On October 9 and 10, Mexican tequila and mezcal were at the main stage of Germany and Central Europe’s largest beverage and spirits tradeshow at the Postbahnhof in Berlin, Germany. The architecturally exquisite venue was filled with mixologists and beverage connoisseurs from around the world,… and Mexico was honored to have been chosen the guest country at this year’s Bar Convent Berlin (BCB).
At the Mexico Pavilion, hundreds of Europeans enjoyed tastings of tequila and mezcal. In the evening of October 9, the Mexican Embassy in Berlin also hosted a cocktail reception with the theme “Mexican Night” where Mexicans in Germany and friends of Mexico continued celebrating the wonders of Mexico’s exquisite beverages.
Germans and other Europeans met the masters from Oaxaca and Guadalajara, and watched them make phenomenal drinks, while also learning more about Mexican tequila and mezcal. Tequila and mezcal are differentiated by the production process, taste, and location where the agave is grown. The different types of tequila include blanco, gold, reposado and añejo, where the difference among them is established by the amount of time they are aged in barrels. Mezcal is mainly made in Oaxaca, while tequila is made in Jalisco. Although they both come from the agave plant, the variety of the agave differs. In addition, mezcal is typically distilled once and tequila is distilled at least twice.
Mexico is not only an innovative leader in the beverages sector but also a leader in commercial trade. And at the Pavilion, Mexico was proud to show Europe all that it has to offer.
The Tomas Segovia award is the newest Mexican literary prize to be created by Conaculta, the National Culture and Arts Council of Mexico. The prize recognizes translations that “bring the Hispanic literary tradition to other languages” and is the first award to bear the name of… Spanish-born Mexican author, translator and poet, Tomas Segovia (1927-2011). The president of Conaculta, Consuelo Saizar, explained in a recent press conference in the western city of Guadalajara that the award will recognize the work of professionals translated from Spanish to another language and works in other languages translated to Spanish. According to the Mexican financial daily El Economista, the first edition of the prize will honor professionals who translate works from other languages to the Spanish language. According to president of the Guadalajara International Book Fair, Raul Padilla, in addition to a $100,000 cash prize, award recipients will be able to have their translated works on display at a variety of book fairs.
The literary translation prize honors the work of Segovia, who brought universal works such as Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Victor Hugo’s religious epic “Dieu” (God) to Spanish readers, Padilla said. The prize is financed in partnership with the Guadalajara International Book Fair, where the award will be given for the first time in November of this year, and Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico’s leading publishing house. Cultural or educational institutions, associations and publishing groups can make nominations until Oct. 29.
The Vochol, a 1990s Volkswagen Beetle that has been decorated with traditional Huichol beadwork from Mexico, will be spending its autumn and… winter touring Europe.
The art-on-wheels took nine thousand hours of work spanned over seven months. There are approximately 2,277,000 glass beads designed into powerful symbols and milestone stories from the spiritual Huichol culture and deities. Eight artisans from two Huichol families began the art in May 2010, and it was inaugurated at the Museo de Arte Popular (MAP) in Mexico City in December 2010.
After touring Mexico and the United States, Vochol has spent September traveling across the Atlantic Ocean from Houston, Teas to Le Havre, France. From October 2 through December, the Vochol will call Paris’s Musee du Quai Branly home.
After Paris, Vochol will continue its voyage to Germany. Between December 5 and January 5, Vochol will be on exhibit at Autostadt, an automotive complex located near Volkswagen’s primary plant in Wolfsburg. Frankfurt’s Deutsche Bank’s corporate headquarters – the “Green Towers” – will receive Vochol next, until mid-January.
Brussels, Belgium, is the last place Vochol will visit. The Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts will display Vochol from January 31 through March 3. It will then return back across the Atlantic Ocean.
The work was originally created in order to showcase the ritual nature, skill and culture of the beadwork in a modern art form. The Huichol beadwork began by decorating bullhorns, gourds, masks and figureheads.
At the end of the Vochol world tour, it will be auctioned on an international stage. All funds will benefit the AAMAP.
If you live in Europe – or will be touring it soon – make sure to visit Paris, Wolfsburg, Frankfurt or Brussels. This beetle is one of a kind, and the detail must be seen to be believed. Vochol is absolutely breathtaking.
On September 30, nearly 500 Mexicans are heading to Germany to participate in the annual Berlin Marathon 2012, a prestigious international competition. A marathon expo “Berlin Vital” will be taking place from September 27 through the 29 where Mexico will have a stand. If you are in… Berlin, make sure to visit the fair and look for the Mexico brand! MexicoToday will be covering Mexico’s participation via our German channels, including www.mexicotoday.org/de, on Twitter @MexicoTodayDE, and on Facebook. Photos will be also uploaded progressively on our Flickr channel so stay tuned! Good luck to all the Mexican runners!
Home to world-renowned resorts such as the Four Seasons and Grand Velas - both more than a decade old, the Riviera Nayarit is no stranger to luxury. The St. Regis Punta Mita, the newest member of this AAA Five Diamond club, however, has been steadily redefining what it means to be a top-tier luxury… resort in Mexico. By weaving the traditional rituals defined by The St. Regis over the years with some of the local of traditions of the Bay of Banderas area, The St. Regis Punta Mita offers guests a unique "Mex-Lux" experience.
Officially opening in November of 2008, The St. Regis Punta Mita has been receiving accolades since its inception. The resort's architect, Roy Azar, was awarded Best Interior Design project in Mexico for his ability to successfully incorporate and showcase the surrounding nature of Punta Mita into the design of the resort and in 2010, the resort's signature restaurant Carolina was also awarded AAA Five Diamond status, making it the only Five Diamond restaurant on Mexico's Pacific Coast.
What has guests really raving, however, are the daily activities ranging from culinary lessons to extreme sports - all designed to introduce visitors to the local culture of Punta Mita. On Mondays, guests meet with local chefs to learn how to make Ceviche, a Mexican favorite consisting of diced onions, cilantro, tomato, cucumber, and raw fish or shrimp "cooked" with the acids of lime juice. Tuesdays offer Mexican cocktail classes at one of the resorts four bars and on Wednesdays, guests can learn how to make another staple of Mexican cuisine, Guacamole. Thursdays showcase a Mexican twist on the classic Spanish favorite, Paella, as chefs walk guests through the creation of the dish as they cook the seemingly endless ingredients over a massive fire pit on the beach.
In addition to the culinary experiences, a new partnership with Punta Mita Expeditions has allowed The St. Regis Punta Mita to offer their guests a variety of physical adventures, all departing from the resort's beaches. The activities range in difficulty-level from family-friendly adventures like Snorkeling and Stand Up Paddling to more serious excursions like SCUBA Diving and Spear Fishing. According to Nicolas Melani of Punta Mita Expeditions, the most popular expedition at The St. Regis Punta Mita has been the Sea Safari, a three-hour boat trip to the nearby Marieta Islands where guests Snorkel and Stand Up Paddle Board. "Guests have been very responsive to our new line of experiences at The St. Regis," commented Carl Emberson, the resort's General Manager, "as they don't waste any vacation time shuttling to and from external activities. Everything happens from our beach."
The weekdays are certainly jammed packed with fun activities, but it's the Fridays at The St. Regis Punta Mita that you don't want to miss. Early risers can join a scheduled walk to the nearby fishing village of Punta Mita at 9am, thrill seekers can try their hand at Stand Up Paddle Boarding at 10am, and fishermen can cast some lines at 11. And if your favorite angler strikes out, you're still in luck as the 11:30 bell on the beach means it's time for "The Catch of the Day."
Each Friday at half past eleven, a boat full of local fishermen parks on the resorts Sea Breeze beach, loaded with the freshest of the morning's catch. Local fish such as Mahi Mahi, Bonito, Sea Bass, Parrot fish, and Red Snapper (often massive in size) are laid out on a bed of ice for guests to inspect. The resort's executive chef is on hand during the event to describe the difference between various fish and make recommendations as to the most delicious ways for each to be prepared. Guests can then choose what sounds best to have for lunch or that night's dinner.
After the Catch of the Day, the remainder of the afternoon is one of leisure. At sundown, guests and staff meet in the stunning Altamira lobby for the famous St. Regis Champagne Ritual. The open-air lobby overlooks a seemingly endless river of infinity pools that run down the heart of the resort to the beach. Needless to say, the views are breathtaking and on Fridays, the sunset is made even more picturesque with the addition of a meticulously arranged pedestal, covered in white linen, upon which sit a golden-hilted saber and bottle of Veuve Clicquot on ice. True to the ritual, a staff member unsheathes the saber, which he swipes up the shaft of the bottle, slicing both the cork and the neck clean off in an explosion of bubbly excellence. Naturally, the champagne begins to flow and guests and staff mingle as the sun dips lazily below the horizon.
Freshly caught fish for lunch, a day by the pool overlooking the ocean, swords and champagne at sunset… what more could you ask for from the perfect Friday? How about a torch-lit, family style barbecue dinner on the beach? Each Friday evening, guests gather on the resort's Sea Breeze beach where a dinner table fit for a royal feast awaits on the sand. The aroma of grilling BBQ ribs, steak, chicken, fish, and Mexican sausage wafts the beach as guests have the chance to meet, mingle, and dine together. A trio of local musicians strum classic tunes as the evening unfolds leaving many guests to conclude that at The St. Regis Punta Mita, luxury is truly paradise found.
“Great goodness, can I climb that high?” may be your first reaction when facing the main complex at Toniná. But you can. You’ve already reached this strangely alien Mayan complex. You’re more than the pampered tourist if you’re facing Toniná.
I fully grasped its height later, while examining a photograph taken one hundred yards from the complex. The picture failed to show over a dozen men working on the top edifice. Coming from the Yucatan or the Gulf coast of Mexico, take Highway 199. Definitely plan to stop at Palenque. The restaurants and hotels past the town are fine, but you won’t find four-star accommodations again until San Cristóbal de las Casas. You might spoil yourself with a better than average inn while in Palenque.
Leaving Palenque, Highway 199 is a narrow, curvy blacktop mimicking a raw river cutting through unbroken jungle. The road has few places to pull off, but there are several magical spots mixing water and tropical mountain rain forest that are must-sees. Cascadas Agua Azul and Misol-Ha’ are two sites of natural beauty that shouldn’t be overlooked. My last trip to Toniná was in November. I left Misol-Ha’ Waterfall in the late afternoon. I wanted to reach Ocosingo. I’d be driving after dark.
Heavy rains had drenched the area. Not twenty-five miles past Misol-Há, the road worsened. I encountered the first of a dozen major league washouts in the highway. With darkness closing over the hills travel became hazardous. I drove leaning forward to see better and my arm muscles tightened with constant tension. Worse, I missed the scenery. I felt relieved when I reached Ocosingo. The town had doubled in population since my last visit. I entered from an unfamiliar point where I couldn’t find my bearings. The change, however, turned positive. I passed through the familiar central area and hit a six block section wild with happy, gossiping people. They enjoyed the evening activities of sidewalk shopping and savoring drinks, ice cream or mango, melon, banana and other fruit treats I didn’t recognize.
I circled the blocks several times, stopping to enjoy a roasted ear of corn, sold by a sidewalk vendor, and soaked in the carnival-like atmosphere. By the time I reached the hotel at 9:30, the festivities were over. I was tempted to stay another day to capture the beehive activity on film.
I found the same hotel where I’d stayed years earlier. Surprisingly, I got the same tiny, Spartan room. The rates had jumped from six to twenty dollars, but the increase provided a black and white television. By the time I’d enjoyed a savory steak on the balcony and talked with four Danish women enjoying a bus trip through Mexico, the little central park had darkened and fallen silent.
A few vendors lined the street to sell to people returning from outlying clubs that rumbled with life until the late hours. I thought about visiting one or two cantinas, but wanted to get an early start to Toniná the next day. I also reflected on a near fight the last time I’d hit an Ocosingo club.
I hadn’t been involved in the argument but when it got heated it was obvious everyone, including women, in the bar would have thrown punches. The owner got the main combatants outside and apart. I thanked heaven knowing if a melee occurred the police would manage to capture the lone North American. Tucking myself in for the night, I was glad I recalled that old promise to myself to avoid Ocosingo’s taverns.
I slept later than intended, perhaps due to the tedious after-hours drive the day before or perhaps I just felt lazy. A fruit plate and scrambled egg breakfast, eaten in the company of the Danish women on the hotel’s balcony, made an ideal start to the morning before leaving for the ruins. The fifteen miles took forever on a poorly marked road.
A few smiling Mayan Indian girls and women attended two small tables selling trinkets and soft drinks at the entrance. Large shade trees sheltered them and created an inviting parking area. Only a car and truck indicated other tourists.
The entry fee was just over three dollars. There weren’t any signs, but I discovered two galleries inside the surprisingly excellent little museum complex. The displays were useful to gain some knowledge of Toniná’s history. The staff was helpful and obviously proud to be associated with the archeological zone.
The dates on Toniná are still being puzzled over. The complex could have been built as early as 350 A.D., but archeologists currently think most of the monuments and clusters of temple-pyramids date from the Maya Classic era, the sixth through ninth century A.D.
A healthy walk, probably a quarter mile or more is required to reach the complex. I should’ve brought water, but didn’t realize the length of the path. Luckily it was November. At most other times of the year, I would’ve had to turn back for water before exploring.
At the end of the lane a steep set of stairs goes down and up crossing a shallow, vegetation-choked creek. Once I topped the stairs I enjoyed my first view, an ancient ball field. Two large circular stones, resembling ancient manhole covers, lay on the field of play. A local farmer sitting on a retaining wall stood. He wanted work as a guide and insisted the stone discs were used in the ballgames once played on that ancient turf. An archeologist might have shed some light on their use but his explanation exposed the fact he had little knowledge of their original purpose.
Stepping from the ball field, I enjoyed my first full view of the Gran Plaza and the 249-foot high pyramid complex. The conglomeration of stacked edifices provided a Disney-like ambiance. A dozen or more men, appearing ant-like, worked on the highest temple.
Toniná’s construction differs from nearby Mayan complexes. The builders employed small rocks, whereas larger stones were used in other sites. Toniná may translate to “House of Stones.” This translation makes sense after the first view. Many experts on Mayan architecture believe central Mexican civilizations had more influence on Toniná than is typical of most Mayan sites. The multifarious pyramid was built on a large hill and has several main terraces.
Throughout the complex maze-like rooms adorn various terraces. Some experts speculate they had to do with astrology. Others believe they were used to hold captives. Archeologists will eventually determine if the rooms match up with the heavens at night. My guess was the quarters served both purposes, as well as other uses our modern minds will never fathom. The construction known as the “Entrance to the Labyrinth of Passages,” even in the early afternoon light is far too dark to step into without a flashlight. It is on the first level.
Toniná is noted for being a distinct dynastic center and defeating Palenque in a war. Many of the rulers are known. The friezes relate some of the site’s history. Several scenes focused on prisoners captured in battle.
Above the replica on the stairs and to the right loomed a large flat sculpture titled “Frieze of the Dream Lords.” The wall-mural is covered by a tropical palm-thatched roof. A wire fence keeps viewers back several feet. At this level, finally, the men working at the top can be clearly discerned.
Most notable among the frieze sculptures were inverted heads staring outward. Some theories suggest the upside down heads represent decapitated prisoners. Another sculpture I found especially interesting was a skeletal figure. I spent half an hour studying the “Frieze of the Dream Lords,” and discussing aspects of it with a young German woman who’d joined me while climbing. Surprisingly, once home and zooming in on photographs, I saw more of the scene than I did in person. I wonder if the frieze overwhelmed me, preventing concentration on a single part.
Toniná’s elevation is 2,950 feet. There are times when clouds roll in and shroud the top of the site. I didn’t visit the complex at such a time. Toniná has 260 steps, which may relate to the complex Mayan calendar system. The higher elevation provided cooling breezes that make stopping to catch my breath and enjoy the panorama a real pleasure.
Halfway to the top stood a most intriguing structure called “The Tomb of the Earth Monster” by some, and “Temple of Agriculture” by others. It stands as a stone structure the size of a child’s play house. Within, sits a beach ball-size shaped stone. My first thought, guessing the orb must weigh 350 pounds, was, “I’d have hated to help carry the damn thing up here.”
The theory for “The Tomb of the Earth Monster,” is the sphere represents the earth being eaten by the monster. I’ve no idea as I couldn’t make much of the intricate design covering the tomb.
Finishing my exploration, I joined a German couple for a soft drink under an open tent at the entrance. I needed the refreshment and a bit of easy conversation. I’d been hydrating myself constantly while in Mexico. This was the sixth pyramid complex I’d explored on this trip. The exercise had built me up a bit. Had I not consumed extra water daily I don’t believe I’d have enjoyed the complex so much or seen nearly half of what I accomplished. If you have the opportunity to explore Toniná, make certain you’ve been taking daily walks for a while. It’s not the type of site one should tackle while out of shape. Additionally, I’ll carry water next time.
I’ll revisit Toniná. The mysterious site is still in the early stages of being explored and properly studied. For those who enjoy Mayan history, the Mayan Calendar and the 2012 legends, Toniná is an extra special archeological zone. The latest date of the Maya Long Count discovered so far, 909 A.D., is at Toniná. The collapse of the Mayan civilizations begins in earnest after that date.
Universal Pictures International (Mexico) presents Hidden Moon, a Mexican feature film directed by Pepe Bojórquez (Sea of Dreams)… about a woman's fight to achieve her dreams regardless of the consequences. Starring Wes Bentley (American Beauty, Hunger Games) and Ana Serradilla.
Universal Pictures International Mexico presents the film "Hidden Moon," a feature film written, directed, and produced by the winner of the… "La Diosa de Plata," Pepe Bojorquez. Produced by Antonio Ruiz Arrieta, Raymundo Diaz-Gonzalez and executive produced by Rodrigo Lobo Morales, with Victory Blvd Success Entertainment Films and production companies. The main cast is headed by Oscar® winning film actor (American Beauty) and BAFTA® nominee for Best Actor, Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games), sharing credit with leading Mexican actresses Ana Serradilla and Osvaldo de León.
Perhaps the most exciting part of modern day travel is experiencing ancient cultures, especially in the case of the Maya. From history buffs and scholars, researchers and authors who thrive on historical facts and figures to travelers seeking new cultural encounters, experiencing the magic of the… sacred Maya culture is northing short of other-worldly.
The Maya culture has long been a mysterious and fascinating part of Mexico’s rich history. With the abundance of ancient cultural sites, original indigenous languages, arts and crafts, cuisine, native music, dance and timeless customs, the Maya culture still thrives today in Yucatán Peninsula and beyond.
Capturing the world’s attention as the end of an era approaches, (December 21, 2012 marks the end of the Maya Long Count, a 5,125-year cycle), and the beginning of a new one draws near, here are a few ways in which you can meet the Maya and learn about their sacred cultural traditions.
Maya Day of the Dead - Hanal Pixán
Dia de los Muertos – or Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico as an homage of life where families throughout Mexico take part in a religious ceremony, honoring those who have passed. Through customized altars built and covered with colorful decorations, photos of loved ones, candles, paper mache skeletons or calaveras, skull candies, special breads and food and drink, the concept of death is celebrated throughout Mexico from October 31 to November 2.
November 1st, a national holiday in many historically Catholic countries, is All Saints’ Day when the spirits of children are thought to return, while November 2nd, All Souls’ Day, honors the souls of adults and all of the faithfully departed.
This time of year in Mexico is a special time to show great respect through this deeply rooted tradition and tribute to all who have passed, from babies to the elderly.
The Maya Day of the Dead is called Hanal Pixán, which translates to “feast of souls” in the Mayan language. It is celebrated similarly to Day of the Dead but with foods unique to the Maya area including mucbipollo (buried chicken), large chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground pit with gourds of tan-chucua, a thick corn drink flavored with crushed cacao beans, pepper and aniseed. This meal is eaten and enjoyed by the Maya along with balche, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and tree bark. The meal is enjoyed by both the spirits, who are thought to consume its essence, and by the participants.
It is said that during this time, the Maya abstain from certain tasks such as hunting and sewing so as not to injure one of the wandering souls.
In Yucatán, visit Mérida for special festivities in the streets and at the local cemeteries. Don’t miss the annual celebration of the “Festival of Life and Death” at Xcaret eco-park in Quintana Roo. During this festival, the park is filled with rhythmic drum beats, the scent of burning copal, faces painted like skeletons, and an abundance of orange and yellow marigolds. Special festivities include concerts, plays, dances, art exhibitions and a variety of children’s activities. Be sure to visit the park’s authentic Mexican Cemetery, built cone-shaped, with seven levels and 365 different tombs. With more than 40 different natural and cultural attractions here, you can enhance or expand your appreciation of the Maya and Mexican culture.
Traditional Maya Bee Honey Harvesting Ceremony in Xel-Há
Twice a year, a traditional Maya bee honey-harvest ceremony (Xunaan-Cab or Melipona) takes place at Xel-Há, a natural aquarium park located in Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo.
The purpose of the festival, which is presented during a full moon in June and December, is to clean or unclog the jobones, (hollow trunks that represent beehives) and to collect the honey. Extensively cultured by the Maya for honey and regarded as sacred, the unique Melipona (of the Meliponini tribe) are stingless bees and produce a very high nutritional and medicinal type of honey.
A beautiful ceremony is conducted by a Maya priest who leads a ritual through offerings of thankfulness to Maya deities for their blessings and for the bees’ fertility. Xel-Há promotes the rescue of this ancient tradition of the Yucatán Peninsula as the Melipona bee is considered endangered.
Other activities can include a visit to Chichen Itza (any day, year round). A visit to this spectacular archeological site and large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya civilization is a must but particularly during Spring and Autumn equinoxes, in the late afternoon when the northwest corner of the pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows on El Castillo to evoke the appearance of a serpent. Or experience Momentos Sagrados Mayas (Sacred Mayan Moments), a seasonal play and indigenous Maya festival with a cast of inhabitants from the east part of Yucatán is staged every Sunday from January to March in X’ocen near Valladolid and presented by the Laboratorio de Teatro Campesino e Indígena on an open-air stage.
As the Maya (and Mayan calendar) have captured the world’s attention, perhaps now, more than ever, participation in a cultural Maya experience is essential for any itinerary.
What do Argentine Tango, the Peking Opera and Mexican food have in common? They’ve all been given UNESCO status as Masterpieces of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. These lofty words are unlikely to come to mind while savoring the best food in Mexico. I prefer my sister Kathryn’s response after tasting her first tlacoyo:… “Don’t talk to me—I’m in Food Heaven!”
