Tag Archives: safety

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.

Home to Oaxaca: Travel Report from Carol Estes

Norma’s Note: Carol arrived in Oaxaca a week ago after a one-year absence like most of us who go back and forth. I met her years ago in front of Santo Domingo Church when she had just arrived in Oaxaca to live permanently. (Covid proved to us that nothing is permanent — another life lesson.) Soon thereafter, she met her husband-to-be, David Levin and they were married in Labastida Park. When David died last year, Carol moved from Toronto, where David was getting cancer treatment, back to Texas to be with her children. Now, she has returned and is telling us about her experience!

Carol’s Return to Oaxaca: Guest Blog Report

By the end of January 2021, I’d received my second Pfizer vaccine. Like the rest of the world, I’d hunkered down and waited it out the best I could manage. When the world screeched to a halt, I had big plans to return to my home in Oaxaca in summer 2020. I was sitting on the benches by the Panuelito chatting with a friend in March 2020, when I first heard mention of the Corona virus, then blamed on beer.  Little did we know!

Like so many of us who made gallons of lemonade last year with the big ‘ole lemon plopped down in the midst of our lives, I did as well. Blessings mounted as the months meandered by. Life moved right along, at a different pace and with what felt like no control. I planned and dreamed, until finally…. on Tuesday, April 6, after a packing frenzy, I boarded the sleek little jet that would bring me home to Oaxaca. While I felt reasonably confident regarding my safety, I was not nervous, but  very cautious.

Fortunately my flights were not long since I live reasonably close to DFW that boasts a direct American Airlines flight into the Oaxaca airport. In both Lubbock and DFW airports, the staff practiced all the safety protocols we’ve become accustomed to. I saw no one without a mask on and only a few with their noses poking out as though their respiratory system operates differently from the rest of us.

I had no problem distancing myself in the waiting areas. I paid attention and managed spacing between me and those who were clueless, just like home. Of course compliance is relative, and the US is a big place with a spectrum of opinions and behaviors. No telling what someone will run into other places.

It’s been only one week today since I wheeled my suitcases into the old hacienda in Centro that is now my home. The last week flew by with nesting and connecting with dear friends. Most have been here throughout 2020, and the vaccine is just now being administered. Some have had one stab, and rumors are a second may happen the end of this week.

Businesses here practice all cautions. My favorite ATM has a woman posted in the small lobby who takes temperatures and squirts hand sanitizer coming and going. Most places have a tray on the floor with a puddle of disinfectant to step into, although that has been proven unnecessary. This practice is in many places. Most doors are marked “entrada or salida” and many have a rope across the entrance.

Las cubrebocas (masks) compliance has been likely 90%.   Bare-faced folks seem to be both Mexican and gringos, almost equally and all likely tourists or young adults.

Vendors are lined up along Allende running beside Santo Domingo, and the “hippies” that sell jewelry and political t-shirts, and posters are back in place along the side of the Graphic Arts Museum (IAGO). Other vendors are dotted down the Alcala toward the Zocalo, just like always. The blind musicians are in place as are the little kids screaming Cielito Lindo and begging. La Cosecha, the organic market, is open and a monitor limits the number allowed inside at any one time. I stood in line a bit until someone left. No social distancing here, and so I bought my produce and shuffled on out.

Last Monday evening I wandered to the edge of the Zocalo which seemed relatively quiet. The Frenchips  dude was in place, and little kids were zinging their light sabers in front of the Catedral.  A few vendors were set up, and of course, the balloon sellers. Saturday, I watched the bride duck into Santo Domingo, and the women guests for the wedding wobbling up Allende in their gravity defying high heels. We even heard a few fireworks Sunday evening. Slowly, slowly, life is recovering.

Sunday I met a good friend at Casa Oaxaca (one photocopied menu per table and a cute little paper bag for my mask), other friends at Zandunga (menu was accessed on my phone), and later in the week lunch alone at Los Cuiles, and La Levadura. Only Casa Oaxaca was very crowded, but spacing was comfortable. Of course, all of these are outdoor spaces. By the way, the food remains completely wonderful although prices have gone up a bit, just like in the States.

The people here remain enterprising and energetic. This is the land of hustle and strive.  Always I’m heartened and humbled by the spirit of these amazing Oaxacans. Our expat community remains in tact and just that – a community. It’s good to be here. I am most blessed in my dotage. When I board a plane, whether I’m headed north or south, I’m heading home.

All photos from Carol Estes. Thank you, Carol, for this contribution. If anyone else traveling to Oaxaca wants to share their experiences by writing about it, please contact me to consider publishing here. We are all interested in how things are faring on the ground so we can safely plan our return.

