Tag - mexico

Mexicans Visiting Canada VISA Requirement Hurts Tourism & Trade

    Will Less Mexicans Ski in Canada Now - Alvin Starkman

Will Less Mexicans Ski in Canada Now – Alvin Starkman

The complexity of Canada’s VISA requirement for prospective visitors from Mexico, and the lack of comprehensive no-fee advice hurt the Canadian economy.

More than three years have passed since Canada instituted its VISA requirement for visitors from Mexico, yet the Canadian government has still not figured out a user-friendly way to enable Mexicans to visit Canada. As a result, travel from Mexico to Canada has suffered, with two major adverse impacts:

  • Prospective Mexican tourists to Canada are either deferring or deciding on alternate vacation destinations, meaning less tourism dollars come into Canada than would otherwise be the case.
  • At least one segment of international trade and commerce between Canada and Mexico is suffering, insofar as the flow of Mexican-made products available for retail sale in Canada is being impeded.

While in some respects bi-lateral Mexican – Canadian trade and commerce is improving, the VISA requirement reduces the overall positive impact and frustrates healthy international relations between Canada and Mexico.Nature of the VISA Application for Prospective Visitors from Mexico to Canada

The VISA requirement which Canada instituted July 16, 2009, for Mexicans wanting to either vacation in the country, or visit for the purpose of attending trade shows (and other business purposes) is extremely complicated to understand; even Canadians whose first language is English struggle to assist their Mexican friends. While one has a choice of sending the application by courier to Mexico City, Monterrey or Guadalajara for approval, or attending on one’s own at one of those offices, the point remains that the process is onerous and there is little if any comprehensive reliable assistance available in Mexico, except if a paid consultant is retained, or perhaps through a travel agent (i.e. if planning a package tour).

While the Canadian government publishes forms and instructions in different languages for VISA applicants in different countries, the length, detail and complexity is much more problematic than language. The online English instruction guide is 30 pages. On the Family Information Form one must list all children and siblings, regardless of whether or not they are accompanying the prospective traveler, and include date of birth, occupation, residence, marital status, and more. One must list in a schedule the last ten years of employment including from what month and year until what month and year, name, address and phone number of each employer, job title and monthly salary. In addition, documentation is required confirming income and assets, including home and vehicle title documents, pay slips, bank records.

Those who have ever held government jobs must disclose dates, level of government and positions held. If you’ve ever been a member of a political party or group or other organization, again disclosure is required with full particulars. Witnessing ill treatment of civilians requires disclosure.

It would appear that some of the foregoing is not required, but figuring out what is and is not mandatory is another story. It’s hard to find someone to provide guidance.

Applying for a Canadian VISA as a Resident of Oaxaca, Mexico

Visitors wishing to visit Canada for business, even for a couple of days, must comply with additional requirements than those entering for strictly vacation, or so it seems. But is an artisan from Oaxaca in south central Mexico on a business trip if visiting Vancouver for ten days and spending three of those days at a trade show demonstrating his craft and promoting Mexico? Does it make a difference if the invitation is extended by some branch of the Canadian government and financially supported in part by the government of Mexico?

Three times in two years I have struggled to find answers to such questions for friends from Oaxaca, and have come up empty. The consular agent of Canada in Oaxaca is not allowed to help because it’s not her mandate. Employees of the Mexican federal government agency which promotes international trade and commerce doesn’t have the skill set or authorization to assist, and the Oaxaca ministry of tourism and economic development provides incomplete information despite its best intentions.

Solution to the Canadian VISAS for Mexicans’ Conundrum

I don’t have the answers, although while I’m in Oaxaca I’m pleased to try to help those in need. But the best I can do is provide educated guesses, which can potentially result in an injustice for my Mexican friends wishing to travel to Canada. They can retain agents in Mexico City or further away from home, at a cost. But how much more money ought one to reasonably have to tack onto the cost of a trip to Canada?

Every state capital in Mexico should have a Canadian government office which provides no-charge assistance in completing the VISA application, and in facilitating the VISA granting process. A 30-page instruction guide, be it in English, French or Spanish, is not good enough. It confuses and it frustrates. The consular agent of Canada in Oaxaca is a part-time paid position. Why not have a second office with one additional part-time staff person dedicated to this new task?

The cost would be recovered tenfold or more through increased Mexican travel to Canada, while at the same time result in an enhanced perception of Canada and Canadians in the eyes of Mexico and Mexicans.

Adjusting to Driving in Mexico

In Mexico

In Mexico

by Mary Ann Simpkins,
Forget the rules of the road when you cross into Mexico. “At the driving school, I asked for a book about driving laws and they laughed,” recalls Alisha. The Russian-born scientist residing in Cuernavaca, Mexico, adds, “They told me, we’ve never seen any written regulations.”  The evidence is visible throughout the country.

Mexicans are pleasant, easy-going people except behind the wheel of a car. Their personality changes. They ignore the road-marking lines and stop signs, speed through red lights and vie with each other to be the first in and out of the round-abouts.

Heading into a traffic circle in Cuernavaca, I could feel my knuckles tighten. My head turned into a swizzle stick as it swung from side to side checking on who was coming from where. A huge truck might slip from the inside lane to the third outer lane, blithely ignoring us runts in the middle lane.

Adding to the confusion, streets sometimes suddenly become one-way. Many roads lack name signs. Making it worse was trying to find a specific address: the concept of consecutive numbering appears unknown. To top it off, one side of the street could display both odd and even numbers.

A day trip with Alisha and Antonio introduced my husband and me to other road hazards. Winding through the mountains on narrow roads one early morning, we had a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside thanks to the lack of side railings. Nor was there any shoulder space between the road and the steep drop. In the winter, frost covers the pine trees and the roads.

On the roads crisscrossing the valley on the other side of the mountains, Antonio had to stop frequently to ask which route would take us to a village known for its crafts. Direction signs in Mexico are a rarity.

In Toluca, northwest of Mexico City, we park by the main square, not realizing it was a no-parking zone. A parking ticket wasn’t the problem, however. Rather, it was finding the policeman who’d removed the back license plate. This guarantees violators pay the fine or, at least, contribute to the cops’ income. We were lucky: the police were still in the vicinity.  “We’ll take care of the ticket for you,” said one policeman, quoting a charge of $22. When Antonio claimed not to have that much cash, the cop settled for $20 and lent him a screwdriver to reinstall the license plate.

Antonio was more fortunate than one Canadian traveling to the leather market by motorcycle. After being stopped by a policeman and paying for the supposed infraction, he was stopped a second time. The higher ranking officers told him that bribing the first policeman was illegal but a small fee would absolve him. Doug Hurd returned to Cuernavaca without visiting the market. Forking over a total of $200 had left him broke.

By the time we started back to Cuernavaca, it was after six p.m. and dark. No lights illuminate the twisting two-lane roads except in the villages. In an area full of topes – speed-slowing bumps so high that muffler repair shops are usually set up nearby – Antonio began passing the car ahead. Coming directly towards us was a truck without lights. Fortunately, the driver on our right stopped on top of the tope, enabling Antonio to quickly slide back into the proper lane.

On our arrival at our friend’s residence in Cuernavaca, my husband staggered from the car, his head whirling from all the curves and topes. I drove us home, slowly.

Mary Ann Simpkins is a member of SATW, TMAC and NATJA.


Is Mexico Still Safe For Travel?

Mexico Written in Sand on Beach

Mexico Written in Sand on Beach

by Lewis Fonner,

Over the past few years, Mexico has gotten a bad wrap as a tourist destination. Splashy and sensationalistic headlines about drug cartels, police corruption have made every day in Mexico seem like the Day of the Dead. The subtext of these headlines seem to imply that if you’re a sensible and reasonable citizen looking to take a holiday, then you will avoid this chaotic war-zone at all cost. All of this, of course, is greatly exaggerated. While drug violence and crime have plagued Mexico for some time, there are still plenty of places in the country that are safe to travel to. Mexico is the size of Western Europe, and places like Cancun and Cozumel remain as safe as they ever were. Lets take a closer look at some pros and cons of traveling to Mexico.

Mexico might be known for its drug cartels, but there are other pitfalls and dangers as well. Identity theft is on the rise all over the world. When you connect your laptop or tablet to a non-secure, public Wi-Fi system, whether at an airport lounge, Internet café or hotel, your personal information and bank account numbers can be compromised. Lifelock, a leading identity theft service, can protect your information from would-be hackers and thieves. In the end, you probably have more of a chance of running into an identify thief in Mexico than a high-ranking member of a drug cartel.

The Pros

All of the bad press about Mexican drug violence has had a serious and long lasting affect on the country’s tourist industry. In other words, people are afraid to go to Mexico. On the flip-side, however, this fear has driven prices for flights, hotels and resorts to an all-time low. There are more budget friendly deals to Mexico now than ever before. While the price tag for traveling to Europe and other parts of the world has skyrocketed, a vacation to some of the nicest and most luxurious resorts in Mexico has bottomed out. Businesses are doing everything they can to lure wary vacationers back to Mexico, and the deals are a dime a dozen.

The U.S. State Department’s Mexican travel advisory is misguided and exaggerated. The U.S. has always has a tenuous relationship Mexico, and the ongoing drug war and immigration debate has stirred up centuries worth of bad blood. Yes, the border towns of Mexico are especially violent. Yes, the cartels employ especially gruesome tactics. However, Mexico is a large country and these violent hotspots do not make up the majority. From Caribbean islands like Jamaica and St. Lucia to the states that make-up the U.S., there is crime and violence everywhere.

The Cons

When you go to Mexico, it is best to stay in one place. In other words, it is not the type of country where you want a bout of wanderlust to hit you. While the Mexican coasts and beaches are safe, once you start driving around, exploring or going on guided tours, you are more apt to run into trouble. Being cooped up at a resort in Cancun is not everyone’s idea of a holiday. Having your freedom restricted is certainly a con when traveling to Mexico.

Mexico is a beautiful place to visit. Sadly, the gruesome headlines that have come out of the country have tainted its reputation as a traveler’s paradise. However, if you decide to book that cheap ticket to Mexico, the type of precautions you should take are the same as if you were traveling to any other foreign destination.

Lewis specializes in travel writing and hopes to spend his future retirement abroad.

The Two Best Market Restaurants in Oaxaca, Mexico

    Restaurant in Mercado de la Merced, Oaxaca - A. Starkman

Restaurant in Mercado de la Merced, Oaxaca – A. Starkman

Mercado de la Merced and the 20 de Noviembre market, both in downtown Oaxaca, contain the best market restaurants in the city.

Every permanent indoor market in the southern Mexico city of Oaxaca has at least one good sit-down restaurant, eatery or food stall. Each comedor has a local following of not only the market vendors who tend their stalls, but also regular patrons who either shop at the market and seize the opportunity to sit down for a meal during their outing or come by specifically for breakfast or lunch.

Two market restaurants in downtown Oaxaca stand out. Fonda Florecita in the Mercado de la Merced (also known as Mercado Democracia) draws middle class Oaxacans from all over the city. The market boasts other reliable food and drink stands as well. The second market restaurant is actually a series of independently owned stalls, the Carnes Asadas (grilled meats) section of the 20 de Noviembre market near Oaxaca’s zócalo. Its specialty, as the name suggests, is grilled Oaxacan meats, along with wholesome vegetables and fresh or marinated side dishes.

Mercado de la Merced (Calle Murguía & Calzada de la República), East End, Downtown Oaxaca

Mercado de la Merced is arguably the most popular daily marketplace patronized by the middle classes of Oaxaca. While its official market day is Sunday, it is active on a daily basis beginning around 7:30 a.m. when many shop owners open up their stalls. It is also when they, as well as the first shoppers of the day, start sitting down for breakfast at long tables at Fonda Florecita, the main market restaurant. The eatery is located toward one end of the market. A full range of typical Oaxacan foods is available (grilled meats, beans; typically Oaxacan egg and cheese dishes and more). Start with hot chocolate and a bun, and carry on from there.

Complete meals are served throughout the day at Fonda Florecita, as well as at a couple of other smaller eateries, until late afternoon / early evening when market closing time approaches.

In a different part of the market you’ ll find two stands which specialize in fresh fruit and vegetable juices, made to order on the spot. For example, you can ask for a jugo verde (green juice), and specify that it be sweetened with orange, pineapple or perhaps carrot juice. If you have a particular ailment or discomfort that day, ask an employee for a recommendation; perhaps extra alfalfa or nopal cactus. They’re the experts.

Tamale stands are close to the fresh juice stalls. If you’re too full, be sure to take a couple back to your hotel or bed and breakfast, and ask management to heat them up in the microwave later on for a snack. The tamales are plump, well filled, with several varieties available. La Merced and the market in the town of Etla are equally renowned for their broad selection of tamales, putting to shame even the ” tamale ladies” on downtown Oaxaca’s streets.

Carnes Asadas Inside the 20 de Noviembre Market, Southwest of Oaxaca’s Zócalo

The breakfast action at the Carnes Asadas section of the 20 de Noviembre market begins around 9 a.m. It gradually dissipates some time after 10 a.m., until Oaxacan-style comida hour once again picks up the business. Thereafter lighter service continues until close to dusk. Consider attending during peak hours, say around 10 a.m. any day. But Saturdays are particularly interesting for the level of activity.

Carnes Asadas is a dedicated area, indoors on the east side of the 20 de Noviembre market. Stalls line both sides of an extremely wide aisle. There is furious activity trying to get customers to buy from one meat stall versus the other. But when all is said and done, it’s well organized. You buy your meats from one vendor; an assistant takes it for grilling; side vegetables such as onions and peppers are then offered for grilling as well; and finally someone else comes by your table with suggestions for further accompaniments such as guacamole, marinated chiles, and of course tortillas.

The experience at Carnes Asadas is unmatched elsewhere in the city. It’s the only section of any Mexican market I’ve known which has closed-circuit televisions in an effort to prevent vendors from vying for your pesos a little too actively against the competition. But don’t let this deter you from sampling some of the best grilled meats in town.

Note the sign out in front of the Carnes Asadas market area prohibiting the taking of photographs. But if you ask your meat vendor once you’ve ordered, she should permit photos of her particular stall and the grilling.

Fonda Florecita in Mercado de la Merced, and Carnes Asadas in the 20 de Noviembre market are tried and true Oaxacan eateries, safe on the gastrointestinal system. They provide visitors to Oaxaca with an opportunity to eat typical, tasty Oaxacan fare in traditional market environments. Each is quite different from the other, so consider trying both. They’ve contributed to Oaxaca’s reputation as the gastronomic capital of Mexico.

Cruising Out of Southern California Ports

Disney Cruise Ships

Disney Cruise Ships

Cruising makes for a great vacation, and what makes it even better is finding a great port city to sail in and out of that offers fun things to do before and after the cruise. Southern California offers three ports to choose from for cruises to Hawaii, the Panama Canal and Mexico. Cruise lines are also coming up with new ideas to draw vacationers to the West Coast such as Coastal California tours that focus on the ports of California with some even including wine tasting tours. For example, in the fall of 2012, Disney Cruise Line (800-951-3532) will be doing new California Coastal cruises featuring Pixar characters. To hear more about these ports, listen to our radio show by [clicking here]. Cruising out of Southern California ports gives you many options. Here are highlights for each of the three ports.

Long Beach:

The Port of Long Beach is a port for Carnival Cruise Lines and the area has made an amazing transformation over the past 10 years. (800-452-7829) Shopping and entertainment areas such as The Pike at Long Beach and Shoreline Village offer lots of great dining, shopping and activities, and are easy to get to from the cruise terminal.

Port of Los Angeles:

This port located in San Pedro (310-SEA-PORT) is incredibly busy in terms of container shipping, but also is an important embarkation point for cruises. The Port of L.A. is undergoing numerous long-term changes to its waterfront, with two new attractions, the U.S.S. Iowa ( 877-4-IOWA-61) and a craft market called “Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles” (310-732-1270) giving cruisers two new things to check out before embarking or after getting back from a trip.

San Diego:

The beautiful city of San Diego is full of great things to do, and its hard to think of a city where the port () is so near to so much to do. It’s easy to spend a day going to the Gaslamp Quarter for shopping, dining or a Padres game, or visit the many other attractions near the port, and still make it on your boat before San Diego port embarking, or make your flight home after a trip.

Southern California offers three different port cities that all have their own distinct character, and each one has attractions that make it a great place to start or end a cruise.

Beach, Birds, and Bygone City

Merida, Yucatan penisula, cr-ehow

Merida, Yucatan penisula, cr-ehow

Mexico: A Day Trip from Merida, Yucatan Peninsula

If you don’t fancy the crowds along the Maya Riviera, on the Caribbean coast south of Cancun, Mexico, a great alternative is to use Merida as a base. This pretty Colonial city on the northwest of the Yucatan Peninsula is within easy distance of many famous Mayan sites (Chichen Itza and the Puuc Route, with Uxmal), the northern biosphere, and good sand beaches.

On this daytrip, we went to Progresso for the beach, the sea, and the sun; to Uaymintun for the lagoon and flamingo viewing; to Xtambofor a Mayan ruin and more flamingoes. We returned to Merida on side roads, passing through typical small Yucatecan villages.

We decided on this as an alternative to flamingo viewing at the Celestun Park to the west. On a previous visit to Celestun we felt concerned at how the tourist boats on the estuary are disturbing the birds, especially the flamingoes. Another plus—this way is free.

We drove north out of Merida on Paseo Montejo, noting the richer colonial side of the city, with wide streets, mansions and shopping complexes, and even a Sams Club!

Progresso, Merida’s port, is about a 30-minute drive, past a huge abandonned henequin factory (which produced ropes, mats etc), evidence of the previous wealth from this crop; and Dzibilchaltun, another ruined Mayan city with an excellent museum of Mayan history. It’s a worthwhile stop if you’re interested in the Maya. The site also has the famous House of the Seven Dolls, and an interesting cenote (steep-sided natural well.)

Progresso has progressed, compared to our visit four years ago. Parking is plentiful along the esplanade, rebuilt after the hurricane a few years ago. All the usual tourist facilities line the esplanade, in a scaled-down version compared to the Caribbean coast, and we found it much more pleasant. A wide sand beach, with beach chairs, palapa huts, and beach restaurants, looks out over the calm blue water, tiny waves lapping.

After a swim, and lunch at one of the beach restaurants, we headed out east along the coastal road, palm trees on one side, stubby salt-flats bush on the other. There’s a string of development in the narrow strip between the sea and the biosphere, mostly brightly-painted houses, some holiday flats and hotels.

We followed the coastal road to Uaymintun, a small village with a tall wooden lookout tower over the lagoon; a great way to see part of the lagoon and biosphere preserve and do bird-watching, especially with binoculars. (The lookout tower is free, but you can rent binoculars there). The biosphere extends for hundreds of kilometers: lagoons, shallow lakes and waterways with small islands and mud flats. Scores of flamingoes were walking in the shallow water, many still bright pink even though this wasn’t nesting season.

A few miles further on, the sign for Xtambo ruins is on the right. The drive is along a miles-long causeway over the lagoon with views of an amazing number of birds, especially flamingoes. The road is not busy, so stopping is easy. What a marvelous place for viewing and photographing birds in their natural environment: pelicans, oyster catchers, sandpipers, cormorants, white herons, blue herons, turkey buzzards.

Xtambo ruins are just off to the right after the lagoon, along a narrow dirt road between tall grasses and stubby trees, swampy areas just to the side. The name means “place of the crocodile”, and we could easily imagine there might be a crocodile in there somewhere!

These Maya ruins are bigger than we expected, and much still remains to be excavated. It was a salt distribution center, reaching its peak around 600AD. The bases of two large structures are in a clearing before the main ruins: the low Pyramid of the Cross, and other buildings around a courtyard. All are grey stone, with little visible ornamentation now other than some stone masks. Xtambo was important as the port for Izamal, a bigger town inland, which was far away for people in those days. We’d known that the Maya traded, but did they travel by sea?

There were no other visitors, so we rambled happily around at will. The structures are not remarkable, compared to Chichen Itza, for example, but it’s an interesting little site. Of note is the small Catholic Chapel of the Virgin at the base of the temple, built 50-plus years ago after the Virgin of X’Cambo appeared here, showing us that old and new beliefs can co-exist. The view out is to scrubby palm trees and swamp, rather than jungle, but it’s completely isolated, giving us a real feel for what it must have been like thirteen centuries ago.

On smaller roads south back to Merida, prolific vines are creeping over almost everything, and the jungle encroaches on both sides of the road. It’s not hard to see how they could ‘eat up’ the area again.  We passed through a number of villages, all arranged around a central square.  This can be hazardous driving. Topes(speed bumps) slowed us down, but people walk along the road, or ride bikes, or pull carts loaded with

firewood. Children play in the unpaved streets lined with banana trees, and animals wander at will. Huts with thatched roofs, or low houses with tin roofs and faded, chipped paint, are in dusty yards, with washing draped on fences, pigs tethered to small papaya trees, mangy dogs prowling under acacia trees, and a group of kids playing in the dirt, their noses running.

This is local life, as it really is, not a sanitized version for tourist viewing. We felt privileged to see this natural version of life in rural Yucatan.


Given the sometimes-poor state of the roads, this is more than enough in one day. Start early, especially if you want lots of swimming time. There are gas stations in Progresso, but not on the smaller roads.

1. Picking up a rental car at Merida airport is very easy. The airport has a Tourist Information desk and an ATM for cash. The best Tourist Information Office is on Calle 60 in town, on the edge of Parque de la Maternidad, two blocks north of the main square (see below). General information at www.travelyucatan.com/merida_mexico.php

2. Plaza de la Independencia, the center of downtown Merida, is a green oasis. On Sundays, the streets around it are closed, so everyone can enjoy the bustling Sunday market, and free music concerts and traditional Yucatecan dancing. Don’t miss the huge cathedral, and the Governor’s Palace, with a series of enormous, strikingly colorful, abstract murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco of Merida, depicting the history of the Yucatan.

3. The Anthropological and Historical Museum on Paseo Montejo has an excellent, although small, collection of ancient Mayan artifacts.

4. Around the main plaza, and Park Hidalgo—another square one block north—are many restaurants, food stalls, bars, and coffee shops (most with internet connections).

5. Merida has many hotels in all price ranges. Two of our favorites (with swimming pools, and parking facilities offered) are Hotel Dolores Alba, with rooms arranged around the courtyard of a restored colonial house (www.doloresalba.com ); and Gran Hotel, a grand 100-year-old Italianate building on Park Hidalgo. Tel: +52 999-924-7730, fax +52 999-924-7622, www.granhoteldemerida.com.mx

Friends stayed at Hotel Colonial and were very satisfied, www.hotelcolonial.com.mx

Alcoholism in Oaxaca, Mexico Mezcal; Not Tequila, Beer or Whisky

Alcoholism in Oaxaca Kills Grooms, Credit  A.S

Alcoholism in Oaxaca Kills Grooms, Credit

Alcoholics Anonymous has a healthy presence in Oaxaca, Mexico. Alcoholism is not due to drinking beer, tequila, wine, whisky, vodka or brandy. It’s mezcal.

It may be a stretch to assert that for so long as alcoholism remains high in the population of Oaxaca, it will remain a third world state. But it’s difficult to deny that drinking to excess contributes to the economic woes of Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in arguably a developing nation, Mexico. Certainly alcoholism in Oaxaca is a major factor impacting the financial success and advancement of many otherwise productive families.

It’s not tequila, beer, whisky or vodka, and surely not wine, which contributes to the high level of alcoholism and alcoholics in Oaxaca; it’s mezcal.

Availability and Cost of Mezcal in Oaxaca as Prime Contributor to Alcoholism
Roadside Mezcal in Bulk Contributes to Alcoholism

Roadside Mezcal in Bulk Contributes to Alcoholism

Mezcal is readily available throughout the state of Oaxaca, more so than elsewhere in the capital as well as in and close to Oaxaca’s central valleys. It’s mostly a matter of the cost of the spirit being rock bottom the closer one gets to the source of production. With low cost, comes high consumption – and alcoholism. There are pockets of mezcal producing villages. The top few which come to mind are near Sola de Vega, in and near the Albarradas villages, Tlacolula, Ocotlán, and of course the self-anointed World Capital of Mezcal, Matatlán, and villages within an hours drive of the town en route to the coast.

At the source, one can buy good quality mezcal for as little as 25 pesos (all prices for 2011) per liter (for the benefit of American readers, that’s roughly a quart). And at that price, alcoholics have their choice of blanco (unaged), gusano (“with the worm”) and at times even reposado (oak barrel aged for at least two months). Of course the price does go up, but the point is that it costs virtually nothing to buy quality mezcal with percentage alcohol roughly 45%, or 90 proof.

Cost of Other Readily Available Alcoholic Beverages in Oaxaca

Yes, one can encounter wine for as little as 25 pesos for a 750 ml bottle, but there are a couple of points which mitigate against becoming a wino in Oaxaca. Firstly, wine is often not as readily available as mezcal. Secondly, wine at anywhere close to that price, reds in particular, results in headaches, not that Oaxacan alcoholics are aware of this fact. Thirdly, there’s a tremendous difference between 45% and 12% alcohol by volume, a fact that Oaxacan alcoholics probably do know.

Beer comes in at upwards of 10 pesos for 355 ml, with percentage alcohol roughly 4.5. Beer is a very popular alcoholic beverage in Oaxaca, but at fiestas it’s frequently combined with mezcal.

One can easily encounter low cost “effective” whisky, brandy and vodka in Oaxaca, but for the alcoholic, or alcoholic-in-training, such spirits are simply too expensive, although on occasion one can buy any of the three for 60 – 80 pesos, of course domestically produced, or more pedestrian brands.

Tequila, as well as tequila-type spirits made with less than 100% agave are readily available in Oaxaca and its central valleys. In addition, mezcal-type spirits with less than 100% agave is produced in the state. These products are commercially produced and available in many stores, even Sam’s Club. But once again, nothing comes close to pure mezcal, in terms of percentage alcohol and price.

Effect of Alcoholism & Mezcal on Otherwise Productive Residents of Oaxaca
Alcoholic in Oaxaca Paid in Mezcal to Produce It

Alcoholic in Oaxaca Paid in Mezcal to Produce It

It is suggested that every middle class resident of Oaxaca has personal knowledge of how alcoholism has affected more than one alcoholic and his family as a result of non-performance of job functions. Here are four examples, names having been changed:

Juan is a producer of high quality pottery in Atzompa. A customer ordered 55 pieces. Juan promised the order would be ready in two weeks, and would call. He failed to call, so the customer attended at Juan’s workshop two months later, only to find some pieces completed, others partially done, yet others not even started. Juan had been on a bender, but promised that the order would be done in two weeks. The customer went elsewhere.

José is a master bricklayer. On Saturday he committed to finishing a job for a homeowner, one of his regular customers, on the next Monday and Tuesday. He failed to attend. The homeowner called José, and was told by his wife that there was a party the night before (Sunday), and that José “slept in.”

Alfredo had a well-paying job at a Oaxaca bed & breakfast. He went drinking on his lunch hour, and upon his return was loud and belligerent towards clients of the lodging. Alfredo’s family had previously pleaded with management to give Alfredo another chance. The establishment fired Alfredo for his alcoholism and its adverse impact on the business.

Fernando is a skilled carver of wooden figures known as alebrijes, a popular purchase item for tourists to Oaxaca. With tourism down, Fernando reverted to his other skills, as a talented handyman capable of doing carpentry, painting and brickwork. An acquaintance of Fernando, an American resident in Oaxaca, was lamenting to Fernando about not being able to find someone to do some sanding and painting. Fernando replied that he’d be by to do the job beginning on Monday. Fernando didn’t show up. A friend of the homeowner, also an acquaintance of Fernando, when told of the story commented that Fernando must have fallen off the wagon.

The foregoing four examples represent how alcoholism in Oaxaca contributes to the inability of otherwise hardworking families to raise their economic lot. Virtually very resident of Oaxaca can recount such stories – a different one every month.

Can Reducing Alcoholism Elevate Oaxaca from Third World Status?

Indeed reducing alcoholism in Oaxaca will not likely have an impact on the state’s third world status. To raise Oaxaca from third world designation into the category of developing nation, or better, requires more. As has been suggested, the social order must have, firstly a rule of law; secondly, which is enforced honestly and fairly across the board; and finally, its enforcement must be at minimum with respect to property rights, of both organizations and the individual.

Reducing alcoholism in Oaxaca, however, would go a long way towards achieving the foregoing end. A sober society is a better educated society; with education comes the realization that government is failing to enforce the rule of law; with that realization comes social and political change, and hence the ability to elevate society, in this case, Oaxaca.

How to Diet and Lose Weight While Vacationing in Oaxaca, Mexico

Climbing Monte Alban for Exercise, Calorie Burning Credit: A.Starkman

Climbing Monte Alban for Exercise, Calorie Burning

You get exercise walking and sightseeing, so forget the morning run. But remember that in Oaxaca, Mexico, rice and beans can be fat-laden and kill the diet.

It’s mainly a matter of rethinking calorie counting, since while vacationing in Oaxaca, Mexico, even some safe foods are filled with fat. “Plain” white rice riddled with calorie – rich oil? Refried beans laden with lard? Well, not all beans served in all restaurants. The innocuous tortilla? Best to check your calorie counter for tortillas. And there may be more to that tamale than ground corn and carbohydrates.

But maintaining a diet and losing weight vacationing in Oaxaca, Mexico, is indeed possible, while still sampling Oaxaca’s signature dishes such as moles, estofados, tlayudas and barbacoa. Of course drinking diet soda, and beverages made with sugar-free powdered drink mixes helps; it enables visitors to save their drink-allocated calories, and imbibe guilt-free on Oaxaca’s renowned alcoholic beverage, mezcal.

Advice for Dieters Before Boarding the Plane for Oaxaca, Mexico: Read Recipes, Labels and Calorie Counting Guides
Eating in the Tlacolula Market, Not for Dieting Credit: A. Starkman

Eating in the Tlacolula Market, Not for Dieting

Before leaving for vacation in Oaxaca, take a look at some recipes in any Mexican cookbook which features Oaxacan favorites. You cannot rely on calorie counting guides like you can back home, since, for example, as you’ll learn, even white rice is made with oil. Then take a look at a recipe for tamales, and finally re-fried beans. Even if the recipes don’t indicate oil or lard as an ingredient, rest assured that in Oaxaca, the tastier the dish, the more calorie-laden ingredients in the recipe.

Drop in to a Mexican grocer, or take a look at the Latin American foods section of a local supermarket, and read the label on canned re-fried beans. On the other hand, take a look at the label on a can of plain, cooked kidney or black beans. The reason? Some restaurants in Oaxaca do serve their beans plain, and not re-fried. So when on vacation and in a restaurant or roadside eatery, by looking at what the patrons at the table beside you are eating, you’ll learn how your beans will be prepared.

Sightseeing in the City of Oaxaca: Forget the Taxis to Walk Away Calories Visiting Museums, Churches and Galleries
White Rice Recipe from Oaxaca: Oil, Calories, Fat Credit: AStarkman

White Rice Recipe from Oaxaca: Oil, Calories, Fat

Assuming that you won’t be able to resist all the Oaxacan gastronomic delights, and will even double your pre-vacation calories, a good rule of thumb to follow, is to forget the taxis while exploring the city of Oaxaca. Virtually all sights are within walking distance of virtually all downtown hotels, inns, hostels and bed & breakfasts.

While Oaxaca has a population of about 400,000, the centro histórico is small. To name a few attractions that can be visited in the course of taking one or two walking tours of downtown Oaxaca, there are: Santa Domingo Church and Cultural Center; other churches such as The Cathedral, La Soledad, San Felipe Neri, Carmen Alto and Bajo; museums including the stamp museum, textile museum, Rufino Tamayo Museum of pre-Hispanic Art; artisan markets including the Mercado de las Aresanias, Casa de las Artesanias; general markets such as Benito Juárez, 20 de Noviembre, La Merced and Abastos; and of course the restaurants aside from those on the zócalo, including Casa Oaxaca, Los Danzantes, La Catrina de Alcalá, La Biznaga, La Olla, Vieja Lira, Temple, Casa Crespo and La Toscana. Finally, there are well over 50 art galleries in downtown Oaxaca, all of which can easily be visited on foot.

Burning Calories Visiting the Ruins, Other Sights in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca: Hike, Climb, Walk

You won’t burn the calories touring the Ocotlán route in Oaxaca’s central valleys because the route consists of mainly craft villages, there’s only one fairly small ruin to visit (Zaachila) and the Ocotlán Friday market is fairly compact and won’t provide a workout. But the other routes do provide exercise.

Along the Mitla route, the ruin at Yagul has a wonderful steep climb up to a fortress; Hierve el Agua, the bubbling springs and petrified waterfalls, has several hiking paths, and two pools suitable for a swim. And of course the Tlaculula Sunday marketplace is the largest weekly market in the region, where you can walk for an hour and a half or two hours.

Many tourists combine a visit to Monte Albán with the Etla touring route. Monte Albán can be strenuous if you climb the steep pyramidal stairs a couple of times and visit all there is to see. Towards Etla there’s the ruin at San José Mogote, with a couple of hills to climb. But the Wednesday Etla market is small and devoid of opportunities to burn calories.

Don’t forget that you can get your fill of burning calories before heading out for a day’s touring, or at the end of the day before dusk. If staying downtown, consider the perimeter at Llano park at the north end of downtown (except for Fridays when the market is on). There are Sunday morning exercise classes at that park as well. If staying at the south end of downtown, there’s a track near the university in the area known as Plaza del Valle.

For those in a b & b or hotel in or around San Felipe del Agua, there’s a hike to a small waterfalls, and a more strenuous pathway leading up the San Felipe mountain. Just south of San Felipe, in Guadalupe Victoria and in Loma Linda there’s a walking path up to a big white cross and two telecommunication towers, and quaint rural territory with dirt roads throughout Guadalupe Victoria proper

Losing Weight in Oaxaca Eating in Markets, on the Street and in Restaurants

As suggested, it’s difficult to control calorie intake while eating in Oaxaca. In the markets and on the streets one never knows what’s been used to prepare foods. On the other hand there are a few restaurants which tend to be more health conscious than most, and a few which promote “lite.” La Olla springs to mind, as does slow food proponent Los Danzantes.

But if the goal is to maintain one’s weight or lose pounds while visiting Oaxaca, there are indeed two tried and true methods: drink the water, and eat fresh fruits and vegetables on the streets and in the markets; dysentery does do wonders, and you can watch those Oaxacan calories as they flee the body.

Safety, Security, Police & Banditos: Driving in Oaxaca, Mexico

Safety, Security, Police

Safety, Security, Police

Following these guidelines helps ensure safety & security, and avoid banditos & police problems while driving the roads and highways of Oaxaca, Mexico. While this article centers upon driving and maintaining safety and security on the roads in Oaxaca, Mexico, similar guidelines apply when visiting other central / southern Mexico states. Some are common sense; others may come as a surprise. The key, however, to being safe and secure, and to avoiding problems with the police, crime circumstances and even banditos, is to remember that you’re no longer in Canada or the US, but rather driving in Mexico, a Third World country.

Road Conditions Affecting Safety and Security on Toll Roads and Highways in Oaxaca, Mexico

Road conditions of highways in Oaxaca and other central and southern Mexico states are generally excellent. For example, the toll road between Mexico City and Oaxaca is constantly being monitored, with frequent work crews patching holes and painting lines. Toll booths and emergency roadside stops with water and telephone service are fairly evenly spaced.

However, on the stretch of highway between Puebla and Oaxaca, even though open since 1995, there are still periodic minor problems with the structural integrity of the mountainsides which were cut through; during rainy season in particular, there are occasionally stones, rocks and boulders encroaching the roadway. The problems do not affect safety and security, and when there is an impact, it’s generally a matter of minor delays as a result of work crews clearing debris or doing maintenance to ensure safe passage.

Conditions of secondary highways in Oaxaca are difficult to predict. On the one hand they were build decades ago, and therefore the likelihood of landslides is slim. However there are always aberrations, such as in the Mixe and Sierra Norte of Oaxaca during the 2010 rainy season. A rule of thumb is to proceed with travel plans for driving throughout Oaxaca and elsewhere in south and central Mexico, regardless of season, and when driving during the rainy season, check with one’s hotel or bed and breakfast hosts, or local authorities, regarding potential impediments to safety and security as a result of highway damage or roadwork.

Avoiding Police Problems While Driving in Oaxaca, and Other South & Central Mexico States

Sporadic police check points exist on the highways in Oaxaca, and on occasion on roads leading into the state capital. Rarely do police use radar, but it does occur. Usually they are looking for infractions such as driving without a seat belt or driving while using a cellular phone. It might come as a shock that there are many cars on the road with expired license plates, dating to 2008 or earlier. These vehicles are ignored by police, in favor of catching drivers committing other infractions.

Speed limit signs are hard to understand. On one stretch of highway one could read 30 KPH, then a half kilometer further another could state 80 KPH, then further along 40 KPH. There is little rhyme or reason, as if they were erected haphazardly by untrained road workers. Therefore, it’s best to keep up with traffic flow, and if reluctant to do so, drive on the paved shoulder so others can pass, an acceptable practice. However, on toll roads speed limits appear to be more consistent, with greater likelihood of encountering speed traps.

Drive with a copy of the photo page of your passport, your tourist visa, drivers license, and naturally vehicle ownership. Insurance is optional in Oaxaca. Be courteous when stopped by police. Federal police at check points are usually looking for illegal immigrants en route from Central America to the US, arms or drugs.

There are two theories regarding how to avoid paying a fine or bribe when stopped for an alleged traffic infraction; speak your best Spanish, or pretend that you do not speak it at all in the hope that police will get frustrated and leave.

For bribing, do not disclose a large wad of bills. Have only a few twenties and perhaps a fifty (of course pesos) in view. Otherwise, they’ll want it all. And yes, bribing is the norm, at least with municipal and state police. Start low. If you start at 500, it’ll cost more. Generally, police are helpful to tourists driving in Oaxaca, whether in cities, or on roads or highways.

Reducing the Likelihood of Encountering Banditos or Having an Accident on Oaxaca Highways

Only drive outside of Oaxacan cities and towns during daylight, unless unavoidable such as when attending a rural party. When on a long road trip, begin looking for accommodations well before dusk. Find a hotel with secure parking. Do not leave belongings in the vehicle overnight, or if you must, keep them hidden in the trunk.

On some secondary highways, one may be asked to stop to help out a poor family with a few pesos or even food. While it happens rarely, experience suggests that they only want a little help. It’s happened three – four times over the course of 19 years driving Oaxaca’s roads and highways. Encountering cows, horses, donkeys and dogs on Oaxacan roads is much more common – another reason to only drive in daytime hours.

Regularly check levels of vehicle liquids, either on one’s own, or at gas stations. Have belts, tires, steering and generally mechanical fitness matters checked regularly. Most locals don’t (nor have they received driver training), so you should. Yes, the roads to Puerto Escondido and Huatulco from Oaxaca are narrow and windy in spots.

Gas station attendants usually must be asked to check tires and liquids. Pemex, the nationalized petroleum industry, has stations well spaced out, but never drive on almost empty. When in the mountains, if low on gas ask, and someone will advise where to find someone selling gasoline. Similarly, mechanics are a dime a dozen, and very resourceful when it comes to band-aid treatments to get vehicles where they want to go. Have a cellular phone handy just in case.

Final Word Regarding Safety and Security on Roads and Highways in Oaxaca

Banditos are by and large a concern of decades past. Highways are basically crime – free, with safety reasonably assured. However AAA and CAA do update their literature and warn of areas to avoid or where to be particularly vigilant. American and Canadian governments publish circulars as well, providing more general advice. While they tend to be overly paternalistic regarding matters of safety and security in Mexico, the advice is worth noting in a broad sense. It all helps reduce the likelihood of encountering safety, security and police problems while driving the roads of Oaxaca.

Casa Rubia: Luxury Home, Villa Rental in Puerto Escondido, Mexico

View from Oceanfront Villa Credit: Starkman

View from Oceanfront Villa Credit: Starkman

Casa Rubia is the ultimate in luxury Oceanfront villa vacation rental in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico. The home has 6 bedrooms and a permanent staff.

Casa Rubia is an ultra-luxury oceanfront villa & vacation home rental in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico, the brainchild of Canadian real estate developer and former World Cup downhill champion Cary Mullen. One would be hard-pressed to think of another Mexican luxury private villa or vacation home rental, Pacific beach or otherwise, with more attention paid to comfort and detail: sprawling, immaculately kept grounds, main home additional suites; extent and quality of furnishings; exceptional bilingual staff; sun, surf and relaxation accouterments.

Casa Rubia bears witness to Puerto Escondido coming of age, overshadowing the best that neighboring resort town Huatulco, down the coast, offers. .It’s hard to not use superlatives when describing Casa Rubia, perhaps because of the research and thought that Mullen put into creating this luxury oceanfront villa, part of his broader development, Vivo Resorts.

Background to the Concept of Casa Rubia as a Private, Pacific Oceanfront Resort Villa in Mexico

Mullen began considering building a beachfront resort community several years ago while in Maui, recovering from a ski accident. He made a list of 44 factors for ranking (i.e. weather, safety and security, investment timing, etc.), considered 30 countries, and personally scouted over a dozen. He settled on Puerto Escondido, a Pacific coast beach resort town in the state of Oaxaca, southern Mexico. Hence, the seed was planted for his condominium and oceanfront lot development, Vivo Resorts.

A major consideration was finding somewhere that Mullen would be comfortable bringing his wife and three children, as well as his parents, both for brief vacations and spending extended periods of time, and with a view to eventual permanent residency. Before even breaking ground he acquired Casa Rubia, initially earmarked as his personal family retreat and as a showcase for prospective condo and lot buyers. Mullen comments about the latter: “I wanted to show people the type of vacation home that could be built right on the beach, so at Casa Rubia I can both showcase the villa and at the same time point to barren oceanfront on either side and say ‘see the lot next door; that’s what this used to be, and this is what you can build at Vivo Resorts’.”

Mullen in due course decided that he personally preferred luxury condominium living for longer term visits, so he set aside one of his units for himself and his family. Accordingly, Casa Rubia now serves two purposes:

  1. To host clients considering investing in the Vivo Resorts’ oceanfront condos and building lots.
  2. As an ultra-luxury oceanfront villa for short-term rental by individual couples, families, groups, or special events.
Facilities at Casa Rubia, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico
Casa Rubia Luxury Villa; Living Room,Credit:  Starkman

Casa Rubia Luxury Villa; Living Room,Credit: Starkman

Imagine a luxury family vacation, or a family reunion, for up to 24 people, in an expansive 15,000 sq ft Pacific oceanfront villa complex (the living room, bar and game area all facing the ocean are alone 3,000 sq ft); or perhaps a wedding or 25th anniversary, or simply a group of friends wanting to spend quality leisure vacation time together.

The pampering begins with a dedicated bilingual staff including maids, butler, property manager, chauffer / handyman (private cars of course – for driving you into town, nearby sights, restaurants, etc.), and to top it all off, your own professional Mexican chef to prepare your choice of meals, be it internationally renowned Oaxacan cuisine, contemporary North American, or continental.

The luxurious six bedrooms, each with a spacious en suite three piece washroom, consist of:

  • Two oceanfront master bedrooms with king size beds, sitting areas and enough additional space to sleep additional guests
  • Two deluxe ocean side suites, each with two queen size beds and extra space for lounging and sleeping
  • Two garden bungalows, each with two queen size beds

Each bedroom suite is equipped with a ceiling fan and air conditioning.

The media room features an oversize wraparound couch, WIFI and satellite TV. It opens onto an exquisite dining room which seats up to 26 guests around an illuminated onyx table. Both rooms face the pool, and further beyond, 112 feet of private sandy Pacific beach. Words cannot do justice to the extent and quality of furnishings at this private Pacific oceanfront resort, nor to the attention Mullen has paid to detail.

Rental Rates, Additional Information and Contact for Casa Rubia

Casa Rubia isn’t for every vacationer seeking a beachfront rental home or villa in Mexico. But for a big splurge (for most of us), this Puerto Escondido property is the pinnacle in private luxury Mexican beachfront vacation resorts, with all the expected indulging, and more. For a larger family, a group of friends, or a wedding or anniversary, pricing is actually quite accessible. Of course cost is always relative, and for a couple with substantial means it may be the perfect, private, Pacific retreat. Casa Rubia lacks nothing.

Further information about Casa Rubia and Vivo Resorts can be obtained through their websites.

Money Saving Tips for Students, Budget Travelers to Oaxaca Mexico

Market Food for Budget Travelers in Oaxaca Credit: Alvin Starkman

Market Food for Budget Travelers in Oaxaca Credit: Alvin Starkman

Oaxaca, Mexico, on a budget is easy, with clean accommodations, eating in good restaurants and seeing the sights, without risking safety, health, security.

Being a budget traveler in Oaxaca, Mexico, has different connotations for different tourists. For some it means lodging in hostels, buying food in supermarkets or the cheapest street fare, and using second class buses to visit sights in the central valleys. For other frugal travelers it’s staying in an inexpensive Oaxacan hotel with clean room and private bath, eating on the street and in budget restaurants, and recognizing that sometimes a tour company, taxi, driver or guide in the end is more economical where time is limited and one wants to experience as much of Oaxaca’s cultural diversity as possible. In any case, it’s easy to avoid illness and safety and security concerns while traveling the Mexican state of Oaxaca, on a budget.

Budget Accommodations in Oaxaca; Hotel, Hostel or Bed & Breakfast

Start with travel websites such as tomzap.com (specializing in three Mexican states, including Oaxaca) or tripadvisor.com, to get some idea of what budget accommodations in Oaxaca cost. Often budget hotels and bed and breakfasts offer their best rates to walk-ins, off the street. For most hostels it’s the same, booked in advance or on the spot. Since frugal travelers to Oaxaca tend to arrive at the ADO bus terminal at the north end of downtown, it’s often easy to find accommodations from that location, where agents and lodgings have flyers, brochures and maps ready to be picked up as travelers to southern Mexico depart the buses.

Arriving by bus in Oaxaca early in the day makes finding cheap accommodations much easier, since there is not the concern for safety and security in terms of night arrival and having to walk the streets to find lodging. While downtown Oaxaca is safe at night, including the area around the bus terminal, it’s prudent to try to do one’s initial walk-through during the day, especially if toting luggage or backpack. If arriving in Oaxaca after dark, consider having the first night’s accommodations booked in advance, even if it initially throws off the budget.

There’s a 200-peso-a-night hostel across the street from the bus terminal, although one can find hostels which cost less scattered throughout downtown Oaxaca. The lower end lodgings of the Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast Association might fit the bill for some, since association members must comply with standards for service and cleanliness. Alternatively, within a few blocks of the bus station there are budget hotels in the 350 peso range (i.e. northwest corner of Pino Suárez and Constitución).

Restaurant, Market and Street Food in Oaxaca: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner or Snack, Cheap, Safe and Within Budget

Here are commonsense rules for eating on the street, in restaurants, and in markets throughout southern Mexico, to reduce the likelihood of health issues arising. They apply to budget travelers to Oaxaca, as well as mainstream tourists.

The most popular and reliable budget lunch is comida corrida, a complete meal which includes soup, main course with sides, dessert, and agua del día, a juice made with seasonal fruit, water and usually sugar. Price and selection are usually stated out front of the restaurant, ranging from 25 to 45 pesos. They’re generally safe since many downtown working Oaxacans rely on this type of cheap meal on a daily basis. That’s all they can afford. A personal favorite for a budget comida corrida is Fonda Mexicana on 20 de Noviembre, across from the market. There are three restaurants on Crespo a couple of blocks north or Independencia. But comida corrida is offered throughout downtown Oaxaca on virtually all streets for the budget conscious, Oaxacan and tourist alike.

Some higher end restaurants such as La Olla and Los Danzantes also offer comida corrida for the frugal tourist and Oaxacan, at roughly 80 pesos, admittedly expensive for a comida corrida, but well worth it.

Street stands abound. The working and middle class Oaxacans often rely on them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, because they’re filling, tasty, cheap and reliable in terms of cleanliness, therefore instilling confidence that health / gastrointestinal issues will not arise. Hot drinks include stick-to-the-stomach corn-based beverages, hot chocolate and coffee. There are also several tamale vendors. Tamales make a good choice because they are filling.

South of the zócalo one can find roast chicken restaurants offering a whole chicken with tortillas, salsa, rice and beans, for 50 – 60 pesos, a bargain meal for two. Look along Mina, Zaragoza and other streets south of Oaxaca’s zócalo for cheap spit-roasted chicken dinners.

Similar bargain meals for the budget traveler in Oaxaca are encountered in city markets (i.e. mercado de la merced & mercado de 20 de Noviembre) and in towns boasting market days (i.e. Zaachila, Etla, Ocotlán and Tlacolula).

Visiting the Sights in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca: Options for Students, Budget Travelers

Budget sightseeing options in the central valleys of Oaxaca have downsides. But frugal travelers and students should feel safe and secure. Don’t let the Mexico naysayers create undue stress and concern in terms of safety and security while traveling the roads and highways around Oaxaca.

  • Tour Buses: Start at 170 pesos per day, but often you spend more time where craft producers hope to make a sale, than visiting sights.
  • Taxis: Charge as little as 120 pesos an hour, but there’s no guarantee of cabbie knowledge or capacity with English.
  • Tour Guides, Drivers: More costly than taxis but better chance of seeing what you want, for how long you want. Often recommended by hostels, hotels and B & Bs.
  • Second Class Buses, Colectivos: The most inexpensive way to see the central valleys of Oaxaca. Ask at for terminal locations, varying depending on the day’s activities. Downside is often being dropped off at the side of the highway and having to walk to the ruin, market or other attraction.
  • Spanish Language School Excursions: Often management arranges touring days for students to visit sights along a route, reasonably priced.

If travelling to Oaxaca, or elsewhere in southern Mexico, as a student on a budget or frugal traveler, alone or otherwise, consider finding like-minded travelers to share the cost of a driver or tour guide, though still more expensive than colectivos and second class buses.

Found Objects as Visual Art: Observations and Application in Oaxaca, Mexico


olivera_moon, cr-suite101

As a consequence of the innovative thinking of Kurt Schwitters, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg and others, the 20th century bore witness to the concept of found object as visual art becoming a mainstream European and American medium of artistic expression.  In the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, itself known for quality, cutting edge art, found object has received attention over the past 20 years. Take for example the masterful works of Damien Flores, the collages produced by Rodolfo Morales during the final years of his life, and young Mixteco artist Manuel Reyes’ use of archaeological pieces as well as local sands and soils as aids in expressing the strong sense of indigeneity he seeks to impart through his art.

Oaxaca’s 16 native cultures, the diversity of its landscapes and climatic regions, and its rich human history beginning with pre-Hispanic times, continuing through the era of the Conquest, to ongoing 21st century human struggles, provide a diverse, ultra – rich proving ground.   Within it, visiting and resident artists, tourists with a bent towards antiques and collectibles, and both expat and native born Oaxacans who are inclined to think out-of-the-box, can readily encounter found objects to incorporate into their aesthetic lives.

Contemporary Manifestations of Found Object as Visual Art

A found object within the context of visual art may be defined as the artistic use of an object, man – made or otherwise, which has not been created for a predominantly artistic purpose.  It can be a toaster, a shoe, a car part, a beaded jacket, a newspaper, a simple tool or a farm implement, a leaf or stone, a wrestler’s mask, a clump of clay, or a Coke bottle – empty or full.

One can designate three broad categories of found object which are then transformed into the realm of art:

  • An object encountered by chance or sought out by design, for the purpose of using it essentially “as found,” to enhance the aesthetic environment of a home, an office, a store or other workplace environment, or a landscape. Of course it can be a featured artwork in an exposition (i.e. Duchamp’s seminal display of a ceramic urinal in 1917) which eventually finds its way into one of the three foregoing contextual environments or as a permanent gallery exhibit.
  • An object or objects encountered by chance or sought out by design, and incorporated into a traditional piece of art such as an oil or watercolor, for the purpose of enhancing its overall aesthetics, or the imagery its author seeks to impart, or both (i.e. Manuel Reyes’ use of potsherds).
  • Objects usually sought out by design for the purpose of employing them to create a specific art form, which may or may not include a utilitarian function (i.e. rusted horse shoes made into a wine rack or polished old metal car parts fashioned into a twirling ballerina).

Found Objects in Oaxaca for the Expat Resident and Tourist Alike

Artists resident in Oaxaca should have no difficulty advancing the breadth and quality of their works within the realm of the last two categories noted above.  They already have a trained eye and a mind yearning to continually grow in different directions with a view to keeping the art fresh, both on a personal level and for their benefit of public consumption.

It’s the availability of the broadest selection of Oaxacan material culture, objects which can be used “as found,” which should attract the attention of non – artist expat residents and tourists alike.  The case can be made within the following parameters:

  1. Middle and upper classes have an eye for a different and often broader continuum of objects which they deem aesthetically pleasing, than working and lower classes.
  2. There is a much larger per capita middle and upper class in the United States and Canada, than in Oaxaca, of which a significant segment of the former is inclined to visit Oaxaca.
  3. It’s relatively difficult for members of those same two classes in Oaxaca, having grown up surrounded by and conditioned to ignore much of their day – to – day material culture (indigenous or otherwise),  to appreciate its aesthetic value; they are accordingly less interested in its acquisition.
  4. Based on the foregoing, relative to the American and Canadian phenomenon over the past 50+ years, found objects in Oaxaca have only to a minor extent become deemed collectibles.

The Transformation from Found Object to Collectible

When an object becomes a collectible, its acquisition price tends to increase exponentially.  The first time an American saw a discarded or stored away pine foundry form, he probably picked it up for free or at a nominal charge (perhaps its value as firewood).  After he took it home, and then cleaned and oiled it and put it on the wall in his den, he began using the found object as art; a piece of wood used to fabricate industrial metal, now adorning an upscale contemporary household.

Foundry forms became collectibles, offered for sale in antique stores and interior design galleries.  Much in the same vein, old working wooden duck decoys have been transformed from utilitarian hunting paraphernalia into thousand dollar (and indeed much more) adornments of fireplace mantels;  and wooden tongue and groove Canadian Butter and Southern Comfort boxes initially used to transport product from manufacturer to market, have become aesthetically pleasing receptacles to store kindling for those fireplaces.

These days one rarely picks up a foundry form, a decoy or an old wooden advertising box “for a song,” because each has been transformed into a class of collectible.  In Canada and the United States, and it is suggested throughout most of the Western World, a solitary found object as visual art is virtually non – existent outside of the context of being offered for sale as art, folk art or otherwise for interior design purposes.  On the other hand, objects found for the purpose of either incorporating them into a traditional art form (newspaper comic clippings, potsherds, shoe laces) or fabricating a piece of art using only that class of object (the car part ballerina), will be easily encountered for generations to come, bought outright based on non – aesthetic value, scrounged on the street, or found in a junk yard and purchased by the pound.

Found Objects in Oaxaca Still in Abundance for Aficionados of Art & Aesthetics

Insofar as Oaxaca remains a developing state, with a middle / upper class contingent as previously described (small, generally unconditioned to appreciate a certain level of aesthetics), its realm of collectibles has not reached the level one encounters in the Western World, or even within the Mexico City environs.  This provides interesting buying opportunities for visitors to Oaxaca.

Although in each of the three or four downtown Oaxaca antique stores one does encounter found objects, these particular objets d’art have been transformed into collectibles over the past few decades and in some cases merely years (stone metates or grinding stones, well worn ritual masks, pine votive candle holders, chango mezcalero clay painted mezcal bottles, etc.).  However, by getting out of the city and knocking on villagers’ doors, and even simply walking along dusty roads, visitors can still stumble upon a treasure trove of found objects which when brought home, with proper placement and juxtaposition are easily transformed into visual art.

Of course residents of Oaxaca are not restricted in the size or weight of what they choose to transform, nor by customs and immigration rules.  Hence, one might find in their homes, now as art, an old rusted iron plough adorning a well landscaped garden; or a pine mule saddle riddled with tiny holes evidencing a period of insect infestation, now gracing an interior wall of a new home, draped with colored twine and worn leather parts, all as originally found in a farmer’s shed.

Indeed the traveler on a brief visit to Oaxaca can also return home with a bounty of found object art. The big old rusty plough and the well worn wooden saddle are found objects which today complement the aesthetics of this writer’s Oaxacan home.

Opportunities abound to find smaller found objects, manageable for export, to transform into art, simply by exploring villages in the state’s central valleys.  Examples?  Just keep a keen eye, and remember to think out-of-the-box.

Alvin Starkman operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.oaxacadream.com) with his wife Arlene.  Alvin writes about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca and its central valleys, including articles about art and antiques.  He also consults to documentary film companies, tours couples and families, and together with Chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo organizes culinary tours of Oaxaca (http://www.oaxacaculinarytours.com).

The Role of Family & Culture in Shaping One Woman’s Decision to Return to her Zapotec Roots in San Bartolomé Quialana, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

Gloria Morales Pérez spent most of her life in Anaheim, California, living what for many Mexican immigrants is the American dream –  hard work resulting in a lifestyle that included going to the show and for Chinese food on weekends, taking the children to Disneyland, and spending the occasional evening in a Latin nightclub. But on September 23, 2010, the 25-year-old Zapotec native returned home to the tiny municipality of San Bartolomé Quialana, Tlacolula, in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca.

Gloria shed her blue jeans for customary regional garb of colorful satin dress and brightly embroidered apron; left her two California jobs to spend virtually every waking hour raising her children; and gave up the anonymity of urban living together with the freedom to do as she pleased, in favour of tolerating traditional indigenous normative behavior.

The bright, attractive and fully trilingual (English, Spanish and Zapoteco – locally referred to as dialecto) Oaxacan,  resides with children Juan age 6 and Daniel age 3, and mother-in-law Mariana, in a one bedroom brick and cement house tucked away at the end of a spacious dirt-floored courtyard, part of an extended family compound.  Husband Benito owns this particular portion of the homestead.  He plans to also leave California, in about three months, to reunite with the rest of his family.

The answer to why Gloria gave it all up and returned to her cultural roots, a daunting transition for most, lies in understanding the circumstances leading to her family’s initial emigration when she was only six year old, examining the role her parents played in determining the twists and turns her life took while living in the US, delving deeper into her California lifestyle, and learning a little about San Bartolomé Quialana.

San Bartolomé Quialana, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

San Bartolomé Quialana (“San Bartolomé”) is a 10 minute drive from the city of Tlacolula de Matamoros, capital of the district of Tlacolula.  Tlacolula is noted for its Sunday market, attracting both merchants and buyers from the city of Oaxaca, as well as from towns and villages within Oaxaca’s central valleys and further beyond.  Aside from the broad array of goods available for purchase at the market, the tianguis, as it’s commonly termed, attracts tourists and

Oaxacans alike because of its color and pageantry, attributable in large part to the large number of Zapotec natives in attendance from villages such as San Bartolomé, and nearby San Marcos Tlapazola, noted for production of terra cotta pottery.

Founded in 1422, almost 100 years before the Spanish arrived in Oaxaca, according to 2010 census statistics the village has a population of 2,471. Sixty percent is female and 40 percent is comprised of minors.  Eighty-five percent of residents over five years of age speak dialecto, most of whom also speak Spanish.  Of those 15 years of age and older, 441 are illiterate.  Of youths 6 – 14 years of age, 70 have not attended school despite the fact that the village has five schools, one of which is officially bilingual (Spanish-Zapoteco).  Half the population has not completed public school. The closest high school is in Tlacolula.

There are 524 households in San Bartolomé, 265 of which have dirt floors and 27 of which consist of only a single room.  Construction materials are predominantly clay brick, cement and adobe, with laminated sheet metal often used for roofing. Most but not all households have electricity and indoor plumbing. Eight residences have computers, 75 have washing machines and 413 have televisions. San Bartolomé has a health clinic provided by the Mexican national health care plan (IMSS), although only 27 residents are paid participants in the broader program.  The village has a small daily marketplace, Tuesday being its official market day when vendors from a couple of surrounding villages such also ply their wares.  There are six variety stores where one can buy clothing, tacos and other simple, freshly prepared small meals, as well as packaged snacks, beverages and household goods; but residents generally do their shopping in Tlacolula. It costs only 5 pesos (about 45 cents) to there by sharing a moto taxi (tuk-tuk).

There is a small police force serving the municipality’s 50 square kilometres (which includes farm lands surrounding the village proper). The municipal government coexists with indigenous customary law known as usos y costumbres, not uncommon in towns and villages throughout southern Mexico.

The predominant economic activity of San Bartolomé residents is subsistence farming, although according to statistics less than a quarter of the population is engaged in any remunerative enterprise.  Animal husbandry and cultivating herbs, vegetables (mainly corn, beans, squash), agave (or maguey, used in the production of mezcal) and some fruit are the primary activities, supplemented by hunting.  There is also cottage industry manufacturing such as sewing and hand – embroidering as well as basketry using a bamboo – like river reed known as carrizo and hemp – like twine known as ixtle, derived from agave leaves. Production of corn – based foodstuffs for sale in Tlacolula such as tortillas, tlayudas, tamales and atole round out the list of most frequently encountered activities.  Building trades are also represented (i.e. carpentry, iron works, electrical, and of course bricklaying).

The Morales Pérez Family in San Bartolomé Quialana Prior to Emigration to California

Gloria was born in San Bartolomé on February 21, 1986.  She has three siblings.  Sister Lidia (age 21) and brother Miguel (age 26) were also born in San Bartolomé, while Miriam (age 17) was born in Anaheim. While in San Bartolomé, their mother Emilia eked out a modest existence by sewing and embroidering, and selling hand – made tortillas.  Her father Luis was never really a wage earner in the village.  He left at age 14, and returned only periodically, of course long enough to marry Emilia and father the children.

Luis left the family more or less for the final time and moved to Washington  state when Gloria was three years old, becoming a documented immigrant during a period of amnesty.  He entered into a conjugal relationship with another woman, and had a child.

But when word filtered back to him that his wife had “been” with another man, he returned to Oaxaca.  But in fact, someone had tried to rape Emilia, she defended herself with a knife, and the aggressor ended up in the hospital.   Luis didn’t learn the truth until arriving back in San Bartolomé.  But that was enough for Luis to make a unilateral decision to relocate his family to the US.  He selected Anaheim because San Bartolomé villagers before him had tended to migrate to Anaheim or other nearby California cities.  This pattern of emigration is extremely common in the state of Oaxaca, other Mexican states, and in fact internationally as is born out in the anthropological literature.

For those first six year of Gloria’s life in San Bartolomé, she grew up in a Zapoteco – only speaking household, and accordingly learned very little Spanish given the more general make – up of San Bartolomé.

Socialization and Education of a Young Female Oaxaca Native in Anaheim, California

The first couple of years for any immigrant transplanted from a foreign culture are difficult, but for Gloria life was particularly arduous.  Not only did she not know a word of English, but she lacked Spanish, a working knowledge of which would have put her in good stead for socializing with other Latin Americans, school children in particular.  In her case, however, it was family dynamics which played a more significant role than for perhaps most in her position:

“At that time my mother had to work two jobs, so I was responsible for looking after my younger sister, and even my older brother.  I hardly saw my mother for those first couple of years; and since my father has always been irresponsible, and a heavy drinker, he couldn’t be relied upon.  My parents were always fighting because my father was unwilling to provide for the family, in large part because of his alcoholism.”

Luis had always found employment in the gardening and landscaping field, but his brushes with the law which landed him in jail (i.e. impaired driving) and his unwillingness to acknowledge his obligation as a major financial and emotional contributor to the family, resulted in significant challenges for Gloria, her siblings, and of course their mother.

Emilia was the rock of the family, often working two jobs, invariably in a hotel housekeeping capacity.  But money was still tight for the family:

“Occasionally we would get to go to Pizza Hut or Chuck E. Cheese, but in those years we didn’t really have the opportunity to enjoy leisure time; we would never go to the movies, out to the mall, or even for walks.”

Gloria enjoyed going to school and learning.  She had attainable career aspirations.  Her parents, however, played a significant role in determining whether or not Gloria would ever achieve her goals, adversely impacting on the choices available to her and how she would react to their dictates.

Gloria was active in extra – curricular soccer and cross country. But it was her junior army class in Grade 11, JROTC (the US federal government Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program in high schools), which motivated her the most:

“I really wanted to be in the army.  I liked everything about it from what I had read, and what I was learning in JROTC.  In fact I was the sergeant of my troupe.  But my parents didn’t want me to join the armed forces because it would have meant moving away.  They made it clear to me that they would refuse to sign my enrolment papers.  Had I joined, the army would have helped me with my immigration papers.”

[Gloria, her husband, her mother and her Mexican – born siblings are all undocumented immigrants; only her father was “legal.” However his status was revoked as a result of his criminal record, and he was deported to Tijuana.  He cleverly managed to use his earlier immigrant papers to return to California in January, 2011.]

Immediately after her parents had made their decision regarding the army, Gloria’s grades dropped, and she promptly became pregnant by her boyfriend Benito.  Because her pregnancy was high risk and she required early hospitalization, Gloria had to drop out of school four months shy of graduating from grade 12.

Nevertheless, Gloria did not lose her motivation to achieve a career once her dream of entering the army had been dashed.  Of her own initiative she entered the North Orange County Regional Occupational Program (ROP), a career – technical training program, with a view to becoming a medical assistant.  She passed the first three – month semester, but was not permitted to continue because of her immigration status.

A Oaxacan Quince Añera Gets Pregnant, Married and is Finally California Dreamin’

Life changed dramatically after Gloria met Benito.  They initially became acquainted at her quince años celebration.  He was also born in San Bartolomé.  In Anaheim he had been living with Gloria’s aunt.  Like her father, he was employed in the gardening and landscaping field, but their similarities stopped there.  He was kind, supportive, motivated to earn a living, and as Gloria subsequently learned, a caring husband and father.

By the time Gloria and Benito had met, both Gloria’s English and Spanish were excellent, but her Zapoteco had begun to wane.  She credits Benito (as well as her mother) with helping her out, as words, phrases and grammatical structures in dialecto got garbled or simply forgotten.

Gloria and Benito married in Las Vegas, but subsequently had an Ahaheim church wedding.  They initially lived with her aunt, but moved in with her mother when she was six months pregnant with Juan.

When the baby was 10 months old, the three of them returned to San Bartolomé for an eight week visit.  In Gloria’s 17 years in Anaheim, that was the only time she returned home for a visit.

When Juan was a year old, just after the family’s return to Anaheim, Gloria began working as a supermarket cashier.  She then quit in favour of taking two jobs, working at a fast food chain and at a gas station as the owner’s assistant.  She maintained both jobs for five years, earning about $400 per week, until returning to San Bartolomé, with only one brief hiatus in the interim towards the end of her pregnancy with Daniel, until he was three months old.

After Daniel’s birth the family moved into their own two bedroom apartment. It was the first time that the children were able to have their own bedroom, with Gloria and Benito having their own private quarters.  The family began leading what Gloria terms a middle class lifestyle.  They went out and bought themselves a car. They had three steady incomes and did not have to contribute to the living expenses of the rest of her family, particularly burdensome when her father was either not around to help out or was spending a considerable portion of his income on alcohol.

The couple enjoyed going dancing from time to time.  They would go out with the kids every weekend, going to the movies and then a restaurant for lunch or dinner, walking around and shopping downtown, and even spending a day at Disneyland; Gloria had friends who worked there, and accordingly she would receive free family passes from time to time. There was even disposable income available to buy modern electronics (a laptop and stereo system, for example) and the occasional special toy for Juan.

The Decision to Return to San Bartolomé Quialana, Oaxaca

As much as Calfornia dreamin’ had indeed become a reality, a subtle sense of uneasiness eventually began to weigh upon Gloria’s psyche.  Perhaps it had always been there. It wasn’t as if she had made the decision to migrate to the US and then had her dreams crushed.  In her case aspirations developed as they do with American – born children, in the school playground, watching TV, learning from teachers, classmates and their families, and even participating in a lifestyle characterized by conspicuous consumption, leisure time and recreation, albeit to a limited extent;  yet it was enough to create fantasies, more attainable than through buying lottery tickets.

Gloria’s parents played a major part in stifling the realization of her career potential and thus her ultimate decision to return to San Bartolomé.

Gloria opened her own doors to a future, and her parents firmly shut them.  They both refused to sign for army enrolment.  Her father’s positive immigration status, rather than at least easing the ability for Gloria to become documented and proceed with a professional career, was revoked as a result of his criminality.

While working two jobs was difficult, Gloria’s workplace employment significantly contributed to the ability of the family to live comfortably.  “But there [in California] you have to work, work, work to have that lifestyle,” Gloria confesses, “and here [in San Bartolomé] people don’t have to work as much to get by.”

After much discussion, a greater understanding emerges of why Gloria returned, a thought process through which she had apparently not previously gone.  As much as Gloria professes to having led a middle class lifestyle, by most accounts it would be considered working class, a difficult working class existence relative to life in San Bartolomé.  It bothered Gloria that in California, at least within the context of her employment at the time, “work, work, work” would never lead to home ownership and being able to literally build a future.  In San Bartolomé they can improve their own home, with much less effort, and work towards accumulating some of the material indicia of a middle class lifestyle.  In Anaheim it would always be working to pay the rent and get by, albeit with leisurely Sundays and Disneyland.

That all – pervasive, anti – Mexican racist sentiment which permeates much of the US was felt be Gloria, and subtly worked on her.  Notwithstanding her immediate family’s income, her linguistic skills, and development of her social and employment networks,  while living in sunny CA there would always be a lingering sentiment of feeling out of place, removed from one’s roots and ethnicity. How it would have manifested had Gloria ended up proceeding in one or those two career options, one will never know.

“Benito didn’t want to go back,” Gloria admits.  “When Mexicans like us return home with our American – born children, the children tend to get sick, and as a consequence the family returns to the US,” she explains.  “Benito didn’t want to go through all that expense of coming here and then going back.”

In June, 2010, Gloria decided to return to San Bartolomé with their children. What had been in the recesses of her mind promptly came to the fore; she still cannot identify a precipitating event, comment or thought; the time had come.

Gloria arrived in Oaxaca on September 23, 2010.  Benito plans to follow, in October, 2011. He says he’ll stay for 3 – 4 years. Upon Gloria leaving Anaheim with her children, her parents moved in with Benito.  The entire family subsequently moved into a different two bedroom apartment.

Lifestyle of an American Woman & Her American Children in San Bartolomé Quialana, Oaxaca

Gloria awakens to the sound of Juan’s four chickens and dog Frisky howling away in the courtyard, together with the early morning sounds of the street and her neighbors’ chatter and activities.  She feeds the children.  Their grandmother goes about her business getting her herbs and vegetables ready to take to market in Tlacolula.  Gloria,

accompanied by Daniel, walks Juan to school.

Juan struggles with Spanish.  He grew up learning mainly English, with no Zapoteco.  Daniel, by contrast, somehow managed to master Spanish, and that remains his most comfortable speaking tongue.

Several extended family members live in and around the compound, and village friends and other family are in close proximity, dropping by throughout the day.  Gloria holds court either outside, or when the sun is beating down or it’s raining, in her main indoor living space.  It contains a large dining table and chairs, a couple of smaller tables with clothes piled on top, assorted other chairs, a fridge and stove, and a tall contemporary-styled wooden, glass front china cabinet with drawers at the bottom.  The adjoining bedroom has two beds; one for Gloria and Juan, and the other for Daniel.  Their grandmother sleeps in the same room, but on the floor, as has been her custom throughout her entire life.  Gloria’s brother-in-law bought a bed for his mother, but she wouldn’t use it, because she never has.

When Gloria and the children moved into the house last September, it had a dirt floor.  With the assistance of her extended family, she has slowly been making the modest abode more comfortable.  It now has a concrete floor.  The washroom has been built, but is still an outhouse.  For showering, the family goes next door to Gloria’s brother-in-law’s home.

From Benito’s weekly income of about $500, he wires $100 to Tlacolula for Gloria to cash; he occasionally sends $150.  It’s enough to get by, and helped a great deal with the initial improvements to the house.  To get the money Gloria must go to Tlacolula every week.  Sometimes she goes with the children to the Sunday tianguis to shop; sometimes she goes during the week, if only to pick up her money from the storefront wire service.

Most days Gloria dresses in traditional regional clothing – a brightly embroidered apron over a locally made, long colourful satin dress.  “In 17 years of living in Ahaheim,” Gloria asserts, almost boasting,” I wore a dress only twice; once for my quince años, and again for my wedding.”

Gloria is often pressured by her mother-in-law to wear only traditional dress, but she now puts on “normal” clothes when she feels like it.  But she admits, “I’m now comfortable wearing this kind of clothing, but it took a while.  Now I wear what I want and I won’t yield to pressure from anyone in the village.”

San Bartolomé, not unlike other villages in Mexico, or even in small town USA, is a rumor mill.  When Gloria has had visitors from California, if there happened to be a male amongst them, the looks, innuendo and suspicion would begin.  And even if the group was strictly female, “cavorting” out of the house in the evening was unacceptable.  But Gloria has gotten used to it, and has found her own inner means of coping.

Gloria gets to Oaxaca every 6 – 7 weeks, but no more.  It’s usually to go shopping with the children in a large American-style supermarket (Soriana), and to the movies.  She’s taking the children this Saturday so that Juan can buy a special game from Soriana that his father promised.  Benito is wiring an extra 285 pesos, so earmarked.

Benito speaks with Gloria three or four times a day.  He has a long distance phone plan for which he pays $60 a month.  It enables him to make unlimited calls of unlimited duration to Gloria’s land line.  Gloria and Benito also text one another throughout the day.

Monday Gloria begins working ten hours a week at a Tlacolula commercial mezcal factory and retail outlet.  The owners value her ability to communicate well in Spanish, Zapoteco, and English.  She’s not entirely sure exactly what she’ll be doing, but has been going in from time to time to learn about the functioning of the operation.  She has no idea about the pay.

Epilogue:  Gloria’s Future in San Bartolomé Quialana, Oaxaca

By most accounts, while living in Anaheim Gloria was a working class American woman of indigenous Mexican decent; fluent in English, working two jobs, she and her husband raising two American-born children in a single family household. Their lifestyle was not all that different from that of working class urban whites with a bit of ethnic flare.

The dashing of Gloria’s hopes is not that unusual, either, in terms of parental control of decision-making over minor progeny. Her immigration status (to only a minor extent) and the strong sense of Zapotec indigeneity and the allure it apparently continually held for Gloria, were, together with that subtle American racism, determinative of Gloria’s life path; at least to date.

On balance, Gloria and her family will return to Anaheim some day.  She’s concerned about schooling for her children:

“School here is okay, but in order to attend a good school, you have to go to a private school and that costs a lot.  And to go beyond high school, you have to go to Oaxaca [or further abroad], and it’s very expensive.  And of course American schools and colleges are better.  I want the children to have a good education.  Eventually we’ll return to the states, but it’ll be to better the chances for our children to get a quality education and have good careers.

“To get into the US when I was six, we took buses to the border at Tijuana.  There were five of us, and I think the coyote charged us $400; but it was stressful, and took close to ten tries. But getting back into the US again? No, it’s not an issue; we know we can do it and will do it if we want to; the issues are how long it will take, and of course the cost, but for us, the ability to get back to Anaheim will never be a concern.”

Oaxaca Lending Library & Community Center Boasts Social, Charitable Programs & Spanish Classes

Library, Oxaca, cr-tomzap.com

Library, Oxaca, credit-tomzap.com

The Oaxaca Lending Library (OLL) has been in existence for over 40 years, and is one of the largest English language libraries in all of Mexico. Over the past decade it’s grown into a vibrant community center, in large part due to the dedication of its many volunteers.

The library supports and sponsors various charitable outreach programs, and as such is a valuable resource which benefits the broader Oaxacan population. Donations it receives from American taxpayers are deductible through a U.S. Foundation (Canadians can give it a try, but be prepared for CRA to reject the write-off, since to my knowledge a Canadian foundation has not yet been formed). The OLL also facilitates the learning of English and Spanish for respectively Oaxacans and expatriates (mainly Americans and Canadians), with special emphasis on children and youths.

Charity Work & Outreach of Oaxaca’s English Language Library
The main, ongoing charitable project of the OLL is its support of the Libros Para Pueblos program. The goal of Libros Para Pueblos is to create Spanish language libraries in neighborhoods, villages and towns where none exist, and to stock and replenish the supply of books and related educational tools.  The object is to improve the level of learning of those who would otherwise not have the ability or resources to enhance their literacy.  The program has created over 30 libraries. ¡Kids Go! is a pre-school program which teaches underprivileged children basic socialization and learning skills prior to their entry into public school.  The program currently has about 60 participants.  Youth Adelante addresses learning of Oaxacan teens by assisting them with their Spanish, library and computer skills, through supporting their socialization with visiting foreign students. Linda’s Kitchen teaches mentally and physically handicapped young people to function productively in various types of restaurant work.  After completing the program the graduate youths are assisted by the Kitchen personnel and others associated with the OLL, to find paid employment in Oaxaca’s working world.

Raising Resources Aside from outright donations to fund the foregoing programs, there are other ways that the OLL receives resources.  Both native Oaxacans and expatriates are encouraged to donate excess books, computer equipment which they are no longer using, and items of clothing, furniture and even foodstuffs. [I have my own program independent of the library, wherein I encourage visitors to Oaxaca to fill the empty suitcase they’ll be bringing down (earmarked for craft, clothing and rug purchases) with new or gently used clothing, toys and educational tools. I pick up the bounty from hotels and B & Bs upon receiving a call or email, and then distribute directly to families I know to be in need, or to the administration of rural schools, which often has a better handle on identifying the families of students clearly living on the edge.] With the support of Oaxacan restauranteurs and other benefactors, charity dinners are held on a regular basis.  There’s also an annual rummage and bake sale, the occasional fine art auction which is generously supported through donations of works by Oaxacan artists, and additional ongoing efforts aimed at fundraising. And of course there are periodic book and DVD sales on the premises.  Occasionally it’s necessary to cull the collections, especially after a large, new donation has been made.  There are always books and DVDs for sale, but the best time to find real bargains is when sales first begin.

Social Programs and Language Learning at the Oaxaca Lending Library The Library is a hub of activity for its members and visitors, six days a week.  Expatriate residents, part-timers and snowbirds, those traveling through Oaxaca, and tourists, are all welcome to participate in all social programs.  Activities include: lecture series on a regular basis, a bridge club, gatherings of musicians anxious to jam, monthly garden club meetings including field trips throughout the central valleys and further abroad.  And of course every day there are informal chats over coffee, pastries and bagels, whenever passersby yearn for familiarity of language and culture, or have questions about anything to do with Oaxaca or Latin American travel. A monthly newsletter keeps members and visitors up to date.  At the library premises there’s a bulletin board with postings for personal and professional services, as well as other announcements and news; a binder with accommodations wanted and being offered and homes / land for sale; and other helpful resources. On Saturday mornings, Spanish and English speakers, children and adults alike, gather at the Oaxaca Lending Library to assist one another to better their language skills, on a semi-formal basis.  There are opportunities to arrange for ongoing intercambios, whereby on a fixed schedule hour-long sessions can take place to assist Oaxacans to better their English, and Americans and Canadians to improve their Spanish.  These informal discussions often supplement more formal language training.

Become a Member of the Oaxaca Lending Library The OLL offers modestly priced annual memberships, as well as a short – term program which enables snowbirds and avid readers on a short vacation to Oaxaca, to avail themselves of the library’s vast selection. And by joining, part – timers can become permanent members on the OLL mailing list, enabling them to keep abreast of activities and events pending their next visit to Oaxaca. And for those who winter at the beach resorts on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast, such as Huatulco and Puerto Escondido, it would certainly be worth a call or email to the OLL to inquire about making arrangements to have a rotating selection of books available to read while soaking up the sun.

How To Select Ruins To Visit In Oaxaca, Mexico: Guide To The Popular

Seven pre-Hispanic Zapotec / Mixtec ruins are accessible a short drive from Oaxaca. Learn the main draw of each, and plan touring around a couple of them.

Oaxaca, Mexico, cr-wikipedia

Oaxaca, Mexico, cr-wikipedia

Oaxaca’s central valleys boast innumerable pre-Hispanic ruins which one can visit during a Oaxacan cultural vacation. Seven stand out in terms of their proximity to Oaxaca city, easy of access, degree of excavation, importance within the context of the development of Zapotec / Mixtec civilizations, and providing a cross-section from an aesthetic perspective.

Evaluating ruins pursuant to the foregoing criteria is inevitably subjective. But the exercise can provide a starting point for those interested in seeing ruins while visiting Oaxaca. Consult Marcus Winter’s, Oaxaca The Archaeological Record for a detailed record of Oaxacan pre-history and enumeration of these and other ruins on an individual basis.

Each of these ruins in the central valleys of Oaxaca can be visited in the course of touring other sights, although Monte Albán, the “must see,” is advisable as a short morning trip from Oaxaca, on its own. The other six are accessible while exploring the Tlacolula corridor, when visiting Arrazola, San Bartolo Coyotepec, and Zaachila, and along the Etla route.

Monte Albán – A Must-see Even During a Brief Visit to Oaxaca

Perched atop a mountain only a short bus ride from downtown Oaxaca, while not as majestic Monte Albán does provide a Machu Picchu – esque aura for visitors. The ride from a downtown bus depot provides a sense of anticipation as one ascends the switchbacks.

One arrives at a pre-Hispanic city which was eventually abandoned for reasons still speculative. It’s said that 60 – 70 percent of the site has been reconstructed, but nevertheless it’s impressive for its location and view of present-day Oaxaca below, buildings, carved stone figures (Danzantes, or dancers), tombs, and its historical significance within the context of pre-Hispanic Oaxaca. Consider hiring a federally trained and authorized bilingual guide once at the site.

Mitla – Contrast to Monte Albán; More Impressive in Some Respects

Mitla is located at the end of a highway corridor known as the Tlacolula valley. It is furthest away from Oaxaca, along the same route as the ruins of Yagul, Lambityeco and Dainzu.

Mitla consists of five groupings of buildings. Its most noteworthy points are the precision with which the limestone blocks and mosaics were carved, the (dry-) constructed without mortar, one of the two tombs, a 16th century church which was erected on top of a Zapotec temple using limestone blocks secured by the Spanish through destruction of pre-Hispanic buildings, and the quality of exquisite friezes still adorning two massive lintels.

Yagul, a Zapotec Ruin for Young Children and Adults Alike

Yagul predates Mitla, and is much more rustic in its construction. However, it boasts the second largest ball court in Mesoamerica, a tomb with two extremely well-preserved carved stone figures near the entranceway, a large carved image of a frog, and a series of rooms frequently termed a labyrinth.

Hiking up to a fortress, one passes what archaeologists have termed a “bathtub” carved into the rock. When this writer’s daughter was very young, Yagul proved to be the most exciting ruin of all for her. She was able to hike and climb, play in the bathtub, and get lost for a minute or so in the labyrinth. (Activities in Oaxaca for children are abundant.) The view from the precipice of the fortress is spectacular; but stop at the lookout half way up, from which one can take exquisite photos of the ruin proper, below. Yagul is one of several child-friendly sights in Oaxaca.

Lambityeco: Salt Production, Art

Lambityeco was an important salt producing site in pre-Hispanic times, but since its 1960s excavation its main attractions are the two excavated mounds, one of which contains stucco friezes, and the other two large masks of the Zapotec rain god, Cocijo.

Dainzu: Stone Monuments Illustrate Olmec Influence

.The main building at Dainzu is a platform, the walls of which are decorated with carvings resembling Monte Albán’s Danzantes. There are several viewable large stone images. It’s been written that the carvings suggest that they may be the earliest representations of the ball game, in all Mexico. Like Lambityeco, the site is not often visited, so one can usually walk about without other tourists present, and examine the tombs, ball court and other structures.

Zaachila: Visit While at the Thursday Market

The Zaachila ruin is virtually in the middle of the town of Zaachila, known for its Thursday market. Zaachila is close to San Bartolo Coyotepec (black pottery), and at the end of a highway from which Arrazola (alebrijes) and Cuilapam are accessed.

The site contains several mounds and platforms, as well as two tombs. The gatekeeper is usually pleased to pull out a binder with photos of the artifacts which were removed from the tombs and taken to Mexico City. A dispute between archaeologists and villagers resulted in excavation being suspended, and therefore there is relatively little to see.

San José Mogote: Quaint Old Site near Etla, with Community Museum

. venturing along the Etla route should consider a stop at San José Mogote. Excavation concluded in the early 2000s. The feeling on top of the small hill is serene, and view is 360 degrees. It’s one of the oldest sites. Track down the keeper of the key to the community museum, housed in an old hacienda. His name and directions to his house are usually posted. The museum features a history of the hacienda era, and many exquisite early pre-Hispanic figures, the two most impressive being a large jade figure and an impressive red cinnabar painted man’s head.

Dress for Weather in Oaxaca, Mexico- Clothes to Bring

Dress for Weather-cr-zimbio.com

Dress for Weather-Credit-zimbio.com

Clothing for Oaxaca’s State Capital: Cold, Hot and Rainy Seasons

Packing clothing for a visit to Oaxaca can be difficult because of inconsistent annual weather patterns. However, there are seasonal variations upon which one can rely.

The weather in the City of Oaxaca is not as consistent throughout the year as many first-time tourists to the region might believe. There are dramatic seasonal variations in both temperature and rainfall, suggesting that the attire one packs should be geared to the month of travel, of course taking into consideration Oaxaca’s cultural norms regarding attire.

While there is no simple answer to the clothing conundrum, and less so given that weather patterns vary significantly from one year to the next, one can in fact make one’s suitcase packing decisions based on three broad seasonal variations: late February through May (temperature increase), June through September (the rainy season) and October through January (a tendency towards cool nights).

Clothing for Oaxaca from Late February through May

Oaxaca’s hot, dry season begins towards the end of February; the rains have usually ceased some three or four months earlier, and the cool nights have begun to moderate. April and May tend to be the hottest and driest months of the year, not without the odd thundershower approaching the end of the dry season. Clothes for a Oaxacan vacation at this time of year, in particular April and May should include light weight cotton and linen. One should definitely avoid traveling with a suitcase full of clothing made of synthetic material. Footwear may include leather sandals.

Oaxacan Attire for June through September

While the rainy season often begins with infrequent showers in April or May, by June one is often faced with regular rains and thundershowers, reaching maximum frequency and duration by September, concluding in October. September can be very rainy, and often grey.

One hopes that the oft-encountered pattern of late afternoon commencement of showers, dissipating throughout the night, will hold true while vacationing in Oaxaca towards the end of summer and into autumn. But some years there are two or three weeks in a row with all-day showers, so there are no guarantees.

Bring a light plastic raincoat or poncho, or simply an umbrella. Once again, clothing with natural fibers is the optimum packing decision. Those who have water resistant footwear should include it.

Clothing to Bring to Oaxaca for an October through January Vacation

During October there are usually dramatic changes in the weather, from rainy and warm in September, leading into a drier and cooler October. However during Day of The Dead (Dia de los Muertos) at the end of October, some years there are showers at night. Evenings can also be cool at this time of year. Daytime temperatures are almost always moderate, in the 70s, but the evenings from mid-December through mid-January are often quite cold, especially outside of downtown Oaxaca. If Oaxacans are going to use space heaters and fireplaces, it will be during December and January, in the evenings.

During the daytime, short sleeves are advisable, but one is cautioned that the mornings, and of course night-time, can be quite cool. Accordingly, for those vacationing in Oaxaca at this time of year, it’s strongly recommended that a sweater or jacket be packed in the suitcase.

The Alternative to Careful Packing for a Vacation in Oaxaca

Those who are concerned about covering all the bases when getting ready for a trip to Oaxaca, or prefer to use that second suitcase to bring used clothing for needy Oaxacans, should consider:

  • Rain-wear is readily available in Oaxaca, and as soon as a shower begins, the vendors are out on the streets with inexpensive raincoats and ponchos.
  • Oaxaca does boast both cotton and wool textile industries, so if one is so inclined, one can wait and make clothing purchases in the city or central valley craft villages, on an as needed basis.
  • But remember, as in other parts of the world, in Oaxaca the climate has changed dramatically over the past decade, and it continues to vary at times significantly from year to year. Accordingly, the wisest of clothes packing decisions can just fly out the window.