MÁS O MENOS, 4/2006
by David Simmonds
My son, age eleven, has developed a clever ploy of deftly changing the subject when he has no credible answers for the subject at hand. “Tanner, do you hit your little sister?” “Dad, how about me and you catching a ballgame – spend some quality time”.
Which brings me to wonder about the laser-focus in the news media lately about illegal immigration. Suddenly, everything would be perfect in our fine land if only we would build a wall and turn 11 million laborers into felons, followed by a one way ticket back to Oaxaca. Yeah, that will work.
No one denies that we have a problem and a solution must be agreed upon and legislation enacted. I did note that the feds recently raided a Netherlands-based pallet manufacturer at several of their U.S. plants, arresting seven managers and 1,100 workers. I have a feeling that this company was not a big money contributor to the present administration, nor do I believe that this was nothing more than a political move to appease the anti-immigrant base. Do the same thing at Tyson chicken farms and I will stand corrected. There has been a 90% drop in illegal-immigration employer arrests since 2000 and I doubt that will change.
If you are left to wonder why we would do nothing for so long to enforce the labor laws already on the books you need to understand that corporate America has been trying for decades to lower, and keep low, worker’s wages. Bears Stearns, the Wall Street brokerage firm, describes as “systematic” the practice of replacing lower income wage earners with illegal aliens. This has been going on for the past thirty-five years, supported by both political parties. These are not just jobs that “Americans won’t do,” as is so often claimed. These are what were once middle-class, decent paying jobs, many of them union. Business knows that Mexican migrants are not complainers. They work under exploitive conditions in order to send money home to feed their families. They are willing to break our immigration laws for that purpose and keep their mouths shut.
We can solve this problem by requiring business to obey the law and to adhere to market forces. Working class Americans, the men and women who built this country, are losing ground. A guy driving nails or hanging drywall for 30 years is supposed to re-train? I often wonder what my dad would think of all of this, he who served his country with a career in the Air Force for twenty years. I wonder, but I’m pretty sure I know the answer.
MÁS O MENOS, 3/2006
by David Simmonds
Every year at this time I travel to Acapulco to attend Tianguis, Latin America’s largest travel trade show and conference aimed at Mexico tourism. In past years I have been an invitee of the Mexican government, meaning they fly me there and pay for the hotel with the hopes that I will write good articles and help promote tourism in Mexico. It’s a responsibility and obligation that I have always taken seriously, understanding that it cost them some real money to pay my expenses. Acapulco’s not my favorite town in Mexico but it’s always a good time and I have met and become friends with an interesting group of travel writers and PR people who specialize in Mexico travel. It has become increasingly harder to get on the invitee list as they only make room for about 40 people in all of North America. This year I didn’t get the call, which is OK – but I’m going anyway at my expense, partly because I need a Mexico fix, but mainly because I always come home with a few good connections that will help out down the road. I do wonder, however, where they found 40 other people who promote Mexico more than I have for the last ten years.
The event brings together about 1,000 travel buyers and several hundred suppliers, with some of their booths as well-decorated and large as a rock-star Vegas suite. The major resorts, airlines, state tourism offices, beer and tequila companies (free samples are flowing), tour companies, etc., are all in attendance. There are daily press conferences, reams of printed materials, a complimentary press room with rows of computers, and at night garishly elaborate dinners and parties normally associated with politicians, celebrities and drug dealers. As is usual, sleep will be rare and I’ll limp back home a little beat up, telling myself “That’s the last time – I’m getting too old for this level of research.” Then, a few days later I’ll start plotting my effort to get back on the invite list.
MÁS O MENOS, 2/2006
by David Simmonds
I have always thought that our country’s foreign policy should be modeled more after the old TV western Bonanza and less like the British Empire prior to the being relegated to small-island status, going broke and trying to rule the world. On Bonanza, patriarch Ben Cartwright and his three sons liked to leave folks alone unless they started messing with the Ponderosa, the ranch where they lived. Occasionally they had to wander off the ranch to attend to something or to save the nearest town from bad guys, but generally they liked to mind their own business. “Live and let live” epitomized the spirit of the West, while people also took care of one another when in need.
Today we live in a time where many amongst us see it as our obligation, our duty, to tell other cultures how to live their lives. Without going into all of the obvious examples of this that drive our policies throughout the world, one instance that recently took place in Mexico serves to illustrate the absurdity of this blatant arrogance.
The Maria Isabel Sheraton Hotel in Mexico City is U.S. owned. A meeting was scheduled there between a group of oil company leaders from the U.S., including representatives of Exxon Mobil Corporation, and a delegation from Cuba to discuss a possible joint venture. However, under pressure from the feds, the Cubans were summarily evicted from the hotel by Sheraton based on our goofy law prohibiting any business deals with Cuba.. Mind you, the meeting was taking place in a sovereign country where doing business with Cuba is lawful. We decided to enforce our law beyond our border, not a popular policy in the civilized world where we are commonly viewed as an over-meddlesome country.
Not surprisingly, Mexican officials, as well as its citizens, were incensed by this bullying tactic. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Like it or not, we need friends, especially those with whom we share a border. We need to respect and appreciate the fact that everyone doesn’t want to be like us. Let’s start paying more attention to the Ponderosa and allow others to do the same.
MÁS O MENOS, 12/2005
by David Simmonds
In the early 1970’s I would travel through Mexico in a VW bus, and sometimes by train. The van had the advantage of mobility, a bed, and enough room to carry a lot of “stuff,” which was usually a giant ice chest filled with Coronas. But it did require gas, spare tire purchases and untimely repairs. And you had to keep a sharp eye on the road to avoid bunker-sized potholes, mysteriously placed topes (speed-bumps), wandering farm animals, sloth-paced vehicles sans tail-lights and roads that simply stopped. Conversely, I could jump on a passenger train in the border town of Mexicali for about $18.00 and a day and a half later disembark in Tepic, Nayarit’s state capital. Another day’s travel would get you to Mexico City. The train cars were ancient, slow, beaten up, and – fascinating. There was little doubt that you had entered a very different world than the one you were leaving behind.
Unfortunately, the trains were poorly maintained, and as Mexico’s economy faltered passenger service was eventually discontinued except for a couple short runs (Copper Canyon). The bus lines became the primary mode of transport for the masses, with air travel preferred by those who could afford it.
Now I hear that the trains will run again –and not by left-over train cars recycled from the U.S. or Europe. Mexico is now exhibiting a vision that the U.S. refuses to entertain – high-speed bullet trains. President Fox has announced plans to revive train-travel in his country with a multibillion dollar project, with the first stage being a 180 mph train to run 360 miles from Mexico City to Guadalajara. The plans also call for a line running from the Pacific port of Manzanillo to central Mexico, as well as electric commuter trains running 140 miles out from Mexico City. The Mexico City trains would carry 320,000 people a day, a much needed relief for the insane traffic congestion of today.
The first 15-mile phase is scheduled to open in 2007 and the bullet train by 2011. As Washington continues to debate the necessity of a cheap, subsidized transportation system, Mexico is looking forward and preparing for the day when oil is no longer a viable option for any country concerned with self-dependence.
MÁS O MENOS, 11/2005
You may have heard about the outcome of the recent ballot measures we voted on in Calee-for-nee-uh recently, most of which were proposed by Terminator Ahnold, who learned that attacking nurses, firefighters and teachers is not a good idea in what is largely a liberal, blue state. And there was that promise not to take special interest money shortly before he set all state records for taking – special interest money. A main feature of the teacher initiative would have required a five-year probationary period for new teachers. My wife is a teacher, and believe me, it takes about two weeks to know if someone has the right stuff in the classroom to instruct, discipline, nurture, and entertain 25 to 30 kids, many of whose parents have no clue how to parent. But of course, the real motivation behind the measure was money. California is broke and so are many of its cities. You don’t have to pay probationary teachers as much, and if the city really wants to get well, they could, under the new law, very easily fire long-time teachers whose pay scale is much higher than the newly hired.
Segue to Mexico
The Mexico City Autonomous University (UACM) has a system of 16 feeder high schools that were launched by then-Mayor Lopez Obrador, who is the leading candidate to become Mexico’s next president. The University has no entrance exams and no interviews. There is no financial aid because it is free to attend. The only requirements are a high school diploma and proof of residency. The goal is to ensure that kids from bad neighborhoods and little money have an equal chance at higher education, resulting in an educated citizenry that will ultimately benefit all. Unfortunately, they don’t have the resources to allow everyone to attend who wants to, so they have a lottery system with the lucky ones drawing the right numbers. These are the types of visionary programs that will help Mexico grow into this new century and should be encouraged by the United States as a means to curb the flow of the many Mexicans who cross our border wanting nothing more than work.
MÁS O MENOS, 10/2005
by David Simmonds
I recently bought a house that I can’t afford – and to make it less affordable, we’re doing some remodeling before moving in. The first thing I have learned is that there is no such thing as a “small remodel.” At first it was just a pool and a stand-alone office addition, but my beautiful wife, Felice, unilaterally decided that since we’re just doing this once we might as well add few “extras ” – extras meaning to enlarge the master bedroom and bath to include her “sitting room” with French doors, which I don’t really get since she never sits (this explains why she’s still packing the same 107 pounds on her 5’6” frame that she had when we met). And although the carpet was pristine, well, she has always wanted Mexican-tile floors, requiring a trip to Tecate, just across the border, and having them delivered by a semi-truck load of pavers custom ordered along with these little red “effect” tiles and coping for the pool.
Have you priced a truck load of tiles lately? Then, what the hell, we might as well paint all of the walls in the house to get the Mexican hacienda look that is our ultimate goal. Of course, that new master bathroom now has a custom hand-made copper bath tub from Santa Clara de Cobre in Michoacan that I found on e-bay. The seller tells me it’s a steal at $3,200. All I need is a hose and a bar of soap, but Felice – oh, never mind.
Not surprisingly, my budget now resembles our Federal red-ink spread-sheet, and that pool construction is looking like the elusive “exit strategy” from our 51st state. But there is one phase of all of this that I don’t mind paying for, where I actually feel like I’m getting value. I go to the local gathering corner at 7:30 in the morning, where about 20 to 30 Mexican laborers hang out, and if I’m lucky, Arnie from Oaxaca hasn’t been hired yet.
Arnie’s a good-sized 26-year-old man who works harder and better than anyone should expect or have to. I buy his lunch and give him a $100 bill after an 8-hour day. The first day I picked him up I had what I thought was about three-days worth of work for him, including hauling tiles up a ladder onto the roof in 90 degree heat. When I came by the house at 4:00 o:clock that day he had completed the 3-day job in seven hours and was in the yard cleaning some flower beds with the entire construction site looking like a room at the Hyatt. I have hired Arnie many days since then.
My point here is that our country needs to get serious about how we want to handle the immigration problem. As long as I can get this kind of worker for a fair price I’ll continue to do so. If it’s not a good idea, then make it against the law to hire these guys. As long as they can earn money to send home they will be on that street corner, or in the fields – anywhere they can work. Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy are co-sponsoring a bill to set up a guest worker program while sealing the border. Hopefully, the partisan politics that rule Washington can get together on this. Arnie is here for one reason, and it has nothing to do with blowing up bombs. Let’s have some common sense solutions for a change.
MÁS O MENOS, 8/2005
by David Simmonds
I have always heard that the years really do zoom by as you age, one decade becoming indistinguishable from another. You recall a trip that you took fifteen years ago and you swear it was just a few years back, maybe 1999, back when things seemed to work better in our country. Or you easily recall the instant you decided to quit your job in commercial real estate to start a travel newsletter, with a one-year old son and a loving wife who spends her non-working, idle hours Nordstrom-shopping, and it seems like just last year – maybe two. Then you realize that ten years have passed since you published that first issue on Puerto Vallarta, which never would have gone anywhere if your older brother hadn’t casually said “I’m in.”
So it is that ten years and 100 issues later we’re still having fun with our little creation, understanding that it’s not easy to make money in this business (we both do other things – Bob is a psychologist and writes a mental health newsletter, and I organize Mexico tours, sell golf packages, other stuff), but thankful that through perseverance and more than a little luck we are still in business.
Probably the most amazing aspect of our “success” is that we have a loyal subscriber base in these days of free information on the internet, some of which is even accurate. For this I thank each of you more than you can imagine. You have allowed me to quit a job I hated and continue the life-long illicit love affair I have had with that magical, and sometimes maddening, country to the south. As we say here in SoCal, “I am one lucky dude.”
MÁS O MENOS, 7/2005
It’s family vacation time for my family later this week and I’m trying figure out how I can fit that into a column about Mexico. For the third year in the past four we are going to Hunewill Ranch in Northern California to ride horses and do a little trout fishing. The Hunewill Ranch was started in 1861 by Napolean Bonaparte Hunewill and is still a working cattle ranch owned by his descendants. They have been doing the guest ranch part since 1930, so they are pretty good at this. They know a little about cowboying.
My wife, Felice, used to go to the ranch with her family while growing up, even working there for a couple of summers during college. Some of the same wranglers are still there and are old friends of hers. This year we are taking her parents, 87 and 80, who haven’t been back for some 30 years. I imagine that this will be their last time, adding a bittersweet pall to our special week. And, of course, our two kids, Tanner and Nicolette, ages 10 and 6, will be with us, learning life lessons that they would never get back home in San Diego. Caring for a horse for a week is different than cleaning your room.
The ranch sits on the Eastern Sierra, just outside of tiny Bridgeport, not far from the old mining town of Bodie. The mornings, watching the herd of horses thunder by our cabin, are as surreal and magical as anything I have ever witnessed this side of the border (there, I got the Mexico reference in), framed by the snow-capped peaks in the distance. Unlike most guest ranches where you ride single-file on trails, at Hunewill you do a lot of pasture rides where you let loose and gallop, the riders spread out for 100 yards wide whoopin’ and hollerin’.
Cell phone signals don’t reach the ranch. There is no internet access, no TV, swimming pool or hot tub. The food is fresh and plentiful, the accommodations old and comfortable. There are hayrides, fiddle music and square dances and the other visitors become your friends. I’ll come home a better person. http://www.hunewill.com/
MÁS O MENOS, 6/2005
I have been explaining to my 10-year-old son, Tanner, that it really is now time to buy a place in Mexico, that life in SoCal ain’t what it used to be, that traffic jams are not an acceptable way of life for people over 50, and that most people just do not want to believe that those in public life will lie to cover their butts. He just thinks I’m getting cynical and grouchy – and he may be right. But we will buy in Mexico soon, at least as a refuge to escape to occasionally until he and his sister, Nicolette, age six, go to college. College?
He has heard me tell people that you can’t actually own property in Mexico thirty miles from a coastline or sixty miles from the border. “What’s up with that, Dad? If it’s such a cool place why don’t they let Americans buy that land?” “Well, they got a little cranky when we claimed about one-third of their country and they are now a little cautious about giving up their best real estate to foreigners” “Huh, I study that stuff in school and I never read about us taking land. You’re making that up.”
I explain that they signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 that ended the Mexican-American War, but that Mexico really had no choice and that the treaty transferred ownership of present-day Texas, California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming to the United States from Mexico. “Is that kinda like what’s up now in the Middle East, Dad?” Kids sure know how to ask question these days.
MÁS O MENOS, 5/2005
The most consistent challenge I have repeatedly faced in my 35 years of Mexico travel is how to make a phone call home to San Diego with some reasonable assurance that it won’t cost me more than my hotel room. I have tried all the options that have come around over the years, and I usually discover that I have paid anywhere from $1.00 to $10.00 a minute once I get the bill. More recently, I have had good luck with my AT&T cellular phone. This phone still has the older CDMA technology that is common in Mexico and the charge has been consistently around $1.20 per minute with roaming charges. The coverage wasn’t complete, but not bad. Unfortunately, I accidentally drowned that phone while washing my Jeep recently and now that Cingular has bought AT&T, I had to buy a phone with the newer GSM technology. I’ll find out how that works when I leave for Veracruz in a few days, but I’ll be surprised if I am able to make a call.
But it looks like there may be a solution, if the reports I have read are accurate. The new option is the same that we have all used in the U.S. and Canada for years by dialing 1-800-555-1212. Now, while in Mexico, you can dial the same number preceded by a 0 (i.e., 01-800-555-1212). You will reach an operator or an automated attendant in English where you can place collect, credit card, third party or Bell Calling Card calls to people in the U.S. and Canada. No prepaid card is required and they claim their prices to be 65% lower than AT&T, MCI or Sprint. This is a proven system that has been in place in many countries world-wide including Australia, Norway, Germany, Thailand, the UK, and Japan, just to name a few. Visit the web site at www.01-800-555-1212.com . I’ll let you know the damage next issue.
MÁS O MENOS, 4/2005
The most popular political figure in Mexico, Mexico City’s PRD party populist mayor, Manuel López Obrador, has been targeted by the other two political parties to prevent him from running in the presidential election in 2006. By Mexican constitutional law, high office-holders are immune from prosecution. But a recent legislative panel voted 3-1 to recommend that Obrador’s immunity from prosecution be removed. There are enough votes in the House of Congress, where no party holds a majority of seats, to lift the immunity.
