Mexico's latest ad campaign

Check out the latest promo video for Mexico City, put out by the Mexico Tourism Board. This item from the Board says the campaign will target the United States and Canada, and will be based on tourist accounts of their travels. A colleague of mine notes on Facebook that she finds it curious the use of women in these ads. Is it that women promote an image of security? Make the travel decisions? Find Mexico's charms more interesting?

I don't know. But it looks like Mexico is also trying to gear up for a greater flow of Chinese tourists. At about the time that President Xi Jinping visited Mexico in early June, Tourism Minister Claudia Ruiz opened her doors to Chinese journalists. Below is the piece that appeared on CCTV Channel 9 in English, which reaches the English-speaking population in China and around the world. The piece most certainly would have appeared on one of the many Mandarin channels operated by CCTV as well as the Spanish language one.


Altitude+smog=tough marathon

020713 MANCERA-MARATÓN 08Mayor Miguel Mancera wants the annual marathon in Mexico City to regain some lost luster. The marathon, scheduled this year for Aug. 25, is not ranked among the world’s most important races.

At an event Tuesday, Mancera bemoaned the lack of prestige for the local foot race.

“I must say, we're not even among the top 100 marathons in the world. We can’t let this go on because it is a very important marathon, a marathon that serves as training for other marathons. The altitude and the route of the race make it worthy of much attention,” Mancera said.

Mancera said nearly 10,000 runners have signed up for the race but that he is hoping for 20,000 by race time.

Mexico City is no doubt a challenging venue for a race. First off is the elevation: 7,900 feet above sea level, high enough to make runners gasp for breath. The altitude “can add up to 10 minutes to a runner’s overall time,” according to this website. Second is the smog. On most days, a haze covers the city.

Click here for the Runner's World list of the world’s top 10 marathons.


America's 'wicked war'

Where is the wooden leg of famed Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna? Watch this interesting video from CBS's Sunday Morning program to learn more about what a Penn State historian describes as the "wicked" Mexican-American war, America's first war based on greed rather than ideological principal.You'll discover in this video why Mexicans revere the "Niños Heroes" who defended the Chapultepec Castle. And you'll also learn about Santa Anna's leg. If you want to find out why it is somewhere in Illinois, click here.


Spring equinox at the pyramids

Some 41,000 tourists flocked to the main 12 pre-Columbian ruins in Mexico Thursday to celebrate the spring equinox. Apparently the tradition is to wear all white clothing, maybe some red beads, and to raise one's hands to "recharge" one's energies. It's not precisely my cup of tea, so I haven't done it, and I'm on the Texas border to boot where there are no ruins. Above is the Temple of Kukulkan at the Chichen Itza ruin in the Yucatan above. The government said the greatest number of tourists -- 21,200 -- went to the Teotihuacan ruins near Mexico City. Below is a photo from Teotihuacan today, provided by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, as is the one above.


The amazing 'birdmen of Mexico'

Anyone who visits Veracruz and environs at fiesta time is likely to see the age-old Dance of the Voladores, the ancient Mesoamerican acrobatic dance that brings awe to viewers. I was in Cuetzalan, on the border between Puebla and Veracruz states over the weekend. To my delight, be-costumed dancers arrived at the Zocalo on Sunday morning and began to climb the huge pole. It must have been over 100 feet in height. 

According to the history books, the ritual began many centuries ago as a supplication to the gods to end drought and return rain and fertility to the soil. As recently as a few decades ago, the dancers would still adorn their bodies with feathers to appear as birds to the gods. They'd apply feathers from eagles, owls, crows, parrots and the brightly colored quetzal bird.

Check out this January 1954 Popular Mechanics article titled "The Weird Birdmen of Mexico." The article notes that after the dancers climb to the top of the pole, they "drop off into space with blood-curdling shrieks and glide in widening circles until they hit the ground."

I didn't hear any shrieks. Rather, the whole ceremony was accompanied by lilting fife and drum music, and the pealing of church bells. The costumes include long pastel ribbons that flutter as the dancers descend to the ground.

In 2009, UNESCO chose the ritual ceremony of the 'voladores' as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, putting it up there with Mexico's Day of the Dead festivities.  

Clambering into Mexico's depths

One of the charms of Cuetzalan, which the Washington Post once called the “perfect mountain town,” is that it is in the mountains of Puebla atop a massive cave system.

Photo-2A lover of caves, I badgered my traveling companions along on a weekend trip to enter a cave with me named Los Corales, which turned into quite an adventure. We descended 700 meters into the cave, all of us wearing helmets with headlamps and led by a guide who said she’d been in Los Corales hundreds of times.

It was raining up above, and the family that manages the cave suggested we wear rented boots. We all said no. That was mistake No. 1. Once we got into the cave, we were engulfed by several inches of rushing water in several spots. In one area we had to descend (and later ascend) what felt like a small rushing waterfall.

That said, the cave was beautiful, the darkness deep inside profound, and the crystals and stalactites otherworldly. One of my companions, Swedish television journalist Bosse Lindwall, took the video that accompanies this post. You can hear the rushing water at times in the video.



Acapulco's mayor and his big blunder

No one’s had a worse week than the six Spanish tourists who were gang-raped by masked men in their bungalow in Acapulco’s Playa Bonfil early Monday morning. The rapists chugged mescal after assaulting the women.

The case made worldwide headlines on Tuesday _ partly because Acapulco Mayor Luis Walton dismissed the rape initially, saying such attacks happen “anywhere in the world.” In political terms, Walton’s also had a rotten week, deservedly so.

