Category Archives: History

Can tourism help save Cerro de San Pedro?

By John Mitchell

Cerro de San Pedro – It’s obvious that Marcos Rangel Mendoza loves the place where he was born. This unassuming, middle-aged man becomes passionate when he talks about the history of Cerro de San Pedro, an old mining town clinging to a rocky hillside in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí.

The mining ghost town of Cerro de San Pedro
The mining ghost town of Cerro de San Pedro

Señor Mendoza explains that the Spanish founded Cerro de San Pedro in 1592 after they discovered gold and silver in the area. The conquistadors established a royal mine in the nearby mountains, and Cerro de San Pedro flourished until severe water shortages forced most of the town’s population to move to the present site of the city of San Luis Potosí. As a result, Cerro de San Pedro became a virtual ghost town.

Today, Cerro de San Pedro is home to about 100 people. Many of them cater to a trickle of tourists who make the 20 km (13 mile) trip from San Luis Potosí in order to wander San Pedro’s deserted streets and soak up its colonial ambiance. There are also two 17th-century churches to explore plus a museum displaying historical photographs, antique mining paraphernalia, and work by local artists. The town’s other main attraction is a small store owned by Señor Mendoza. Named “El Huachichil” after the local indigenous people, this cave-like shop is crammed with handicrafts, photographs, minerals, and mining souvenirs.

Marcos Rangel Mendoza outside his shop
Marcos Rangel Mendoza outside his shop in Cerro de San Pedro

On the surface, Cerro de San Pedro appears to be an idyllic spot. But all is not what it seems. High above the town looms a huge “open-sky” gold mine owned by a Canadian company called Metallica Resources and its Mexican subsidiary Minera San Xavier. This rapacious open pit mining operation is threatening to destroy Cerro de San Pedro and poison its inhabitants.

While we stand and chat in front of his store, Señor Mendoza points to ominous cracks in nearby walls, which he claims are being damaged by daily dynamite explosions in the mine. He also shows me nasty sores on his arm that he says he got from bathing in water contaminated by chemicals from the mine. Señor Mendoza’s greatest fear is that his hometown’s fragile buildings will totally collapse if the mine isn’t closed.

Señor Mendoza belongs to an organization that has been fighting Minera San Xavier and corrupt government officials for over a decade, but little has been accomplished. He now realizes that Cerro de San Pedro’s last chance for survival may be tourism. Increasing the number of foreign visitors will hopefully bring more awareness of the town’s historical significance, especially since neighboring San Luis Potosí, which was once one of the most important cities in New Spain, is being considered for inclusion in UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage List.

A typical street in Cerro de San Pedro
A typical street in Cerro de San Pedro

GETTING THERE: Cerro de San Pedro is about a 30-minute drive from San Luis Potosí on good, mostly gravel roads. There is also a public bus that leaves on Saturday and Sundays at 9:00 A.M. from the Temple San José church on the Alameda Park in San Luis Potosí. This same bus makes the return journey at 6:00 P.M. Cerro de San Pedro has a few basic eateries that are open on weekends only. There are currently no places to stay in Cerro de San Pedro, but it is possible to set up a tent and camp. For more information, visit the San Luis Potosí Secretariat of Tourism website.

Please click HERE to see more of my Cerro de San Pedro photos.

INAHTV Broadcasts Mexico’s Cultural Treasures on YouTube

By John Mitchell

YouTube fans will be pleased to know that Mexico’s National Institute of Archaeology and History (INAH) has established a channel on the world’s favorite video-sharing website. Called INAHTV, the channel currently offers 108 videos highlighting some of Mexico’s most important archaeological zones, museums, historical sites, traditional arts and festivals, as well as other cultural treasures. The commentaries are all in Spanish; but even if you don’t understand the language, these expertly produced videos are worth checking out for their visual impact and variety.

Hacienda Xcanatun Offers 4-Night Archaeology or Ecology Escape

MERIDA, Yucatan, Mexico – Free is a beautiful word…especially when employed by the owners of the elegantly restored, 18th century Hacienda Xcanatun, a boutique hotel with 18 luxurious accommodations, who are maintaining 2008 rates throughout 2009.

To add extra special value to their 4-Night Escape Package lots of free extras have been added through December 15, 2009, bringing the total package price to US$575 per person, double occupancy. (Taxes, hotel service charge, and restaurant gratuities are additional.)

Value Added Free Extras Include:

· 4 nights double occupancy accommodations in a Deluxe Suite, with a hydrotherapy tub set on the private veranda or upgrade to a Master Suite, if available upon check-in.
· Free – Daily Xcanatun breakfast on the restaurant’s dining terrace
· Free – A 6-hour excursion in an air-conditioned car with private guide to Uxmal or Chichen Itza; or to Celestun’s National Wildlife Refuge.
· Free – ½ hour relaxing massage per person
· Free – Transfer from the Merida airport to the hotel.
· Free – Wi-Fi service

Day Trip Itinerary:

All Things Maya –
Chichen Itza Highlights: Named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, Chichen-Itza is perhaps the Yucatan’s best-known ancient Maya city with its ancient temples and palaces.

OR

Uxmal Highlights: At Uxmal, explore what is often cited as the most architecturally beautiful Maya site thanks to the complexity and richness of the stone carvings on ceremonial buildings.

OR

A Flamingo Eco-Adventure:
Highlights: A guided trip to the Celestun Nature Reserve in an air-conditioned car with guide. On the outskirts of Celestun, a sand-street fishing village, board a small, private boat to explore the lagoon sanctuary teeming with flocks of coral-colored flamingos, 100’s of species of water birds, massive mangroves and a petrified forest.

Independently, explore the infrequently visited Maya site Dzibilchaltun, an ancient Maya city only five minutes from Xcanatun.

About Hacienda Xcanatun & New Golf Facilities:

View of gardens at Hacienda Xcanatun
View of gardens at Hacienda Xcanatun

Owners, Jorge Ruz and Cristina Baker have deep roots in the Yucatan allowing them to provide an unusual level of exclusive access. Born and raised there, Jorge is the son of one of Mexico’s most famous archaeologists, who discovered and excavated King Pacal’s tomb at Palenque. The couple delights in arranging unique experiences for guests.

Scattered throughout nine acres of tropical gardens, the hacienda’s regal buildings are surrounded by protective walls recalling its baronial past. All of the 18 air-conditioned accommodations have a private patio or balcony and are individually decorated with antiques, hand carved furnishings, original oil paintings and marble floors. Additional facilities include two swimming pools, an intimate spa offering beauty and holistic Maya treatments, plus an award-winning gourmet restaurant named one of the top 50 restaurants in Mexico for 2009 by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. Guests can also enjoy exclusive golf privileges at new Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, El Jaguar, and an accompanying Nicklaus Golf Academy at the prestigious Yucatan Country Club, just five minutes from the hacienda.

Hacienda Xcanatun has a 4-Diamond rating from the AAA, and is a member of Virtuoso. For additional information and reservations call toll-free 1-888-883-3633.

Google Teams up with INAH

By John Mitchell

Search engine giant Google and INAH, the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, have reportedly teamed up to help revive Mexico’s flagging tourism industry.

Google has agreed to help showcase Mexico’s cultural heritage by highlighting the country’s archaeological sites, museums and historical monuments using photographs and videos supplied by INAH. Google Maps will also be providing guided tours to various cultural destinations.

President Calderón Flies National Flag at Half Mast at Constitution Square on 23rd Anniversary of 1985 Earthquakes

Friday, September 19, 2008 |

Mexico City, Constitution Square
At 7:19. President Felipe Calderón flew the National Flag in Constitution Square at half mast in memory of those that lost their lives during the earthquake on September 19 1985.
 
Flanked by Secretaries of the Interior, Juan Camilo Mouriño Terraza, National Defense, General Guillermo Galván Galván, the Navy, Admiral Mariano Francisco Saynez Mendoza, the President led the ceremony commemorating the 23rd anniversary of the earthquake that plunged Mexico into mourning.
 
Other attendees included Head of the President’s Office, Patricia Flores Elizondo; General Coordinator of Civil Protection of the Interior Secretariat, Laura Gurza Jaida as well as President’s Chief of Staff, Javier Castillo Cabrera.
 
Immediately after President Calderón raised the Monumental Flag as a sign of national mourning, a war band established a minute of silence and the ceremony ended with the National Anthem.
 
At the end of the ceremony, President Felipe Calderón greeted the citizens who had attended the ceremony, including various members of Los Topos Group, who took part in the rescue work following the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City.

MTB CELEBRATES INDEPENDENCE WITH THE NEW YORK YANKEES

New York, September 19TH, 2008 — The Mexico Tourism Board’s New York office celebrated Mexico’s Independence at Yankee Stadium Wednesday. Prior to the Yankees taking on the Chicago White Sox, Rubén Beltrán Guerrero, Mexico’s Consul General to New York, joined Mariana Pedrero, Director of the Mexico Tourism Board’s New York Office, to initiate the game with an acknowledgement ceremony. Alfredo Aceves who joined the Yankees this past August after playing in Mexico’s League, also joined them on the field and the MTB gave away more than 20,000 t-shirts in commemoration of their work with the New York team, which is currently finishing their last season at Yankees Stadium.

 

“It’s important for Mexico to promote itself at Yankee Stadium because it is a staple of New York City and players such as Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are some of the most loved athletes in the city,” said Mariana Pedrero, Director of the Mexico Tourism Board’s New York office. “Being that this is the last season the Yankees play at their iconic stadium, we wanted to be a part of this location that has seen so many great moments in baseball history.”

 

The Mexico Tourism Board’s campaign at Yankee Stadium includes brand display behind home plate during the bottom of the third inning at home games and one on the bleachers that will remain until the closing of the stadium at the end of the season.

 

On Monday, the Board started the “Let’s go to Mexico” Sweepstakes on the fans’ forum of www.yankees.com. Once visiting the Yankee website, click on the Mexico banner for sweepstakes entry information. Fans have until October 13, 2008 to enter their information for a chance to win a trip to the costal town of Puerto Vallarta. This contrasting city, the jewel of the state of Jalisco, has a colonial center with Spanish style buildings that are now art galleries and boutiques, a boardwalk, called el malecón, and many gourmet quality traditional restaurants.

 

During the day, guests can go into the town’s jungles or take a boat ride to see dolphins and whales. And as the sun sets and shades of reds take over the sky, visitors usually head south of the center, where the city becomes a vibrant modern playground where every imaginable kind of fun is available. The winner of the sweepstakes will receive two round-trip tickets from New York City to Puerto Vallarta and a two-night stay at the sunny and private world of Unlimited-Luxury® world of Dreams Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa.

 

Mexico continues to be one of the top destinations for the US tourists. Last month, Mexico’s Minister of Tourism, Elizondo Torres, Secretary of Tourism, announced that 11.5 million foreign tourists arrived during the first six months of 2008, an increase of 4.6 percent from the same period of 2007. The minister added that the average expenditure of travelers during the first six months of this year was $800 dollars, a record for a semester.

 

The MTB’s campaign at Yankee Stadium is part of a strategic plan that looks to attract specific people to Mexico and continue its growth as an international destination for Americans. At the beginning of the month it also paired up with Travelocity to facilitate travel plans on its website: www.visitmexico.com.

Making the Most of Merida

By Jeanine Kitchel

Colonial Mexico is only 3-1/2 hours from Cancun in the form of that grand dame, Merida.  Whenever I need a cultural boost, real Mexican Yucatec food, streets teaming with masses of people, an old mercado where you can find anything and everything, historic mansions brimming with history, and an all day street fair every Sunday when the streets at the main plaza are closed off to cars, I head to Merida.

If you’re a regular visitor to the Riviera Maya and haven’t seen Merida, you really should make time for it in your next itinerary.  ADO buses make direct runs daily from the Cancun bus station to Merida for around $35 USD and are air conditioned and sleek, with TVs and bathrooms.  Or if you have a car, it’s a fast run on the super highway. Hotel prices start as low as $33 USD/night at the Trinidad (Calle 62 and 65) or Trinidad Galeria (Calle 60 and 51)  both near the main plaza; both are eclectic and charming. The galeria is an actual art gallery and each room is unique.  For historic sense of place, Merida’s oldest hotel is The Gran, Calle 59 at 60, and the upstairs rooms with balconies are a great spot for people watching on the square below.  Rates start at $84 USD. A bit farther off the plaza (Calle 59 at 68) is recently renovated hotel Villa Maria with only 11 rooms in an exquisite 200 year old building, complete with dining room, bar and sitting area. Rates here start at $140 USD. The old Villa Mercedes mansion was bought by the InterContinental group (now known as Presidente) and is just off Paseo Montejo at Ave. Colon with internet rates beginning at $106 USD.

Restaurants abound in Merida, in all price ranges.  On the plaza you’ll find two local outdoor eateries specializing in Yucatec favorites–panuchos, salbutes–for  only 25 pesos.  The 100 year old ice cream shop with fruit glacees is next door.  Restaurants like Los Almendros serve Yucatec specialties with all the pomp they can muster, and there are steak houses, Argentine restaurants, Italian restaurants, along with one of my favorites, Alberto’s Continental Cuisine, run by two now ancient brothers who’ve managed to house an art collection within a restaurant. Their garden patio displays one of the largest rubber trees I’ve seen.  It’s romantic, beautiful, and the food is different–some Lebanese specialties are included on the menu.

Whatever way you slice it, I promise you’ll be wowed by Merida.  There’s culture, food, history, walking tours, even horse drawn carriages. It’s a trip though time, and a taste of real Mexico.