As we speak, Janet is at the Puebla, Mexico airport. A testimony to her good judgment, she searched the United Airlines website and found that they offer flight service from Puebla to Houston. So, on Tuesday night, I changed her ticket from a Oaxaca departure to a Puebla departure today. Fortunately, I used air miles so there was no charge! I expect she will arrive tonight. The Oaxaca airport is still closed; flights are canceled. According to Chris Stowens, Oaxaca The Year After blogger who is also trying to get out, United has informed customers that they can rebook leaving next week. That was not an option for us. We are set to leave Durham on May 6 and Janet is scheduled for a covid vaccine tomorrow morning at Duke University.
Janet bought two seats on the four-hour bus ride from Oaxaca to Puebla. Another smart move so she wouldn’t have to sit next to anyone. She sent me a photo: Fully masked with a face shield covering her from hair to neck! But she made me promise not to publish it! You can only imagine.
Okay. Now, back to packing.
Want to read more about Oaxaca blockades and the teachers’ disruptions? Click here.
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.
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?
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.
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?
Note: Send me your comments via email email@example.com The comment function of this blog is not working! Sorry. I will consolidate your responses in the next post.
Arrive on Saturday, January 15 and depart on Monday, January 24, 2022 — 9 nights, 10 days in textile heaven! Starting at $2,895.
ONE SPACE OPEN!
We are hopeful for 2022! This tour is strictly limited to 10 participants –6 single rooms and 2 shared rooms.
At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we aim to give you an unparalleled and in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations. Our hope, too, is that we will all be well and it will be safe enough to travel to Puerto Escondido by January 2022. If for any reason we must cancel this tour, you will receive a full 100% refund. See notes below about COVID vaccination requirements to travel with us.
To register, please complete the Registration Form and email it to us. When you tell us you are ready to register, we will send you a link to make your reservation deposit.
Cost is $2,895 per person shared room or $3,495 per person for private room. See details and itinerary below.
This entire study tour is focused on exploring the textiles of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. You arrive to and leave from Puerto Escondido, connecting through Mexico City or Oaxaca.
We go deep, and not wide. We give you an intimate, connecting experience. We spend time to know the culture. You will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy local cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, and travel to remote villages you may not go to on your own. This study tour focuses on revival of ancient textile techniques and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture that encompasses the use of natural dyes, back-strap loom weaving, drop spindle hand spinning, and glorious, pre-Hispanic native cotton.
Villages along the coast and neighboring mountains were able to preserve their traditional weaving culture because of their isolation. Stunning cotton is spun and woven into lengths of cloth connected with intricate needlework to form amazing garments.
We have invited a noted cultural anthropologist to travel with us. She has worked in the region for the past 15 years and knows the textile culture and people intimately. We learn about and discuss motifs, lifestyle, endangered species, quality and value of direct support.
What we do:
We visit 7 weaving villages in Oaxaca and Guerrero
We meet back-strap loom weavers, natural dyers, spinners
We see, touch, smell native Oaxaca cotton — brown, green, natural
We participate in a sea turtle release with sunset dinner on the beach
We swim in a rare bioluminescence lagoon
We visit three local markets to experience daily life
We travel to remote regions to discover amazing cloth
choice of colors and fibers that show each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume
the work of women in pre-Hispanic Mexico and today
2020 Itinerary — Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour
Saturday, January 15: Fly to Puerto Escondido—overnight in Puerto Escondido, Group Welcome Dinner at 7 p.m. (D)
Sunday, January 16: Puerto Escondido market meander, lunch and afternoon on your own. Late afternoon departure for turtle release and Manialtepec bioluminescence lagoon with beach dinner. (B, D)
Monday, January 17: Depart after breakfast for Tututepec to visit a young weaver who is reviving his village’s textile traditions, visit local museum and murals — overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
Tuesday, January 18: After breakfast, we go on to the weaving village of San Juan Colorado to visit two women’s cooperatives working in natural dyes, hand-spinning, and back strap loom weaving. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
Wednesday, January 19: After breakfast, we return to the mountain with a first stop at the Pinotepa de Don Luis market. Then, we visit the Converse shoe project where talented artists hand-paint footwear, carve gourds and make amazing graphic art prints. We have lunch with Dreamweavers cooperative members and caracol purpura purple snail dyers in their home, complete with show and sale, and cultural talk. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
Thursday, January 20: After breakfast, we travel up the coast highway into the state of Guerrero, where we visit two outstanding Amusgo weaving groups in Xochistlahuaca and Zacoalpan. They are working to revive ancient designs and incorporate locally grown native, wild cotton. Overnight in Ometepec. (B, L)
Friday, January 21: After breakfast, we begin our journey back to Puerto Escondido, with a stop at the Afro-Mexican Museum to understand Mexico’s Black history. We stop in Pinotepa Nacional for lunch and a market meander. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B, L)
Saturday, January 22: This is a day on your own to explore the area, return to the Puerto Escondido market, take a rest from the road trip, enjoy the beach and pools, and begin packing for your trip home. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B)
Sunday, January 23: Attend the annual Dreamweavers Expoventa featuring the Tixinda Weaving Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis. Other regional artisans are also invited, making this a grand finale folk art extravaganza — a fitting ending to our time together on Oaxaca’s coast. Grand Finale Dinner. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B, D)
Monday, January 24: Depart for home.
Note: You can add days on to the tour — arrive early or stay later — at your own expense.
Cost to Participate
$2,895 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
$3,495 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)
Your Tour Leader: Norma Schafer, director of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, will again lead this popular tour. We sell out each year so don’t hesitate to register if you are interested in participating.
Reservations and Cancellations. A $500 deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 50% of the balance is due on or before September 15, 2021. The third payment, 50% balance, is due on or before November 15, 2021. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After November 15, 2021, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before November 15, 2021, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds UNLESS we cancel for any reason. Then, if we cancel, you will receive a full 100% refund.*
We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After November 15, 2021, there are no refunds.*
Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.
We require proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!
Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 45 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time to our destination.
All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.
Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: We will do some walking and getting in/out of vans. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let us know before you register. This may not be the study tour for you.
Well-Being: If you have mobility issues or health impediments, please let us know. Our travel to remote villages will be by van on secondary roads with curves, usually not for more than two hours. When you tell us you are ready to register, we will send you a health questionnaire to complete. If you have walking or car dizziness issues, this may not be the trip for you.
Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.
Note: Itinerary subject to schedule change and modification.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
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.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
We send printable map via email PDF usually within 48-hours after order received. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle