Tag Archives: tourism

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

Somewhere Beyond Mexico: North Cackalacky, USA

North Cackalacky is an endearing slang term that many of us call our beloved adopted state of North Carolina. Also famous for her hot spicy barbecue sauce called, yes, Cackalacky. I just came back from a weekend in the mountains where apple orchards, dogwoods and azaleas were in full bloom.

On Green Mountain, Hendersonville, NC

On Green Mountain, Hendersonville, NC

The young maple leaves were that deep limey color we see in these parts, a Oaxaca counterpart only known by the juice I put in my Victoria beer. They don’t know Michelada (Mexico City style) or Suero (so-called in Oaxaca) here in North Cackalacky, but they do know beer.

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Asheville has a beer pedal pub that holds 12 and goes up and down the streets, many of them hilly. You have to pedal while you swill, not an easy feat. Asheville has 30+ micro-breweries.

Hanging out at the Mothlight, West Asheville, NC

Hanging out at the Mothlight, midnight, West Asheville, NC

I gave my Asheville waiter the Suero recipe. He came up with fresh lemons. Lemonade beer. Not bad, but not Oaxaca. Bless his heart.

Window dressing at Table, farm to table Asheville restaurant

Window dressing at Table, farm to table Asheville restaurant

I love the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hills and valleys. Winding roads that actually have lines painted down the middle and no potholes. Unlike Oaxaca. The hollers (that’s hollows in North Cackalacky) are the valleys between the hills where million dollar retirement houses and double-wides can sit side-by-side.

Moving the single-wide, Highway 9, Buncombe County, NC

Moving the single-wide, Highway 9, Buncombe County, NC

We cross the Eastern Continental Divide. Climb to a bit over 3,000 feet. Look out at 6,000+ foot Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. In Teotitlan del Valle, we nestle in the Tlacolula Valley on a 6,000 foot high desert plateau surrounded by 12,000 foot peaks.

Coming to North Carolina is a homecoming for me. Here, I connect with family like friends who nurture my heart and soul. I eat soul satisfying food like grit cakes, hush puppies, sweet potato fries and liver ‘n onions at the Moose Cafe. I watch the Chef & the Farmer on PBS and hope to eat there, Downeast in Kinston, NC, someday.

Biscuits and apple sauce, Moose Cafe, Asheville

Biscuits and apple sauce, Moose Cafe, Asheville

And, I’m also getting some things done, like finalizing my will, living will, health care power of attorney and medical directives, and completing some other essential legal paperwork.

Tomorrow, I go to Comeback Grit City, Durham, North Carolina, where renovated tobacco plants and warehouses promote urban dining and living. Friends will nurture me and we will revisit our long history together. I have brought along Gin Mezcal to get our tongues rolling.

Leafing out lime green spring, North Carolina

Leafing out lime green spring, North Carolina

Kathryn says she wants me to write about our trip down the mountain on Highway 9, from Hendersonville through Bat Cave to Old Fort, NC. It’s a long and very winding road through some backcountry neighborhoods. I’ll save that story for another time.

Cozy neutrals, branch cotton at K2 Studio

Cozy neutrals, cotton stems at K2 Studio, Asheville, NC

 

 

 

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.

 

2016 Summer-Fall: Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera–Mexico City Art History Study Tour

Come to Mexico City to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art. This is in-depth art history education at its best! We offer you a narrated cultural immersion that you can miss if you visit on your own. Our expert guide is a bi-lingual Mexican art historian! Come solo, with a partner or friend. Norma Schafer participates in all programs. Small group size limited to 8 people for quality experience. We don’t rush you, either.

 

Summer and Fall 2016 Schedule: Take Your Holiday Weekend Here!

  • June 30-July 3, 2016
  • September 1-4, 2016

We can customized dates for groups of 4 or more people. Contact me.

Arrive and meet for a group dinner on Thursday at 7 p.m. We will have a long weekend — three full days —  to learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.

Man Controller of the Universe mimics destroyed Rockefeller Center mural

Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history, and their personal lives together. Theirs is a story of Mexico’s development as a post-revolutionary modern nation.

If you want to register, send me an email. Tell me the dates you prefer!

A few little nips

A few little nips — Frida painted this after Rivera’s affair with her sister

This is an incredible experience! The Rivera murals at the Secretary of Public Education building were like nothing I expected. The scale, the intensity, the variation of themes, the continual flow of connecting  vignettes – just mind blowing! It isn’t just an art tour. It is an intense immersion into the beginning of an art movement, a cultural movement, and a culmination of historic events that come alive. — Christine Bouton, North Carolina

 

Our expert guide is a noted art historian who holds a master’s degree in art history who is about to embark on a doctoral program. She shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists, narrates the expedition, and leads us through these spaces to give you the most meaningful educational experience:

  • Palacio Nacional
  • Palacio Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP)
  • San Ildefonso National Preparatory School
  • Abelardo Rodriguez market
  • Casa Azul — the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
  • Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño

MuralsSEP+Best81-28 

Yes, you can visit these places independently. But it’s not likely you will get the same in-depth knowledge, insights, and perspectives if you do.

 

She called him toad. He was 20 years older. They were passionate about life, politics, each other. They shaped the world of modern art and she became an icon in her own right, creating an independent identity that serves as a role model for women. They were twice married and unfaithful, the subjects of books and film, and art retrospectives around the world.

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park mural covers 500 years of Mexican history

Rivera’s Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park

Casa Azul  — Museo Frida Kahlo is a tribute to the life of both artists. Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño holds the largest private collection of Frida and Diego paintings in the world. Lola Olmedo was a benefactor and life-long personal friend of Rivera who became executor of his estate that included Casa Azul.

 

Rivera’s mural at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) covers detailed Mexican history, from pre-Hispanic America to the Spanish Conquest through industrialization, including the French and U.S. invasions, from 1521 to 1930.

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival, painted this mural at Palacio Bellas Artes

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival;  Palacio Bellas Artes mural

Plus, you will have lots of options for independent exploration: shop for outstanding folk art, and eat at local markets, historic and fine contemporary and traditional restaurants! Visit the Anthropology Museum.

Lunch at the gourmet Mercado San Juan

Lunch at the gourmet market, Mercado San Juan

See our reviews on Trip Advisor!

Base Trip Includes:

  • welcome dinner at renown restaurant Azul Historico
  • guided discussions by an expert, bilingual art historian educated at UNAM and graduate Southern Methodist University
  • introduction to Norma’s favorite restaurants (meals not included) and folk art galleries
  • transportation to Casa Azul and Dolores Olmedo Museum
  • complete travel packet and readings sent in advance via email

DiegoFrida4Group2-5 copy 

Preliminary Itinerary

  • Day 1, Thursday:  Meet for group dinner at 7 p.m. at Restaurant Azul Historico near the Zocalo. Dinner included in your tour cost. Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Day 2, Friday: guided visit to SEP, Colegio de San Idlefonso, where Diego met Frida, and the Abelardo Rodriguez market where Rivera’s students, including Pablo O’Higgins, painted. Lunch and dinner on your own. Overnight in Mexico City.

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28, this one mocking the bourgeoisie

  • Day 3, Saturday: guided visit to Palacio Bellas Artes and Museo Mural de Diego Rivera. Optional folk art shopping or visit to Anthropology Museum. Lunch and dinner on your own. Overnight in Mexico City.

Palacio Bellas Artes built during Porfirio Diaz presidency

Palacio Bellas Artes built during the 30-year Porfirio Diaz presidency

  • Day 4, Sunday:  guided visit to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño. Includes transportation. Lunch on your own. Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Depart on Monday for home.

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional looks like Europe

Be ready to WALK and then, walk some more!  Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase to pack treasures you pick up along the way.

  • Base Cost: $895 USD per person double occupancy, includes 4 nights lodging.
  • Single Supplement offered: $1,195 USD

We will stay  at a comfortable bed and breakfast inn or hotel located in the historic center of Mexico City with breakfast included.

Tiffany glass ceiling at El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

Tiffany ceiling, El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

What the base cost does not  include:

  • meals except noted in itinerary, alcoholic beverages
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • museum admission fees
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services

MuralsSEP+Best81-22 MuralsSEP+Best81-21MuralsSEP+Best81-24 

Base Cost: $895. USD per person double occupancy, includes B&B lodging with breakfast, private bath for four nights, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Otherwise, all exceptions noted above apply.

Single Supplement: $1,195. USD for private room and bath.

Optional: Arrive early and/or stay later to discover Mexico City and her incredible museums and restaurants. We will give you a list  of recommendations to explore on your own.

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 50% deposit will guarantee your spot.  The last payment for the balance is due 45 days before the program start date. Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will send you an itemized PayPal invoice.

Please understand that we make arrangements months in advance of the program. Deposits or payments in full are often required.  If cancellation is necessary, please tell us in writing by email. After 45 days before the program starts, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel on or before the 45 day date, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Frida died July 12, 1954 not long after she painted these watermelons

Frida died July 13, 1954, at age 47, soon after she painted these watermelons

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a signed and witnessed waiver of liability, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

 

To register, email us at norma.schafer@icloud.com. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

Frida’s sketchbook & journal; notice the deformed leg from childhood polio.

This workshop is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary and substitute leaders without notice.

A note to Frida from Diego two years after her death … “you live in my heart.”

Paint brushes in Frida’s studio at Casa Azul, exactly as she left them