For decades, both Americans and Canadians have been supporting efforts to provide young Oaxacans with improved education; donating not only their time and expertise, but also books and related educational resources, food and clothing to make attending school easier for children of families with very… limited resources, and cash. But while US taxpayers have been able to deduct donations to certain registered Mexican charities from their income, Canadians have not. Finally change is in the wind, as a result of CANFRO, Canadian Friends of Oaxaca Inc.
CANFRO was incorporated as a non-profit organization pursuant to the laws of the Province of Ontario in January, 2012. It has applied for designation as a charitable organization pursuant to CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) regulations, and expects to receive approval by the end of the year. Once approved, it can issue tax-deductible receipts.
While on paper its objectives appear broad, such as supporting women, improving accessibility to healthcare for residents who survive only marginally, and more generally relieving poverty, each of CANFRO’s seven projects is directly related to improving educational opportunities for youthful Oaxacans.
Administrative Framework & Functioning of CANFRO
The Government of Canada does not allow Canadians to obtain tax relief for donations made directly to established Oaxacan non-profits, through CANFRO or otherwise. Rather, funds to support Oaxacans and / or pay for goods and services for their benefit, must be paid to the individual or a third party provider.
The implications of this are twofold. Firstly, administration costs are kept to a bare minimum, since by not donating through a Oaxacan charity no portion of the gift is used for the charity’s operating costs. Secondly, Canadians in Oaxaca, currently the CANFRO directors, must initially select worthy projects, and then devote their efforts to paying funds to the appropriate recipients, ensuring the money is spent as represented to the Canadian donors, and securing the necessary paperwork so that they obtain tax receipts from CANFRO as authorized by CRA.
However, Oaxacan charities do play an important role in the process. In most cases they are utilized in at least one of two respects: to identify the candidates and programs in need; and to act as a conduit or intermediary; CANFRO makes use of charity premises and established routines. An examination of its existing projects clarifies the scheme, while at the same time exemplifies precisely how Canadians can help educate Oaxacans.
Current CANFRO Projects
Some CANFRO projects overlap. However each has a distinctly unique mission, enabling Canadians to choose the form of aid which best suits their preferences, as well as their financial means. Donors who are familiar with an existing Oaxacan charitable organization, and are perhaps already contributing to it without getting tax relief, might gravitate towards it.
The Hearing Aid Project: If not detected early enough, hearing impairment results in lower educational achievement than would otherwise be attainable. CORAL (Oaxacan Center for the Rehabilitation of Hearing and Speech), is a non-profit organization consisting of an audiology clinic, hearing and speech therapy facility, early detection hearing loss program and a social work component which includes in-home training for parents in outlying communities. Hearing aid batteries often last as little as 10 days. On behalf of donors, CANFRO purchases solar powered hearing kits for children with hearing loss. CORAL selects appropriate recipients.
The Women’s Project: CANFRO donors can fully and directly support a bright young indigenous woman in her quest to obtain a high school education. Funds provided are used for meals, accommodations, transportation, educational costs, clothing and healthcare expenses. They also pay for costs related to attending monthly weekend workshops and extended summer sessions at Casa de la Mujer; for mentoring regarding sex, birth control, woman’s rights and self-esteem, as well as psychological and occupational counseling. Casa de la Mujer makes recommendations regarding worthy candidates.
The Advanced Education Project: This initiative is similar to The Women’s Project, but is for promising students of both sexes and not associated with any organization. It may include university education. It is more for donors wishing to decide upon their own recipients or rely on either another individual or one of the non-profits to assist in screening and selecting. The project does not include a workshop component.
The Tutor Project: University students from Oaxaca, as well as those from outlying areas who have migrated to the state capital for higher education, often do not have sufficient resources to complete their studies. CANFRO pays these young adults to tutor high school students in difficult subject areas, both individually and in groups. Thus, benefits accrue to tutors and their students alike. In addition, the tutors provide excellent role models for students of similar social class. Tutoring occurs at The Oaxaca Learning Center.
The Book Project: Reading is a major component of learning. Fifteen years ago a group of Oaxacan residents began a literacy program, Libros para Pueblos, opening children’s libraries in Oaxaca. It has annually expanded into the villages. Proof of its success is the fact that many books have become worn and even “lost.” CANFRO supplies replacement and new books for rural libraries.
The Food & School Sponsorship Projects: These two ventures involve participation of El Centro de Esperanza Infantil (The Center of Hope for Children). Years ago it was brought to the attention of The Center´s founders that many children were falling asleep in Oaxacan schools. As a result of a lack of parental resources students were not receiving the nutrition required to be physically ready to learn. CANFRO donors supply funds for daily hot meals served at The Center, giving youth the energy required to participate fully in their education. But the children require more. El Centro also assists in identifying students worthy of donor support in the form of resources to buy equipment, supplies, uniforms, shoes, books, school fees and medical services.
When to Begin Supporting the Education of Oaxacans?
There’s no need for Canadians to defer donating until tax deductibility is available, likely by December. Canadians have been helping to educate Oaxacans for years with after-tax earnings. Consider initially donating directly to a charity noted above, thereafter paying through CANFRO once CRA approval is confirmed.
Alvin Starkman is one of CANFRO’s directors. He and his wife Arlene operate Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.casamachaya.com). Alvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for updates regarding supporting Oaxacan education. Alvin assists tourists in planning their visits to the state capital and central valleys.
As cities become more crowded and natural resources more limited, architects and developers are coming up with innovative ways to make sure their projects are environmentally friendly. The green building trend started gaining momentum in the United States in 1993, when the US Green Building… Council was formed, as a way to transform the way builders and corporations approached new construction projects. The USGBC quickly realized the need for a unified program that builders could use to measure the sustainability of their projects and the LEED certification program was born.
LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, has become the industry standard for rating green buildings. Four different classifications of LEED certification exist: certified, silver, gold and platinum. In order to get certified, builders must comply with the minimum program requirements, fill out the appropriate paperwork, and undergo a rigorous third-party review. Classifications depend on how a project is scored in five main categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.
According to BusinessWeek, in 2007 there were only 2 LEED certified buildings in all of Latin America and one of them was in Mexico. Since then, Mexico has made great strides in the area of green building and now has over 15 LEED certified buildings, with many more in the certification process pipeline. Mexico has the 2nd most LEED certified buildings in Latin America after Brazil. Due to the increased interest in sustainable building, the Mexico Green Building Council (Consejo Mexicano de Edificación Sustentable, a non-profit organization, was founded in 2005. The Council seeks to promote green building in Mexico through education and professional development.
VIA Corporativo, located in Tijuana’s prestigious Zona Rio, was Northwest Mexico’s first certified green building and is home to the Tijuana Economic Development Corporation. It is the only LEED Gold certified building outside of Mexico City. The 14 story building has unique features, like a stunning air and light chamber, which helps contribute to a 40% electric energy savings and allows natural light to flow through the building. Water conservation is a key element of VIA Corporativo, and the building boasts an impressive 60% savings compared to conventional buildings as well as a rainwater collector. Misión 19, one of Tijuana’s most talked about restaurants, also calls VIA Corporativo home. The building was a natural fit for the restaurant, as Misión 19 prides itself on its farm-to-table menu and green practices.
The HSBC building, which stands tall among Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma, is the first building in Latin America to receive the prestigious LEED Gold certification. The building has a roof garden, which overlooks one of Mexico City’s cherished landmarks, the Angel de la Independencia. Not only is the roof garden nice to look at, but it also helps to reduce storm water runoff and filters pollutants. In addition to the roof garden, the building also makes use of intelligent lighting systems and has several water treatment features. People who work in the building can also take advantage of the ground level bike racks, which are great for those looking to reduce their environmental footprint. Not only has the building been recognized for its beautiful exterior, but in 2007 it was awarded the top interior design award by the Mexican Interior Design Association.
Not far from the HSBC building on Paseo de la Reforma, stands one of Mexico’s tallest and greenest buildings, the Torre Mayor. Home to multinational corporations like Deloitte, British American Tobacco, Hewlett Packard, and McKinsey & Company, the Torre Mayor is a 52 story architectural masterpiece officially inaugurated in March 2003. From the lightning fast elevators to one of the most well-equipped helipads in the region, the building is a sight to be seen and to this day is considered the tallest building in Latin America. The double paned glass materials used on the outside of the building block out noise and harmful UV rays, while letting in 60% more natural light than standard glass. The hermetically sealed air chambers prevent dust, odors, and germs from permeating the office space.
Mexico’s first LEED Platinum building is the Bioconstruccion y Energia Alternativa Headquarters, located in Garza Garcia, on the outskirts of Monterrey. The 5,000-square-foot office building has a saw edged roof that allows natural light to flow in, while still maintaining a beautiful design.
Sustainable building is no longer just for big corporate projects. Many of Mexico’s developers, like Casas GEO, are bringing the green movement to the masses, by incorporating environmentally friendly practices into their master planned low income communities. Residents of the communities can enjoy parks, running/biking trails, as well as the “ecotechnology” features in each home. Cemex is another company that is at the forefront of Mexico’s green movement. In 2010, Cemex reduced its reliance on fossil fuels and developed projects which allowed it to sell more carbon credits. The company has not only taken action at their corporate headquarters in Mexico, but also at their foreign subsidiaries.
Corporations, citizens, and builders in Mexico are waking up to the fact that our precious natural resources are limited. As sustainable building becomes less of a developing trend and more mainstream, we are sure to see even more LEED certified buildings and sustainable practices in Mexico.
For a while there it seemed like the only topic the International business media wanted to talk about was China – the economic miracle, the manufacturing giant, the double-digit growth. And then, it was Brazil. BRICs! Emerging market powerhouse! A seat at the table of world… affairs! Meanwhile, back here in Mexico we skulked in the shadows, grinding away to build up our manufacturing base in the face of cheap Chinese competition and uttering oaths as other countries captured the limelight.
But the media are fickle, and they love nothing more than a splashy trend. And lately, all of a sudden, it seems like you can’t swing a quarterly report without hitting a story on Mexico’s burgeoning competitiveness for advanced manufacturing. And as Mexico comes blinking into the glare of favor, reports of major new foreign investment in the country are piling up in areas such as automotive and aerospace manufacturing. We’re chuffed of course, but as we sift through the smaller headlines we’re seeing another trend that has received almost no attention at all: An apparent newfound enthusiasm among Mexican companies to invest in other countries. Although investment can rise and fall due to a range of external factors, figures from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) indicate that direct foreign investment by Mexican companies from 2009 through 2011 reached US$29.5 billion, nearly double the amount registered over the previous three-year span. The following are some examples of how this trend has gathered steam.
Mexican investment abroad is not entirely new of course, with some of the country’s largest companies paving the way early on. Cementos Mexicanos (Cemex) was a pioneer in Mexican global expansion, taking over two major Spanish cement companies in the early ‘90s and proceeding similarly to enter the markets of the United States, Venezuela and other Latin American countries by the end of the decade. Cemex subsequently expanded its operations to Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and is now considered to be the third largest cement company in the world. More recently, other Mexican heavy hitters have stepped up their overseas activity as well. Telecommunications giant América Móvil, owned by worlds-richest-man Carlos Slim, in 2012 alone acquired wireless carrier Simple Mobile in the United States and aggressively expanded its ownership stakes in telecoms Royal KPM in the Netherlands and Telekom Austria in Austria. América Móvil is already Latin America’s leading wireless services provider.
Another well established Mexican multinational, Grupo Bimbo, also has kept up its international expansion in recent years. Bimbo, now the world’s largest industrial baker, acquired the North American fresh bakery operations of U.S. baker Sara Lee in 2010, followed by Sara Lee’s operations in Spain and Portugal in 2011. Bimbo recently announced it will build a new US$75 million baking plant in Texas, adding to its existing production infrastructure in the state. Bimbo’s high-profile moves overshadow a number of less heralded but nonetheless important overseas activities by Mexican food and beverage firms. Monterrey-based food processor Sigma Alimentos acquired U.S. processed meats brand Bar-S in 2010, boosting its existing operations north of the border. Corn flour and tortilla giant Gruma boosted its already substantial operations in the United States by acquiring a tortilla production plant in 2011 and taking over U.S. tortilla producer Albuquerque Tortilla Co. the same year. Others targeted the lucrative U.S. Hispanic market as well: Beverage bottler Arca acquired California savory snack maker Señor Snacks in 2011, while a year earlier Mexican processed foods leader Grupo Herdez bought out another California company, frozen and refrigerated foods producer Don Miguel, to strengthen its presence in the U.S. market for Mexican-style foods. Mexico’s top poultry producer, Industrias Bachoco, added to the takeover frenzy in 2011, acquiring U.S. poultry processor OK industries to establish a beachhead in the market. Rounding out the list is beverage and retail group FEMSA, also headquartered in Monterrey, which has new bottling plants under development in Brazil and Colombia and is also expanding the presence of its Oxxo convenience store chain in Colombia. Most recently, FEMSA is reportedly nearing conclusion of negotiations with the Coca Cola company to become majority owner of a joint venture to take over Coca Cola bottling operations in the Philippines via investment in excess of US$1 billion.
