Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

T20 Summit in Cancun

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

The T20 Summit took place in Cancun recently as a place nations of the G-20 to share views about tourism. My friend and colleague, Lisa Coleman, attended and has raved about the event. Robert Redford was there as a speaker, as was the world’s richest man, Mexico’s Carlos Slim. Mexico tourism is making a great recovery this year after a couple of challenging years attributed mainly lousy world economy and an over-exaggerated effort by main-stream media about the cartel situation. Read more about it here duenasgang@sbcglobal.net

Treasures of the Southern Baja

Friday, December 30th, 2011

By Lisa Coleman

The 880-mile long Baja Peninsula is divided into two Mexican states – Baja California Norte (north) and Baja California Sur (south). On one side of the Baja is, of course, the Pacific Ocean, and on the other lies the magnificent Sea of Cortez. Until the early 1970’s, the secrets of the southern Baja (Baja Sur) were only known to the heartiest of travelers. But these days Los Cabos is booming and the lesser known destinations like La Paz, Loreto and Mulegé have worked very hard to become recognized as contenders in the Baja market – And they are doing a great job!

La Paz means “peace” in Spanish. It is the capital of the state of Baja California Sur and is the second largest city south of Tijuana on the Baja Peninsula. La Paz has a simple energy and an easy feel. Though framed by beautiful beaches, the city itself is more provincial atmosphere and lacks the occasionally overwhelming hustle and bustle that seems to come with traditional beach resorts. And even though La Paz is surrounded by desert, the town itself is set amidst ancient laurel trees and coconut and date palms.

Fishing and water sports are a given in La Paz, but what you may not know is that it is also arguably the ecotourism capital of North America. Just outside the city itself are countless deserted beaches, calm bays and ecologically pure offshore islands. The region’s complex wildlife, plant life, and geology are truly astonishing. The Sea of Cortez is one of the world’s unique ocean environments, considered by some to be the most biologically rich body of water on earth. More than 850 species of marine life make their home in its temperate waters making it a year-round fishing utopia. In fact, this sea is said to be the greatest fish trap in the Western Hemisphere. Colonies of sea lions, pods of Humpback, Blue, Sperm, Fin and seasonal migrating Gray whales are a very common site.

Just over two hundred miles north of La Paz, Loreto is making a name for itself as a secluded beach resort with ecological attractions and stark desert beauty. In the shadow of the rugged Sierra la Giganta Mountains, the small in scope, almost village-like Loreto can certainly be classified as remote. Nonetheless, its surprisingly complete historic past has made it a point of interest for cultural visitors for years. It was the first capital of the Californias and has become somewhat famous for its well-preserved Jesuit missions. In fact, the town’s official slogan is “300 Years Old and Still Undiscovered.” The downtown area is a mix of shady plazas, small shops, picturesque churches and a hotel or two. The views here are magnificent and the nearby cobalt waters of the Sea of Cortez are calm and clear. The beaches are a bit rocky, but the crystalline waters are ideal for kayaking, sailing, windsurfing and above all, fishing.

And not to be forgotten is the friendly, tiny town of Mulegé (moo-leh-HAY). This tropical oasis can be found about 80 miles north of Loreto and has a population of only about 6,000 residents. Nestled along the southern Baja’s only fresh water river, Mulegé is mostly lush and green year round. There isn’t too much going here, but the location is key for those searching for some really untouched land along the Sea of Cortez. The village sits at the mouth of the Bahia Conception (a national marine preserve), and is a great starting point to discover the pristine waters and deserted coves of stunningly beautiful isolated beaches. The diving is excellent!

If you step out of the more mainstream destinations, you’ll find the off-the-beaten-parts of the southern Baja are truly treasures worth discovering.

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination

Street Food

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

“You don’t eat at the street stands, do you, genius?” I get this annoying question all the time. I tell them “hell yes, it’s good and it’s cheap.” In many years of traveling Mexico I have been taken ill from bad food a few times, but I can’t think of one time that I could trace the problem back to eating street food. And in recent years I rarely get sick…ever. And it’s not because I have become “used” to it, somehow convincing rogue bacteria that they are powerless attempting to invade my long-battered immune system. Sanitation and proper food preparation have improved immensely in Mexico, and if you use a little common sense and chant a daily prayer to the porcelain god you can fine-dine at the street stands, just like the locals do. I like the street stands in part because you can see the person cooking your food and what they are cooking. It has to be fresh and look safe for consumption. Having been a waiter and bartender just after college graduation I know what goes on in a closed kitchen, and…never mind.

