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.
On October 9 and 10, Mexican tequila and mezcal were at the main stage of Germany and Central Europe’s largest beverage and spirits tradeshow at the Postbahnhof in Berlin, Germany. The architecturally exquisite venue was filled with mixologists and beverage connoisseurs from around the world,… and Mexico was honored to have been chosen the guest country at this year’s Bar Convent Berlin (BCB).
At the Mexico Pavilion, hundreds of Europeans enjoyed tastings of tequila and mezcal. In the evening of October 9, the Mexican Embassy in Berlin also hosted a cocktail reception with the theme “Mexican Night” where Mexicans in Germany and friends of Mexico continued celebrating the wonders of Mexico’s exquisite beverages.
Germans and other Europeans met the masters from Oaxaca and Guadalajara, and watched them make phenomenal drinks, while also learning more about Mexican tequila and mezcal. Tequila and mezcal are differentiated by the production process, taste, and location where the agave is grown. The different types of tequila include blanco, gold, reposado and añejo, where the difference among them is established by the amount of time they are aged in barrels. Mezcal is mainly made in Oaxaca, while tequila is made in Jalisco. Although they both come from the agave plant, the variety of the agave differs. In addition, mezcal is typically distilled once and tequila is distilled at least twice.
Mexico is not only an innovative leader in the beverages sector but also a leader in commercial trade. And at the Pavilion, Mexico was proud to show Europe all that it has to offer.
Shaping Clean Policy for a Low-Carbon Economy is the subject of this week’s Green Solutions 2012 Summit in Mexico City. The conference focused on sustainable urban development, including such components as planning, design and architecture of new “green cities.” Sustainable urban development balances the… need to fight urban environmental deterioration while also ensuring the needs, development and wellbeing of inhabitants are met.
The Summit featured a panel on how Mexico and the United Kingdom are working together for more sustainable cities. Organizations represented on the panel (CTS, Fundación IDEA, IMCO and ITDP) addressed some of the results obtained from related projects funded by the British Embassy through the “Fondo Prosperidad” initiative. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities. America is the most urbanized continent, with close to 80% of its population living in urban areas. For this reason, common solutions must be found to achieve balance in the surroundings, safeguard the environment and offer people a better quality of life.
A subsequent panel featured officials from the states of Aguascalientes, Morelos and Quintana Roo to present the public initiatives and policies of local entities to fight climate change and develop sustainable urban planning projects.
The Tomas Segovia award is the newest Mexican literary prize to be created by Conaculta, the National Culture and Arts Council of Mexico. The prize recognizes translations that “bring the Hispanic literary tradition to other languages” and is the first award to bear the name of… Spanish-born Mexican author, translator and poet, Tomas Segovia (1927-2011). The president of Conaculta, Consuelo Saizar, explained in a recent press conference in the western city of Guadalajara that the award will recognize the work of professionals translated from Spanish to another language and works in other languages translated to Spanish. According to the Mexican financial daily El Economista, the first edition of the prize will honor professionals who translate works from other languages to the Spanish language. According to president of the Guadalajara International Book Fair, Raul Padilla, in addition to a $100,000 cash prize, award recipients will be able to have their translated works on display at a variety of book fairs.
The literary translation prize honors the work of Segovia, who brought universal works such as Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Victor Hugo’s religious epic “Dieu” (God) to Spanish readers, Padilla said. The prize is financed in partnership with the Guadalajara International Book Fair, where the award will be given for the first time in November of this year, and Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico’s leading publishing house. Cultural or educational institutions, associations and publishing groups can make nominations until Oct. 29.
The Vochol, a 1990s Volkswagen Beetle that has been decorated with traditional Huichol beadwork from Mexico, will be spending its autumn and… winter touring Europe.
The art-on-wheels took nine thousand hours of work spanned over seven months. There are approximately 2,277,000 glass beads designed into powerful symbols and milestone stories from the spiritual Huichol culture and deities. Eight artisans from two Huichol families began the art in May 2010, and it was inaugurated at the Museo de Arte Popular (MAP) in Mexico City in December 2010.
After touring Mexico and the United States, Vochol has spent September traveling across the Atlantic Ocean from Houston, Teas to Le Havre, France. From October 2 through December, the Vochol will call Paris’s Musee du Quai Branly home.
After Paris, Vochol will continue its voyage to Germany. Between December 5 and January 5, Vochol will be on exhibit at Autostadt, an automotive complex located near Volkswagen’s primary plant in Wolfsburg. Frankfurt’s Deutsche Bank’s corporate headquarters – the “Green Towers” – will receive Vochol next, until mid-January.