Beyond its well recognized food and beverage brands, Mexico also has been flexing its muscle abroad in various industrial sectors. Monterrey-based conglomerate Grupo Alfa is very active, with its chemicals division acquiring two PET plastic producing plants and one PTA chemical plant in the United States in 2011, and its Nemak auto parts subsidiary building a new production plant in India and adding capacity to its China manufacturing operations in 2011 and 2012. Mexico City-based Mexichem, one of Latin America’s largest chemical producers, acquired leading European plastic pipe group Wavin in 2012 on the heels of its 2011 purchase of U.S. compounds producer AlphaGary. Looking ahead, Mexico City’s Grupo Kuo recently announced plans to partner with a Chinese company to build a rubber factory in China for launch in 2014, and Monterrey-based metal components firm Metalsa opened a new production plant in India and a second office in Japan in 2010, acquired the Venezuelan structural products division of U.S. auto parts maker Dana in 2011, and reportedly plans new manufacturing plants for Thailand in 2013 and Russia in 2015.
Mexico’s foreign legion is not only making a name for itself in established industrial products, but is providing innovation in the world market as well. This is especially visible in entertainment and recreation. Mexico City-based Kidzania, a developer of theme parks featuring role playing simulating future careers for children, is a unique and highly successful concept. The company added new parks in Chile and Malaysia in 2012 to its worldwide presence of 11 locations, with more planned for Asia, Europe and the Middle East over the next two years. Movie theater operator Cinépolis has found success at home and abroad with its premium services concept – think business class at the movies – opening new locations in the United States and Central America in 2012. The company is already among the world’s largest cinema operators with presence in 11 countries.
These examples are only a sample of Mexican firms’ increasingly aggressive activity abroad. And considering this investment has taken place in a down economy, Mexico can only be optimistic about its role in the global marketplace once the world economy resumes more dynamic growth.
When I left my house in northern Virginia today, I was initially surprised to see a lone monarch butterfly flitting along my path on a cool September day. But then I realized he was right on schedule to join millions of his buddies in their annual migration to the mountains of central Mexico.…
The life of the monarchs is a fascinating story and still filled with mystery, despite the best efforts of scientists to understand it. How do they end up back in the same forests year after year, even though multiple generations of butterflies have lived and died in the meantime? How can they fly over 70 miles a day during their migration? How do they know when it’s time to hit the skies and head south?
When I lived in Mexico City in 2008, I had the privilege to visit one of the spots where these butterflies gather for the winter: El Rosario butterfly sanctuary in the state of Michoacán. My husband and I lucked out with a beautifully sunny day in December for our hike into the oyamel fir tree forests, where millions of monarchs were waiting for us.
I still remember being on the trail when we first started to see a few scattered butterflies and thinking to myself, “Are we there yet? I don’t know if this was worth the drive….” But it was just a few minutes farther up the trail when I realized, “Woah! Ok, we’re here: butterfly paradise.” For a creature that makes you feel lucky when you see just one of them, it’s hard to describe the feeling of having thousands flying around you on all sides.
We walked out from amongst the trees into a clearing, and I felt like we’d discovered their secret vacation property. Hundreds lined the grass along damp creek bed, hanging out and relaxing near the water, while others socialized on logs, tree branches, and in the air. Many were partaking in what seemed to be the butterfly equivalent of a margarita on the beach: clover blossoms. You could actually HEAR the flapping of their wings. It was a pretty magical experience, and I had to resist the temptation to just spend the rest of the day sitting and staring at the beauty around me.
Taking photos of fast-flitting butterflies is tricky, so I grabbed a quick video to help me remember the encounter. If that 20-second amateur video clip even remotely piques your interest, then you will love the vastly superior movie coming out this month that will bring you millions of butterflies zipping around in 3D! Flight of the Butterflies tells the story of the monarchs and the scientist who spent 40 years trying to figure out where they vanished to every winter. Check to see when it’s premiering in a city near you, and get more info on the movie website, like how to plant your own butterfly garden. (Think of it as building a bed & breakfast for the monarchs to visit on their travels!)
If you’re as lucky as we were to be in central Mexico during the winter months this year, here are some additional tips for making your own trek to monarch sanctuaries. If you have an extra day or two while in Mexico City or Morelia, I would highly recommend adding this to your must-dos.
Where to go: There are several sanctuaries west of Mexico City in Michoacán and México state. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I would say the more easily accessible options are Piedra Herrada (outside of Valle de Bravo), Sierra Chincua (north of Angangueo; website linked is in Spanish, but has helpful maps even for non-Spanish speakers), El Rosario (east of Ocampo; convenient but fairly commercialized), and Cerro Pelon (about 40 minutes southeast of Zitácuaro and a bit trickier to find; great views but a longer trek on horseback to get to the butterflies).
When to go: Butterflies start arriving in mid-November and depart in March. February brings the arrival of mating season, which is a great time to visit as loads of butterflies are flying around putting out the vibe (rather than hibernating in clumps on the trees, as they tend to be doing in January). It’s ideal to arrive at the reserve in the morning for a couple reasons— there will be fewer tourists, and the butterflies prefer flying around in the warm sun. It should be warming up by the time you get up the mountain, and you run the risk of the sky clouding over later in the day.
What to wear: The butterfly sanctuaries can be both chilly and muddy, so dress accordingly! El Rosario is in the mountains at 10,000 feet, and you’ll usually be walking on unpaved trails so comfortable shoes are key. Dressing in layers is also a good idea—you’ll be cold when you get out of the car early in the morning, but I had worked up a pretty good sweat by the time I’d hiked up a mile at that altitude. Pants may be a good choice as well if you end up riding a horse up the mountain.
Pati Jinich, describes herself as “an overloaded soccer mom with three kids and a powerful blender.” Born and raised in Mexico City, Pati is on a mission to show all Americans that true home Mexican cooking isn’t what they’ve come to expect. Today, she is the official chef of the… Mexican Cultural Institute and host of the PBS show Pati’s Mexican Table.
Pati Jinich is now the author of a forthcoming cookbook, Pati’s Mexican Table, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) which is also the title of her popular public television series. Pati’s Mexican Table will go on sale March 5, 2013. Pati’s Mexican Table introduces readers to Mexican ingredients, cooking techniques, and recipes, many of which are surprising in their simplicity and freshness.
