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México Bicycle Delegation Succeeds in the Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur

México Bicycle Delegation Succeeds in the Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur

Mexico Cycling

For the first time ever a Mexican delegation participated in the 1,230 km/90 hour Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur. We are so thrilled that México had a group of six represented at this event.

Read all about it here.

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Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead

 

 

 

Are you celebrating El Dia de los Muertos? Here’s how they celebrate in Mazatlán!

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A Taste of Real Mexico

A Taste of Real Mexico

I live in Mazatlán, and I know what a wonderful place it is.  Today I read a piece by Darren Parkman “The Traveling Canadian” about his visit to Mazatlán.  It sounds like he loves it as much as I do.  Here is his article titled A Taste or Real Mexico

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Enjoy a talented multicultural symphony in a lovely restored Opera House… in Mexico!

Enjoy a talented multicultural symphony in a lovely restored Opera House… in Mexico!

The Sinaloa Symphony Orchestra is a wonderful blend of international talent. Reporter Eric Scigliano of Crosscut in Seattle recently had the pleasure of visiting Mazatlán and enjoyed meeting two members of the symphony, too.  He wrote about it in his piece, Go South, Young Musician. Be sure t read all the way to the end of the piece.

Mazatlán is a unique city – has a lovely Centro Historico, a lively cultural scene, fantastic beaches, and lovely sunsets every single night.

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A Fabulous Night of Flamenco in Mazatlán

A Fabulous Night of Flamenco in Mazatlán

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love México… but I especially love Mazatlán. Over the years we have had hundreds of special and memorable nights. Free performances of every kind. Moderately priced opera and symphony tickets in a renovated theater. Nights where the air is warm, the people stroll the plazas, and the music has a beat that makes everyone tap their foot or get up and dance.

Last Friday was another one of those nights, I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. Here’s my blog post Flamenco in Mazatlán.

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Two “Real Life in Mazatlán” Videos

Two “Real Life in Mazatlán” Videos

Sinaloa gets a bad rap in the press because a drug cartel is based there. But people who live there know it just as where they live. They live, work, play, enjoy a day off or a cold beer. MazReal has captured the essence of Mazatlán in the two videos below:

The first is an evening at the bar at the Belmar Hotel, a classic hotel built in the 40′s and a favorite of John Wayne in the day. The hotel faces the Pacific Ocean.

This video shows a festive night in Mazatlán as the city enjoys El Dia de la Musica in 2011.

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A little Mexican village in Sinaloa

A little Mexican village in Sinaloa

The talented photographer, videographer, world traveler, music lover and blogger over at MazReal will always give you something to think about. He’s got a unique viewpoint and enjoys getting out in the Sinaloa countryside and finding out what makes people or places unique. This post, about the little village of Copala on the outskirts of Mazatlán, is sure to make you want to head to the beginning of his blog and read your way to the present.

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How to Be a Successful Expat

How to Be a Successful Expat

Bike Surfboard

I have lived in México for four years now, and have written two blog posts that might be helpful to others considering making México their home.

Not everyone is suited to life away from their home country, and the decisionmaking process involves a lot of honest thinking about your needs and wants.

The first, How to Be a Successful Expat, was very popular and I received a lot of positive feedback (and ideas for a follow-up post!)

The second was written after an American expat here in México insulted our decision to live at the beach, as he considered his choice of location in the mountains “right.” That one I called We’re all Looking at the Same Moon, but could just have easily been called More on Being a Successful Expat.

I hope you find them both helpful.

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Climbing to the Lighthouse

Climbing to the Lighthouse

Come along with Dianne and Greg as they hike up to Mazatlán’s lighthouse. At 160 meters above sea level, the El Faro de Mazatlán is said to be the highest naturally occurring lighthouse in the world. While they doubt that this is true, they do know that a hike up El Faro hill is WELL worth it. In every season of the year it is gorgeous!

Here’s a link to their blog post about hiking up to El Faro!

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Three Years in México – Junior High School

Three Years in México – Junior High School

Dianne and Greg moved to México with their junior high school aged son. This is the story of how he became bilingual, bicultural, and has developed into a incredible young man.

Read Three Years in México with a Junior High School Student.

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Street Vendors in Mazatlán

Street Vendors in Mazatlán

Part of what Dianne and Greg love about living in Mazatlán is that they can buy almost anything they need so conveniently. “Ambulatory” street vendors walk, push carts, ride bicycles (many of them modified to carry their wares) or motorcyles around town, selling their wares. There are also many open-air stalls that make eating healthy (or not) quite convenient.

This blog post is mostly a collection of a few street vendors photos.

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When it Rains…

When it Rains…

…it pours.

I’m going to draw an analogy between Morton Salt’s good ol’ tagline and the steady stream of just-when-you-think-it-couldn’t-get-any-worse-oh-look-it-just-got-worse headlines coming out of my lovely host country. I think it is an especially fitting analogy as we enter rainy season here in Mexico.

Where to begin…

In case you’ve missed the headlines for the past, um, year, Mexico’s in the throes of a somewhat major drug war. The army patrols streets in border towns. Journalists are murdered. Cartel members shoot at each other in supermarkets and shopping malls. Folks get kidnapped. I can tell you from first-hand experience that in some cities it’s impossible to go out for dinner without getting a gun pointed in your direction. It’s kind of ugly up near the frontera.

There’s also the issue of this pesky recession. Yup, la crisis has officially arrived here in Mexico. The peso is steadily sinking. Prices are steadily rising. A peso here, a peso there. That’s a lot of pesos when you’re only making 100 of them a day, like many folks do here in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. In my case, an hour of peso-salaried work here in Mexico currently converts to approximately enough dollars to buy a one-way bus fare in Chicago. Nice.

You might have also heard about this swine flu. Death tolls change hourly, depending on who you’re asking or what you’re reading, but Oaxaca has the dubious honor of being home to the first documented swine-related death. Mexico City shut down last week. And as of noon today, Huajuapan de León has followed suit. My classes have officially been cancelled through May 6. Students have already vacated campus in search of face masks and vitamin C supplements. From tomorrow, I’ll be on a vacation of sorts, a kind of vacation where you’re not supposed to leave your house or breathe or talk or hug or kiss anyone.

And, just today…more good news. A 6.0 earthquake near Mexico City. We felt it here in Oaxaca. You know, just in case things weren’t interesting enough.

If you relied on headlines alone, you’d think that the situation was pretty darn depressing down here. Pistols, pesos, pigs, and…darnit, I can’t think of an earthquake-related word that begins with “p.”

But, truth is, things ain’t so bad.

Or at least things aren’t as bad as the US media is making them out to be. Not everyone who visits Mexico gets kidnapped by a drug cartel — or the swine flu from riding the Mexico City metro. I promise.

But, in my humble opinion, the glue that’s holding this country together is the people. Mexicans, if nothing else, are survivors. They’re resilient. The past couple of hundred years of Mexican history have seen a disproportionate number of awful events: wars, foreign invasions, natural disasters, financial crashes and political scandals. Folks here are used to these things. The mentality is that if today sucks, mañana will be better.

Life goes on here in Mexico. Cartel violence, economic woes, world health emergencies and natural disasters will not affect Mexico’s core, the things that make Mexico an amazing place to live, the things that keep me here this country, even through its rough patch. Crisis will not stop people from greeting strangers in the street with a heartfelt “buenas tardes” (even if it is muffled by a sanitary mask). Crisis will not stop people from making time for friends and family (even if the government has discouraged handshakes and kisses). Crisis will not stop people from having a laugh over a beer (even if the bars are closed).

Crisis will not stop people from smiling.

This afternoon, I happened to be up near the front gate of our university as scores of blue face mask-clad students filed off campus. Some looked a bit worried, some were laughing with friends (no classes for a week and a half is a pretty sweet deal to any 19-year-old, even if a world health crisis is the reason behind it). But I caught a glimpse of one student, walking alone.

He’d drawn a big, goofy smile on his mask, just where his mouth would’ve been below.

It will get better mañana. I promise.

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Why I Love Mexico

Why I Love Mexico

Since I have traveled in Mexico for many years – and now live in Mexico – I thought that instead of discussing all the negative press Mexico has been getting lately, I would tell you why I love it here.

The Spirit of the People – This is usually the first thing that people notice about Mexico. There is an almost indescribable sparkle that you notice around the eyes. Smiles come easily. Kisses at greeting. Kisses when parting. You seldom hear a child cry and never hear a parent speak in anger to a child. Family is everything, and every evening, generations walk arm in arm in the plazas. People don’t get upset easily. Loud party? (So what, they are having fun tonight.) Litter on the sidewalk? (Sweep it up and enjoy a little chat with the people who pass by.) Barking dog? (Put on some music.) I love the phrase “ni modo” which means “oh well, what can you do?” and is the perfect answer to minor aggravations in life. Ni modo.