The first thing you should look for when choosing your street food is to discover who is doing all of the business. If a street stand operator is dishing tainted food he’ll be out of business in a week, so go where the locals go. They know who has safe food and just as importantly, who has really good food. You can fill up on three sizzling meat-filled tacos (try to find the stand that is cooking with mesquite wood for the best flavor) for about $3.00. There is usually a small tienda nearby to grab a soda, beer or bottle of water. Generally, you’ll order what you want and they’ll hand over your plate in a minute or so. Load up the tacos with the bowls of salsa, guacamole, onions, cilantro, and whatever else is offered. Find a place on the street or lean against the counter to enjoy your meal, or some stands offer a couple of portable tables and chairs. Then, get this, you pay the person at the cash register AFTER you have finished eating. Try that at Bubba’s Burger Shack takeout back home.

Most stands specialize in one or two signature dishes, usually serving variations of beef, chicken, and near the coast, fish. Some stands serve just fresh fruit or elote – roasted corn on the cob slathered in a mayo-type sauce with lime and cayenne pepper. Another stand might just serve carnitas, sold in bulk with salsa, cilantro and fresh tortillas, and down the street it might be churros, the long, deep-fried donut-like waist exploders. The list is endless, as are the flavors.

But my personal favorite, the one dish I would order on the way to the gas chamber, is birria, or goat stew. Most commonly found in the state of Jalisco, it is served in a bowl with a side dish of cilantro, onions, chiles and tortillas. I usually have to be dining solo when I’m searching for birria – apparently goat meat doesn’t agree with everyone, even after I explain that we aren’t actually eating someone’s pet. Oh well, birria and a beer is as good as it gets for me.

So on your next Mexico trip take a walk on the wild side (apologies to Lou Reed).You can find open stands all day, but many don’t open until the evening, staying in business late into the night. A couple of street tacos right after a night of cantina-hopping will lessen the hangover symptoms immensely the next morning…or so I have been told.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.

Is Mexico Dangerous?

Friday, July 8th, 2011

David Simmonds

The warnings are dark and ominous. Mass graves, crossfire shootout victims, kidnappings. Don’t Go To Mexico, the headlines SHOUT. It is a very dangerous place, amigo. Gringos should stay home or go to Vegas if you know what’s good for you. You don’t want to be shot, do you?

I read the daily drumbeat and wonder what the purpose is. I understand that fear sells, but the ethics of good journalism demand that the whole story be told accurately. I have been traveling Mexico since I was a kid, which was a long time ago (or so says my lying birth certificate). And the Mexico I know so well isn’t the same country I read about. Not even close.

Here’s a short story to illustrate my point. I had been to Mexico near the border a number of times, to Ensenada and San Felipe, first with my parents, then with my friends (Hussongs Cantina in Ensenada is still one of the great bars in the world). Then one summer in college I read about this place being discovered way down in Mexico called Puerto Vallarta, and they had just built a paved road to get there from Tepic– prior to that it was dirt and most trekkers arrived by boat or plane. So I called an old high-school buddy who was going to Stanford and we headed south on a road trip in my old VW van from San Diego, armed with a crude map, a case of beer, very little money and four bald tires with no jack. What could possibly go wrong?

Much to our naïve surprise we blew all 4 tires by the time we hit Guaymas, where we camped on the beach right where the movie Catch-22 had just been filmed, before continuing to PV. And each time a tire blew along the way a local Mexican would suddenly appear and help us. They never asked for anything, they just wanted to help the stupid gringos. I specifically remember the flat we had on the beach in Guaymas, where two cars full of Mexican businessmen (or politicians…I think one was actually the mayor) pulled up, along with their female companions, and changed our tire for us as we passed cold beers around (it was about 100 degrees). We then sat and shared stories into the night as they brought out the tequila – the local Mexicans and the blond-haired college kids.  I knew at that moment that Mexico would become an integral part of my life – that it would always be a place I could go to be reminded what it is to be real.

The thing is, that same Mexico is still there every time I go. I’ve traveled tens of thousands of miles by car, bus, train and plane and have never been robbed, threatened or harmed in any way. Never. Yes, there are places I avoid these days, but they are few and well-known to anyone who takes the time to investigate. There are also places I avoid in the U.S. and any other country I visit. That’s the reality of living in the 21st century. Opie and Andy were a long time ago, but if you let your guard down you can still find a little Mayberry when you open your heart and mind. Mexico is a good place to start.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  I was also invited to an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role and for the launch of the program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blogs are completely my own.

Mexico Today Begins

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Like Charlie Sheen, Mexico has developed an image problem. The difference is that Charlie’s is well-earned and Mexico’s is a media creation. Don’t get me wrong, Mexico has a drug cartel war where rival organizations are fighting for supremacy. But the vast majority of the country is safe for residents and travelers, and this fact needs to be told to the public by people who know better.

 

Fortunately, the Mexican government has undertaken a pro-active position under the direction of Jaime Diaz and the incomparable U.S. based Ogilvy Public Relations firm. I have been involved in writing about Mexico travel for nearly twenty years during which time several marketing firms have had the Mexico contract. None of them “get it” like Ogilvy. These are very bright, educated people who understand the power of social media, which brings me to this news: I have been chosen as one of 24 people in North America to serve as “ambassadors” to the new program put in place by Ogilvy and the Mexican government called Mexico Today. My job, for which I receive compensation, is to write about the real Mexico – the one the mainstream media is failing to cover. I will do that on this site as well as others that I am involved in.

 

I’ve been promoting Mexico, a country I truly love, for many years. So I jumped at the chance to be a Mexico Today associate in the face of all the bad press going down these days. It’s very gratifying to know that everyone isn’t just hand-wringing and doing nothing constructive in the face of a negative situation. The Mexico Today (www.mexicotoday.org) team is fired up and ready to help change the perception of Mexico being a “dangerous” place. We spent this last weekend together in Oaxaca getting to know each other and coordinating strategy. With the caliber of leadership that we have and the passion and expertise of the ambassadors, I feel certain we will help to turn things around.

 

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  I was also invited to an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role and for the launch of the program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blogs are completely my own.

Moving Your Stuff To Mexico

Friday, June 13th, 2008

David Simmonds

One of the first things I counsel people about when they contact me about their desire to move to Mexico is that they need to make damn sure they know what they are getting in to. They usually know about the many benefits of living in a paradise for up to one-half the cost and the the interesting culture where people mostly practice the live-and-let-live philosophy. What many don’t consider sufficiently is how they will adjust to being a minority, or how much they will miss home, or what it’s like to change shirts three times a day when the humidity hits.

I always advise people to rent a place for several months before moving their stuff down. Many find that six months is a good experience, but the American life of the 21st century is where they are most comfortable. The corner convenience store open 24/7, local TV news blandly covering the latest house fire…the security of the familiar. But once they decision has been made, and they decide to go for it, the more minute decisions are considered. And one of the most important is what do you take and how do you get it there? The best advice is to move the stuff that you abolutely need but not everything you think you want. If you have a large house to fill you might want to move some beds and some furniture, but keep in mind that Mexico makes beautiful furniture that is going to be more practical than the Early American set that you purchased three decades ago. In very humid areas of Mexico you will want wood pieces that do well in that environment, and you don’t want things that rust easily if you are near the coast. You will want to take your computer equiptment and some other electronics, but you never know for sure what mood the custom inspector will be in…they have been known to supplement their incomes while haggling these issues. And you, the harried traveler, are not in a good negotiating position, as you just want to be on your way.

Which brings us to what I believe is a good solution: hire someone who knows what they are doing to move your goods for you. One such company, based in San Miguel de Allende, is SanMiguelMoving.com http://www.sanmiguelmoving.com/. They use a 26 foot trailer and will move you anywhere in Mexico. Prices generally run in the $4,000 – $12,000 range, depending on where and how much. They have a quote form on their web site and you can email them direct at SanMiguelMoving@gmail.com . The also offer auto delivery if you just want to fly in but have your car when you arrive.

Moving to another country is a big deal, and will stress you considerably at the beginning. You can lessen the physically hard part of it by contracting out to people who are experienced.

