Monday, July 20, 2020

Covid19 Update

Covid Case Map as of July 17, 2020 /Mexico News Daily
The Covid-19 epidemic has been difficult to get under control throughout Mexico, although some areas are more hard-hit than others.    Tourist areas such as Quintana Roo's Rivera Maya say they are safe for tourism, with special readiness certification available to businesses. However this area, among others, has just been returned to the highest level of Covid alert (red).

In some locales where tourism is again permitted, authorities are enforcing compliance with safety guidelines. Recently, in San Miguel d'Allende two tourists were arrested and fined for not wearing masks.

There are online resources available to people seriously interested in Mexican travel.
Mexico News Daily is an online daily newspaper that is available for a very low subscription fee and offers detailed information about the covid situation in Mexico.

Another good source is the English language Yucatan Times, which seems to offer a fair perspective on the Covid situation as reflected in the following article-  But, any one periodical does not have the entire story and in contrast to this, is another article about a creative solution to in-person worship.

 Mexico is a wonderful country, but right now travel there is uncertain and definitely at your own risk. The situation there is fluid.  For instance, in the state of Oaxaca, the governor has just asked citizens to undertake a ten day voluntary confinement. In Juchitán in the south of the Oaxaca, there has been a mandatory five day shut-down of businesses which may be extended .   Using online resources to assess the situation on the ground is a good way of watching and waiting until the situation seems improved. It's a good idea to check the US Embassy's website for travel restrictions before booking a flight.


Monday, June 1, 2020

Is It Safe to Go to Mexico? Covid19

Covid-19 Map of Mexico as of 5/27/20

There is so much to see and experience in Mexico, but right now this wonderful country is off-limits for tourism.  Quintana Roo's beautiful Caribbean beaches are empty, markets are shut down, indigenous villages have blocked themselves off from the outside world for self-preservation and many, many other changes.

Akumal, Quintana Roo, MX

Othón P. Blanco, Quintana Roo MX
Crafts from Coba, Quintana Roo

Health-care in Mexico is much more limited than in the US and Western Europe.
In places like Mexico City there are first-rate doctors and medical facilities, but these are limited in number and many hospitals are over-crowded and not able to care for the volume of covid-19 cases they have been seeing. 

The situation is worst in rural areas, where the nearest health-care facility may be many miles away.  Some small communities have taken this situation in hand and, literally, sealed themselves off from the outer world.  This article tells of many small Maya communities in the Mexican states of Campeche have managed the pandemic.

Throughout Mexico, many small communities have sealed themselves off with roadblocks.

Urban centers such as Mexico City have very high rates of the infection and even though first-rate hospitals do exist there, there is not enough quality treatment to go around. 

There are some plans to re-open, at least part of the country.  Here is a brief overview-
There will be a phased re-opening as in the US, with resorts/beach areas among the first to open.  June 8-10 is a target date for the state of Quintana Roo, home to Mexico's Caribbean beaches.  However, this is just a target and it could change with conditions.  The June 8 date is just the beginning of the process of reopening. But on June 8, it will not be business as usual.

When you read Mexico's re-opening plan it is a very cautious one.  Moving from one phase to another will take time.

When you get there, do not expect the free-wheeling Mexico you once knew.  This article lays out opening steps in San Miguel de Allende, a wonderful art-filled colonial city and popular spot for tourists.  San Miguel has done well in the pandemic with low cases and deaths and hopes to keep it that way.  Their timetable for fully opening to tourism show that it will take a while.

The US is not permitting travel for tourism until June 22, so even if some beaches might technically be "open", they are not open for US citizens. This article from Forbes has a clear analysis of the situation-

Even when the country is more fully open, it is best not to rush into a Mexican vacation unless you are the type who can roll with the punches and are not on a strict time table.  The situation is fluid and it's hard to say when there might be a quarantine or something like that imposed.  During the pandemic flights from Mexico to the US have been subject to change and cancellation and you don't want to be delayed if you have important business to return to in the US.  If you have your heart set on visiting Mexico, keep doing your research and you will find guidelines that will make your vacation a great one. 

This blog will publish major milestones in Mexico's re-opening. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Epidemics in Colonial Mexico

Portrayal of Epidemic Colonial Mexico

Although feels like it, Covid19 is not the first pandemic the world has ever known. Everyone has heard of the Black Death and Spanish Flu of 1917-8, but there were also major epidemics in the New World, far before any of us were born.

Epidemics and Population Collapse in Colonial Mexico

When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1619, its population is estimated to have been between 15-30 million.  One hundred years later, in 1620, it was less than two million.  The indigenous population had the Spanish to thank for this huge reduction in population.  The Spanish had superior firepower, but it was the smallpox that they had brought with them that facilitated their conquest of the native peoples.  It is estimated that 5-8 million people died in the smallpox epidemic.

Depiction of Smallpox Epidemic in Colonial Mexico

Smallpox was what is know as a Virgin Soil epidemic, referring to an imported pathogen to which a population has no natural immunity.  The indigenous people were devastated by smallpox, a disease to which the Spanish largely had immunity.  

Depiction of Cocoliztli Epidemic

Smallpox was not the only disease decimating the indigenous population in the early 
years.  A completely new disease appeared seemingly from nowhere mid-16th century. From 1545-76, there were a series of epidemics of a hemorrhagic fever that took 7-17 million lives. This disease was characterized by a high fever, headache and bleeding from the nose. Victims turned yellow from jaundice, and blood ran from their ears and noses. They had hallucinations and agonizing convulsions. They died in days. Aztecs called it the cocoliztli, meaning pestilence in the local Nahuatl language.

Colonial writers mention rodents and rodent-borne disease in relation to this epidemic.  But, a recent DNA study of victims' teeth suggest that a bacteria, salmonella enterica, (not the everyday kind of salmonella that causes food poisoning) may possibly have been the culprit.  

There is no certainty about where this pathogen originated. Some scientists judge it must have sprung up on its own in Mexico because the epidemics began in the highlands, away from the coastal areas with the greatest Spanish presence.  Others suggest that this bacteria was brought by the settlers or their livestock.  It is not possible, as with Smallpox, to absolutely implicate the Spanish in cocoliztli, although the possibility cannot be ruled-out. 

The most devastating years of the Cocoliztli epidemic were 1567-8 when more than two million people died.  The Spanish viceroy was forced to write off taxes and duties which were not possible to collect.  I rather doubt that this type of thing will be a part of the covid19 pandemic.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Video of a Very Mexican Holy Saturday Vigil: Merida, Yucatan

Cristo Resucitado (Resurrected Christ),  Merida MX
Cristo Resucitado (Resurrected Christ), Merida MX
The biblical narrative does not have much to say about what went on inside of Jesus' tomb; by the next morning he simply reappears in his resurrected state,.  In Latin America, much is made over the transition of Jesus from death to resurrected life and there is often a service late Holy Saturday night that celebrates this event.  Here is a link to a video of one such service.  It was shot in Merida MX and what happens in the vigil service will surprise you as much as it did me.

Video of Holy Saturday Procession: San Felipe de Jesus, Antigua, Guatemala

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The Semana Santa processions of Antigua, Guatemala are world-famous and rival those of Seville.  In the progression of Holy Week, by Saturday Jesus has been crucified and his mother and disciples are grieving their loss.  In this Holy Saturday procession, shot on location in Antigua, the focus is on the Virgen de Dolores (Virgin of Sorrows), the grieving Mary, who is clad in the colors of mourning.  Here is a link to the video.

Virtual Semana Santa 2020

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In this time of the Covid19 pandemic, many, if not most,  Latin American Catholic archdioceses have cancelled the traditional processions and activities.  A glance at the internet reveals a multitude of virtual offerings, showing the capacity of spiritual institutions to adapt to the necessities of the times. 

The Church in Merida, Yucatan MX has assembled a phenomenal website with offerings from the cofradias (religious organizations) that normally have processions during Semana Santa. It is comprehensive and, although it is in Spanish, will give you a sense of this unique week.

I came across another comprehensive website offering virtual tours of the churches of Peru.
It's worth a look.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Good Friday in Latin America: Santo Entierro

Santo Entierro, Leon Nicaragua
Santo Entierro, Mani, Yucatan MX

Santo Entierro borne in procession, Barrio Sutiava, Leon Nicaragua

In Spain and the Latin American world, Good Friday is a different story.  Celebrations in the US and the larger part of Western Europe follow the biblical narrative where Jesus for the time being disappears after his crucifixion and death.  In Latin America, this is far from the case. After his death, a statue of Jesus is put into a glass coffin, (as shown in above images), left there for believers to mourn, and later carried around town in a solemn procession. This image of Jesus in a coffin has a name, Cristo Entierro or Señor Sepultado.  

To many believers, this death and entombment of Jesus is a reality, not just an enactment.   In some churches, where the service includes an actual crucifixion (with the statue being put on a cross), people will afterwards get up and take pictures of Jesus being moved into the coffin.  The line between person and image is blurred.

On Good Friday evening, there is often a procession with floats bearing images of the grieving Mary and the coffin of Jesus.  People in the crowd will weep. Below is an excerpt from a Good Friday procession in Leon, Nicaragua.


The Jesus of Holy Week is much more complexly imagined in Latin America (and Spain).   There are several different images of Jesus that figure in Holy Week observances. Here is a link to a post describing these:

Below is an excerpt from a Good Friday mid-day procession in Leon, Nicaragua, showing the image of Jesus on the way to his crucifixion.