Brussels, Belgium, is the last place Vochol will visit. The Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts will display Vochol from January 31 through March 3. It will then return back across the Atlantic Ocean.
The work was originally created in order to showcase the ritual nature, skill and culture of the beadwork in a modern art form. The Huichol beadwork began by decorating bullhorns, gourds, masks and figureheads.
At the end of the Vochol world tour, it will be auctioned on an international stage. All funds will benefit the AAMAP.
If you live in Europe – or will be touring it soon – make sure to visit Paris, Wolfsburg, Frankfurt or Brussels. This beetle is one of a kind, and the detail must be seen to be believed. Vochol is absolutely breathtaking.
On September 30, nearly 500 Mexicans are heading to Germany to participate in the annual Berlin Marathon 2012, a prestigious international competition. A marathon expo “Berlin Vital” will be taking place from September 27 through the 29 where Mexico will have a stand. If you are in… Berlin, make sure to visit the fair and look for the Mexico brand! MexicoToday will be covering Mexico’s participation via our German channels, including www.mexicotoday.org/de, on Twitter @MexicoTodayDE, and on Facebook. Photos will be also uploaded progressively on our Flickr channel so stay tuned! Good luck to all the Mexican runners!
Home to world-renowned resorts such as the Four Seasons and Grand Velas - both more than a decade old, the Riviera Nayarit is no stranger to luxury. The St. Regis Punta Mita, the newest member of this AAA Five Diamond club, however, has been steadily redefining what it means to be a top-tier luxury… resort in Mexico. By weaving the traditional rituals defined by The St. Regis over the years with some of the local of traditions of the Bay of Banderas area, The St. Regis Punta Mita offers guests a unique "Mex-Lux" experience.
Officially opening in November of 2008, The St. Regis Punta Mita has been receiving accolades since its inception. The resort's architect, Roy Azar, was awarded Best Interior Design project in Mexico for his ability to successfully incorporate and showcase the surrounding nature of Punta Mita into the design of the resort and in 2010, the resort's signature restaurant Carolina was also awarded AAA Five Diamond status, making it the only Five Diamond restaurant on Mexico's Pacific Coast.
What has guests really raving, however, are the daily activities ranging from culinary lessons to extreme sports - all designed to introduce visitors to the local culture of Punta Mita. On Mondays, guests meet with local chefs to learn how to make Ceviche, a Mexican favorite consisting of diced onions, cilantro, tomato, cucumber, and raw fish or shrimp "cooked" with the acids of lime juice. Tuesdays offer Mexican cocktail classes at one of the resorts four bars and on Wednesdays, guests can learn how to make another staple of Mexican cuisine, Guacamole. Thursdays showcase a Mexican twist on the classic Spanish favorite, Paella, as chefs walk guests through the creation of the dish as they cook the seemingly endless ingredients over a massive fire pit on the beach.
In addition to the culinary experiences, a new partnership with Punta Mita Expeditions has allowed The St. Regis Punta Mita to offer their guests a variety of physical adventures, all departing from the resort's beaches. The activities range in difficulty-level from family-friendly adventures like Snorkeling and Stand Up Paddling to more serious excursions like SCUBA Diving and Spear Fishing. According to Nicolas Melani of Punta Mita Expeditions, the most popular expedition at The St. Regis Punta Mita has been the Sea Safari, a three-hour boat trip to the nearby Marieta Islands where guests Snorkel and Stand Up Paddle Board. "Guests have been very responsive to our new line of experiences at The St. Regis," commented Carl Emberson, the resort's General Manager, "as they don't waste any vacation time shuttling to and from external activities. Everything happens from our beach."
The weekdays are certainly jammed packed with fun activities, but it's the Fridays at The St. Regis Punta Mita that you don't want to miss. Early risers can join a scheduled walk to the nearby fishing village of Punta Mita at 9am, thrill seekers can try their hand at Stand Up Paddle Boarding at 10am, and fishermen can cast some lines at 11. And if your favorite angler strikes out, you're still in luck as the 11:30 bell on the beach means it's time for "The Catch of the Day."
Each Friday at half past eleven, a boat full of local fishermen parks on the resorts Sea Breeze beach, loaded with the freshest of the morning's catch. Local fish such as Mahi Mahi, Bonito, Sea Bass, Parrot fish, and Red Snapper (often massive in size) are laid out on a bed of ice for guests to inspect. The resort's executive chef is on hand during the event to describe the difference between various fish and make recommendations as to the most delicious ways for each to be prepared. Guests can then choose what sounds best to have for lunch or that night's dinner.
After the Catch of the Day, the remainder of the afternoon is one of leisure. At sundown, guests and staff meet in the stunning Altamira lobby for the famous St. Regis Champagne Ritual. The open-air lobby overlooks a seemingly endless river of infinity pools that run down the heart of the resort to the beach. Needless to say, the views are breathtaking and on Fridays, the sunset is made even more picturesque with the addition of a meticulously arranged pedestal, covered in white linen, upon which sit a golden-hilted saber and bottle of Veuve Clicquot on ice. True to the ritual, a staff member unsheathes the saber, which he swipes up the shaft of the bottle, slicing both the cork and the neck clean off in an explosion of bubbly excellence. Naturally, the champagne begins to flow and guests and staff mingle as the sun dips lazily below the horizon.
Freshly caught fish for lunch, a day by the pool overlooking the ocean, swords and champagne at sunset… what more could you ask for from the perfect Friday? How about a torch-lit, family style barbecue dinner on the beach? Each Friday evening, guests gather on the resort's Sea Breeze beach where a dinner table fit for a royal feast awaits on the sand. The aroma of grilling BBQ ribs, steak, chicken, fish, and Mexican sausage wafts the beach as guests have the chance to meet, mingle, and dine together. A trio of local musicians strum classic tunes as the evening unfolds leaving many guests to conclude that at The St. Regis Punta Mita, luxury is truly paradise found.
“Great goodness, can I climb that high?” may be your first reaction when facing the main complex at Toniná. But you can. You’ve already reached this strangely alien Mayan complex. You’re more than the pampered tourist if you’re facing Toniná.
I fully grasped its height later, while examining a photograph taken one hundred yards from the complex. The picture failed to show over a dozen men working on the top edifice. Coming from the Yucatan or the Gulf coast of Mexico, take Highway 199. Definitely plan to stop at Palenque. The restaurants and hotels past the town are fine, but you won’t find four-star accommodations again until San Cristóbal de las Casas. You might spoil yourself with a better than average inn while in Palenque.
Leaving Palenque, Highway 199 is a narrow, curvy blacktop mimicking a raw river cutting through unbroken jungle. The road has few places to pull off, but there are several magical spots mixing water and tropical mountain rain forest that are must-sees. Cascadas Agua Azul and Misol-Ha’ are two sites of natural beauty that shouldn’t be overlooked. My last trip to Toniná was in November. I left Misol-Ha’ Waterfall in the late afternoon. I wanted to reach Ocosingo. I’d be driving after dark.
Heavy rains had drenched the area. Not twenty-five miles past Misol-Há, the road worsened. I encountered the first of a dozen major league washouts in the highway. With darkness closing over the hills travel became hazardous. I drove leaning forward to see better and my arm muscles tightened with constant tension. Worse, I missed the scenery. I felt relieved when I reached Ocosingo. The town had doubled in population since my last visit. I entered from an unfamiliar point where I couldn’t find my bearings. The change, however, turned positive. I passed through the familiar central area and hit a six block section wild with happy, gossiping people. They enjoyed the evening activities of sidewalk shopping and savoring drinks, ice cream or mango, melon, banana and other fruit treats I didn’t recognize.
I circled the blocks several times, stopping to enjoy a roasted ear of corn, sold by a sidewalk vendor, and soaked in the carnival-like atmosphere. By the time I reached the hotel at 9:30, the festivities were over. I was tempted to stay another day to capture the beehive activity on film.
I found the same hotel where I’d stayed years earlier. Surprisingly, I got the same tiny, Spartan room. The rates had jumped from six to twenty dollars, but the increase provided a black and white television. By the time I’d enjoyed a savory steak on the balcony and talked with four Danish women enjoying a bus trip through Mexico, the little central park had darkened and fallen silent.
A few vendors lined the street to sell to people returning from outlying clubs that rumbled with life until the late hours. I thought about visiting one or two cantinas, but wanted to get an early start to Toniná the next day. I also reflected on a near fight the last time I’d hit an Ocosingo club.