Your Can Work In Mexico…Sometimes

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

David Simmonds 

Working in Mexico is not easy for foreigners. Unless you are sponsored by a company based in Mexico you are prohibited from being employed as long as a Mexican can do the same job. Of course, there are exceptions. You can always find gringos selling condo timeshares in Cabo, PV and Cancun, and others find ways to work under the radar, hoping they don’t get caught. If/when they do get caught they are often expelled from the country and may have a hard time gaining entry again for some time. Generally, if you own a business you can work that business, but may even be limited there in what duties you can perform.

Now that you know you probably can’t work in Mexico, I’m going to tell you that you can. This web site http://www.esljobs.com/mexico/tesltefl-in-mexico-2/ contains a constant stream of jobs teaching English in Mexico. I counted 20 job opportunities that have been posted in just the last 2 months. Some only pay $600 – 700 a month or so, including room and board, but a Mexico City job pays $1400 plus housing and a food allowance. Speaking Spanish is generally not required, and is seen as a negative in some cases.

This is a great way to spend a year. You won’t get wealthy, but you will be enriched. Guaranteed.

Passport Rules For Mexico

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

David Simmonds 

In one of the least surprising news stories of the day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the State Department announced that it will be another year (June 2009) before the new ID requirement takes affect for border crossers. They must be a little backed up working on that border fence that will never get built, or perhaps brainstorming something akin to having all plane passengers remove their shoes before boarding. That one was inspired genius.

 Evidently there is something called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (rumors of Dr. Strangelove being involved are highly exaggerated), that, when fully enacted, will make us all a lot safer…or is it paranoid? I wonder if the delay has anything to do with the timing of the  presidential election next fall. You know, not wanting one more inconvenience to be layed on the $3.50 a gallon voting public shortly before going to the polls. No, that would be way too cynical a thought. Forget I said that.

Next Cruise Stop…Mazatlan

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Mazatlan

(Land of Monuments and Chicken Feet)

by Richard Kiser
This is the second of a three-part series on a cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.
 Welcome to Mazatlan. Step out to the veranda and take a deep breath -pure Mexico fills the lungs. Your eyes are greeted by an industrial marina and the worker ants are very busy. Time to set out on our next adventure. In order to get to the main gate for cruise passengers you must first hop on a little trolley that winds it’s way through cargo containers and moving forklifts –sort of like a mechanized bull fight with steroids involved. We were dropped off in front of the exit and moved through the building that contains every Mexican trinket you can think of. Exiting the building we were greeted by the entire Mexican tourist bureau. Tip #1- I suggest to everyone who is going to hire a taxi for the day to make sure your driver speaks English well, maybe have some questions in mind to force them to demonstrate their English ability. What we found was when it comes to negotiating a price for the day where money is involved they all speak perfect English. Enter Henry. While we are talking money, this guy does everything but quote Shakespeare to demonstrate his command of the language. We hire him for $60 for the day. We climb into his open air taxi and are set to go, just one thing, we are parked in. As he tries to extricate the taxi I am thinking about Austin Powers, one inch forward, one inch back repeat 20 times. As we pull out he mumbles something about his English no being so good—whatever. We’re off! We wind our way through the marina district headed to the hills and beautiful coastal views that only mainland Mexico has to offer.  Travel tip #2 – take 2 cameras, extra batteries and memory sticks.  Within 5 photos, Laura’s camera craps out, my camera runs out of memory and that sinking feeling takes place. Luckily, our cameras use the same memory and disaster is averted.  This part of the tour is where no buses will take you, hillside homes, narrow and hilly streets with great views of the ocean and the city of Mazatlan. If you take this route you will see many homes under construction and you realize they definitely have different building codes than the U.S. and from this moment on we were not entering a multi-story structure. Here come the monuments. We leave the hills and head north along the coast. This stretch is marked with a monument every 20 feet. (Small exaggeration)  Henry drops us off in front of cliff divers just getting ready to perform. I have just enough time to snap a photo of the diver platform and I catch the diver in midair, perfect. We wander a little bit and find a monument to a mermaid and her child, this is a serendipitous moment as Laura has brought Dominic with us in the hopes of leaving a little bit of him behind in beautiful and meaningful places. (Dominic passed away the previous week). We continue viewing coastal monuments from motorcycle policeman to beer making, the only one I thought was missing was a bronze of the Frito Bandito, more on this later. Off to downtown. Downtown Mazatlan is alive. Narrow streets, beautiful buildings that give you a feeling of Europe and traffic congestion to complete the feel. Henry drops us off and we head to the Mexican version of Wal-Mart. The market is a block size building containing 30 stands that sell exactly the same tourist stuff but also fresh produce you will never see in the states, and the best part, meat stands featuring pig heads, assorted entrails, and of course chicken feet. We did look for iguana on a stick but had no luck. So instead we watched the little “Mexican Deli’s” located through out the market. Now remember, there is no FDA in Mexico and we have already viewed the slicing, dicing and handling of meat and poultry without  the sanitary standards we take for granted -time to eat. We found a stand with several locals and decided to take the plunge. We ordered and while waiting watched the locals to gain the proper application of condiments to our food. Mission accomplished and no one got sick. Next stop Forte de Mazatlan. Heading north, across from the El Cid resort hotel is a private country club and armed guards. This area is where the Mexican Mafia along with Americans and Canadians choose to live. Why? Remember the Frito Bandito? Kidnappings happen every day in this area of Mexico. The homes in this area go from about 350K upwards. Nice setting, golf, tennis, pool and spa.  We stop at the club house and have a margarita while watching some tennis. Tip #3. Just pretend you belong. Off to find another special place for Dominic. 

About a mile north is the gold zone. This area is way developed and has several ocean front palapas. Henry takes us to the first spot – an ocean front restaurant that he has a deal with. We reject it and after 3 u-turns and a couple of miles, accept it. Great lunch, great margaritas, and the music playing was the Mexican version of “I did it my way”. This was played at Dominic’s life celebration and it was only natural for Dominic to also rest here. A small sprinkle of eternal life and love and it’s time to head back to the ship. I wonder what’s for dinner?

   

Dealing With The Hawkers

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

We’ve all been there, right?. You have just spent a day and a half dealing with airports, unplanned layovers and flight delays, knee-destroying plane seats, humorless flight personnel, lost luggage, a view-room that overlooks a parking lot…but it’s OK, because now you’re on the beach, settling into a bright-blue wooden beach chair with a cold Pacifico floating in a bucket of ice and a fresh shrimp cocktail on order. Your heart beat clicks down to about 120 as you gaze out to sea as all your life troubles suddenly seem trivial, or at least manageable. Life is damn good. This well-deserved peace lasts about, oh, two minutes, when the first “salesman” squats next to you, welcoming you to paradise, and oh, by the way, how about a nice piece of “real silver” jewelry, and if that doesn’t work he happens to have a line on some good ganja or blow, or his cousin gives a great massage.

 Now most of us don’t want to be rude. After all, the beach hawkers work very hard and make very little. It’s good, honest work (the part about the drugs is actually rare) and they deserve your respect and kindness. But what you really want is to just be left alone to chill with your numb thoughts. So, how do you handle this without being a crass jerk? First, learn these three words of Spanish ” no gracias, amigo (a)”. Say this in a friendly manner, but with no equivocation. And above all, do not so much as glance at their merchandise, unless, of course, you really are in a buying mood. Then you are likely to barter a good price compared to the shops, as there is no storefront overhead for the seller. Once you show any degree of interest you have opened a door that will not easily close. If you can’t remember the three words, gaze straight ahead and simply shake your head. Generally, the same people work the same beach day after day and they all know one another. Eventually, it will be known that you are not a buyer and will be left alone, more or less.

In town it’s the time-share people who you encounter. It varies from beach town to town, but generally they have a small booth on the sidewalk. They might employ a “hook” to entice you, like “free information” or “$25.00 jeep rental”, and like all successful vultures, they can spot you  two blocks away. You, the savvy traveler, have a couple of workable options. One, when you see you are approaching  a sales booth, cross the street. Of course, you could spend way too much time doing this and it increases your chances of getting run over and badly maimed. A better method is to look and act like a local. If they perceive this they will leave you alone. This means walking with a purpose, like you know where you’re going, even though you have no clue. Lose the bright new t-shirt that advertises the local cantina and the straw hat with the multi-colored headband. Try to have tanned legs and arms. If they still come on to you, and you feel obligated to repsond, just say “I live here”. They’ll probably know you’re lying, but they won’t push the conversation.

Then, when you actually move to magical Mexico and find that time-share sales are one of your only employment opportunities, you will despise people like me who share their dubious wisdom.