Generosity – There are many organizations in Mexico to help those who are less fortunate. But when I comment on generosity I mean all the small generosities I see daily. People know how to give with a grace that I can only hope to learn. One time in Mexico City, we went out to buy soup to take home. While we waited, a little street boy who was familiar to everyone in the neighborhood ran up with a coin and asked for a taco. The owner sent him to the cashier (his wife) to pay, and prepared a generous taco for the boy to take away. As he started to leave, the cashier pressed a handful of money in the boy’s hand as “change.” He ran off. A few minutes later his sister arrived, and the same interaction ensued. It was obvious that the couple happily made sure these kids had a little good food every day and were happy to give it. They would be surprised that I even think their actions were noteworthy. It’s just what they do, and how they relate to the world around them.

Ability to Make Do – I have a soft spot for people who can figure out a work-around when they need something. Not very much goes to waste here. And if you are done with something, just put it out on the curb and it will find a new home.

What is Fun? – You don’t need a money to have fun in Mexico. Of course, there’s the ocean, the best playground of all. Sunday is family day, and the beach is full of large family groups – from Grandma to the smallest baby. They may bring their own food, or buy mangoes and donuts from vendors walking by. But even in places away from the beach, people head to the plazas and parks to relax and talk and usually share a meal together. Balloon vendors stroll. Outdoor dances are common. People love to buy a song or two from the strolling musical groups. Mexico is a social country, when they have free time they usually head outside to get together with friends. Even late at night the streets are busy with people laughing and having fun. And I guess I shouldn’t forget that parades and fireworks can surprise you anytime, day or night.

Acceptance and Friendliness – We have a regular route when walking our dogs in the morning, and we greet and are greeted by many people every day. I thought for a while that they only greeted me because I said hello to them first – but you know – that’s not true. We are part of the fabric of the city and we are accepted – tattoos and imperfect Spanish and all.

Hard Working – The old stereotype of the sleepy Mexican under a sombrero couldn’t be further from the truth. Most people work very hard, and long hours, too. Five long days and a half day on Saturday. And wages are so low that once they are done working they have to work hard to do everything else. Many people have the simplest homes, with just the basics and wash clothes and dishes by hand. They either bicycle to and from work or have long bus rides. You’ll notice, though, that all school kids have gleaming white shirts and polished shoes. I have no idea how they do it all.

Efficient and Accommodating
– We live in Mexico as retirees on an FM-3 visa. This visa is renewable for a year. We visit Immigration once a year with a bank statement showing we have adequate income (so that we are not a drain on their economy) and payment of a small fee in exchange for a new one year visa. When doing this I wonder what the same transaction would be like for a Mexican in the US, unfortunately I think I know the answer. Many of you also may not know that Mexico also has a national health insurance program. And guess what? They also make it available to foreigners. We are in the process of applying for the insurance and our experience has been efficient and way easier than a trip to the DMV in the US. Wouldn’t it be nice if the US had national health insurance available to all?

Living in Mexico has changed me for the better, too. I am more tolerant, smile more, am more relaxed and generous, and I actually like myself better. These are just a few of the things I can put into words about why I love it here. You really should come and see for yourself.

Posted in Personal Experiences, SinaloaComments (40)

I’m Fine, Really!

I’m Fine, Really!

I got a disturbing call from a client in Texas the other day. I guess I should say calls. The phone started to ring fairly early, and just kept cycling between phones: home phone, cell phone, Vonage phone, repeat. We don’t keep any phones in the bedroom, but all the windows were open, so I could hear all the ringing coming from Chuck’s office directly above the bedroom. When I realized it wasn’t going to stop – ever – I got up to find out who needed to talk to us so desperately.

By the time I got upstairs, I was awake enough to start to be worried. Did something terrible happen to a loved one? The caller wasn’t leaving messages on any of the phones, so I sat down to wait for the phone to ring again. I didn’t have to wait long.

I picked up the phone and was instantly greeted with, “Are you okay?” It took me a few moments to recognize the voice.

“Yes, Mark. I’m fine. What’s up?”

“When you didn’t answer the phone, I was sure something had happened to you.”

Mark and I met when he hired me to develop and manage his web site and became friends. Well, maybe not friends exactly. We have never hung out or called just to chat about non-business related matters, but we deal with each other on an extremely informal level. Some of the things I say to him during a teleconference make his employees cringe, being a group of dedicated yes men. They are quite sure I am going to be fired at any moment.

With no small amount of acid, I said, “I was asleep Mark. There is a time difference, remember? What’s the emergency this time?”

It turns out he was calling on a minor business matter, but got terribly worried when I didn’t answer the phone. Mark has been watching the American news media, you see. And I live in Mexico. He was sure I had been kidnapped, or caught in a narco shootout, or come to some other equally heinous end.