Contrary to popular belief, Mexican food is not always spicy, covered in cheese, or for carnivores alone. Pati presents many recipes that aren’t well known outside of Mexico: from “Divorced Eggs” striped with red and green salsa, to her boys’ favorite lunch, “Grilled Cheese and Bean Heroes,” to the homey “Chicken à la Trash,” a staff meal she gleaned from a Mexican catering company. She’s also mined her native country for regional specialties, from vegetarian dishes like Oaxaca-Style Mushroom and Cheese Quesadillas to Piggy Cookies, and included a few of her own Mexican-influenced creations, like Ancho-Chili Burgers with Lime Aioli. All her recipes fit neatly into a busy routine. Throughout the cookbook, Pati’s charming personality, warm voice, and joyous celebration of the Mexican family gathering—past, present, and future—are on full display.
Pati Jinich has appeared as a guest on the Food Network, NBC’s Today, CBS’s The Chew, CNN, Fox News, NPR, and The Splendid Table. She directs and teaches a culinary program through the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C., where she lives with her husband and three boys. She also hosts live programs for the Smithsonian Associates and has cooked at Blair House, the official state guest house for the vice president.
At the end of this year, my family and I will be visiting Puerto Vallarta, which will make it my umteenth time enjoying this beautiful and safe city. In fact, just thinking about visiting Vallarta, I am nostalgic for my home away from home, as there are so many things to do in addition to making… time to relax.
Located on the gorgeous Banderas Bay, surrounded by 40-kilometers of mountains, rivers, coastline and beaches, the ever quaint and charming city of Puerto Vallarta is home to Jalisco natives, local residents, international residents, plus Canadian and U.S. expats and retirees who now call the destination home.
Mainly due to its nearly year round perfect climate, Puerto Vallarta, by nature, promotes a healthy, active lifestyle for visitors or locals. Time and again, year after year, Puerto Vallarta is also named one of the best places in Mexico to retire, which speaks volumes about its safety and desirability. According to AARP, “Our choice in Mexico is the Puerto Vallarta region, located on the Pacific Coast in the state of Jalisco. Its combination of first-class amenities and charming, palm-fringed villages have made it an appealing retiree draw, as well as a popular tourist destination.”
“Framed by the Sierra Madre and the Bay of Banderas Puerto Vallarta provides all kinds of ecosystems and settings for adventure,” said Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board when asked why PV is such a desirable destination for outdoor activity. “We have everything a visitor could want, from zip lining in Mexico’s longest line to ATV to swimming with the dolphins to releasing crocodiles and turtles and mountain climbing.
Puerto Vallarta is also one of the most important places in Latin America for biodiversity, because it protects an impressive number of species – both flora and fauna on land and in the sea.
No matter what your interests, this impressive and colorful city lays its welcome mat for all to enjoy.
The following 16 recommendations below are experiences or activities I suggest as a frequent traveler to Puerto Vallarta (even though there are hundreds of cool things to do).
These final activities are the top three out-of-the-ordinary experiences to put on all travel itineraries, recommended by the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board. 14. Extreme Adventure Zip Lining. I have yet to try this but I’ve put it on the agenda for our upcoming trip to Puerto Vallarta. Just to be sure, I checked out the comments on TripAdvisor and I was happy to see that the section is filled to the rim with positive feedback. 15. Swim with the dolphins. We participated in this activity four years ago when we were last in Puerto Vallarta for a family vacation, except our activity was the dolphin excursion where its simply a session in the water with the dolphin, which worked out perfectly because of children’s ages at the time. We all loved it! 16. The New Eco Adventure. From bird watching and sea kayaking to Macaw Conservation trips and Crocodile Adventures, Puerto Vallarta offers some type of eco-adventure for all. “Visitors to Puerto Vallarta will find a Mexican pueblo that has become a cosmopolitan destination but maintains its heritage,” said the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board. Depending on what time of the year you plan on traveling to Puerto Vallarta, be sure to check local event calendars to explore other exciting opportunities including annual gourmet festivals, fishing or golf tournaments, sailing races and especially the annual International Festival of Altruism, hosted by CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa each May where dozens of non profits come together to generate much needed funds for their organizations.
Recently a friend asked me, “How do you get to México?” I’d never spent much time thinking about it before, but for those who’ve never been, of course, it’s a valid question. The answer depends a lot on why you are going, how much time you have, how adventuresome… you feel, and any of a myriad of other considerations. Since I always have children with me these days, and my normal stomping grounds are deep in central México, I always fly to and from México. But let’s consider the options.
One is to drive. The border crossing at Tijuana is one of the busiest border crossings in the world, so for many folks, driving clearly is the preferred choice. There are some fantastic resources for driving in México. Here is a great article by fellow México Today ambassador Susie Albin-Najera to get you started if you are thinking about a road trip to, from or around México. In it, she features a wonderful couple who have traveled the roads of México extensively. She also writes about the Green Angels service, a free service of the Mexican government for road travelers. Make sure to read it, she includes great tips and resources.
A second option is to take a bus. Greyhound has routes between the United States and many cities in México. While less expensive than a plane flight, the time investment is greater. If you aren’t in a hurry, this could be a viable option for you. Just keep in mind, México is vast, much larger than a two dimensional map might lead one to believe. A bus ride from San Diego, CA to México City, for instance, takes almost 48 hours.
A third option is to go by boat. Of course, there are a number of major cruise lines with ports of call in México including Carnival, Crystal, Disney, HollandAmerica, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. Trips vary in price, duration, and destination. The season in which you cruise, your choice of room and occupancy, and other factors can affect prices, so keep these in mind when planning. Cruise ships set sail from places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego for Pacific Coast destinations like La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, and Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo (Yep! you read it right, that’s the place Morgan Freeman’s character daydreams about in the Shawshank Redemption). Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral, Florida are some of the ports for departing to places like Cozumel on the East Coast of México. The big benefit of a cruise is someone else navigates and you should only have to unpack your suitcase once.
As for train travel to México, there is no through service that I know of from the US to destinations in México. If a train experience is what you are craving, you can make your way via Amtrak to either San Diego or El Paso. The San Diego Trolley’s Blue Line will take you to the border stop San Ysidro, near Tijuana, from downtown San Diego. But at the border, whether at San Diego or El Paso, you will have to find another mode of transportation from that point. Having said that, as an aside, there is a quintessential train experience within México, a now private line which travels about 400 miles through the natural wonders of Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) from Los Mochis, Sinaloa to Chihuahua, Chihuahua. Here is a nice article about the Copper Canyon train written by another México Today Ambassador, Suzanne Barbezat.
As I mentioned at the start, flying has been my exclusive transportation to and from México since having children. Without a doubt, it’s the best combination of speed and economy for traveling deep into México from the United States and Canada. México has over fifty international airports. While a number of US carriers have flights to México, two Mexican airlines in particular, Aeromexico and Volaris have the advantage of extensive choices in destinations both to and from, as well as within, México.
Volaris has a long list of Mexican destinations including Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Morelia, León/Guanajuato, Puebla, La Paz, Los Cabos, México City, Cancún, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Mazatlán, Colima, Hermosillo, Chihuahua, Monterrey, Los Mochis, Tijuana, Mexicali, Culiacán, Tepic, Querétaro, Uruapan, Acapulco, Cuernavaca, and Toluca. They have enjoyed large increases in ridership over the last year, due to new, innovative and flexible programs, like their “Tu decides...” program, and a partnership with Southwest Airlines, which means beyond Volaris’ USA destinations, including Orlando, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, San José, Fresno, and Las Vegas, it now connect via Southwest to over 50 US destinations.
Aeromexico has flights originating from as far away as Europe and Asia. They, too, have an extensive list of destinations including Aguascalientes, Cabo San Lucas, Campeche, Cancún, Chetumal, Chihuahua, Ciudad de Carmen, Ciudad Juárez, Culiacán, Durango, Guadalajara, Hermosillo, Huatulco, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, La Paz, León/Guanajuato, Los Mochis, Manzanillo, Matamoros, Mazatlán, Mérida, Mexicali, México City, Minatitlán, Monterrey, Morelia, Nuevo Laredo, Oaxaca, Obregón City, Poza Rica, Puerto Vallarta, Querétaro, Reynosa, Saltillo, San Luis Potosí, Tampico, Tapachula, Tijuana, Torreón, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Veracruz, Villahermosa, and Zacatecas.
So now you know, whether by bus, plane, boat, or car, you can get to México in the mode that best serves your needs.
We all know of the migrations of the monarch butterflies, the great whales, and the sea turtles, but one of the amazing migrations of the Animal Kingdom that gets much less press is that of the raptors across North America. Millions of birds of prey make their way from Alaska, Canada, and the… northern United States down to Mexico, Central and South America each year in the fall, and back again in the spring. One place where you can observe this phenomenon particularly well is in Mexico, in the state of Veracruz. Here, at the peak of migration season, observers can sight over 100,000 birds in a day. The sheer number of birds of prey that pass over this specific area has led it to be called “the River of Raptors”.
The non-profit organization ProNatura Veracruz has set up two counting stations to monitor the raptors along this major North American migratory route. One station is in Cardel on the roof of the Hotel Bienvenido, and the other is at a Bird Observatory in Chichicaxtle. At these stations, trained counters monitor the populations of various raptor species, so they can keep track of the raptor migration over the long term.
I visited the ProNatura Bird Observatory in Chichicaxtle as part of a fam trip that was held for travel industry professionals and media who were attending ATMEX in September 2012. Adventure Travel Mexico, an adventure travel fair featuring Mexico’s top adventure travel tour operators and destinations, was held at the World Trade Center in Boca del Río, Veracruz from September 5 to 9, 2012. I joined a group who took a three day adventure with in the days prior to the fair. On our way north to the Mexico Verde adventure resort in Jalcomulco, we stopped in Chichicaxtle to visit the observatory. Unfortunately, we didn't see many birds that day, since it was a few weeks before the peak migration time. We did learn a lot about the project and the raptor migration, however.
More than 5 million hawks, eagles, falcons and vultures pass through this migration corridor each year on their journey from their breeding areas in the north to their wintering grounds in the south. The birds concentrate in this area because of the topography. Flying south from Texas, they follow the Sierra Madre mountain chain, and then are funneled between the Neovolcanic Axis and the Gulf of Mexico, sticking to the lowlands. Broad-winged Hawks and Turkey Vultures make up the greatest proportion of birds that cross here, but there are also Swainson's Hawks and Mississippi Kites in great numbers. Other raptors that migrate across Veracruz are the American Kestrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Osprey, Cooper's Hawk and Peregrine Falcon. Besides raptors, there is also a large number of aquatic birds, as well as butterflies and dragonflies who migrate through here.
Interestingly, the ritual ceremony of the Voladores, acknowledged by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, originated in this area. The ceremony consists of five men (called "fliers" or "bird men") who climb a very tall pole. Four of them each wind a rope around one of their legs and then launch themselves off the pole. Suspended upside-down, they circle around and down, as the flier who remains above plays a tune on a flute. The circling of the pole mimics the circular flying pattern of the great raptors, who fly in a spiral in solar-heated thermal currents which lift them to higher altitudes, so they can soar farther while expending less energy.
Clearly this migration was considered important in ancient times. Nowadays, keeping track of the numbers of birds that pass through here annually allows conservationists to monitor their well being, and prioritize conservation efforts on critical habitats.
A few days after our visit to the observatory in Chichicaxtle, we were driving back south through the area. When we made a pit stop at a convenience store beside the highway, I happened to look up and see a multitude of raptors flying in a vortex. Our whole group stopped to gaze up at the sky for several minutes. The sheer abundance of wildlife in motion is an amazing phenomenon to witness.
The ProNatura Bird Observatory in Chichicaxtle, Veracruz is open from 10 am to 7 pm every day between August 20th and November 20th. The migration reaches its peak during the last week of September and the first week of October. More information from their website:
The site is a creation of two of Mexico’s leading think tanks, and it draws on insights from 60 leading economists and policymakers, including the likes of Dr. Guillermo Ortiz, Dr. Luis de la Calle, and Dr. Jonathan Heath. A medley of interactive graphs and polls attend op-ed articles, making the site a wonk’s delight. (The question of the day: Can Mexico create one million formal sector jobs this year? ‘Unsure’ is just nudging out ‘agree’ as the most frequent choice among respondents.) The major drawback: so far it’s in Spanish only.
This is just one more vignette in what has become a perceptible, though hardly dominant, trend in the world of global economic analysis in 2012: Mexico has an awfully bright future. Perhaps the most bullish prediction came from Nomura Securities earlier this year, when it forecast that Mexico’s economy would be larger than Brazil’s by 2022. A more conservative IMF forecast has Mexico’s economy eclipsing Brazil’s in 2028 or 2029.
President Felipe Calderon, who will leave office on December 1, recently spoke to an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., about Mexico’s underlying economic strengths. He went on to tick off infrastructure gains, including new roads and universities, and Mexico’s doubling down on free trade, as evidenced by its recent entrance into negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Among the many factoids and macroeconomic indicators, this fact stood out to me: Mexico exports more manufactured goods than the rest of Latin America, including Brazil, combined.
Still, something doesn’t add up. If Mexico’s economy is so impressive, why has its overall growth lagged the rest of Latin America in general, and Brazil in particular?
The answer is that the Mexican economy is at tipping point. Until recently, the Mexican economy relied largely on two factors: NAFTA, the free trade zone that it shares with the United States and Canada, and oil. So, while the last decade was generally a good one if you were selling oil, it was not so good for you if your economy was geared toward making stuff for U.S. consumers. And, billions of dollars in export revenue aside, selling oil didn’t work out so well for Mexico either. The oil industry employs relatively few people, and given the inefficiency of Pemex, the country’s state-run oil company, Mexico found itself in the increasingly awkward position of exporting crude to the United States and, in turn, importing refined oil from up north.
But going forward the drivers of the Mexican economy will be significantly different. The most obvious difference may be the pace of growth that Mexico is set to experience. Whereas average growth from 2005-2010 was a measly 1 percent, the medium-term forecasts for Mexico are now on the order of 4-5 percent. Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s incoming president, has even said that Mexico’s future growth will be in the range of 6 percent.
Animating this growth will be a powerful middle class. While the average Mexican made almost $14,000 in 2010, the more important indicator may be the sense of identity. Roughly 65 percent of Mexicans now identify themselves as middle class. As a recent Washington Post article pointed out, Costco is currently implementing a major expansion in Mexico.
Add to this the fact that companies are now fleeing China because wages there are increasing at an astonishing pace, rising 20 percent annually in some coastal cities. Factory wages in Mexico are now roughly comparable to those in China, but Mexico does not have a wage inflation problem. By 2014, wages in China are likely to be higher than those in Mexico.
As a result, Mexico is once again the most popular spot for manufacturing geared toward the North American market.
Third, Mexico is leading the charge toward a major free trade zone within Latin America. Building onto a new free trade agreement with Peru, soon Mexico will likely help forge a trade bloc that also includes Colombia and Chile. International trade, of course, tends to spill over into politics, and Mexico’s influence in Latin America is likely to increase as a result of this development. As noted by Peru’s president last year, Mexico’s “presence in the South American region is likely to have revitalizing effects.”
Revitalizing effects, indeed.
In September, Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) reached an agreement with Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to build another 50 MW geothermal power plant. The power plant will be constructed in the region of Michoacán, and will be completed by the end of 2014. This power plant is… the fifth part of the Los Azufres III project. When completed, it will be the twelfth geothermal plant constructed by Mitsubishi for Mexico.
Mexico is the fourth largest provider in geothermal power. Ranking behind the United States, the Philippines and Indonesia, Mexico has a geothermal energy capacity of over 900 MW. In 1959, it installed the first geothermal power plant in the Western hemisphere.
Renewable clean energy development benefits local economies. Geothermal energy, simply put, is the heat from the earth. It comes from either the center of the earth, or from the sun. It lowers the need to pay for imported fossil fuels, and also helps generate even more economic development opportunities. This reliable electricity is produced at a stable price, and also generates electricity in a way that keeps environmental impacts and emissions to a minimum. An advantage it has over other renewable energy sources such as solar and wind powers is that geothermal energy is not intermittent.
Because of economic growth, the demand for electricity has also risen. The new plant will allow the CFE to meet this need in a way that is economically and environmentally conscious.
With a population of more than 20 million, most people think of Mexico City as an urban behemoth. But having lived here for almost fifteen years I’ve come to see it differently--as a conglomeration of neighborhoods each with its distinctive, small town feel.
When the tourism board began its Barrios Magicos (“Magical Neighborhoods”) program last year, it listed 21 neighborhoods within the Distrito Federal that range from the funky and remote (Mixquic), the slick and touristy (Zona Rosa), to the hip and sophisticated (Roma/Condesa). Coyoacán, San Angel and Xochimilco, with their traces of Mexico’s Aztec and colonial past, all made the cut—even the La Merced market area and the center of mariachi music, Plaza Garibaldi, are there.
So I was surprised that a place many feel is the city’s most desirable neighborhood was not included in the list. What about Polanco?
Polanco, which extends along the north side of Chapultepec Park, is home to some of the wealthiest people in Mexico. It has many of the best hotels, restaurants and shops in the city and is the location of choice for many foreign embassies, international corporations, and a large portion of the city’s Jewish community (you can find kosher tacos here). Near to many of the top museums, the air of sophisticated culture extends even to its streets, which are named after philosophers, writers and scientists. Along Avenida Presidente Masaryk , which is often compared to New York’s Fifth Avenue or Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive, you’ll find a line up of status conscious stores like Tiffany’s, Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
Development of the area began back in the 1930’s, but the real building boom happened in the 1950’s, and it still continues. Designed as a purely residential area at first, homes in Polanco were marketed to those wishing to emulate an American lifestyle—freestanding houses with front and back yards, a novelty back then. Examples of the original architecture, a florid style known as ‘Colonial Californiano’, are scattered throughout the neighborhood, although many have been turned into stores and offices.
Polanco suffers a bit from a reputation as a snooty place—there’s even a popular restaurant named ‘Snob’. Last year the ‘Ladies of Polanco’ became famous after a video on youtube went viral showing two wealthy residents berating a dark-skinned transit policeman for daring to give them a ticket. It was the talk of the town for several weeks.
But there’s no denying that Polanco is a defining element of Mexico City, and well worth a visit to see how ‘the other half’ (or at least the top 2%) here lives.
‘Polanquito’, the area around Parque Lincoln, is the closest thing to a town center, and the best place to walk around and get a feel for the neighborhood. In the park you’ll find an art gallery, an aviary, and a small pool where kids play with toy sailboats. The nearby streets, Virgilio, Julio Verne, Oscar Wilde and Alexandre Dumas are lined with stores and restaurants, and lots of well-heeled customers. At Masaryk 360, visit the Pasaje Masaryk, a former apartment complex turned into a shopping mall, which feels like a bit of old Palm Beach in Mexico City (‘Snob’ is here), and ‘Common People’ (Emilio Castelar 149) to check out the fabulous old architecture.
There’s a taxi sitio in the middle of the park on Julio Verne, in front of the statue of Martin Luther King (see google map link).
‘New Polanco’ is the name given to the recent development in the area’s northwest corner. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim decided to place his Museo Soumaya there, and the new home of the Jumex Collection, a contemporary art museum, is under construction. Just down the block is the Antara Mall, the city’s most elegant shopping emporium. The Cinemex movie theater here features reclining leather seats and waiter service—you can order from a 10-page menu.