I hadn’t been involved in the argument but when it got heated it was obvious everyone, including women, in the bar would have thrown punches. The owner got the main combatants outside and apart. I thanked heaven knowing if a melee occurred the police would manage to capture the lone North American. Tucking myself in for the night, I was glad I recalled that old promise to myself to avoid Ocosingo’s taverns.
I slept later than intended, perhaps due to the tedious after-hours drive the day before or perhaps I just felt lazy. A fruit plate and scrambled egg breakfast, eaten in the company of the Danish women on the hotel’s balcony, made an ideal start to the morning before leaving for the ruins. The fifteen miles took forever on a poorly marked road.
A few smiling Mayan Indian girls and women attended two small tables selling trinkets and soft drinks at the entrance. Large shade trees sheltered them and created an inviting parking area. Only a car and truck indicated other tourists.
The entry fee was just over three dollars. There weren’t any signs, but I discovered two galleries inside the surprisingly excellent little museum complex. The displays were useful to gain some knowledge of Toniná’s history. The staff was helpful and obviously proud to be associated with the archeological zone.
The dates on Toniná are still being puzzled over. The complex could have been built as early as 350 A.D., but archeologists currently think most of the monuments and clusters of temple-pyramids date from the Maya Classic era, the sixth through ninth century A.D.
A healthy walk, probably a quarter mile or more is required to reach the complex. I should’ve brought water, but didn’t realize the length of the path. Luckily it was November. At most other times of the year, I would’ve had to turn back for water before exploring.
At the end of the lane a steep set of stairs goes down and up crossing a shallow, vegetation-choked creek. Once I topped the stairs I enjoyed my first view, an ancient ball field. Two large circular stones, resembling ancient manhole covers, lay on the field of play. A local farmer sitting on a retaining wall stood. He wanted work as a guide and insisted the stone discs were used in the ballgames once played on that ancient turf. An archeologist might have shed some light on their use but his explanation exposed the fact he had little knowledge of their original purpose.
Stepping from the ball field, I enjoyed my first full view of the Gran Plaza and the 249-foot high pyramid complex. The conglomeration of stacked edifices provided a Disney-like ambiance. A dozen or more men, appearing ant-like, worked on the highest temple.
Toniná’s construction differs from nearby Mayan complexes. The builders employed small rocks, whereas larger stones were used in other sites. Toniná may translate to “House of Stones.” This translation makes sense after the first view. Many experts on Mayan architecture believe central Mexican civilizations had more influence on Toniná than is typical of most Mayan sites. The multifarious pyramid was built on a large hill and has several main terraces.
Throughout the complex maze-like rooms adorn various terraces. Some experts speculate they had to do with astrology. Others believe they were used to hold captives. Archeologists will eventually determine if the rooms match up with the heavens at night. My guess was the quarters served both purposes, as well as other uses our modern minds will never fathom. The construction known as the “Entrance to the Labyrinth of Passages,” even in the early afternoon light is far too dark to step into without a flashlight. It is on the first level.
Toniná is noted for being a distinct dynastic center and defeating Palenque in a war. Many of the rulers are known. The friezes relate some of the site’s history. Several scenes focused on prisoners captured in battle.
Above the replica on the stairs and to the right loomed a large flat sculpture titled “Frieze of the Dream Lords.” The wall-mural is covered by a tropical palm-thatched roof. A wire fence keeps viewers back several feet. At this level, finally, the men working at the top can be clearly discerned.
Most notable among the frieze sculptures were inverted heads staring outward. Some theories suggest the upside down heads represent decapitated prisoners. Another sculpture I found especially interesting was a skeletal figure. I spent half an hour studying the “Frieze of the Dream Lords,” and discussing aspects of it with a young German woman who’d joined me while climbing. Surprisingly, once home and zooming in on photographs, I saw more of the scene than I did in person. I wonder if the frieze overwhelmed me, preventing concentration on a single part.
Toniná’s elevation is 2,950 feet. There are times when clouds roll in and shroud the top of the site. I didn’t visit the complex at such a time. Toniná has 260 steps, which may relate to the complex Mayan calendar system. The higher elevation provided cooling breezes that make stopping to catch my breath and enjoy the panorama a real pleasure.
Halfway to the top stood a most intriguing structure called “The Tomb of the Earth Monster” by some, and “Temple of Agriculture” by others. It stands as a stone structure the size of a child’s play house. Within, sits a beach ball-size shaped stone. My first thought, guessing the orb must weigh 350 pounds, was, “I’d have hated to help carry the damn thing up here.”
The theory for “The Tomb of the Earth Monster,” is the sphere represents the earth being eaten by the monster. I’ve no idea as I couldn’t make much of the intricate design covering the tomb.
Finishing my exploration, I joined a German couple for a soft drink under an open tent at the entrance. I needed the refreshment and a bit of easy conversation. I’d been hydrating myself constantly while in Mexico. This was the sixth pyramid complex I’d explored on this trip. The exercise had built me up a bit. Had I not consumed extra water daily I don’t believe I’d have enjoyed the complex so much or seen nearly half of what I accomplished. If you have the opportunity to explore Toniná, make certain you’ve been taking daily walks for a while. It’s not the type of site one should tackle while out of shape. Additionally, I’ll carry water next time.
I’ll revisit Toniná. The mysterious site is still in the early stages of being explored and properly studied. For those who enjoy Mayan history, the Mayan Calendar and the 2012 legends, Toniná is an extra special archeological zone. The latest date of the Maya Long Count discovered so far, 909 A.D., is at Toniná. The collapse of the Mayan civilizations begins in earnest after that date.
On September 24, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History hosted the world premiere event of SK Films’ “Flight of the Butterflies.” The 3D nature film was screened in the Johnson IMAX Theater. The movie premiere was attended by President Felipe Calderón and First Lady Margarita Zavala, as well as a… variety of Mexican and U.S. officials, including Mexican Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara, Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhán, and U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Representatives from SK Films were also in attendance, including Executive Producer Jonathan Barker, Director Mike Slee, and Co-Executive Producer Wendy MacKeigan. The principal actor, Gordon Pinsent, was also there, as well as actor Shaun Benson and actress Patricia Phillips. Catalina Aguado, the only surviving member of the original monarch sanctuary discovery team, was a featured guest. Catalina was recognized and applauded for her journey that has dawned new discoveries in monarchs, and which led to decades of fascination with the migration.
A reception in the museum’s rotunda featured small plate Mexican cuisine and live mariachi music. Light projections of butterflies danced across the high ceilings while the attendees swayed to the traditional Mexican music. Cookies in the shape of monarchs topped off the delicious selection of Mexican dishes.
Universal Pictures International (Mexico) presents Hidden Moon, a Mexican feature film directed by Pepe Bojórquez (Sea of Dreams)… about a woman's fight to achieve her dreams regardless of the consequences. Starring Wes Bentley (American Beauty, Hunger Games) and Ana Serradilla.
Universal Pictures International Mexico presents the film "Hidden Moon," a feature film written, directed, and produced by the winner of the… "La Diosa de Plata," Pepe Bojorquez. Produced by Antonio Ruiz Arrieta, Raymundo Diaz-Gonzalez and executive produced by Rodrigo Lobo Morales, with Victory Blvd Success Entertainment Films and production companies. The main cast is headed by Oscar® winning film actor (American Beauty) and BAFTA® nominee for Best Actor, Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games), sharing credit with leading Mexican actresses Ana Serradilla and Osvaldo de León.
Perhaps the most exciting part of modern day travel is experiencing ancient cultures, especially in the case of the Maya. From history buffs and scholars, researchers and authors who thrive on historical facts and figures to travelers seeking new cultural encounters, experiencing the magic of the… sacred Maya culture is northing short of other-worldly.
The Maya culture has long been a mysterious and fascinating part of Mexico’s rich history. With the abundance of ancient cultural sites, original indigenous languages, arts and crafts, cuisine, native music, dance and timeless customs, the Maya culture still thrives today in Yucatán Peninsula and beyond.
Capturing the world’s attention as the end of an era approaches, (December 21, 2012 marks the end of the Maya Long Count, a 5,125-year cycle), and the beginning of a new one draws near, here are a few ways in which you can meet the Maya and learn about their sacred cultural traditions.
Maya Day of the Dead - Hanal Pixán
Dia de los Muertos – or Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico as an homage of life where families throughout Mexico take part in a religious ceremony, honoring those who have passed. Through customized altars built and covered with colorful decorations, photos of loved ones, candles, paper mache skeletons or calaveras, skull candies, special breads and food and drink, the concept of death is celebrated throughout Mexico from October 31 to November 2.
November 1st, a national holiday in many historically Catholic countries, is All Saints’ Day when the spirits of children are thought to return, while November 2nd, All Souls’ Day, honors the souls of adults and all of the faithfully departed.
This time of year in Mexico is a special time to show great respect through this deeply rooted tradition and tribute to all who have passed, from babies to the elderly.