Three Steps Closer to Oaxaca

I now have a signed contract for the sale of my Durham, NC, condo after two months on the market. Patience is a test in so many ways. We have struggled, endured, survived this last year when many haven’t. I remind myself daily that this is a blessing and carry on.

Now I can begin my return to Oaxaca after I get packed and moved to Taos, NM. My Durham departure date is May 6, 2021 and I expect to arrive in the west by mid-month. Then, I anticipate going to my casita in Teotitlan del Valle for a few weeks this summer to dip my toe back in the water after being gone for over a year. Will it be safe by then? Safer than it was before, I expect. Mostly because I have been vaccinated.

Vaccine distribution in Oaxaca is still spotty. My friends in Teotitlan del Valle tell me they have registered to get a vaccine with the village administration. They have been promised availability and times to show up for the jab — and each time, this has been cancelled and rescheduled. We shall see how it goes today.

My goddaughter Janet tells me that the Oaxaca government says she will be eligible to receive the vaccine in March 2022. She is in her mid-30’s. That’s a year from now. Think of all the young people in Mexico who will not be vaccinated. Millions. Youth represents most of Mexico’s population! Here are the demographics.

Elsa tells me that she had two people cancel dye workshops last week because they got infected with COVID. They were foreign tourists. Not a good sign.

Last night, I shredded the notes I took last year about how to stay safe presented by Dr. Atul Gawande, public health physician. We were in a steep learning curve then. The danger now is in relaxing our vigilance, even with vaccine. In reviewing them, not much has changed from March 2020 to March 2021 about precautions:

  • Wear a mask that covers your face and nose
  • Stay 3-6 feet apart (later adjusted to 6 feet)
  • Use hand sanitizer liberally
  • Only meet outdoors

Those of us who have been vaccinated are feeling more adventuresome. My friend Winn is returning to Oaxaca for three months on April 7. My other friend Carol is there now. I am getting more requests for natural dye and weaving workshops. Our study tours are either full or have just a few places open. All signs point to recovery — physical, psychological, emotional, financial. But, I believe we must proceed with caution.

When I return to Oaxaca, I will wear a face shield, mask and use hand-sanitizer liberally, just like before. I will choose flights that minimize airport layovers. When I drive west, my gasoline and rest stops will be brief and equally protected. I still spray gasoline dispensary handles with alcohol!

As I begin to pack, there will be Oaxacan and Mexican treasures to send back into the world. Please stay tuned for items I will offer for sale in the next weeks.

With gratitude, Norma

Borat Says: Go to Oaxaca! NOT. Covid Rages.

Sasha Baron Cohen’s film, The Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan parodies, in part, the lack of leadership that was required to prevent the spread of Covid-19. I found it telling, hilarious, offensive and an indictment of the USA. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean.

Sasha Baron Cohen makes good use of the NOT Joke. Example: Time to Go to Oaxaca. NOT.

On board Southwest flight to ABQ

Mexico is NOT faring much better than the USA. And, Oaxaca is on the cusp of turning RED again on the traffic signal scale of measurement. Cases are rising exponentially there, too.

I was thinking about returning to Oaxaca in January. However, my Zapotec family in Teotitlan del Valle recommends I do NOT come back just yet.

Masked up with my sister Barbara in Santa Fe, NM

Here is the question I asked: IF I were to return and IF I contracted Covid-19 while there, where is the best place to get treatment. I was told the best treatment in Oaxaca is at the Hospital San Lucas, though it is the most expensive private hospital. All costs are out-of-pocket.

Me and my sister, almost twins. NOT.

The public health office announced on November 4 that in two weeks Oaxaca will be pretty close to having all hospital beds occupied in both public and private hospitals due to the celebrations and thousands of tourists who came for Day of the Dead.

The only other option to Hospital San Lucas, I’m told, is to go to the IMSS public hospital. They keep reporting lack of beds, lack of equipment for intense therapy, and lack of pain medication. It is not looking good. And, last week, Teotitlan del Valle appeared on the official list of contagion again.

I was hopeful before I received this news, but not now. If anyone is planning to return to Oaxaca, please think again. Go to Oaxaca? NOT.

My Oaxaca family is sequestered, staying home, staying safe. This is the same for most of my USA and Canada friends who live there permanently.

Santa Fe, NM train station

Now, why did I even entertain this thought of return? Because I just completed plane travel from Durham, NC to Santa Fe to have a reunion with my sister. Now, I’m in Albuquerque to see my son Jacob who drove here with his partner Shelley from Los Angeles. Then, I’ll be in Taos staying with friends through Thanksgiving. This is as close as I’m going to get to Mexico for a while, I fear.

