Focus on Responsible Tourism

Three cruise lines, new air connections, 12,000 rooms in 180 hotels… We greet hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors each year in Mazatlán. Any chance I’ve gotten over the past eight years I’ve tried to encourage travelers to get beyond the stereotypical but wonderful beer and beaches to experience a bit of the “real Mexico,” be it a visit to a small town, witnessing the shrimp or mango harvest, or admiring the Mayo-Yoreme traditions.

Recently, however, I’ve been working with a colleague in Milan, Maura di Mauro, on a project, and she cautioned me about how the culture of Mursi villagers in Ethiopia was changing due to tourism. Thanks to an influx of camera-toting tourists willing to pay for photos, the villagers increasingly exaggerate their traditional practices and even falsely embellish them, to make them more attractive to visitors. Lord knows I’ve witnessed this sort of thing happening in and around Mazatlán. She also told me about Chinese tourists descending en masse on a small village in The Netherlands. Many of the Dutch residents welcome the added economic boost such international tourism provides, but they have also experienced downsides to such tourism and, again, changes to their culture. We in Mazatlán sure experience the ups and the downs of tourism, and know how important it is to our economy.

Maura said there were documentaries about both of these topics, made by the same Dutch cinematographer. She got me excited and I can not WAIT to view the two films!

The first documentary Maura told me about is called Framing the Other” by Ilja Kok and Willem Timmers  (25 min, English and Mursi with English subtitles).

The Mursi tribe lives in the basin of the Omo River in the south of the east African state of Ethiopia. The women are known for placing large plates in their lower lips and wearing enormous, richly decorated earrings. Every year hundreds of Western tourists come to see the unusually adorned natives; posing for camera-toting visitors has become the main source of income for the Mursi. To make more money, they embellish their “costumes” and finery in such a manner that less of their original authentic culture remains. The film contrasts the views of Mursi women and those of Dutch tourists preparing for a meeting. This humorous and at the same time chilling film shows the destructive impact tourism has on traditional communities. A preview is below:

 

The second film is called Ni Hao Holland: The Chinese are coming” by Willem Timmers (25 min, Mandarin and Dutch with English subtitles).

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It is a documentary about Chinese tourists and their quest for the authentic Dutch experience. Cherry, the main character, has long dreamt of swapping her home city Beijing for the Dutch village Giethoorn. She has heard and read a lot about this mythical place. The day arrives that she and her friend hop on the plane in search of adventure. In the meantime, entrepreneurs from Giethoorn work hard behind the scenes to cater to this “Holland experience.” They want to make the most of the fast-growing flow of Chinese tourists to their village. How is this authenticity created by some and experienced by others? A preview follows:

 

While I’ve yet to watch either of these movies, it sure sounds like there’s a lot to think about for tourism in Mazatlán and Sinaloa. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Cool New Architecture in MZT

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I love architecture. No matter where I travel in the world, I find myself fascinated with spaces that are unique, both beautiful and functional. Thus I was very pleased when our Montessori school here in Mazatlán opened its gorgeous new facilities. I have always been delighted that we have a Montessori option here in town, a powerful educational alternative for our youngest students, but the work of art that is their new facility makes it even better. María Montessori considered people works of art, so it’s only fitting that a building in which to educate people would be one, too.

Mazatlán’s own Erick Pérez Páez of EPA Arquitectos (who also designed the new Carpa Olivera ocean pool) designed the complex in conjunction with Estudio Macías Paredo (Salvador Macías Corona and Magui Peredo Arenas) out of Guadalajara, and it was built by EPA in conjunction with H Arquitectos from here in town. The design is highly innovative, based on Montessori’s “constructive triangles,” the fact that the triangle is such a naturally fundamental shape—all plane geometric figures can be made with triangles. Montessori herself said education is based on a triangle: environment, love and the child. Thus, the architecture of this academy perfectly fits as a home for its occupants. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The two-story buildings are positioned to maximize the free circulation of air and the entry of natural light. Despite the heat and humidity when I visited, no air conditioners were running and a cool breeze could be felt throughout the facilities. We not only experience a hot and humid climate part of the year, but our ocean-front location wreaks havoc on buildings and equipment. This facility has been designed using materials to minimize the corrosion and the wear and tear inherent in the salinity of our location. I also delighted in the cool interplay of light and shadow; every angle seems to invite our gaze to a fascinating view or perspective, the result of so many triangular shapes and angles in the design.

Founded in 1993, Paulina Carrillo Collard and Rene de la Rocha have been running this SEP-certified Colegio Montessori Mazatlán since March 2014. When they took over the school it had 115 students from nine months to six years old; it now has 160 students up to nine years old. When the new facility opened last year it had nine students in primary school; this year it has 23, and next year 48 are enrolled. Paulina and Rene seem to have truly revitalized the school; a second multi-age classroom is being finished on the second floor now, in preparation for the new term beginning in August. Currently, preschool students still attend classes at Sierra Rumorosa 567 in Lomas, while grades 1-3 attend classes at this new facility at 6208 Paseo del Atlántico, just behind the Bancomer, next to the new Walmart in the Marina. Telephone 669 122 10 99.

Paulina and Rene would like to see the academy grow to include upper grades as well, but that will require more investment. Right now there are four hexagonal modules (1100 m2) on the site, out of a total nineteen (4000 m2) that are planned to be built. Below is an origami replica of the full design (above a timeline of María Montessori’s life), as well as architect’s renderings.

The modules are built around a central courtyard that provides open space in which the children can commune with nature, another fundamental Montessori concept. They have quite the garden growing, and actively compost. A nutritionist lays out a yearly menu that involves no packaged food—better for the environment and for the health of everyone involved.

In touring the facility I was pleased to see the use of the smooth, colorful wooden objects that I associate with a Montessori education. There were plenty of mats for floor work, tactile objects to teach about nature, and musical instruments—another cornerstone of the Montessori approach. Students learn English, and I was told they welcome any volunteers from our expat/snowbird community who would be interested in helping out. I was also really pleased to see the chore list above the sink, as Montessori children are taught responsibility for their own environments, both indoor and outdoor. I loved how my son learned to put away his toys and keep his room in order at his Montessori preschool in Colorado, a concept he sadly seemed to forget once we moved to Mexico and got a cleaning lady.

If you haven’t noticed this unique architectural village tucked in just behind the bank and the recording studio, you really ought to give it a look. Kudos to all involved and thank you for adding to the educational offerings and the beauty that is Mazatlan!

 

Gay Pride Mazatlán 2017

DSC_0280Our 9th annual gay pride parade started at 5:30 pm Saturday afternoon, June 3rd, from in front of Valentino’s heading south down Avenida del Mar to the Glorieta Sanchez Taboada (cliff divers). It was better attended than ever. What a joy to see so many participants and the large number of spectators cheering them on and supporting authenticity! Witnessing our beautiful malecón lined with lesbian and gay lovers was rather nice, too. A society that embraces difference and has a place for everyone just as they are is a society where justice can reign and violence becomes unnecessary. Such is the hope for Mazatlán on a day of such sadness in London.

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LGBTQ Pride Mazatlán 2017

I absolutely loved the messages printed on front of each float, reminding us why celebrations such as this are so healthy not only for the LGBTQ community but society as a whole. Who can criticize the parade’s lead slogan, “With respect and love, less discrimination”? Key messages included:

  • Honesty: Know who you are and express what you feel.
  • Liberty: Sexual liberty without stigmas or discrimination.
  • Respect: We live together in diversity.

Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Riders on the float included performers at the various gay nightclubs in town as well as the winners of charity and other beauty contests. My girl Thalia Fedorova was there with her entourage of drag queens. A man in a thong wore a full Aztec feathered headdress and a glittery big-horned-sheep-type mask. I loved the angel hottie.

CULTURA supports the celebration and thus the parade included floats from Carnavál 2017. There were no live bands but lots of upbeat dance music, and one group of young dancers in a comparsa. Candy, condoms and pens were thrown, and gay pride flags were circulated. Confetti was shot through the air and floated along the avenue.

People of all ages attended and participated. Some wore t-shirts supporting the cause—there were various types. Most waved flags and pet dogs and pigs got in on the act; there was even a costumed roller blader. Eye candy for every sexual orientation was on full display. Frank (Juan Francisco Diaz) from The Voice Mexico was there, as was a vendor selling flags.

A young migrant who just arrived Saturday via La Bestia from Honduras made the mistake of telling me he was Christian and didn’t approve of this sort of thing. After quoting him a few of Jesus’ words, and explaining to him that, as a migrant/undocumented worker, if he wanted acceptance, respect and inclusion, how could he deny it to others, he changed his tune long enough for us to give him a few hundred pesos to help him on his journey.

I’ve been blessed to have been able to attend quite a few Pride parades in my day, but Mazatlán is definitely the prettiest location of any of them. Thank goodness this parade grows in size and joy every year, and that participants hold strong to constructive messages that benefit our whole community. Lead on, friends!

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Classical Guitar Concert Tonight!

Do you love classical guitar? I know I do. I also love supporting young people with a vision and a passion for our city.

A group of young Mazatlecan men including Jorge Birrueta, son of Turismo Mazatlán’s Julio, has organized a non-profit “Sociedad de la Guitarra Mazatlán,” the Mazatlán Guitar Society. Their goal is to promote classical guitar-playing here in town by holding as many concerts as they are able to.

A concert will be held TONIGHT in María del Mar Church, on the corner of Carnavál and Gemelas in Playa Sur, at 7pm. Carlos Viramontes from Torreón will play selections from Napoleón Coste, Joaquín Rodrigo, Francisco Tárrega, Leo Brouwer, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Sergio Assad.

A donation of $80 pesos or US$4 is requested at the door. For more information call mobile number 55 4194 9431.

Chocolate Making Demo

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Young shoppers at the Organic Market sample the truffles

Our blessed Saturday Organic Farmer’s Market in Plaza Zaragoza frequently hosts cooking demonstrations, and today’s was about chocolate—Oaxacan organic chocolate, to be precise. I had gotten up before dawn to go bird-watching in Estero del Yugo, but just before 9:00am I dashed south to be able to view the demonstration.

José Itzil López, sous-chef at Raggio Cucina Casual in the Golden Zone, showed us how to effectively melt chocolate, then turn it out to quickly cool—giving it shine and flavor, and then mold it. He also showed us how to add a liquid such as coffee to make truffles. Then came the best part—the sampling. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We were shown cocoa “nibs”—what’s left when the outer shell of the cocoa bean is removed after roasting and the inner cocoa bean meat is broken into small pieces. The nibs are then ground into “cocoa liquor”—unsweetened chocolate or cocoa mass. The grinding process generates heat, liquefying the high amount of fat contained in the nib and converting it from its dry, granular consistency into a creamy, gooey mess.

Different percentages of cocoa butter are removed or added to the chocolate liquor. Cocoa butter carries the flavor of the chocolate and produces a cooling effect on your tongue that you might notice when eating dark chocolate.

Itzil melted chocolate over a propane-heated double boiler, to show us how it’s done. Key, as I’ve learned the hard way, is not to burn the chocolate. If you burn it, the chocolate changes color and becomes hard and dry. Itzil told me you always want to see steam coming off the chocolate, always use a double boiler, and never stop stirring. He recommends a candy thermometer as well. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can tell the chocolate is sufficiently melted and the molecules fused if it runs from your spatula in a consistent stream (no breaks in the line) and if it swirls/twirls as it runs off the spatula—see photos below. His chocolate most definitely did both. And it smelled heavenly!

Conching develops the flavor of the chocolate liquor, releasing some of the inherent bitterness and giving the resulting chocolate its smooth, melt-in-your-mouth quality. Itzil told us the key to conching is “shocking” the chocolate by rapidly changing its temperature; thus, he spread the melted chocolate out on a cold stone slab. There he used paddles to knead and mix the chocolate, cooling it down and allowing the granules to fuse together, producing a richer flavor. It has cooled sufficiently when you can comfortably touch the chocolate to your lower lip or inside wrist, must as you would test the heat of milk before giving it to a baby.

He molded some of this mix into bars, which got the children attending (ok, the adults, too) very excited. It’s important when molding your chocolate to hit the mold against the counter often enough that you destroy any air bubbles in the chocolate. The air bubbles cause the chocolate to break more easily. Once the molds were filled, he put them on ice so the chocolate would harden.

To the other half of the paddled chocolate he added some hot coffee, and used a whisk to beat it vigorously. He explained that this is how we flavor chocolates for making truffles. Once it cools, you can form it into balls and roll it in the toppings of your choice, or insert a filling. This is the point at which the sampling commenced, and those truffles disappeared awfully quickly! He had truffles flavored with kahlua and mint, and rolled in coconut, nuts and cocoa powder. It was delicious!

Together with his friend from Monterrey, Armando Villarreal, Itzil has started a new enterprise called “Kimoots.” They tell me they don’t yet have a store, but individuals or restaurants can order chocolate from Chiapas or Oaxaca, chocolate bars (plain, with nuts or fruit), truffles (various flavors), organic cocoa butter, and vegan chocolate from chocolate@kimoots.com or tel. 811-530-5011. You can also obtain this delicious chocolate at Raggio’s Italian Restaurant, or at the Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning during the winter, 8am-noon.