March 31, 2011

Mexico Scores Well in Tourism Report

Mexico is the fourth most desirable holiday destination in the Americas. It ranks 43rd, out of a panel of 139 countries, on the world stage. Moreover, the country's tourist credentials actually rose eight places since 2009. Furthermore, Mexico placed 13th, in terms of human, cultural and natural resources. All of this is known from an international tourism report. Its conclusions are highly influential in the future planning of tourism in any country.

Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011

The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011 was released this week. Penned by the World Economic Forum (WEF), it assesses and ranks countries based on a host of data. It is aimed at business investors rather than tourists; providing expert analyses on the wisdom of investing capital in a country's tourism industry. Though, of course, what is good for the money-makers naturally has to be fantastic for those on vacation. If it wasn't, then tourists would stop coming and the investors would lose their profits.

Only the USA, Canada and Barbados have beaten Mexico, as attractive tourist destinations, in the Americas. It is a placement that has thrilled Tourism Secretary, Gloria Guevara Manzo, "The report demonstrates that Mexico is moving in a positive direction. Our country has incomparable character, culture and charm that we want to share with the world and it is rewarding to see that it is recognized and appreciated."


The panel looks at 14 categories, when evaluating the tourism industry of any country. They dig down, into the nitty-gritty, with several sub-categories within those headings. The final assessment is based on it all.

Mexico did well in several categories, with the highlights listed here (all rankings out of 139, in a league of countries):

* FIRST! Mexico ranked number one, as the country with the largest presense of major car rental companies. Ok, not massively exciting, but it did boost the country's standing in the 'Tourism Infrastructure' category. It's also very reassuring those those wishing to hire a car here.

* FIFTH! Mexico was in the top five, as the 'number of World Heritage cultural sites' were assessed. The country boasts 33 such sites, including one of the New Wonders of the World, Chichén Itzá.

Chichén Itzá

* NINTH! The megadiverse nature of Mexico's flora and fauna earned it a top ten ranking in the sub-category of 'Total Known Species', in the category of 'Natural Resources'. But biologists and nature-lovers have known this for years.

* TENTH! Some of the most stunning landscapes in the world are in Mexico, including Copper Canyon, Chevé Cave and El Triunfo. This has resulted in another top ten ranking, in the category of 'Number of World Heritage Natural Sites'.

Copper Canyon

The country's transport system was praised. The number of domestic airline seats was ranked 11th, with international airline seats trailing only shortly behind at 22nd out of the 139 countries inspected. The number of operating airlines was ranked at 26th. Also in the top thirty were fuel and hotel prices.

In the top forty were attributes like the health and education of the Mexican people, plus their welcoming nature towards foreign visitors. Cultural resources also scored highly. It was ranked 18th, in the 'Creative Industries Exports' (souvenirs to you and me) category; and 24th in the 'Number of International Fairs and Exhibitions'.

Carnaval Veracruz

Due to the target audience of the report, many of the categories were concerned primarily with business interests. Mexico proved its willingness for external scrutiny, by ranking 12th in the category of 'providing monthly/quarterly T&T data' and 15th in the competitiveness of the same data. It scored 22, 23 and 35 respectively, in the categories of 'prevalence of foreign ownership', 'openness of bilateral Air Service Agreements' and 'time required to start a business'. All very lovely enticements for the prospective investors.

In fairness, there was some criticism too. Safety and security both let Mexico down, but these are the very issues that the Mexican government are quick to address. Secretary Guevara stated, "We have made real and sustained progress in making Mexico safe and secure, and will continue to devote our resources to ensuring that it remains a top destination."

It isn't all talk. With bad newspaper headlines continuing to sully Mexico's reputation over its borders, this season has seen some of the highest levels of tourist security in Mexico's history. Spring Breakers, in Cancun, were met by 'tourism advisors' (ie semi-plain clothed members of Mexico's military), who guided them past the Timeshare touts, into the ranks of authorised, safe taxi firms. It is hard to miss the highly visible patrolling of crowded beaches. Cancun has always been safe, but now it looks safe too!

Patrolling Cancun Beaches

The full report may be downloaded from here (pdf). The Mexico specific pages can be downloaded here (pdf) - find Mexico in the list, under 'Country Profiles'.

March 30, 2011

Pristine Huatulco: The Pacific's Last Frontier

So much of Mexico's tourism focuses upon the 20 and 30 somethings, those looking for a party and stock souvenirs to spend their disposable income upon. Beyond that, it's the backpackers, the hikers and the bikers, who have a a vast wilderness of wonders to explore. Mexico has all of this and more. Yet there is another category of vacationers that has come under the spotlight of the National Trust Fund for Tourism Development: families. Beautiful Huatulco has been attracting parents, with younger children, for years. Now it is receiving the funding to encourage that.


Huatulco (pronounced wah-TOOL-co), in Mexico's deepest south, is about as far away from the violence of the US border towns as it is possible to get. It is down in the state of Oaxaca, right on the Pacific coast. In Mexico, it has a reputation as a quiet resort, which is none the less filled with fun. Its headlines are more to do with rare marine creatures glimpsed from the shore, than anything to do with crime.

While checking the news archives, for the purposes of writing this blog, I discovered a human interest comment. A Canadian man had been swimming in the ocean and had got into difficulties. Very quickly, two local men dived in after him and brought him safely to shore. That's about as dramatic as it gets in Huatulco.



Its official name, Bahías de Huatulco, refers to the fact that this resort is clustered around nine bays. (But you really would sound like a tourist, if you added the 'Bahías de' part. Huatulco will do.) Dotted amongst the bays are dozens of tiny, protected coves. There are over 30 glorious beaches, each with relaxing areas to lounge about, enjoying the sunshine in paradise.

There is the occasional group of Spring Breakers, but these tend to be those adventurous enough to break away from the hordes heading towards Cancun. Mostly your fellow vacationers will be parents with young families. This is a popular location for home-grown holiday-makers, so many of these will be escapees from the city, treating their children to some sublime beach action. Huatulco is full of child-friendly deals, including places where kids stay or eat free of charge.


Huatulco's ecological credentials are also very much intact. The original resort plans, dating from the 1980s, planned for accommodation for 10,000 tourists. Environmental groups immediately protested how this might damage the landscape. The architects heard their arguments and scaled back to cater for just 4,000. Keeping the population down, in an area that has historically had few human living upon it, has retained the pristine landscape and maintained a crystal clear ocean.

In addition to this, the environmentalists stayed on board to advise on other features. The result is that 70% of the resort is actually a nature reserve, while the developments within are eco-friendly. Huatulco was amongst the Mexican cities which switched its lights off for an hour, last Saturday, to mark Earth Hour. The event raised awareness of sustainability.


Huatulco, with all its local attractions and fun for all the family, is certainly a place to watch out for. Once the Cancun rites of passage are over, then the holiday romances will inevitably lead across the country onto the shores of the Pacific.

March 29, 2011

Museo Soumaya: Carlos Slim's Gift to Mexico and the Art World

The richest man in the world lives in Mexico. Today, he has opened up his childhood home, as a museum and art gallery, renamed in honor of his wife. The Soumaya Museum, in Mexico City, will exhibit some of the greatest artistic treasures in human history. Original works by Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Dali, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne, Rivera, Tintoretto, Rubens, Siqueiros and Renoir will grace its hallowed halls; as well as items of historical importance, like a collection of gold coins from the 16th century Spanish vice-roys to Mexico.

Entrance to the Soumaya Museum, Mexico City

The man is Carlos Slim Helú, the 71 year old telecoms and investment tycoon. Last year, American business and financial magazine, Forbes, announced that Slim's personal wealth had overtaken that of Bill Gates. This year, the same publication noted that Slim's bank balance had now far outstripped Gates's. He is viewed as a man with a Midas touch. His companies alone are worth an estimated $74 billion. Then there are the shares. As well as a substantial number of them scattered throughout Mexican companies, he also owns a percentage of several American ones too. These include the New York Times and Saks.

Much of this wealth has been channelled into snapping up art treasures, as they came onto the market. Slim particularly likes Auguste Rodin. The largest private collection of Rodin pieces belongs to him. In terms of volume, it is beaten only by the public collection at the Musée Rodin, in France. Slim's collection includes one of the twelve original and authenticated versions of 'The Kiss'; and also 'Eve', which was famously sold at auction, by Christies, for a record $18,969,000, in May 2008. There is no doubt now as to who was on the other end of the telephone.

Carlos Slim
Carlos Slim with Rodin's 'The Three Shades'

The Rodin collection is just part of over 66,000 items of artistic, cultural and historical importance, which belong to Carlos Slim. Many of these are being exhibited for the first time, in his new Soumaya Museum. The homage to Rodin is even more clear in the architecture of the building. Fernando Romero, Slim's son-in-law, designed it to look like a Rodin sculpture.

Until now, Mexico City has had a lot of scattered exhibitions, but no major art gallery. The capital's major attraction for connoisseurs has been the number of Diego Rivera murals and paintings, on display in various locations around the city, as well as the Surrealist classics of his wife, Frida Kahlo. Some of these have made it into Slim's collection too. However, Slim's vision was for more. He explained, in yesterday's launch news conference, that the Soumaya Museum will allow 'Mexicans, who can't travel abroad, to physically get to know works by the greatest artists.'

Entrance, into the Soumaya Museum, is free. It covers 16,000 square meters and rises up over six storeys. The facilities are part of a massive urban development, costing US$800 million, which include conference halls, a five-star hotel and housing. As Slim put it, "It's a gift to the city and to the whole country of Mexico, to all the young kids too."

Red carpet outside the Soumaya Museum, Mexico City

Carlos Slim was born, in Mexico City, on January 28, 1940, as the son of Lebanese immigrants. Julián Slim Haddad, his father, was a keen businessman, who tutored all six of his children, from an early age, in the art of business. The young Carlos was a quick learner. He bought his first shares, in a Mexican bank, at the age of just twelve.

Slim trained as an engineer, with a degree at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico). His passion remained in business though and he established several real estate, engineering and mining companies. His real boom occurred during the 1980s, when a decline in Mexican industry placed several companies on the market. Slim snapped them up for bargain prices, then invested heavily to reinstate them. His personal fortune grew. He is the mogul behind Mexico's monopolizing telecoms company, Telmex.

Carlos and Soumaya
Carlos and Soumaya

Soumaya Domit Gemayel was the love of his life. He married her in 1966 and they remained deeply devoted to each other, until her death in 1999. The couple had six children. She was primarily concerned with philanthropic projects, including establishing a safe and legal way for organ donation to occur in Mexico. It is in her honor that Slim has named his landmark museum.

The Soumaya Museum's Spanish language website is here. The museum itself is located in Plaza Carso, in the Polanco district of Mexico City.

March 28, 2011

Cancun Duck Tours

Cancun Duck Tours

Endless Tours has just added a brand new attraction to our already extensive range: The Cancun Duck Tours!

Experience the famous Cancun Duck Tours and jump aboard for a fun & cultural land and water adventure of the city.

With our modern, state-of- the Art, unsinkable DUCK (amphibian) we will delight you with ninety minutes of entertaining narration, incredible sightseeing of Mayan ruins, beautiful turquoise sea, lagoon channels with mangrove, interesting insights, historic facts from the past and present.

Experience the excitement of the BIG SPLASH, yes your DUCK goes right into the water!!! For a breathtaking view of the Caribbean Sea, the mangrove channels and the hotel zone from the sea. Get the spectacular views that you won’t get anywhere else.

During the entire Duck Tour, you will enjoy a humorous-yet-informative tour given by an experienced staff. It’s the best combination of Fun, History and sights for the whole family to enjoy, it is really a “must do”. This is a fun-filled adventure showing you all the best that Cancun has to offer!

You would never imagine that learning history would be so exciting!!!?

March 25, 2011

'Foreverland' Being Filmed in Mexico

Filming on the Canadian blockbuster, 'Foreverland', has shifted from the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, to the balmy tropics of Baja California, in Mexico. Its star-studded cast and crew are currently being spotted on the beaches of Los Cabos.

Juliette Lewis in Los Cabos
Juliette Lewis jet-skiing in Los Cabos

'Foreverland' follows the fortunes of Will Rankin (Max Thieriot), a young man, with cystic fibrosis, on a road trip to Mexico. He has with him the ashes of his dead friend (Laurence Laboeuf) and is accompanied by his friend's sister, Hannah (Juliette Lewis). Their destination is a healing shrine, Del Sol, where Laboeuf's character wished to have his ashes scattered. Will hopes that a miracle there will save him from his own painful fate.

Thomas Dekker also stars, in this Maxwell McGuire directed epic movie. McGuire co-wrote the script with Shawn Riopelle. It is billed as a love story, as well as a road movie. Along the way is quirky comedy, tragedy and plenty of scope for dreams and regrets.

Much of the principal photography has been taking place, throughout February and March, in La Paz, the capital city of Baja California Sur. La Paz is already relatively famous in the literary world. It was the setting for Newbury Honor Book award-winning 'The Black Pearl' by Scott O'Dell, as well as featuring heavily in John Steinbeck's classic novel, 'The Pearl'. As might be deduced, the pearl trade, in the area, is one of its major sources of economy. La Paz is also one of Mexico's favourite eco-tourist destinations.

La Paz
La Paz, Baja California Sur

Britain's Daily Mail newspaper has a photo-spread of Foreverland lead actress, Juliette Lewis, with a mystery man, in Los Cabos this week: 'Juliette Lewis gets wet and wild on the back of her toyboy's jet ski on day two of their beach romance'. The area, which includes Cabo San Lucas, has been seeing a lot of international celebrities just recently. Sean Penn, Scarlett Johansson, Gethin Jones and Katherine Jenkins were all there last month ('Romantic Cabo San Lucas Attracts the Stars').

March 24, 2011

The Great Migration of the Grey Whales

It is the longest annual migration of any mammal in the world; and their destination is Mexico. Grey whales were recently on the brink of extinction, but this year up to 25,000 of them are expected to appear off the coast of Baja California. It is their mating season and, for a creature so big, that is quite a feat to accomplish.

Grey Whale

The grey whale (eschrichtius robustus) are giants of the sea. They can grow up to 16 meters (52 ft), weighing in at about 36 tonnes. However, those spotted so far this year, off the coast of Mexico, have been a mere 11 meters (36ft). As the name suggests, they tend to be slate-grey in color, with barnacles clinging to them for the ride through the ocean. They have two blow-holes, which cause a distinctive 'V' shape plume of water and air.

Their migration will have begun, in the icy north, last October. Starting in the Bering and Chukchi seas, they travel down the length of Alaska, Canada and the USA, in a journey of 6,000–22,000km (9,900–14,000 miles). By January, the first of them are spotted in Mexico, making for three of their favourite lagoons. Tens of thousands of them descend upon Laguna Ojo de Libre, San Ignacio and Magdalena, to birth their babies and breed some more.

The latter is a tricky process. The sheer size of the grey whales means that some co-operation is clearly required. The female will flip onto her back, stabilized by one or more males; her actual mate will then be able to approach. All of this beneath the watchful eyes and cooing of hordes of marine biologists and tourists gathered upon the shore. It is all clearly visible.

Grey Whale
Photo by Gerard Soury

Also very much in evidence are the female grey whales in labour and the newborn calves. The pregnant females are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave. Their calves are born tail first and already around 4.9 meters (16ft) long. They will stay close to their mothers, breaching the surface in a synchronized arc, not departing from the lagoons until late April or early May.

Like mothers everywhere, the grey whales wish to protect their babies for as long as they can. The lagoons of Baja California are too shallow for two of their greatest predators, orcas and sharks; while it is illegal for their third predator, humans, to hunt them here. Mexico is at the forefront of whale conservation, with many of its fishermen, in Baja California, trained and co-opted into protecting the grey whales during this season.

Grey Whale

Another huge danger lies out in the Pacific Ocean. This is pollution and littering. A recent study undertaken by researcher Rob Williams (University of British Colombia, in Canada) estimated that the migration route of the grey whales contains some 36,000 pieces of plastic and other human shed debris. The whales ingest large amounts of ocean water, as they swim, filtering out the smaller organisms from its stomach sacs. But anything bigger says put.

In April, last year, a dead grey whale was beached in Seattle. When its stomachs were opened, they were found to contain: more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape and a golf ball. (Vancouver Sun: Ocean garbage: Floating landmines)

Grey Whale

Grey whales came with a hair's breadth of extinction. A few years ago, the prognosis for their species looked very bleak. Their North Atlantic cousins disappeared completely under the harpoons of hunters, during the 18th century. The Pacific almost had a similar story. An infamous American whaler, Captain Charles Melville Scammon, discovered the Mexican grey whale breeding lagoons. Between 1857-1860, he hunted so many that the lagoons were nearly emptied. It has been a slow crawl back from the brink, but the outlook is good now.

Dr Jorge Urban, a grey whale expert based in Baja California, has already reported that this year's migration has brought nearly four times the usual number of grey whales. It appears that they are surviving out in the ocean's depths and that the future is looking rosy.

Grey Whale

For now, the tourists watch from the shores of the Baja; with experts on hand to explain to excited children all that they can see. Some go out on boats, but the fishermen are patrolling in vessels of their own. By Mexican law, none can interfere with the breeding and birthing of these majestic whales, and the fisherman are there to ensure that this is the case. They will let the tourist boats out only as long as they will not be disturbing the mating.

There will always be lone whales, just hanging out, awaiting their turn to breed or leave. Grey whales are some of the friendiest marine creatures. They are quite happy to swim alongside boats and, despite their checkered past with human beings, will pause to say hello.

AlJazeera currently has an eye-witness report and footage of the awe-inspiring scenes, in Baja California, right now: 'Breaking waves: The story of the grey whales'.

March 22, 2011

Spring Equinox at Mexico's Ancient Monuments

It is nearly dawn on the Spring Equinox and the crowds gather at the foot of El Castillo. They are about witness the descent of the God on Earth, as He passes down the steps and into the ground beneath. It is guaranteed. It is seen in Chichén Itzá every year and it is about to happen right now. An expectant murmur passes through, then a pause and suddenly an almighty roar of exaltation.

Spring Equinox at Chichén Itzá
Spring Equinox at Chichén Itzá

It is only at the equinox that a stunning piece of Maya architectural genius becomes apparent. The side of the steps were fashioned in such a manner that, when the sun shines on them in a certain way, the feathered serpent God, Kukulkan, can be clearly seen. He is picked out in light and shade, with his snake-like back undulating down the steps. This can only be seen at dawn on the equinox.

Thousands traditionally congregate at the base of El Castillo (aka the Temple of Kukulkan) to witness this. Many will have been there all night, in a vigil, waiting. They are not all Mexicans. In fact, the vast majority are spiritual tourists, who have come to join their Mexican brothers and sisters, in this awe-inspiring event.

Kukulkan arrives to raptuous cheers; though many stand in silent meditation. All are allowing the calm, positive energy of the moment to penetrate their spirits. Traditional dancing and music soon turns the religious into a fiesta, as such things often do in Mexico.

Meanwhile, NTD TV have reported upon the events in Teotihuacan, near Mexico City: 'Thousands Flock to Mexico's "Pyramid of the Sun" to Welcome Spring Equinox'.

The Spring (or Vernal) Equinox occurs when day and night are exactly equal in length; there are twelve hours between sunset and dawn. The Earth, as it orbits around the sun, also rocks back and forth on its pole. (Imagine a spinning top, swaying as it spins.) During Winter Solstice (mid December) our side of the planet is tipped away from the sun (less light/heat = winter); during Summer Solstice (mid June) the hemisphere is tipped towards the sun (more light/heat = summer). During the equinoxes, we are at the mid-point between the two (equal light/heat = spring and autumn).

Spring Equinox was important to the ancient tribes of Mexico. It was the time when they planted their crops, safe in the knowledge that winter was finally over. Autumn Equinox was the signal that everything should be harvested, before it was ruined. This is why so much of the architecture incorporates features that tell onlookers when the equinoxes are occurring.

An estimated 460,000 visitors arrived at twelve of Mexico's ancient monuments, at dawn on March 21st, 2011. The actual equinox had occurred late the night before, but it was the dawn sun that would provide the first visible sign of it, without the aid of hi-tech equipment.

Spring Equinox at Teotihuacan
Spring Equinox at Teotihuacan

This is obviously an annual event, so everyone was ready for it. Representatives from the emergency services and National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) meet months in advance, in order to co-ordinate their roles, so that the crowds can be safely managed. For example, so many people arrived at Teotihuacan, this year, that each had to queue for three hours, in order to spend just ten minutes at the summit of the Pyramid of the Sun. This had been anticipated and the human resources were on hand to ensure that this happened in good cheer.

However, there is concern that so many visitors are placing an unusual strain upon the monuments themselves. This year, for the first time, INAH issued rules, such as the prohibition of food, alcohol, barbecues, backpacks, chairs, umbrellas or pet in the vicinity of the ruins.

Meanwhile, local Pagan groups privately agreed not to climb upon those pyramids, which are open to the public. Antonio Vazquez, a Brujo Mayor (High Priest/Chief Witch), released a statement that his coven would be performing their ceremony near to the Pyramid of the Sun, rather than on it.

Spring Equinox at Tulum
Spring Equinox at Tulum

The Spring Equinox celebrations are huge in Mexico. Many of those participating will either wear tradition costumes, based around Aztec or Maya historical designs, or else will don white outfits. The belief is that white absorbs the sun's enriching energies during this ethereal, beautiful time. It certainly feels very special to participate in such a gathering.

Chichén Itzá
Chichén Itzá
Various tours, to suit every wallet or time-frame, to the most famous of all the Maya ruins.

Tulum & Xel-Ha All Inclusive
Tulum & Xel-Ha All Inclusive
Combine Maya history with natural beauty! Tour the Tulúm ruins, then swim in the Xel Ha natural aquarium.

March 21, 2011

The Dance of the Flyers


Los Voladores (the flyers) spin 80ft (24m) off the ground. Their arms are wide; their heads angled towards the crowds below. Their bodies are strapped to the soaring pole. They are upside down. One man dances alone, at the very summit of the pole. His drum beats a steady tattoo; his pipe plays a heady tune. The flyers start twisting, around and around the pole, in death-defying feats of acrobats. It seems that gravity is challenged too, as the flyers control their descent to the earth and the cheering, gasping onlookers. They arrive and applause roars through the crowd.

This is Danza de los Voladores (the Dance of the Flyers) and it pre-dates the coming of the Spanish. It is not merely entertainment, though the people gather and a hat is passed around for donations for the dancers. This is a ceremony, make no mistake; a ritual worship of the god, Quetzalcoatl. It is a petition for crop fertility and a bountiful harvest.

There are four flyers and each represents an element: air, fire, water and earth. Wrapped together, these elements are the stuff of life. The wooden pole is phallic. It has been especially cut, shaped and blessed for this purpose. The elemental flyers weave around it. Their dance has taken them down the shaft to touch the ground. The symbolism should be clear. They are the strong, active seeds of life and they are in the soil.

The priest is the man who remains at the top. He, alone, is not tied by rope to the pole. His drum is the voice of Quetzalcoatl. His pipes are is the song of birds. He opens and closes the ceremony; first turning to the east, the direction of the rising sun, then to the south, west and north. At each cardinal point, his music and dance are invitations to the guardian spirits to watch over them. He is invoking all of nature to attend to their spectacle, as well as calling upon deity.

Each flyer does not merely represent an elemental force, they become it. While the priest opens the circle, the waiting flyers will be focusing their mind and self-identity. For example, the man taking on the aspect of water will be thinking hard about a nearby lake, or a waterfall, or the ocean. He will be meditating upon all that water is and does. By the time he makes his fall, his whole attention will be upon the element of water and he will continue this deep, almost trancelike focus, until he is safe on the ground and the ritual is closed.

This is not street entertainment, it is sacred.


Danza de los Voladores is performed all over Mexico, though it is most often associated with Papantla, a town in Veracruz. UNESCO have listed it as a ceremony of 'Intangible Cultural Heritage'. In this way, it will be promoted and protected, as an ancient tradition of Mexico. There are several variations of the ritual, notably in the deity being called upon. Xipe, Totec and Tlazotlteotl, all rain and solar Gods, have been associated with this ceremony.

There is always an element of danger in this ritual. Voladores have suffered accidents, sometimes fatal, up on the pole. As recently as October 3rd, 2010, in San Jerónimo, Mexico City, a flyer reached the top and sat on the frame, only to discover that it was unstable. He and the frame both plunged to the ground and he tragically died upon impact. Each of the flyers know that the potential for something to go wrong is huge, but that is what makes the ritual so strong. They are willing to risk sacrificing themselves to ensure the fertility of the crops.

March 18, 2011

Le Butcherettes: Riot Grrrl a la Mexicano!

We have focused a lot, in this blog, about established artists and bands going into Mexico, but what about those coming out? Mariachi and hot Latino crooners are a big part of the music scene, but they aren't the whole picture by any stretch of the imagination. For a start, there's punk.

Le Butcherettes

Le Butcherettes describe themselves as a garage tapatio punk band. Their sheer energy and angry, young female sound recalls the crescendo of the early '90s Riot Grrrl wave. That could be Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear or L7 reincarnate up there, thrashing about the festival stages in sheep blood and flour. Whatever it is, it's punk at its finest.

The band has quickly developed cult status, spreading out from its native Guadalajara, across the country and into the USA. Formed in 2007, an album, 'Kiss & Kill', followed a year later. They were the winners in both the Best New Artist and Best Punk Record categories of the 2009 Indie-O Music Awards. Indie-O is the foremost Mexican accolade for the Indie scene.

A blistering performance at Hellow Fest 2009, in Monterrey, and opening for The Dead Weather's Mexican dates secured the status of Le Butcherettes as an exciting group to watch. They were nominated for Best Live Act, in 2010, but were pipped to the post by Yokozuna.

Much of the spectacle comes from founding member and singer-guitarist, Teri Gender Bender (aka Teresa Suaréz). She is most often seen in stereotypical 1950s tame housewife attire; though the effect is somewhat marred by the blood-stains down the front. A recent review, in WBEZ91.5, by Jim DeRogatis, read:

(Teri Gender Bender) has more than enough star power of her own. Dressing in ’50s housewife attire as desecrated by a riot grrl, she alternately hammers away on keyboard and guitar while wailing with a throaty, soulful roar that recalls Polly Jean Harvey at her most powerful. She spent as much time running through the crowd or surfing atop its upstretched arms as she spent onstage at the Flamingo Cantina amid the bluesy, chaotic swirl of the band’s arty punk sounds, and while her lyrics rarely directly addressed the topics, it was impossible to mistake her fury at the state of relations between Mexico and America, or between men and women anywhere.
SXSW 2011: ¡Viva la Revolución! ¡Viva Le Butcherettes!

2010 was huge for Le Butcherettes. Their first single, 'Henry Don't Got Love', was released; their second album, 'Sin, Sin, Sin', was recorded; they supported New York based Indie legends, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, on tour.

This single can be downloaded, for free, from the band's Bandcamp page.

Texas Prog-Rockers, The Mars Volta, have also been vocal in their support of Le Butcherettes. Guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López has produced 'Sin, Sin, Sin', as well as contributing some bass guitar to the recording and occasionally joining them on stage to perform it. He will be facilitating the release of their album, on May 10th, 2011, on his own record label.

Keep up with the force of nature that is Le Butcherettes, through their official site, MySpace, Facebook and, of course, Twitter.

March 17, 2011


Ask anyone to name a Mexican alcoholic drink and the answer will come back, "¡Tequila!" Ask for a second and the response is most likely to be, "¡Mezcal!"

The two tipples have many similarities, not least that they are both exported around the world, as Mexico's contribution to drinks cabinets globally. (The Prague Post, in the Czech Republic, is currently featuring a Mezcal based cocktail recipe: 'From the Bartender: Mezcalihna'.) The USA and Japan remain the biggest buyers of Mezcal from Mexico.

Tequila and Mezcal are also both distilled from the agave plant. In fact, the name Mezcal is derived from the Nahuatl words, 'Melt' and 'Ixcalli', which translate as 'oven-cooked agave'. In this way, tequila is a form of Mezcal too, though it tends to be considered separately. This is where the drinks start to diverge. Tequila is made from blue agave and it is twice fermented. Mezcal is made from maguey agave and it is only fermented once.

Milking a Maguey Plant

The maguey agave plant is huge. It can stand up to 2m (6.6ft) tall, with thick, spreading leaves reaching out another 4m (13ft). When it is in flower, the petals stretch a further 8m (26ft). With such a towering structure, even the younger plants can dwarf a human being. It's an impressive sight and it has attracted its legends and folklore too.

Maguey is often referred to as the Divine Plant; in great part because it was born from the remains of the Goddess Mayahuel. The story comes to us from the Atzec people, who honored her as one of their most important deities. There are carvings of Her in the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). She is associated with truth, fertility, nourishment, inner journeys and, of course, the agave plant.

Mayahuel lived in the sky, with her Tzitzimitl grandmother.Tzitzimimeh The all female, warrior Tzitzimimeh were seen as stars, particularly those only apparent around the sun, during a solar eclipse. This was also when they were most dangerous.

Ordinarily, the Tzitzimimeh were the protectoresses of women; but they also created all mankind. Particles of stardust reached the Earth and formed themselves into humanity. (Interestingly enough, it is now scientific fact that life on Earth is possible because of the elements forged in the stars.)

However, when there was a solar eclipse, the Tzitzimimeh could descend to Earth and devour human beings.

Mayahuel grew up amongst them, but She, Herself, was not Tzitzimitl. Yet, from Her home in the starry paradise of Tamoanchan, She could watch all that happened below and all who lived there. She could also see the Gods and Goddesses. In particular, She spotted the feathered serpent God, Quetzalcoatl. Mayahuel fell in love. At the very next solar eclipse, as the doors of Tamoanchan opened to emit the Tzitzimimeh on their deadly pillage, Mayahuel rushed out too.

The lovers met and ran away together, determined to live out all eternity in each other's arms. But no-one had asked the permission of the Tzitzimimeh and they saw everything. The couple transformed themselves into trees, side by side, to escape notice. It was too late. They had been seen. The star deities swooped down and tore Mayahuel limb from limb.

Quetzalcoatl tearfully took her remains and buried them in the ground. Immediately something began to push back through the soil. It was the first, mighty maguey plant, with a glorious flower reaching back towards the skies. Mayahuel lived again, anchored into the ground from Her roots, and filled with the divine love of Quetzalcoatl.

Mayahuel by Ehecatzin

Mayahuel is a dark goddess now. She saw all from the stars and She is the beloved of a God. She can see inside our very souls and give us visions to access our spiritual journeys. It is said that She grew 400 breasts to nourish rabbits with Her milk. The first drink made from the sap of the maguey was pulque. It was the ritual draft used in Atzec ceremonies, inducing wild hallucinations and the ecstatic dance.

This same milk is now distilled to create Mezcal. Despite common misconception, it does not contain mescaline nor any other hallucinogenic substance. It's produced in an entirely different way to pulque.

While on the subject of misconceptions about Mezcal, let's deal with the worm. For a start, it's not a worm. It's the lavae form of a moth. Hypopta agavis is the correct name for this moth, which lives, feeds and breeds in the manguey plant. This is usually at the distress of farmers, as the presense of the moth means that there is an infestation and the crop is ruined.

A worm in the Mezcal!!11!!!!1!!

During the 1940s, some bright spark in Oaxaca apparently had the gift of the gab. Who knows how the lavae got into the Mezcal? Perhaps it fell in during the bottling process. Perhaps someone tried to sabotege the sale. Perhaps it was someone's idea of a joke. Maybe it was even a warning. However it happened, the lavae was in this batch of Mezcal, which was already of lower quality than normal, because of the infestation. Yet he managed to sell it. Bravo the salesman!

Except now no-one can sell Oaxaca Mezcal without a lavae in it, because the urban myth is that the 'worm' adds to the flavour and proves that it's fit to drink. The distillers have to collect tubs of the insects, from infested farms, in order to drop a lavae into bottles of their own high-grade Mezcal. It has long since become one of the most successful marketing ploys ever. It doesn't add to the flavour. It doesn't do anyting. It's killed, scrubbed, sanitized, sterilized and dropped into alcohol. There it stays, mostly for the shock value and people daring each other to eat it.

The Oaxava Annual International Mescal Fair takes place in July. This year's arrangements haven't been made public yet, but they will be announced on official website. It regularly attracts over 50,000 visitors; and it is an excellent place to be introduced to the country's finest Mezcal. ¡Salud!

March 16, 2011

Primavera Festival Announced in Playa del Carmen

The biggest dance party in Mexico is set to extend, in Playa del Carmen, this April. Those who attend will be making history, as this will be the first Primavera Festival. That will no doubt provide much kudos for festival-goers, in ten years time, when the annual party is well established. (Imagine that you'd been at the first Burning Man or Glastonbury.)


The four day festival may be brand new, but the organizers are veterans of the scene. They are the same people behind the already massive BPM Festival, which descends upon Playa del Carmen every January. The 2011 gathering attracted over 18000 people, from 20 different countries, raving to the electronic sounds of 120 internationally renowned DJs. A podcast from Lee Burridge's set can be found here.

UK born, New York based, globally massive DJ Lee Burridge will be amongst those also headlining Primavera. There is a European theme here, with DJ Sasha (UK) and DJ Sander Kleinenberg (Netherlands) already signed up to lead the electronic bonanza.


The full programme currently looks like this:

April 21 Lee Burridge @ La Santanera
April 22 Sander Kleinenberg @ Blue Parrot Beach Club
April 23 Sasha @ Blue Parrot Beach Club

Kool Beach Club will host free day parties from April 21st to April 24th with Karlos Elizondo (Mexico), Muan (Mexico), Omar Labastida (Mexico), Mike Montano Mexico), Robbie Akbal (Mexico), Mar-c (Mexico), D-Paack (Mexico), German Wagener Argentina), Niko Glenn (Argentina), Nitin (Toronto), James Teej (Toronto), Julien Loreto (Toronto), Neno (Toronto), Uppercut (Montreal), Lauren Lane (NYC), Craig Pettigrew (NYC) and Michelangelo (NYC). On April 23rd, Canibal Royal Beach Club will host Guillaume & the Coutu Dumonts, Nitin, James Teej and Robbie Akbal.

For more information, please visit their official website.

March 15, 2011

Selvatica: Cancun's Number One Attraction

There are 58 Cancún attractions listed on TripAdvisor. As tourists visit and vote upon, these places fall or rise in the league. A bad review causes a venue to topple, losing ratings; a good review sees it soar above the competition. Yet one attraction has managed to hang onto its top spot since 2009. Last year, it was voted the best adventure park in Mexico. Selvatica Canopy Expedition and Adventure Tour is officially the ride of your life.


Selvatica is about an hour's drive from Cancún's Hotel Zone, but it is well worth the visit. This is an attraction for adrenaline junkies, which will have you flying through the tree-tops; racing along wild tracks in dune buggies; then plunging into the cool freshness of a cenote.

The adventure takes place out in the Yucatán Jungle. There are twelve zip-lines here, comprising of some of the highest and fastest in the country. The biggest of them all, only for the most daring visitors, is 65 feet (20 meters) above the ground. That one is obviously not for those suffering from vertigo. For the less adventurous, there are zip-lines much closer to the jungle floor.

The adults will then pair up to ride dune buggies, across rough jungle tracks, towards a crystal clear cenote, thirty minutes down the road. This is not a ride for children. They will be conveyed, more sedately, in a truck. For those at the wheel of the buggies, this will be driving like you've always wanted to do it: fast, reckless and fraught with wild abandon. Why should rally drivers have all the fun?


It may sound like this is an adventure park where you take your life into your hands. However, the facilities are quite safe. At each stage, trained personnel ensure that everyone is safely harnessed and experiencing nothing but unadulterated fun. They can cater for youngsters as young as three years old. The activities are then graded upwards to match every visitor's nerve and stamina.

Selvatica Canopy Expedition and Adventure Tour
Selvatica Canopy Expedition and Adventure Tour
Over 20 mental and physical challenges, with zip lines, suspended bridges, dancing cables, buggies and a cenote.

March 11, 2011

Luis Miguel: The Latin Frank Sinatra

Luis Miguel

Tonight, Mexico City's Auditorio Nacional will be packed to the rafters, as 'El Sol de México' Luis Miguel takes the stage. He is one of Mexico's biggest stars, with a twenty-five year career that has spanned the globe.

Along the way, he has picked up more Grammys, Platinum discs and other accolades, than any other Latin singer before him. He was the first Latin artist to achieve a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not bad for someone who is just forty years of age.

Luis Miguel is in the middle of a 161 day tour, which started in Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, USA, and will end in Puerto Rico. The schedule takes in seven countries, usually playing at the biggest venues possible, in a bid to accommodate armies of fans. They will, no doubt, be more than glad to see him, after a mystery health scare saw him hospitalized in Los Angeles recently.

The singer was actually born in Puerto Rico, to Spanish and Italian parents, but his family moved to Mexico when he was a baby. He has lived here ever since. His first album came out when he was just eleven years old, after he was snapped up by EMI Records. By the time he was fifteen, he was winning awards for his duet with Scottish singer, Sheena Easton.

That was merely the beginning of a glittering career, which is still going strong. He may be one of Mexico's favorite sons, but his appeal is international. (Saddam Hussein purportedly had Luis Miguel's 'Segundo Romance' album in his possession, when the dictator was captured by Western forces.)

For more information about the singer, please visit Luis Miguel's official website (in Spanish).

March 10, 2011

White Lies: 'Ritual' Album

White Lies are a British-based, indie rock band, who are currently taking the world by storm. They have been extensively likened to Joy Division and The Killers, though its members deny that either have been an influence. Last October, they rocked Mexico with their slot at the Corona Capital Festival, Mexico City. In the full knowledge that their album, 'Ritual', was soon to be released, the band looked around themselves and they had an idea.

White Lies

'Ritual' was released on January 18th, 2011, along with a promotional video. The soundtrack previewed, with snippets, three of the album's songs: 'Bad Love', 'Holy Ghost' and 'Bigger Than Us'. The film itself was shot entirely in Mexico City, intercut with scenes of the band performing in a studio.

The story follows the spiritual shopping trip of two young Mexican women. They collect witchcraft supplies, each precisely prepared before being placed in a box. The box itself is carried as if it is something sacred, as the women process through the market. The box is then taken to the cathedral to be blessed. Finally, the women are at the center of a third ritual, with a shaman dancing up the energies around them. We are never told what the outcome of these endeavours should be. The point is not the reward, but the quest itself and the rituals engaged upon along the way.

The footage was mainly filmed at Mercado de Sonora, a market known for its witchcraft supplies, in Mexico City. Also featured is Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María (Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary), as well as several streets in Mexico's capital city.

White Lies Ritual

In October 2010, Mexico City was their third and final stop, on their short Mexican tour. Previously, they had played at Guadalajara and Monterrey. They managed to grab some time off before their Guadalajara date, in order to spend quality tourist time looking around the city.

White Lies will be back in Mexico in a couple of months time. They are playing at Vive Cuervo Salón, Mexico City, on May 26th, 2011, as part of the North American leg of their world tour.

March 9, 2011

The Killers: 'When You Were Young'

Tlayacapan has long been noted for its spiritual landscape. Ever since the Augustian monks flooded in, between 1534 and 1574, monasteries, chapels and churches have dominated the area. The largest of all, the monastery of San Juan Baustista (St John the Baptist), towers over everything else. It contains the biggest church in the entire state of Morelos; and it is part of a complex which was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.

With such scenery to use, it's hardly any wonder that The Killers chose this town as the location for their seminal 2006 music video, 'When You Were Young.'

The story is told in a series of flashbacks. A young woman (Sonia Couoh) takes up the position of a cook/barmaid in a bar. Her entrance interrupts the flirting between the bar's owner (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) and a female patron. The look which passes between employer and new employee is enough to tip the customer off. These pair are attracted to each other; the customer has lost her chance, so she storms out. The camera pans to the next room, where The Killers are playing to a packed crowd. The young woman and The Killer's singer, Brandon Flowers, exchange a long, meaningful gaze, as Flowers warns, "He doesn't look a thing like Jesus."

The young woman and the bar-owner become a couple, with religion ever in the foreground. She is a devout Catholic, praying in various locations, while her boyfriend waits outside. They are eventually seen getting married, with their family surrounding them in a joyous scene.

Fachada principal de la Capilla de SantiagoFachada principal de la Capilla de Santiago, in Tlayacapan

Another flashback shows how it all goes wrong. She returns home one day to find her husband in bed with another woman. It is the woman from the bar, who had been so angry when the couple first met. While the bar-owner moves to reach his wife, his mistress pulls him back onto the bed. His wife rushes out, utterly distraught. She eventually ends up on a high mountain, topped with a white cross, looking out over the town.

There are two endings. In the mainstream version, her husband catches up and the couple are reconciled. In the alternative version, she leaps to her death from the summit, before he can reach her.

Fachada principal de la Capilla de SantiagoCapilla de Santiago, as seen in 'When You Were Young'

Mexican film director, Carlos Reygadas, was brought in to create the music video. Based in Mexico City, Reygadas was a United Nations worker, turned movie-maker, who usually focused on full-length feature films.

At the time when 'When You Were Young' was being shot, Reygadas had just received world-wide notoriety for his film, 'Batalla en el Cielo' (Battle in Heaven). It had competed in the Cannes Film Festival, but was remembered mainly for the scenes of graphic sex, with religious undertones. Several commentators have pointed out the common themes between 'Batalla en el Cielo' and those in 'When You Were Young'. Both also had scenes were a protagonist climbs a mountain peak, adorned with a cross, and looks out across the vista beneath.

A scene from 'When You Were Young'

It used to be just Christian pilgrims and Chinelos dance aficionados, who made the journey to Tlayacapan. These days the local people are getting used to meeting fans of The Killers. Visitors to the town will easily find someone to show them around the locations, where the video was filmed.

March 8, 2011

NIN's Mexico Connection

In August, 1999, Nine Inch Nails took over two locations in Jalisco. They brought with them award-winning director, Mark Pellington, and immediately cast 250 local people as extras. This was the shoot of the 'We're In It Together' music video and the result was a stunning piece of dark cinema.

'We're in This Together' is a paranoid love song, about a couple trying to survive against an unknown force. In this dystopian world, something is out to get them, with hints of torture and attempted separation. The couple cling to each other, even when there is no hope.

You and me
We're in this together now
None of them can stop us now
We will make it through somehow

It is never stated who, or what, is after them.

The video reportedly followed the plot of a nightmare, which was dreamt by NIN lead singer, Trent Reznor. It also paid homage to the 1927 cult film, 'Metropolis', with obvious similarities, including the black outfits of the the characters within it. The lady, to whom Trent Reznor so desperately wants to cling, is only alluded to in the seven inch extended version. She is glimpsed in a red dress, stark against the black and white of the rest of the footage, in a nod to 'Schindler's List'.

Filming took place between August 5th-8th, 1999, in downtown Guadaljara and in a dry lake, 100km (62m) south, near to the town of Sayula. The intersection of Independencia Norte and Hidalgo was widely used as a location, as was Mercado Mexaclatzingo and a local hospital for people suffering from extensive burns. The building, in which Trent Reznor sings alone, is on la Calsada del Independencia, one of the main highways running through Guadaljara.

View Larger Map

During the four days of filming, 250 Guadalajara men were employed, working 12 hours a day. They were all aged between 20 and 30 years old and made up the horde of black-clad people running with Trent Reznor. It's been suggested that they represented his loneliness and isolation in this world.

Francisco Gonzalez, a journalist for the local newspaper, Periodico Publico, reported at the time, "One of the curious things was that 95 percent of the people didn't know who Reznor was. They were only curious about the shoot, and not who the artist was."

March 7, 2011

Romantic Cabo San Lucas Attracts the Stars

It seems that you can't turn around, in Mexico, without bumping into another of the world's celebrities. While most of the great and the good are heading to Tulum, another Mexican coastal resort has emerged as THE romantic get-away for star-crossed lovers.

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas lies where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. It's long been a hideout for the rich and famous, with some truly magnificent mansions dotting its horizons. But the town is also well known for its casual atmosphere. There is plenty to see and do there, with watersports, fishing, glorious beaches, then shops and restaurants catering for visitors and locals alike.

Several nightclubs pump up the volume, once the sun has set. Incidentally, don't miss that sunset. Watching the skies weave their tapesty of pink, peach and red, over the stunning landmark of El Arco, is definitely a profound, heart quickening experience.

Cabo San Lucas

An extra lure, for Cabo San Lucas, is that it is relatively close to Los Angeles. Well-heeled Hollywood royalty can easily fly in for a day's relaxation, before returning to the movie lots the following day. Celebrities spotted in town, just recently, include Jessica Alba, Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Martin, Cash Warren and Kate Beckinsale. But they are not the ones making the headlines.

The American press are reporting that Scarlett Johansson and Sean Penn were here, last Tuesday. Ms Johansson appeared to be well over her divorce from Ryan Reynolds. She was practically sitting on Mr Penn's knee, as the couple canoodled over margueritas. They also enjoyed a lobster meal, in one of Cabo San Lucas's exclusive restaurants.

Unfortunately, their stay in such beautiful surroundings was short lived. By evening, Ms Johansson flew back to LA, where she is currently filming, 'We Bought a Zoo'. Mr Penn then travelled on, without her, to Venezuela. He is a close friend of President Hugo Chavez.

Sean Penn and Scarlett Johansson
Sean Penn and Scarlett Johansson

Cabo San Lucas could never be viewed as a quick day-trip destination for European stars, yet they are here too. Last January, the British media were awash with the news that Gethin Jones had finally got his girl. The Blue Peter presenter apparently packed a £10,000 diamond engagement ring, in his luggage, for his Mexican vacation. Once in the heady, romantic environment of Cabo San Lucas, he bent down on one knee and popped the question.

The lady being proposed to was his long-term girlfiend, none over than internationally renowned mezzo-soprano, Katherine Jenkins. (Dr Who fans will know her as the exquisitely singing Abigail, from the last Christmas special.)

Gethin Jones and Katherine Jenkins
Gethin Jones and Katherine Jenkins

The news broke when Ms Jenkins announced it on her official website.

“Geth and I are engaged! He popped the question at the end of an amazing holiday on the coast of Mexico and of course I said yes. We haven’t set a date yet but it will be sometime next year.”

Katherine Jenkins's engagement ring
The engagement ring

Meanwhile, Gethin's description of the scene can be heard on the BBC. Unfortunately, it appears that they won't be returning to Mexico to actually exchange their vows. The wedding is scheduled to take place in their native Wales.

While we're all now contemplating our own romantic trips to Cabo San Lucas, it seems like a good time to end on a song from Katherine Jenkins.

HostGator review