On the plane, I wore an N95 mask, a face shield, gloves. I was armed with Clorox wipes, alcohol spray and hand-sanitizer. I took a window seat (I read somewhere this was the safest). No one sat in the middle seat. I ate and drank nothing in-flight. All passengers were REQUIRED to mask-up. Flight attendants were diligent about that. I thought that if I could do this safely (and it appears that I have), I could safely attempt plane travel to Oaxaca. YES, likely. But once I get there, then what?

My sister wearing her safety gear for departure

It seems that Day of the Dead was a super-spreader event for Oaxaca. If you are a vacationer, we recommend that you stay home. The health care system in Oaxaca, should you need it, is not equipped to treat you.

Enough said.

Autumn colors at Abiquiu, NM — glorious cottonwoods

As for 2021, I will begin planning for our Day of the Dead Folk Art Study Tour in October and announce it in January. In early 2022, we will return to the Oaxaca Coast and Chiapas for textile study tours. We are keeping fingers crossed that most of us will be vaccinated for disease prevention and life will go on. Yet, we aren’t sick of this, are we? NOT.

Chili peppers. Essential Southwest + Mexican ingredient

A Oaxaca, Mexico Visit. Should You Go?

This is a rhetorical question. One I ask myself daily these days. All recent reports point to NO. The city (and state) ebb and flow between Orange (caution) and Red (STOP). Right now, the governor has declared Code Red. The Covid-19 euphemism for DANGER.

Here is what Alvin Starkman, owner of Oaxaca Mezcal Educational Tours, wrote yesterday:

“Thinking of or have plans to visit Oaxaca this Muertos [Dia de los Muertos], or have friends in that category? If you haven’t figured it out by now, know that this morning’s paper confirmed that for the city, no cemetery visits, no parades or comparsas, no cultural events like tapete [sand paintings] or altar displays, no culinary events, no costume contests, etc, etc, etc. The city includes San Felipe del Agua. Other cemeteries include San Miguel, Ex Marquesada, and all the rest. This morning my San Marcos Tlapazola comadres (women friends) told me the same holds true for Tlacolula. I suspect XOXO (Xoxocotlan) will follow suit (let’s hope so), and I think I have already posted about Santa Maria Atzompa. Stay home and come next year (assuming it’s more or less behind us by then).”

All my friends, extranjeros and locals, are hyper-vigilant. They are guarded, distanced, masked when they go out, and mostly stay home except for careful food-shopping forages. But, they report many mask-less tourists and locals.

Most tell me they believe this situation will continue for quite some time.

I’ve been floating the idea of returning to Oaxaca in January. As each month passes, I push the time farther out. Many of us who live in Oaxaca either for most of the year or during the winter months, are struggling with making a decision.

Kalisa, ever mindful of health safety, reminds me there won’t be a vaccine by January. Yep. I realize that. We are all dealing with: How much risk is acceptable? We know the consequences.

Kalisa reports that “The numbers will continue to rise or stay at this already alarming rate. Tourists are roaming the streets and the villages, restaurants are open, Oaxaca is back to Orange, but it has no meaning. Tourists and many locals simply are tired of masks and rules.”

Yes, we have Covid Fatigue. We want this to be over. Now the news reports include promises of several vaccines that may be available in the spring. There is no reporting yet of their effectiveness.

Someone claimed yesterday that this Covid-generated tourism decline now is more severe than what occurred during the 2006 APPO strikes in Oaxaca. I disagreed. So did Alvin, who says:

“It is actually less significant now than 2006 in terms of numbers of tourists. For Muertos week in 2006 hotel occupancy was 3%. I forget the numbers I heard a couple of days ago, but it’s somewhere around 20% right now, so will increase as the month progresses. I suspect it will climb to about 70% because people just don’t get it.”

I recall that the APPO strikes had a negative economic impact for at least five years. It took my artisan friends many years to recover. Visitors didn’t come because they were afraid.

Many of us are still afraid. But the fear is associated with a deadly virus we cannot see. Too bad those who are transmitters don’t light up like a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern.

As I think about ways to return safely — from flying to quarantining, I also think about access to excellent health care should I get sick. I’m told by a close Zapotec friend that there is a short supply of oxygen and many hospitals just can’t get their hands on it. Have difficulty breathing? Then the answer might be, Too bad or I’m sorry.

Are we better off staying put and deferring our return to Oaxaca for a while? What do you think?

As for celebrating Dia de los Muertos, let’s make our home altars to honor our own loved ones. Let’s also remember and honor the over 212,000 individuals in the USA who have died from this disease, as well as those in Mexico and around the world.

This won’t mitigate the loss but it will give us pause to think about the meaning and value of life, and what we can do to protect ourselves and others.

A polychrome figure, perhaps from Oaxaca