Mexico Loves Coke

By David Simmonds 

Sodium cyclamate, an artificial sweetener, was banned in the U.S. nearly 40 years ago due to increased cancer risks. But now, after further testing, it is deemed safe enough to be used in 50 countries, including Mexico, which legalized it last year.

Not surprisingly, Coca-Cola jumped at the opportunity and added it to their Coca-Cola Zero brand, raising the ire of various consumer-advocate groups. You may have noticed, Mexican’s drink a lot of soda, the sweeter the better. Okay, sodium cyclamate is sold in 50 countries, and the U.S. can tend to be rather anal about these things. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest based in D.C., is definitely hitting below the belt when they warn that the ingredient can “increase the potency of other carcinogens and harm the TESTES”. Whoa!!!….if this claim reaches the Mexican male population (or female, for that matter) I’d guess that Zero is soon doomed. Personally, I’m sticking to beer and tequila.  

Don Quixote Meets the Far East in Guanajuato

By: Lisa Coleman

For those who love the performing arts, a trip to the breathtakingly beautiful city of Guanajuato in the fall (especially this October) is a must. The month-long International Cervantino Festival is named in honor of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote. This year the activities will commence on October 3rd and end on October 21st. This unusual cultural congregation is one of the best in all of Mexico. And to make it even more appealing, Guanajuato is unquestionably one the country’s most magical places. For this incredible event, the entire city becomes a stage and features opera singers, soloists, ensembles, strolling minstrels (estudiantinas), jazz musicians, modern and folk dance troupes, and traditional and experimental theater from around the world. (Check out the Spanish site at

This year’s event will be particularly colorful as China will be the guest of honor. According to Chinese news sources, the invitation coincides with the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between China and Mexico in February, 1972. Chinese Ambassador to Mexico Yin Hengmin said China’s participation in the festival shows the importance the Chinese government attaches to the festival, and the excellent relationship the two nations are in.

Yin said both nations have traditions that went back centuries ago and China’s participation will strengthen cultural links between the two countries. He highlighted Mexico’s large-scale artistic visit to Beijing and Shanghai last year which involved 500 artists, calling it “an excellent opportunity for Asian people to know Mexico.”

In 2007, a total of 12 Chinese artistic and cultural groups will visit Mexico when an event called “Experience China in Mexico” is staged there. During the event, Chinese artists will present traditional dance, music, shadow puppet theatre, contemporary dance and a show of modern ceramics.

The National Chinese Ballet will bring their show The Red Lantern to the Mexican audience, while the Chinese National Theatre Company will present two shows called Flower in the Mirror and Moon in the Water. In the meantime, Sichuan Legendary Puppets, Shaanxi Folkloric Art Theatre, Jilin Song and Dance Ensemble and Beijing Modern Dance Company will also bring their best performances to the festival.

Also, according to those sources, China seeks to strengthen friendship and cooperation with Mexico, and that is why cultural exchanges are important, Yin said.

The International Cervantino Festival, with a budget of 80 million pesos (about 7.4 million U.S. dollars), will draw together 2,009 artists from 26 countries and also 21 of Mexico’s 32 states.

It’s About Time to Celebrate.. the Dead That Is

By: Lisa Coleman

It’s about that time of year in Mexico… yep, let the celebrations begin! Let’s take the beaches and crowds out of the picture and look into the heart and soul of the culture. It’s far more interesting anyway! People who don’t travel much are a bit uneasy about attending traditonal celebrations, but put those fears aside. The Mexican people honor their culture and embrace visitors who want to share in the experience. So take a step into the unknown and become a part of their world… I know you will enjoy it!

Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is right around the corner in early November, so if you want to be a part of it, you will need to book very, very early. It’s a big deal in Mexico and it might be tough to find rooms in some of the more popular spots.

The celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of Dead) is one of Mexico’s most fascinating traditions. It embraces a complex heritage and demonstrates the significance of family and ancestry. The origins of this unusual ceremony can be found in 8th century Europe. In an attempt to replace a 2000-year old Celtic tradition of celebrating the harvest and the New Year on November 1, the Catholic Church established this date as “All Saints Day” to honor martyrs and saints. At the end of the first millennium, the church designated November 2 as “All Souls Day” to honor the dead.

In Mexico, these two days are a time of celebration. It’s a time when the souls of the departed return to the world of the living to meet again with their friends and family. The first Day of the Dead, on November 1, is usually reserved for the souls of children, the little angels (angelitos). On November 2, the primary celebration takes place to honor the adults. Preparation for these days begins weeks in advance. Candies, breads, skulls and skeletons made of sugar and other delicacies are prepared to offer to “Los Muertos” (the dead). These are considered gifts and tokens of love for the souls. Along with hundreds of marigolds and other brightly colored flower wreaths, these feasts are set forth in homes and cemeteries throughout Mexico. Some families prepare extravagant altars at the gravesite and all light candles and place a piece of memorabilia at the cemetery. The families eat, drink, pray and hold vigils through the night for their loved ones. They take this moment to appreciate the importance of living and to respect and love those who have moved to another world.

Day of the Dead celebrations can be seen throughout Mexico with some of the most impressive festivities taking place in the state of Oaxaca, Mixquic near Mexico City and in Patzcuaro and on the Island of Janitzio (both in the state of Michoacan). Personally, I like the smaller places. There is a magical town about two hours out of Veracruz called Naolinco. Located in the Chiconquiaco mountain range, this town was once a settlement for the ancient Totonac people. You won’t find many tourists and you will really have a chance to immerse yourself in the event. It has an unbelievable spirit and engery that will be well worth the effort to get there. Do some googling and you’ll find a few hotels in the area. Witnessing a celebration of this kind is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

* There are also a number of tour operators that offer all-inclusive trips for the event. Check that out on Google too.

Mexico’s Low-Cost Airlines Rock

By David Simmonds

As recently noted, low-cost carrier Azteca Airlines has gone the way of the Aztecs, without the violence and bloodshed. But many other budget airlines seem to be thriving and providing something Mexico has needed for years…domestic competition to Aeromexico and Mexicana, the big dogs. 

I recently needed to get to Puerto Vallarta for about the 100th time (I forget exactly why) and with the San Diego to PV round-trip option priced at about $400.00 I decided to give one of the new carriers a try. Avolar, based in Tijuana, had web site rates that would get me to Tepic, about 100 miles from PV, for about $170.00 RT. This required a three-hour, $15.00 bus ride from Tepic to PV, but it’s a visually stunning drive and allows you to settle in to your Mexico psyche, enhanced by grabbing a couple of to-go cold cervezas at the bus terminal. I’m not sure I will take that option every time, but it worked out well and I saved about $200.00, more than enough for a few nights at the incomparable Posade de Roger with some left over to bribe my wife with a nice silver bracelet upon my return. Two hundred bucks to get to and from Vallarta. Hell, I spent that much on a two-hour concert in San Diego this summer.

So far the budget airlines are flying only within Mexico, but the prices are great and they get you from town to town without having to hub through Mexico City, which can add most of a day to your trip. Here is a list of some of the better options:

Azteca Airlines Out Of Business

MP News Staff

The San Diego Union Tribune has reported that low-cost airline Lineas Aereas Azteca, based in Mexico City, is apparently out of business. The airline had been grounded in March for problems in safety procedures and with its pilot and maintenance training concerns. No one is answering their phones and their web site is down.

The company was founded in 2001 and had a fleet of nine planes. During the first two months of 2007 the airline transported more than 113,000 passengers.

Another buget carrier, Aero California, in business since 1960, was suspended in April 2006, but resumed several months later in August of that year.

There are now several budget airlines flying domestically in Mexico, including Avolar, Volaris, Clickmax, Interjet, and Viva Aerobus. Some very competitive rates can be found on their web sites.

Mexico’s Post Office Signs Deal

By David Simmonds

I make a point of paying my bills on time, because if you don’t all kinds of bad things happen. If you are late on your credit card payment that zero percent interest for the next 8 months means nada. A day late on your payment and you’re paying 30%, searching for another sucker card company where you can transfer your balance. And try missing the due date on your home mortgage and watch your credit rating score sink like Couric’s ratings, as you shamefully wear the scarlet letter F (use your imagination) for the remainder of your life.

So, as I dropped my stack of bills into the mail slot at the post office recently, just as I made the drop, I realized I hadn’t placed a stamp on any of the envelopes. I immediately, after shouting an expletive, stuck my arm down the slot to make a retrieval but I needed another three feet on my reach and people were looking at me funny, so I go to the teller window and tell the lady that I need my letters back. The clerk, obviously having a bad postal-worker day, goes to the slot where I dropped the mail, returns, and mumbles that I must be mistaken, all of the letters in the landing area were stamped. No, I told her, mine weren’t and I need them back. “Next in line”.

A few days later the unstamped mail started to trickle back to me, my bills unpaid, my payment history hosed.

I tell this true tale as a warning to the Mexican Postal Service who has just signed a deal with the U.S. Postal Service, where they will visit U.S. facilities in order to learn how to be more efficient. Given the state of Mexico’s mail service, where a letter stands about a 50/50 chance of ever reaching its destination, this should be helpful. Let’s just hope that they study the mechanics of efficiency and not the personalities of the work force.

Sheltered from the Storm

By Jeanine Lee Kitchel

Cancun won the lottery this past Tuesday, or at the very least, its equivalent. It narrowly escaped the jaws of one of the top five category 5 hurricanes on record. Hurricane Dean is up there in the annals of the world’s greatest storms.

Although it hit 40 miles north of Quintana Roo’s capitol, Chetumal, on the Belize border, according to local newspaper accounts in Por Esto, it did little damage to the city’s infrastructure. But the brunt of Dean was felt in Majahual which was “pulverized” according to local news. Newspaper photos showed nothing higher than ankle-height with the exception of a decrepit lighthouse. I’ve yet to hear what happened to the little pueblo of Xcalak.

Majahual gets more press because of the large cruise dock, Puerto Costa Maya, which brought in over one million visitors last year. Photos showed it separated in pieces, and I’m sure cruises will be diverted for some time to come. But tourism here on the Riviera Maya coast is of utmost importance, and the government is addressing all issues instantly and with aplomb. Tourists coming to Cancun or Playa del Carmen won’t even know a hurricane occurred just 100 miles south.

Right now the concern is for thousands of indigenous Maya who lost homes from Hurricane Dean. Although the area where Dean arrived was the most desolate in Quintana Roo, if not all of Mexico, the Maya have made their humble homes there for a millenia and now their hand-to-mouth survival is being threatened.

The people in this area survive mostly on agriculture and the hurricane winds blew their wealth–mangoes, oranges, guanabanas and mameys–right off the trees just before harvest. Along with their fruit trees also went their huts made from chaca sticks and chit thatch roofs. Corn fields were devastated and farm animals lay dead.

Mexico will begin distributing cash grants to people who lost crops, according to Agriculture Secretary Alberto Cardenas Jiminez.

“The poorest and smallest are those who we’ll help immediately,” he said.

In the glitzy land of Cancun, it’s business as usual. For those just 100 miles south, their struggle has just begun.