The Maya Day of the Dead is called Hanal Pixán, which translates to “feast of souls” in the Mayan language. It is celebrated similarly to Day of the Dead but with foods unique to the Maya area including mucbipollo (buried chicken), large chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground pit with gourds of tan-chucua, a thick corn drink flavored with crushed cacao beans, pepper and aniseed. This meal is eaten and enjoyed by the Maya along with balche, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and tree bark. The meal is enjoyed by both the spirits, who are thought to consume its essence, and by the participants.
It is said that during this time, the Maya abstain from certain tasks such as hunting and sewing so as not to injure one of the wandering souls.
In Yucatán, visit Mérida for special festivities in the streets and at the local cemeteries. Don’t miss the annual celebration of the “Festival of Life and Death” at Xcaret eco-park in Quintana Roo. During this festival, the park is filled with rhythmic drum beats, the scent of burning copal, faces painted like skeletons, and an abundance of orange and yellow marigolds. Special festivities include concerts, plays, dances, art exhibitions and a variety of children’s activities. Be sure to visit the park’s authentic Mexican Cemetery, built cone-shaped, with seven levels and 365 different tombs. With more than 40 different natural and cultural attractions here, you can enhance or expand your appreciation of the Maya and Mexican culture.
Traditional Maya Bee Honey Harvesting Ceremony in Xel-Há
Twice a year, a traditional Maya bee honey-harvest ceremony (Xunaan-Cab or Melipona) takes place at Xel-Há, a natural aquarium park located in Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo.
The purpose of the festival, which is presented during a full moon in June and December, is to clean or unclog the jobones, (hollow trunks that represent beehives) and to collect the honey. Extensively cultured by the Maya for honey and regarded as sacred, the unique Melipona (of the Meliponini tribe) are stingless bees and produce a very high nutritional and medicinal type of honey.
A beautiful ceremony is conducted by a Maya priest who leads a ritual through offerings of thankfulness to Maya deities for their blessings and for the bees’ fertility. Xel-Há promotes the rescue of this ancient tradition of the Yucatán Peninsula as the Melipona bee is considered endangered.
Other activities can include a visit to Chichen Itza (any day, year round). A visit to this spectacular archeological site and large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya civilization is a must but particularly during Spring and Autumn equinoxes, in the late afternoon when the northwest corner of the pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows on El Castillo to evoke the appearance of a serpent. Or experience Momentos Sagrados Mayas (Sacred Mayan Moments), a seasonal play and indigenous Maya festival with a cast of inhabitants from the east part of Yucatán is staged every Sunday from January to March in X’ocen near Valladolid and presented by the Laboratorio de Teatro Campesino e Indígena on an open-air stage.
As the Maya (and Mayan calendar) have captured the world’s attention, perhaps now, more than ever, participation in a cultural Maya experience is essential for any itinerary.
What do Argentine Tango, the Peking Opera and Mexican food have in common? They’ve all been given UNESCO status as Masterpieces of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. These lofty words are unlikely to come to mind while savoring the best food in Mexico. I prefer my sister Kathryn’s response after tasting her first tlacoyo:… “Don’t talk to me—I’m in Food Heaven!”
I’ve lived in Mexico for more than fifteen years and have been to Food Heaven numerous times. Sometimes it’s been at a friend’s house, or at one of the high-end Mexican restaurants that have sprung up around town. But most often it’s been at a simple market fonda or a humble street stall.
Some people react to the term ‘street food’ in Mexico with alarm. Fear of strange bacteria and ‘Montezuma’s revenge’ stops them from trying some of the country’s best cuisine. When I first came to Mexico I would stroll by a busy stall, take in the heady aromas, and walk on by. But the tacos al pastor at El Huequito (The Hole-in-the-Wall) finally won me over—there were dozens of people eating them, and everybody just looked too happy. Over the years I’ve developed my own rules for eating on the street that have served me well.
A crowded stall is always a good sign. Make sure the place looks clean—trust your judgment. Look at the food to see if it’s fresh and is being cooked to order. Be wary of foods that may have been sitting around, especially in hot weather. Since the swine flu scare a few years ago many stalls now have a bottle of hand sanitizer available. I always carry moist towelettes to use before I eat—remember that your own hands can often been the carrier of germs. Notice if the cook is also taking the money—a bad sign. Food blogger Lesley Téllez recommends the best time to enjoy street food is lunch hour, roughly 2 to 4 pm, when things are busiest and there’s fast turnover. Also good is 10:30 to 11 a.m. because people are having their "second breakfast", to tide them over until lunch. (Check out Lesley’s street food tours at http://www.eatmexico.com/).