Polanco has some of the best and most expensive restaurants in town, like Pujol and Dulce Patria, both of which specialize in alta cocina Mexicana. But you can also find excellent street food stands at the Saturday tianguis (street market) near the corner of Luis G. Urbina and Aristotles—and of course, those kosher tacos. The trendy bars at the W and Habita hotels are local hot spots where the ‘beautiful people’ hang out—worth a visit just to see the shoes!
Polanco may not be one of the cultural high points here, but if you’re in the mood for a bit of self indulgence, or just want to understand another piece of the complex puzzle of Mexico City, it’s well worth a visit.
Of Mexico’s 31 states, I’ve traveled to over half of them and have lived in three. I am not even close to knowing all of Mexico or proclaiming “I’ve seen it all”-- my ‘Mexico Bucket List’ grows every day and I doubt it will ever stop. However, at this point… in my Mexican travel adventures, if you had to ask me my absolute favorite place, without hesitation it would be the State of Puebla.
Puebla is a very diverse and culturally rich state. Different picturesque landscapes are found throughout the highlands and it is home to five major indigenous groups. Puebla can proudly boast about Cinco de Mayo, amazing gastronomy including mole poblano, cemitas, and chiles en nogada and stunning Spanish colonial architecture. I’ve covered most of Puebla, from the three Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) in the north, to the large southern city of Tehuácan -- and while I find the capital (Puebla, Puebla) to be the most beautiful and encompassing city in Mexico, I would have to say it was the Pueblos Mágicos that made me fall in love with the entire state and its wonders.
Puebla currently has three official Magic Towns, with hopefully one or two more to be declared soon. The three official towns are Cuetzalan, Pahuatlán and Zacatlán which are all located in Puebla’s La Sierra Norte region, within relatively close distance from one another. Set in the lush mountains, a blanket of mist and clouds often sets the eerily-ethereal scenery for these very small, traditional towns. They each have their own surprising personalities and charms that are best realized by visiting.
Cuetzalan is primarily known for its fertile and natural setting. Delightful sceneries of lakes, rivers, grottos and cascading waterfalls are scattered around the area with the gorgeous backdrop of verdant mountains blanketed in a white fog. The mist creates a feeling as if you are literally situated in the clouds and it is a truly magnificent sight when it rains. One of Cuetzalan’s unique characteristics is the slated rooftops that protect from the constant rains; it was as if the rain only had a 2 feet fall from its origin and it showed no mercy. What I loved most about this small town is that the past was still very much alive in the present. The streets criss-cross, rise, and fall with no pattern at all-- frenzied with locals selling their fresh produce and colorful textiles. The locals live with no concern of modern day, and it was truly enlightening. In fact, Cueztalan is one of the few pueblos that prefer to speak the indigenous language, Nahuatl, and they continue with the ceremony of the Voladores (flying men). The tianguis market on Sunday mornings is also a great representation of all that is Cuetzalan—here you can find regional artistries and clothing, crafted indigenous teponaxtle instruments, locally grown coffee, as well as the culinary traditions of pulacle tamales and a local wine of passion and yolixpan fruits.
Pahuatlán is a town of mysticism and tradition. Most remarkable is the nearby otomí community in San Pablito where they produce amate paper. A short drive up in the mountains to the Don Fausto Workshop is where the family demonstrates to visitors how they continue to use pre-Hispanic techniques of soaking and flattening tree fibers to create beautiful works of art. The interesting thing about this traditional parchment is that it is used by the local spiritual shamans and witch doctors in their ceremonies to represent gods and animals. Very few places in Mexico can you find legitimate ancient curanderos (healers) like those residing in this town. They are called upon to heal spirits, cure negative auras, and other magical practices. Back in the town center of Pahuatlán, the influence and variety of ethnic groups is very apparent. It was inhabited by Aztecas, Otomíes, and Totonacos before the Spanish arrived and what resulted was a fusion of flavorful gastronomy that is hard to replicate. Chícales (ants), chiltepín, peanut tamales, pan de granilla (seed bread), and onion taquitos are just some of this town’s tasty specialties.
Zacatlán is short for Zacatlán de las Manzanas (of the apples) and rightfully so as it is one of Mexico’s largest and most prominent apple producers. As an outcome, the town has cultivated a whole culture around this delicious fruit. They proudly create unique concoctions and dishes that contain apple which are unlike anything I had ever tasted—the baked dessert, manzana al horno, puts Grandma’s homemade apple pies to shame. They are also the makers of the most exquisite ciders and alcohols. There are a total of four family-owned companies, each of whom welcome you inside their factory to learn about the whole manual labor process. Dozens of different types of ciders, alcohols, jams, and salsas can be taste-tested at any one of these factories and the best part is it doesn’t feel like a sales pitch, they truly want to welcome you to have you learn about their tradition. The most prominent symbol of the city is the large floral clock in the main plaza that serenades the town with various instrumental songs--a perfect place to people watch and appreciate the community.
Chignahuapan is not yet an official Magic Town but they are hoping to be one soon. In efforts to reach status, fresh vibrant paint covers every corner of this town, creating a kaleidoscopic rainbow on each street. Chignahuapan is best known for its nearby thermal waters (warm springs heated from the earth’s crust) that are believed to have healing properties. What also makes Chignahuapan a unique town is that they are Mexico’s main producers of Christmas bulbs. Over 3,000 artisans and 200 workshops scatter the area, working year round to create beautiful esferas. It is not just Christmas in December but all year round in this colorful and merry little town.
My Mexican husband's family comes from the tiny fishing village of Chabihau on the northern coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Several times a year, we drive out from Cancun to visit tíos, tías and primos that still reside in this quiet hideaway, with their houses set by what they… refer to as the salina, a beautiful and shallow lagoon. As we sit outside eating fresh ceviche, we often spot large flocks with hundreds of flamingos standing on in the middle of the salina, the occasional small group flying overhead. Experiences like this can be found in the wetlands set all along Yucatan's coastline, dotted with small towns, mangrove forests, crystal-clear cenotes and lush palm tree groves: a paradise for eco travel.
Locals living on the Yucatan Peninsula can experience these private flamingo viewings on a regular basis, but where can a traveler easily go to see these brightly-colored creatures? A few small eco travel destinations are ideal for viewing Yucatan flamingos, and they also offer an unforgettable escape from the hustle and bustle of larger beach destinations like Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
Travelers staying in Merida, Cancun and the Riviera Maya will find themselves just three or four hours from Rio Lagartos, situated on the northeastern coast of Yucatan State. Buses, taxis, tours and vans are available, although renting a car and driving is also a safe, easy and affordable option.
The Rio Lagartos Bio Reserve covers nearly 150,000 acres, boasting Mexico's largest flamingo population. Incredible Yucatan wildlife abounds throughout the reserve, with hundreds of bird species and turtles nesting along the coasts. The town of Rio Lagartos offers a few small restaurants and hotels run by locals, as well as a landmark lighthouse. Just make sure to bring lots of cash: Rio Lagartos does not have an ATM.
Three-hour boat tours will take you through a beautiful river running along the coast (known locally as a ría) lined with dense mangrove and home to hundreds of animal species. Guides take passengers out to the flamingos' feeding grounds, and you just might see crocodiles and all kinds of native birds along the way! The flamingo population in Río Lagartos swells during nesting season in spring and summer, although flamingos can be seen throughout the year. Viewing the flamingos is a truly unforgettable experience, especially if you're lucky enough to see them take flight.
Many Río Lagartos tours also include additional activities such as mud baths, kayaking, biking and swimming in freshwater pools, as well as a stop at the breathtaking Ek Balam Mayan ruins, located further inland on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Experience the Yucatan's incredible ecosystem with a visit to Celestún, another flamingo-watching destination about 50 miles west of Merida by highway. Buses are available and day trips from the city are easy to do, although the town offers several small hotels for overnight stays or a weekend getaway. This quiet fishing village features beautiful beaches, shops, a harbor and a few laid-back seafood restaurants for a casual meal.
Set on an immense 150,000 acres right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Celestún Biosphere Reserve is filled with mangrove and wetlands that are home to flamingos, pelicans and hundreds of other bird species, as well as endangered sea turtles.
Boats are available for hire at the entrance to Celestún, taking you on two hour tours through mangrove jungle filled with bird species. The flamingo population in Celestún rises during the fall and winter months as it's a popular area for courting before heading back to Río Lagarto for nesting in the spring and summer.
About Yucatan's Flamingos
Favoring the coastal wetlands of northern Yucatan, local flamingos have a beautiful salmon pink color that makes for unbelievable photo opportunities. They feed on shrimp, algae and minerals found in the shallow waters, giving them their unique tone. These social birds typically reside in colonies that can range from dozens to thousands of flamingos.
Because of the flamingos' natural beauty and vibrant color, it's tempting to try and get close to the animal for a better view or the perfect photo. However, flamingos can become stressed when approached by humans. It's recommended that boats maintain at least 100 yards distance when their motors are running, or 50 yards if they are "poling" through the water gondola-style. Bringing a lot a set of binoculars and preferably a camera with a zoom lens is recommended for the best possible flamingo watching experience when traveling through the Yucatan Peninsula.
The butterfly. Most of us are fascinated by its beauty and grace. We often pause and admire them flutter by a flower on a summertime stroll. We secretly hope the delicate creature comes closer and notices us too.
Growing up I call recall such moments, but I never really thought about where the butterflies went in the wintertime. Little did I know the Monarch butterfly migrates thousands of miles across multiple generations in a year to spend each winter in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains of Mexico. But I learned about it shortly before I called Mexico City home. And when I learned the sanctuary was just a few hour bus ride from the capital city I decided to make it a must visit.
I am so glad I did.
The Sanctuary el Rosario
It was a late January weekend when I decided to make the trek to the forest and plotted my course to visit El Rosario Sanctuary in the Mexican state of Michoacán. I wanted to witness the magic firsthand. Upon arrival the hike uphill was largely paved (not the very top) and rather accessible for all skill levels with a little patience and persistence. Young kids and their grandparents hiked it. You can do it; the treasure is well worth it.
I recall after about forty-five minutes in to the hike I saw the first butterfly and I decided to start counting them as I continued to climb. One. Two. Then it was by the tens and eventually hundreds. I arrived a plateau watched and listened as thousands. It wasn’t the sheer number that impressed me (yet) but the fact the all migrated here. Then a man told me don’t stop here, keep going. I did.
The thousands quickly became hundred thousands and then millions. Millions. Yes, millions. The trees almost seemed to be covered in orange blankets and grass carpeted in orange. And as the sunrays penetrated the forest canopy, all you could see was a brilliant glow of life. Also, the sounds of fluttering echoed across the forest. Butterflies surrounded me.
I sat down on a rock and watched. Time stood still and I couldn’t be just be in awe of the spectacle. I didn’t want to leave. A curious part of me wanted to know how? Why? this migration takes place and another part of me just continued to marvel at its magic.
Flight of the Butterfly Premiere
I still consider the day in Michoacán at the reserve one of the highlights of my travels, so when I received an invite to the premiere of the Flight of Butterfly 3D movie at the Smithsonian in DC, it was an easy decision. I just needed to know what time.
The movie delivered. It wasn’t just a science film or documentary describing the flight and life of the butterfly, but the film also weaved into to it the story of one man’s childhood question that became his life-long quest. As a boy in Canada, Fred Urquhart, simply wondered where the butterflies flew to in the winter? And he dedicated his life as a scientist to find out. How did he do it? Well, it is all part of the movie.
The climax is the discovery. You can feel the emotion of the discovery team and the 3D images that help provide a more realistic view of the impressive sight they witnessed, a sight you can witness today.
Numerous special guests attended the premiere including the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon himself. He spoke to the attendees about recent conservation efforts and enlightened us about what the monarch butterfly means to him. He is from the state of Michoacán.
Another special guest, Catalina, was the only surviving member of the original discovery team. She was one of the first people to see and report on the location of the millions of monarch butterflies. The discovery became the cover of a National Geographic in the mid 1970s, a cover I saw after the show as butterfly enthusiasts brought copies and asked for her autograph. When I approached her, I just asked what she first thought? And I asked if the magic still existed for her after all these years?
Her one word was answer, “incredible.” I smiled it truly was (and is) incredible. And I realized it is hard to put into words. Plus, I was happy to know the magic still existed for her too as she indicated such with her wardrobe - a complete monarch butterfly designed shall.
Migrations in Mexico
Mexico is full of migrations and personally I enjoyed being witness to many. I discovered the six million raptor birds migrate on a recent discovery in Veracruz. I listened to the Humpback whales in Banderas Bay as part of their migration from the artic waters and I’ve helped release turtles on the beaches south of Mazatlan. All impressive migrations. And each one is more popular (and more accessible) with the tourists who visit Mexico. But for me, the most impressive remains the monarch butterfly and I hope this film inspires people to see it for themselves. The 3D images certainly help give a sense of what it is like, but nothing beats seeing it in person. I know I want to return.
On September 30, nearly 500 Mexicans were in Berlin, Germany to participate in the annual Berlin Marathon 2012, a prestigious international… competition. Watch the video and interviews with marathon participants.