Tag Archives: tourism

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!

In Mexico City: Where to Buy a Bus Ticket to Oaxaca

Where to buy a bus ticket to Oaxaca in Mexico City’s historic center? This has been a dilemma and frustrating for foreign travelers for many years.  We cannot use non-Mexican credit cards to buy an ADO bus ticket to Oaxaca (or anywhere ADO operates) online.  Heretofore, the only solution was to go to Mexico TAPO (the regional bus station) to buy an advance ticket (45-minute taxi ride one-way) or show up on the day you want to leave and hope there is a seat.

Don't blink! You might miss it.

Don’t blink! You might miss it.

After a frustrating hour on my computer and then again with the concierge at my otherwise absolutely wonderful and affordable Hotel Catedral, I accepted that I could not change the system.  They suggested I might buy a ticket at OXXO (the convenience store).  Not wanting to waste another moment, I went on to spend three wonderful hours at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP) to view and review 1923-1928 Diego Rivera murals.  My hope was that sometime later, aka mañana, perhaps I would source a ticket location.

I went in search of OXXO.  No OXXO where it was supposed to be.  Then, I went into a hostel to ask and was directed to a street but no address.  I kept walking, hoping I could find the Hotel Majestic where someone else said there was a travel agency.  Instead, I found myself in front of the Holiday Inn Zocalo and entered, hoping they could sell me a ticket.  The bell captain, in reply to my query, said, Oh, someone was here last week saying an ADO ticket office just opened around the corner.  Go out, turn right and then turn left at the first street.  It’s down there somewhere. Not far.  I was skeptical, yet decided to trust.  This is important in Mexico.  Trust takes you to many places and then eventually to the right one.  (By the way, did I say I’m traveling alone, sola?)

So, I followed his instructions, but I crossed Calle Monte Piedad from 5 de Mayo to walk on the Zocalo side turning left and heading away from the Cathedral as instructed.  No store where the bell captain said there should be one.  Exasperated, I pivoted.  Un milagro! 

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Don’t blink!  You might miss it: A teeny, weeny sign hung high above and to the side of an arcade entryway leading to restaurants and artisan collectibles on the upper floors.  I was deluged by eager young people promoting said establishments and in the obscurity of the arched tunnel could not see the small, portable stand with signage facing the opposite wall promoting bus ticket sales.  So, again, after seeing the street sign, I said, Where is the bus ticket office?  There, they said, pointing about five feet away.

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Now, here’s what you’ve been patiently waiting for:

MultiMarca ticket stand, Ave. Monte Piedad #11, between 5 de Mayo and Francisco I. Madero, across from the Zocalo and next door to McDonald’s soft serve. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Cash only if you are a foreigner!  One-way, 6-hour bus ticket to Oaxaca on ADO GL is $584 pesos.  No phone.  They use wide-band Telcel USB to connect to the Internet and process tickets.

In case you forgot, this is the landmark!

In case you forgot, this is the landmark!

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).

Oaxaca Hosts Malia Obama, U.S. President’s Daughter

Oaxaca Times reports that Malia Obama, 13-year old daughter of U.S. President Barak Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama is in Oaxaca, Mexico, this weekend!

She arrived on a commercial United Airlines jet direct to Oaxaca from Houston, and will visit archeological sites and craft villages.  Even with 25 Secret Service Agents at her disposal, she would not be here if it weren’t safe.

I’m heading out to the Tlacolula market today.  Not likely she will be there, since it would be difficult to maintain security among the throngs of shoppers, but who knows?

Thanks to follower Elliot Stoller for alerting me!

 

Yaxchilan: Remote Mayan Site in Chiapas Jungle–Get There By Boat!

 

Yaxchilan (Yash-chee-lahn) is situated on the high banks of the Usumacinta River that borders Mexico and Guatemala, three hours southeast of Palenque.  The secluded ruins are in a dense jungle only accessible by river boat, a good 30-minute ride from the launch site.  The boat ride is a wonderful transition from now to then.  In years past, Lacandon Mayas made this passage in open dugout canoes.  Today, the wood-planked boats are covered in palm thatch.

  

Alligator or crocodile?

 

Yaxchilan rivaled Palenque (Mexico) and Tikal (Guatemala) as these three “super-powers” vied for control over the surrounding lesser Mayan centers that provided food, tribute and able fighters.

This magnificent archeological site is worthy of several hours of your time.  It is a space that is dark jungle, moss-covered, limestone rocks tumbled and crumbling, and with only the beginnings of a restoration in process.

 

As you walk into the space you feel as if you were an archeologist discovering it for the first time. It speaks of antiquity.  The howler monkeys calling back and forth across the river are haunting, adding a sense of mystery to the place. I pass through a compact Mayan arch into a vast plaza.

 

Situated high on a river bank, the site offers a strategic location on the wide and magnificent Usumacinta River, testifying to the power and influence of this once-great city.   Huge bromeliads hang from hundred foot high trees with mahogany colored trunks.  I walk beneath a tall canopy of leaves, vines, roots and flowering succulents, careful not to trip on toppled stones.

 

 

Yaxchilan is probably like Palenque was 30 years ago.  The only nearby lodging is at the boat launch site, where there are also a couple of good restaurants.  If you contact Daniel Chank In, the Selva Lacandon guide, he can help you make lodging and boat travel arrangements instead of taking the cookie-cutter day trip.

My journal scrawlings about the Palenque to Yaxchilan passage:

The languages of travel are Czech, German, three varieties of English (Brit, American, Aussie), Spanish, French, Dutch. These are my traveling companions. In Palenque they speak Chol. We stopped for breakfast at a simple comedor with tree trunks for stools and a dirt floor and GREAT coffee, dark and rich, locally grown and organic.  I have not been sick since I arrived in Mexico a month ago.

We are western women taught to cover our breasts, be modest. From the window of the van I see a woman at the water source, one large breast exposed, suspended, full of milk walking toward a toddler waiting for nourishment.  Plank wood and palm thatch cover the humans at night.  Shelter is simple for man, woman, cows, chickens.  Chiapas, siempre verde is the state motto.  It is always damp here.  We are on flat land now, clear-cut for growing corn and lumbering, heading toward the frontier.  Maize scrabble, hard-scrabble, bare feet, dirt, bare chests, men at work with machetes.  We pass a sign: This is Zapatista country.  Land of campesinos.

Grazing land, cattle, horses.  Ceiba trees, overcast skies, animals are thin I see their bones.  We pass through pueblos of resistance, a village sign announces this, the sign is rough wood with white paint. The land is flat, vast, green scrub.  This is the road to the Guatemala border.  We pass military sentries, checkpoints, men heavily armed, some masked.  Put your cameras down and cell phones away, says the driver, as we approach one. They wave us through.  On the way back, away from the border, we are stopped and I show my passport.  Of course they are checking for drugs and I know that the pipeline works its way across the river through the jungle to the vast cities and towns of America where demand keeps this business in business.  Did I feel in danger?  No.