I’ve arrived. And I’m astounded at the safety precautions in Oaxaca city. I spent Friday in the city. First, I met Carol for brunch at El Tendajon at the corner of Calle Constitución and Pino Suarez. You can’t just walk in! There’s a gate. They check your temperature and ask you to use Ha d da itinerary before entering. Every staff member is properly masked.
i walked there from the La Noria neighborhood, a good mile and-a-half. Along the way, I’d say 1 in 50 were unmasked. Better than the US I think. This is outdoors, on the sidewalks, with a breeze!
After brunch, Carol and I went to the stamp museum at the corner of Reforma and Constitución. No entry without a temperature reading there, either. Hand sanitizer mandatory. The thermometer was some kind of fancy technology gizmo that takes a reading from your wrist.
How safe did I feel? Completely safe. Quite a relief after the frenzy of air travel.
Now, I’m in my little house in the campo in Teotitlan del Valle. The sun is shining and I’ve just gotten back from a walk with the dogs. Yes, they remembered me even though I’ve been gone for 19 months. It’s supposed to rain. Everything here is lush and green. Im
I am sure the farmers are happy.
This morning I went to the village market to buy chicken and vegetables for a Caldo de Pollo. Mask up. Hand sanitizer at the ready. Here, about 1 in 20 are wearing masks. I asked my chicken lady why she didn’t have one. I don’t believe it, she said. Another woman I know said God will protect me. I’m not sure it’s much different here than in Oklahoma or Florida. Although Natividad told me that the majority of the people in the village are vaccinated. So that is reassuring.
We hear that indigenous people have deep suspicions of government, especially the older ones who have suffered discrimination. Even so, I used my hand sanitizer frequently and disinfected the veggies and fruit when I got home, just like I always did.
My host Federico said the virus and Delta variant is waning here, so people are not as afraid as they were before. And, so it goes.
With my mask up, and three vaccines under my belt, I’m not feeling as vulnerable and I can monitor my social distancing and step away as needed.
The elevation here is 5,000 feet, quite a bit less than Taos. With my doggy companions, Tia and Butch, I kept up a good pace going through the agave and corn fields. I’m noticing that more fields are planted with mezcal-producing agave, a cash crop that is bringing high market prices at maturity (seven years for espadín).
For those coming with me and Eric Chávez Santiago for our Day of the Dead Tour, I know you will love being here, just as I am.
I’m double masked. First, an N95 then covered with my handmade cloth mask made at the height if the pandemic by friend Sam Robbins. (She makes beautiful masks because she is a quilter.)
Do I feel more secure? With my third Pfizer booster and a flu vaccine, I’m still feeling jittery and a bit anxious. I asked the woman behind me in the security line to step back to maintain distance. No one else seemed to care. Everyone else was jammed up in the line.
It looked like it always did traveling before Covid. Lots of close contact. The only difference was that everyone was wearing face coverings, though a few had masks drooping below nostrils.
At age 75, one can go through security and keep on shoes and light jackets. Easy peasy, I thought. Except that before going through the metal detector, I was asked to remove my belt and Teotitlan woven quechquemitl (short poncho). Upon exit of the detector, because areas lit up on the x-ray, I was asked to remove my shoes and undergo the patdown. Shoes had to go back through the x-ray.
Leave plenty of time! I got to the airport 2 hours before flight departure.
Be patient. Ask for what you need — like asking people to step away.
it’s a full flight from ABQ to Houston. We will see how that goes!
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.
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.
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.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle