Guelaguetza! Checking in on Oaxaca’s big party…

Guelaguetza, Oaxaca, Dave Millers Mexico

The Guelaguetza, held every July in Oaxaca, is one of the largest cultural exhibitions in Mexico each year.

What if you gave a party and no one showed up? What if those that did show up found the place where the party was being held was nothing like what they imagined? That’s exactly what i fear is going to happen with this years Guelaguetza, the pride and joy festival of Oaxaca.

As a result of the recent teachers unrest in this Southern Mexico state, hotel rooms across the city, normally near full occupancy rates this time of year, are sitting empty. Operators have told me that if they are above 50%, they are lucky. One multi-hotel owner shared that they were closing up one unit completely for the time being as they did not have a single reservation.

As you walk around town and talk to business owners, the lifeblood of the Oaxacan tourism economy, you hear variations on the same theme. Restaurant owners operating on smaller staffs and cutting back hours. Tour operators are unable to find clients and even the normally bustling culinary scene where you can cook alongside some of the best chefs in Mexico is seeing cancelations.

City pic J

You can see the difference one year makes. On the left, Calle Alcala in summer 2015. On the right, the same street, from almost the same location, just a week ago.

A simple stroll around the historic city center tells the story. There is no buzz around the bars, the streets have an eerie emptiness to them, many walls are covered in graffiti and the zocalo is essentially a campground, housing hundreds of angry teachers. The once magical nighttime scene of strolling musicians, twinkling lights and full street side cafes is a thing of the past.

And yet Oaxaca prepares. All reports are that the delegations from around the state are finalizing preparations for the fiesta. Posters and advertising are everywhere. Parque Llano is ready for the Annual Mezcal Festival and the Artisan and Crafts Fair.

Many people have told me that the teachers will not dare disrupt the Guelaguetza for fear of losing what little respect they still have in the city. It took years for Oaxaca to recover from the 2006 unrest. A late cancellation or disruption of the Saturday parades would deal, I fear, a mortal blow to the reputation of this UN World Heritage site.

And so the city prepares, hopes and nervously holds their breath. Because that’s all they can do.

The question now is whether anyone is going to show up and join us for the big party.

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