Still, the King of Carnaval

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If you grew up in a house with more than one child, your parents surely told you at some point that there is always more than one side to any story. You may have heard the gossip mill around town that the King of Carnaval, Roberto Tirado, is threatening to resign, due to maltreatment by CULTURA. This morning he held a press conference to quelch that rumor. He proudly declared that he loves Mazatlán, that he is of the “pueblo,” and that he will proudly and energetically serve out his duties.

So why all the fuss? Well, there have been quite a few publications feeding the frenzy. CULTURA has told, or perhaps “leaked,” to the press that our new King has arrived late to official functions, and yesterday that he didn’t show up for the unveiling of his float. CULTURA says they called him several times and he didn’t pick up. The Prince was there, as were the dancers, to make sure the float would accommodate everyone; they were only missing the King. Rumor is that he’s “difficult.”

His side of the story is that he is a single working father of two young daughters and isn’t allowed to carry his cell phone at work. He showed us printed WhatsApp messages showing that CULTURA has notified him of official events late the evening before. He explained that late at night he is unable to request time off from work for the very next morning. Such, he claims, was the case with the unveiling of his royal float. He missed it, he says, because he didn’t even see the message until morning, when he was already on his way to work. And, he needs his job to sustain his family.

Roberto also complained of discrimination. According to him, his handler has insulted his choice of clothing as being “like a clown,” and repeatedly complains that he is from the “barrio.” Roberto told us he was not given a seat in the Angela Peralta Theater during the election of the queens, and that his daughters were separated from him and provided no supervision—one is a hemophiliac.

We asked Roberto what he wanted to achieve by holding the press conference this morning. “To get more respect from CULTURA. To have them communicate with me more clearly and in a timely manner. We are all on the same team.” We also asked him if he’d talked to the higher-ups at CULTURA about his concerns—with the Director, Oscar Blancarte, for example. “No, I don’t have access to them; only to my handler,” he responded.

Is holding a public press conference is going to result in better teamwork or more respectful communication? Probably not, but we can hope. Roberto has achieved his lifelong dream of becoming King of Carnaval; it should be a joyous time in his life. Instead, he broke into tears of heartbreak and shame during his press conference when explaining the humiliation he has suffered and how embarrassed he was in front of his daughters, who were so excited to see their father as Carnaval royalty.

This article started by saying there are two sides to very story. However, I think everyone can agree that he was elected the King of Carnaval and Carnaval begins in about a week. Let’s stop pointing fingers and work together. This is not rocket science.

Here is a short video where you can hear Roberto introduce himself and state that he is not resigning his position and proudly state his feelings for Mazatlan and Carnaval.

Here is a link to the remainder of the press conference. It is all in Spanish and way too long to translate for our readers (and too large to upload to Word Press). However, if you watch it, even with basic or no Spanish skills, you will see:

  • How thrilled he is to be the King of Joy
  • How important his children (hijas) are to him and how he does want them attacked or mistreated due to his role as punching bag for the press
  • How the press tries to trap him with long-winded questions filled with accusations

See you at Carnaval!

 

If You’re Ever in Cartagena…

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Last night Greg and I were very excited about dinner. He’s traveling with me in Colombia, where I am on business. We’ve made a side trip to Cartagena, and he took the time to research the best restaurants and pick  out one that he was confident we would love—Carmen’s, in the gorgeous Hotel Ananda. Click on any photo to see it larger and view the full description, or to view a slideshow.

The meal so did not disappoint! We paid for a 7-course tasting menu with wine (about US$80 per person now with the low valuation of the Colombian peso), and received TEN courses and SEVEN wines.

The restaurant is based in Medellín and owned by Diego Angel, a former video game entrepreneur. Executive Chefs and proprietors Carmen Angel and Rob Pevitts are graduates of the Cordon Bleu San Francisco. The chef here in Cartagena, Jaime Galindo, is an incredible talent! He does not have a culinary arts degree but, rather, has learned on-the-job and through sheer raw talent or the don de cocinar. Having worked with chefs with degrees from the top cooking schools in the world, Greg was very impressed by the passion and talent that Jaime demonstrated.

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Chef Jaime Galindo – Job well done!

His brother Yonatan is the sous-chef. Not one course was less than spectacular, and we only felt one wine pairing was less than ideal: the rosé with the crab. The wine was just so acidic and overwhelmed the flavor of the food.

Kudos, Jaime and staff!!! The kitchen is small, and open to the diners. Everyone working there was nose down and focused on making every plate perfect. The restaurant serves not only the tasting menu that we had but a full a la carte menu and creative cocktails as well. In addition, front-of-the-house service was impeccable thanks to our terrific waiter, Juan Carlos, who took special care to ensure his Spanish-language explanations of the food and wine made sense to Greg and me.

MZT: Center of Run for Fun

In the many years we’ve loved Mazatlán, a whole lot has changed. In the six years that we have lived here full time, one hugely noticeable difference is the focus on sports. It perhaps started with the Triathlon del Pacífico, now a hugely successful annual event.

We live on the malecón, right in front of the baseball stadium, and every weekend it seems there is at least one sporting event: a marathon, fun run, swim, bike, or mini-triathlon. Yesterday there was a big run in the Bosque/City Park. All weekend is the 4-wheeler/off-road race, Ruta PataSalada. This morning is another run in the Bosque, and, wonderfully for us, a 2 km obstacle course race on the beach in front of our house.

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Participants, as you can see in the slideshow above, had to crawl, military style, under yellow tape. In another challenge they had to climb over huge sandbags and a pile of tires. The greatest part, however, was the finish. A fun-loving group of school kids dressed as Lucha Libre wrestlers jumped on and attempted to tackle the competitors as each of them reached the finish line. Can you imagine running in the sand, navigating obstacles and when the finish line is finally in sight, a line of would be luchadores is waiting for you?  It was a total hoot as you can see in the video below:

Mexico surpassed the USA in 2013 to become the country with the highest rate of obesity in the world—33% of Mexicans are overweight. Mexico still ranks second behind the US in rates of diabetes—one in six people here have the disease, and 70,000 Mexicans a year die from it. This change in the culture of our city, to get people out and moving, and most importantly, enjoying themselves while doing it, is an enormously welcome culture change!

One frustration is that it is often hard to get good facts about events like today’s. They are advertised on the radio, in some of the fitness centers around town and sometimes mentioned in the paper. Luckily, we have two very good sources here in Mazatlan. The Mazatlan Running Group page on Facebook is a great source of information on various runs in the area. There is also an awesome blog called Carreras atléticas en Mazatlán. I do not know the writer of this blog, Xavier Padilla, but he takes a lot of time to find all of the information about running events as it becomes available here in Mazatlan. Gracias Xavier.

Greg sat out today as he is training for the 5 and 10K next weekend at the army base. We have always wanted to go to the base as it has truly unique views of Mazatlan. Greg practices running hills each week, so whatever the Mexican army has in store for him should not be too much of an issue. There is also another larger obstacle type race on April 12, the beginning of Semana Santa. This race will be in the Golden Zone at or near the paintball facility. It’s called La Carrera de la Bestia or The Run of the Beast. You can read about it on the blog in the paragraph above, but here is a picture of the course—get your reading glasses ready:

This the course for the Run of the Beast on April 12, 2014

This the course for the Run of the Beast on April 12, 2014

As you can see, it has  a pool of mud, a labyrinth, walls, a pool of ice and many more challenges. If we were not leaving town, Greg would be in this for sure. Hopefully some of you will sign up and report back—guest blog posts are welcome.

Stretch before and after, hydrate and train—see you outside!

Town Hall Meeting for US Americans in MZT

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Yesterday, Friday January 24th, was our annual USA citizens’ town hall meeting at the Hotel Playa at 11 am. Several people have asked us for a report. Please allow us to summarize here on the site what we heard yesterday. Feel free to add in what we’ve missed, or to correct something you may have heard differently!

John, our wonderful consular officer, was here from Hermosillo, accompanied by Rob, the security officer, and Ian, also from their office, who’s been filling in a bit for Luís Ramirez while he’s out of town. Heather and Lety, our local consular office staff members, received a big round of applause, as did Luís in absentia. Adriana from our local office of Migración gave a short presentation, interpreted by Isa Medina. No one from Aduana/Customs attended. Iván Pico from the Mayor’s office was present, but was not asked to speak.

The meeting last about 90 minutes, and was well attended, though there were fewer people than in prior years (maybe 150 people?). John gave an overall report and then asked for questions, as did Ian and Rob. Last up was Adriana.

The meeting is primarily a chance for our consular staff to meet with and hear from US residents and visitors. This year not a lot of new information was shared, since there seems to have been pretty good communication throughout the year. Some interesting highlights included that:

  1. John asked for a show of hands for how many present had lived in Mazatlán less than five years, more than five, more than ten, etc. Most present have lived here over five years. The person present who has resided here the longest was Khacho, of JungleJuice fame, who said she’s lived in Mazatlán for 39 years. Only two or three hands were raised by people who had lived here fewer than five years. Interesting. Not sure if newer immigrants just didn’t attend the meeting or hadn’t heard about it.
  2. Rob and John both congratulated our governor for all the hard work he’s done to stem violence in our state as well as to change perceptions of violence here. Everyone agreed all is much calmer than it was for a while. In response to a request that the officials present do all in their power to stem the tide of sensationalistic State Department reports, Rob explained about the “double standard” law on the books in the US. It states that if any officer of the US government cautions any employee about safety protocol, that same message must be shared with all US citizens. Rob said that while the intent of the law is good, that’s why we get so many warnings that may seem silly or overly cautionary. Interesting to know; puts things in context a bit.
  3. Adriana from Mexican Immigration read the definitions and prices for the top three visa categories, with Isa interpreting. There were two main lines of questions for Adriana.
    1. The first was about how to renew visas. Such information is publicly available, and Adriana patiently attempted to answer audience members’ questions. It was obvious that too many rumors are going around about changes in visa status, that those in the room who have renewed visas are comfortable with the new process, and that accurate information on this topic is available online as well as in the Immigration office, so expatriates are encouraged to go to the source rather than believing or passing on hearsay. Towards the end of that discussion, 15 minutes were spent on personal inquiries, which John ably redirected to private discussions upon conclusion of the larger group meeting.
    2. The second line of questions for Adriana was around car importation, which of course is a matter for Customs and not for Immigration, and thus outside her area of expertise. She did clarify that local Aduana can not register cars that are supposed to leave the country and reenter; the local Customs office doesn’t have the necessary software nor authorization. Such can only be done by Customs at the border. O’Neal asked for an update on Luis’ efforts to get a representative of Aduana from the border down here, explaining that we have many retirees in Sinaloa and Nayarit who are no longer able to make the long trek of driving their cars to the border to re-register them, and others whose cars are so old that they are not mechanically fit enough to make it to the border for re-registration. John and Ian promised they would ask Luís about it. Several of those in attendance assured the audience that importing an auto is not really that difficult; most of the paperwork can be done through email prior to heading north. There are customs agents who are professional and speak English. One of our readers, Kitty Krohne, tells us, “We imported two vehicles. It was very straightforward….actually it was easier then getting the plaques here. If I can help or share more info with anyone I will certainly be happy to do so. You are welcome to pm me.”
    3. Quite a bit of discussion was had around the need for residents to check in and out when they leave the country. While the process at the airport is streamlined, land crossing is met with much confusion on the part of the foreign community. It was clarified that if leaving on Highway 15, one should check out and in at the 21KM checkpoint, even if they have no automobile-related business to tend to. It was pointed out that an official request to the Mexican government has been made to install signage for northbound travelers, and to improve traffic safety at this point. Adriana pointed out that there will be circumstances where checking in or out is not possible, with the example being any foreigner who travels overnight on a bus. The response to this was the familiar, ni modo.
  4. An inquiry was made about U.S. Notary services while Luís is out of town. It was pointed out by John that the Hermosillo office was sending officers down as needed to deal with this and other necessary work. If U.S. Notary service is necessary, one should check with Heather or Lety to see when such service will be available.
  5. A brief discussion around mordidas, or bribes to police officers, included a show of hands of who has been “shaken down” and who has not. Fortunately, very few have ever encountered issues. Those that do are asked to do their best to get the patrol car number, note the day and time, and report all to Iván Pico at the Mayor’s office.

Not so much to report. It was good to see everyone. I believe you all join me in gratitude that John and his staff hold these annual Town Hall meetings for us. Also many thanks to Lance at the Hotel Playa for donating use of a large salón for this purpose.

On a personal note, let’s all remember that we are guests in Mexico. Mexico is a sovereign nation free to change laws that affect us without consulting us or the U.S. Government. While we can ask our government representatives to explain what they believe is going on and ask them to inform their Mexican counterparts of our concerns, Mexico is under no obligation to heed such input. Mexicans are the first to admit that some of their laws and procedures are outdated, inefficient and nonsensical. Such is true in most countries. But we are obligated to follow those laws and we have no right or expectation that our government can change things. Expecting otherwise will most likely only get one frustrated.

Copala: One of Our Favorite Day Trips

1.IMG_2414Copala (San José de Copala) is a picturesque little town southeast of Mazatlán, just past Concordia. The smallness of this village, the charm of its winding, hillside cobblestone streets, and the friendliness of its people, make it one of our favorites.

Populated by indigenous people and then “founded” by Francisco de Ibarra, veins of silver were discovered nearby Copala in 1565 and the town grew to serve the mines. It was destroyed during an uprising by the Tepehuan Indians in 1616; its church was built much later, in 1748.

You can tell by the beauty of its church and central plaza how wealthy Copala became, but it has definitely fallen on tough times now. The incredibly lovely church has plants growing from its steeple and facade, and is in desperate need of restoration—though this mix of opulence and ruin does create a thoughtful charm.

Coming into town you drive past a small cemetery. Once you are in town, children will likely approach you with hand-carved wooden replicas of the home of Copala, quite nice souvenirs. There are several restaurants in which to eat here. Years ago we always ate at Daniel’s, but that is closed since his death. Chalva’s famous banana coconut cream pie (or a replica of it) is still served in several local places. The last time we went to Copala, we ate at a new restaurant—Alejandro’s—just down the hill from the plaza. The view was outstanding, and the cook (owner’s wife) even more so.  For such a small town, it is surprising that Copala also has several places to spend the night.

There are souvenir shops and a mining museum that, despite appearances, we are assured still opens regularly. It was not open the last time we visited Copala. While there isn’t a whole lot to see here, we highly encourage a leisurely visit. It’s a very welcome respite in a busy life: a beautiful place to read a book, make some sketches, or just sit, visit, and relax a spell. Copala is also a very worthwhile stopover on the way to or from Durango.

Driving Directions:
Copala is just over one hour southeast of Mazatlán. Take highway 15 south pass the airport to Villa Unión (about 13 miles from Mazatlán). Turn east on the free (libre) version of highway 40, towards Durango. After about 15 miles, you will pass through Concordia (read here about this wonderful furniture making town) and another 15 miles later you will see the exit for Copala.The exit is clearly marked, but easy to miss if you are speeding or distracted. As soon as you exit, you will be on a cobblestone road — one of the hallmarks of this magic town. The road splits quickly and you should go to the left. You will pass by a beautiful cemetery and wind your way into town. Just stay on this main road, and you will find yourself in the plaza in front of the old church. The drive is beautiful and easy, as you pass plantations of coconuts, mangoes and bananas. Just don’t get on the new highway.

For those traveling this way from Durango on the new highway, there is a cutoff to the old highway which lands you in Concordia. From there it is a simple 15 minute drive back northeast to Copala. It is a very convenient stopover and well worth a little extra time.