So Proud of Sinaloa!

TTingSinaloa is shaking things up and leading the way for Mexico, people!

Mexico’s National Tourism Fair—the Tianguis Turístico—is a business event. It was designed as such and since its inception has always been a closed event for the elite of the world’s tourism and hospitality industries. The fair’s days are filled with business meetings, conferences, networking and deal making. It is normally all about work, and not much play. Below is from the Tianguis website; excuse the strange English—national tourism could obviously benefit from some fluent English speakers!

Tianguis Turistico is the most important event of the tourism sector in Mexico, where entrepreneurs, hoteliers, travel agents, in-bound operators, tour operators, meeting planners and specialized media of the tourist industry from more than 80 countries in the world, gather to concrete business appointments with all the destinations of the country, being the most representative event for the commercialization of the Mexican tourist offer.

Leave it to my beloved Sinaloa to change all that! April 15-18, 2018, when Mazatlán hosts the event, the Tianguis will still include loads of private business meetings, but it will also include two of the things that Sinaloa is most famous for — COMMUNITY and FUN! Our Sinaloa, making things better than ever!

We’ve all moaned about the construction city-wide that has preceded the Tourism Fair—its been year of noise, dust and inconvenience—and we’re all excited about the fact that our hometown will be showcased as the tourist gem that it is. Now that the event is close, however, I’ve heard quite a few people complain that the Tianguis events are private and not open to the public, after all the suffering we’ve been through.

While business access to the event starts at $200USD if you pay before April , this year there will be some very cool events that are indeed open to the public. Our Governor, Secretary of Tourism and Director of Cultura say they wanted to be more inclusive of the local community.

So, what events can we all get into without a ticket or invitation? They are in bold type in the chronological list of events, below.

Saturday April 14th at 8 pm near the Fisherman’s Monument everyone is invited to a free concert by “Credence Clearwater Revisited.” Don’t expect John Fogerty, but CCR members Doug Clifford on drums and Stu Cook on bass will be there, along with another expected 30,000 people.

Opening night on Sunday April 15th at 6 pm—invitation only—includes a spectacle that will rock the Angela Peralta Theater, including a brief 10-15 minute Cirque du Soleil show and remarks from the President of the Republic, Enrique Peña Nieto.

After the event’s opening 1200 invitation-only “Captains of Industry” will dine al fresco along Paseo de Olas Altas beginning at 8 pm. They will be served dinner from seven different kitchens located between the Escudo and the Deer Monument. Security will be tight, as Mexico’s President EPN will be there. This is the night when there will be a VERY abbreviated 15-float Carnaval parade as well as a VERY short Combate Naval. The latter, I have been told, will last only 10-15 minutes, also. Sunday evening will include entertainment that will begin with opera from around the world, continue with Mexican music, and end with banda and other Sinaloa music. Performances will include:

  • Alexandr Borodín’s “Polovtsian Dances” from the opera, Prince Igor; “Woman is Fickle” from Giuseppe Verde’s opera, Rigoletto; “Love is a Rebellious Bird” or “Habanera” and also “Toreador” from Georges Bizet’s opera, Carmen; “Oh My Dear Daddy” from the opera, Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini.
  • Songs of Pedro Infante, Lola Beltrán, Juan Gabriel and José Alfredo Jiménez as well as mariachi music.

I am so very pleased to know that our local artistic and performance talent will be front and center, including the orchestra, the camerata, Delfos, the adult and youth choruses, and a banda created just for this event, called Puro Sinaloa! 2018 is also the first Tianguis in history that will showcase the culture and talent of the hosting city and state.

The Tianguis will be based at the Mazatlán Convention Center. I was out there two days ago, and they have built a two-story building in the back yard to house the multitude of meeting rooms that will be required for this huge event. I’m also very pleased to report that photos from my “Yo Soy Fuereña, Nací de Aquí Muy Lejos” exhibit, in Galería Peralta now through 14 April, will be reprinted and mounted at the entrance to the Convention Center, to welcome Tianguis visitors to Mazatlán.

Monday through Wednesday are mostly business meetings, but at 1 pm Monday afternoon Steve Wozniak will speak. Monday evening at 7 pm in Centro Histórico the states of Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Guanajuato and Aguascalientes will put on an artisan fair and festival that will be open to the public. Simultaneously there will be an invitation-only reception in the Plazuela Machado. But, the fact that it’s invitation-only doesn’t mean the public can’t enjoy the events from and on the outside of the perimeter!

Tuesday at 8 pm my favorite hometown band, La Falsa Orquesta Cubana, will play dance music in the Plazuela Machado, and public opportunities to enjoy the event will finish up on Wednesday evening from 8 – 10 pm with the music of Suncaí Gitano,  a presentation of the Circo Machado, and the voice of Heidi Herrera.