The charge involves an incident several years old when a hospital was approved to be built in a poor section of Mexico City, financed by the World Bank and the Inter-America Development Bank to the tune of $44.5 million. The city agreed to build access roads to the new hospital in 1998. The then Mexico City mayor, Rosario Robles, could not reach an agreement with a land owner who was demanding too much money for the road access to be built over his property. The city then expropriated the land, and the land owner sued to stop construction on the day before Obrador took office, citing that he was being denied access to his land. Construction ceased, but the land owner later claimed that the equipment wasn’t removed in a timely manner, still claiming his access was impeded. By now, President Fox got involved, claiming that Obrador was responsible for the delay. And for this he might be prosecuted in Federal court, making him ineligible to run for president.
The popular Obrador has threatened to call for civil disobedience if the charges against him continue, claiming that involvement by the Feds in this small matter is a clear sign of a conspiracy to prevent him from becoming president. It will be worth watching this unfold for the next few months, as it is widely believed that the Bush administration is strongly opposed to Obrador, who has made it clear that Pemex, the government oil giant, will never sell off any portion to foreign concerns. The old adage of “follow the money” should now be replaced by “follow the oil.” Mexico has it, and the U.S. wants it. That’s the way I see it.
MÁS O MENOS, 3/2005
When I was in high school and college, a few presidents ago, Spring Break (I think it was still Easter Vacation at that time) marked the time of the year when my friends and I would put down our baseball gear, load up a couple of rusted vans and head across the border to either San Felipe or Ensenada for a week of camping in a $2.00 per night campground proudly outfitted with a cold outdoor shower and two reeking outhouses. The cost was around $20 to $30 per person for the week augmented by a few cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew, a half gallon jar of Skippy and a several loaves of Wonder bread to, presumably, soak up the beer and tequila that our parents implored us not to drink. Renting a hotel room, even had we been able to afford it, never crossed our one-track minds. A sleeping bag on the sand and the sound of the surf (when Creedence Clearwater wasn’t blasting on the 8-track car stereo) provided the perfect suite. Those fellow-travelers are still some of my best friends.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point, college kids evidently were wealthy enough to fly to Mexico for the spring ritual, descending mainly on Cancun in the tens of thousands, and they weren’t sleeping on beaches. Cancun seemed the obvious place to host the hormonal hordes, with its sanitized streets and progressive infrastructure. It was easy to get to and you didn’t have to deal with, you know, depressing poverty and all of those people speaking Mexican. The west coast party town became Mazatlan, where struggling hotels cleverly designed package deals that would fill their beach-front rooms with party warriors who would never discover the colonial charm of the old, historic port town.
Now it seems that Cancun may be, as they say, yesterday. Although they still expect at least 100,000 spring breakers this year, the original tourist town of Acapulco is threatening Cancun’s dominance where they have tried to downplay their image as an anything-goes bacchanal. Yes, Acapulco, which John Wayne, the Kennedy’s, Marilyn and Elvis once frequented, has been rediscovered by their (great?) grandkids. And they say that they like it because there is culture and history to enjoy along with the all-night dancing and chasing that is mandatory in the DNA of every generation. They say it feels more Mexican, and I say that is pretty cool.
Rest well Hunter S. Thompson. No one wrote like you did.
MÁS O MENOS, 2/2005
by David Simmonds
I was doing some computer research recently when I landed on a page of statistics about all things in Mexico. It gave the usual stats concerning population, climate, natural resources, birth rates, religion, etc. I wanted to find something that I had never read before, a fact that would surprise me. Then, there it was. At the end of the several paged document were two references that forced a smile and may have told me more about the country than anything I have read in the past year. The subject was Airports. Total: 1,848. Airports with paved runways: 238. Airports with unpaved runways: 1,610. The next category was Highways. Total: 316,382 km. Paved highways: 96,221 km, Unpaved highways: 227,756 km. With all of the changes and progress Mexico has experienced over the past few decades in manufacturing, infrastructure, education and tourism, we sometimes forget that it is still, in many ways, a struggling, emerging country. And now, in 18 months they will be having one of their most important presidential elections in history.
The polls indicate right now the front-runner is populist Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador representing the left-of-center PRD. Tied for second are Roberto Madrazo, president of the PRI and current president Vicente Fox’s Interior Minister, Santiago Creel, of the conservative PAN. There is already a smear campaign in place to eliminate Obrador from the race. It’s a complicated issue, but he may well be jailed before the election with trumped up charges of corruption and a minor land use issue where he had a road built to a hospital over “private property.” The young, educated people of Mexico are fighting back by forming alliances and creating web sites to unify against what they see as a “politics as usual” corruption that has plagued the country throughout its history. Throw into the mix that the U.S. does not want Obrador to succeed. There will be a ramping up in the corporate press about the “war on drugs” and how we need to protect “U.S. interests,” rationalizing our involvement in Mexico’s affairs. This would not be unique in our history.
There was one other stat that put me at ease. Miles of Coastline: 5,784.
MÁS O MENOS, 12/2004
by David Simmonds
The talk show echo chamber’s latest outrage has been about a little comic-book style, 31- page pamphlet published by the Mexican government that translates as “Guide for the Mexican Migrant.” The pundits and their dazed, lemming followers wail and hand-wring, asserting that the Mexican feds have no right telling their citizens how to stay alive and out of trouble as they travel long distances to find the back-breaking work that will enable them to feed their families.
The book contains seditious passages, such as “some practical advice that could be useful if you have made the difficult decision to seek new labor opportunities outside your country,” and this: “The safe way to enter another country is to obtain your passport from the Mexican Foreign Ministry, and a visa from the embassy or consulate of the country to which you wish to travel.” Yeah, this is some dangerous stuff, all right.
The guide goes on to give advice regarding dangers that might be encountered, like walking in the desert in the heat of the day instead of at night, using train tracks or trails as guides if lost, warnings about working with unscrupulous “coyotes,” advice not to use false documents in trying to enter another country, and not to resist arrest if apprehended. The nerve of these guys, huh?
The truth of the matter is that “they” will come as long as there is work, and there will be work as long as the U.S. government chooses not to punish those who hire the workers. It is that transparently simple. Major manufacturing, farming, restaurant and construction lobbyists spend millions of dollars a year to keep the cheap labor force flowing north, and as long as they do, nothing will change. As Caesar noted “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves….”
MÁS O MENOS, 11/2004
by David Simmonds
A few thoughts…
After traveling Mexico for decades, of all times of the year, without a doubt the fall is the best time to go. Or late summer, when you still get some afternoon rains. The green hills of summer and fall start turning brown with the new year, and prices start rising in mid-December. Hint: carry a bandana in your back pocket to wipe the sweat.
Mexico has started to print new $1,000 peso notes. That’s about $90.00 US. It sounds like a good idea, but getting anyone to cash them is going to be a problem. Carry the smaller bills if you can. And always have a pocketful of coins with you. I hand them out like I do political opinions (drives my wife nuts). A two or five peso coin is very little money to you, but is really appreciated by the many people in Mexico on the lower end of the economic scale. Buy the Chiclets from the kids, then give it back to be sold again. A ten peso coin (90 cents) to the guy who helps you with your bag equals his pay scale for an hour’s work. For him it’s lunch.
Learn the bus route near your hotel. For example, a taxi ride from Nuevo Vallarta to town will run about $20.00. You can catch the local bus running right in front of your hotel for a buck to reach the same destination. And don’t be afraid to rent a car. Making arrangements before your trip will get you the best rate. Call all of the major agencies to see which one has the best offer, and you’ll find a car for less than $25.00 per day, including insurance and unlimited miles.
Guys, buy your wife/girlfriend a rose from the young local Mexican girls, although you may think them a nuisance, or send one across the bar to that lady you’d like to meet. Some things are timeless.
MÁS O MENOS, 10/2004
by David Simmonds
I have just returned to my beautiful, sometimes chaotic, hometown of San Diego from Acapulco and the old silver mining town of Taxco. I am doing a section update for Fodor’s 2006 guidebook, so I went down to find some new travel tips and to confirm the existing guide information. Fodor’s publishes some very good travel guides and I am honored to assist them this year.
I have been to Acapulco often over the past few years, so I found few surprises. I confirmed that I prefer the small beach villages of Pie de la Cuesta, just west of town, and Barra Vieja, just east of town, more than the city itself. It is in the small villages that I feel most connected to Mexico, away from the constant honking horns of the taxis and the hordes of tourists looking, desperately, for the Fun in Acapulco that cabana-boy Elvis showed us on the silver screen. That said, the natural beauty of Acapulco Bay is rarely matched. It is easy to understand how it became the first beach tourist success some sixty years ago, attracting Hollywood royalty and wealthy magnates such as J.Paul Getty, who built a retreat east of town that is now the magnificent Fairmont Pierre Marques resort.
This is the best time of year to visit Mexico’s west coast. The rainy season is winding down and the hills are lush and green, as was the drive 200 miles north to Taxco, founded by Cortes in 1529. The town became by far the most productive silver town in Mexico and now is home to Mexico’s most skilled silversmiths. Built on the side of a hill, the winding, donkey-cart sized streets are reminiscent of the Greek Islands, all-white buildings housing small shops, homes, bars and restaurants. The zocalo, or town square, is intimate and lively, a perfect place to observe and become a small part of life in a town that is much like many in Mexico. My wife was especially pleased with my going to this destination, making sure to tear out several pages of silver jewelry ads from a Nordstrom catalogue for me to take along. The return home is always warmer when armed with small, expensive gifts.
MÁS O MENOS, 8/2004
by David Simmonds
“That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.”
– Henry David Thoreau
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by a recent World Value Survey of people in 65 nations conducted by an international group of social scientists and reported in the British magazine Social Scientists. They found that the world’s happiest people live in Nigeria, where many of its citizens live on less than $2 per day, and the second happiest people live in Mexico, followed by Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rica. Maybe it’s something in the bananas and rice. One conclusion we CAN draw is that it sure ain’t money, something we have been told our whole lives, but, somehow, never quite bought into.
I don’t know what method the scientists used in their study, but after observing the Mexican people go about their daily lives for decades, from the bustling streets of Mexico City and Monterrey to the laid-back dirt road villages of Chiapas and Baja, the common trait that so clearly identifies them all is an easy smile and an acceptance of others. Look a little closer and you will find a deep connection to family and friends, as well as the land on which they live. Money? Oh, sure, a little more money would be nice, they think, but I eat enough. Let’s have a taco and walk along the beach and visit with my cousin who might have a good story and a cold beer for us.
I’m not trying to ignore the fact that many of the Mexican people could use more that would make their lives easier…better education, healthcare, clothing. But at what point is enough ever enough. Once you have nearly everything, won’t there always be something more to pursue? And after you get that thing, are you really any happier? Is Bill Gates the happiest man on earth? I know a Mexican fisherman in San Blas who has nothing but his panga – and I’ll bet he is happier than Bill, or anyone else I know.
Where did the United States land on the list, truly the best country in the world to become prosperous and chase your dreams? Number16. Anyone care for a walk on the beach?
MÁS O MENOS, 7/2004
by David Simmonds
I have been busy for the last couple of weeks planning my family’s summer vacation, finally taking our kids to Mexico. Tanner is almost 10 and Nicolette is 5, and it seemed like the time was right for them to see the place Dad always tells them about. My wife, Felice, and I have purposely waited until they are old enough to travel the way I like to, and that includes a lot of walking and exploring, in the hot, humid rainy season on Mexico’s west coast. I figured that we might as well break them in right, teaching them that travel is a proactive experience and not a catered indulgence.
So we were making arrangements to fly to Puerto Vallarta and stay in the old south end of town that I know so well, then spend a few days in Sayulita, the ideal fishing village 40 miles to the north. Everyone was excited about the trip. There is nothing like seeing your kids experience things for the first time, hoping that they see the same beauty as you do. Hoping that they like taco stands as much as Honey Bunches of Oats. Mariachi’s as much as Sponge Bob.
Then, a few days ago I noticed that Tanner was acting a little off and was not talking about the trip, asking the million questions that I love to answer. Tanner is a very introspective kid, very bright and curious, absorbing everything around him. I asked him, “What’s up?” He hesitated for a minute, then told me how he saw Tom Ridge, the Homeland Safety Czar, talking about how we’re going to get hit again. This summer. Don’t know when or where, but its going to happen. One minute we had been watching the news that Kerry had picked Edwards, the next there’s Ridge telling us to beware. To a kid of 10 that means to be afraid. To a cynical adult it means political stunt.
Felice and I talked it over. Should we just tell him not to worry, everything will be fine, or should we change our plans this year. Take a drive, somewhere – away from lots of people, somewhere where a kid feels safe. Mexico can always wait another year, right? Yes, right. In a couple of weeks we’ll be packing the van and heading to the Rockies, not thinking about fear, or bombs, or crashing airplanes.
So this political announcement by Ridge has done nothing to, or for, my family except to frighten my kid and, by extension, our travel plans. Thanks, Tom. November will come soon enough.
MÁS O MENOS, 6/2004
by David Simmonds
Ironically, the two biggest beneficiaries of the tragedy that was 9/11 have absolutely nothing in common. Halliburton, the U.S. defense contractor recently headed by vice-president Dick Cheney has secured most of the war support and rebuilding contracts, and Mexico tourism is experiencing a significant increase in visitors looking for a safe place to sojourn. I guess I could opine a little further on this, but every time I get a little political I get some profane-laced email – so I’ll just leave it at that.
Mexico’s Tourism Ministry has admitted that they saw 9/11 as an opportunity to attract North America travelers who are going to go somewhere. He figured, rightly so, that Mexico’s proximity and neutral political position would be a natural destination for those wanting to minimize the chances of getting blown out of the sky, sarin-gassed in a subway, or suicide-bombed at a taco stand.
After two years of decreasing tourism revenues, 2003 saw an increase to $9.5 billion in receipts, placing Mexico 10th in the world, up from 13th. More Americans are planning shorter trips, scheduling them closer to departure dates, and taking along their families.
Mexico has responded by increased advertising, building and remodeling many resort properties, and upgrading their highway system for those who like to road-trip. I can say from personal experience that the new resorts I have seen are comparable to the best in the world and the service industry has improved immensely in the past ten years. I don’t know about you, but I kind of like being given a cold margarita as I’m checking into a hotel. The last time I visited a Vegas hotel I felt lucky to be given my room key.
The most convincing evidence that tourist traffic is increasing is that the airlines are scheduling new routes into Mexico. It seems like every time I have flown south in the past year the plane was sold out. Thankfully, Halliburton doesn’t offer commercial flights.
MÁS O MENOS, 5/2004
by David Simmonds
You have probably heard about the Sports Illustrated jinx, that whoever appears on the cover immediately goes in the tank (one can only hope that the NY Yankees will grace the next cover).
Now the tradition of The Mexico File mojo has begun. You might recall my prediction in April’s issue of young Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa and the prediction that she is destined become the world’s best female player. Let it be noted that three weeks later Lorena has won her first LPGA tournament in Franklin, Tennessee, on the same day that her older brother reached the summit of Mt. Everest. The previous week Lorena had tied for second in another tournament.
Mexico File reader, Lisa Gunderson, emailed me to remind me that another great Mexican athlete is the Colorado Rockies stellar third-baseman, Vinny Castillo, a 14-year major leaguer who was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1967.
The first Mexican to excel in Major League baseball was Bobby Avila, from Vera Cruz. Avila played for the Cleveland Indians for most of his 11-year career and won the American league batting title with a .341 average in 1954 as a slick-fielding second baseman. Of course, pitcher Fernando Valenzuela was the most popular Mexican to play in the big leagues, playing 17 years and winning nearly 200 games, mostly for the L.A. Dodgers in the early and mid-1980’s. Fernando was an amazing athlete, born in the dusty town of Navajoa in the state of Sonora. Fernando revived baseball in Mexico in the much the same way that an unfamiliar name did in 1957. That was the year that 12-year old Angel Macias threw a perfect game to propel the Monterrey team to the Little League World Series, forever changing the landscape of baseball in Mexico. There are currently 16 Mexican-born players in Major League baseball.
MÁS O MENOS, 4/2004
by David Simmonds
Arguably, Fernando Valenzuela, the great Dodger (for most of his career) pitcher is Mexico’s most accomplished athlete. Twenty years ago Fernandomania transcended the U.S./Mexico border and gave Mexico a sense of national pride at a time that they needed it most.
You probably haven’t yet heard of Lorena Ochoa, but you will soon. Just 23 years old, Lorena may soon be the best woman golfer in the world. Born and raised in Guadalajara, she started playing golf at age five, winning her first state tournament a year later. At age seven she was winning national tournaments by large margins.
She enrolled at the golf powerhouse University of Arizona in 2000, and while trying to learn the language and take classes, all she was able to accomplish was to be named NCAA Player of the Year that year as a freshman and again the next year. Tiger who? In 2002 President Fox presented her with the prestigious National Sport Award, the youngest recipient ever. While at U of A she played in 20 tournaments, winning 12 and placing second in 6 more. Her eight consecutive wins is an NCAA record, long held by Nancy Lopez.
Lorena left college in 2002 to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association, playing in the Futures tour as is common for new players. Of course, she finished first in earnings, gaining her exempt status for the 2003 LPGA season. As a rookie in the big show she made the cut in 23 of 24 tournaments and finished in the top 10 eight times, earning $823,000 and ranking 9th at season’s end. After four tournaments this year Lorena has placed in the top 10 three times. She has played 15 rounds and scored under par 9 times. Maybe this Tapatia has a future in this game.
Keep an eye out for this 5’6” young woman from Mexico. If she plays a tournament in your area, go out and give her some amigo support and ponder the improbable journey she has made to tee up with the world’s best.
MÁS O MENOS, 3/2004
by David Simmonds
For twenty years or so the major border flow issue has centered around all of the Mexicans who come to the U.S., often illegally, to find work. We catch about 500,000 of them a year and many more go unapprehended. No one seems to have an answer that will satisfy everyone, so on it goes.
But the story for the past couple of years, especially since 9/11, has been the number of baby boomers and retirees who are heading south. No longer just a hideout for scofflaws on the lam and happy-hour devotees, it is estimated that up to a million North Americans are now calling Mexico home at least part of the year.
This trend is here to stay for a long time, especially now that Alan Greenspan has floated the Bush trial balloon warning everyone that the Social Security fund is growing broke (more tax cuts anyone?) and that we had better start planning for it. A typical pension in the U.S. now runs about $1,000 per month, and you’re not going to retire on a SoCal or Florida beach on that. However, you can live damn handsomely in a warm coastal Mexican village on that money, as many happy expats can testify.
Also appealing to many, especially to us boomers, is the more “relaxed” daily rules of life that Mexico offers. Yes, it’s still terribly corrupt if you’re trying to run a business or must have daily dealings with the Byzantine bureaucracy. But you usually won’t get pulled over for a missing tail light or a little late night walk weaving after a trip to the cantina. Most people leave you alone and let you live your life without criticism and judgment. This is very appealing to those of us who were raised listening to Dylan and reading Kesey and Hunter S.
Many of the challenges in living in Mexico in the past have disappeared with better infrastructure, American food product availability, bottled water everywhere, internet access and satellite dishes. Couple that with Mexico’s natural beauty, interesting history and architecture, kind and helpful people, and you have what many of us are now, or will soon be, calling home.
MÁS O MENOS, 2/2004
by David Simmonds
With all of the media discussion centered on who served in Viet Nam and who didn’t, and if you didn’t, why didn’t you, I called a few of my old friends to see if they remember it the same as I do. It was unanimous; no one we knew wanted to go. This was late in the war and by then most of the country was opposed to it. We were all in that age group where you could keep a student deferment for four years, then you had to deal with it. And basically, you had a few clear options. You could volunteer and get in line. Or if your draft number came up (mine was 142) you could pass your physical and go where they sent you. Many of us went to a “draft” doctor to see if we qualified for a physical deferment (I had a double hernia… sorry, Sarge). Some people moved to Canada or just disappeared. Or, if you had connections, you tried to get in the National Guard, a safe place to be during that war.
That’s the way it was, and it would be helpful if everyone would just admit it. It had become a very unpopular war that divided our country to a degree not seen since the Civil War. My dad, Air Force career man and WWII pilot, made it no secret that he didn’t want me or my brother to go to Southeast Asia. The vast majority of those who are from that era, some now drawing taxpayer supported salaries in our Congress from both political parties and some of whom are now in the administration, did not serve in the armed forces or fight in that war. That said, those who did go have my total respect. I know a few who didn’t come home and a few more who wished that they hadn’t.
Which brings me to what I meant to focus on here – Mexico has finally agreed to accept the Peace Corps into their country. The first volunteers will arrive this summer, and unlike the usual tasks of working in construction, rural villages or training programs, this group will be sequestered in research centers working on technology, business and science development. They will intentionally not be a visible presence.
Mexico has historically shunned aid from the United States, wanting to keep its sovereignty and independence unquestioned. But in the wake of the divide created when Mexico would not support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, this is seen as an attempt at a reconciliation with Washington. We need all of the friends we can get these days, especially ones right across our border.
MÁS O MENOS, 12/2003
by David Simmonds
I’ll use any excuse to get back to my favorite town in Mexico, so when my ex-AeroMexico executive friend Mayte Weitzman, who now heads her own PR firm in Houston called The W Group, invited me down on a press trip to the remodeled Velas Vallarta resort, it was an easy decision. All I had to do was convince my wife, the beautiful Felice, that there were still things about Vallarta that I needed to learn – things I had to see. This was no easy task, but one for which I am transparently well practiced. Eventually, I had to shamelessly bribe her with a promise of a weekend getaway to San Francisco. Ka ching! My freebie just got very expensive, but once again, the marriage was saved.
I usually pay for all my own expenses when traveling Mexico, and in Vallarta that means staying at Posada de Roger, my old haunt for some 30 years now where a double runs about $30 US. As I was checking into the fabulous Velas Vallarta with a complimentary cold towel and icy margarita at hand while a bell-guy hoisted my bag on his back, I suspected that I was in store for something a little different. Living large, indeed.
It turned out to be one of my favorite trips ever to PV. We had a great group of colleagues who know the sometimes baffling Mexico ropes and enjoy the local libations, sometimes in great quantity. The Velas Vallarta has just undertaken a room and grounds remodeling that make it one of Mexico’s very finest resorts (www.velasvallarta.com). All of the rooms are suites, varying in size, but all with kitchens. My one-bedroom suite was about 1,000 square feet, better furnished than most homes, with a huge balcony overlooking the tropical grounds and a view of the beautiful Bahia de Banderas which fronts the hotel. The 10-acre site has three pools, one with a waterfall and a swim-up cantina. The restaurants were top-notch, the service impeccable. I highly recommend this property, something I don’t often do. And it is very kid-friendly with activities all day.
Velas has recently opened a new hotel in Nueva Vallarta that we were shown on tour, the Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort. And grand it is. Doubles in this palace-like resort start at $500.00, all-inclusive. I knew I was in unfamiliar territory when they described their “pillow menu” option with your room. Pillow menu. For the first 10 years I traveled in Mexico my pillow options were either my rolled up Levi’s or rolled up beach towel, whichever smelled best that day. Now I’m thinking that this place might be the bait for my next bribe. Felice really likes nice pillows, and I have another trip offer coming up.
MÁS O MENOS, 11/2003
by David Simmonds
The smell of smoke drowned out the frying bacon as I awoke on a Sunday morning in late October. Looking out the window there was little doubt that this wasn’t the usual brush fire that is so common when the Santa Ana winds uncharacteristically blow from the east towards the mass of humanity that comprises Southern California.
We live in a suburban area surrounded by canyon and brush, having moved from our small Mission Beach house three years ago as the kids, now nine and four, started to grow. We now vacation rent the beach house and, fortunately, it was empty this weekend. Although the major fire (there were several burning in the county) was several miles away and would impossibly need to burn through several neighborhoods before reaching us, I had no doubt where we were going. “Grab some important stuff, pack a suitcase, and don’t alarm the kids – we’re leaving.” I know it won’t reach us, by why take the chance? They say that those embers can fly for up to five miles, and if one lands in the brush around here, we only have one road out.
By the time we reached the beach the sky was a Hallowe’en orange and black – ashes covered the sand and every breath was a barbeque. The winds eventually started in a more southern direction, but the fire claimed hundreds of homes (including my son’s teacher’s) in the worst fire in California history. Our house was never in danger, as the nearest neighborhood to burn was five miles away.
It took little time before the hate-radio airwaves and newspapers were filled with genius finger-pointers countered by cover-your-butt officials. Most notable were the anti-tax, back-country dwellers who proudly vote against any public safety measure, but are the first to line up at the disaster relief stations whining about not be warned fast enough about the danger of a fire that they could clearly see had the capacity to torch every building in the county. Most of them like to lay blame on Bill Clinton.
Commissions are being formed, solutions discussed, studies undertaken, all to make sure this is never repeated. What you do not hear much about is who started these fires. These weren’t accidents – these fires were different. We have sporadic brush fires every year in far windier conditions. These were all started within hours of each other, evenly spaced from the top of San Diego County to the bottom. The same thing was true just east of the Los Angeles metropolis. In the 70 or so miles in between, where not many people live, there were no fires. Had the winds really been blowing like they can, due west, all of San Diego could have gone down. No number of firefighters or planes could have stopped it.
Did the other shoe just drop? I don’t know, but I find it eerie that no one is asking the question.
MÁS O MENOS, 10/2003
by David Simmonds
My family took many road trips when I was growing up in the 1950’s, and although my main memories are of being car sick and breathing second-hand Pall Mall smoke (who knew?) for endless miles, I do recall how different and diverse each part of the country was. You drove from one state to the next not knowing what to expect, learning about the country that most of our fathers had fought for just a few years earlier. The radio stations faded in and out with the regional twangs of people who lived in the area, announcing the day’s grain prices, playing Sinatra, Williams, Clooney and the newest flash-in-the-pan, a kid named Elvis, gossiping about the new diner offering the best dang fried-chicken this side of the Mississippi. You never knew what the motel or the chow would be like after a 500-mile drive in the ’56 Chevy, and it made every day a grand adventure.
I don’t have to tell you that things have changed a bit. The Clear Channel radio conglomerate ensures that you will hear the same music and the same message (boycott the Dixie Chicks) wherever you may roam, and no matter where you are, the landscape is dotted (blighted?) by the same stores – Wal-Mart, KFC, Dominos, Shell, Denny’s, you know the others. We now have a very safe and predictable travel experience – no surprises, no risk, no damn fun. I used to, not that many years ago, always pull into a town and ask around for the best barbeque, forever looking for the world’s finest. If you do that today they look at you as if you just grew a toe on your nose as they mutter something unintelligible, slowly backing away from your demented grasp.
Which brings me to why Mexico is the place I now like to road trip. Public restrooms might be elusive, and hotel rooms are – let’s be kind – inconsistent if you don’t plan ahead (I don’t), but, man, is it fun. I love going to the open air markets for ice-chest snacks, the bakery and tortilleria, the beer distributor for a 20 bottle case, and finding the guy with the perfect carnitas or the mesquite-smoke ladened carne y pollo. I love walking the village streets, hanging in the zocalo, never knowing what lies ahead in the town up the road.
MÁS O MENOS, 8/2003
by David Simmonds
It's not easy being a news junkie these days. The daily bombardment of TV screamers, squinty-eyed politicians, lying radio evangelists and email porn-spammers can turn a normally upbeat dreamer into a paranoid cynic in short order. So it is with great pleasure that I tell you about Nicholas Morales, a man who knows something about hope and commitment � a man whose tale just might restore the dreamer in you.
Morales was born in the small, rural village of Cuautla, nestled in the high farming country southwest of Guadalajara. He rode a mule two miles to school from the farmhouse he shared with his parents and eight siblings. At the age of 17 he knew that there was no future for him where he lived, no opportunity. His family had a few cattle and raised some corn and beans, but Nicholas could see that the small farmer was having an increasingly hard time making a buck. So, like most of the males in the community, he headed north to find work in the restaurant business in the United States. He was an illegal with a single goal of making enough money to live and send a little home, like so many others do. He caught on as a dishwasher at a restaurant, earning minimum wage and eating the leftovers.
In time Nicholas opened his first restaurant in Seattle, experiencing the learned prejudice that taints us all. Soon, the local people discovered more about the man, the way he helped the community and sponsored soccer teams. And back home in Cuautla they knew him well for the money that he always sent back to the family and to help the town build a rodeo and repair the steeple on the church that was damaged in an earthquake, and to help build a $300,000 pipeline to bring fresh water to town. No one asked him for money. He gave it because it was the right thing to do. You take care of family, and in a small Mexican town, everyone’s family.
He now owns over 40 restaurants (mainly Three Margaritas) in Colorado, Wyoming, and Washington. There are over 300 restaurants in the U.S. that were started by people from the little town of Cuautla. Think about that the next time you think that your life would have been better if only you would have been given a leg up, a better inheritance, bigger huevos.
But Nicholas Morales, a man who far exceeded all of his dreams, wasn't through quite yet. He wanted to do more for his little town, a place he physically left 28 years ago but never forgot. In his culture he was raised to offer a stranger at the door a glass of water, a bite to eat. You always give to those who don't have, because you never know when it could be you. Stuff happens.
So what more could he do for his people? How could he improve the lives of the town where he was raised, where good people still live with very little hope? Simple, he thought, I'll run for mayor. And that; what he did. He ran for the town's top dog position and won in a landslide. Mayor Morales takes office on January 1, 2004, hopefully to prove that, yes, you can go home again.
MÁS O MENOS, 7/2003
by David Simmonds
At a time in our country when one can make the argument that our two-party political system has morphed into one, the multi-party system in Mexico is alive and thriving. The recent national congressional and gubernatorial races are a solid demonstration of the consequences of not delivering on promises made. Mexico has three legitimate, discernable choices when electing those who would govern them, as well as several lesser-known political parties.
President Fox, of the PAN party, has been fighting with a divided Congress for the first three years of his term trying to pass legislation to deliver the changes he had promised in his campaign. Not much of substance was accomplished, and many in the country are unhappy. Things aren't going to be any easier after the recent elections, as his party lost 15% of its seats, to now hold 168 of the 500 total. The long-dominate PRI remained about the same with 203 seats, with the big winner being the leftist PRD, which now has 99 seats, up from 56.
The real winners are the people of Mexico, who after more than 70 years of one-party rule, now have the ability to vote their ideals. They can openly criticize their government, simply not allowed for so long, and they can read a national media that can do the same without retribution. Yes, the rapid change that they were promised is slow in coming. But that's the way a democracy works, as I recall. Deciding important policy that will affect the lives of the citizenry of a nation should be debated and discussed by those from all points of view. The people currently in power aren't the government, the people are. Despite massive problems, Mexico is far better off than they were four years ago. Fox may seem a disappointment to many, but history will mark him a ground-breaking pioneer as Mexico travels the rough road to democracy, demanding a government accountable to the people.
MÁS O MENOS, 6/2003
by David Simmonds
A man whom I admired very much, Gregory Peck, died today at the age of 87. I don't usually feel a connection to people I don�t know, people of fame, especially those who make their living memorizing lines. I liked Anthony Quinn for his amazing zest for life and for being Zorba, Paul Newman for his generosity, no BS attitude and for Cool Hand Luke, and Peck, because to me, since I first saw �To Kill a Mockingbird� at the age of 13, he would remain the most honorable and principled man to ever appear on screen, Atticus Finch. I believe that if every American were required to see that film at the same age, we would have a far better world today.
Later in his career, in 1989, he starred in another film I like, �Old Gringo,� whose story was taken from the Carlos Fuentes book The Old Gringo. Peck plays the aging American journalist, poet and essayist, Ambrose Bierce. The Gringo, Bierce, befriends a young Mexican revolutionary, Tomas Arroyo, whom he repeatedly tries to antagonize so that Arroyo will kill him, allowing Bierce to determine his own fate, as he knows he is dying. Jane Fonda plays a schoolteacher drawn to the Revolution who comes to know and admire both men. I'll stop the story line there, with the hope that you will rent the movie. I think I remember it being shot in the Durango area of Mexico, where many of the old Westerns were shot in the 40's and 50�s. The scenery alone is worth your time.
There is a poem I found on the internet that Peck asked to be placed on a website honoring him. It reads as follows:
May you have love and raiment. And a soft pillow for your head. And may you spend forty years in heaven. Before the devil knows you're dead.
RIP, Atticus Finch.
MÁS O MENOS, 5/2003
by David Simmonds
My first trip to Cabo San Lucas was in 1974 when I backpacked down the 1,000 mile long peninsula, hitching rides and taking buses. Through the years I have driven the transpeninsular highway many times, stopping at the small towns that have remained mostly resistant to change � Mulege, Santa Rosalia, Loreto. And always camping on the deserted, beautiful beaches steps away from one of the most fish abundant waters in the world, the Sea of Cortez.
The Los Cabos area, between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, has developed and grown more than anyone could have imagined thirty years ago, but the unparalleled beauty of the sea and desert remain nature�s gift to us all, and I�m still awestruck whenever I�m there.
I have known about The Hacienda Beach Resort since the beginning, but I always stay at the old-time fisherman�s haunt, the Mar de Cortez because, well, it fits my budget best and the clientele are a unique bunch. But this trip I had the chance to experience the Hacienda. And since my wife Felice was going to join me and it was Mother�s Day weekend, the Hacienda seemed a fine idea. It turns out that I found one of my favorite hotels in Mexico.
Built in 1959, it is still owned and operated by the same Parr family, a very appreciated feature in these days of mega-resort proliferation. The location is the absolute best in Cabo, right on the safe-swimming Medano Beach looking directly out to the Land's End arch, but just a 5-minute walk into town along the harbor. The grounds comprise 127 acres, almost a mile of beachfront, but only 115 rooms in the hotel with rooms in all categories. The property is filled with hundreds of palm trees and tropical plants, fountains, gardens and a swimming pool that feels like it is your own � if you were Bill Gates. There are tennis courts, shuffleboard, all water sports, fine dining, and an amazing amount of tranquility. This is Old-World Mexico at its very best and I strongly recommend that you see if for yourself the next time you head to Mexico. They told me that they are offering most rooms at a $99.00 special rate for the summer, which is a time of year that is not nearly as hot as you might think. www.haciendacabo.com (800) 733-2226.
