The Gringo Guide to Mexico

VOL 1 copy.R2.jpgBook Review: The Gringo Guide to Mexico, vol. II, by Murry E. Page
US$9.95 ebook, $17.95 paperback on Amazon as of  November 1, 2018
Link to volume 1

Many expats in Mazatlán are fans of Murry Page. I for one love his writing and used to regularly look forward to his blog posts. Murry would thoroughly research and write about a broad range of cultural and historical topics, from chile to Diego Rivera’s murals, tequila to organ grinders, and bullfighting to Carlos Slim. As he traveled through, lived in and learned more about Mexico, we were able to educate ourselves thanks to Murry and his noviaand collaborator, Linda Hull. I am eternally grateful to Murry and Linda because years ago they came to our house to interview and help our son when he was in the midst of a fundraising campaign to get himself to World Scout Jamboree in Sweden.

In November 2018 Murry plans to self publish two books, titled The Gringo Guide to Mexico: Its History, People and Culture. In them he assembles 56 editions of his Mazatlán Messenger column, The Page Turner, which he originally wrote over a five-year period. Murry has updated information where necessary to keep content current. He kindly shared with me a copy of volume 2 for review; it contains 160 pages and 28 chapters.

“… all of my writings have the purpose of providing foreign nationals living in México and those who hope to call México their home in the future, information that will make their life here more interesting and meaningful. It is hoped that those who read The Gringo Guide to México …will have a better understanding of the history, people, and culture of their new home.”
—page 4

If you were not able to read Murry’s work the first time around, and you are at all curious about this adopted country we call home, I highly recommend you get these books. And, if you did enjoy his columns the first time around, you may delight to read them all over again, remembering what you’d once read and since forgotten. While I learn something new every day, I am constantly saddened at the ignorance so many of us immigrants and seasonal visitors have about our host country. Are you aware of how Cinco de Mayo helped save the US from slavery? Why Pancho Villa is revered by some and hated by others, was first wanted by and later helped by the US government? And do you know the history of legal Mexican field labor up north, starting with the braceros?

It’s refreshing to read an engaging volume written by someone intelligent (retired lawyer), personable, and committed to the community—Murry dedicated 100% of the profits from his first book to Hospice Mazatlán and has served on the board of two local charitable organizations—on topics that pique our curiosity and are worthwhile knowing about in our daily lives. I love history, but I whither up in boredom reading a dry history book. These volumes are far from that—quick-reading and amusing, with personal reflections and anecdotes thrown in for good measure. I will admit to enjoying the columns more when they were spread out one every couple of weeks than in book form. As blog posts the facts and information were nice tapas, a fairly in-depth look at a topic that we could slowly savor. I would, therefore, recommend reading the book a chapter at a time, to more thoroughly relish the content. Discussing it with a partner or friends will let the facts settle in and stir further curiosity for learning.

Thank you, Murry, for being so generous with your passion for learning about Mexico, your time and your wonderful writing. Both books will be available in ebook (US$9.99 per volume) and paperback (US$17.95 per volume) on Amazon from November 1, 2018.

A Challenging Race is Coming to Mazatlán

Something Different for the Running Community

Extreme price and info

[UPDATED WITH IMPORTANT DATE CHANGE] As most of you know, I like to run – a lot. I enter most carreras here in Mazatlán with a personal limit of half-marathon (21 km or 13.1 miles). Most of the races close the Avenida Del Mar for a brief period and runners run on the pavement instead of the malecón, where most train. But, it’s still the same view, it’s still relatively flat and many consider it to be unchallenging. With a few minor exceptions, to join a race with hills and trails, you must leave the area of the malecón and often drive or bus a great distance. Next month, however, brings a unique opportunity starting right along the malecón.

If you’re still reading, I will assume you are interested in participating in something different – something beyond flat. A respected runner in Mazatlán, Prof. Sergio Javier Leyva Santos, has put together XtreMazatlán, to be held on Sunday, November 18th (Please ignore the dates on the graphics). This 12 km (about 7 ½ mile) run will have runners going over two hills (Ice Box Hill and Lookout Hill) as well as up and down the Faro. Some will find this too difficult to imagine, and for that there are options to sign up as a pair or as a relay team of five people. He has assembled many great sponsors including dportenis, Powerade, La Mazatleca restaurant, TVP, Eléctrica Valdéz and Turbulence Training. I was fortunate to attend the press conference last week and can tell you that enthusiasm for this race was over the top! Many of us run the Faro on a regular basis and have longed for a race that would include it. Our wishes have been answered. Oh, and the city has agreed to close the Faro to all other traffic during the race.

Extreme group foto

The race begins at the new Sister City Park where Zaragoza hits Paseo Clausen. From there, it is right down to business with a run up Ice Box Hill, down the stairs into Olas Altas, up Lookout Hill, down Paseo del Centenario, and up to the lighthouse. If you sign up as a running pair, you will end your half here and your partner will take over. Once down the lighthouse, it’s up the 175 stairs to the Restaurant La Marea (formerly El Mirador), around and up the backside of Lookout Hill, up Bateria and then back down to Olas Altas, up the stairs to Ice Box Hill and around and down to return to Sister City Park. There will be five water stations, most of which runners will pass twice. The relay points for the teams of five are shown on the map below.

Extreme 12k map

There will also be a 5K (3.1 miles) for runners, walkers and families in the general area of the park and Zaragoza. The 12 km begins at 6:30 am, the 5 km at 7:00 and kids’ runs beginning at 9:00. You can sign up at dportenis locations in the Gran Plaza, Plaza Sendero and in El Centro on Azueta. Cost is 300 pesos per person for the 12 km and 100 pesos for the 5 km. The first 100 people to sign up for the 12 km will receive a dry-fit shirt and a commemorative medal. The first 200 people to sign up for the 5 km will receive a commemorative medal.

Extreme 5k map only

The running community in Mazatlan is very welcoming, supportive and inclusive. Don’t be shy about signing up, and feel free to ask me if you have any questions. In the meantime, click any picture below to click through a slideshow and see all the pertinent details:

While I’m at it, there are a few other upcoming races you may want to know about:

Sunday October 21: Trail run in Cosalá. Choice of 10 km, 15 km or 30 km. Very challenging. Incredible views and lots of hills. This will require a hotel stay the night before. Be prepared to get wet, perhaps very wet, on the longer distances depending on creek levels. The photo below has all the details.

Cosala Trail Run

The same day as the Cosalá trail run there is a Píntate 5K sponsored by MazAtún. If you are not familiar with a píntate, as you walk or run, you will have exuberant youth throwing non-toxic, somewhat clothing friendly, colored powder on you. If you choose to pass through it, there is usually a spray station which will mist you up to enable the colors to stick better. Lots of fun. Price is 150 pesos, no time given, but it will be in the morning. With the malecón construction, I’m not sure of the route.

The most well-known annual event is the Gran Maratón Pacífico, this year celebrating 20 years of bigger and better races. The event is Saturday and Sunday, December 1&2. Saturday features a 5km and a 10km with Sunday featuring a half and a full marathon. Saturday night, traditionally, is the Festival of Lights with fireworks around the bay. Last year, this was postponed due to road and malecon construction. If you don’t participate by running, spend some time cheering on the runners and admiring their dedication. The Kenyans come to town along with a host of International and National runners so the competition is truly world-class.

maraton logo

 

A general tip if you are looking to find competitive running in Mazatlan is to look on Facebook (including joining the group: Mazatlan Running Group), listen to local radio and check the newspaper periodically.

I’ve started training for the hills? How about you?

The Spelling Bee Contest

img_7288So, Greg and I are swimming in work right now, but one of our “sons” from Scouts asked us to spend the morning at Colegio Valladolid judging a spelling bee.

Judge a spelling bee? Words are either spelled correctly or they’re not, no? What’s to judge? You give kids words, when they mis-spell they sit down, and you continue until one person remains standing. Right? We figured we’d show up, spend an hour or maybe an hour and a half, have some fun, and come home.

Well, just like book clubs here in Mazatlán are different than those I grew up with up north, evidently spelling bees are different, too. Here we were judging a school spelling bee “contest,” with three top winners to be selected for each grade level, pre-K through ninth grade. They had already held spelling bees in each classroom, so the top three students from every class participated in this school-wide contest. Words were printed on paper and put into a container, and each student fished out three small pieces of paper. Those papers were given to the judges, and we read each student three words.

Judging was HARD. Sometimes lots of kids spelled all three words correctly; sometimes almost no one spelled the words correctly; so how were we to choose? We were told that the students should repeat the word at the beginning, before they started spelling, and again at the end, once they finished spelling. They should spell the word correctly, pronounce it correctly, and have confidence. So, at least we had a few additional criteria.

The other problem for me was the kids are CUTE!!!! Way cute! How distracting is that, lol? We had five year olds through junior high school kids. Some were nervous, some were excited, some spelled fast, others spelled slow, some sounded out the words, some seemed to just throw letters out into space. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The whole gym was decorated for the spelling bee. Colorful drawings of bees were everywhere: on the walls, topping the pens, on the word container, on the stages. Teachers wore yellow polos with black pants, and most students wore yellow and black, also. Teachers also put “feelers” on their heads; it was all quite amusing. Lucky kids.

I was astounded at how good the five year olds were spelling words in a foreign language. I was also blown away at the older kids, who ably spelled difficult words that many native speaking adults spell incorrectly. I wondered at why there were so many girls in the contest at the younger grade levels, and proportionately more boys at the older grade levels. What changes and when? I felt bad for the kids who’d say “e” for “i,” because that’s how it’s pronounced in Spanish. And I really felt bad for the little girl who cried because she didn’t win first place; broke my heart!

Obviously the event went on a bit long with so many kids and 10 grade levels! We spent the entire morning at the school. And it was a lot of fun. We felt like “international celebrity judges.” The kids wanted to take pictures with us and their teachers. We were served a nice breakfast. We had several parents commend us for being fair and impartial. We enjoyed watching our “son” shine; I had no idea his English was so good! And we did him and his colleagues a favor; they were obviously happy not to have to judge the spelling bee themselves—it seems parents can be competitive!

Best Mexican Military Bands

_DSC9039On Friday afternoon Greg wanted to treat me to something special. That morning while running he’d seen that the huge flag was out at the Glorieta Sanchez Taboada, so he suggested we take a trip down there at sunset to photograph it.

Well, we all know that nothing in Mazatlán ever goes as planned and you need to be open to surprises. Surprised and delighted we were, as while we were setting up my tripod, a convoy of military vehicles arrived, hundreds of soldiers jumped out, and in addition to their rifles they were carrying… wait for it… musical instruments! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

It seems Mazatlán has been host to Mexico’s top military bands, who were competing to be the best in the country. The top three performed a concert on Friday evening in the oceanside plaza. Sadly, they decided to take the flag down just before sunset, so I didn’t get the photos that I had hoped to, but I got a whole lot of other pictures that I’d never imagined I might.

My final question for you: how many people does it take to retire/carry that huge flag that flies over the glorieta?

Love Fresh Produce?

Margaret Hefner

Mazatlán is blessed with a cornucopia of fresh locally grown vegetables and fruits, as well as those that arrive here from the interior of the country. Yet the large variety astounds those of us who haven’t grown up here; when we walk through the market or past a street vendor there is so much produce that is new and unfamiliar.

Now there is an interactive book—Frutas y Verduras: A Fresh Food Lover’s Guide to Mexico—that you can download to your phone, tablet or PC to help us learn the name of the item as well as hear an audio recording of its pronunciation in Spanish! You can click to get information on its nutritional composition, tips for storing it most effectively, and chef-created recipes for using that ingredient. What a godsend for anyone not familiar with indigenous Mexican produce!

FYVcover-portrait-Ibook

The “enhanced e-book” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a website in e-book format: clicking on a photo, icon or link opens up further information. I learned that you can make pastry dough from cassava (yuca), that taro (malanga) improves digestion and gives you energy, and got a great recipe for prickly pear (tuna) syrup. It can be downloaded to your device from Apple (iBooks) or Kobo; because Kindle doesn’t allow such functionality, the book is not available there.

The volume is authored by Margaret Hefner, a Canadian chef living in Mexico City. When I recently spoke with her about Frutas y Verduras, I imagined we’d be talking about the book and her passion for the food. She surprised me, however, by spending most of our interview talking about her passion for the indigenous growers of Mexico. She has been moved to action in an incredibly heartfelt way by the fact that these farmers are way too often the voiceless in Mexican society, despite the fact that they are the custodians of ancestral knowledge regarding their plants and the medicinal value they contain. She wanted to do something to show her respect and appreciation for the campesinos whose stewardship has made Mexico a world heritage cuisine.

VendorOcotlan

Photo from Margaret Hefner

Margaret, who was neither an author, publisher or programmer before this project, spent over two years researching, collaborating (with other chefs, UNAM professors, the Herdéz Museum) and experimenting to produce the content for the book. She travelled throughout the central portion of the country as well as to Yucatán, Oaxaca and Chiapas. While every region of Mexico is included in her book, her budget did not allow her to make it to the west coast. Margaret found Ricardo Muñoz Zurita’s “Larousse Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana” very helpful; she hired a nutritionist in Guatemala to calculate of the nutritional values for each entry. Finally, Margaret spent six months glued to her computer screen programming the book’s interactivity.

The result is an absolutely beautiful and highly practical volume that I am delighted to own. Her goal? That more of us will buy local, from the growers, supporting family farms. She told me she believes many people are uncomfortable speaking to a vendor sitting on the ground; they may feel it uncomfortable, too hierarchical. Yet buying ten pesos worth of produce from that woman could make the difference in whether her children have books or shoes.

Margaret first fell in love with Mexican produce when she worked as a personal chef for an expat family living in San Miguel de Allende. She was used to only having imported produce over the snowy Canadian winters; the year-round fresh food here “blew her mind.” She loved throwing cocktail parties in which every canapé used a different indigenous ingredient in a surprising way. Her book contains multiple photos, indigenous names, and helpful information on over 60 of the hundreds of indigenous fruits and vegetables that exist in Mexico.

During her time in SMA she learned that the ingredients she had grown to love were often associated with the poor; that they had long been out of style and have only regained popularity in the past five years or so thanks to a few celebrity chefs.

Frutas y Verduras has a Facebook page where Margaret encourages people to upload photos of the fruits and vegetables they find throughout Mexico, in order to keep building the information depository. In this way, she hopes also to include more of the indigenous produce of Sinaloa and other regions where she was unable to travel. Margaret is offering a 30% discount to our readers through the month of January 2018. Just go to Kobo, https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/frutas-y-verduras-1 and enter the code FYVmaz when you check out. You can also choose your own price here: http://fyvmexico.com/fyv-book-pwyw/