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!

Viajando Por La Libre

DSC_0037©Take a moment to think back on a time you jumped into the unknown with little more than trust? Maybe it was when you decided to move to Mexico. Remember the exhilaration? The joy and excitement? The blessings that flow from such a leap of faith?

Today we found kindred spirits in two twenty-somethings from Tijuana who are living life to the fullest in just this manner They are Sergio Vazquez and Iuvet Sanchez, who quit their jobs, sold their homes, cars, business and clothing, and set off with their two dogs, Ponyo and Ginger, on an open-ended journey through Latin America. These two adventurers prepared for their journey for two years, purchasing and renovating a VW bus (“combi” in Spanish) and starting a fan page on Facebook—Viajando por la Libre—so they might meet people along the way and make some new friends. That fan page currently has 13,000 followers, many of whom are eager to host the couple when they arrive in their city. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The two were married in Mulege, Baja California Sur, eight months ago. They began their honeymoon trip two months ago, traveling from Tijuana through Sonora and along the US border to Chihuahua and the Sierra Tarahumara: Casas Grandes (Pakimé in Rarámuri), Cuauhtémoc, and Valle de Jimenez. They went through Coahuila to Torreón, and then entered the state of Durango, where they visited the pueblo mágico of Mapimí. I’ve got to visit Mapimí; it sounds gorgeous, and their saint’s day is my birthday! Sergio and Iuvet also loved the nearby ghost town of Ojuela. In fact, they told me that the German engineer who designed the suspension bridge near there—Wilhelm Hildenbrand—also designed the Brooklyn Bridge.

They have obviously learned and seen a lot already, and their trip is just beginning! Their favorite stop thus far has been Durango, where they ended up staying for eight days because they had such a good time. There they were treated like a king and queen, VIPs in every respect: welcomed with a community dinner of discada, entertained in huge and simple homes, given a house in which to reside during their stay, taken out to dinners, tour-guided around, welcomed as friends. Vocho or VW clubs along the way have been unbelievably hospitable to them. Their bus has broken down three times, and each time the people repairing the bus refused to accept payment. Sergio and Iuvet are discovering how good and generous people are, happy to help young people get out and see the world.

Iuvet is a nutritionist who had her own office, and Sergio is an electro-mechanical engineer who worked for a maquiladora in the medical industry. They had good jobs, made good money, owned homes and cars. Neither of them were born to wealthy families; they are representatives of Mexico’s new and growing middle class. Though successful, they could both feel themselves part of the “rat race,” doing repetitive, mundane things in order to buy a better car, a bigger house and nicer things. Iuvet looked around at her female doctor friends, most of whom were very successful at work but not so successful in their personal lives, and she didn’t want that for herself. They were both convinced that life had a lot more to offer.

Sergio told me he has followed the journeys of other travelers for many years: Chilenos, Argentinos, a Frenchman. Most of them traveled in VW buses, and so that has always fascinated him; travelers in combis are “a brotherhood,” he says. The couple took a year-long class on Buddhist spirituality and psychology that they say changed them both as individuals and as a couple, and gave them the confidence to set off on their journey. Both of them see the trip as a chance to let go of ego, which according to Sergio can “grow and grow but never explodes.” They originally dreamed of traveling all of Mexico, but that quickly expanded to include all of Latin America.

Before they started their journey, there was an aunt of Sergio’s who was aghast that they would try to travel in a VW bus. “You’ll never make it up the Sierras,” she chided. Sergio’s eyes fill with delight when he tells me they climbed to 2500 meters and took a photo to prove it to her. While largely a positive trip, the couple has had a couple of scares, one of them with a drunk guy who was convinced they had stolen his van. Fortunately all ended well; they found a safe place to spend the night and left the town at earliest light of morning. They’ve also had a few naysayers on their page, people who scold them for being irresponsible and foolhardy. But, as Iuvet says, “if we don’t take the chance, we then let fear rule our lives instead of love and a sense of adventure, and I much prefer the latter.” We trust their good luck continues.