MÁS O MENOS, 4/2003
by David Simmonds
As we all know, 2002 was a dismal year for anyone who relies on a healthy travel business environment. Landmark airlines are filing for bankruptcy protection and federal bailouts, while mom and pop travel agencies simply shutter their doors � all the while trying to reconcile the disappearance of their treasured nest egg that was once �safely� protected in a 401(k) and retirement fund. The Ken Lays are kicked back in Aspen living large, while the rest of us are largely, just living. Tough luck, I guess. At least Kenny Boy will get that big tax cut, sure to put a smile on the faces of the laid-off Enron employees who made him a rich man.
Anyway, my point is not to whine and moan about things out of my control. I�m a �lemonade-out-of-lemons� kind of guy � or maybe �tequila out of a thorny weed� is more appropriate. What I have noticed is that half the people I know are all of a sudden interested in Mexico. Not only as a vacation spot to fry in the sun, but as a possible place to permanently hang their hammock. They�re starting to tally what their monthly incomes will be once they quit punching the clock and finding that �Holy bleep, I can�t live on that!� And that�s assuming there will actually be money left in the Social Security fund once they reach whatever age the feds decide they are eligible. Many have already had their Veteran�s benefits slashed in the last couple of years (you didn�t know that?).
They want to know how much can they live well on in Mexico. Where are the best places? Can I get cable and lattes? And a telephone? Will I have friends? Things to do?
So what I�m going to do is to add �Retirement in Mexico� topics as a focus of The Mexico File. We will still cover the various, lesser-known travel destinations, but we also want to provide answers and advice on what you need to know to live in Mexico, no matter what your age, working or loafing. I know people living very well in Mexico, on the beach, for about $1,500 a month. They know their neighbors, have Sunday picnics and swim in the warm Pacific every morning. Who needs Aspen?
MÁS O MENOS, 3/2003
by David Simmonds
As illustrated by the two main articles in this month�s issue, Baja California Sur is in a constant struggle, not unlike many places in the world, between the advocates of growth and the protectors of time. Most likely, there will be no clear winners in this battle and certainly no surrender. The two factions don�t much like one another, to put it mildly.
I have never met a developer who wasn�t absolutely certain that his cause was a noble one, citing the inevitability of progress and the by-products of job creation, family security and civic pride. The environmentalists (shouldn�t they be called conservatives?) are equally convinced that we at the top of the brain chain have a responsibility to make wise decisions � that some places are better off left alone for the enjoyment and wonderment of future generations. The first group shouts �build it and they will come�; the opponents retort �let them stay the hell where they are.�
There are numerous reasons why most of Baja has remained mostly unchanged since the Spaniards first arrived some 500 years ago. It�s a tough, brutal piece of dirt, not a natural environment for most animals that require fresh water to sustain life, especially when temperatures often exceed 100 degrees for several months a year. Arizona was able to overcome these conditions thanks to a little river called the Colorado which helps to generate the electricity to power their air-conditioners and quench their thirst. As for Baja, it is surrounded by water � very salty water.
The 35-mile corridor between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas has seen tremendous growth since the construction of the transpeninsular highway some 30 years ago. They have an international airport, fabulous hotels, world-class golf courses and hordes of happy tourists. And now the Mexican government would like to see it repeated 200 miles up the coast at Loreto. Actually they have had this in the planning stage for about 25 years, but it just never happened. I�m guessing that in my lifetime, it never will.
MÁS O MENOS, 2/2003
by David Simmonds
I went to Tijuana the other day, something I used to do quite often, but rarely anymore. It�s a big, crazy town that has held little fascination for me since they shut down the sleazy bars that were great fun when I was young and single. The kids still cross the border to frequent the clubs, dancing all night, driving or walking back either still drunk or already sobered up. The tourists who visit my town, San Diego, make the crossing to buy trinkets and a bottle of tequila, so they can go back home to Des Moines and tell everyone they visited Mexico. But, except for straight shots to the Tijuana airport to catch a flight or pass through on my way down Baja, I hadn�t been to the town in several years.
I knew I had to go because the automobile manufacturers, with hundreds of models over the last 40 years, still don�t make the vehicle I want. One business that has always thrived in Tijuana are the body shops � and the car I want is a convertible truck. Yes, that�s right, a truck with no top. Did you happen to see the Super Bowl last month while you were huddled by the fire, eating kielbasa, where you live? Did you see the people in the sun-drenched stands and Shania on stage half-dressed? To live in San Diego and not have a rag-top for one of your cars is lunacy, meaning there must be about one-million lunatics in my hometown. I�ve owned sports cars and Jeeps over the years, but they barely carry a golf bag, beach chair and one passenger. I need a truck bed, decent gas mileage, and what�s left of my hair blowing in the breeze. So I went to see what it�s going to cost me.
What I found out is that Tijuana still has the best street tacos in Mexico and that my Ford Ranger dual cab can be chopped for about $600, and, amigo, that includes a custom cover, roll bar, body work and a shiny paint job. My wife, Felice, paid more than that for a tune-up on her Grand Cherokee or one of her essential buying binges at Nordstom�s.
So, I�ll be driving back down there very soon and few days later I�ll have my dream car (I know, most guys my age are pining for the Porsche and the chin-tuck). I�ll run a photo of it here in this column and I�d like to you to email me and tell me what a moron I am. That will make my wife feel much better.
MÁS O MENOS, 12/2002
by David Simmonds
Puerto Vallarta has always been my favorite town in Mexico, my �One Particular Harbor� that Jimmy Buffett sings about. It is where I go when I need to put perspective on life�s cumulative challenges And so it has been for me since the summer of 1970 when I first landed there in my VW van with my old friend, Tom Dawson, now a Tempe, Arizona, dentist. We camped on the beach right where Casa Corazon now sits on the south end of Playa de Los Muertos, seemingly a planet removed from the life we knew we would have to return to way too soon � draft notices, term papers, girlfriends and a dearth of beer money. I made the drive from San Diego every summer after that first time, and soon began taking a room at Posada de Roger, still my home-away-from-home whenever I�m in town.
Having seen the many changes and enormous growth in what was once a remote fishing village, I have always imagined what it must have been like decades earlier. So it was with great anticipation that I awaited the arrival in the mail of Puerto Vallarta, My Memories by Catalina Montes de Oca de Contreras with help from her daughter, Yolanda.Contreras de Garduño. The book was first released in 1982 in Spanish and quickly sold out. It has now been translated into English by the author�s granddaughter, Yolanda G. de McCullough, who lives in Borrego Springs, California.
This anecdotal account of life in the early 1900�s of Puerto Vallarta (then called Puerto Las Peñas) is a must read for anyone who has, or will, visit this great town. You will be transported back in time to a moral, small Mexican fishing village where you meet many of the families and important figures who guide the town into its eventual status as an international vacation destination. The book is filled with old black and white photos of areas that you can still see in the �old town� and of the people who lived there. It is an amazing chronicle of life and a town that embodies all that life can be. To the author the town was a magical place, a �wonderland.� Many of us who would follow her there in time would agree.
To purchase a copy of the book, mail to: Puerto Vallarta, My Memories, P.O. Box 1107, Borrego Springs, CA 92004. Include a check or money order to Yolanda G. McCullough for $25.24.
I often wish that travel were as simple and spontaneous now as it was when I was in my 20�s � load the van, empty the bank account, and hit the road. We lamely-labeled baby-boomers still travel, but now we plan a little more. We buy travel guides and maybe a spare tire and a couple of fan belts. Some of us still fly, although the Swiss Army knife stays at home, and we make sure we wear clean socks and underwear in case we have to disrobe at the gate.
My friend, Alison Gardner, has written a terrific guidebook for what she terms �the 50 years or better� crowd, titled Travel Unlimited: Uncommon Adventures for the Mature Traveler. She provides details on worldwide ecological, educational, cultural, and volunteer vacations ranging from primitive to luxurious, as well as inspirational tips, insights and field reports from travel authorities around the world. At nearly 600 pages, the book is an amazing resource whether you are an independent or group-minded adventurer.
I first met Alison in the Copper Canyon in Mexico about three years ago and I know for a fact that she knows her business. This book was exhaustively researched and presented in a very easy to navigate format. You can find it or order at major bookstores or online book sellers. It is published by Avalon Travel Publishing, phone: (510) 595-3664, web: www.travelmatters.com or email her publicist at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Thank you for helping to keep this little newsletter afloat as we end one year and begin another. If you like it, please let your friends know about it. More importantly, take care of yourselves and your neighbors this new year of 2003. Take an active approach to policies in your community and beyond that affect your lives, and always demand that we, as a country, deserve honest answers from our elected (?) leaders. Freedom of speech and thought need to prevail in order to be the country our founders intended. Remember, they work for us.
MÁS O MENOS, 11/2002
by David Simmonds
Mexico is issuing a
new $20 peso bill made of polymer plastic. This is a test run to see how
it works out. The bills cost almost 50% more to produce, but will last
many times longer than paper currency and will be more difficult to
counterfeit. The United States will be monitoring this closely and is
considering doing the same thing, or so I am told. I remember years ago
seeing plastic grocery bags for the first time in Mexico long before I
ever saw them in the U.S., and thinking they were out of their minds -
proving once again that there is a lot to learn from our friends south of
the border, and that it is I who is usually mindless.
Another area in which we are trailing Mexico is in bus transportation. Traveling by bus in Mexico is a great way to see the country. You usually have a choice of several bus companies and several classes, depending on how much money you have to spend. Buses go everywhere and sometimes they don't really look like a bus, but rather like a flat-bed truck with seats that goes from one small village to another. This is a valuable service for remote towns where private car ownership is an honor reserved for the mayor or the guy with the largest crop.
In most towns of any size you can catch a first-class bus that is considerably more comfortable than the seats now being offered on the major airlines (except for Aeromexico, the world's finest). They often even offer you a sack lunch when you board containing a sandwich, drink, banana and a snack - and TV's showing recent American films are commonplace. The prices are less than one-half what you would pay in the States, computed per mile. Plus, they'll usually make unscheduled stops at some interesting places, merely at the whim of the bus driver. I recall one excitable driver who stopped at a house on the highway where he was greeted by his girlfriend. There we had a 15-minute layover, after which he suddenly appeared wiping his brow and sporting a contented smile that lasted for several hours.
Then there is the superior Mexican menu. Street taco stands are outlawed every place I know of in the U.S. In Mexico they are as ubiquitous as corn fields and seemingly feed most of a town's population. Jalisco has my favorite dish, birria, or goat stew. Can't find that at McDonalds. Or how about Gusano de maguey, fried worms served with guacamole. Then there is the heaven-sent menudo, the national hangover-cure stew made with tripe.
In San Miguel my beautiful wife, Felice, and I had a lunch of the regional chiles en nogada, a dish that eased the tension after my antics from the previous night. There is tinga poblano, vuelve a la vida, mixiotes, huitlacoche, mole and entomatadas. I could go on and on, but I just got called to dinner. The pizza man rang the door bell.
MÁS O MENOS, 10/2002
by David Simmonds
As our country prepares for the ultimate reality TV programming bonanza with the bombardment of Iraq (you know, that country with all of the oil), you might find yourself yearning for trip...a very peaceful trip.
My friend and Mexico File contributor, Ann Hazard, will be the featured guest on Cruise West�s Spirit of Endeavor small cruise ship for a Baja Whales and Wildlife Cruise scheduled for March 22 - 29, 2003. Guests will visit the grey whales of Baja California and explore the wilderness desert islands of the Sea of Cortez, as well as kayaking, snorkeling and hiking. The historic towns of Loreto and La Paz will also be visited. And best of all, Ann will be there to help you understand and appreciate the wonders of Baja. For information contact Nina Baldwin at Awesome Escapes, telephone (866) 456-0444 or email at email@example.com
If you are thinking that it might be time for a more permanent vacation, some place where even the �evil ones� will never find you, long-time Mexico File subscriber Ruth Bennett is developing (maybe that�s the wrong word) 14 home sites in a new eco-sensitive beachfront community on the Sea of Cortez near Mulegé in Baja California. Each ½ acre lot is provided with an access road and a water line and prices vary from $60,000 to $95,000 depending on location. A community center is planned as well as landscaped areas, protected habitats and walking paths. This is an amazingly beautiful part of the world where you won�t find a strip mall or Starbucks, but will become familiar with dolphins and coyotes � and maybe yourselves. For more info call (866) OUR BAJA or see www.CostaCardonal.com
MÁS O MENOS, 8/2002
by David Simmonds
When Mexico�s president Vicente Fox wrestled the countries highest office away from the dictator-like PRI, he knew making changes and effecting public policy would be a challenge. With three political parties represented in government, building coalitions has proven to be harder than finding Osama. His failures have been many and not unnoticed by an increasingly cynical population that may be recalling the dictum �be careful what you wish for....� It�s been a tough two years.
His greatest defeat may have been his decision to cancel plans for a new international airport slated to be built just east of Mexico City in San Salvador Atenco. The 2 billion, six-runway project was to be the centerpiece of his six-year term, a statement to the doubters that he had the vision and power to build an airport that would be the envy of the world.
The trouble began when the peasant farmers whose land was to be expropriated were not consulted or negotiated with before the plans were drawn. They organized, grabbed their machetes, took hostages, seized government offices, blocked highways and raised all kinds of hell.
The government finally declared their land to be unproductive and worth $2,800 per acre, which infuriated the farmers even more. The feds said they needed 11,000 acres, far more than any other airport in the world. Many in the country saw the scope of the project to be far greater than necessary and figured that the disgruntled peasants had done a great service to the country by stopping it in its tracks. Rack one up for �power to the people,� but Mexico City still needs a new airport. And President Fox needs a victory.
The Mexico Golf-Culture-Tequila Tours is now a reality. Please take a look at www.mexigolf.com and see what I�m doing with it. After telling people about the wonders of Mexico for some years now, I look forward to actually showing folks the country where I most like to travel. These trips are designed to not only play some of the best golf courses anywhere, but to learn about the local areas and meet the people who make Mexico so interesting and fun. If you don�t golf, other activities (sport fishing, spa treatments) can be substituted. Call me if you have any questions at (858) 456 4419.
MÁS O MENOS, 7/2002
by David Simmonds
It looks as if Mexico�s economy might be pulling out of an 18-month-long slump, although no one is predicting a massive rebound. Some of the key numbers are starting to rise, but with 85% of Mexico�s exports bound to the United States, a lot depends on conditions north of the border. The seven percent growth rate that President Vicente Fox estimated when he took office is clearly not going to be met.
There have been two successive months of growth in retail sales and electricity consumption has been on a steady incline, indicating that factories are producing goods. But all of this glimmer of hope could be quickly extinguished if the �scandal of the week� continues to spook and dismay the American public. It would seem that �a few bad apples� might indeed be a whole grove or two infested with worms. As long as the guilty parties, known as the captains of America, are allowed to avoid serious prison time (has anyone suggested that they pay the money back?), the public, who has lost billions of dollars in retirement plans, 401k�s, etc., is going to be very reluctant to get fooled again.
Mexico must be observing somewhat nervously, with a bemusement that would be comical were it not so serious. Corruption, both in business and government, has been the reputation that has long been associated Mexico. President Fox has vowed to make those issues a top priority in his administration, and has shown some success in making some improvements. But this is new territory for many Americans, who sometimes are guilty of a naivete concerning human nature and the corruptive influence of power. For years the people of Mexico understood how the game was rigged. It was how it was and everyone understood the rules?pass the tequila. How Americans react and what they demand from those who Constitutionally represent them, will ultimately determine the future of both countries for a long, long time. Pass the courage.
MÁS O MENOS, 6/2002
by David Simmonds
The latest polls indicate that 40% of Americans expect another significant terrorist attack sometime in the near future, and although I believe that most polls are manipulated to produce desired results, this time I think they are pretty accurate. I say this partially due to anecdotal evidence that I hear from my friends � many of whom are considering bailing out, moving to Mexico. The general line goes something like this: �Well, the Feds tell us that thousands of bad guys live here in the U.S. who want to kill us and every week there is a new, dire warning, and furthermore they say they can�t do anything about it?so I�m outta here!� There is an undertone of general frustration that the future that we each had planned is out of our control. My friend Pete summed it up like this: �If they are all around us, why are we bombing a country where all of the Al Quaeda slipped into Pakistan before the first bomb fell, instead of putting all of our resources into getting them the hell out of the U.S.? Where is the priority?�
So they start considering what a year ago was inconceivable � leaving the country of their birth, the country they love. And since Mexico is where they might go, they call me. They ask where they should look, where is it safe, what�s my favorite city, and on and on. They ask why I have never made a permanent move to Mexico, and certainly I must be considering it now. And I explain, I have kids, ages 3 and 7, who I want to grow up like I did, playing little league, cub scouts, Friday night sleep-overs, sneaking Playboy�s?the uniquely American experience.
Maybe without the kids, without hope, then I might move south. But for now I have the responsibility to do what I can in my country. And to me that means staying informed (this includes reading the foreign press), asking questions, writing to my congressmen, considering all viewpoints, even if that entails questioning authority? an American trademark that is, regrettably, often forgotten and scorned. As someone brighter than I once said �The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.� Yes, I�ll stay right here.
MÁS O MENOS, 5/2002
by David Simmonds
We on the Left Coast, along with the sun-fried souls of Arizona, have been long familiar with the 900-mile-long peninsula in Mexico, Baja California. But to most Americans, and Mexicans for that matter, it ranks right there with Jupiter, or one of the other planets that are rumored to exist but in which they have no aspirations of ever actually visiting. And that is their loss, for this stretch of desert and oases that neither country really ever wanted or knew what to do with is one of endless beauty, history and fascination.
I have recently read two new books, both in paperback, that both entertain and inform the reader as to how Baja has developed and. maybe more important, how it hasn�t � remaining in many ways much like it was when �discovered� by the Spanish in 1533, when it was sparsely populated by the Guaycura, Peric and Cochimí.
The more information complete of the two, Baja Legends, by Greg Niemann, is an exhaustively researched account of the long history of Baja, as well as many tales of the myriad of mavericks who dared to settle this one-of-a-kind apparition.
As a long time Baja enthusiast who has driven the trans-peninsular highway and camped on its pristine beaches many times over the last 30 years, I was surprised at how much I had to learn about this land. Neimann�s knowledge of the early missions and cave-paintings are first rate and well presented. His book has fired me up to plan another trip, book in hand, to see sites I previously knew nothing about and re-visit those that I now have a better understanding of. And as the author concludes, �the people of Baja California are themselves the greatest legends of all.�
The other book, Lost Cabos, by Robert E. Jackson, is more of a personal account of his 40-year love affair with the Cabo San Lucas region where he built Palmilla Suites, one of the first luxury accommodations in Baja. We learn about the other Baja pioneer developers of the Cape region, and how much of what drew them there in the first place has been forever changed. The age-old feeling that things were never so good as when they were challenging is a subliminal theme throughout the book, but not in a maudlin, angry tone. Jackson does a fine job of describing what it was like for him and his friends who had a vision and damn well pulled it off.
If you have the vacation time, I highly suggest giving Baja California your attention. Especially if you are able to drive the whole length, stem to stern. There are big government plans to develop more and more of this long-legged beauty � see it now before the makeover is complete.
MÁS O MENOS, 4/2002
by David Simmonds tc "by David Simmonds"
I can�t cite any figures, but apparently Mexico is experiencing a huge surge in tourism these past few months. I�ve been going to Puerto Vallarta since 1970 and on my most recent trip I have never seen it as busy. Even the small hotels in the south end where there is always an open bed were booked. I usually don�t like large crowds, but it felt good seeing the locals catering to the tourists, watching the pesos change hands. Full employment makes a town a happy place.
It only makes sense that this would be the case since the tragedy of last September. Naturally, travel everywhere was affected in the immediate following months, but eventually Americans just have to go somewhere. Understanding this, the Mexican government started their most massive advertising campaign in years, touting Mexico as a close, and more importantly safe, destination. All of a sudden the thought of possibly being overcharged by a cabbie (like it never happens in your home town, right?) or biting into a mouth-on-fire habañera seemed rather trivial, as of course it always was.
I love to travel Europe as well as anyone. I got married to Felice in Paris, knowing there was no way she could say no to that offer. Seventeen years later she usually gets the final word (marriage advice # 1), which works out just fine. We have kids 7 and 3 (I�m 52!) and we have a lot of travel planned for years to come. But I�m in no hurry to fly over the Atlantic. Not yet. But flying into Mexico makes sense. I just don�t see a terrorist targeting a plane half full of Mexicans, and evidently a lot of other gringos see it the same way.
So, if you need a quick getaway, get on down south. Find a place with a hammock and cold beer and just for a few days don�t think about the mistakes of yesterday. Figure out how to make a better tomorrow.
MÁS O MENOS, 3/2002
by David Simmonds
I was recently on a trip to Acapulco compliments of AeroMexico, possibly the world�s best airline. Three other Mexico-related writers from Southern California were invited to preview the new Los Angeles-to- Acapulco non-stop flight. It was a joy to experience not having to lay over in Mexico City. I like Mexico City, but when you want to get somewhere else it�s nice not to have to stop there.
We (my wife, Felice, was with me) had a great room at the Fairmont Princess, wonderful dinners around town, body-surfing in the Pacific � it was a great getaway. Over drinks one night (oh yeah, there was that also), Mayte Weitzman from AeroMexico said, �You ought to be doing Mexico tours, maybe golf tours.� She told me how Mexico is really pushing their golf courses and the world-famous golf course architects were lining up to build more venues. We discussed some ideas and I told her I liked the idea, but only if I included more than just golf. Thus was born the idea for the Mexico Golf/Culture/Tequila Tours which I hope to start operating before summer this year.
A couple of weeks later, I was invited to attend the grand opening of El Tigre golf course at the Paradise Village Resort in Puerto Vallarta. This seemed like a good opportunity to check out the possibilities first hand and to make the requisite contacts in the Mexico golf world. The way things are developing, I hope to be running the first tours to that property and playing that course. While not playing golf, the guests will have the opportunity to let me show them a small coastal village nearby, Sayulita. Or a trip into town to see the PV not normally known to the tourists, the best taco stands, bars, silver and craft shops, etc.
Another afternoon might include a trip to Mismaloya or Boca de Tomatlan, or John Huston�s old house along the coast. For non-golfers there will be other options (deep sea fishing, spa treatments, etc).
I am planning on PV as my first destination because I know it so well and really love the place. I want to show others the PV that I have known for over 30 years. Other potential golf destinations are Cancún, Los Cabos and Acapulco, all with world-class golf courses.
Anyway, this new venture will in no way affect The Mexico File and our attempt to bring all of Mexico to its readers. It just allows me to be more hands-on in my quest to promote Mexico as the great country that it is and to share my enthusiasm with others. I hope to have more definite news about the tours soon on the web site, www.mexicofile.com . I would love to be able to meet some of you long-time subscribers as we hack our way around a golf course. When people are on the plane flying home I want them to say, �That was the best damn trip I�ve ever had.�
MÁS O MENOS, 2/2002
by David Simmonds
It has been nearly half a year since the criminal murder of nearly 3,000 of America�s citizens and visitors. And since we have been told by some of those in our government and by an army of radio talk-show hosts that if we, as citizens, dare question what conditions led up to the attack, then we are clearly seditious and unpatriotic, I will save my opinions for private conversations. Imagine, all of these years I actually believed that to question public policy was a patriotic duty of citizenship!
What I have found to be true is that many people I know and hear about are re-evaluating their personal lives and looking for ways to make a difference in the world, to make this rock we share a better place.
Global Citizens Network is an organization out of St. Paul which provides cross-cultural volunteer expeditions. In March, they will take their first group to the village of San Miguel Tzinacapan, nestled in the hills of the Sierra Norte region of central Mexico. The village is the home of the Nahuatl, descendants of the Aztecs, where Spanish is the second language.
The village of 3,500 people has invited GCN to participate in a project involving the village�s secondary school this spring. Although it is a small village, the larger town of Cuetzalan is two miles away, where there are many shops, museums and restaurants. They also host a Sunday market selling arts and crafts, fruits and vegetables.
Nearby are hiking trails, waterfalls, caves and the ancient ruins of Yohualichan, which date back to 600 A.D. This is a still unspoiled area of Mexico, in many ways untouched by the last fifty years. The countryside is lush and fertile, filled with banana, macadamia and poinsettia trees.
Volunteers will be involved in several projects at the school, including paper recycling, coffee bean processing and mushroom cultivation, as well as teaching English classes for local adults and children.
More immediately, I urge you to call your Congressmen and let them know how you feel about the many important decisions now being made in your name. Let them know what they are doing that you like, but maybe more importantly, what you don�t like. It�s not like they can throw you in jail?right?
MÁS O MENOS, 12/2001
by David Simmonds
�What a long, strange trip it�s been..., truckin.� Yes, friends, another nail in the peace generation coffin is about to be unceremoniously hammered home. And I, for one, can�t help but get a little nostalgic as I remember the countless road trips I have taken into Mexico, propelled at turtle-like speed in that 1960�s icon...the VW bus. Mexico, where it is called the Combi, will cease production of the old-style VW this month. The air-cooled (not a good idea in the desert or anywhere else, for that matter), rear-mounted engine was last sold in the U.S. in 1982.
Actually, it�s been years since I owned my last bus, ever since I discovered that blown engines weren�t common to every vehicle in production and that there existed vans where you didn�t have to downshift to scale the smallest of hills. But in spite of all the negatives, the bus symbolized, perhaps more than anything I can think of, the free-spirited attitude and boundless optimism of an era gone by. In a time when land-tanks were driven by our parents, we had the VW bus with its 20 miles-per-gallon, hit the road anytime, self-contained, music blaring, sex-ed statement. I�m not sure we all knew exactly what it was we were trying to state, but it was not ignored, and I�m pretty sure that a difference was made � we became a better country.
After the VW bus became rare in the U.S., it was always gratifying to know that they filled the streets throughout Mexico. They became the ubiquitous form of transportation from the airports to towns throughout the country and served as collectivos in the rural areas, transporting people from village to village, often packed with 15 to 20 people sharing space with a couple of farm animals.
So now Mexico will make the Eurovan, the modern version VW with the water-cooled front engine. I�m sure that this an improvement, a step forward for all. Kind of like the breakup of the Baby Bells and the introduction of the designated hitter. We all know how life was enhanced there � right?
MÁS O MENOS, 11/2001
by David Simmonds
The Mexican government has recently unveiled plans, along with Fonatur, Mexico�s National Tourism Agency, to create the largest tourist related project since Cancún was built. The new idea is called Escalera Nautica, or Nautical Stair, and calls for an extensive network of new harbors and docking facilities along both coasts of Baja and mainland Sonora and Sinaloa states on the Sea of Cortez. The $233 million project is being touted as a tourism and jobs producer, and it may well happen that way. But I�m real partial to the rugged and remote character of the Sea and have grave concerns about how this will proceed with regard to environmental issues.
The plan includes a series of marinas, none more than 125 miles from the next, with a supporting infrastructure catering to American boaters. They envision 76,000 boaters per year by 2010, where now they have about 8,000. And get this � they are building a new road across the width of Baja from a point a little south of San Quintín straight across to Bahía de Los Angeles so that the yachties won�t have to sail all the way around the tip of Baja at Cabo San Lucas to enter the Sea of Cortez. Instead, they�ll get towed across about 60 miles of highway.
The Feds say that environmental concerns will be weighed throughout the project, but a little skepticism might be in order. The Sea of Cortez Foundation (www.seaofcortezfoundation.org) has anointed itself the watchdog of this plan and has started a massive membership drive to help in that regard. We are planning to establish sites at several locations on the Sea to monitor the construction. The sites will be monitored by volunteers at each location (retirees and locals) so that we can shine the spotlight on any phase of the project that might be environmentally detrimental � and then let the world know about it.
The Sea of Cortez has incomparable beauty and an environment that we want to see preserved for generations to enjoy. Most of the boaters and fishermen I have talked to do not want this project to proceed. The rugged character of the peninsula must be preserved as much as possible. If you would like to help, please go to the website to become a member of the Foundation. Or call 858-456-4030.
MÁS O MENOS, 10/2001
by David Simmonds
My plan was to write this month�s column about President Fox and his recent meetings with President Bush and how the heat had been turned up on the U.S. to enact a new immigration policy before the end of the year.
On the morning I was to share my questionable opinions I awoke at my normal time of 6:15 PST, turned on Katie and Matt, praying that Gary Condit was no longer news, and witnessed the absolute horror that all of you have now seen replayed sufficiently enough to never be forgotten, as if that were possible. Now, I have had most of a week to think about the events and it seems that immigration policy might indeed be at the core of this much larger issue. The way I see it, the United States has a fundamental choice to make. The first scenario has us living in constant fear, losing our civil liberties, wary of our fellow man, trusting no one. I doubt that many of us would relish this way of life. We Americans are traditionally an open, gregarious lot, and proudly pronounce our independent, self-assured nature. If we lose this trait of our collective personality, the enemy has surely won.
And although I�m not wild about the second path, the one we should follow, I am afraid it will be necessary. As of Tuesday, September 11, we no longer have the luxury of having our national doors wide open. Prudently, we need to know something about anyone who would want to visit or live with us. Open borders may some day be a reality, but for now, it is a dangerous proposition. This is not to say that the borders should be closed. That would be neither practical nor desirable. We have been enriched as a nation by the mixture of cultures and people that have created this great country. But, at this time in history, we have to know more about the people who want to join us.
Obviously, our Mexican neighbors do not fit the profile of those who have been preaching �death to America� for years. They are our friends and allies. A sound immigration policy with Mexico should still be an attainable goal in the near future. But, the days of easy, illegal entry are probably numbered.
MÁS O MENOS, 8/2001
by David Simmonds
This issue marks the beginning of the seventh year of The Mexico File. It seems like a good time to thank each of you for allowing me to permanently retire my coat and tie and do what I do best � travel Mexico.
The newsletter has evolved somewhat these last six years. At first, I was doing nearly all of the writing. It didn�t take me long to realize that people might get tired of a constant, singular, often jaded viewpoint of Mexico. So, we started publishing stories from you, the readers. Some were quite good, others just adequate. But the idea was, and is, a good one.
Now, we are fortunate to have some of the best Mexico travel writers from both the U.S. and Mexico who contribute on a regular basis, as well as excellent contributions from everyday folks who want to share their knowledge. It�s a good mix and with the change to a four-color format last year, I not-so-humbly believe it is the best travel newsletter anywhere.
When we started there were several newsletters covering Mexico travel. Now, most of them have ceased. The real competition these days is the Internet, where the volume of information is limitless, and for the most part free. How do you compete with free? Well, you offer something that can�t be found online. You provide good, insightful writing in an attractive package and hope that people will always want bathroom reading material. And, seriously, much of what you find on the web is of questionable value regarding objectivity. Most hotel information is merely that hotel�s brochure, online. And the city descriptions are �chamber of commerce� pieces. And you might read an article and wonder, �Who is this person?� Can you trust the information to be reliable?
We haven�t, however, ignored the web. We may not be cutting edge wonks, but neither are we Luddites. Our webpage, www.mexicofile.com , gets over 18,000 hits per day and we do generate a little money from the excellent vacation rental ads that we sell there.
I�m sure more changes will come along for us as we continue to grow and learn this business. I�m working on an idea that I hope to unveil in about six months that might shake up the industry a bit. One thing I know for sure � this newsletter will be around a while, trying to get it right. We welcome your input and advice to that end. Send me an email to Dave@mexicofile.com if you have any ideas, criticisms or good jokes. In the meantime, I�ll bury that coat and tie a little deeper in the closet.
MÁS O MENOS, 7/2001
by David Simmonds
Anyone who has visited Baja California and the Sea of Cortez knows that it can get mighty warm this time of year. A pair of controversial projects being promoted by Fonatur, Mexico�s tourism development arm, ensures that it�s about to get a whole lot hotter.
The more ambitious of the two projects is the Nautical Route that President Fox and the governors of Baja Norte, Baja Sur and Sonora have all signed off on. Approximately $300US million has been budgeted to get it going. The plan calls for the construction of 22 marinas to be built or refurbished up and down the Sea, mostly on the Baja side, but a few on the mainland. The idea is to create a leapfrog system with no marina more than 120 miles from another one. In theory, wealthy yacht owners will find this alluring, sailing from port to port, spending gringo dollars in the hotels, restaurants, stores, and golf courses that will rise from the now pristine desert landscape. What is now a true, often dangerous, adventure will become another big bucks tourist attraction, notwithstanding an occasional Gilligan who should have never left dry land. The fact that the project is being touted as the biggest since Cancún should raise the antennae of environmentalists everywhere, which is exactly what is happening.
To make this a whole lot easier, a paved road is being constructed directly across the peninsula from the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles Bay in the Sea of Cortez, enabling the yachtsmen to trailer their boats across rather than having to sail all the way around the Cape.
There are also plans to build a massive dock for passenger cruise ships in the bay at Cabo San Lucas. Some 200 cruise ships visit Cabo annually, but the passengers are ferried in, 30 per boat, by the locals. Since some passengers opt to stay on board, the guy that owns the shopping center in the marina wants the dock built to increase his business. He seems to be the only person south of TJ in favor of it, so, with some luck, President Fox will deep six this plan before it starts.
The bay at Cabo is incredibly pure, by far the cleanest I have seen in all of Mexico. The sight of a huge ship obscuring the view of the arched rocks at Land�s End would be a travesty. Three major associations in Cabo have flatly rejected the proposal � Los Cabos Realtors and Developers, the National Chamber of Commerce of Los Cabos and the Los Cabos Coordinating Committee. And, of course, every environmental group has voiced clear opposition.
These two projects are of enormous concern to the nonprofit foundation I started a few years ago, The Sea of Cortez International Preservation Foundation. We are now in a renewed growth period, having brought in two new people with high energy and fresh ideas, Mike Alcorn and Alex Kaseberg. Our main focus is to be the �watchdog� of the Nautical Steps project with a physical presence at several of the marina sites. We are having an auction fundraiser in San Diego this October to benefit our group as well as Hubbs/Sea World Research and ASUPMATOMA, a turtle preservation group. To find out more about the auction, go to www.mexonline.com/preservebaja http://www.mexonline.com/preservebaja.htm
Anyone who would like to help the foundation financially, volunteer work, or just offer good advice, please call me at 858-456-4030. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org , or check out our website at www.seaofcortezfoundation.com . We are actively searching for grants to set up and man our satellite sites on the Sea.
MÁS O MENOS, 6/2001
by David Simmonds
�Gritty and unforgiving . . . a convincing, unvarnished picture of a struggling country,� says a review from Publisher�s Weekly. The San Antonio Express News calls it �disturbing, provocative and often darkly funny...goes a long way toward explaining the duality many of us feel toward Mexico.� From the St. Petersburg Times, �An insider�s look at the strange, profoundly messed-up relationship between Mexico and its wealthier neighbor to the north....�
These are just a few of the rave reviews bestowed upon David Lida�s book of short stories, Travel Advisory. I met David recently in Acapulco at the annual Tianguis travel convention. He�s a fine fellow and, even better, he now receives The Mexico File and I got a copy of his book to read.
The first thing you notice about three pages into the first story is that this is not Chamber of Commerce ad copy. You won�t read this and come away thinking, �Oh, what a charming, quaint country. Shall we sell the business, Homer, and live out our lives in Mexico amongst the peasants?�
No, David cuts right to the bone, down where it gets a little messy and dangerous. Besides that, it�s real hard to actually like many of the story characters. Most are terribly flawed, narrow-minded, conniving, egocentric boobs. They have awful thoughts and do bad things. You know, kind of like all of us. But, you keep reading. Because, deep down, if you have spent any time in Mexico, you know that Mr. Lida has his finger firmly on the pulse of what makes this complex country both repel and seduce you, often at the same time.
The book, Travel Advisory, is available in paperback and is published by Harper Collins. I highly recommend it for all of you who like to occasionally peel back the onion.
I was saddened by the death recently of Anthony Quinn, born in Chihuahua, Mexico, 87 years ago. He was an amazing man and one whom I greatly admired, not the least for the reason he was still siring children into his 80�s. I saw him on stage about fifteen years ago portraying the role that was his and his alone, that of the wonderful Zorba. It was an inspiration I will never forget. I think it�s time to rent the movie again and maybe introduce it to my seven year old son, Tanner. Is he old enough? Sure, he is.
MÁS O MENOS, 5/2001
by David Simmonds
Of all of the foods, not counting liquor, that we in America have adopted from Mexico, my two favorites are chocolate and tortillas. These are not to be eaten together, unless, of course, you are drinking tequila, in which case there are no rules.
Tortillas are an incredibly handy food item. In Mexico, you sometimes cannot find a fresh piece of bread, but a warm tortilla is as ubiquitous as oilmen in the White House. It has been the fast food of Mexico centuries before Ray Kroc blessed the U.S. with his McDonalds outlets, and remains today the essential dish at any meal. And if you don�t have a spoon or fork, the tortilla is often used more effectively than either one.
Corn, historically the source of the ancient tortilla, was first grown as a crop about 8,000 years ago, around the same time that wheat was the staple in Europe and rice in Asia. Then, about 3,500 years ago the tools for tortilla-making came into creation: the metate (grinding stone), olla de barro (clay pot), and the comal (griddle). Mexicans have been wrapping all sorts of things in them ever since. Credit is given to the Olmecs for being the first civilization to commonly make the tortilla, pre-dating the Aztecs by 1,000 years. The Aztecs called it tlaxcalli, and then the Spaniards liked it so much when they arrived that they gave it another name, tortilla, from the Spanish word torta, or round cake. Of course, the Spaniards basically didn�t like anything about the Aztecs, so they starting making them out of the wheat they shipped over and thus was born my personal favorite, the flour tortilla.
For years, tortillas were subsidized by the Mexican government, making them affordable for virtually everyone. That policy was discontinued a few years ago, but the price is still very cheap at around 40 cents US per kilo (2.2 pounds).
And now the tortilla is becoming a huge business in the United States, with nearly $4 billion in sales in 2000. And half of those buyers are non-Latino. Now, if we could just figure out how to run our cars on them we could all drive to Washington DC and throw one hell of a picnic in the Rose Garden, complete with mariachis and ranchero music.
MÁS O MENOS, 4/2001
by David Simmonds
Three months ago I finally decided to live large, so I signed up for what looked to be a too-good-to-be-true online offer from some anonymous company named Winfire. Free DSL! Web page downloads 50 times faster than dial-up! How can they offer this? No money? Who cares! Where do I sign up? And for two months I was an efficient, fast moving computer jockey riding the rail. What was I thinking all those years?
And then one morning came the news. We regret to inform you that your life is an illusion?Winfire is now out of business. Seems that by giving away their service, they couldn�t make any money. Whoaaa! There�s a concept! In this regard they had plenty of company, if you have checked out your favorite NASDAQ ticker price.
Now this shouldn�t be a big deal. After all, there are plenty of companies offering DSL service, albeit not quite for free. But, it seems these Winfire guys, before turning off the lights, failed to release their customers� lines, as required by law, to enable us to go to a competitor for the same service. The end result, I can�t sign up for DSL on that phone line. So I may have to disconnect that phone line and order new phone service, just so I can once again run with the big dogs.
But, what I really meant to write about was a new web site that I found designed for people who are living, or thinking of living, in Mexico � more specifically, Mexico City, which, all of a sudden, has become a hot spot for international travelers. Its amazing what a perception of increased safety will do for a place.
The web address is www.solutionsabroad.com and is advertised as the expatriate online community. The site is filled with relevant information including relocation, getting started, living, social, cultural, business, taxes, resources, banking and much more. There is a particularly useful �Ask Sam� section where you can find answers to all your questions, as well as a discussion forum where you can ask questions of others.
Maybe I�ll order cable connection. I hear it�s even faster.
MÁS O MENOS, 3/2001
by David Simmonds
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing newly elected president Vicente Fox will be to ensure that Mexico�s very poorest , mostly indigenous people share in the economic gains of the country as a whole. In the recent World Economic Forum held in Cancún, Fox acknowledged that the leftist Zapatista rebels have forced the world to face the flaws of globalization. �Thanks to them it was possible to create a new consciousness about the rights of the indigenous people,� Fox said at the close of the meeting. He went on to confirm that when the rebels raised their arms in Chiapas seven years ago, the world �heard their just demands� for an end to the economic exclusion and poverty that have been their way of life for decades.
He went on to say, �We can�t continue down a path that gives privileges to only a few and condemns too many to marginalization. It serves nothing for a few to advance while others remain behind, excluded from development?. We have to act strategically and with firmness to bring opportunities and better education and living conditions to regions excluded from the benefits of globalization.�
The Zapatistas hope to force the government to pass laws guaranteeing Indian rights and autonomy. They remain wary of any economic development plans that would exploit the indigenous for cheap labor.
Members of Fox�s new government have admitted that five straight years of growth, thanks to NAFTA, haven�t translated into enough positive gains for the country�s poor. Clearly, the task will be monumental, starting with the government�s gaining the trust of the people � after decades of promises unfulfilled.
MÁS O MENOS, 2/2001
by David Simmonds
Newly elected President Vicente Fox paid a very brave visit to Tijuana recently. I say brave because he prefaced his trip by declaring war on the drug cartels who have spread fear and corruption in this border town for years. Tijuana is the home base for the Arellano Felix cartel, Mexico�s most powerful and ruthless. This is the town where one-time reformist presidential candidate Donaldo Colossio was gunned down, many believing it to be in retaliation for his similar promise to clean up the system.
And now I see photos of Fox, out pumping hands with the people, knowing that somewhere in the crowd there could be a bullet with HIS name on it, carried by some chump who will do what he�s told if he wants him and his family to see another day.
Fox went on to meet with hundreds of civic and business leaders. He called for a new relationship between society and authorities in an effort to involve everyone in a united front against crime. �We have to accept that the legal culture has become eroded, and that in many instances personal interests have prevailed over the collective good,� Fox declared. He promised that arrest warrants will now be made public, but also urged citizens to do their part by not sheltering criminals and traffickers.
The previous week he had been in Sinaloa, the birthplace of drug-trafficking in Mexico, where he declared an all-out war against organized crime. He admitted that drug traffickers might well respond with violence. Vicente, I think you can bet your last peso on that. These guys are not going to be defeated without a fight, if past behavior gives us a clue about the future. .
Recently, 700 members of the Federal Preventive Police were sent into Tijuana, making their presence felt as only they can. This action has been met with mixed criticisms from the populace. They want some concrete action, something to show some positive results. They want to raise their families in a town without fear, something that has been missing for far too long. Vicente Fox has taken on the biggest fight of his life¼winning the presidency was much easier.
MÁS O MENOS, 12/2000
by David Simmonds
Here we are, eyes wide open, entering the 21st century and into the sixth year of this publication. I look back on the some of the first issues of Mexico File and I can see a noticeable improvement in our present-day version. We have enlisted a good, but small, group of contributors, always striving to impart useful information which is well written.
Looking back, I didn�t realize how lucky we were in building an instant subscriber base within the first couple of months. After the first issue, I sent out a press release with a sample copy to numerous newspapers throughout the country, and damned if we didn�t get an article in the Washington Post. That article was picked up by the wire services and then, every weekend, was reprinted in newspapers nationwide in their Sunday travel sections. Man, this was going to be easier than I thought! Never mind that I had no background in journalism, publishing or marketing � all you need to do is go for it. Worst case scenario¼I�d have to listen to my friends say �told you so� and I would have had to go back to commercial real estate, or bar ownership, or something else. Confidence, deserved or not, has never been a problem for me.
But, that didn�t happen, although it hasn�t been as easy as I first imagined. This is a tough business. My brother, Bob, and I also publish a mental health newsletter that he writes and which we sell to psychotherapists nationwide. And we publish a newsletter for Sanborn�s Mexican Insurance that is distributed to their members. We stay plenty busy.
What has become starkly obvious is that people are learning more about the internet and the Web, where you can get volumes of information and not pay a peso for it. We, too, have a web page, www.mexicofile.com . There you will find many of the archived articles from Mexico File, as well as links to other Mexico related sites. In an effort to make some money, we also sell space and web page construction to people who want to advertise their Mexico vacation rentals. There are some awesome properties available if you have an interest for your next Mexico sojourn.
What is surprising is the number of hits we now get. In December it was over 10,000 hits a day! Do you think that maybe people are using this internet idea?
So, am I discouraged about the future about this little hardcopy newsletter now in your hands? Not a bit. I�m proud of what we produce and plan on doing it for a long time. It�s fun, gets me to Mexico with a good excuse, and I meet the most interesting, wonderful people � mostly those of you who lay down the $39 to subscribe, for which I offer my sincere gracias. But, I�ve got this other idea to enhance the whole operation¼stay tuned.
MÁS O MENOS, 11/2000
by David Simmonds
The Baja 2000 off road race took place on November 12, 2000. This year the total distance was increased to just over 1,676 miles, starting in Ensenada and ending in Cabo San Lucas. On my recent drive on the Transpeninsular Highway, I could see the race road marked near the highway. My only thought at the time was, �they ought to find somewhere else to hold their damn race.�
This whole thing started back in 1967 and has grown every year. This year will see 273 entries. One car owner was quoted as saying that his car alone will have three drivers, 30 crewmen, eight trucks and a plane as support. The drive, for those who complete it, will take 30 to 50 hours.
Now, I know that it�s a demanding exercise and takes stamina, nerve and skill to complete the course¼
but at what cost? Because they wanted a longer run this time, they have directed the course over previously virgin area. So, they have taken this one-of-a kind ecological marvel, and I am referring to Baja California, and carved it up for their convenience. After the race they will hand out their trophies, pack up and leave, and then prepare for the next event on the race circuit. See ya next year, fellas.
Is it really necessary that we slowly destroy the few remaining, mostly pristine, places left on earth for our recreation and amusement? Have a walking race for the 1,000 miles if you want. And what about the people who live on the land being attacked? They have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to the race, but, of course, have little power to cease the operation. Last year I remember reports of some of the pre-race organizers being accosted (harmed, maybe killed, I don�t remember exactly) by some locals who took exception to the route�s encroachment on their property. There is certainly no economic benefit derived for the vast majority of those affected. And they�ve had enough of it.
There is one road, built in 1973, for people to drive down the length of Baja. It is a wonderful experience and should be enjoyed by many. If you want to see the wilderness off the road, get a burro or a mountain bike � or take off on foot. You�ll see a land filled with unbelievable natural beauty. But let�s quit this road race lunacy before the slippery slope of destruction becomes irreversible.
MÁS O MENOS, 10/2000
by David Simmonds
Not surprisingly, the issue of illegal immigration remains a hot topic on the airwaves in what passes for �talk radio� these days. And in this southwest corner of the country, it�s the Mexicans who are the primary target of the vitriol and the hatred. Very few people seem to be neutral on whether or not Mexicans ought to be all locked up or if we should just ignore them, unless, of course, we need to have our leaves raked or the family restaurant business needs a dishwasher who will work for minimum wage and not whine about overtime and benefits.
When I have the stomach to listen to these opinions, I�m in awe of the misconceptions that so many people have of the brown man they see on the street corner hoping to be hired for the day to do a hard job for little pay. I have had the opportunity to converse with many of these people over the years, both here at home and in Mexico. And I can assure you, they are not here because they want to be. They didn�t use every last peso they could gather to travel hundreds and thousands of miles because they desire to �take back the land� that used to be part of Mexico. And, believe it or not, they don�t want to become U.S. citizens any more than I would want to apply for Pakistani or Icelandic citizenship. They thoroughly enjoy being Mexican. They love their wonderful culture, spicy food, and ranchera music. Do people honestly believe that they enjoy being scorned, ridiculed and, worst of all, ignored?
Almost without exception, every Mexican I have queried is in the United States for one reason � they can�t make enough money at home to feed their family. So they make the long, dangerous trip. They illegally cross the border and take up residence with fifteen others in a one bedroom apartment � or frequently in a canyon, sharing space with the skunk and coyote.
Now the hope is that Mexico can create a strong economy that will allow all of its citizens to share in the rewards � where tens of millions of dollars will not be diverted to off-shore bank accounts in the name of the privileged few, instead allowing working families to eat and live well, in their own country, where they truly feel at home. And, when this happens, which I do believe it will, I think our country will somehow miss something we have come to take for granted.
MÁS O MENOS, 8/2000
by David Simmonds
As all of you must know by now, Mexico has finally allowed a presidential election to be won by an opposition party. Vicente Fox, the PAN candidate, convincingly defeated the incumbent party heir, Francisco Labastida of the long-ruling PRI.
After years of wondering �when will this ever happen?� this miraculous concept caught fire with the people and they achieved what many thought would not occur in their lifetime. And now I talk with Mexicans who, even though they voted for the PRI, are relieved and amazed that Fox won. There is an optimism that I have never witnessed in forty years of Mexico travel.
So, who gets the credit for this mild revolution? Some have pointed to NAFTA for making it possible, creating a strong economy that still hasn�t filtered down to the tens of millions of citizens who continue to survive below the poverty line. A good argument can be made that it has been a change in progress for a couple of decades where the PRI has allowed the PAN and the PRD more seats in congress and some governorships as a show of fairness, all the while maintaining a strong grip on all of the real power in the country. They have been the masters of the �create a lot of heat and shed no light� manner of government that the Dems and the GOP have turned into a sadistic art form here in the U.S. (Yes, I�m voting for Nader).
In truth, there is not just one reason for the change. But, I believe that it never would have happened now without two men: Vicente Fox and, maybe more significantly, Ernesto Zedillo, the outgoing president. In Fox they saw a tall, charismatic rebel, unafraid to challenge the system and willing to articulate the frustrations of many of his countrymen in calling for a fair and honest government.
But, just as sure, this could not have happened without Zedillo, standing firm against the party �dinosaurs� and insisting on a true election, and more importantly, admitting to the defeat in a courageous, timely and dignified announcement. For this, I consider him to be Mexico�s greatest president in recent times, perhaps ever.
There will be many challenges and not a few failures in the transformation, but I think we are about to witness a long era of Mexico finally achieving prominence on the world stage unimaginable just a few years ago.
MÁS O MENOS, 7/2001
by David Simmonds
I�ll always remember my first trip into Mexico. I was about eleven and my parents had arranged a trailer for us just north of Ensenada, in an idyllic little settlement called Grenada Cove. They had been down a few times previously to deep-sea fish and drink beer with friends, and they would always return home with the news that my mother, Daisy, had won the largest fish pool. It was an uncanny knack she had.
But, this time they took my brother, Bob, and me � and I vividly remember how enthralled I was with this foreign place on the wild Pacific where just down the dirt road there was a giant pot over a fire with a whole pig, eyes bulging, gurgling to the top. There were local families gathered around, talking, laughing and listening to a group of men playing their instruments with a passion with which I was then unfamiliar. The smells and sights were seductive in a way that would not be matched again for several more years.
During the day I would walk up and down the coast, exploring tide pools and nodding hola to the mysterious people who lived in their tiny shacks. Mother and Dad would return from fishing with an ice chest full of yellowtail and bonita and we would feast like kings. It was one of my happiest times, a great time to be a kid with a family I loved.
Not too many years later, Daisy�s fishing and Mexico traveling days came to an abrupt end when she had a stoke that left her half-paralyzed at the age of 41. After that, she always so enjoyed hearing about my Mexico travels, wanting to know every detail of all my adventures, some of which I just couldn�t share. Some things, parents just shouldn�t know. But, I would always bring her some jewelry or something that would brighten her day, making her feel somehow connected to the place I had been.
Dad died at the age of 56 some twenty years past in 1980, and now, just this week, Daisy has gone to join him. Cancer reared its head out of nowhere and thankfully took her fast. She died, as she lived, with uncommon dignity, acceptance and love, with Bob and me by her side. She will be horribly missed.
Catch a big one, Mother.
MÁS O MENOS, 6/2000
B y David Simmonds
As we go to press, the Mexican presidential election is just two weeks away. The country will decide whether to continue to be led by the incumbent PRI party with its candidate, Francisco Labastida, or to seek the leadership of an opposition party, most likely the PAN and their charismatic candidate, Vicente Fox. The PRI has held the presidency, and virtually all of the federal power, for 71 years, although in recent years many of the state governors have been from the PRD and PAN parties.
Regardless of the outcome, many believe that the most important aspect of the election will be the determination of whether they will be held free and open. In past years the cloud of fraud was ever-present, with a great deal of supporting evidence. Blatant ballot-stuffing was widely reported � and probably true. But this time, as they said in the sixties, �the whole world is watching.� This is the most scrutinized and strictest campaign in Mexico�s history. It is absolutely imperative that the vote be honest and fair if Mexico is to attain the world standing that it so desperately wants.
A major concern of international observers is not that the votes will be miscounted or ballots stuffed, but that some votes will be bought, most likely by the ruling PRI. President Zedillo has emphatically denied that this is happening. Jorge Chabat, a researcher on drug smuggling and national security, is quoted as saying, �Zedillo won�t back any fraud. He�s a president who got there almost by accident, and if the ruling party loses, he won�t worry too much. He�s more worried about entering history as the president who allowed the democratic transition.�
There are others who believe that the PRI is promoting a vote of fear. The fear of upheaval and possible loss of benefits under a new government is a powerful persuader for those who have little to begin with.
Whatever the outcome, I believe the country will emerge stronger and more optimistic about their future. A true democracy and an accountable government is now an attainable ideal for most Mexicans, at long last. Let�s hope that the quest continues and that the next president will be an effective leader for the fine people of Mexico.
MÁS O MENOS, 5/2000
by David Simmonds
Well, what do you think? If any country needs to be featured in full color, it�s Mexico. So, if everything goes as planned, this issue of The Mexico File should look pretty slick compared to the two-color production of the past four years. And better yet, the price is staying the same. �How can you do that?� you might ask. Hell, I don�t know. No one has ever described me as being an astute businessman. Actually, technology is advancing at a rapid pace. It could drive your corner print shop right out of business, which would all right with me considering the amount of money I�ve paid for overpriced services these last few years. And try getting a completed job on the promised date. They think a deadline is what happens when you don�t pay your phone bill or when you use the wrong bait. Now if I can just figure out how to use this new Hewlett Packard machine full of parts I know nothing about....
In the last issue in this space I promised an article on Acapulco, but then I thought it might be best to do a followup to Bernie�s move to Puerto Vallarta with some alternate choices in the same area. And now, for the next issue I�m hoping for an article that I think will be really good from Ron Mader in Mexico City, who knows everything there is to know about ecotourism in Mexico. This works fine for me because I have a real hard time working up enthusiasm for getting creative about Acapulco, but, in a way, that�s where full scale tourism got its start in Mexico, and for that it deserves some coverage, no matter how biased the writer. It is an amazingly beautiful bay.
With the Mexico presidential election just over a month from now, it will be interesting to see how the tactics take shape going down the home stretch. The primary opposition candidate, Vicente Fox from the PAN party, is now leading in most credible polls � which has to make the PRI very nervous. This could be Mexico�s most important election in decades � the outcome could have an enormous influence on the direction the country goes in the coming years. As lovers of Mexico, we should all pay close attention.
MÁS O MENOS, 4/2000
I had a chance to stop in Puerto Vallarta recently to continue my scandalous affair with this now older and larger city that began 30 years ago this summer when I first drove my old VW bus down from San Diego. The first time is, if not always the best, surely the one you remember most fondly. Before jaded perceptions take hold later in your travels, that first time everything is astonishing and unexpected. And it�s really never quite the same again.
And although I have strayed to many other places in Mexico over the last three decades, PV remains the one that always pleases � it is truly my home away from home.
A real unexpected pleasure on this visit was to make the acquaintance of long-time Mexico File subscribers, Bernie and Angela Santos, now residing in my favorite town. Over cervezas and corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick�s Day, I cajoled Bernie into sharing with you the process of moving and setting up shop in paradise. Fortunately, Bernie�s a bright guy (he moved to Mexico, right?) and he sent me his excellent account for this issue. Plus, I had Angela as an ally to spur him on. We�ll being hearing more from Bernie and Angela about Mexico living (the good and the bad) and PV tips in future issues.
For the next issue of The Mexico File, I�ll tell you about my recent trip to a place I last visited 25 years ago and vowed never to return. However, I went willingly this time as a result of being invited to Tianguis, the annual Mexico travel and trade show conference. In short, Acapulco is the city. It�s an overbuilt metropolis erected on the most beautiful bay you�ve ever seen. More about that next time....
MÁS O MENOS, 3/2000
Going to Mexico, for me, has always had the appeal of being a little risky � as compared to, say, Provo, Utah. Their society isn�t designed to protect you from yourself (and lawyers) at every turn. And although I always feel safer walking most of Mexico�s streets late at night than I do in most U.S. cities, you never know when you�re going to step off an invisible two foot curb into a face plant...with no one to sue! They haven�t, thankfully, idiot-proofed the country.
But I tell you, they really need to get this increasingly visible gangland-style crime culture under control. Just across the border from me in Tijuana, the second police chief in six years has been mowed down in a hail of bullets. A month prior to the first police chief�s murder, presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was assassinated at close range. Drug traffickers are suspected of sixty killings in TJ since the first of the year. Arrests are infrequent for these crimes and prosecutions are almost nonexistent. The drug cartels have taken over the city, and other cities in Mexico have a similar experience. The wealthy class in Mexico City employ full-time bodyguards to protect themselves from robbery and kidnaping. In a society where guns are illegal, it is estimated that ninety percent of Tijuana�s homes have firearm protection.
It�s true that the average tourist is not directly affected by the acts. The cartels are either whacking each other or law enforcement, and tourists are not the focus of kidnaping. And now, it�s the small time dealers and smugglers of drugs, immigrants, vehicles and weapons who are employing violent means of sending a message. But many Americans, when deciding where to vacation next, read the news stories and decide the Bahamas might be a safer choice. With tourism as Mexico�s number one money generator, the need to round up the bad guys would seem to be obvious. Mexico�s new president, to be elected this summer, will need to find a solution for the sake of his country.
MÁS O MENOS, 2/2000
One of the features of doing this newsletter I especially enjoy is the feedback I receive from the subscribers. For the most part, the positive comments far exceed the negative. I have come to know some of you and I truly enjoy and appreciate the interaction. Presumably, the few who don�t like what we�re doing fail to renew and we never hear from them.
This last week I got a returned renewal notice from a guy I�ll call Jimbo. Jimbo had some major complaints about the newsletter that I would like to answer and share with the rest of you in hopes of creating further dialogue � and of course this is all part of the process of becoming a better publication.
Here are Jimbo�s suggestions and my answers:
Jimbo: Offer regular articles on hitchhiker hotels of the hinterlands and the comforts one can find for 50 pesos
I�ve tried hitching in Mexico, Jimbo, and its not real easy to do. After two or three hours of being passed by I always had to flag a bus. One of the first things I realized when I started the newsletter is that you can�t be all things to all people. And quite frankly, that segment that would try hitchhiking through Mexico aren�t likely to spend money on a newsletter. As for the 50-peso hotels (that�s five bucks), they�re hard to find these days. What cost $5 fifteen years ago, will run you $20 today. I often recommend hotels in the $20-$30 range.
J: Suggest sources of safe water when away from multinational hotels
Purified bottled water is sold all over Mexico these days. I assume that most of the newsletter subscribers know the very basic travel requirements and know not to drink tap water in most areas. As for multinational hotels, I don�t think I�ve ever reviewed or suggested one.
J: Describe the secrets of finding clean restrooms, preferably with paper.
No secrets to share, Jimbo. You walk in, check if there is paper, and decide if it is clean enough for your standards. I don�t think anyone would be terribly interested in the great johns I�ve found � but they usually qualify as great only when they are most needed. Those are always my favorites. I have suggested always carrying paper, by the way.
J: Drop the consumerist gringo crap
Huh? If you�re not buying, you�re begging, and not likely to get very far in your journey.
J: Present something real about the culture, not the cutesy folk dancers in their dolled-up Disneyesque costumes, but the values and traditions and concerns of the people.
The people of Mexico consider folk dancing to be a very important part of their culture. I�ve been to small villages where I was the only gringo in attendance enjoying one of these shows. Nothing in Mexico is more traditional. I concur that we could do a better job covering the concerns of the Mexican people. But bear in mind that this is primarily a travel newsletter.
J: Help us to understand the unique politics and economics of Mexico, rather than so frequently referring to the seeming chaos and anachronisms. Stop being so damned yankee-centric and awestruck and condescending.
I try to include some political and economic observations in every issue, fully aware that I�m not qualified to go into tremendous depth in the discussion. As for being awestruck � guilty as charged.
It�s why I�ve been drawn to this incredible country for over 30 years. The chaos is just a bonus.
Condescending? I don�t think so.
Actually, Jimbo, I appreciate your taking the time to offer the suggestions. And I hope you decide to stay a subscriber and share some of your travels with us.
MÁS O MENOS, 12/1999
Since 1991, Carla and Herb Felsted, have published Mexican Meanderings, a fine newsletter that I have enjoyed immensely. Now, after their 50th issue, they need a break. I imagine they know Mexico about as well as anyone alive, and I�ll miss not being able to learn from them. Hopefully, they will resurface somewhere out there (they�re considering a web presence) and will once again help bring Mexico a little closer to all of us armchair travelers. For a complete list of the back issues available, call 512-441-1815, fax: 512-441-2330, email: email@example.com Good luck, amigos.
I don�t know about your part of the country, but here in San Diego, talk radio has been dominated by Elián González, the six-year-old Cuban boy who was found floating off the coast of Florida after watching his mother and others drown in their attempt to reach the U.S. Now, it�s been correctly decided that he should return to Cuba to reunite with his natural father. As of today, this may or may not happen. There is a lot of emotion on both sides of this issue, and like it or not, Elián�s fate has become politicized beyond reason.
One point I have failed to hear articulated is the irresponsible action of the mother in putting her son in the danger involved in boating from Cuba. Risking her own life is one thing...risking the life of her child is unacceptable. Sure, life might, but not certainly, be better for him in the United States. But, from my experience, children are treated very well in Cuba, and they certainly are well educated. By the time Elián is a teenager, Cuba will probably be a democracy, with enormous opportunities for clever people. At that point, will he definitely be better off in the U.S.? Miami�s not exactly a garden spot for those not well funded. Should we factor in the homicide rate, the drop-out rate and the drug use in the two societies? As a father of a five-year-old son, I can�t imagine a foreign government and some blow-hard philanderer named Dan Burton keeping my son from me.
MÁS O MENOS, 11/1999
A few months ago, while planning a trip to Cuba, a major consideration was timing. I told my buddy, Chris Hogan, who would be joining me, that I thought we should wait until November, when the chance of a hurricane would be lessened. �Nah, October works best for me. Besides when�s the last time you heard of hurricane hitting Cuba? Fidel has a special deal with the storm gods...he stays a pinko, they don�t blow on his island.� OK, so we�ll go in October. It�s a little cheaper then anyway. Maybe �cause its HURRICANE SEASON.
So, we score some �buddy passes� from a United flight attendant friend to get us to Miami. From there we are to jump to Nassau and then down to Havana on Cubana Airlines, recently ranked the least safe airline in the world. The weather�s looking good. As we are checking into a convenient Miami airport hotel, the lobby TV has the local weather man on, reporting about a recently developed hurricane heading directly for, you guessed it, Havana. Nobody�s flying in or out and no one knows when they will. After several disjointed minutes of deliberation, it was decided we�d fly back to San Diego the next day and try again in November. We end up flying cross country, watching a baseball playoff game, having lunch at Gloria Estefan�s trendy restaurant in South Beach (just down the street from the number one tourist attraction, the house where Gianni Versace was shot), and then flying back home. Actually, we had miraculously made the right decision. Miami�s airport shut down the next day, shortly after we departed.
And, even though there is still a chance of a storm when I try again in a few days, we�re going. Fidel has assured us it won�t happen again. And why am I writing about this in a Mexico newsletter? Because you can also get to Cuba from Mexico, and in the next issue I�ll tell you how.
MÁS O MENOS, 10/1999
Recently I heard from Joe Cummings, who knows a little bit about Mexico. Joe co-authors the guidebook Mexico Handbook, and also solo writes Baja Handbook, Northern Mexico Handbook and Cabo Handbook. These are all published by Moon Publications and can be found at bookstores.
Joe recently visited Mexico City to research material for Mexico City Handbook, which is currently in production. Busy guy � and his books are my companions whenever I travel Mexico. Granted, guidebooks become dated rather fast due to constant changes, but much of the information is valuable and his historical and cultural notations are incredibly complete.
Anyway, let me quote what Joe had to say to me, via email, about his Mexico City trip. �I spent three weeks in Mexico City last month, collecting research for the first edition of Mexico City Handbook. What a great city � I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Great value vis a vis accommodations, food, shopping and entertainment. So many other large cities in Mexico are overpriced, in my opinion. The bar and café scene alone � wow.� Makes you want to hear more, right? Well, we�re in luck. Joe will be contributing an article next month on Mexico City. Consider it a preview to his upcoming book. With all the negatives we hear about the capital, it will be great to get Joe�s perspective.
Speaking of trips, I, uh, have this friend...who is going to Cuba in a couple of weeks. Now, technically, this is illegal for U.S. citizens unless you have special passes, which this friend doesn�t have. So I � I mean he � is getting there circuitously. Flying to Havana from Mexico is the choice of the many Americans who are making this trip. The November issue of Mexico File will report on how the trip progressed.
This U.S. embargo has really run its course. It�s time for Clinton to stand up to the small exile Cuban-American minority lobby and quit this silly, failed policy. After all, Cuba does trade with 160 other countries. Their economy is in shambles not because of our boycott, but because communism doesn�t work, plain and simple. If we can trade with China, we certainly should trade with Cuba.
As I�m writing this in my office, with the news on the tube, I just heard about a earthquake today in Oaxaca, around Puerto Escondido. Several dead and rising. Last week it was explosions at a firecracker warehouse in Celaya, near San Miguel de Allende. This country we care for sure does get tested enough. Wish them well in your own way.
MÁS O MENOS, 8/1999
by David Simmonds
As it turned out, all of my fears concerning group travel were baseless, at least with the group I was with on this Copper Canyon trip. I am not sure that would always be the case, but the New York public relations firm, Edelman, that sponsored and organized this trip, did a superb job. It was an interesting and diverse assortment of people, most with a good sense of travel etiquette. There were a couple of people who complained a little too much about some conditions (a little cheese with that whine, ladies?), but all in all it was great fun. A special thanks goes to Edelman employees, the fetching Diana Cabral and good sport Hector Alvarez � originally from Mexico City, who was laid low by a stomach disorder? I�m ready for another invite guys � just remember that I�m the one who NEVER complained and was very grateful for the opportunity.
In general, the hotels in which we were housed are in a price category that I usually would not include in this newsletter. We normally try to find bargains in the low to mid-priced range � but, actually, Copper Canyon is an unusual situation. There are mostly either the basic, very cheap pensions or the more upscale expensive hotels. Not much in between. With the rugged terrain and strenuous hiking trails, it�s pretty nice to end the day in comfort with a meal included. Maybe my appreciation was heightened by my gimp knee that was still recovering from knee replacement surgery and my recent entry into an advancing age decade. Nah, it was just the knee.
This issue of The Mexico File starts year five of this mid-life, crazy idea I decided to try. And although my previous, far greater earnings were procured via commercial real estate, this is what I truly enjoy. The newsletter has been in constant growth since day one, and that is gratifying. We have fortunately received fine reviews in many major newspapers and magazines (Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, etc) as well as a few radio interviews. And although I get the most notoriety from our efforts, this thing would never stay on track without my older brother, Bob. A licensed psychologist and creator of the newsletter Emotional Wellness Matters, he edits my ramblings as well as keeping general order in a way I�m not wired to do. Many thanks, hermano.
And my deepest gratitude to those of you who have financially supported this effort for these four years. We don�t sell advertising, so you guys are all we have to run the press and pay the postmaster. Of course, then I have to take all those damn trips to Mexico, and you know how rough that can be. Man, life could be worse...
MÁS O MENOS, 7/1999
by David Simmonds
After my third left knee arthroscopic surgery, the doc let me know that my meniscus cartilage is now shot, creating a bone-on-bone situation that ensures I will walk with a limp for the rest of my time on this planet. Unless, of course, I get a fourth surgery appropriately referred to as a �partial knee replacement.�
So, here I am now eight weeks post-op, limping noticeably, and preparing for an all-expenses paid trip to, of all places, the Copper Canyon. I thought for sure that I would be completely rehabbed by now, but that seems to be about four more weeks down the road. There is no way that I can avoid this trip � since I�ve finally been included on the list of people who get these sorts of invitations. So now I have a plan to get down in the canyon and find a curandero (healer) and not only have this knee attended to, but maybe several other joints that don�t work like they used to.
This whole knee incident has been a stark reminder of how lucky most of us are in our homelands to have access to cutting-edge medicine and the insurance to pay for it. Many of the people in Mexico would have had to live out their lives with the damaged knee, with no hope of having the type of surgery I had. And although the long and valid tradition of the curandero can bring comfort and relief for many ailments, they can�t replace parts and provide the modern technology that we all take for granted.
Well, it�s off to Copper Canyon now and I�ll have a complete report for you in the next issue.
MÁS O MENOS, 6/1999
by David Simmonds
Although I don�t get down to Ensenada very often these days, it is the place in Mexico where, when I was young, I discovered much about life � and once nearly lost my life. My parents first dragged me there when I was twelve, 1961. They would fish and drink with their friends while I walked along the beach, fascinated by the novel beauty of undeveloped shoreline and entranced by the mystery of the local, brown-skinned mysterious natives.
Within a few years, I was old enough to drive down with the guys, usually at Spring Break (wasn�t it called Easter Vacation then?) for a few days of independence and camaraderie, forging friendships and memories as strong as steel that will surely endure for my lifetime. And always, the one constant, was the hours spent at the world�s finest bar, Hussong�s. Little has changed behind the swinging front doors of this old-west tavern since its opening in 1892. It is a bar, social club, cultural classroom, pick-up joint, mariachi showcase and traveler�s mecca. It can be the most fun you have ever had or your worst nightmare, sometimes both on the same night. The locals dominate during the week, with the gringos moving in on the weekends. The ages span from young to old, the intellect from moron to genius. The best seats are guaranteed for neither. They all come away with an experience not soon, perhaps never, forgotten. I could fill a book with my Hussong�s experiences, and that only includes the nights I remember. It�s a great cantina.
The scenery south of Ensenada, at La Bufadora (the Blowhole), can be equally magical. I was there one very wintry day, twenty-two years ago. It had rained for days, the surf was huge, and it was uncommonly cold for this region. This coast is mostly rocky and wild, and so it was as I climbed down on the boulders to watch the waves crash beneath me. Then, out of nowhere, a rogue swell enveloped and dropped me straight down into the ocean, shooting me to a depth of about thirty feet. Miraculously, I was untouched by the surrounding rocks, and by the time I surfaced, I was 100 feet out to sea, fully clothed and wondering what had just taken place. Fortunately, the girl I was with saw me disappear and reappear and went in search of help. I knew I couldn�t swim straight in as the rocks would beat me to death and there was no place near to exit. Remembering a sand beach a few hundred yards to the north, I began the long swim against the southerly current, making little progress. I could see gray whales making their southern migration not 50 yards from where I fought for my life. After nearly two hours in the 56 degree water, help arrived in the form of an inflatable boat � and I was dragged aboard. The locals told me that they lose a few people a year doing what I had done � and, in fact, had never seen anyone survive it. Later that night we toasted my fortune and luck as I secretly marveled the magic of Mexico.
MÁS O MENOS, 5/1999
by David Simmonds
As the only person in America who has somehow failed to participate in the hottest stock market in history, I am always attempting to find travel deals. Especially on air fare, most often to Mexico.
One method I have used a couple of times recently is to book a flight with Aeromexico to Mexico City from San Diego on a Monday morning. This flight regularly sells out, which means it’s often over-booked, since all the airlines use this tactic as a way to operate in their never ending thirst for every last cent you own. Anyway, I get to the ticket desk early and volunteer to get "bumped," and if successful, they have another flight three hours later. For my trouble and inconvenience, I am awarded with a free roundtrip in the future and a voucher for breakfast that morning. Not a bad deal. The last time they even seated me in first class on the departure flight.
Aeromexico also has a web page (www.aeromexico.com) with a category they call Supersavers. There are several restrictions and conditions involved, like making your trip within about a week and returning within a certain time frame, usually six to ten days later. But if you have some flexibility, the savings are fairly substantial. For the past month they have listed a San Diego to Puerto Vallarta flight for $165 RT while the regularly scheduled price was $240. As I am writing this, the Houston, Miami, Atlanta and Dallas flights to Mexico City are all being offered for $189. They had a Phoenix to Guaymas for $89 RT.
Another way to save some serious coin is to join one of the house-swapping organizations. I have been a member of Intervac, based in the San Francisco area, off and on for several years. For $85 yearly you get your property listed in their catalog where other members can see what you have while you search for what you want. Two years ago we traded our San Diego beach house for an apartment in the center of Paris for a month. The French family also let us use their BMW and Mercedes.
The current Intervac catalog has trade possibilities in Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende, Guadalajara and elsewhere. To contact Intervac – phone (800) 756-4663, fax (415) 435-7440,
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org , and their web address is www.intervac.org .
MÁS O MENOS, 4/1999
"How about we call her Paloma?" I enthusiastically suggested to my wife Felice as the day neared for the birth of our second child this month. There followed a long silence as she carefully searched my face for some sign of intelligence. "Not a chance, @$%^head," was her most definitive reply. "But, I love that Mexican song, you know the one I sing for you when I’ve had a couple of shooters, __Cucuroo-coo-coo, Paloma_" Terrified with the thought of hearing it sung to her only daughter for the rest of her life, we compromised on Nicolette Joelle – if you call my third choice a compromise. My first desire was for the name Carly. Oh well, I’m just mighty happy to be a dad again at an age when some of my friends are nearing grandparent status. My son, Tanner, age four, has somehow decided his little sister will be called Tallie. Where he got that we have no idea, but I wouldn’t bet against the name sticking.
I had wanted to attend the opening day major league baseball game between my hometown San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies this year, played in...Monterrey, Mexico. But since our child came April 3 and the game in Mexico was April 4, those plans were long ago scrapped. Despite the grumblings of many of the players on both teams, it was a wonderful historic event for baseball. One of these days there will be a major league franchise in Mexico and it will probably be in Monterrey, one of the few Mexican towns of any size I’ve never seen. There is certainly enough money there to support a team and the game is wildly popular in the northern part of the country. It was great to see the Rockies star third-baseman, Vinny Castilla, play before his fellow countrymen. Castilla is from Oaxaca, and like the Dodger star of the 1980's, Fernando Valenzuela, is a monster player and a good man. This can only be a positive for future America/Mexico relations.
Well, gotta go play catch with Tanner and Nicolette (Tallie?).
MÁS O MENOS, 3/1999
by David Simmonds
I really like it when readers of this newsletter offer to send me good articles that I could, or would, never write. This is especially true in this issue with the inclusion of the travel article by Robert Klempa and the travel safety piece by Dan McIntosh.
I like the fact that Robert is far fonder of Cancún than I am, which I am discovering is a fairly common perspective. More Americans fly into Cancún than to any other Mexican resort city. Many never wander off the 12-mile sand spit, but other, more adventurous types like Bob, know how to cover some ground.
I also like that Bob is adept at sharing his knowledge of restaurants, which is one of my weaker points as a travel writer. I’d like to be better, but you have to understand – I’m a person whose favorite food is mayonnaise and whose favorite breakfast item is spaghetti leftovers. In my Mexico travels I’ll go a week feeding entirely at taco and licuado stands. One of the first things I look for in a town is a local carnitas purveyor, from whom I’ll purchase a kilo of the amazing deep-fried pork with tortillas, salsa, cilantro and onions thrown in, a few cold beers...and I’m one content gringo.
So, I’m not the best person to be giving dining advice, other than to recommend that you should ask the locals who’s serving the best grub – or in this case, just ask Bob.
You will also greatly benefit by reading the article from Dan McIntosh, who is uniquely qualified to tell us how to travel safely in Mexico. Dan is far more careful and aware than I tend to be (I have a unadvisable habit of trusting everyone), but I know he is right on target with his advice. I’ve heard some of his stories involving his private investigator work and believe me, this is one guy you want to listen to. Don’t, however, let his advice frighten you from traveling south. After all, he has chosen to live in Mexico, knowing that he is far safer in most Mexican towns than he would be in the U.S.
Think I’ll go make a mayo and carnitas sandwich. Now that’s living dangerously.
MÁS O MENOS, 2/1999
By David Simmonds
As we Americans are rendered dumbstruck by the never-ending Monica/Bill – its not about sex/rule of law – did not/did so – impeachment charade, Mexico has had its own little court mess that actually involved what most of us would agree is of a serious nature...murder.
Raul Salinas de Gortari, the brother of Mexico’s former president Carlos, has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for masterminding the 1994 murder of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, a senior figure in Mexico’s PRI ruling party and, get this, Salinas’ former brother-in-law. It seemed the judge believed the prosecution’s assertion that Salinas was p.o.’d that Massieu had divorced his sister, so he had him whacked.
Now, normally, this would have been acceptable behavior and would have never seen the inside of a courtroom in Mexico’s past. But, as luck would have it, Salinas’ brother, the ex-president, is widely reviled throughout the country and has been in exile in Ireland and Cuba for several years. It seems that he left office right before the economic crisis that has dogged the country for five years began, with both brothers somehow having accumulated many millions of dollars which are now safely tucked away in overseas banks. Nice work.
Additionally, Mexico really needed a high profile example of how the old way is history and that in the new, more democratic, Mexico, high rank has no legal privileges. With the very real possibility that the PRI might lose the presidency for the first time since the revolution in the next election, there was no way Salinas was going to walk. Since there are no jury trials in Mexico, it was left up to the judge, who, by all accounts, was unswayed by political pressure.
Although there was no direct evidence to convict Salinas, the judge claimed he was swayed by "interlocking evidence" to impose the maximum sentence allowed by law. Many, however, believe that President Zedillo applied sufficient pressure to ensure the verdict. There was also the taint of $500,000 being paid for a witnesses testimony, which will surely be noted in the inevitable appeal to be filed.
Whether the trial was just or not is widely debated. But the general feeling in the country is that even if he didn’t orchestrate the murder, he’s a dishonest crook and ought to be punished. Now we get to see if brother Raul, the ex-prez, still has political clout and will he use it in retaliation. This thing will surely outlast the Hyde/Starr show.
MÁS O MENOS, 12/1998
by David Simmonds
It never fails, especially this time of year with all the holiday parties, that I am thrown in with strangers who eventually, despite knowing better, can’t help but inquire, "So, Dave, what do you do for a living?" It’s a question they just have to ask because I’m invariably accompanied by my very attractive, well-dressed wife and I usually look like I just crawled out of a sleeping bag. When I walked away from commercial real estate, I x!y?t-canned most of my long pants and shiny shoes, and I now make my clothes purchases at sporting goods stores and surf shops. My usual answer to the curious is, "Well...I vacation."
After fully explaining the work involved in creating this newsletter about Mexico, the second question is even more predictable — "What’s the best place to go?" — to which, of course, there is no proper answer. Maybe, "considering that pink wine your sipping and the tassled loafers you’re standing in, I’d suggest you might consider another country, like France, or Key West." But they always insist on an answer, so I try to find out if they like the beach, or big cities, or the mountains, or colonial towns, or the desert, or jungles. And they look at me like I’m a crazy person and why can’t I just tell them the best place to go and quit with the damn geography lesson. So, I’ll tell them my favorite place is the next place. "And where is that?" "Well, I don’t know — I haven’t decided yet."
So why can’t I just give a straight answer? And maybe let them know that I like the west coast best, starting south of Mazatlán all the way to the Guatemala border? If I occasionally make this declaration, I usually hear a retort such as, "Oh, yeah, I was in Puerto Vallarta (always pronounced Porto Veearda) last year and partied like a rock star. Cool." That’s when my eyes glaze over and I shuffle over to the bar for a refill.
Have a productive and happy 1999, friends, and good luck traveling to your "next place."
MÁS O MENOS, 11/1998
by David Simmonds
If you are considering retiring in Mexico, should you be concerned with the many reports of crime and political instability? Not according to International Living, a fine newsletter with over 100,000 readers. Their yearly summation, called The Global Retirement Index, grades each country in the categories of real estate, culture, cost of living, safety/stability, health care, climate, special benefits and infrastructure. Mexico topped the list by a fair margin over the runners-up, Honduras (pre-Hurricane Mitch), Spain, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The United States finished 14th, between Hungary and Poland (??), and France was number 22. The price of real estate and cost of living obviously weighed heavily in the equation, but ranking Panama and the Dominican Republic over New Zealand and Costa Rica appears to be underestimating the importance of living in a society where not only you can live well, but so can your neighbors.
It’s hard to disagree with their choice of Mexico, though. I’ve seen a good part of the world and our southern neighbor is still, far and away, my favorite foreign country.
Speaking of Hurricane Mitch, although it didn’t hit Mexico, they have responded to the devastation in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, in spite of the series of natural disasters that have so damaged their own country. With a death toll that may exceed 40,000, the damaged countries are in critical need of help. It has been estimated that many lives and businesses won’t recover for years.
Mexico’s immediate aid includes 1,300 tons of food, 31 tons of medicines, plus over 100,000 30-milliliter bottles of chlorine for the production of potable water. They have also deployed five helicopters and 600 troops to aid in the rescue effort.
Without appearing too preachy, I’d like to encourage each of you to call your local Red Cross and see how you might be able to kick in a little help.
MÁS O MENOS, 10/1998
As I have mentioned in this issue’s article on Guadalajara, this is a city in which you feel very safe as a tourist. But, evidently, many people in the more rural areas of Jalisco are feeling less secure. Ranchers and farmers have declared the government incapable of adequate protection and they want the right to carry arms. This was validated by the state attorney general’s statement that Jalisco is close to being unable to defend itself against the increasing wave of kidnaping, robberies of farm equipment and crops, and animal rustling. Although private gun ownership is prohibited, my experience tells me that most farmers are armed, but not with the caliber of weapons they are now being confronted with by the thieves.
Thirty years ago on October 2, it was clear who had the guns and who didn’t. That was the day of the massacre of student protestors by the Mexican government security forces at Tlatelolco’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City. It was the day that many Mexican citizens lost faith in their government. Dad was killing the kids and the relationship would never be the same.
After years of quashing the actual events of that day, a more clear understanding of the truth is being revealed. With help from U.S. based researchers, a Mexican investigative team has consulted with the CIA, FBI and the LBJ Library to determine the facts. It seems undeniable that as many as 300 were killed that day and the order to shoot was probably given by then President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. It was ten days before the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, and he was extremely concerned about presenting a good image to the world. After the massacre, a cover-up immediately went into place and the government has had an official policy of silence ever since.
An argument can be made that after all this time, the sacrificial deaths might have been the start of the change that has taken place over thirty years. The murdered were demanding greater liberty and more democracy, the same concerns that were dominating the student movement from Paris to Berkeley. The Mexico of 1998 is surely a freer society today than it was. A multiparty system has evolved and the stranglehold of the PRI, although still formidable, is showing many signs of weakness.
An interesting footnote to this ongoing story is that one of the protestors from that fateful evening long ago, a student leader demanding change, was none other than Ernesto Zedillo, Mexico’s current President.
MÁS O MENOS, 8/1998
by David Simmonds
I have probably mentioned in the past that Cancún isn’t my favorite Mexican city. First, it’s a long way from my home in SoCal. If I’m going to travel that far at considerable expense, I don’t want to look at a government planned tourist lure. I’m also the first to admit I’m sometimes dead wrong about my perceptions. Lynne Doyle, Mexico File subscriber and Cancún devotee, kindly explained the error of my thinking, at which point I replied, "OK, you know the place better than I do. Share your knowledge in a way I can’t. Go for it." I think you will like the result. Gracias, amiga.
When I fly to Mexico I always try to use Aeromexico. Their employees, unlike those of most carriers these days, are consistently courteous, friendly and helpful. But what I really like most is that they don’t charge you for beer and cocktails. Not only that, so I’ve been told, if you don’t mind the side-glances from your fellow flymates, you can order TWO drinks at once, since that first one seems to always slip down way too fast. Now if they would just replace the peanut packages with chicharones... Also, the last time I flew I showed my Club Premier frequent-flyer card and my request for a first-class upgrade was gladly granted in spite of my shorts and sandals attire. Try that on Delta.
Now I read that Grupo Cintra, the holding company that controls Aeromexico (as well as Mexicana and Aeroperu), plans an initial Public Offering (IPO) this year to sell the government’s remaining stake in the airline. This should improve things even more, I hope.
If you carry an American Express Platinum card (runs about $300 per year) you might want to look into their 2-for-1 Premium Class International Round-trips. Purchase a qualifying full fare premium class ticket and your companion flies for free. Aeromexico is a participant in this program, but tickets must be purchased through American Express Platinum Card Travel Service at 800-428-0252. Mas o Menos