New Skate Park

We are soooo happy about the new skate park that was built late last year right on the beach in Playa Norte, accessible from the malecón. Built with federal funds and after lots of campaigning by the city’s young people, it is a MUCH-needed space for teenagers to gather, stay out of harm’s way, and get some exercise.

Every morning when we take our walk, we’re amazed that there are kids out there fooling around so early. They’re on BMX bikes, inline skates, as well as skate boards. They have their music blasting, and it’s terrific to see all those smiling faces and physically active kids!

We’ve been a bit worried that construction didn’t seem to include reinforcement of the underlying structure, which to us seems really weathered and rusted, but so far the structure seems stable and the park itself, with its ramps and jumps, seems highly successful.

The first major event we know about occurred when we were out of town: Urban Fest on December 17, with break dancers and graffiti artists as well as skateboarders. We heard the turnout was great; a wonderful kickoff to the new space!

One day last week when Danny was running he met a lady who told him that she and her three children had lived for 32 years in the abandoned beachfront building that is now under the new skate park! That space is open to the elements, frequently floods with the tide coming in, and as far as we know there is no running water or sewer nearby, so it must have been quite a tough life for her raising three children there. She makes her living by selling fresh coconuts, and fortunately she told Danny that her business is on the uptake now with the skate park there. The other good news is that, when the government kicked her out in order to build the skate park, they gave her land and a two-room house. Now she has much better living conditions as well as a better income. Sometimes things work out.

Anyway, this last week Friday we were eating at Puerto Azul on the malecón. We were psyched because in addition to the incredibly beautiful view and perfectly sunny day, there was great music coming from the skate park next door. A huge crowd gathered, and it felt like the vibra of the old, pre-economic crash Mazatlán that we miss so much! Luckily for us, that afternoon was the “Reyes de la Calle” skateboard tournament. We enjoyed an incredible show of skateboard and in-line skate tricks, as well as BMX bike acrobatics and spray paint artistry, while we ate our shrimp and fish. Mazatlecos placed first and third in the competition, and there were about 100 kids who participated.

Below are two videos, made by young Mazatlecos, about the skate park. Enjoy! ¡Viva el Skate Park Mazatlán!

Changes in Latitudes, Shifts in Geographies

 

Travel to Tucson, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and tell me this: does it feel like you are in the USA? Or, does it feel like México? Spanish language signage and Spanish spoken everywhere, taco stands, Latino cinema and art, mecánicos, banda music…

Now tell me this: travel to Baja, to Rocky Point, Los Cabos, San Carlos. Does it feel like you are in México? Or does it feel like the USA? English language signage and English spoken everywhere, hamburgers, private gated communities with big homes and big yards (yes, yards!).

There is a MAJOR population shift and geographic exchange of cultures going on in North America, people! Stand up and take notice! NAFTA may not have worked in many of the ways originally dreamed about, but PEOPLE are blurring the borders of today’s nation states, helping create our blended world.

 

Dar Plaza/"Gifting" Your Job Upon Retirement

As most of you know, I endeavor to be respectful of other cultures. There are certain things, however, that for me are wrong regardless of how acceptable they may be in a given culture: genital mutilation, slavery, and corruption, to name a few.

Which leads me to an interesting cross-cultural situation I’ve been living recently. Two of my Mazatlecan girlfriends, while both still in their forties, are retiring very soon. I am sooo happy for them! They have both worked 20+ years in their careers and are fully vested in their pensions. They are both slated to receive a monthly stipend as well as ongoing, lifelong medical care. Hooray for their good fortune. And, interesting to me, both of them have “plazas” (“places,” “seats,” “positions,” or “jobs”) to give.

What does that mean, you might ask? Or, you may understand this practice better than me, in which case please help me learn! What I have learned from my girlfriends is that they each are able to give their plaza, or their “job,” to someone else.

My first example seems fairly straightforward. One of my girlfriends is fairly high-ranking in her government office. She is retiring, and she has a son who is about 20 and a bit lost. He’s dropped out of school a couple of times, he’s gotten in with the wrong crowd of friends, he has no idea what he wants to do with his life, though he is generally a good kid. She of course wants to help him in any way she can to make a success of his life. She has a plaza or job to give (sort of passing on her job to someone else when she retires), and she is giving that plaza to her son, who is now studying to receive his Bachelor’s degree (university). He will not literally step into her high-ranking position, but he will take an entry-level position in the office in which my friend worked, with a career path that will be similar to hers. Small business owners may dream of passing on their enterprises to their kids, but it’s nice to be able to gift your job to your child upon your retirement, don’t you think?

My other girlfriend is a public school teacher. None of her children want her plaza; they have other career aspirations. She has a neighbor whose mother died a couple of years ago from cancer. This young woman studied to be a teacher, but did really poorly on the qualifying tests. So, there’s pretty much no way that the young woman is going to be hired to teach, from what my friend tells me. Just as my girlfriend was ready for her last week of work, the young woman’s father approached my friend to ask if she’d please give his daughter her plaza. She agreed.

What this means is that, instead of retiring as planned, my friend is going to work 3-4 more months in order to have time to do all the necessary paperwork, so that she can give this young neighbor her plaza. Technically this is not “legal,” as I am told plazas should go to blood relatives only. But it is apparently very common practice. Many people, I’m told, even sell their plazas to the highest bidder.

I’m sorry. While I think it’s fantastic that my friend’s son can get a secure and well-paying government job, and I’m happy a young woman who’s lost her mother will be able to realize her dream of teaching, this plaza practice seems wrong to me. It seems a holdover from an earlier time. It doesn’t reward those who have studied and perform well. I do hope these two young people will thrive in their new roles and prove me wrong, prove that they were, after all, the best people for the positions.

In the meantime, I try to be as supportive a friend as I can be to my girlfriends. They have done their duty, and deserve to celebrate the completion of their careers. They have been told since early in their careers that gifting a plaza to one of their children would be a benefit of their jobs. They are players in a system that is larger than they are, a system I can hope will change to one more merit-based. We live in a world in which more people are educated and competent than in years past, when the system was perhaps first implemented.

High Tides/High Sands

 

The last 2-3 weeks have seen tides higher than we’ve seen in a long time here. Often this time of year the waves splash up over the seawall near Valentino’s, sometimes even onto Avenida del Mar. But this year, the waves have even been splashing onto the Avenida in Olas Altas.

Last Thursday we were taking our morning walk and we had to turn back because we were getting sand blasted. We’ve noticed the last week or so that there are 2-3 inches of sand all along the malecón in various places, as well as onto the street.

The surfers are of course happy with these waves, as are the body boarders. Though the waves are too high for some. The fishermen have not generally been pleased. The waves have overturned quite a few of the pangas, and the port as well as the beaches have been closed a few times due to the high seas. The fishermen have had to put their pangas up on the malecón several times for safe keeping. Shrimp season this year is predicted to be fantastic, thanks to all the high seas plus the rain.

Today we bicycled down to the Pedro Infante statue. We were, gratefully, splashed by waves a few times as we rode. What was most remarkable, however, is that the beach is AT LEAST ONE METER HIGHER than it normally is! There are places where you can now almost walk from the malecón onto the beach. There are numerous palapas into which the waves are now entering freely. The few palapas that have laid concrete flooring, that are normally a foot or two above sea level, they now have sand for flooring. La Corriente and other palapas near the Hotel De Cima have had to bring in bulldozers to dig their spaces and furniture out from under the sand.

In the photo at left, note that the round table is normally about one meter ABOVE the sand. The lower part of this palapa, normally, is well above head height. Not this week!

In this next photo, please note that the sign normally has a pole that keeps it a couple of feet/half meter or so ABOVE the sand.

And all this, with no hurricane, and with no real horrific storm. It’s eerie.

In addition to all the high seas, of course, we have had heavy rains. It is rainy season. Saturday a week ago we received in one day one-third of the rain we normally get in one year! Nine inches poured down in seven hours. Thousands if not tens of thousands of homes have been flooded repeatedly, and most of those families have lost all their furniture. It rained high in the Sierras as well, and as the rivers brought all that rain down to the sea, the rivers carried in them tree trunks, dead cows and pigs, silt, sediment, and trash of every sort. The tides were just right that the rivers washed it all out to sea, and then the waves came in and washed it all up to the beach. Everyone has spent the last two weeks cleaning up wood and other items from the beaches. It’s been a remarkable, community-wide effort.

 

Talk with State Secretary of Tourism, 18 Feb 2011

Since I do not run a business here in Mazatlán, I don’t get out and around to many business or chamber-type meetings. Yet, I am a business person, and this is my community. So occasionally, when I do get a chance to attend such a meeting, I tend to get really jazzed. Such was the case last November with the Sergio Fajardo event that I blogged about, and such was the case last Friday when I had breakfast with Oralia Rice Rodríguez, our Sinaloa State Secretary of Tourism, along with about 65 local business leaders.

It is wonderful to get a glimpse into how business and politics are conducted here. I learn a lot about conversational and discussion styles, meet some cool local movers and shakers, and improve my Spanish. And, at least this week, I got a heads-up on some major news prior to it being released publicly (at least, I hadn’t yet heard about it!). Thank you to all who attended and were gracious enough to help me feel welcome!