The best street food is often found in and around markets and near busy metro stops. Most Mexico City neighborhoods have a tanguis, a street market held one day each week, where some of the freshest street food can be found. You’ll find a variety of stands offering everything from fresh fruit juices to savory tacos. Here’s a list of top street food spots around town.
Metro Chilpancingo (Insurgentes and Baja California). This is my favorite spot in the city for great street food. On Calle Chilpancingo itself you’ll find some of the best flautas (literally ‘flutes’, elongated filled and deep fried tortillas served with salsa and cream) in all of Mexico, along with heart-warming caldo de pollo (chicken soup). I often have a quick lunch at El Tacetón (at the corner of Baja California and Tuxpan) which offers a variety of tacos de guisados (soft tortillas filled with a stew) including vegetarian options like tortitas de brocoli and coliflór; there’s a selection of colorful salsas to spike things up.
Eventually, I think it happens to everyone who has family in the snowy Midwest. You finally reach a holiday season where even though you love your family dearly, you just can’t bring yourself to head back for the sub-zero wind chill, ice-covered roads, and layer upon layer of puffy… winter coats… You tell yourself, “Just this once, we’re going to throw tradition out the window, and go somewhere warm and sunny for the holidays.” A Mexican beach sounded like just the ticket.
When my husband and I had this flash of brilliance the second week of December a couple years ago, we quickly realized that we were not the only ones who had thought of this ingenious plan! When we started our last-minute search for flights and lodging around Mexico, many of the best-known beaches were already booked up or charging a steep premium for the most popular week of the year (between Christmas & New Year’s). But then I came across the tiny village of Yelapa, located just south of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco state on Mexico’s west coast.
Yelapa is a sleepy little car-free pueblo that is primarily accessible by boat and just got electricity in 2001, but has various claims to fame with past visits from Bob Dylan, Jack Nicholson, Liz Taylor, etc. While it’s a popular day trip from Puerto Vallarta, I think it’s better as a two or three night stay. There’s not a whole lot to do, but that’s why you’re there—push your boundaries and see if you can resist Yelapa’s recently-acquired internet access for your whole trip. J
We flew into Puerto Vallarta and spent one night there first to check out “the big city,” and then hopped on the Yelapa Water Taxi the next day (which leaves from the old Los Muertos Pier for $150 pesos one way). A few taxi tips that I observed—1) sit in the back of the boat to minimize jostling, 2) have your camera at the ready to capture the beautiful scenery + schools of tropical fish and whales, and 3) ideally wear shorts/sandals in case you get dropped off on the beach in Yelapa where no pier = wade through the water. (Drop-off location depends on where your lodging is.)
There’s an impressive number of lodging option for a village this size; you can see a fairly comprehensive list here. We opted for Casa Bahia Bonita, a bright orangey-yellow multi-level house built into the vegetation on the northeast side of the cove. It’s nothing overly fancy, but it was clean, it had great views from the terraces, and the rooms had small (albeit somewhat spartan) kitchenettes so we were able to whip up some breakfast on site. It offers nice privacy as it’s the last property on that side of the cove, but the flip side is that it’s a bit of a walk to get to restaurants in town. It’s good to try making that walk during the daytime to familiarize yourself with the route before walking it at night, and a flashlight comes in handy. If you’re staying on the beach side, you’ll have to cross the river to get into town. During low tide, it’s no problem to cross the mouth of the river at the beach, but during high tide, that crossing can be waist deep! However if you walk just a bit up the river, it’s much easier to cross & there’s usually a bridge. (Something I wish we had known as we were wading back from dinner one night with wet shorts!)
If your tastes tend more upmarket, there are a couple higher end resorts that are worth checking out—Casa Pericos and Verana. We found surprisingly good food at Yelapa’s restaurants as well. Café Bahia was a great spot for breakfast & lunch, and we had a lovely Christmas dinner at the Yacht Club. You can find a helpful restaurant list + map on the site yelapa.info. Do be aware that many spots are closed in the rainy season (roughly May to September), so your dining options may be a bit more limited. A final note on food—we’d read a lot about “the pie lady” who visits the beach selling her wares each day. When we finally caught up with her one afternoon and dug into two pieces of pie, they were amazing and totally worth the wait. If she’s still making the rounds when you visit, flag her down for a slice of banana cream.
