Every year, the Guadalupe Valley hosts the Vendimia (wine harvest) Festival lasting 17 days. The festival, which is expected to draw in over 50,000 people, has a wide variety of attractions including wine-inspired street fairs and concerts, culinary parties, and vineyard tours. …
The Guadalupe Valley produces 90% of the wine in Mexico, and the vintners range from producing 200 bottles of wine a year to over one million bottles of wine. Guadalupe Valley is home to over 20 official wineries. This past year, Camillo Magoni brought recognition and positive acknowledgement to the blossoming area after being selected as the top wine maker in the world.
The Guadalupe Valley boasts many new hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast inns making it an attractive destination for any international tourist! The area is filled with attractions ranging from museums to nature spots including hot springs and waterfalls. The Guadalupe Valley, a mecca for cuisine, offers restaurants serving anywhere from traditional Mexican food to French food.
The first time I landed in Mexico City, I really didn’t know what to expect. I accepted a position to work in one of the biggest cities in the world and was excited for my future. However, when friends and family learned about my assignment, everyone warned, “It’s not safe… there.”
Certainly a city of twenty million is not without problems or issues, but also think about what twenty million people can create. And in one of the oldest continuously populated places in all of the Americas people have created something beautiful. Yes, very beautiful. But what about the danger? Trust me, the real danger of Mexico City is falling in love with the city. And I did. So if you enjoy city travel, definitely put Mexico City on your list of destinations. And since it is so big, with so much to do, let me start you off with five places to visit on your first or next trip.
Mexico City one of the world’s largest cities also has one of the world’s largest squares. Built on the site of the original Aztec Empire capital, the Spanish Conquistadors built the main plaza. It’s a huge square enclosed by colonial buildings with a ring of a multiple lane road around the plaza. But one visitors cross to the pedestrian only center you stand in the heart of the city and the country.
Inside you will always stumble on something unique or interesting. Whether it is a planned festival, a Mayan cleansing ceremony or a chance to view the moon through a telescope at night for a few pesos, the Zocalo is Mexico.
In the Zocalo you will find a Cathedral, Templo Mayor archaeological site (Aztecs), and the National Palace. On a walk through the palace you can view many of the historical and majestic murals by the famous artist Diego Rivera. Impressive work.
An Afternoon in Coyoacan
Mexico City is made up of multiple neighborhoods that come together to create one massive city. Traffic remains a huge issue both in the residential and commercial areas but one oasis in the city is the neighborhood or “barrio” Coyoacan. It is the perfect place to spend a Saturday afternoon.
On the weekends an artisan market fills the center square and the surrounding cafes fill with visitors stopping for a coffee or a meal to catch up with family and friends. The cobblestone paths create a vibe of a simpler time and a stroll can be romantic. I visited my first weekend in the city and return often.
A night in Condesa
An emerging middle class is one of the best feel good stories about Mexico City. Professionals that work and live in the city often head to the trendy neighborhoods for a night out. Sure Mexico City has clubs, but in neighborhoods such as Condesa or Roma people come to enjoy the culture, cuisine and cervezas (or Tequila) in the city’s many cafes, restaurants, and bars. Walking these streets is where I learned so much about today’s Mexico.
After a night out, or even for dinner visitors can find many spots to stop for real tacos. For me there was no better spot for a few tacos el pastor then the taqueria El Califa in Condesa. I never visited Mexico City without enjoying a meal there and never will.
Teotihuacan – Mexico’s Pyramids Before the Aztecs ruled the region, a prosperous civilization flourished just outside what is present day Mexico City. The famous Pyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacan make for a perfect day trip out of the city.
One of the true highlights of a visit is the chance to climb to the top of both Pyramids. Although the climb is longer and more challenging to reach the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, it is the Pyramid of the Moon that provides the best views of the entire archaeological site. The origin and civilization who called this home is often debated, but what isn’t debated is how impressive the ruins are to visit.
The National Museums
A museum in Mexico? Yes, the Museum of Anthropology, (museo Nacional de Antropolgia) is arguably the best collection of pre-Columbian artifacts in the entire world. So if the visit to Teotihuacan wasn’t enough, stop here and you will leave impressed, as the collection will even overload a scholar.
The museum would be my top choice and recommendation, but visits to the National History Museum in Chapultepec Castle (stunning views), The Museum of Modern Art, or the Frida Kahlo Museum are also perfect for a rainy day.
As I mentioned other museums, there are also other must see and do places and activities. in Mexico City. The mariachi in Garibaldi, the canals of Xochimilco, Sunday in Chapultepec Park, a Bike ride on the Paseo la Reforma and a climb of the Angel of Independence are a few. And yes, lists can continue, but the important thing is to learn Mexico City will surprise you and these five places will start to give you a flavor and taste of the city I love. Trust me you will want another.
But if you are still wondering how to respond about safety, let me quote my favorite words by Aldous Huxley, “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” And when you want to give Mexico City a chance you will agree.
“Think outside the box” is usually no more than the last phrase you hear your boss say before you nod off in a meeting. But in the heart of Mexico’s Bajío region, someone actually thought outside the box, and the result is an innovative, collaborative and successful… business venture.
Rancho La Colorada is a humble farming village just outside the small city of Dolores Hidalgo in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. Long sustained on subsistence agriculture, the hamlet was hard hit by drought through the early 2000s, and as in many areas of northern Mexico, most of the able-bodied men departed in search of work in other parts of the country or north of the border. But in 2005, representatives of a U.S.-based non-profit called St. Anthony’s Alliance visited La Colorada and came up with the idea of sowing lavender at the location as a complement to the traditional crops of corn, beans and peppers, which brought in little income. Lavender was chosen for its hardy resistance to pests, drought and grazing animals, and for its numerous uses in ornamental, cosmetic and medicinal products. A core group of farmers agreed to participate in the program, and with assistance from St. Anthony’s Alliance and other support, one of the community members was sent to the United States to study lavender production.
The Lavender Project, as it is called, really began to gather steam once Aucencio Domenzain, the farmer who studied lavender production, returned to La Colorada full of enthusiasm and newly acquired knowledge. Mr. Domenzain prepared a manual in Spanish for training his co-workers, St. Anthony’s Alliance helped the group to purchase irrigation equipment and lavender cuttings, and the North Guanajuato Technological University (UTNG) Business Incubator program provided assistance in preparing a business plan and forming a company. By late 2007, they had launched the new venture, called Azul Lavanda, and harvested their first crop of lavender flowers.
Since the Lavender Project set their first plants in the ground, the area under lavender cultivation has expanded to nearly 10 acres. Azul Lavanda is producing lavender-based products including soaps, sachet bags, essential oil, neck pillows and decorative crafts, which are currently being sold in the nearby tourist city of San Miguel de Allende, as well as in states such as Nayarit, Morelos, Queretaro and Quintana Roo. The Lavender Project provides employment to eight community members in agricultural operations, seven local women in the sewing of the sachet bags and five women in the manufacture of the soaps, in addition to three administrative staff and a driver.
Mr. Domenzain, who serves as President of Azul Lavanda, estimates that 21 local families have benefited directly from the jobs created by the project. But the impact of the Lavender Project on Rancho La Colorada is not limited to the number of jobs created. The project and support from St. Anthony’s Alliance has also given rise to a Community Center that has become the auspice for programs to improve education, health, nutrition and transportation in the community. Mr. Domenzain reports that 26 local children are now receiving scholarships to support their schooling.
The Lavender Project has accomplished much in the short time since the idea was first hatched. But the program’s leaders and participants are keen to build on what they have learned and accomplished so far to expand the project’s impact. Mr. Domenzain and his staff are currently testing the distillation of essential oil from Rosemary with an eye toward adding this product to the Azul Lavanda line. The success of the lavender scented soaps has also led them to consider expanding the soap line with the scents of additional locally sourced products such as lime, mint, chocolate and cinnamon.
