 

 

 

 

Picking Up a Truck Driver at the Oaxaca Big Box

Out in front of the largest warehouse big box retailers in Oaxaca (you will tar and feather me if I mention the name), you can usually find a truck driver willing to carry the goods you just bought to anywhere in the city or surrounding villages — for a price.  This is an essential and valuable service for someone like me who is living here without personal transportation.  But, I’d never done this before and true confession is that I had a large butterfly in my stomach.

The only choice this day was a skinny, motley looking 30-something young man in need of a shave, his red baseball cap with Drink Coors emblazoned across the front tipped at a right angle.  He was wearing faux leather and metal.  I did not feel confident. As we began negotiating the cost to bring my new bed to Teotitlan del Valle, he raised his phone to his ear to check the price with his boss. That’s when I noticed a pinky fingernail longer than a guitar pick and wondered what he used that for.  His frame was thin and his belt was pulled tight around his waist, puckering the pants material.  It was a January hot like an early North Carolina autumn, dry and clear.  I needed to stand in the shade.  We agreed on a price.  Fair, I thought.  Did I say I was confident?

I pushed on, went in to make the bed purchase with the help of Abraham my trusty Teotiteco taxi driver, and waited the 40 minutes for it to come out of the warehouse and arrive at the front door, where the Truck Driver would take over.  There, standing next to him was a robust young woman with an about three-year-old boy in tow.  My wife, he introduced her.  My fear melted.  Then, an Ah, perhaps a ploy, I thought, headline: Woman accomplice with child decoy and long finger-nailed man kidnap naive gringa in front of the You Know What.

I’m driving, she said, and climbed in behind the wheel.  I joined her in the front seat of a beat-to-death Ford whose vintage I could not name.  The windshield was a series of spider webs that refracted light through the pattern.  Four crucifixes dangled from the rear-view mirror, one adorned with pearls, another with rose quartz beads.   A decal of the chauffeur’s prayer in Spanish was stuck to the only part of the windshield that wasn’t shattered. I pulled the door closed using the half-open window.  The inside panel was peeling off and by all evidence it had lost it’s handle some time ago.  The child straddled the floor shift between us. He was crying and I pulled a quinciniera lollypop out of my bag.  The bed went into the flatbed leaning against the modified rusting metal cage.

Whew.  She’s driving to me Teotitlan and I sighed deep.  We backed out of the space and exited the lot.  Just before we pulled out onto the highway, a boy of about 15  years old jumped onto the back of the truck holding on to the cage, leaning against the bed.  In a couple of blocks we stopped for a traffic light.  A motorcycle pulled up beside us and there was the husband with the long fingernail.  She made a right turn and drove through a residential neighborhood of narrow streets lined with simple block-constructed houses, landing up in front of one of them, turned the engine off and got out.  Adios, she said with a big smile. Gulp.

In climbs husband, who proceeds to drive me to Teotitlan.  I promise to go slow he said as we rocked over the series of topes (speed bumps) on the Ferrocarril road.  I pulled out my knitting.  Breathe, I said to myself.  He talked about his father who moved to Garden Grove, California, 20 years ago, television shows that impress with images of the U.S.A. as a pastoral landscape with perfect people in perfectly clean cities driving expensive cars and living well.  We talked about the reality of those images, immigration and lifestyle and poverty and jobs as we went from hustling Oaxaca city life into the calm of the countryside.

The bed was delivered without incident, of course.  He dropped me off at my favorite Teotitlan restaurant for lunch on the way back.  I paid what we negotiated plus a good tip.  All was well in my world.

Is Oaxaca safe?  Confirmation. Yes.

 

 

Guelaguetza Photography Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

7 nights, 8 days, July 26-August 2, 2013.  Our Guelaguetza Photography Workshop gives you an opportunity to capture indigenous folkloric traditions and build upon your photography skills.  Guelaguetza is a magical time in Oaxaca when indigenous people come to the city from throughout the rural areas of the state adorned in their finest handmade traje (indigenous dress). On Monday, July 29, we will take you to an extraordinary dance production of Guelaguetza where you can see the extravagant costumes, hear local music, and gain an understanding of the customs.

For all levels, beginners and beyond!  Limited to 10 participants.

At the end of July and early August are the famed Mezcal Fair and a tribute to Oaxaca’s seven moles.  We’ll introduce you to both.

Your guides and instructors are published art photographers Tom and Sam Robbins, our husband-wife team from Columbus, Ohio.  The Robbins’ are versatile and experienced, whose work is featured in national photography magazines.  This will be their fourth year to teach in Oaxaca with us.

  • Tom and Sam are excellent teachers and photographers. They have an incredible passion for photography and showed great care for each participant, taking time to understand each of our needs and looking through our photos with us.

 

  • Sam and Tom are the ideal instructors.  Any experience with them is one that is worthwhile.  I would recommend this program to others.  It is life changing and breathtaking.  – Emily Moore, The Ohio State University

The program focuses on the use of  digital SLR photography to capture, record and document indigenous life, the Guelaguetza festival, local markets, famed Mesoamerica archeological sites, folk art and artisans, landscapes, and people.  This is cultural immersion at its best!