Please know that any errors in my reporting below are due to inadequate notes or my lack of comprehension. I continue learning about my new home and its people. I post to this blog with the intent to share information in English, not as an expert, but as a resident. I welcome your (helpful  :)) corrections.

So, what happened that was of interest? The big stuff has since the meeting been reported in the press:

  1. Our beloved Las Labradas archeological zone (petroglyphs) will be named a UNESCO World Heritage site. WONDERFUL to hear about that in a venue such as this! I was amazed there was not an outpouring of enthusiasm when Secretary Rice said it; perhaps the others present already knew? The official naming will take place next November.
  2. They are trying to organize a major concert to commemorate the above event, and have invited Andrea Bocelli. This, again, was terrific news, and came out in response to a comment from one of the participants, who suggested that Mazatlán should start hosting world-class, big-name stars on a more regular basis, to resurrect our “golden age.”

In addition to the big news, a couple of trivia pieces that I found of interest: Sec. Rice told us that “Escuinapa” means “Queen of Love” in the Chametla language, and “Teacapán” means “Where love grows.” I did not know Chametla was a language. I googled both of these, but I couldn’t find the details; eager to hear my readers’ insights!

Humberto Rice kicked off the morning by introducing his sister, and then Oralia talked for 15 minutes or so. She seemed to know the majority of the people in the room, and appeared to be very comfortable speaking informally and conversationally to us. She told us:

  • Despite the travails our port and state have been through the past couple of years, hotel room occupancy is actually up about 4%.
  • Mazatlán is in sixth place in Mexico as a tourist destination.
  • The story about the cruise ship tourist who reported her purse stolen, and the homeless man who returned it to the port when he found it sitting beside a bench in the plaza (ALL its contents including ID papers, credit cards and cash intact). We do have terrific people who live in this town! (She did not mention the collection our local foreign residents took up to help and thank the homeless man.)
  • This administration wants a very inclusive and open government; that the shield of Sinaloa belongs “to everyone.”
  • When Malova called her and asked her to be Secretary of Tourism, she asked him why. He told her, “because I want to make Sinaloa the best place in which to live.”
  • She has an open office and any of us are welcome to come to visit her without an appointment. Very surprising to me, she even gave out her cell phone number!
  • At some length about the damage that has been done to our local economy by the US travel warning issued last year that includes Sinaloa and Mazatlán. She said Governor Malova has met with the US State Department, and many state officials have had meetings at the US Embassy in Mexico City, to push for the repeal of this bulletin.
  • She would like to hear how we would like Sinaloa to be six years from now, when the governor finishes his term. That they would like the public and private sectors to work together, to be congruent. That they have or can find the resources, but what they desire are proposals from the local community about how to develop our city going forward.
  • That we have a whole lot of room for development, saying there are 44,000 hotel rooms in Cancún and only 10,000 in Mazatlán, and that she’d be meeting that afternoon at 4:00 to discuss the strategic plan.
  • About the big project in the Historic Center, a pedestrian street along Constitución leading from the cruise ship dock to the Plazuela Machado, into which 6 million pesos will be invested this year.
  • She shared a vision for Mazatlán: To make our Pearl of the Pacific the number one destination for beach and culture in Mexico. I heard several people in the audience murmur that it already is.
  • She encouraged investment into textile plants, including tablecloths and uniforms. Maybe my Spanish comprehension fell apart here, but I wasn’t quite sure how this point fit into the overall theme.
  • The affluence of Sinaloa had risen 8.8% over prior year, despite the economic crisis, and that the numbers of tourists in various categories (cruise ship, national, international) were up 20-30%. This data sure hit me by surprise; I will say that living here, I do not feel an increase in tourism or affluence around me.
  • That TV Azteca would be broadcasting the Carnavál de Mazatlán events live, and that some local hotels are already reporting 100% booking for that period.
  • She shared another vision for Mazatlán: To make our city the “Barcelona of Mexico” and the Angela Peralta “La Scala of Mexico.”
  • Though there was a lot of talk about cruise ships, she also twice to my memory mentioned the importance (very happily to me) of ecologically sound development, and mentioned the upcoming (April 7-10) Congreso de Turismo de Naturaleza (Sustainable Nature Tourism Symposium).
After Secretary Rice finished speaking, the floor was opened to proposals and recommendations, with a format in which three people would each speak, Secretary Rice would respond, and then there would be another two rounds of three in the same manner. We ran out of time before getting to round 3, so only six proposals were offered. They were:
  1. Every tourist destination seems to have a lifecycle. We in Mazatlán do not want to be like Acapulco. We had a golden age, when the world’s best entertainers came here on vacation (rather than Hawaii, Cancun or Arruba). We need to do a big event, invite someone like Placido Domingo, to put us back on the world stage. We should also do surveys of the tourists in the airport.
  2. We need to clean our city: the roads from the airport into town, the malecón, which in the morning smells like a bathroom. This will benefit everyone, visitors and residents. Let’s not take the tourists around the dirty parts, avoiding them; let’s clean them up.
  3. Leticia Alvarado from Recrea read a proposal that was by far my sentimental favorite. She said that tourists come back to visit places where they meet people and can share emotional connections with them. She said we need to work to integrate locals and visitors, by filling our parks, our plazas and our public spaces with life, by cleaning them up, making them beautiful, and holding regular public events (VERY congruent with what Sergio Fajardo told us). She told us about a program in Culiacán where they have walking tours of the city at night, designed to increase safety/decrease fear. She said we need to make people proud to play futbol at the fields in Urías.
  4. There was a question about what COPARMEX can do to support tourist development. Apparently there has been talk for quite some time about making a Tourism Commission within the group, and that will finally be happening soon.
  5. Munir Aún said that we should not limit our dreams, that we should aim high. He suggested we move parallel with FONATUR’s plan for a Teacapan-Stone Island-Mazatlán corridor. It is obviously of utmost importance for Mazatlán to be an integral part of that corridor.
  6. The final question was asked by a developer who said that cruise ship passengers are in town for only a few hours, but part-time residents, whether national or international, spend on average 15 thousand pesos per month that they are in town, and most of them come on average for four months. He encouraged the Secretary to be sure to include this type of tourist in her planning.
Secretary Rice concluded the approximately two-hour meeting by asking those business leaders in the room, “Are we ready for the highway from Durango to open?” She talked about what an incredible opportunity the highway will open for Mazatlán, how much work it’s been. If people come and are disappointed, they won’t come back. We need to be ready, to capitalize on the opportunity. She talked about a “pueblo digno,” a proud city of Mazatlecans who love our heritage and our port. She reminded us that as seafarers and mariners we know how to survive a storm. And, again, she urged everyone to submit their ideas and proposals to the Secretary of Tourism; if they don’t have the resources, they will work with the other departments to get them.

In conclusion, I was left with several things in my mind. So hear goes my personal opinion:
  1. Couldn’t we put together an online “sign this petition,” asking for people’s support to have Mazatlán removed from the US State Department’s travel advisory? I receive several such online petitions every week; they can’t be that hard to do, right? And it couldn’t hurt?
  2. I realize the cruise ships are big money. They are said to build tourism because cruise ship visitors come back for longer stays later. And, we all know how ecologically unsound these ships are. I also very much worry about the impact they have on a local community. During certain hours of the day certain places are crowded and overloaded, while others remain empty. It’s a dynamic that does not seem to me either sustainable or sound for a community. But, yes, the money and exposure are good; many local families survive on that business. So, I would LOVE to see that the Secretary of Tourism keeps the cruise ship business in perspective. I invite her to look at the two vision statements she shared with us on Friday: Mazatlán as THE beach AND culture destination of Mexico, the Barcelona of our country, with El Teatro Angela Peralta being La Scala of the new world. We can all support these visions. Overly focusing on cruise ship tourism could very easily sidetrack us away from that vision, rather than helping to fund and maintain it.
  3. Mazatlán and its environs are absolutely gorgeous. Yet, when I look at photos from decades ago, I realize how much of that beauty we have lost. The gorgeous estuaries along the coast that we used to have! The mangrove forests! The clear blue skies! Any sustainable tourism development plan, it seems to me, MUST include a plan for preserving our natural environment. Ecologically sound development must guide us. The scrubbers on the power plants will be a good start, but we need to convert our buses for clean-air energy. Neither tourists nor locals want to wake up to black clouds of inverted air pollution! There are grants available internationally for this sort of thing. Let’s go, Mazatlán! We can clean and beautify our environment while we create a better style of life for our people! Cleaner air (and water) means healthier people and fewer medical bills.
  4. I’d like to echo what Leticia Alvarado Fuentes said. By bringing life to our public spaces, and encouraging year-round cultural activities, we will overcome violence, build community, and attract tourism. Year-round cultural activities, for everyone. Let us not get stuck in an us vs them, tourist vs local, mindset of hosting cultural activities in the tourist season with nothing for the locals the rest of the year. Mazatlán has an incredibly rich cultural life, and showing it off all year long can do nothing but extend our tourist season!