The highly positive market response to Azul Lavanda’s initial product line is already raising the bar for quality control and product development. This has led Mr. Domenzain to enlist the help of a strategic ally: Dr. Analore Chauvin of the National Genomics Laboratory for Biodiversity (Langebio) in Irapuato, Guanajuato. Dr. Chauvin, an organic and analytical chemist specialized in plant metabolomics, designed a project to analyze the lavender oils being produced at Rancho La Colorada to identify their bioactive compositions. These characteristics are used to determine the quality level of the oils and their suitability for commercial uses such as aromas, cosmetics, high end perfumery or alternative medicine. The laboratory research so far has shown that while Azul Lavanda’s lavender oil currently lacks the qualities necessary for lucrative perfumery, it does have the traits that make it valuable for medicinal and commercial anti-bacterial applications. Once the research is published, it may be the key to new product areas that will keep the Lavender Project going strong into the future.
Just for a moment, forget your image of Mexico. Close your eyes and imagine past the shimmering shores, the deep blue waters and white sand beaches. Look deeper. Start to envision culture and people, and soon you’ll discover a land of contrasts, a land of diversity. Mexico has countless… unique attractions and over the years I have experienced a good number of them,(though it would take many more years to experience them all!) The following are a sample some of my favorite one-of-a-kind cities, towns, attractions, natural wonders and celebrations.
Dating back 3,000 years, the evolvement of Mexico City is one of the world’s crowning human achievements. Steeped in impressive history and layers upon layers of culture, Mexico City is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Western Hemisphere. And, at 7,349 feet, it is also the highest city on the North American continent. Mexico City has been a flourishing cosmopolitan center for nine centuries since its founding as the ancient capital of the Aztec Empire. This city is brimming over with activities for the entire family.
The beautiful historic city center is made up of a 30-block area housing the Zócalo (the second largest Town Square in the world surpassed only by Red Square in Moscow). Its wondrous Metropolitan Cathedral took more than 250 years to complete and is the largest church in Latin America.
The Zócalo was once the location of the astonishing Aztec city of Tenochtitlán and the ruins of the Templo Mayor (Great Temple) still remain preserved here. The site captures the genesis of this ancient Aztec masterpiece and allows visitors to walk the remains of the main ceremonial pyramid. The historic grandeur of the archeology can be found in the Templo Mayor Museum where life-size warriors, dramatically displayed artifacts and large-scale city models bring the culture to life.
Once a hunting ground for the Aztecs, Chapultepec Park has been in existence for more than 500 years. Located in the middle of the city, its 2,100 green, wooded acres are filled with marble statues, playgrounds, and manmade lakes, jogging paths, botanical gardens, an amusement park, a zoo and the grand Chapultepec Castle. Mexico was briefly a monarchy and the castle, 200 feet above the park on a hill, was the former home of Emperor Maximillian who converted it into his palace. It now houses the National Museum of History.
Located five miles west of Puebla, the town of Cholula is known as the “city of churches.” It has been a thriving religious center for two thousand years and is said to have 365 churches, one for every day of the year. Cholula is also home to the world’s largest pyramid. Built during the first 800 years A.D., it reaches 200 feet high and covers 46 acres. Atop this massive structure is the Santuario de los Remedios church built in 1666.
Taxco – Mexico’s Silver City
Vibrant colors, Old World style, ornate architecture, cobblestone streets and distinctly locked in time… this is the mystique of Taxco. An hour from Cuernavaca, this is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque towns in all of Mexico. In the early 1500’s, José de la Borda (a Frenchman living in Spain) heard of rich mineral deposits in the New World and rushed to Mexico to try his luck. He struck it rich in Taxco. Since then the city has been deemed the “Silver City” and is known worldwide for its pure silver jewelry and handicrafts. Borda developed the city and is credited for the construction of the city’s masterpiece – the Santa Prisca church. He imported artisans from France and Spain who created powerful and elaborate examples of 18th century baroque architecture. The interior is astounding with twelve intricately carved and gilded altars arranged according to size and religious content. It will rival most any cathedral in the world.
There are plenty of cozy eateries surrounding the town the square for a relaxing lunch. Not only will it be the best shopping day of your life (over 150 silver shops), but it will also leave you with a lasting sense of Mexican history and charm.
Tepoztlán and Tlayacapan – The Magic of Ancient Civilizations
A short 30 minutes from Cuernavaca is the mystical town of Tepoztlán. The legendary birthplace of Quetzalcóatl (“plumed serpent” of ancient Aztec and Toltec folklore), the area is considered a prominent “energy center.” It very well may be the Sedona of Mexico! The towering vertical cliffs of Tepozteco Mountain frame this inviting Mexican village. Ruins from a 15th century temple can reached after a rather strenuous hike 3,000 feet to the top, but the breathtaking view is well worth the effort. Do some shopping in the marketplace and stop for lunch at Casa Piñón, the food is fantastic, the view wonderful and they usually have live jazz music in the afternoons. (Av. Revolución, No. 42. – your driver should know the way.)
Just up the road (maybe 25 more minutes), you’ll find the enchanting village of Tlayacapan. Lined with colorful shops and filled with local handicrafts, you can spend hours exploring and enjoying the kindness and warm smiles of the local people. In the 15th century, Tlayacapan was a passage way between the capital of the Aztec empire and southern Mexico. When the Spanish arrived, they built the San Juan Bautista convent that is still the pride of the community. Incredibly well preserved, with a majestic façade and amazing frescos on the walls, this may very well be one of the more intriguing convents in central Mexico. The marvelous chapel is still in use and the museum inside the convent is fascinating.
The Cervantes Festival
For those who love the performing arts, a trip to the breathtakingly beautiful city of Guanajuato in the fall (October 3-21, 2012) is a must. The almost month-long International Cervantino Festival is named in honor of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote. During this unusual cultural congregation the entire city becomes a stage and features opera singers, soloists, ensembles, strolling minstrels (estudiantinas), jazz musicians, modern and folk dance troupes, as well as traditional and experimental theater from around the world. (www.festivalcervantino.gob.mx)
Dia de Los Muertos
Also known as Day of the Dead or All Saints Day, Dia de los Muertos is one of Mexico’s truly captivating celebrations. Held November 1st and 2nd in cities throughout the country (with the some notable celebrations taking place in and around Oaxaca City and Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán), this event is an Indian-Christian tribute to death. The holiday is to honor the memory of the dead by lighting candles in cemeteries, decorating altars and tombstones, and by offering candy (usually shaped in the form of skulls or skeleton) and elaborate food dishes to those who have passed on.
Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries of Michoacán
Every year (November through March, with the best month being February) millions of black and orange monarch butterflies find their way to Mexico. The monarchs’ annual journey, encompassing more than 2,500 miles, takes the butterflies from Canada and the northeast United States to their winter home in Michoacán, where, in some areas, they can number four million per acre of land. With their four-inch wingspans, the monarchs cloak fir trunks and hang on boughs in clusters of tens of thousands. Up to 250 million monarchs winter in the region pulsating in the trees and creating one of nature’s brilliant displays. A Mexican legend says that the souls of the dead are reborn as monarch butterflies. Organized tours are available from the capital city of Morelia.
Cenotes – The Yucatán’s Underground Magic
Cenotes are difficult to explain, but amazing to see. A cenote (say-no-tay) is like a giant freshwater well and the Yucatán peninsula is covered with them. The peninsula itself is actually a limestone shelf honeycombed with underground rivers, caverns, and sinkholes that create cenotes. Most hotels in the area can make arrangements to get you to these phenomenal natural wonders. To go into them and swim in their crystal clear mineral waters is one of Mexico’s memorable experiences.