Iuvet tells me that the trip so far has been nothing like she imagined. In her mind’s eye she saw herself sleeping in the combi, cooking in the combi, bathing in cold water… In reality, during their two months of travel they have only spent a few nights sleeping in their bus, and have cooked only a handful of meals, thanks to the incredible hospitality of the people they have met. Iuvet imagined an austere lifestyle but, in fact, she has gained weight thanks to the incredible generosity of so many new friends along the way. They are fortunate, because looking inside the bus, it is a very simple lifestyle indeed!

Here in Mazatlán the couple are staying with Iuvet’s cousin, who works at Sea Shell City. They have been loving our beaches and seafood. This afternoon her uncle is barbecuing them some pescado zarandeado; they have plans to kayak to Deer Island, and to chill out on Stone Island. They met with the Mazatlán VW Club a couple of days ago.

The couple do not make plans, and are taking each day as it comes. They’re not sure how long they’ll be in Mazatlán, but want to get out of here before the craziness of Semana Santa and MotoWeek. They do intend to head to Tepic, San Blas and Vallarta from here, and visit her family in Guadalajara. They want to go to Aguas Calientes, San Luis Potosí and the Huasteca, and the Bahía: Querétaro, Guanajuato, and Puebla and Chiapas, before hitting Guatemala. They are not on a schedule, but are open to advice from people along the way on places they should go, things they should do, and people they should meet. They have a fan in Guatemala that corresponds with them nearly every day, asking when they’ll arrive. Their intention is to wind through Latin America until they reach Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego—the southernmost tip, though already Iuvet mentions the possibility of continuing on to another continent.

Sergio’s parents have been very supportive and encouraging, urging them to travel while they are young and able. Iuvet says her father “almost had a heart attack” when she told him she was giving up her successful medical practice to travel. Now he is respectful of her decision, though he can’t quite understand it.

When I asked what they’d like me to be sure to say in this article, they replied, “Get out and travel! It opens you to new worlds! Don’t put limits on yourself, such as you don’t have enough money. If you want to do it, you can!”

Sergio and Iuvet have been selling t-shirts, cups and stickers to help pay for gas and fund their journey. However, those items have pretty much sold out, and they only sell them live and in person. Greg and I told them about our local t-shirt maker, but something tells me they’re not interested in doing that right now with the ocean calling. So far they are not set up to receive donations, but they may eventually try to get some sponsors for their journey. Sergio loves to write and take photos, and would very much enjoy publishing an electronic book of their adventures. Iuvet enjoys making videos, and has started a YouTube channel.

Readers, I trust you will be able to meet Iuvet and Sergio while they are here. They are upbeat, enjoyable people whose excitement for life is contagious.

Best of luck to both of you, Iuvet and Sergio! We will most definitely be following your journey as well as your advice, and sending very positive travel energies!

 

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.

Carpa Olivera Ocean-fed Pool Positions Mazatlán Among World’s Elite

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Carpa Olivera Pool, Mazatlán, México • May 1, 2015

The renovation to Mazatlán’s historic Carpa Olivera—the ocean-fed public swimming pool in Olas Altas—positions the destination among a very elite group of cities worldwide with scenic ocean-fed swimming pools. Most such pools are steeped in history, as is ours, built in 1914 by Chilean chef Antonio Olivera. The Bondi Baths in Australia, for example, have been around for over 100 years. Still only $6.50/person or $18/family to enter, Bondi hosts swim clubs, oceanside yoga, a gym and restaurant. Its facilities are also a gorgeous location for weddings and events. From where I sit, Bondi looks better than Carpa Olivera. But, Australia is quite a ways away!

Bondi Beach, Australia

Bondi Beach, Australia

Ocean water pools are quite popular down under. In addition to the Bondi Baths, Sydney has quite a few ocean water swimming pools, and Balmain harbor is home to Australia’s oldest tidal-fed swimming pool, the Dawn Fraser Baths, built in the 1880s. Dawn Fraser offers a snack shop and hot showers. I’m confident Carpa Olivera’s showers won’t have hot water. But, then, we don’t really need it, either—especially not in the summer.

