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Posts from the ‘mexico’ Category

Mexico safer than headlines indicate —vindication, at last!

mexican dancer by michael amici, san miguel de allende photographer

This article makes us so happy, we just gotta dance. photo/Amici

This article makes us so happy, we just gotta dance. photo/Amici

Hola Amigos de la Casita,

What with all of our protestations of media mistreatment, we know you’ve probably been thinking “boy those Casita people sure are conspiracy theorists.” Or maybe you were going to start calling us Cassandra de las Flores.

But no, we’re not nuts, just the on the David end of the David and Goliath Public Opinion of Mexico Syndrome (commonly known as DGPOMS).

The attached article on safety in Mexico is so balanced and honest, it deserves a re-print in its entirety. Will send (Oaxaca) chocolate (the cinnamonny kind) and flowers (calla lilies) to Christine Delsol. Or better yet, invite her to stay at the Casita.

The only thing we’d criticize about the article is the lukewarm headline. We feel it should be something more like “Most of Mexico is probably safer than where you live, so get over the media hysteria and get down to that beautiful, amiable and fun country!” Guess that might not fit, though.

Don’t miss the safety travel tips—good while travelling to Mexico or anywhere. (Our personal fave: “Don’t get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets.”)

Wishing you happy travels and many adventures (preferably in San Miguel de Allende, so we can see your smiling face),

Casita de las Flores
San Miguel’s cozy, comfy, and friendly B&K  
Hey! Don’t forget to check out our new specials

San Francisco Chronicle Article on safety in Mexico

Mexico safer than headlines indicate

Christine Delsol, Special to The Chronicle

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images

Tourists enjoy the beach near a police officer on patrol in Acapulco. The U.S. State Department issued a warning for Acapulco, its first for a popular tourist resort, after a year of violence in the city.

Quick – which national capital has the higher murder rate: Mexico City or Washington, D.C.?

If you answered Mexico City, you’d be in good company – after all, Mexico is a war zone, isn’t it? But you would be wrong, on both counts.

Based on FBI crime statistics for 2010 and Mexican government data released early this year, Mexico City’s drug-related-homicide rate per 100,000 population was one-tenth of Washington’s overall homicide rate – 2.2 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 22. (Drug violence accounts for most murders in Mexico, which historically does not have the gun culture that reigns in the United States.)

And while parts of Mexico can be legitimately likened to a war zone, drug violence afflicts 80 of the country’s 2,400 municipalities (equivalent to counties). Their locations have been well publicized: along the U.S. border in northern Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states, and south to Sinaloa, Michoacan and parts of San Luis Potosí, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guerrero and Morelos states.

The flip side is that more than 95 percent of Mexico’s municipalities are at least as safe as the average traveler’s hometown. Yucatan state, for example, had 0.1 of a murder for every 100,000 people in 2010 – no U.S. tourist destination comes close to that. Most cities in central Mexico, outside of the scattered drug hot spots, have lower murder rates than Orlando.

It would seem fairly clear – fly, don’t drive, across the border into the safe regions. Yet whenever people say they are going to Mexico, the invariable response is “Aren’t you afraid?”

Media sensationalism accounts for much of the wariness. “Gangland violence in western Mexico” “Journalists under attack in Mexico” and “Mexico mass grave toll climbs” sound as if the entire country were a killing field. The story might name the state, but rarely the town and almost never the neighborhood. And some reporters apparently are confused by the word “municipality” – some of the killings reported as being in Mazatlan, for example, actually happened in a town miles away from the city – akin to attributing East Palo Alto’s slayings to San Francisco.

But the biggest factor may be that travelers looking for a carefree vacation simply find it easier to write the entire country off than to learn what areas to avoid.

The Mexico Tourism Board is working to change that. Efforts so far have concentrated on getting accurate information to travel agents, who funnel the lion’s share of tourism to Mexico’s popular destinations. Independent travelers’ primary source of information is the State Department travel alerts (travel.state.gov), which are finally getting better at pinpointing the trouble spots.

“We are trying to work with U.S. authorities in making these travel alerts specific and not general,” said Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, the tourism board’s chief operating officer. “Unfortunately, they have projected a somewhat distorted image.”

In the meantime, we have done some of the work for you. The chart above recommends destinations for various comfort levels and travel styles. If you’re totally spooked, there are places that pose no more risk than Disneyland. If you’re open-minded but don’t want to take unnecessary risks, we have places safer than Miami, New Orleans or Washington, D.C. For fearless travelers, these sometimes dicey destinations are worth the extra caution.

Mexico safety tips

Your most important tactic for traveling safe, in Mexico or anywhere else, begins before you even decide where to go. Get familiar with Mexico’s geography; it’s a big country, and your destination might be hundreds or even a thousand miles from violence-prone areas. Keep up on Mexico coverage in major dailies, then do some focused research. Some sources:

— The current State Department travel warning (travel.state.gov) and security updates make a good start.

— The travel agents trade publication Travel Weekly has created a map that puts the latest travel warning in easily digestible graphic form (travelweekly.com/uploadedFiles/MEXICOMAP4.pdf).

— The United Kingdom Foreign Office Travel Advisory for Mexico ( www.fco.gov.uk; “Travel advice by country”) provides another perspective.

— Stratfor, a global intelligence company that advises government agencies and international corporations on security issues, is a reliable, up-to-the-minute source. Membership is expensive, but the website ( www.stratfor.com) makes some reports available for free.

Assuming you’re not headed for northern border areas, normal safety precautions that apply anywhere in the world will suffice. These are particularly important in Mexico:

— Don’t pack anything you couldn’t bear to part with; leave the bling at home.

— Carry only the money you need for the day in a money belt (not a fanny pack), and leave your passport in your hotel unless you know you will need it.

— Get local advice about areas to avoid.

— Don’t get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets. Drunk or sober, don’t walk beaches late at night.

— Stick with taxis dispatched from your hotel or a sitio (taxi stand); if you go out for dinner, ask the restaurant to call a taxi for you.

— Drive during the day; if nighttime driving is unavoidable, use the toll roads.

— Leave a travel itinerary and a copy of your passport with someone at home. If you’ll be traveling in higher-risk areas, notify the nearest U.S. Consulate.

A final note: Don’t get rattled if you see armed soldiers patrolling the beach or manning highway checkpoints. They are young men doing a difficult job. On the road they’ll usually just ask you where you’re coming from and where you’re going; very rarely they will ask to inspect your trunk or your bags. I’ve never encountered one who wasn’t cordial and glad for a smile or a brief conversation.

– Christine Delsol

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The Tuesday Market—a photo essay

I always encourage guests to go to the Tuesday Market (La Placita). Why? Because this ambulatory extravaganza is, according to our own word-famous San Miguel de Allende map, “a raucous and wonderful weekly festival.”

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Six-Month Check-In. May, 2001

It’s All About the Egg.

(The Prequel to The Casita Story)

I wrote this nearly a decade ago, just four months before finding the house (and immense project) that would keep me very, very busy and eventually become Casita de las Flores…I hope this little blog provides encouragement to those who dream about turning over a new tree. (Do it!!)

Casita de las Flores, San Miguel de Allende hotel

Always nurture your egg. And may the Force be with you.

May, 2001

I’m sitting in the hammock listening to the birds.

So many birds.

I’ve never lived in the country before, so I really had no idea about the birds. Watching a woodpecker peck (first time I’ve seen one outside of Woody in the cartoons). Feeling a dreamy, lethargic peace at 3:25 on a warm but overcast silent saturday afternoon. Thinking (not too hard) of what I really should be doing, other than sitting in the hammock, listening to the birds, watching the woodpecker peck.

I’m a world away from my life in the US, where, on the rare occasion that I couldn’t think of what I should be doing, my impatient mind immediately and urgently intruded to suggest the next vitally important task—one in a long, long list of vitally important tasks to be done.

But here in my rented yard outside of San Miguel, my mind simply wanders over my rather lazy day.

My mother claims that, if you’re lucky, you can accomplish one real thing a day in Mexico. I’ve proved her wrong a thousand or so times already, but I’ve come to realize that sometimes it’s actually good for you to accomplish only one thing in a day.

This morning, I continued the house search. Went and looked at a tiny, extremely funky house for sale, for which the owners had decided on a firm, absurdly high price—despite having no idea of the place’s square footage, and despite the fact that the “house” is in need of tons (of tons) of work…stucco on the walls, for starters.

There. That’s one (attempt at) productive activity. Ah, yes…I also got an email from a friend I haven’t connected with since I left the States six months ago.

Six months. Half a year of a new life.

“Aha,” comes a quiet voice through the languid afternoon haze. “Write,” it says. So here I am, on the page. (Well, on the laptop, in the hammock.)

I admit, I’ve been having guilty type-A thoughts lately—I haven’t been doing enough. I’ve been “wasting time.” Nearly six months of time! What will become of me??!! Ack.

But then my friend in the States writes about how great my life seems—having the time to do the things I love—painting, photography, gardening, writing, yoga, dancing, hammock roosting.

Living.

Suddenly, even though I am lazing in the garden, I feel as if my life is, actually, productive. Every now and then, life should simply be about living.

Yes, of course, I am a bit poor, financially speaking (except for my tiny nest egg). And I have no real prospects (yet). But my life is rich, isn’t it?

Rich in butterflies (plenty of the stomach kind, but mostly the insect kind): Small black flutterers with cobalt and crimson spots gleaming in the sun. A few huge white lovelies sailing calmly by, and the occasional stately orange and black Monarch.

Rich in flora: Nasturtium, spinach, and forget-me-not seedlings standing as tall as they can, just a few days out of the earth. (Am I, perhaps, a seedling, just six months out of new earth?)

A miniature broccoli forest coming up. Infant zucchini boldly protruding from under wide, variegated, sun-catching leaves. Tomato plants freely offering up the pointy yellow flowers that portend juicy red fruit. Cheeky little adolescent lettuces. (There is so much hope and bravery in a new garden, not to mention many happy salads to come.)

Rich in feathered friends: Noisy, rat-tat-tat woodpeckers. Mournful doves mooning about. Haughty orange orioles lounging in the branches. Huge bickering blackbirds squabbling on the ground. Tiny, blindingly scarlet birdlets lingering in the purple Jacaranda blooms. And of course, many busy little jewel-colored hummingbirds zooming from blossom to blossom.

Perhaps I was a hummingbird in my first-world life? Not jewel-colored, so much as pale beige, but buzzing frenetically from duty to duty…

Maybe. But now what am I? Not a seedling, not a hummingbird. A hen, perhaps. (Colorful now—yes!) Sitting—roosting on my little egg of potential, my potential egg—doing apparently nothing, but thinking, dreaming, and scheming, waiting for my future to hatch.

Unemployed, yes. Poor-ish, yes. But I am so very rich in one of the great bounties Mexico has to offer: Time.

Time to play at painting the Virgen de Guadalupe. Time to tinker on the guitar (I can now play Greensleeves—if I had a phone, Carnegie Hall would SO be calling). Time for the joys of photography (which literally means “writing with light”). And, most of all, time to write (with light, ink or pixels). To muse, to jot, to scribble. Attempting to get to know myself and my newish surroundings though black marks on a white page/screen.

My doubts seem to dissolve, and, for once (or twice),  I actually know I am doing fine.

Sure, I have no foreseeable way to make a living in Mexico (to be “secure”), but I am fine. Really fine. Finer than frog hair, as my father always says. (It took me almost twenty years of hearing that expression before I got it—“Wait,” she finally says to herself, “Frogs don’t have hair…ohhhh.”) And so, despite my lack of the career-building activities most people in my former Stateside life deem to be essential to a sense of self, my self seems to be fine. Finer than…iguana hair.

Six months into this Mexican adventure of indeterminate length, I sit and look back. Not literally back at the towering Mesquite tree that supports the north end of my hammock, but back at the months of stress and preparation for leaving my conventional life up North, half a year ago:

Quit job. Finish thesis. Jump through all the right hoops to graduate. Sort through 20 or so years of accumulated stuff (the pack rat’s instant karma). Have two massive garage sales and still give a driveway full of stuff to a charitable organization. Fall in love at the last-possible, most-insane minute, and leave man and town and country behind anyway, because it had to be done (because it was my future, my egg).

Then:

Drive 2000 miles in a car filled to the gills with Mom, pets and my carefully-packed belongings (60% books)—still, somehow, so very much stuff.

Arrive at new, Mexican home. Unpack, organize, play house and play in the garden. Survive while distance smothers a fledgling relationship. Live in near-total isolation for four months while trying to find a foothold in what was once, long ago, Home—the place I grew up. Get to know (again) the town, the language, the lifestyle, and the birds. And then, finally, blossom once again into the world of humankind.

So very much can happen in six short months.

Did I make the right decision? To leave almost everything (material) behind for a brave/insane new adventure in a foreign country? Definitely. (I mostly think.) Of course, it has been very difficult, at times, to have sacrificed security and a nice, reliable paycheck for the unknown. But the benefits are manifold, not the least of which is the time to simply sit in the hammock and think. And tend to my egg.

Ten Year Check-In, May, 2011

Forgot how to play Greensleves on the guitar, but learned how to play it on the Piano. Not painting at the moment, but still crazy in love with photography. Accomplish a multitude of tasks on most days, but still spend the occasional lazy Saturday pondering in my new hammock in my new garden. (And even manage to write now and then.)

What I didn’t know then was that Casita de las Flores, which turns ten next year (!), would change my life in so many ways: providing me with a life-sized art project, meaningful work, lots of new friends, and even a decent income, eventually.

Best of all, a decade later, I am still rich—not so much in money, though I am a wee bit more secure—but in time (and birds and butterflies and seedlings). Yet, I find I’m roosting yet again, sitting on that good old future egg, wondering what comes next.

Here’s to you, adventurers—don’t let the unknown keep you down. And take really good care of that egg.

Wishing you love and lots of great eggs,

Casita de las Flores
www.CasitaDeLasFlores.com

Good news for/about Mexico — someone’s finally doing the math.

“ Look, no matter what you hear, the U.S. has not warned citizens to stay out of Mexico.
The State Department warning says to stay out of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango -- particularly Juarez."

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The truth about safety in Mexico—Reprint from CNN.com

I want to give Robert Reid a big, wet kiss.

Mr Reid, Lonely Planet’s New York-based U.S. travel editor and host of the 76-Second Travel Show, just published a brilliant article about Mexico.

I’ve been working on a similar story for several months—but it seems I am incapable of calmness on the topic of violence in Mexico. Just kept getting all ranty (it’s just terminally frustrating to hear what the media are saying about Mexico, this beautiful, peaceful yet lively country where I’ve lived, worked, and traveled for more than 18 years without incident).

So I keep hiding the latest embarrassingly strident article draft (awash in scrawled edits) away, under my Great PanAmerican Novel-in-progress, my nearly finished much-better mousetrap, and other more realistically completeable projects, like the blog entries i’m supposed to do every month.

Ok. well. Maybe just one slightly ranty anecdote (couldn’t resist):

An expat pal and 30+plus year San Miguel resident describes a dialogue she has all too often, whilst visiting the States.
Clueless travelphobe in the media’s thrall: “You live in Mexico? Oh, I wouldn’t go there—it’s too dangerous.”
Expat pal: “Do you deal drugs?”
CT: “No, of COURSE not!”
EP: “Then you don’t have a problem.” (Trying not to shout.)

Mr. Reid, who now holds a very special place in my heart, says it all so very well (and calmly!) in the following article (click on the headline to go straight to CNN—but you’ll miss my fab commentary).

None of this is news to anyone that lives here or visits often, but it’s nice to see the media finally start to get some perspective on the real situation in Mexico. Kudos, Mr. Reid. And a huge Gracias from the 30% of Mexicans who work in tourism. Not to mention big besos from Casita de las Flores!

Please pass it on! Go to our Facebook page and LIKE the link (and us, while you’re at it)…put the link on your FB page! Forward it, Share it, Twitter it, holler it over the fence. Whatever!!

Now, tell me again why aren’t you here??

xoxo,

Casita de las Flores
www.CasitaDeLasFlores.com


Travel expert: Why you should go to Mexico

By Robert Reid, Special to CNN  [Emphasis added by yours truly]
May 6, 2011 10:10 a.m. EDT
Beach resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula are removed from the violence, author says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Popular tourist spots are largely removed from drug violence, Robert Reid says
Reid feels the U.S. is “fortunate, not cursed” to be so close to Mexico
In most of central and southern Mexico, drug violence isn’t on the radar of daily life
Editor’s Note: Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s New York-based U.S. travel editor and host of the 76-Second Travel Show.
New York (CNN) —

Mexico tourism is having a bit of a PR problem lately.    [This is a BIT of an understatement]

Reports of mass grave sites, daylight shootings and carjackings from the escalating drug war don’t exactly build confidence for a family planning a week’s holiday. And on April 22, the U.S. State Department upgraded its travel warnings to target 14 of Mexico’s 31 states.

Now’s not the time to visit our southerly neighbor, right? Well, wrong. Mexico is a lot safer than you may realize.
We tend to lump all of Mexico — a country the size of Western Europe — together. For example, a border incident resulted in the death of a Colorado tourist last year, and the Texas Department of Homeland Security recommended against travel to all of Mexico.  [It’s SO much easier to generalize. All those pesky details just clutter up a good travel warning…]

Yet it’s in the 17 of 31 states not named in the newly expanded warnings where you’ll find the most rewarding destinations: the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja California beach resorts, colonial hill towns like the ex-pat haven of San Miguel de Allende, even the capital Mexico City.
Mexican protesters march to end drug war
An hour inland from Cancun’s beaches, Yucatan state — home to the most popular Mayan sites and “real Mexican” colonial cities such as Merida and Valladolid — is among the country’s safest. The state, with roughly the same population as Kansas, saw two drug-related deaths in 2010. Wichita, Kansas, alone had six gang-related killings over the same period.

Lonely Planet: 8 top places to (safely) visit in Mexico now   [Click on this link! San Miguel is in the top 8!]

In most of central and southern Mexico, drug violence simply isn’t on the radar of daily life. “It’s as easy-going as it’s always been,” said Deborah Felixson, a diving operator on Cozumel who is “shocked” when people say they had been scared to go to the Caribbean island. “We’re just small communities here. We all know what everyone’s up to.”
That sentiment is found even in places once linked with political tension, such as Chiapas state and Oaxaca City, where political protest turned into a stand-off in 2006.
“Things are so much quieter now,” said Rogelio Vallesteros, who runs a Spanish-language school in Oaxaca City. “People call to ask about safety all the time, then they come and see how quiet it is. We’re normal, really.”
Mexico tourism official: Vacation spots far removed from violence
After the swine-flu crisis of 2009 — when some cruise ships diverted routes from Mexican ports that had no reported cases to American ones that did — travel bounced back a bit last year. Interestingly, the increase of returning Canadians and many Western Europeans doubled that of the American rate. We seem to remain particularly leery of Mexico.
That’s sad. [another wee understatement, especially if you’re one of the 30% of Mexicans who makes a living from tourism] My love of travel began with childhood visits to Mexican ruins and beaches, and I feel the U.S. is fortunate, not cursed, to be so close to a place that offers jungles, deserts, volcanoes, beaches, coral reefs, ancient pyramids, living pre-European cultures and some of the world’s most satisfying cuisines.   [ditto!]
And of course the best reason to go: the people. [double ditto!]
A couple years ago, I informally polled various innkeepers and tour operators worldwide to find out who are the world’s friendliest travelers. Guess who won. “Mexicans are such a joy to have here,” one Bulgarian guesthouse owner e-mailed back. “They make everyone feel happier.”
And it’s often better in Mexico, where locals show particular gusto in love of life. [si señor! mucho gusto.] Once I saw fireworks go off in Mexico City, before sunset, and asked a local why. He was surprised I didn’t know. “It’s Friday,” he explained.
In restaurants, strangers seeing each other’s eyes instinctively say “buen provecho” before eating. It’s an earnest wish that their food should not only be tasty, but really pleasurable, and that the hope that their life will be a bit better as a result. There really is no English equivalent. Even our adopted “bon appétit” pales in significance.
Naturally, crime exists everywhere in Mexico.
I’ve been pickpocketed in Guadalajara (and in New York, too). But that’s the extent of my unpleasant scrapes in a dozen visits that have taken me to home-stay language courses, traditional Mayan markets, mummy museums, cenotes (surreal limestone sinkholes in which you can swim) and even Zapatista zones in the south.
Most travel to Mexico, ultimately, is simply good travel. It’s fun, affordable, eye-opening and fascinating (seriously, what other city of 21 million other than Mexico City is founded on a filled-in lake?).
But, no, you don’t have to visit Mexico. And there are certainly places, like Ciudad Juarez or Tamaulipas state, I’d never visit now. Just know that the Mexico experienced on the ground almost never matches the Mexico we increasingly see and read about.

[amen y gracias, Señor Reid]

San Miguel Makes the Top Ten (and it’s good for you!)

san miguel de allende among top ten artsy cities

According to journeyetc.com, San Miguel is up there with the likes of Berlin, Florence and Paris, artistically speaking. “If you yourself want to make art instead of viewing the artworks, go to San Miguel de Allende. This little town still brandishing its colonial architecture is the best place to go to in order to practice one’s craft. San Miguel de Allende’s artistry is high enough to be compared to Florence,” they write.

And of course, they point out that visiting a haven for art and artists, such as San Miguel de Allende, is good for you:

“Working and doing the same things over and over can be such a chore. Sometimes the work that we do mold us in ways that we don’t expect and at times surprise us because of the changes they seem to inculcate. When these things happen and you feel stranger and stranger as the days go on, the perfect solution is almost, always a vacation.

“Not all escapes are healthy though. It really depends if the place you are going to totally renews your interest in certain elements of your daily life. A perfect vacation or more specifically, a journey, should be able to help you re-engage with wonder and help you re-engage the world in a renewed manner. What is the perfect way to do this but an immersion in the arts?

“Exposure to what is beautiful, to geometric and mind labored shapes, to beautiful music that becomes grander and grander in scale as the orchestra plays it, can dramatically sharpen our senses and our sensual intelligence and sensitivity. If you want to go and get lost in art, here are some key cities you will find which will help you reacquire a vision for your life.”

Of course, they forgot to mention that San Miguel is so much more relaxed and personable than those big hectic cities.

Well, we already knew San Miguel was eye candy central, didn’t we? So get down here and soak up some culture. Take some art classes. (see our local resources page for more info on classes and teachers). Create your own work of art. Find yourself. Relax and have fun!

To read the whole article, click here.

hasta pronto,

Casita de las Flores
www.casitadelasflores.com

Your everlovin,’ artsy fartsy San Miguel B & K*—affordable, comfy and friendly.

*(Bed and kitchen)

Crazy Days

For the hip, there are two places to be in San Miguel on Locos Sunday: in the parade or watching it. If you’re in the milling mile or so of costumed revelers and flatbed floats with blaring, competing soundtracks, you dance across town all morning and into the afternoon. Of course, in your foam and felt frog/fat lady/ex-president costume, there is a risk of heat exhaustion. But, you get to pelt spectators with candy, which makes it all worthwhile.

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