Tag Archives: Covid

Oaxaca’s Llano Park is Alive and Well: Travel Report from Winn Kalmon

Note from Norma: Like many of us, Winn Kalmon has a permanent residence in Oaxaca as well as the USA (or Canada). One of her favorite places to hang-out is Llano Park, which she describes here. We are far from back to normal, and may well never be, yet the transition to having a vaccine allows us to be cautiously optimistic about travel now. Winn returned to Oaxaca from Taos, NM, just a couple of weeks ago and gives us this report.

Travel Report from Winn Kalmon

In early March 2020, when I returned to Oaxaca after a trip to Chiapas with Norma and a group of fabulously interesting women, I decided to stay put in this wonderful city we all love. Then the Pandemic hit the Western Hemisphere. Oaxaca went eerily quiet as businesses and churches closed their doors, schools sent kids home, and people and vehicles disappeared from the streets. All international flights in and out of Oaxaca were canceled. Unwilling to layover in Mexico City where Covid was raging, I decided to quarantine in the Jalatlaco home that my partner Fred and I rent year-round. My only outings winnowed down to morning walks, when I would venture to nearby neighborhoods and poke through the produce at Pitico convenience store to see what looked edible for that day. Sometimes, I would sit on a bench at pocket parks Panuelito or Jardin Conzatti with my favorite street dog, Sam-Leona (she has many names, given by many people). Then I would scurry back home to spend the rest of the day alone with jigsaw puzzles, e-books, news feeds, and hours of movie binge watching. Getting together with friends over coffee or comida changed to digital connections through with Zoom and WhatsApp – our sole source of companionship. 

Just a short walk from my house, Parque Llano is a large community park that runs northward from Calle Berriozabal, between Juarez and Pino Suarez. Four blocks long and a block wide, the park is “guarded” by two lions at each corner, roaring from their high pedestals. Last year, during the months of the pandemic, the city’s precautions required that people stop visiting all parks and plazas. All group activities were prohibited. Our group of women who gathered together for tai chi three days a week, just vaporized. So did the regular Sunday zumba class and other gatherings. Pairs of friends or couples were asked by patrolling police to leave. All the vendors of food and edible treats folded up their carts and tables, removed their umbrellas and disappeared. Yellow tape went up around the entire perimeter of the grand park to prevent people from entering the grounds even for a solitary walk with their dog. Big signs were erected at the park corners. The yellow tape extended from the ankles of the roaring lions to the announcement that park visits were illegal. Parque Llano and its lions went quiet. Even the birds in the massive trees seemed subdued. Only the cicadas, screaming their announcement that the rainy season was on its way, could be heard in the silence.

That was the way it was, until mid-August, when the first international flight left Oaxaca, with me (and my neighbor Judi and friend Martha) on it. I finally went home to Taos, New Mexico.

Now, fully vaccinated, I have returned to Oaxaca and to Parque Llano, which has come back to life. The lions are roaring again as if to call attention to their fresh coats of gold paint, gaudily beckoning folks back. The yellow tape is gone. The shoeshine guys have reclaimed their spots and look at the feet of passersby to see if there is potential business. Food and drink vendors are in their usual spots. A zumba class is meeting again, and I even saw a salsa class by the south fountain and a tai chi class by the north fountain. My tai chi group has still not returned, but they stay in touch, and once all have been vaccinated, they will come back too. The walkers circle the park, with and without dogs, and nod at familiar faces as they pass. Dogs, whether street dwellers or leashed to an owner, check each other out and re-establish their hierarchy after the long year of absence.

As I stroll the park with friend Liz and then sit on a shady bench to chat, I am relieved to see that nearly every person is masked and maintaining social distance. This includes the guy who argues loudly with himself as he marches quickly along the paths. Families are returning. Kids are trying out their roller skates or getting a push from grandpa in tiny, kid-size electric cars. In the evenings, young couples pretzel around each other on benches—that activity didn’t change during this last year, it just went indoors or behind courtyard walls.

Parque Llano is alive and well, and welcoming once again.

Please contact me if you would like to contribute a Travel Report to Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.

Vaccinated? When to Return to Oaxaca?

This is the big question facing most of us who are not in Oaxaca now. We hear that the U.S. is preparing to have enough vaccine for everyone who wants/needs it (hopefully) by the end of May 2021. The question looms: When is it safe to return to Oaxaca? Naturally, the answer varies among us based on our comfort level for international travel safety and what it is like on the ground in our adopted land.

I received my second vaccine on February 3, 2021, and I’m just beginning to feel somewhat liberated. That means that I am now comfortable inviting a few friends who have also been vaccinated (at least three weeks after their second vaccine) into my home for a meal — yes, WITHOUT face masks! Just a few at a time! It means I’m not as anxious and can breathe easier. I know that I can still get sick, but it won’t be severe and I won’t die from it. This is a HUGE relief. I’m now calling this the New Normal. But, really, it isn’t!

So much is still unknown.

For example, Mexico just changed its restrictions and its variable based on state. Oaxaca is Orange on the Covid semiforo (stoplight) system of measurement. This means Restricted travel. Is it okay to proceed with caution and is it okay to go? Is this a political gesture to bow to the informal economy and build back tourism? How safe is it, REALLY?

US Embassy warning about travel to Mexico.

What we know.

It’s springtime in North Carolina. The willows are leafing out. The air is temperate. Pollen proliferates. The sun shines. These are the days that Snowbirds usually make their way north from Oaxaca. After all, who goes to Oaxaca in March, April and May, the hottest and driest time of the year when temperatures can rise to 100 degrees fahrenheit and we seek shelter and shade.

Signs of new life surround us now. We are more than ready to put Seasonal Affective Disorder behind us and be hopeful. But, we must be cautious about raising false hopes.

Questions continue.

  • How long will the vaccine protect us?
  • Will we need a booster and when?
  • What about the new variants — will the vaccines give protection?
  • If the health care system in Oaxaca is still strained, what quality of care will we receive there should we become infected?
  • What safety measures do we need to take in order to fly safely to Mexico?
  • What will be required to re-enter the U.S. or Canada? A Covid test prior to departure? Proof of vaccine?

I hear that vaccine is first going to Oaxaca regions where there have not been many cases! Why? My friends say, simply, POLITICS. (Think Texas!) The federal government can then say they have controlled the virus in some areas (because there were not many cases to begin with). My friends say it will be many months before the vaccine has impact because the population is so large and the case numbers are still very high. Mexico has one of the largest infection rates in the world.

On February 25, I reposted a Facebook notice from the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation project that promotes artisan textile development. The director, Hector Meneses, says that while many businesses are “back to normal” in the city, the museum will remain closed for a few more months. The same is true for the Harp Helu-owned Andares del Arte Popular Gallery.

The Facebook post (click on link above) generated a huge commentary from many, including a retired primary care medical doctor. She questions why it would NOT be safe for vaccinated seniors to return to Oaxaca if they/we take all known health precautions — mask wearing, social distancing, hand-sanitizing, eating outdoors. She notes that First Class plane tickets are inexpensive now and that would be her preferred travel path. But she is’t going just yet. Those in the informal economy would benefit from a visit and hotels are empty right now. True risks, she says, can be minimized.

Others say there is a huge strain on healthcare resources now, and if one needed medical attention for any reason it may be difficult to get it. One said she would return next year and spend twice as much!

Another notes that possible transmission by vaccinated people still poses a risk, citing an Israeli study that people can still transmit once vaccinated. Its essential for all of us to assume we could be infected.

We can support Oaxaca by donating and purchasing from our computer, says a friend. I am desperate to return to Mexico, she continues, but I’m also willing to wait a while longer and listen to the scientists.

The doctor continues: There are limitations to abide by — staying strictly in town, staying out of crowds, renting a car instead of using taxis, wearing masks, no van rides, staying out of closed spots, no cooking classes, eating safely outdoors. The minute one steps out the door the risk probability goes from Zero to Something.

I ask, How many of us can consistently adhere to that and still enjoy our Oaxaca experience? This requires discipline!

Of Note: Richard Baron MD, president and CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine says vaccinated folks can fly safely (mask, shield, etc.). But there will never be proof of this since there are no studies to compare how vaccinated and unvaccinated people fare after flying.

So, the ultimate questions are: Is it safe to go? How do I protect myself IF I do go. What is my personal tolerance for risk? Is my personal behavior a risk to others?

In the Colonial world of conquered Mexico, we know that foreigners brought disease that decimated much of the population. Will we be transmitters, too?

What else?

Note: Send me your comments via email norma.schafer@icloud.com The comment function of this blog is not working! Sorry. I will consolidate your responses in the next post.