I’ve lived in Mexico for more than fifteen years and have been to Food Heaven numerous times. Sometimes it’s been at a friend’s house, or at one of the high-end Mexican restaurants that have sprung up around town. But most often it’s been at a simple market fonda or a humble street stall.
Some people react to the term ‘street food’ in Mexico with alarm. Fear of strange bacteria and ‘Montezuma’s revenge’ stops them from trying some of the country’s best cuisine. When I first came to Mexico I would stroll by a busy stall, take in the heady aromas, and walk on by. But the tacos al pastor at El Huequito (The Hole-in-the-Wall) finally won me over—there were dozens of people eating them, and everybody just looked too happy. Over the years I’ve developed my own rules for eating on the street that have served me well.
A crowded stall is always a good sign. Make sure the place looks clean—trust your judgment. Look at the food to see if it’s fresh and is being cooked to order. Be wary of foods that may have been sitting around, especially in hot weather. Since the swine flu scare a few years ago many stalls now have a bottle of hand sanitizer available. I always carry moist towelettes to use before I eat—remember that your own hands can often been the carrier of germs. Notice if the cook is also taking the money—a bad sign. Food blogger Lesley Téllez recommends the best time to enjoy street food is lunch hour, roughly 2 to 4 pm, when things are busiest and there’s fast turnover. Also good is 10:30 to 11 a.m. because people are having their "second breakfast", to tide them over until lunch. (Check out Lesley’s street food tours at http://www.eatmexico.com/).
The best street food is often found in and around markets and near busy metro stops. Most Mexico City neighborhoods have a tanguis, a street market held one day each week, where some of the freshest street food can be found. You’ll find a variety of stands offering everything from fresh fruit juices to savory tacos. Here’s a list of top street food spots around town.
Metro Chilpancingo (Insurgentes and Baja California). This is my favorite spot in the city for great street food. On Calle Chilpancingo itself you’ll find some of the best flautas (literally ‘flutes’, elongated filled and deep fried tortillas served with salsa and cream) in all of Mexico, along with heart-warming caldo de pollo (chicken soup). I often have a quick lunch at El Tacetón (at the corner of Baja California and Tuxpan) which offers a variety of tacos de guisados (soft tortillas filled with a stew) including vegetarian options like tortitas de brocoli and coliflór; there’s a selection of colorful salsas to spike things up.
Eventually, I think it happens to everyone who has family in the snowy Midwest. You finally reach a holiday season where even though you love your family dearly, you just can’t bring yourself to head back for the sub-zero wind chill, ice-covered roads, and layer upon layer of puffy… winter coats… You tell yourself, “Just this once, we’re going to throw tradition out the window, and go somewhere warm and sunny for the holidays.” A Mexican beach sounded like just the ticket.
When my husband and I had this flash of brilliance the second week of December a couple years ago, we quickly realized that we were not the only ones who had thought of this ingenious plan! When we started our last-minute search for flights and lodging around Mexico, many of the best-known beaches were already booked up or charging a steep premium for the most popular week of the year (between Christmas & New Year’s). But then I came across the tiny village of Yelapa, located just south of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco state on Mexico’s west coast.
Yelapa is a sleepy little car-free pueblo that is primarily accessible by boat and just got electricity in 2001, but has various claims to fame with past visits from Bob Dylan, Jack Nicholson, Liz Taylor, etc. While it’s a popular day trip from Puerto Vallarta, I think it’s better as a two or three night stay. There’s not a whole lot to do, but that’s why you’re there—push your boundaries and see if you can resist Yelapa’s recently-acquired internet access for your whole trip. J
We flew into Puerto Vallarta and spent one night there first to check out “the big city,” and then hopped on the Yelapa Water Taxi the next day (which leaves from the old Los Muertos Pier for $150 pesos one way). A few taxi tips that I observed—1) sit in the back of the boat to minimize jostling, 2) have your camera at the ready to capture the beautiful scenery + schools of tropical fish and whales, and 3) ideally wear shorts/sandals in case you get dropped off on the beach in Yelapa where no pier = wade through the water. (Drop-off location depends on where your lodging is.)
There’s an impressive number of lodging option for a village this size; you can see a fairly comprehensive list here. We opted for Casa Bahia Bonita, a bright orangey-yellow multi-level house built into the vegetation on the northeast side of the cove. It’s nothing overly fancy, but it was clean, it had great views from the terraces, and the rooms had small (albeit somewhat spartan) kitchenettes so we were able to whip up some breakfast on site. It offers nice privacy as it’s the last property on that side of the cove, but the flip side is that it’s a bit of a walk to get to restaurants in town. It’s good to try making that walk during the daytime to familiarize yourself with the route before walking it at night, and a flashlight comes in handy. If you’re staying on the beach side, you’ll have to cross the river to get into town. During low tide, it’s no problem to cross the mouth of the river at the beach, but during high tide, that crossing can be waist deep! However if you walk just a bit up the river, it’s much easier to cross & there’s usually a bridge. (Something I wish we had known as we were wading back from dinner one night with wet shorts!)
If your tastes tend more upmarket, there are a couple higher end resorts that are worth checking out—Casa Pericos and Verana. We found surprisingly good food at Yelapa’s restaurants as well. Café Bahia was a great spot for breakfast & lunch, and we had a lovely Christmas dinner at the Yacht Club. You can find a helpful restaurant list + map on the site yelapa.info. Do be aware that many spots are closed in the rainy season (roughly May to September), so your dining options may be a bit more limited. A final note on food—we’d read a lot about “the pie lady” who visits the beach selling her wares each day. When we finally caught up with her one afternoon and dug into two pieces of pie, they were amazing and totally worth the wait. If she’s still making the rounds when you visit, flag her down for a slice of banana cream.