Eating pie and taking artsy photos of Corona bottles next to your toes in the sand should fill most of your days in Yelapa…but if you need more entertainment, there are options! Folks like Yelapa Adventures are happy to take you fishing, snorkeling, whale watching, or horseback riding. You can also walk along the river to check out the waterfall, and reward yourself with a cold beer once you get there.
We found Yelapa to be a great, laid-back place to escape to and avoid the Midwestern winter, especially when combined with a few days in Puerto Vallarta on the front or back end. Keep it in mind when you’re ready for a break from the usual holiday routine, and perhaps you’ll create a new tradition—out with turkey and dressing; in with fish tacos!
The global economy hasn’t found much traction in 2012. Europe’s debt crisis remains unresolved. China’s rapid economic rise is plateauing, and, depending on who you ask, it may even be petering out. US growth is expected to be a middling two percent this year. Yet Mexico is growing… at a much faster pace than it has over the past decade.
Currently, much of that growth owes to robust exports. Car and car parts are being sent to the United States at record levels, the aeronautics sector is burgeoning, oil prices are relatively high, and Latin America is a fast growing market for Mexican goods.
As I argued in the lead up to Mexico’s presidential election in June, the economy could easily sustain 5 percent growth in the years ahead. President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto is eyeing 6 percent growth over the medium term. A clutch of reforms would need to be enacted for this to occur, especially privatization of the state-run oil company, Pemex, but there are already inklings in this direction.
Eyeing these trends, economists at Nomura Securities, a banking conglomerate, have created a stir by predicting that Mexico could surpass Brazil as Latin America’s largest economy as soon as 2022. While that’s certainly possible, a more realistic scenario would involve Mexico growing at the upper end of the growth range the IMF has set for it—4.75 percent—while Brazil might grow at the lower end of its IMF growth range—2.75 percent. In this case, Mexico’s economy would eclipse Brazil’s in 2028 or 2029.
By focusing on exports though, an emerging driver of the Mexican economy is being overlooked—the country’s swelling middle class. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development deems half of Mexico’s population of 110 million to be middle class. Roughly 65 percent of Mexicans identify themselves as middle class, according to a poll conducted earlier this year. In 2010, the income of the average Mexican was almost $14,000.
In several ways, Mexico’s middle class bucks the global trend, which may help to explain why forecasters routinely overlook it as a source of economic growth. Rich countries are undergoing a “shrinking middle,” with unionized labor losing ground to nonunionized competitors, and with tight credit standards hampering small businesses and homeowners from getting the loans they need to expand operations or refinance their mortgages.
Much remains unknown about Mexico’s middle class, as it emerged just over the past 15 or so years. For instance, a recent research note by McKinsey, a consultancy, suggests that when times are tough Mexico’s middle class adapts simply by buying less, not by foregoing quality labels for cheaper ones, in stark contrast to America’s middle class. At the same time, Mexicans rely less on credit than their middle-class brethren in Brazil, but they save less of their incomes than do the Chinese.
While defining Mexico’s middle class may be more difficult than in a country like the United States, Shannon O’Neil at the Council on Foreign Relations has laid out what seems like a fair metric. Middle class Mexicans possess the “six C’s”: casa propia (one’s own house), car, cell phone, computer, cable TV, and trips to the cinema.
Perhaps the particular demands of the middle class will become clearer over the coming months, with the advent of a new TV program premised on entrepreneurs pitching ideas to potential investors. Based on the popular BBC reality show “Dragon’s Den,” the pilot for “Arena Titans” is scheduled for production in Guadalajara in September.
Of course, things aren’t all rosy. Headwinds in the global economy are affecting Mexican consumers just like those anywhere else. But two signs in particular point to the resilience of Mexico’s middle class. Reuters recently reported that Mexico’s industrial output rose 1.3 percent from May to June, the largest such increase in nine months. Burrowing into the numbers unearths some interesting trends. Mining output ticked sideways, while activity in the utilities sector actually went down; these two sectors are becoming less prominent features of the Mexican economy. Construction activity, by contrast, provided the pep, which Reuters attributed to “solid domestic demand.” Second, retail sales in June were up 5.6 percent over the previous twelve months, including an uptick of 1.8 percent in the previous month alone. Given these signs, it’s no surprise that consumer confidence in Mexico is at its highest point since 2008.
As its middle class grows, a new era of economic development is taking shape in Mexico.