We include all lodging, most meals, tickets to the Guelaguetza performance, and local transportation associated with the workshop in the cost of registration!

 

The colonial city of Oaxaca de Juarez is located 375 miles south of Mexico City.  It is safe, warm and inviting, and can be reached directly from the U.S. by United Airlines from Houston, TX or via Mexico City connections.

  • Every experience with Sam and Tom is one for the books, every minute in their company a gem. The order of places we went was excellent, very well planned and executed workshop.
  • The workshop was inspiring. Not only did it open up my world to a new culture, I gained a new passion for photography.

We will stay in Oaxaca City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in the family friendly Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.  Throughout the week, we will take you to private homes and artist studios to enrich and personalize your photography learning experience.

  • The instructors are exceptional, and there are endless picture subjects here. -Kellie Fitzgerald, The Ohio State University

   

We’ll visit San Pablo Villa de Mitla archeological site, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stop to photograph the 3,000 year old cypress tree that is 160 feet in diameter in nearby Santa Maria del Tule.

 

  • With very little formal background in photography, the most valuable aspects of this workshop were the technical ones, as well as the time to practice and think about my work.
  • The most valuable part for me was being immersed in a completely different culture.
  • The whole experience of being in Mexico was very eye-opening and getting the chance to capture that with photography was fun!

Topics Covered:

  • Using manual camera settings
  • Understanding composition
  • Capturing light, shadow and reflection
  • Knowing more about aperture and shutter speed
  • Determining when to use flash, night photography
  • Experimenting with black and white, and sepia
  • Exploring the essentials of landscape and portraiture
  • Getting feedback for steady improvement

During the workshop, we will review each other’s work, give and receive feedback, and receive expert guidance and coaching from Tom and Sam.  A group presentation at the end of the week will give you an opportunity to showcase your best work and select a theme, if you choose.

  • Being immersed in the culture by sleeping in a local bed and breakfast with very kind, generous villagers helped make the cultural immersion a life-changing visit.  My direct experience of Teotitlan, Oaxaca and surrounding artisan villages is so far removed from any concern of personal safety it’s almost laughable.  Thank you for the opportunity to learn of more beautiful people and places in the world in a safe and inviting workshop atmosphere

Sam (behind the camera) and Tom Robbins lead summer 2013 Oaxaca Photography Expedition.

About Husband and Wife Photographers Tom and Sam Robbins, Your Expedition Guides and Workshop Leaders

Tom Robbins, a photographer for more than 40 years, recently retired as professor of architecture at Columbus (Ohio) State Community College.  His careers in architecture and education have deepened his love for,  and understanding of design, composition and visual impact.  Tom and his wife, Sam, have exhibited widely and their work has been published in “Black and White Magazine.”  Tom has photographed extensively in rural Ohio, New Orleans, and Southern Mexico where he finds the landscapes, the architecture and the people wonderfully photogenic. In the last five years, Tom and Sam have made Mexico the primary subject of their photography and have visited Oaxaca and the surrounding villages many times.  Most of Tom’s work has been with 35 mm SLR and medium format cameras.

A serious photographer for over 20 years, Sam Robbins considers herself to be a “photographic hunter.”  Like her husband, Tom, she is most comfortable walking and wandering with her camera at the ready. While she has done studio portrait work, she is happiest allowing photographs to present themselves.  Sam is an award-winning New Albany (Ohio) High School teacher of art, English and photography.  She sees sharing her passion for photography with students as one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.  Sam is also a quilter, and believes that her work with color and design have contributed to her photographic eye.  Though most of her work has been with a 35 mm SLR, she also has shot with medium format and really enjoys using a plastic toy camera.  Recently, Sam taught and exhibited at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, where English and Spanish-speaking participants applauded her thoughtful, supportive style.

Tom holds the Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Illinois.  Sam holds the B.A. in political science from Ohio University and the M.A. in English Education from The Ohio State University with an art minor from Otterbein University.

See their work at   www.robbinsx2.com

  

Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change): 72 hours of instruction

Day One,  Friday, July 26:  Travel to Oaxaca. Arrive and settle in to our bed and breakfast. (D) Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Two, Saturday, July 27: Breakfast and learning session. A walking orientation to explore Oaxaca’s churches, museums, Zocalo.  Group lunch.  Afternoon market visit.  Best of the Day show.  (B,L).  Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Three, Sunday, July 28:  Visit Monte Alban archeological site and Atzompa pottery village after the morning learning session.  Best of the Day show. Group dinner.  (B, D). Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Four, Monday, July 29: After the morning learning session, we will travel to the afternoon Guelaguetza Folkloric Performance in the El Fortin Auditorium.    Then prepare for Best of Day show. (B, L)

Day Five, Tuesday, July 30: After breakfast and the morning learning session, we will pack and travel to Teotitlan del Valle, the Zapotec weaving village, making a stop at El Tule.  (B, D) Overnight in Teotitlan.

Day Six, Wednesday,  July 31:  After breakfast and the morning learning session, we’ll travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to photograph this famed archeological site then visit a master weaver for a weaving/natural dyeing demonstration.  Best of Day show at end of day.   Group dinner (B, D)

Day Seven, Thursday, August 1: After breakfast and the morning learning session, you will begin to prepare your final presentation for Best of Week Show with Gala Grand Finale Dinner.  (B, D)

Day Eight, Friday, August 2:   Departure.

What You Should Bring
  •  Your energy and enthusiasm
  • Digital SLR camera
  • Laptop computer and editing software (such as Lightroom or Photoshop
  • Batteries and battery charger
  • Memory card(s) and card reader
  • Pen and notepad
  • Memory stick–jump drive

Plus, sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, sun hat

(Upon registration, you will receive a complete packet and information guide with suggested packing list and other useful information.

Lodging/Accommodations

In Oaxaca City we will stay at a delightful, safe and upscale bed and breakfast that is highly rated by Trip Advisor.  In Teotitlan del Valle, we stay in a local bed and breakfast operated by three generations of women — grandmother, mother, daughter — all great cooks! The food is all handcrafted and delicious.  Vegetarian options are available.

Cost:  The base cost for the trip is $1395.00 USD double occupancy per person.  This includes 7 nights lodging in a shared room, 7 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 4 dinners, transportation to villages and archeological sites, Guelaguetza performance ticket, and all instruction.  Most travel programs of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

Optional Add-ons:

  • Single occupancy with private bath, $1,595.
  • Come early or stay later, add $135 per night lodging in Oaxaca City and add $55 per night lodging in Teotitlan del Valle
  • Include travel health insurance, ask for quote based on age and length of stay
  • Cooking Class with noted Oaxaca chef, $85 per person

It does NOT include airfare, taxes, admissions to museums and archeological sites, tips/gratuities, and some meals.

Reservations,  and Cancellations

A 50% deposit ($700) is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be postmarked by May 1,  2013.  We only accept Payment with PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an  invoice.

Note: Last year filled quickly. Don’t hesitate if you want to attend!

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After June 1, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  If you cancel before June 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

Comments About Safety

  • I can’t recall one instance the entire time where I felt threatened.  Almost everyone we encountered was very receptive and endearing – only adding to the beauty of this wonderful place.
  • I never felt unsafe during the workshop, including getting to it by flying to Mexico City and taking buses to Puebla and then Oaxaca.  The organizers helped us by providing useful tips. 
  • I always felt safe in Teotitlan and Oaxaca, the people are so warm and welcoming. 
  • I felt completely 100% safe all of the time.  Perhaps more safe than in my hometown, if that’s possible!

To register or for questions, contact:  normahawthorne@mac.com

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  For more information, see:  http://oaxacaculture.com

Are You Safer in Mexico or America?

Should I travel to Mexico?  Is it safe?  What about Oaxaca?  Robert Reid, Lonely Planet’s US travel editor wrote a blog post on May 10, 2012 about safety in Mexico, offering six reasons why Mexico is safe.  The headline is Are You Safer in Mexico or America?  The Huffington Post picked it up and published it and our follower, Bruce Anderson sent the story my way.  Thanks, Bruce!

I’m going to start with Reid’s last two points, which are specific to Oaxaca.  I am constantly writing about safety here because one of the biggest myths circulating is that travel to Mexico is not safe and safety is one of the most popular search terms on my blog.  I am on a mission.  It is my number one pet peeve.  The traveling public needs to know that most tourist destinations in Mexico — and especially Oaxaca — are safe.

Help me spread the word by forwarding this to one friend who is skeptical! Here’s what Reid says . . .

5. Malia Obama ignored the Texas advice.

Of all people, President Obama and first lady said “OK” to their 13-year-old daughter’s spring break destination this year: Oaxaca. Then Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made snide remarks over that, perhaps overlooking that Oaxaca state has a smaller body count from the drug war than his home state’s murder rate (Oaxaca’s 4.39 per 100,000 to Pennsylvania’s 5.2).

Oaxaca state, not on the US travel warning, is famed for its colonial city, Zapotec ruins and emerging beach destinations like Huatulco. Lonely Planet author Greg Benchwick even tried grasshoppers with the local mezcal (Malia apparently stuck with vanilla shakes.)

So, can you go to Mexico?

Yes. As the US State Department says, “millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year.” Last year, when I took on the subject for CNN, one commenter suggested Lonely Planet was being paid to promote travel there. No we weren’t. We took on the subject simply because – as travelers so often know – there is another story beyond the perception back home, be it Vietnam welcoming Americans in the ’90s or Colombia’s dramatic safety improvements in the ’00s. And, equally as importantly, Mexico makes for some of the world’s greatest travel experiences – it’s honestly why I’m in this line of work.

So yes, you can go to Mexico, just as you can go to Texas, or New Orleans, or Orlando, or the Bahamas. It’s simply up to you to decide whether you want to.

Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor and has been going to Mexico since he was three (most recently to Chacala).