Eating pie and taking artsy photos of Corona bottles next to your toes in the sand should fill most of your days in Yelapa…but if you need more entertainment, there are options! Folks like Yelapa Adventures are happy to take you fishing, snorkeling, whale watching, or horseback riding. You can also walk along the river to check out the waterfall, and reward yourself with a cold beer once you get there.
We found Yelapa to be a great, laid-back place to escape to and avoid the Midwestern winter, especially when combined with a few days in Puerto Vallarta on the front or back end. Keep it in mind when you’re ready for a break from the usual holiday routine, and perhaps you’ll create a new tradition—out with turkey and dressing; in with fish tacos!
Like margaritas and Mariachis, Mexico and romance have always been eternally linked. I'm happy to tip my sombrero to Mexican beach resorts as I certainly find them all incredibly romantic. From the deep blue waters of the Pacific Coast to the soft white sand of the Caribbean, Mexico’s beach… resorts possess their own special kind of magic. But there's more to romance than the perfect sunset. This is a land of remarkable contrasts filled with vibrant images, amazing diversity, unique experiences and unexpected possibilities. Quite simply…romance defines itself here, and it's not always about the beach.
Romance is a personal thing. What's romantic to you may not be to me, and vice versa. It doesn't have to be candlelight and roses; I think it's about sharing an extraordinary moment in an extraordinary place. Here are a few suggestions for some different kinds of romance in Mexico.
Head off the beaten path. It sounds cliché, but it's so true. You can hire a guide for some one-on-one touring and you'll learn so much more. If you're in the state of Yucatán, take a tour of the cenotes (say-no-tays). These astonishing fresh water wells are so special. Ask your guide to take you to a few that aren't on the tourist circuit. Bring your bathing suit and spirit of adventure. Dipping into the crystal clear pools is like swimming in a sea of Perrier water. Soak it in. Listen to the soft echoes, and then enjoy the silence as you float in this incredible underground world. Then ask your guide to take you to HIS favorite restaurant and really indulge yourself in the local culture.
Discover Palenque. I was always told that sunset is the "magic hour" because everything seems to look more beautiful just before the sun slips beneath the horizon. This may be most true at Mexico's archeological sites. Arrive a few hours before sunset, just as most people are heading for the tour bus. My husband and I did this at Palenque in Chiapas and it was one of the most memorable afternoons I have ever spent in Mexico. Everything seems to come to life as the crowds begin to leave. The energy shifts. You get a stronger sense of the ancients. The light bounces off the ruins in ways you'll never see in the hard light of midday. Palenque sits in the middle of the jungle so the monkeys and birds create quite a symphony. The Temple of Inscriptions is the largest Mesoamerican stepped pyramid, yet at that time of day, the entire site seems strangely intimate. Don't miss Palenque in the late afternoon... you'll never be the same.
Do the zócalo in Oaxaca. The word "zócalo" refers to the main plaza or square in the heart of the historic center. Since 1529, this has been a gathering place for families, musicians and any and everyone who wants to drink in the feel of the city. There is almost always music of some sort. A Peruvian band playing pan flutes set the tone during my last visit. Hang out at a sidewalk cafe. Watch the smiles, listen to the music, laugh with friends, and of course nosh on some Oaxacan specialties. Don't rush this one, just stroll and enjoy.
Catch a performance (any performance!) at the Angela Peralta Theater in Mazatlán. I've had the pleasure to see both an unforgettable opera performance as well as a mesmerizing rendition of Mozart’s “Requiem” at this completely charming (and romantic) theater which has been restored in recent years to its European-style grandeur. Originally named the Rubio Theater, the structure was built in the 1870’s. In 1883, the famous Mexican opera singer, Angela Peralta (known as the Nightingale of Mexico), arrived in the city for a performance. The people of Mazatlán were so enamored of this songbird that the name was changed in her honor. The colorful interior is perfectly resurrected and true to the architectural influences of the period. After the show, head to Pedro + Lola, a hip restaurant with live jazz that sits catty corner to the esteemed theater. It will be an evening you'll long remember.
Do anything in Guanajuato. This might be one of the most romantic cities in all of Mexico. Guanajuato is purely Mexican. You won’t find many Americans here, but you’ll be glad you came. This town is so magical that it’s difficult to describe in words. It has mysticism and charm only rivaled by the small Italian villages in Tuscany or the Andalusian cities in southern Spain. Founded in 1557 as a silver mining town, Guanajuato is built over a maze of unusual subterranean street systems. Once used as control channels for floodwaters, the roads twist and turn through stone arched tunnels that bring you to the surface in various locations throughout the city. Above ground, you’ll find one of the most picturesque and colorful displays of architecture anywhere in the world. Splashes of bright greens, blues and yellows give the perfectly preserved buildings a storybook quality. A labyrinth of tiny streets, alleyways and steep stairwells cover the hillsides. This feels much more like a medieval village than a colonial city. If you’re into photography, you’ll be in heaven!
At the city center is the Jardin de Union. Cafes, shops, colonial buildings, and the Teatro Juarez encircle this pristine V-shaped plaza. (Constructed from 1873-1903, the Juarez Theater is a beautiful combination of Doric, French and Moorish architecture.) Also a very safe city, exploring on foot is the best way to appreciate the multitude of sites. First time visitors may want to hire a guide as some of Guanajuato’s treasures may be rather complicated to find within the city’s layout. From churches to fortresses and museums to national monuments, Guanajuato is a real gem.
Whether it’s all about romance, or just an added bonus of your trip, you can always surprise yourself with the wonder of Mexico. Sharing Mexico with the people you love may very well be the most romantic thing you can do.
Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Nancy Sathre-Vogel of Family on Bikes. She completed a thousand day journey from Alaska to the tip of South America in Argentina. She and her family biked it all.
Her inspirational family journey (http://familyonbikes.org/blog/) is an epic adventure and on it she cycled through Mexico. Not to my surprise she loved Mexico and wanted to talk about her travels there. I asked her a few questions to share with the readership of Mexico Today.
q1) Before we talk about Mexico, tell us what inspired you and your family to chart this 17,300 mile course and bike from Alaska to the tip of South America?
We met some other people cycling from Alaska to Argentina while we were cycling around the USA and decided we wanted to head down to South America too. The REAL question is why were we out there cycling around the USA in the first place? And that is a hard question to answer.
It basically came down to time – my husband and I wanted time together, time with our children, time to enjoy our lives before it was too late. As teachers, we were both spending more time with other people’s kids than our own and decided that needed to change. So we headed out on bikes. (Yes, I know that makes a LOT of sense, but it’s the truth.)
q2) Incredible, so now looking at a map, Mexico must have been a large part of the journey. How many days, weeks, or months did you spend in Mexico?
We spent about two months passing through the country on our Pan American journey and roughly four months cycling there on that trip “around the USA” I referenced above.
q3) So you must definitely understand the country, but let’s start from the beginning, where did you cross the border? And was safety a concern?
There were two distinct journeys through Mexico. In 2007 we entered through Tijuana, cycled the length of Baja, ferried to Mazatlan, then cycled north to Arizona. Then in 2009, we entered at Reynosa near the tip of Texas and cycled the entire east side of the country.
Was safety a concern? Not so much for us. We had been to Mexico before, we knew the people were wonderful. Yes, we knew there was drug violence, but figured it was targeted. WE were not concerned. That said, OTHERS were very concerned. So much so that we came under quite heavy criticism for taking our children south of the border.
As they put it, John and I, as adults, could make the choice to risk our lives by heading into Mexico, but they didn’t feel it was fair to risk our children’s lives. If we crossed the border in Juarez, a city greatly feared amongst many Americans, we would just be feeding them. We caved under the pressure, conceded to public criticism and made the decision to continue south along the border to a smaller, perhaps safer border crossing.
As it turned out, every border crossing we reached was deemed “too dangerous” by THEM. Finally, the stars aligned just right and our lucky star was shining and we managed to score an escort. Not just any escort – Claudio.
Claudio, a local man very involved with motorcycle clubs, managed to line up an entourage to escort us through the border region and then through every single city we passed through.
q4) So you received an escort? A unique experience, how much assistance did your family have in Mexico? Was it needed?
It was incredible. Truly a remarkable experience. The Mexican people went above and beyond to help us out and won the Hospitality Award in a huge way. Every time we were a couple days out of the next city, I hauled out my cell phone preprogrammed with the phone numbers of the presidents of the local motorcycle clubs. They organized themselves and came to help us get through their cities. The motorcyclists helped us find a place to stay (many times in their homes) and arranged interviews and other activities for us. They were wonderful.
Did we NEED the assistance? No. We could easily have passed through the country without their help, but we greatly enjoyed getting to know them. They added a whole new dimension to our journey.
q5) I noticed from your stories on your blog, you had quite an adventure in Veracruz. Tell us what happened? What did you learn about Mexico from it?
We learned that day that people know way more than maps. According to our map, there was a perfectly good road right along the lagoon. To our way of thinking, a remote road along a beautiful lagoon was a much better choice than the main highway. Many local people told us to stick to the main road, but… ummm… we knew better.
We turned away from the main highway and headed back onto what was supposed to be a nice, quaint rural road next to the water. And for the next ten hours pushed our bikes through deep sand and mud puddles up to our knees. Needless to say, we stuck to the main highway after that.
q6) Ouch. You already mentioned the Mexican people are one of the best reasons to travel to Mexico, but so is the food. I imagine you ate some great food while in Mexico. What do you miss? What was your favorite?
Plain ol’ tortillas and beans is one of my son’s favorite food in the world. He was in heaven in Mexico where he had an unlimited supply of fresh tortillas and beans. He frequently brings up the day he walked past a tortilla shop making fresh flour tortillas and the woman handed him a tortilla still hot from the oven. His mouth starts watering at the very thought.
My other son loves tamales and sought out tamales wherever we were. He was always sorely disappointed if we couldn’t find any.
q7) You probably explored more of Mexico than most will in theirlifetime, what place or places would you recommend to travelers searching for a unique Mexican experience not offered in major resort towns?
We enjoyed all of our time there, but I think the most unique part of the country was the Sonora River Valley up in the north near Arizona. The tiny road snaking alongside the Sonora River between Douglas, Arizona and Hermosillo, Sonora wasn’t even on our map. In Google Maps online, we had to zoom in nearly full-on before we could even see the towns – but the road still didn’t show up. Even so, it was a delight to cycle like we had never found before.
All along the valley, we cycled through small, historic towns every 15 or 20 kilometers. The people had smiles ready and beers in their hands. They invited us to lunch and to spend an afternoon in a hot spring. We were welcomed by hundreds of cattle ranchers at their annual meeting, party, and rodeo. We spent a night with one of those backcountry Mexican places you see in the movies – but this one was real. In the morning, he caught a raccoon for his lunch.
The Sonora River Valley reminds me of the “old Mexico” – the Mexico portrayed in the movies. The Wild West experience. Certainly not what you will find in a beach resort.
q8)Very cool. That is still I part of Mexico I need to explore. But, everyone is not biking through the Mexico. So, for those considering a vacation or even an adventure in Mexico, what advice would give?
Go. Do it. Just head south and you are likely to encounter friendly people, great food, and loads of fun. Honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with Mexico. The variety is enormous and each section is unique so there is no end to what you could do.
q9) Thanks Nancy, that is great to know and hear that from you, someone who has biked all over the world really appreciates Mexico. So, now for everyone interested in learning more about your Mexican adventures and your entire trip, where can they find you online?
We have a blog and extensive resource section at www.familyonbikes.org Our journal from our entire bike journey from Alaska to Argentina is on there, along with loads of information to encourage and inspire people to pursue their passion and follow their dreams.
Ok, great. Thanks again.
- Craig Zabransky
If you’ve traveled a lot, you probably have a funny story or two, like the time you intended to order a stuffed apple but got a pregnant porcupine. It makes for good storytelling when back home.
The same could happen in Mexico, of course, but keep in mind, Mexicans are generally a polite bunch. They’ll probably double check before bringing the porcupine. They understand you’re from somewhere else, and appreciate, even admire, that you are trying to learn a bit about their language and culture. Most all you meet will be tolerant when your accent lands on the wrong syl-LA-ble, or you commit shocking grammatical errors, or when you highlight your cultural idiosyncrasies.
What’s more, as you know, Mexicans have a special connection with the United States. Many have family who are US citizens, too, some have had families in places like California from even before it was part of the United States. So they know a bit about you and they like you.
Here are a few tips about Mexican customs I hope will help you feel even more confident and comfortable mingling with the locals on your next visit to Mexico. Keep in mind, these tips are mostly for travelers, rather than tourists, by which I mean folks who want to discover a little more about Mexico, as opposed to those who are visiting only for the nice weather but in every other way want it to be just like home (for more on the difference be sure to read this article by Mexico Today Ambassador Lisa Coleman). Mexico accepts both types.
Language and Communication
If you have a tin ear for languages and think your limit is two phrases, then learn these two most powerful phrases in Spanish: “por favor” (please) and “gracias” (thank you). For reasons too deep to go into here, they are the oils that lubricate Mexican culture.
One other thing you should be aware of, and will probably notice, when you are in a crowded space in Mexico, like a restaurant. Folks generally speak much more quietly than we are accustomed to in the United States. If at first you find this disconcerting, give it time, you will come to appreciate it I think.
A brief word about attire. Of course in beach towns things are naturally a little more casual, but in the rest of Mexico, folks probably dress less casually while going about their daily business than we do in the United States. For example, errands to the store still call for shoes rather than chanclas (flip-flops). Also, sweatpants are generally too casual for almost everything, save for the gym or around the house. And, while I get that pajamas are very comfortable, unlike sweatpants, they won’t do, even in the gym, so best not wear them in the street.
Eating and Food
Many foods thought of as typical Mexican dishes- tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and the like- are what Mexicans call antojitos. For most Mexicans these are not everyday dishes, but are usually associated with special celebrations. Of course, you probably know Mexicans celebrate a lot, so you are likely to see these foods when visiting, but a typical Mexican meal on a normal day, at least where I come from, is more likely to start with a brothy soup or a rice dish, followed by beans, cooked vegetables, and some meat or fish either in a sauce or grilled. Guacamole, rather than a dip for chips, is also a common side dish next to the rice and beans.
Which brings me to another important point. This main meal, as I have described it, usually happens between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. Some Mexicans return to work afterwards and work into the early evening as I often did. A typical meal schedule in Mexico might look like this:
Desayuno-Breakfast 7 am
Almuerzo-Lunch 11-12 noon
Comida-Dinner -3 pm-The Main Meal
Then, usually, either:
Merienda-Light Snack 8-10 pm- Something light, like a sweet bread pastry (pan dulce) with hot chocolate.
Cena-8-10 pm Something light like but more substantial like a taco or quesadilla
But sometimes both!
Chips and salsa do not adorn the center of every table in Mexico. (I’d never seen it until I went to a Mexican restaurant in the United States.) If they are there, it may be simply to make you feel more at ease. If you would like water, you need to ask for it and it will usually come without ice.
A funny thing can happen in different cultures: In one, a behavior may seem rude, while in another, it is considered polite. It’s all about intent and cultural values. The restaurant server’s behavior is a perfect example. I want you to know you are not being ignored if your server doesn’t rush in each time you put your fork down, nor has he forgotten you if he fails to deliver your check within two minutes of your last bite. In fact, to do either would be considered rude. In Mexico, hospitality requires that you not be rushed out with your last gulp. So when you would like the bill, simply ask for it. Just remember to say, “la cuenta, por favor.”
Just think how civilized it will be to sit and chat in an outdoor cafe for as long as you would like... in a plaza ...in a beautiful pueblo...in Mexico.
Mexican photographer Ulises Castellanos recently presented a selection of his work in London. “Mexico City: Invisible City” was the name of his latest portfolio of photos featuring images of modern Mexico. Through the lens of Castellanos, includes the city’s most iconic buildings such as the Torres Arcos… Bosques in Santa Fe, the Angel of Independence, Mexico City’s World Trade Center, as well as images of Mexican people, young and adult. Watch a video here for images on his latest work.
Following the inauguration of Castellanos’ photo exposition in London, the Mexican Embassy in London organized a party of “El Grito” the following day at Camden Centre in celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day. Watch a collection of photos from both events here.
The event helped to show the UK public a sample of Mexican documentary photography through the work of Castellanos, and show how Mexico is a modern city with a unique cultural story.
Castellanos studied photography at House of Images (1983) and in the Active School of Photography in Mexico (1986), and the Journalists Training Centre (CFPJ) in Paris, France (1992). Castellanos formerly taught as a visiting professor of photojournalism at the Maison du Mexique the Paris International Academic City. Some of his most important exhibitions in recent years are: "Mexico City, Construction Space" presented in 2004 at the Photo Gallery 798 in Beijing, China; "Scars" which was presented in Paris in 2005 at the Renoir Gallery He Latine; "Tibet" presented at the Alliance Francaise in 2006; and "Beijing Forbidden City" presented at the Tecnológico de Monterrey in the same year.