Within a day, Walton held a press conference in which he apologized and begged for federal help in finding the rapists. By several accounts, he wept before journalists. I guess aides advised him that tourism to a city that some call “Narcopulco” would fall even faster off a cliff with news of marauding rapists preying on foreign women.

Female lawmakers from the ruling PRI immediately called Walton a misogynist and demanded further signs of atonement: "There is no room for interpretation, either good nor bad, of this claim that it 'happens anywhere in the world.' This was the cynical and misogynistic statement of someone who holds public office and shames all those from Guerrero state."

Sadly, authorities report no advances in trying to find the culprits.

The headline in Spain’s ABC newspaper today says: “The rape of the Spaniards in Acapulco will remain in impunity.” An accompanying story notes that Acapulco is now considered the second most dangerous city in the world after San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

If nothing else, Walton should get busy trying to change that dubious distinction.

The charms of Puerto Vallarta

I’ve just returned from a couple of days working in Puerto Vallarta, and can report that I was taken by its charms. I’d landed there a year ago only to drive northwest into Nayarit state.

This time, I explored the city a bit. First off, it’s safe and one can feel that immediately in the loose attitude of Mexicans there. Secondly, Old Vallarta is lovely. In general, city fathers have done well with regulations keeping signs small, keeping the cobblestone streets and making wide promenades, especially along the seafront.

IMG_4756Several things surprised me, though. The few restaurants I tried were great, as good as anything in Mexico City. A very authentic French bistro (La Cigale) near City Hall, where I spent much of the two days, astounded me with the tastiest French onion soup I’d eaten in years.

A lot of resident foreigners dwell in Puerto Vallarta so that has brought plenty of fusion to the cuisine, the shopping, the art, etc. Walking along the Malecon felt like strolling along Venice Beach in California.

I’d heard that Puerto Vallarta is a bit of a gay mecca but didn’t realize how much so it is, truly one of the most open places I’ve seen in Latin America. There are two gay tourist pamphlets on most counters. One I picked up (called Gay Guide Vallarta) said this:

“Vallarta’s gay scene includes a couple dozen gay clubs and bars and 3 beach clubs that from the gay beach area north to just across the river. … The main cluster of gay bars today is an outgrowth of city planning decisions made in the early 1990s. They created a Cabaret Zone, a four block square area where the city fathers wanted the late night entertainment, with its accompanying noise, to be corralled.”

While the gay scene won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it has brought peripheral entertainment. Old Vallarta was filled with signs for a local troupe’s performance of music from Stephen Sondheim’s musicals.

The jungle is verdant both to the north and south of the port. I saw multiple signs for the upcoming Vallarta Bird Festival March 7-10 that draws birdwatchers from far and wide.

I personally prefer the crashing Pacific surf to the gentler Caribbean, and there’s plenty of that outside of Vallarta Bay.

If I appear overly enthusiastic, maybe it’s because I always feel stronger, fitter and more invigorated going from Mexico City’s 7350 feet altitude to sea level. Anyone else notice the difference?



Yes, we have no bananas -- on board

I’m not an experienced fisherman but I just went fishing with some friends on protected Ascension Bay in the Yucatan. It felt like having a national park all to ourselves.

But here was the odd thing. Fishermen all over the world are a superstitious lot. And what came up on this trip was the following:

Don’t bring bananas on the boat. Bananas bring bad luck. They scare away the fish. You won’t catch anything.

I thought this a might curious, perhaps a Mexican superstition. But I see that it is far more widespread than that. This article says the belief is prevalent among crab fishermen in the U.S. as well, and may have roots dating back to the banana trade from Central America a century ago.

Banana boats moved to fast for fishermen to troll effectively. The boats were trying to get their perishables to market.

This LA Times article from 2001 quotes a sport fishing boat captain, Bouncer Smith, of South Florida, and the extensive efforts he goes through to rid anything redolent of bananas from his boat.

"Typically, when customers arrive in the morning, the first thing I do is interrogate them," Smith said. "First, I check for bananas, then I check for Banana Boat sunscreen products, then for Banana Republic shirts and blouses, then for Starburst strawberry-banana [candies] and, most important of all, for Fruit of the Loom labels."

Now back to Ascension Bay. This is an amazing place, part of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Turquise waters. Extensive flats for bonefishing. It takes an hour and a half along a gravel road to get there from Tulum. But it feels further. I have not seen a night sky lit up with stars like that in years. Our first day out, we saw not a single other boat after traveling miles and miles on the bay. It was like going to Yellowstone and finding it deserted. When we weren't fishing, we were seeing countless roseate spoonbills and frigate birds. 


Reason No. 55 for 'going to Mexico'

“Going to Mexico” has a lot of connotations for Americans or Canadians. It can mean visiting paradise, taking a self-indulgent break, soaking up culture or going on the lam.

At heart, it is getting away from it all.

This came to mind with the surprising statement by Rajon Rondo, the star point guard of the Boston Celtics basketball team who was suspended for two games after getting in a brawl with Brooklyn Nets’ Kris Humphries on Nov. 28.

This marked the three-time all-star’s third suspension in the past nine months. But if the NBA expected Rondo to reflect on what gets him into trouble, they blew it.

“I went to Mexico,” Rondo tells reporters in this video. Asked by reporters if he’d learning anything during his time off, Rondo answered laconically: “No.”

Rondo didn’t say where in Mexico he went, only that he was “glued in front of the TV” watching the Celtics play. They split two games in his absence.

So there’s another reason to go to Mexico: Stick it to the NBA powers that be.



This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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