Whales of the Baja
Each year, Mexico’s locals and vacationers alike anxiously await another one of nature’s magical occurrences: the arrival of thousands of Pacific gray whales migrating from the Bering Sea to the Baja Peninsula.
During the winter, these ocean giants make their way southward to Baja California, where, just off the peninsula’s southern tip, one of the longest whale migrations known to man transforms the shoreline into a breathtaking whale-gazing stage, leaving even seasoned vacationers exhilarated.
The most common sites are three locations along the Pacific coast of Baja California: Bahia Magdalena, Scammon's Lagoon (Ojo de Liebre) and Laguna San Ignacio. The peak time for whale watching in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula is January through late March or early April.
The gentle giants, which can grow up to 45 feet and weigh more than 30 tons, are known to swim up to the pangas (wooden dinghies) -- within touching distance -- for a friendly, once-in-a-lifetime encounter. Led by the pregnant females, the magnificent marine mammals travel an estimated 13,000 miles roundtrip from the cold waters of the Arctic seas to earth’s largest gray whale “delivery roomThe whales arrive in Baja’s protected warm lagoons and nutrient-rich waters to give birth and nurse their offspring.
The Magnificent Sea of Cortez
The Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California) is one of the world’s unique ocean environments, and is considered by some to be the most biologically rich body of water on earth. More than 850 species of marine life (including up to a third of the world’s cetacean species, i.e., whales, dolphin, porpoise) are found in these waters. Colonies of sea lions, pods of Humpback, Blue, Sperm, Fin and seasonal migrating Gray whales are a very common sight. The Sea of Cortez has been called an upside-down rainforest because of its vast and varied profusion of life beneath the surface. There are nearly 100 untouched desert islands populating the crystal blue waters off the east coast of the Baja Peninsula, many of which are federally protected. In late December through early March, this is one of the premiere whale watching destinations in the world. Not to mention it’s the only home to the elusive and endangered blue-footed booby birds. (Cruise West offers great trips on the Sea of Cortez in the fall and winter.)
Riding the Rails – A Look at the Copper Canyon
The Mexicans joke that the Copper Canyon in the state of Chihuahua is what the Grand Canyon wants to be when it grows up. One of the country's many extraordinary natural wonders, this is actually a series of interconnecting canyons —some far deeper than its famous counterpart in Arizona. Mexico’s tallest waterfall (984 feet) can also be found here. It’s best to visit after the rainy season in late summer or early fall when the entire area is lush and green. (Trips can be chilly in winter.) A number of the canyons are only accessible by a train and this one is said to be one of the “world’s most scenic railroads.” The luxury ride through 400 miles of breathtaking scenery is spectacular.
Sea Turtles – Mexico’s Quiet Giants
Seven of the world’s eight sea turtle species nest on Mexican beaches and have for the last 150 million years. The best nesting beaches are found up and down the Pacific coast and Mexico has taken a tremendous stand to keep these giants from extinction. From June to December, tens of thousands sea turtles are born. Escobilla, a beach near Puerto Escondido on the Oaxacan coast (home to the La Escobilla Turtle Camp), receives as many as 20,000 female sea turtles in a single evening! Most hotels in the nesting areas now offer “turtle programs” where the baby turtles are raised and released and travelers are educated about their plight.
Rafting the Rivers
The state of Veracruz has four main rafting rivers – Filo-Bobos, Antigua, Pescados and Actopan. Rivers are rated from class one to class six (depending on difficulty) and all categories can be found here. There are plenty of rapids for beginners and this is a sensational way to mix sightseeing with adventure. There are numerous ecotourism companies that specialize in kayaking and river rafting tours in Veracruz.
Whether its ecotourism, culture, nature or celebration, Mexico is indeed unique.
It is no secret that I love visiting the small, traditional towns throughout Mexico and that I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to tell about it. When first starting my quest to visit all the Pueblos Magicos (Magic Towns) of Mexico, only 35 of them existed. Five years later, the program has… exceeded to over 50! This month, the magazine México Desconocido, published their 54 Pueblos Magicos 2012 Edition – the bible that highlights the “magical” experiences these towns have to offer. With inspiration in my hand and only 11 marked off the list, my next venture became Valle de Bravo.
Located in the State of Mexico, Valle de Bravo is approximately 100 miles from Mexico City. Opting to forgo the scenic route, my travel companion and I paved through the highway tolls and made it to Valle de Bravo in just over an hour. As we arrived through the ‘Welcome’ arches, a full rainbow and peeking sun surprisingly greeted us soon after an abrupt rainfall. Feeling like we just entered a live fairy-tale, the ‘magic’ of this place was indeed present and slowly revealing.Valle de Bravo or simply “Valle” situates on a small plateau on the edge of Lake Avandaro. The lake, also known as Presa Valle de Bravo, is the man-made product of accidental flooding. Perfect for boating, kayaking, sailing, fishing, and all other water sports, the lake is what catapulted Valle to the tourist destination it is today. Touristic boat rides offer a view from every vantage point and are available from the main dock. Magnificent scenery of mountains and woodlands hug the shoreline in addition to the impressive mansions and country clubs that adorn the area (Valle also serves as a weekend getaway for Mexico City’s elite).
Once we went through town, we settled in our hotel at Mision Refugio del Salto, which is slightly south of Valle in Avandaro. I chose this hotel specifically for its setting because it is built near El Molino waterfall, secluded and yet centrally near places of interest. While the hotel itself is beautiful, I noticed that it is also its own attraction. The pure natural surroundings and an assortment of superb spa treatments (including traditional temazcal ceremonies) provide a complete holistic experience.
It is in Avandaro where you can really enjoy contact with nature and unworldly environments. It promises scenes of great beauty on lovely horseback strolls through flower-scented forests, up to the beautiful panoramic vistas at La Torre Monte Alto -- or through another course, to the breathtaking waterfall, Cascada Velo de Novia. Nearby are two Buddhist Stupas dedicated to world peace, and offer a tranquil space for anyone to meditate.
The next day we started our exploration around the waterfalls and had the grounds to ourselves to enjoy a picnic breakfast with nature’s best soundtrack playing in the background. As the fog lifted and the sun shined brightly, we then set out to discover the charms that make up the traditional town of Valle. The enchanting zocalo is the ideal place to begin a touristic route because it is within walking distance to all the sites of interests: museums, cultural centers, markets, the boardwalk along the lake, and El Pino, a 700 year old tree. As with most traditional towns in Mexico, the main square is always close to its main church, in this case, Parroquia San Francisco de Asís . However there is one other church nearby, Templo de Santa Maria Ahuacatlán, that definitely caught my attention. In this church, locals and pilgrims venerate a miraculous black Christ statue believed by many as the survivor of a fire, which transformed it into its dark color. Other common touristic activities include recreational sports such as paragliding, mountaineering, or hiking up to one of Valle’s many miradors.
This small town was an incredible blend of past and present. The locals, many of ethnic OtomI, Mazahua, and Mazatlinca descent, offer their handicrafts and regional cuisine mixed among Mexico’s privileged weekend visitors who visit the fine galleries and world-class restaurants. Valle de Bravo is one of the few popular Mexican towns that did not completely succumb to glamorous innovation and continues to preserve its heritage roots and originality.
Though Valle de Bravo marks as number 12 of my Magic Town list, I know it will warrant another visit very soon. Summers are meant for weekends at the shores, which is exactly what Valle provides, but my curiosity will entice me to return in the winter as well. With pleasant temperatures year round, it is home to migrating Monarch butterflies that make their way to Mexico from the US and Canada. Like me, the butterflies know this is the magical place to rest and return whenever time permits.
Former NBA basketball star Shaquille O'Neal recently visited Monterrey, Mexico to attend a social project. Upon his arrival, he was warmly welcomed by a traditional Mexican mariachi band. On his Twitter account, he expressed his appreciation for Mexico by saying, “Thanks for the warm welcome… muchas gracias, yo amo#Mexico…To all the people in Mexico muchas gracias I had a great time. Can't wait to come back.”
Mexico and Brazil played a grueling 93 minutes of top notch soccer in the Olympic Men’s Soccer Finals. Mexico pulled through with a 2-1 triumph over Brazil earning Mexico a gold medal. Not only did Mexico’s soccer team beat Brazil’s soccer team, but their economy also seems to be… pulling ahead of Brazil’s economy.
According to an article from the Economist, “In recent years Brazil has outplayed Mexico, growing at 6% or more as Mexico bumped along in the slow lane. But lately that has changed. Last year Mexico grew by 4% and Brazil by 2.7%.” Mexico’s economy is on a positive trajectory of growth and expansion, and some predict that Mexico’s economy, which is currently half the size of Brazil’s economy, will be bigger than Brazil’s economy within the next 10 years.
Why are the expectations for the Mexican economy so high? Mexico has multiple factors working in their favor. First, Mexico’s ratio of debt to GDP is not even a third of Brazil’s ratio of debt to GDP. The debt to GDP ratio is an indicator of the wellness of a nation and having a low debt to GDP ratio demonstrates that the country can pay off any debt incurred in producing goods and services. Mexico’s low debt to GDP ratio indicates that the Mexican economy is healthy, and they have potential for growth. Next, Mexico has the demography for growth due to the ratio of workers in the labor force to those not working. And lastly, in December 2012, Enrique Pena Nieto will become the new president of Mexico, and he promised reforms to encourage economic growth. Currently, Brazil is less open to free trade than Mexico, which also hurts the economy.
Why is Mexico’s economy growing, while Brazil’s economy seems to be decreasing? Brazil’s GDP is projected to be below 2%, while Mexico’s GDP is projected to keep increasing. The Chinese economy has slowed down significantly, which directly affects the Mexican and Brazilian economy. Brazil’s economy benefits by exporting to China, but when China slows down, the number of Brazilian exports also decreases. In opposition, Mexico directly competes with China over exports to the United States. A decrease in the number of Chinese exports creates room in the U.S. for Mexican exports. The growth of the U.S.’s economy allows for expansion of the Mexican economy.
The economic growth projection is difficult to predict, but perhaps the Olympic Men’s Soccer Finals will act as predictor Mexico’s GDP in the coming years.
So you’re a regular visitor to Mexico, and you’ve already been to most of the spots on the top of most tourists’ lists: Cancun, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City, Mazatlán, etc.—the usual suspects. Now you’re looking for a Mexico venture that’s a little… more creative… somewhere you’re not going to see on advertisements for Spring Break! What should you consider for your off-the-beaten-path travels on your next Mexican vacation? Here are a few ideas to get you thinking outside of the all-inclusive-resort box…
1) Xilitla & Las Pozas, San Luis Potosi state: if you’re looking for eccentric, nothing fits the bill like this surrealistic garden of concrete flowers & stairs leading to nowhere in the middle of the jungle seven hours northeast of Mexico City. English poet Edward James fell in love with the flora here and made it his home, and after a freak snowfall killed all the orchids, he decided to rebuild them….out of concrete! What resulted is a fascinating wonderland built in the lush jungle hillside filled with columns, castles, airplanes that you can scramble up, down, and around. It’s hard to describe in words, but check out some more pictures here!
2) Tequisquiapan, Querétaro state: This tiny town has long been known to Mexico City residents for its spas, and therefore sees a fair amount of traffic from escaping DF-eños on the weekends. But during the week, you’re likely to have the town square all to yourself. “Tequis” is about two hours north of Mexico City in the heart of Querétaro’s blossoming wine and cheese country. If you have a car, you can take a leisurely driving tour of the nearby Finca Vai dairy and Freixenet vineyards. But if you’re public transit-bound, fear not—both spots have opened up outposts in Tequis. You can sample a bottle of local bubbly for ~$200 pesos at the Freixenet Winebar, pop over for a hearty cheese platter at the Museo del Queso y del Vino, and then walk back to your hotel for a dip in the pool.
3) La Paz, Baja California Sur: While its southern neighbor, Los Cabos, gets all the glory, La Paz is content in its role as the laid-back city on the Sea of Cortez. There’s just a small touristy strip in town along the water, supplemented with some great restaurants scattered around but all within walking distance. Don’t be disappointed by the lackluster beachfront in the city—the most amazing beaches & clear blue water can be found just a few miles north of town. Balandra has a beautifully protected bay with completely still water and no development, and Tecolote has a couple restaurants and bars with water that’s only waist high for many yards out. Definitely worth visiting some of Mexico’s gorgeous beaches that still don’t have hotels anywhere in sight!
4) Tecali de Herrera, Puebla state: Mexico has many small towns that are known country-wide for the one unique product they create. For example, Santa Clara del Cobre is where you go for all your copper needs… San Martín Tilcajete for alebrijes (wood carvings of real or imaginary creatures)…and Tlalpujahua for millions of Christmas ornaments. Tecali de Herrera is the center of all things onyx (along with a strong showing of marble), but also has a beautiful ex-convent to visit when you max out on shopping. Walking across grass under the soaring arches of the convent ruins is reminiscent of visiting an old church in Scotland. But here, you can supplement your historical visit with the purchase of a three-foot-high onyx lamp or onyx bathtub, or something a bit more portable like an onyx cheese plate shaped like a triangle of cheese. More details can be found here.
We sit on the sand under a sky blanketed in stars, listening to the sound of crashing waves and the rhythmic “thump......thump.....thump....” in the dark. We can barely make out her shape and we know not to turn on a flashlight; it could send her turning back to the sea before she… completes the yearly ritual. We are in Tulum, at the edge of the Sian Kaan biosphere, and we are witnessing a magical moment. A gigantic sea turtle has come to shore and is digging a nest to lay her eggs, her large flippers methodically “thumping” into the sand and sending it flying as the hole gets bigger and bigger. We sit in silence, barely daring to breathe. We see a red light approaching on the beach and two “turtle patrol” volunteers join us quietly to measure the turtle (she was over 1 meter long), check her health, tag her for research purposes and mark her nest. The volunteers slip away into the night to carry on their patrol, and we allow mama turtle to complete her task and watch as she slowly makes her way back to the sea. When we awake in the morning, we see she was not the only visitor that night: there are four more nests in one small stretch of beach, with the tell-tale trail of turtle tracks leading from and returning to the water.
Long before the luxurious resorts arose that attract millions of visitors each year, the Riviera Maya was home to the now endangered sea turtle. Green turtles (Chelonia Mydas) and loggerhead turtles (Caretta Caretta) annually return to these shores to lay their eggs as they have for thousands of years. Travelers visiting the region between May and October may have the good fortune to witness a mother laying her eggs or even participating in a release of baby turtles once the nests have hatched. Unfortunately, as we have made room for humans to enjoy the beauty of the Riviera Maya, it has become harder for the turtles to claim their space. Bright lights of hotels will scare them off, while loud noises, dogs on the beach and human interference can influence the number of nests each year. As these turtles are endangered, it is of great importance to protect them and their environments to ensure the continuation of the species. Thus the need for organizations, both government and private working together, that protect, conserve and educate visitors about sea turtles and their preservation.
There are many such organizations in the Riviera Maya, working together in research programs, sustainability projects and educational outreach to protect the sea turtle. In the town of Akumal (“Akumal” means “place of the turtle” in the Maya language), the CEA or “Centro Ecologico de Akumal,” founded in 1993, works tirelessly on their mission “To create a model for sustainable tourism development in the Mexican Caribbean through research, education andoutreach.” They monitor all turtle activity on the bay and on the beach while working with hotels, condo organizations and tour companies to practice good environmental procedures and reach out to the community with educational programs in schools. Their labors are paying off; each year sees more and more cooperation from hotels and condos, and travelers are more aware of their impact on the nesting grounds and the wildlife. The 2012 season has proven to be exceptional, to the date of this writing. On Akumal beaches alone, 442 nests have been counted, beating the 2010 record of 406, with two months left in the season! This is magnificent news for the species, and this success is owed to the dedication of all organizations like CEA.
If you are visiting the region during nesting season, there are some strict rules you need to follow. No bright lights! This means no flashlights, no porch lights on condos or hotel villas and definitely no flashes on your cameras. If you must walk the beach at night, cover your flashlight to dull the shine, such as a red filter. Refrain from making loud noises, having beach parties or allowing dogs to run on the beach at night. Do NOT touch the animals, ever, in the water or on the beach. Turtles can become frightened, confused and disoriented and will turn back to the sea without laying their eggs. Never walk on or disturb a nest, and do not touch the eggs. If you see a mother laying eggs (or a nest with hatching babies), stay well back or better yet, seek out turtle patrol or security at your hotel and report what you have found. With the cooperation of everyone, you, me, the government and great organizations like CEA, it may one day be possible to remove the “endangered” label from these magnificent creatures. Long live the sea turtle in Mexico, viva!
For more information, please see the CEA website and consider making a donation or becoming a member. They rely on private funding and grants to continue on with their good work!
Hidden behind a private home, a convent with a small community of nuns lived in hiding for nearly 70 years. The family who lived in the home fronting the convent knew of their existence; and surely the congregation of the adjoining Santa Monica church did as well, since the nuns continued to sing… from the choir loft during mass from behind a panel which hid them from view, as they had before convents were outlawed in Mexico. Their existence remained a secret from the government until the 1930s when they were discovered and turned out of their convent, which was then converted into a museum of religious art.
The front of this building is unassuming, blending in with the other homes and businesses located on a bustling street in Puebla's historical center. The building dates to 1606, when it was originally used as a home for widows and abandoned women. In 1688 it was converted into a convent for nuns of the Augustinian Recollects order. The convent housed women of Spanish descent who gave up public life to live a cloistered existence within the convent. The Augustinian Recollects is one of the stricter religious orders. Besides the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, these nuns lived a very austere life, sleeping on narrow wooden cots and often subjecting themselves to corporal mortification.
Although the nuns lived an ascetic lifestyle, one aspect of their lives in which there was great experimentation was in the kitchen. Their kitchen served as a laboratory where new and different combinations of food were experimented with and original dishes were created. The devout sisters combined pre-Hispanic ingredients and techniques with ones imported from Europe to produce some of Puebla's most iconic dishes, such as Chiles en Nogada. A large semi-circular wood-fired stove decorated with Talavera tiles dominates the convent's kitchen. A collection of clay pots of varying shapes and sizes, and other cooking implements hang on the walls around the stove. The adjoining pantry offers a look at the variety of ingredients the nuns used.
In the mid-1800s several laws were brought into effect which greatly diminished the power of the church, which had theretofore controlled much of the country's wealth. Before these measures were brought into effect, the church rivaled the government in power, being responsible not only for the spiritual life of the people but also education, caring for the sick and indigent, as well as registering marriages, births, and deaths. The Reform Laws were designed to separate church and state and severely reduce the church's power. Part of this reform was the nationalization of ecclesiastical property and the dissolution of monastic orders. Church property was seized by the state and the friars and nuns who had previously lived their lives in convents were turned out. The nuns of Santa Monica found a way around this, however. The front section of the convent was cleverly designed as a family home and the nuns continued to lead their quiet contemplative existence within the walls of the convent, hidden behind the facade of a private residence.
In 1934 an investigator by the name of Valente Quintana followed some clues that led to the discovery of the nuns of Santa Monica, and they were finally turned out of their convent at that time. The building was then converted into a museum of religious art, which it remains to this day. Art from other convents in Puebla was added to the collection here, making this one of the most important collections of religious art in Mexico. The museum underwent an extensive restoration project and re-opened in December 2011 in magnificent conditions.
On my visit to the religious art museum of the Ex Convent of Santa Monica I was lucky to arrive just as a tour was starting. Popular conception may hold that religious art is staid and rather boring, but with the guided tour the art we saw was put into the context of the period in which it was created, and we learned about life in the convent and the women who lived there. The guide pointed out interesting visual effects in some of the paintings on velvet by Rafael Morante, and taught us to recognize many of the symbols and conventions of religious art of the colonial period. Some of the artists whose work is displayed here include Antonio Espinoza, Juan Correa, Juan Villalobos, Miguel Jeronimo de Zendejas, and Pascual Perez.
The Museo de Arte Religioso del Ex-Convento de Santa Mónica is located in Puebla's historical center at 18 Poniente #103, between 5 de Mayo and 3 Norte streets. The museum opens Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm. Guided tours in Spanish are offered; enquire at the front desk for times.
Mexico has long been a destination of choice for celebrities and those in the entertainment industry. It’s no wonder - with the abundance of picture perfect beaches, private, luxurious accommodations and relaxed yet festive atmosphere - that the ever-bustling entertainment industry is so… closely drawn to Mexico.
Iconic movies like Night of the Iguana, which starred Richard Burton, put Puerto Vallarta on the map in the 60’s and because of the making of Twentieth Century Fox’s epic film Titanic in Baja California, Fox Baja Studios was created along with some of the world’s largest stages and filming tanks.
In addition to Titanic, dozens of movies have been filmed at Fox Baja Studios including MGM’s Tomorrow Never Dies, Disney’s Peal Harbor, and Fox’s Master and Commander The Far Side of the World. Hundreds of filmmakers have chosen locations all throughout Mexico to intensify or beautify their films.
The destination of Mexico has been equally synonymous with celebrity getaways as well, whether for a much-needed hiatus or a special occasion celebration, engagement, wedding or anniversary. With the wealth of five star luxury hotels, resorts and villas, world-class gourmet cuisine, celebrity chefs, personalized concierge service, first class amenities and warm Mexican hospitality, Mexico has time and again proven to be the destination of choice for the A-list crowd.
In 2012 alone, Mexico boasted the most hotels ever on Condé Nast Traveler’s prestigious Gold List with a staggering 33 properties on the list and more than one-third the total in the Americas.
Mexico also topped the lists of dozens of 2012 travel lists including Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, Moon Travel Guide, Reuters, CNN and Forbes to name a few.
Hollywood celebrities flock to Mexico in droves because of the close proximity as well. Depending on if the flight is a private charter or a commercial air carrier, from Los Angeles, celebs can jaunt to Cabo in a quick two hours; to Puerto Vallarta in three hours, and to Cancun/Riviera Maya in four and a half hours. Cancun and Riviera Maya are among the top beach destinations in the world. Recently, Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara celebrated her 40th birthday in Riviera Maya, which resulted in an even bigger celebration when boyfriend Nick Loeb presented her with a special ring. Vergara celebrated with a group of her closest friends and explored parts of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, including a visit to the great archeological ruins of Chichen Itza.
“Riviera Maya is the closest destination to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World for U.S. travelers, along with access to the largest coral reef in the Americas,” said Director of Public Relations at Fairmont Mayakoba, Paulina Feltrin. “Mexico has been and continues to be a preferred destination for celebrities. The warmth of the Mexican hospitality guarantees a level of service that will make their vacations even more special.”
“Our hotel attracts many high profile guests, who expect the best in service and discretion,” continued Feltrin. “They stay with us because we are absolutely scrupulous in protecting their privacy and providing complete confidentiality.”
Year after year, celebrities flock to Mexico. Jennifer Aniston is a regular to Cabo. The Hills alum star, Lauren Conrad recently returned from a luxurious vacation splurge in Los Cabos as well, as did Nicole Scherzinger, Leann Rimes and Avril Lavigne, while certain cast members of Glee spent much needed time off in Zihuatanejo. The Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain was amazed from his recent visit to Mexico while filming a special on Baja cuisine for his show, “No Reservations”. Hilary Duff described her recent visit to Mexico as 'paradise'. Justin Beiber recently wowed 200,000 fans in a special free concert in Mexico City’s main plaza Zocalo. Riviera Nayarit, named Mexico’s next great place by USA Today, is a magnet for attracting A-listers like Lady Gaga, Courteney Cox, Kim Kardashian, Charlie Sheen, Bradley Cooper and dozens more.
A huge fan of Mexico, Actor and Extra TV host Mario Lopez proposed to his girlfriend Courtney Mazza in Ixtapa, Mexico at the beginning of the year and just announced plans to wed at a private home in Puerto Vallarta in December 2012.
On break from rehearsals from her upcoming tour and judging duties with X Factor, Demi Lovato and friends recently returned from a restful vacation at Viceroy Zihuatanejo. During her stay, she indulged in relaxing spa treatments, lounged on the beach, shopped in the local market and took part in a surfing excursion, according to Director of Sales & Marketing, Jennifer Guevara.
“Viceroy Zihuatanejo is truly a respite from hectic Hollywood schedules and all our A-list guests remark how relaxed and undisturbed they feel while staying with us,” said Guevara. “With one thousand feet of private beach stretch along the azure waters of the resort's splendid Pacific coastline, strewn with teak lounge chairs and exclusive palapas, daybeds and cabanas, celebrities can enjoy three swimming pools, including a fantastic infinity pool poised at water's edge.”
The property also offers private dining- ideal for celebrities including Lunch on the Beach - their signature elegant beach lunch is delivered on a white linen-set table directly to a private palapa where guests enjoy gourmet cuisine while reclining in a beach chair. The resort also offers a Private Island Dinner that can accommodate one couple (twice a week) where they are transported to the island by canoe and dine at a pre-set table, intuitively attended by a personalized waiter, amidst lush foliage, candles and music.
Celebrities have endless options when it comes to Mexico getaways, with private and luxurious accommodations and unbeatable value, scenery and service.
A truly remarkable 100 kilometer "ultra-marathon" is held each year in Chihuahua's rugged Tarahumara country.
The small plane banked steeply for a second pass, morning sun briefly flashing through the cockpit as we leveled off, the view below impossibly green, then revealing black and granite throughgossamer cloud, as if we were the first to discover the twisting river and sheer cliffs far below. “See, it is as I told you,” exclaimed Ismael Torres, our Cessna pilot, “like God has taken a great axe and cleaved the Earth.”
Spread out before us as in an eagle’s eye were the legendary “Barrancas de Sinforosa,” a vast series of rugged canyons and ravines up to 6,000 ft. deep, whose slopes are clad in pine, live oak,cactus and sagebrush. These beautiful and sometimes forbidding environs, part of Chihuahua’s Copper Canyon area, are home to many of Mexico’s Raramuri people, known as Tarahumara, the “people with light feet.”
We have only 24 hours, and have come to the town of Guachochi to see one of the most remarkable races imaginable – a 100 km ultra-marathon. Driving straight out to the “mirador,” Sinforosa’smain lookout, our pickup truck bumps along a red-earth road past farm after farm, interspersed with stretches of fragrant pine hemmed in by stone walls, the air fresh and cool at over a mile high.
Withdrawing from the advance of the Spanish “conquistadores” to the mountains that now bear their name, the Tarahumara dispersed their communities but managed to preserve much of their ancient culture. They are mystics, healers, craftsmen, and expert farmers, blessed with legendary endurance, but it is hard-won, a survival skill developed and adapted over time. In these remote places, running between distant villages is an essential communication and transportation necessity. Many Tarahumara will join this marathon, and often win it.
An international group of competitors begin at 5:00 AM and will, for the next 8 to 10 straight hours, run the course: 11 kilometers from town to the edge of the canyon, descend 1800 meters along a rough trail, run along the river, ascend 1800 meters by the punishing “z” switchbacks, 11 kilometers into town again, then run back to the finish line at the lookout point. From this spectacular vantage point of the “mirador,” it takes the mind and eyes much longer than usual to make their essential calculations, to readjust, and coordinate perception - the ravines of Sinforosa are very deep indeed, and stretch in every direction as far as we can see.
Guachochi is not a big town, and there is a feeling everyone knows each other. Long, low houses of cinder block, a hard afternoon light through the scrub pines, people’s broad, smiling faces – these are reminiscent of other high-altitude communities one encounters, on a farm in Qinghai, or in an Alaskan village.
And here, on the one night we could enjoy Guachochi hospitality, there were fine steaks on the grill, a “quinceanera,” a wedding, and a graduation ceremony all at the same venue, Saturday night cruising up and down Main Street, and the odd knot of foreigners and Mexicans in shorts and day-glo sneakers, with their headlights and hydration gear not knowing what to do until morning.
A chill in the air, and an alarm that comes way too soon – by 4:45 AM, we’re ready. Credentials are checked, number placards signed for, pre-race photographs of excited friends flash by in the pitch-black. Only the Tarahumara are completely calm, in their distinctive red headbands and long, angular white shirts knotted with beautiful braided belts. This event’s “huaraches,” or tire-soled sandals, are the same as everyday footwear. There are many female competitors, who will run fully covered, in colorful print dresses. Within a few minutes, and not much fanfare, the pack is gone, raising a ghostly dust trail out of town, along a route that would not be light for some time.
At hour four of the race, we were aloft, our careful timing intended to balance light and shadow, and avoid the dangerous rising thermals that would buffet a small craft as the sun warmed the air. For a photographer in search of perspective for the big picture, and the detail that makes a written story, this was a precious piece of the puzzle, the sky clear as we skimmed the clouds by cliff's edge, an advancing fog both burning off and still throwing into relief the highest peaks.
We would see this early morning the hopefulness of the runner’s descent into these canyons, but by the time we made it down to a precipitous wire bridge to photograph along the trail, there was a different feel entirely - thirty or so grimly determined runners were already passing us on the way up, having climbed more than 4,000 ft. in an arduous combination of hiking and running.
Around the 70 km. mark, the bridge was built to safely cross what would be a substantial waterfall in the wet season. Support teams here checked runner’s numbers, gave out fruit and energy bars, and attended with some seriousness to an injured participant, for his own safety ruling him out of further competition with an eight-stitch head wound.
What is most remarkable about this race is not just that people finish it, but that they do so as a matter of course. Vicente Gonzales has a patrician’s grace, a red scarf wrapped vertically around his white hair Indonesia-style. At the bridge, he checked in with a smile, had a sip or two of a traditional barley drink, then without further word, disappeared up the 4 x 4 road behind us. He is eighty years old.
On the trail further down, a faraway flash of color quickly materializes. Maria Isidora Rodriguez, a stoic expression on her face, is fully wrappped in a bright yellow Tarahumara dress, and quicklymaking her way through the boulders that frame the path. She has company, a man and two young boys in baseball caps and jeans. They do not have race numbers. In less than a minute, Ms. Rodriguez and her supportive family are out of sight again, bounding for all the world like deer through the foliage.