I know I’m still surrounded by construction on all four sides, with noise and dust 24/7; a short respite will be more than welcome. Enjoy!

Parque Central / Central Park Update

4d55d780179b1adbc4563c98da8f4dc1I announced the new Central Park to you back in 2014, to be built on the site of the current Bosque de la Ciudad in front of the baseball stadium. Plans, naturally, have changed significantly since then, as you can see on its new website. The developers are excellent marketers, the designs are very modern and world-class, and I know this will be a huge boon to tourism and hopefully to schoolchildren and the general community in Mazatlán.

Construction of the Avenida de la Bahía and the park thus far have been a total destruction of the environment, preceded by the burning of the laguna which murdered thousands of turtles, nesting birds, iguanas and badgers, then by filling in nearly two-thirds of it. The one saving grace is that the new avenue will provide much-needed parking for those nearly 1000 spaces lost when they remodeled the malecón, and it will provide access during the sporting events (marathon, triathlon, etc.) that so often close the Avenida del Mar.

We have reported on concrete mixers and painters cleaning out their trucks into the estuary with zero regard for the environment. Our video on that was shared tens of thousands of times, to no avail. The road is nearly done now, and the estuary is nearly completely filled in with reclaimed land. The builders have a lovely video on their site where they show a biologist relocating some of the animals from the current Bosque de la Ciudad to make room for construction.

It looks like the plan is to completely scrape out the existing lagoon and build small islands that will be accessible by paddle boat to visitors. Our current park is a habitat to so many large migrant birds; I do pray they will continue to visit the new man-made, modern lagoon.

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The new park does look lovely if you don’t think about the flooding that it is most likely to cause. I hope it will be accompanied by civic education around litter and the environment as they’ve said, because otherwise those small islands in the pond are going to become trash heaps. Good news is that designs include water circulation to keep things fresh, and hopefully lots of trash cans and cleaning staff.

I love that the new 5 million liter aquarium, which looks like it will completely replace the old one, will have an exhibit dedicated to Jacques Cousteau, champion of the Sea of Cortés, though no doubt he is turning in his grave to know the environmental destruction leading up to its construction. Greg is excited for the Food Truck Park and the promise it brings.

 

I am excited about the museum as well, designed to look like an oyster, since we are the “Pearl of the Pacific.” It is supposed to contain an IMAX theater and the second floor will have a killer view of the ocean, supposedly, though I think we have so many towers on the malecón that that could be challenging. Best part? The map seems to show it occupying the corner of Insurgentes and Avenida del Mar, where Geronimo’s has stood vacant for how many years. Will be great to get rid of that eyesore!

Plans still include two walkways from the park out to the malecón, which would be hugely welcome to all those who enjoy sports and the outdoors. I’m confident the park will be a huge boon to the city, as long as we can keep it clean and maintained. I remain saddened that “development” has to mean “destruction of nature.”

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!

Summary of Today’s “Big Dig” Meeting

The body language says it all… Lic. Ochoa on the left, Architect García on the right.

UPDATE Monday 22 May:

The meeting on Friday did take place, and began at noon as originally scheduled. No plan was presented, however. Isaac Aranguré summarized the meeting on his Facebook page:

“Buenas tardes. Proyecto Centro Histórico.

Al final si tuvimos reunión con las autoridades.
No se presentó el plan.
No nos dieron fechas especificas ni etapas.

Lo que se puede rescatar:
Si existe un proyecto.
Si hay investigación e inclusión en el proyecto.
La rectificación por parte de las autoridades para SI tener la reunión.
La creación de comités vecinales para colaborar gobierno y ciudadanía.

Invitación personal:
Tenemos que sumar esfuerzos para que el proyecto salga adelante porque nos conviene a todos, pero no descansemos en garantizar que se mantengan las condiciones básicas de vida necesarias para residentes y comercios. Además será bien importante acercarse a las instancias correspondientes para resolver puntos en lo particular.

Punto extra:
Buscaremos hacer la solicitud a la instancia respectiva del proyecto integral, para poder socializarlo.

Un abrazo.”

Citizens of the affected area have organized themselves, with a leader appointed for each street/block. They have a WhatsApp group and a Facebook page, and have already met several times to come to agreement on priorities. Let us hope officials will listen to and honor the voice of the people who live downtown. Today there were at least two different streets reported as flooded, and very few workers showed up for work. Some said it was because they had not been paid last week, but I am unable to confirm this through official channels.

 

UPDATE 11:30 am on Friday 19 May:

Unbelievable as it seems, after CANCELLING the meeting scheduled for today at 11pm last night, today, one hour before, they reinstate it! See below. Meeting to take place in Casa Haas at 12:30 with state officials.

Centro Historico Mazatlan Aviso: En vista a todo lo que ha sucedido con respecto a la reunión programada en Casa Haas para el día de hoy, les comento que nos acaban de informar que para las personas que acudan, se contará con la presencia de los representantes del H. Ayuntamiento de Mazatlán que están involucrados en el proyecto para darles una explicación de todos los cambios que se están tratando de hacer en los planes de trabajo, así mismo se contará con la presencia del Subsecretario de Obras Públicas Estatal para que responda a todas sus inquietudes. Sólo les informo que esta reunión dará inicio a las 12:30 pm.

 

UPDATE Thursday night at 11 pm:
NOTICE!!! Tomorrow’s citizen meeting has been CANCELLED! See message below. How very disappointing. Let us hope they really go house by house as they say to deal with citizen and business issues directly.

Centro Historico Mazatlan
Aviso Importante! Les informo que la reunión de mañana viernes 19 de mayo en Casa Haas se cancela, el motivo por el cual no se llevará a cabo es que a partir de una junta q tuvieron las personas involucradas del H. Ayuntamiento de Mazatlan y los contratistas decidieron cambiar su plan de trabajo y llevar a cabo un acercamiento directo con la gente. Por lo q el día de mañana a partir de las 9 am harán un recorrido calle por calle para explicar el proyecto, conocer sus necesidades, dar una respuesta a los acuerdos q se tomaron en la reunión del miércoles y hacer compromisos de manera directa con todos los vecinos para poder trabajar de una mejor manera.

Favor de compartir el mensaje

Original Article from Wednesday 17 May:
Today at noon in Casa Haas was the first (!) citizen meeting regarding “The Big Dig”—as I call it—in “Centro Histérico” downtown. The city calls it a magna obra or “mega project.” The meeting was attended by city officials involved in the project, representatives of the 18 contractors, and about 140 concerned residents and business owners. Mayor Pucheta was conspicuously absent; Lic. Juan Manuel Ochoa led from the city side. Click any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The latest round of “city beautification” in preparation for the Tianguis Turístico 2018—the national tourism convention—has affected at least eleven different streets downtown (though it’s scheduled to affect 25), rendering residents unable to get to their homes, disabled people confined to their homes, and many businesses losing 70% or more of their incomes. Don’t even ask about parking; for the past two weeks we take public transportation to get downtown because there is little if any parking to be had. Mazatlán’s Centro Histórico already had a dearth of parking, but now the city has removed at least 200 street parking spaces and has blocked access to several public parking garages, rendering them useless during construction.

“It’s easier to apologize than it is to ask permission” is a maxim. I’ve been told that in Mexico if officials announce their projects, citizens object and protest, often causing delays in the project and loss of federal or state funds. Well, this time, “The Big Dig” comes on the heels of an earlier nine-month-long dig, that one to remedy drainage issues (which didn’t work), and several other digs before that. Citizen confidence is low, and tempers are flaring.

The meeting got off to a positive start, with the citizen organizers reading a message to the officials and contractors present. The organizers (including Laura Medina and the “señoras of Calle Libertad”) had wisely gathered questions from the local community and presented them to the city ahead of time. The agenda was that there would be the opening statement by the citizen representatives, we would hear the city officials’ answers to the community’s questions, and then there would be discussion.

The citizen representatives’ opening message explained that the community very much supports the idea of city improvements and beautification, but that we are concerned about an apparent lack of coordination: so many streets closed at the same time, no alternative routing, public and emergency services unable to access various locations, and no instructions for residents on where to park their cars. The message explained that Centro Histórico residents are suffering the effects of previous poor public works projects, with uneven paving, frequent flooding and poor drainage, and that many businesses and homes have had their electric, gas or water cut during this latest project. They pleaded that health issues are a concern: dust affects residents’ lungs and irritates the skin, and there has been far too much sewage backing up onto city streets. The message as read concluded by saying, “We need to understand what’s happening in order to support the project. Please respect us by giving us answers rather than just asking us to cooperate (aguantar/put up with).”

Lic. Ochoa introduced city architect Joel García. Mr. García got off to an unfortunate start when he stated that city streets, in cooperation with the state, had been “torn up starting two weeks ago.” Everyone present knows we’ve been living in chaos for over six weeks, since March; Mr. García’s comments were greeted with the meeting’s first round of booing and shouting, losing grip on the positive start to the meeting.