Mark is a very aware type of guy and is constantly plugged into the news: on the computer, on the radio, on the television. Lately, all he has heard are stories about how dangerous it is in Mexico. The U.S. State department sent out a very strong warning about traveling to Mexico. No one has mentioned that the warning has remained largely unchanged for the past 10 years. It just featured a few enhancements this year.

My annoyance at being woken up turned into annoyance at ignorance. But I quickly squashed it. What I was hearing was the product of genuine caring, and I appreciated that. But I am still annoyed at the media that is sensationalizing problems in Mexico.

Here is the ironic part: Violence here, where I live, is down.

I think the news outlets in the U.S are very aware that the people are stressed out and really tired of hearing about the economy, joblessness, and foreclosures. What do most people want to hear about at a time like this? Someone else who is far worse off. Enter the Mexicans.

I’m not saying that the murders and kidnappings don’t happen. They do. In certain parts of Mexico. The drug violence in the border towns is astonishing. But so was the violence in Dallas three years ago. So is the violence in Detroit, with 47.8 murders per 100,000 people. Gee whiz. I just wish the news would put things in perspective when they report it.

Mark’s daughter and her sorority sisters had booked a trip to Puerta Vallarta for Spring Break. But the news has made them scared to come. They recently saw the movie Taken, and that sealed it. The girls are going to Florida.

To his credit, Mark did not forbid his daughter to come to Mexico. He interviewed body guards to send with her, but he never even implied she shouldn’t come. She made the decision on her own.

Even the young, who usually believe they are immortal, are scared to come here. I think the first reaction of most of the expats who live here is, “good riddance. The last thing we need is more drunken gringos making fools of themselves and making us look bad.” But the reality is, we need the dollars they bring with them. Part of the Mazatlan economy depends on the money tourists bring, and when they don’t come, businesses fail, people lose jobs, and children go hungry.

I think the State Department warning is having the exact effect intended: it is keeping American tourist dollars in the U.S., something that could never be accomplished by any “See America” PR campaign, no matter how good. I think encouraging people to keep their money in the U.S. is a very smart thing for the U.S. economy, but I really don’t think using scare tactics is a responsible way to do that.

I told Mark how very safe I am here. I told him that our little city of 450,000 people was just descended upon by 800,000 partiers for Carnaval and the police handled everything very well. I told him that his one U.S. Dollar buys 15 Mexican Pesos, making a trip here a very good value. I told him his daughter was a lot less likely to make an appearance in “Girls Gone Wild” if she came here. She is still going to Florida.

Note: This article originally appeared here.

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Safety in Mazatlan

Safety in Mazatlan

There’s been a lot of talk about safety among the expat community in Mexico lately. It seems like the press and the US government are going out of their way to discourage people from vacationing in Mexico. Those of us who live here – who love it here, wonder why.

I’m not going to try to figure out what their agenda might be. Some people speculate that it has to do with keeping American vacation dollars at home to help the economy. Maybe it’s just more of the nanny style of government. I really don’t know. But I do know it is taking a toll on Mazatlan and other communities that rely on tourism for a fair bit of their economy. I’ll talk about that in a minute. For now, let’s go back to the topic of safety.

We all want to be safe. What is that, exactly, though? Does that mean that there is a zero percent chance of something unexpected happening? I doubt that anyone expects that! I mean the world is full of random events – you come around a corner a little too fast and a truck is stopped in your lane…you hit it…someone is hurt…and everyone involved feels shaken and unsafe. But that doesn’t mean you never drive again, does it? And random events don’t just happen in Mexico, you know!

I have been getting numerous letters every week from people who aren’t sure if they should come on their long-planned vacations to Mazatlan. It’s good that they are looking for more information and need to decide for themselves whether they’ll feel safe or not. I tell people that write me that I feel safe, and that I love it here, and if they want a fuller explanation as to why they should read my blog.

We all know there is a war in Mexico between drug cartels and each other and drug cartels and the government. High ranking police officials have been killed. There have been graphic pictures in the media of bodies lined up where they were executed. This is horrifying, no doubt. But aside from the slim chance that someone would be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it feels far removed from everyday life.

But one thing that isn’t far removed is the effect that the loss of tourist dollars especially hurts the poor here in Mexico. Many people here are already living a very marginal existence, and losing a job or having hours reduced is an impossible situation. And here in Mazatlan we had already been feeling the effect of the financial crisis reducing the velocity of construction and hence construction related jobs.

I love it here. I love traveling all over Mexico. I take common sense precautions and keep my eyes open. But…you know, I do that where ever I am, and I imagine you do, too. Mexico is a delightful country filled with warm hearted, generous people who would like nothing better than to share with you the Mexico they know and love. I hope you choose to see for yourself.

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