For a beautiful fifty-image slideshow that accompanies this essay, go to http://bit.ly/LAPefZ
Nothing can replace fútbol - known here as soccer- as the most popular sport in Mexico, but baseball comes in a strong second. From Tijuana to Tampico, in the large cities and the smallest villages, you find ballparks. Some are impressive stadiums with manicured grass, many… more are just dirt fields where corn used to grow. I have driven thousands of miles throughout the back roads of Mexico, and I am always amazed and heartened to see, even in otherwise impoverished towns and villages, a group of adults or kids throwing the ball – playing a pick-up game. It reminds me of life in small-town America not so long ago.No one really knows when the game of baseball was first played in Mexico. A popular theory has the first evidence of play dating back to the U.S. - Mexican War, when idle American soldiers played near the town of Xalapa, Veracruz, in 1847. Other towns make the same claim; that the soldiers first played around that time in their town, so, quién sabe? We do know that it wasn’t until 1925 that the current version of the Mexican League was formed, with all six teams playing their games in Mexico City
U.S. Players Head South
The Mexican League level of play soon became comparable to the north-of-the-border Major Leagues, helped by Mexico’s more enlightened views on race. For the next 22 years, until Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, finally integrating baseball in America, many of the great African-American players chose to play in Mexico at one time or another, including Hall of Famers Willie Wells, Josh Gibson (perhaps the best catcher ever), Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell. They not only liked the money, they liked the lifestyle, the food, the fun - and the acceptance of their skin color. In 1946, flamboyant Mexican businessman Jorge Pasquel attempted to rival the American Major Leagues by offering large salaries to some of the game’s biggest stars, including Ted Williams and San Francisco’s favorite son, the great Joe DiMaggio. And although those two declined to make the move, nearly 20 other white players, such as Mickey Owen and ex-New York Giant pitching star Sal Maglie, did. Alas, Pasquel’s dream soon faded as revenues failed to match expenses, and interest in baseball in Mexico went into semi-hibernation for the next decade, as a faltering Mexican economy made it tough to sell game tickets. This fascinating story of sport, race and imperialism is wonderfully described in what many, including me, consider to be the best baseball book ever, “The Veracruz Blues” (http://www.amazon.com/Veracruz-Blues-Mark-Winegardner/dp/0140260285) by Mark Winegardner.
The Kids Lead the Way
In 1957, baseball in Mexico was magically revived thanks to a rag-tag Little League team from Monterrey, Mexico. After beating every team along the way to the World Series in Willamsport, Penn., their star pitcher, Angel Macias, became a national hero when he threw a perfect game against La Mesa, Calif. – a feat accomplished only 18 times in the entire history of Major League baseball. This unlikely victory captured world-wide attention – and baseball interest was back in Mexico for good.Today’s Liga Mexicana de Béisbol comprises 16 teams, spanning the entire country. The league is now affiliated with U.S. Major League Baseball and is one of three designated Triple-A minor leagues, one step below the major league level. The others are the Pacific Coast League and the International League. They play excellent ball, easily surpassing the best U.S. college teams. If you’ve never witnessed a minor league game, you are missing the true essence of the game, stripped from the hype, over-the-top marketing, insane salaries, and prima-donna players so prevalent today in the majors. And so it is in Mexico, where the stadiums seat as few as 6,000 maximum in Campeche), to as many as 27,000 in Monterrey . You can usually park for free on the street and ticket prices run well under $10, generally just $1 - $5; add a bottle of Corona and a mesquite-grilled taco for about 30 pesos, or a little over $2. Of course, not every Mexican can afford even these prices, but many can. A family can easily enjoy a night at the ball yard for under $20. The whole experience is like attending a carnival, with patrons joking with umpires and players, as the scantily clad cheerleaders enthusiastically lead the charge in rooting for the home team. The camaraderie and sense of community that the town derives from this common experience are extremely important to a country that values friendships and family above all.
The league is divided into two divisions, north and south. The North Division has teams in Chihuahua, Monclova, Mexico City, Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Saltillo. The South Division is represented by Campeche, Minatitlán, Oaxaca, Puebla, Cancún, Villahermosa, Veracruz, and Mérida. Mexico also has a separate winter league Liga Mexicana del Pacífico (Mexican Pacific League) running from early October until December. The league has eight teams in small towns in northwestern Mexico at Culiacan, Guasave, Hermosillo, Mazatlán, Mexicali, Los Mochis, Navajoa and Obregón. Many Major League players have played in this winter league to keep their skills honed between seasons, and some others go to play out their career, when they are no longer performing at the major league level. Even the great Fernando Valenzuela pitched in Mexico after his major league career had ended.
Catch a Game
You might be surprised to learn that nearly 100 major leaguers, past and present, were born in Mexico. The first was Mel Alamada, from the state of Sonora, who was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1933. The best known players are aforementioned Dodger Hall-of- Famer Fernando Valenzuela and Oaxaca-born Vinny Castilla, who had a great 15-year career with several big-league teams.So, the next time you’re in Mexico, check out the local baseball scene. Catch a game some evening (click here for schedules www.lmb.com.mx) and enjoy a slice of Americana – Mexican style.
In only two short years Morelia en Boca has become one of Mexico’s premier culinary and wine festivals. The second annual Morelia en Boca, el Festival Internacional de Gastronomía y Vino de México, was held in the capital of the state of Michoacán, May 25 – 27,… 2012. The weekend fete featured participation by nationally and internationally renowned chefs as well as regional cooks, Spanish and Mexican wineries and acclaimed Morelia restaurants. Also included were workshops, panel discussions and demonstrations, as well as cheese, wine, beer and mezcal tastings.
Recipe for a Successful Gastronomic Event in Mexico
Michoacán is not noted for its gastronomic greatness within the broader context of Mexican cuisine. So how did Morelia en Boca pull off a three-day extravaganza of excellence?
To begin with, aside from the prix fixe cenas held in restaurants throughout the city, the entire festival unfolded in a single venue in the heart of downtown Morelia, the Centro Cultural Clavijero. The spacious historic building reputed to have the most photographed open courtyard in the city, housed each and every daytime event: tastings including pairings with local foodstuffs such as Michoacán’s famed queso cotija; upwards of 50 food and drink booths contained in a gourmet village; and round table discussions and recipe demos akin to mini cooking classes.
Morelia en Boca was conceived to be financially accessible to almost all foodies and aficionados of alcoholic beverages, and designed to provide a broad diversity of experiences and opportunities to discover new palate sensations. The event is based on a flat fee philosophy. This year’s daily entry passes for Friday and Saturday, the two fullest days, cost 382.5 pesos (under $30 USD) – to sample and to participate in formal tastings (promotional Morelia en Boca wine glasses were distributed to each attendee); to learn from culinary experts through attending forums; and to buy.
Organization is a key ingredient to any successful event of this magnitude, gastronomic or otherwise. Aside from the odd short, somewhat anticipated delay, the weekend went off without a hitch. The smoothness of operations was in large part as a result of the crackerjack cooperation between government and corporate sponsors and their respective memberships (i.e. Chef Joaquín Bonilla, Corporate Director of the Colegio Culinario de Morelia). While the event website, the press (i.e. food and wine journalist Rubén Hernández) and social media networks (Facebook in particular) were invaluable, distribution of a detailed print catalogue of events, each with a specified date and time, location and description, further assured that attending Morelia en Boca would be as easy as could be divined.
Some Key Participants at Morelia en Boca: Chefs, Wineries, Restaurants & More
Traditional cooks from the furthest reaches of Michoacán prepared regional dishes. They came from towns and villages including Santa Fe de la Laguna, Zacán, Angahuán and San Lorenzo, courting the appetites of the urbanites. They wooed not only Mexican nationals and tourists from abroad, but also chefs; both those who have borrowed from repertoires of generationally developed recipes, as well as visiting culinary dignitaries highly respected on the international stage. Morelia en Boca was a class example of the melding of tradition with modern trends in culinary seduction.
More than 20 chefs with impeccable credentials came to cook, from Spain (i.e. Oriol Castro), England (i.e. Anthony Demetre), the United States (i.e. Dominique Crenn, winner of Iron Chef America), and to no surprise from different parts of Mexico (i.e. Alejandro Ruiz from Oaxaca; Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, Pedro Abascal, Paulina Abascal, Enrique Farjeat and Jair Téllez from Mexico City; Christian Bravo from Yucatán, Guillermo Barreto and Benito Molina from Baja California and Marta Zepeda from Chiapas).
They participated in round table discussions and workshops, and bestowed their culinary prowess upon those attending the evening dinner / wine pairing galas (i.e. chefs Pedro Abascal and Edgar Nuñez at restaurant San Miguelito, chefs Ruiz and Lucero Soto at Lu, Chef Crenn at Casa Grande, chefs Bravo, Téllez, Nuñez, Jonatán Lómez Luna, Diego Hernández, Joan Bagur and Maritere Ramírez Degollado at Hotel Juaninos, chefs Zepeda and Rubi Silvia at Los Mirasoles, and chefs Lula Martín del Campo and Jorge Vallego at Casa San Diego).
Tastings were bountiful, diverse and delicious, wines ranging from domestic (i.e. Casa Madero, L.A. Cetto and Monte Xanic), Spanish (i.e. Rioja) and Australian (i.e. Penfolds), to Mexican beer, to mezcal produced near San Miguel del Monte, nestled in the pine and oak forests high above Morelia. Thematic topics included “same grape, different regions,” the unusual “pairing mezcal with cotija,” and the predictable “wines and cheeses.”Organizers of the catas seemed intent upon enticing the broadest array of individuals by ensuring that pricing of alcoholic products presented by chefs and sommeliers was appealing to all. For example there were tastings of three varieties of Bohemia beer (partakers were provided with a full bottle of each along with perfectly paired canapés; presenters included Chef Zahie Téllez), young wines in the 70 peso range, and priced at 630 pesos an exquisite Villa Montefiori Nerone with tones of dark fruit, violet, vanilla, black pepper and red cherry, with hints of mint and eucalyptus.
While the ten cooking demonstrations were by all counts both enjoyable and informative, two in particular stood out. Chef Castro, who has worked with Chef Ferran Adriá at famed Spanish restaurant elBulli, explained current trends and techniques in the handcrafted creation of sweets (dubbed “Las técnicas de elBulli”). Chef Muñoz Zurita and well-known regional cook Benedicta Alejo combined skill sets in a workshop entitled “Tamales, Corundas y Uchepos” to illustrate how haute cuisine and traditional cooking can coalesce within the context of crafting tamales and their Michoacán counterparts.
Lessons Learned in Michoacán: The Future of Morelia en Boca & Other Mexican Culinary Events
Organizers of similar events throughout Mexico have much to learn from Morelia en Boca. Its success was, and for years to come will continue to be based upon its flawless institution of a well - planned format, accessibility to all, and broad consumer appeal. But Morelia itself provides an alluring setting for staging a culinary event aimed at attracting visitors from throughout Mexico as well as tourists from abroad; anyone interested in food and drink. Its proximity to both the nation’s capital, as well as pre-Hispanic ruins, craft villages, nature preserves and even beach resorts such as Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, no doubt will continue to be at least a part of Morelia’s recipe for success. The recent inscription of Mexican cuisine on UNESCO’s representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity provides a further stimulus for considering Morelia en Boca in 2013, and beyond.
Alvin Starkman has written over 250 articles about life and cultural traditions in Mexico, with an emphasis on food and drink. He is a paid contributing writer for Mexico Today, a program for Marca País – Imagen de México. With his wife Arlene he operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.casamachaya.com) and with Chef Pilar Cabera Arroyo Oaxaca Culinary Tours (http://www.oaxacaculinarytours.com).
If someone would have told me one of the best trips of my life would have involved over 20 hours of driving, I would have thought they were crazy. A few years ago, my dad joined me for a very special road trip from San Diego down to the southernmost tip of Baja – Los Cabos. While I… love Mexico for its amazing hospitality and beautiful resorts, the little towns that are off the beaten path are equally wonderful and definitely worth exploring.
GUERRERO NEGRO: Guerrero Negro was the halfway point of our journey down to Los Cabos, and proved to be quite the interesting stop. We stayed at the Malarrimo Motel, which is not only a hotel, but also has a restaurant and an RV park. The hotel has become a famous stop for travelers driving through Baja, as it is the first major stop once you cross the border from Northern Baja into Southern Baja. At first glance, the restaurant looks like the typical restaurant attached to a hotel born out of necessity. As we tasted our food, we were blown away by the freshness of the seafood and the flavorful dishes.
Guerrero Negro is an interesting mix as it is primarily an industrial town that is surrounded by a number of lagoons. The town is best known for its whale watching tours, which take place from December 15th to April 15th, as the whales make their way down from Alaska to their ideal breeding spot in the warm waters off of the Baja coast. An interesting little known fact is that Guerrero Negro is the world’s number one salt producer, thanks to the saltworks operations around the Laguna Ojo de Liebre (Eye of the Jackrabbit Lagoon).
MULEGE: After driving for hours in what seems like the middle of nowhere, we knew we were getting close to the coast when we saw a beautiful river flowing next to the road. In what seemed like a matter of a few minutes, the vegetation turned from dusty desert roads to a jungle-like paradise with chirping birds and lush, green vegetation. Mulegé is unlike any place I’ve ever been and to this day I consider it to be one of Mexico’s best kept secrets. As the highway took us around the corner, we saw a glimpse of the most beautiful blue-green waters surrounded by impressive cliffs.
While there is not a lot to do in Mulegé other than sailing around the Bahia de Concepcion or fishing, the scenery is enough to make you stop the car and stare off into the horizon for hours (or take tons of pictures!). It’s no wonder that author John Steinbeck said that the bay was one of the most beautiful in the world.
SANTA ROSALIA: Santa Rosalía is one of Baja Sur’s most interesting towns when it comes to history. Once we drove into the town, we immediately noticed a drastic change in architecture. Instead of the typical Baja or Spanish influenced buildings we were used to seeing, we saw European looking houses made of wood with tin pitched roofs. The town was established when the French came to found one of the world’s major copper producing mines, and to this day you can see how big an impact the miners made. The church in Santa Rosalía was designed by Frenchman Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel tower fame) for the 1889 World’s Fair, and the steel walls were brought over by ship and reconstructed so that the townspeople, mainly those who worked at the copper mine, would have a place to worship. Another famous spot in Santa Rosalía is the El Boleo bakery, which at one time had some of the best bread in Baja. The bakery got its name from the French mining company and continues to use some of the equipment brought over from France in the late 1800s today. One of the funniest parts of our three day journey happened in Santa Rosalía. We explored the town, had taken some pictures and were ready to head on our way, when we started hearing a drumline and people singing. Before we knew it, we were stuck in the middle of a parade! With only one main street in and one main street out, you can imagine what our options were, so we decided to make lemonade out of lemons and sit back and enjoy the parade. While it certainly wasn’t planned on, it turned out to be a great experience and a funny detour. We got back on the road with a clear mission – make it to Loreto.
LORETO: Imagine the desert landscape meeting the beach and you’ve got Loreto. Loreto was the first capital of the Californias and since it was established it has become well known for its sailing, deep sea fishing, diving, and kayaking. In addition to all of the water sports, Loreto is a great place for history buffs due to its missions and nearby cave paintings. We stopped briefly at the Inn at Loreto Bay for lunch by the water. The views are breathtaking, the weather was perfect, and in that moment I knew why so many expats look to Loreto as an ideal retirement spot. So, if you’ve ever been tempted to get in the car and go on a road trip that you won’t forget, I highly recommend driving down the Baja Peninsula. With so many great towns and areas to explore, you’ll be sure to create as many great memories as I did!