Arq. García told us that 14 more streets will be torn up before the project is complete, according to the Executive Plan, which garnered a second round of booing and shouting and the meeting’s first of dozens of pleas to “trust us.” García’s schedule of when streets have been/will be torn up was met with jeers by many residents attending, who said it was “alternate reality.” Photos of Arq. García’s Powerpoint slides are below.

A resident asked where she could park, since her street is torn up and she has street parking. Arq. García told her that Public Security would help her find a place. Another resident said, “Contractors have come from Escuinapa, Rosario… everyone has known about this project except those of us who live here. Why weren’t we informed?” A gentleman then asked what kind of compensation businesses could expect for loss of income; Lic. Ochoa assured him there would be incentives.

Several times the citizen organizers attempted to quiet the crowd, explaining that if we all spoke out of order, we wouldn’t get a chance to hear what the city had to say. For a while Lic. Ochoa encouraged people to vent, and said the city would respond once everyone had spoken. After an hour or so of that, it became obvious that the original agenda would be a better way forward, and Arq. García retook the floor. A gentleman from Atención a la Ciudadanía/Citizen Relations got up to speak, but had trouble holding the floor due to the shouting and jeering.

The most common phrase of the day was “trust us,” followed by “you can’t blame us for the prior administration’s shoddy work.” We were assured that there is a committee of architects supervising the project and ensuring that all work is performed in good order before contractors are paid. We were told contractors have deadlines, and their pay is linked to keeping those; which of course raised concerns about quality and coordination, since all streets seem to be torn up at once.

Some of the key things we learned, and some of the agreements made, include:

  1. There will be a second meeting on Friday May 19 at noon in Casa Haas. At that time the city will present the Executive Plan to us. NOTE: As of Thursday May 18 at 10pm the city cancelled this meeting! They say they will go house to house to be in direct contact instead. See notice at top of this post.
  2. Each contractor is obligated to stay on the street on which it is working; they are not to block cross streets unless they are actively working on the intersection. If such happens, we should report the incident to the police.
  3. García presented a plan of “alternative routes,” and said these are the routes that will be used by public service and emergency vehicles. Sadly, according to the residents present, many of the routes don’t work because though the immediate road may be open, the road it feeds into is closed. García said they will work with Tránsito to change the direction of traffic on several streets to ensure that alternative routing actually flows.
  4. García showed us a map of three parking lots that residents can use free of charge for the duration of the project. He said these lots will be open 24 hours a day through the completion of the project, and that a police officer will always be present. He told us stickers would be handed out at Friday’s meeting enabling residents to use the parking.
  5. García fortunately told us that three new vertical (multi-level) parking structures are planned as part of this project, each accommodating about 60-80 cars. While in my humble opinion these should have been built first, prior to tearing up the roads and removing the existing parking, the plan is to build them only after road construction is complete. By that time the price of land for building parking structures will be much higher, of course. There was no mention of location for the vertical parking structures, nor whether they would be architecturally consistent with the look of Centro Histórico.
  6. García said there will be compensation (incentivos) for Centro Histórico business owners. Lic. Ochoa said he would put a committee of residents together to figure out specifics.
  7. There was talk of doubling up on the shifts so that the work can be done sooner, prior to rainy season setting in. My concern on that is noise for residents.

Residents remained outraged throughout the meeting. Complaints I was able to note included:

  • Alternate routes such as Aquiles Serdán have so much traffic now, and are so congested with buses, that using it is not viable, according to some.
  • Residents should have been included in the planning process, not at this late date, shouted others.
  • Many said it was obvious the city had no plan for residents and businesses during the project, and that it’s only just now beginning to think about it, thanks to citizen demands.
  • Privately, several Centro Histórico business owners told me they are afraid to complain to the city, despite the huge hardships, due to possible reprisals (inspectors, licensing, etc).
  • Wheelchair access is impossible now, as there are no sidewalks.
  • The elderly have trouble walking so far to get to their houses, and are in danger of assault, particularly at night.
  • Historic homes in the area, made of cantera and also adobe, are suffering from the vibration of repeated redoing of the streets. We are ruining the very heritage we are seeking to show tourists, explained two residents.
  • Buses are running on alternate routes, and people don’t know which bus heads where.
  • Gardens and greenery are great, but they need to be maintained or they become garbage cans.

Let us hope that the chaos we are suffering is worth it in the end. Functioning drainage, potable water, and well-groomed streets in Centro Histórico would be completely wonderful. I personally think more pedestrian areas will add to the area—as long as there is sufficient parking for residents and the public, and access for the handicapped and elderly. It is a shame to me that there needs to be citizen outrage in order for the municipal government to share its plans and take resident concerns into account, but, let us hope these meetings result in positive steps forward.