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Dawn Fraser Baths, Australia

It’s said that New South Wales has over 100 ocean-fed pools. A humpback whale was even found dead in one of the pools in Sydney; see the video below. Outside of Australia, however, ocean water pools are few and far between. That’s what makes Carpa Olivera so unique—a touristic feature we should tout loudly! The Carpa Olivera restoration, in my opinion, puts Mazatlán ahead of leading tourist destinations such as San Francisco—where I’ve long wondered why someone doesn’t restore the historic Sutro baths, and Honolulu—where the Waikiki Natatorium remains a ruin. Especially a shame, since the natatorium was built as a war memorial in 1927! Click on a photo below to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

England has a long tradition of sea-fed swimming pools; my guess is they probably gave the idea to the Aussies who then ran, er, swam with it. The community-supported Shoalstone Pool near Devon, England, built in 1896, remains a gorgeous place—and entry is free! Just like Carpa Olivera, its water is refreshed every time there’s a high tide. There’s also the Sea Pool at Bude, built under the cliffs on the north Cornwall coast in the 1930s.

The tidal pool outside the fortress city of Saint-Malo, France, is home to the largest tides in Europe—26 feet between high and low tides! At high tide, only the dive platform of the pool is visible, but at low tide, the entire swimming pool emerges. It was built in 1937, and is covered with algae much like Carpa Olivera was before the new remodel.

They say that Chef Olivera got the idea for building Carpa Olivera here in Mazatlán after seeing similar pools in Portugal. Perhaps he had visited the natural lava pools in the Azores, on Bizcoitos, Terceira Island? Or maybe he fell in love with Doca do Cavacas in Madeira?

Capetown, South Africa, also has an ocean water pool with a killer view, though the water is pumped in rather than tidal fed. It’s called Sea Point Swimming Pool., and they bill it as “the most breathtaking public swimming pool in the world.” I beg to differ, as I much prefer Mazatlán’s Carpa Olivera view and more natural, rustic nature.

My favorite seawater pool is perhaps the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavík, with its thermal waters and killer views. It is, however, more of a spa than a swimming pool, and costs minimum 35 Euros to get in. Of course, you can pay extra to get a massage, facial, sauna, etc.

Copenhagen has the Kastrup Sea Bath,  which looks more like diving boards and interesting architecture in the ocean, rather than a swimming pool.

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Kastrup Pool, Copenhagen

Canada has a couple of ocean water swimming pools, including Kitsilano Pool in Vancouver and another in New Brunswick’s Fundy National Park. Both are filled with ocean water, but rather than being fed naturally by the tide, the water is pumped in.

Coral Gables, Florida has the very cool public pool, the Venetian, built in a coral rock quarry. It’s been around since 1923, but it is filled from an aquifer rather than from the ocean.

Venetian Pool in Coral Gables

Venetian Pool in Coral Gables

Have you visited a cool ocean-fed pool? Share with us your favorite!

How did I end up researching ocean-fed pools this May Day? Well, back in December we told you about several exciting, high-profile development plans for Mazatlán. We’ve recently heard from several sources that the renovation of the historic (built in 1916) balneario/ocean water swimming pool in Olas Altas—called Carpa Olivera—is scheduled to open in May. That is in plenty of time for the summer enjoyment of local and national tourist families! Ahead of schedule, really. Could it be true?

Having photographed Carpa Olivera just four short months ago when it was completely torn apart (see photos below), and knowing how many projects in town are so often chronically behind schedule and over budget (are we EVER going to see a new shark tank?), I wondered whether such good news could really be factual. The construction is hidden behind large tarps/lonas, and we don’t often walk along that portion of the malecón, so we didn’t know.

Today after we hiked the lighthouse we decided to check out progress, and the workers kindly gave us a tour. Progress is incredible! And, I’m very pleased to report that reality closely parallels, for a change, architectural renderings!

The view from the top level over the pool and out to the bay is incredible. That top terrace is lined with benches, so it’s sure to become a popular resting spot for families enjoying the views from our oceanside promenade. A second level down towards the ocean includes another large terrace and a snack shop, while the ocean level houses the bathrooms, water fountains for playing, the water slide, and the pools. The wood on the walkways and ramp as pictured in the renderings appears to have been changed to decorative/3-dimensional concrete, which seems much smarter to me.

Today, workers were chipping away at hardened concrete to give walkways traction/make them less slippery, as well as to give them more visual appeal. The ramps make the pool area completely wheelchair accessible, though of course if I were physically challenged I wouldn’t want to get into the pool itself. It’ll be nice for accompanying one’s family and friends, however. The cool-looking spiral water slide is in place, as it has been for some time. It is still missing the fountain that goes on top.

With the high waves coming in this morning, the pool looked very exciting, indeed! It has been refaced, so is much cleaner and more appealing than it used to be. The ocean splashes most of the lower level terrace at high tide or in rough waters, so bathers will still need to be attentive. But, that’s part of the attraction of an ocean-fed public pool! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slide show.

Bathrooms are fully plumbed, tiled, and nearly ready to go. The modern, molded concrete sinks are in place; toilets and faucets have yet to be installed. One worry: there is only one toilet stall and one shower nozzle in each of the bathrooms, men’s and women’s—woefully inadequate for the amount of use the place will surely get.

The walls that are finished have a much lighter rock face than in the architectural drawings (see the photo above of the snack bar). I don’t like it nearly as much. The walls along the ramp and terraces have not been finished, so it wasn’t clear to us if they will have a darker/richer rock facing of the type we’ve been expecting; we sure hope so, as it would add so much visual appeal to the facility. My guess is the facing will be identical to what’s already been installed.

Improvements like the new and improved Carpa Olivera make me proud of our city and the current administration. The renovations are coming in on time and on budget, as far as I know. We asked the workers if entrance to the pools would be free or if there would be a fee, but they didn’t know the answer, and I have yet to ask someone who’d know. Whether there’s a fee, or whether it’s free, Carpa Olivera puts Mazatlán front and center as home to one of the world’s most scenic and exciting ocean-fed swimming pools!

Link to the history of Carpa Olivera pool.

Link to a Noroeste article on the inauguration of the renovation on June 29, 2015.

— This post is part of the #MyGlobalLife linkup.

Manta Merrymaking

1.DSC_0260 - Version 3 In my next life, I want to be a manta. I’ve always said I want to be a Kobe cow, so I could drink beer and get massaged all day. But, in 2015, I hereby declare that being reincarnated as a manta ray looks oh-so-much more fun! We went out whale watching this week with Onca Explorations.

Whale watching has been our traditional Christmas gift to each other as a family since 2009. And a wonderful gift it is! The highlight of the trip this year for me were the mantas! We did, indeed, see whales; I will post pictures and write about that separately. But the mantas!

They were having so much fun! There were so very many of them—hundreds—and they kept jumping and flying and splatting and splashing, performing their high jinks all over our bay with their friends, for what seemed like forever. They just didn’t stop. What a joyful bunch they are! It reminded me of dancing sessions with my girlfriends…

The mantas’ bodies change so completely with every leap. They slap their wings against the water in a loud “thump!” 1.DSC_0253 - Version 2 That slap launches them into the air, where their wings curl up the opposite way, wrapping themselves backwards, in a rebound of sorts. 1.DSC_0261 - Version 2 They leap into the air—seemingly soaring over the skyscrapers on the beach, as you can see in the photos. 1.DSC_0246 - Version 3 They then fall back into the water with another loud “splat,” and start the process all over! 1.DSC_0234 - Version 2 And they do all of this in the company of hundreds of their joy-filled friends, frolicking about in a big band of craziness. 1.DSC_0279 - Version 2 And did I mention that mantas are HUGE? These looked to be maybe 3 or 4 feet across, and they get much bigger. Below is a short video clip of some of the manta merriment. I highly recommend you take a whale-watching excursion with Onca. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some mantas!

What makes the mantas leap so? Are they mating and courting, and perhaps the manta with the biggest splash is the sexiest? Are they just having fun, partying hearty with their friends? Are they wanting some Vitamin D from the sun? Whatever the reason, I sure did enjoy them!

Click on any of the photos in the album below to view it larger or see a slideshow.

National Geographic published a video of the largest-ever-witnessed group of mobula rays in our Gulf of Cortes. It is incredible! Watch it below: