Monday, February 26, 2018

Mexico's Most Remote Territory

Where Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma passes through Chapultepec Park there are always interesting photographic displays hung on the park fence.

On my recent trip there was an exhibit of photos of Mexico's remote Revillagigedo Islands.

The widely scattered Pacific archipelago consists of four volcanic islands... San Benedicto, Socorro, Clarión, and Roca Partida (which is nothing more than an outcropping of rock).
The nearest island to the Mexican coast is 240 miles to the southwest of Cabo San Lucas.  Except for a small navy base the islands are uninhabited.  They have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and last year they were declared a Mexican national park.  Fortunately there are no plans to develop the islands for tourism.

In 1952, the volcano on San Benedicto erupted and nearly eliminated all life on that island.  The ecosystem has recovered since then.

The tallest peak in the island group is Cerro Evermann, a still active volcan. It is on the island of Socorro.

The islands are sometimes referred to as Mexico's "Little Galapagos" because of the variety of wildlife found nowhere else.  Many of the species are endangered.

The waters around the islands teem with marine life.

There are thirty varieties of sharks to found here, and four endangered species of marine turtles.

The exhibit gave me a glimpse of a remote part of Mexico that I will never see.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bright Idea

Another brilliant idea from the "Pendejo-in-Chief"...

(image from the web)

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Random Acts of Art

I have done of number of entries on this blog featuring the street art of Mexico City.  Here are some more random photos that I have taken in different parts of the city...

The wall of a middle school along Cuauhtémoc Avenue

Another building just down the street

The wall of a home in the San Pedro de los Pinos neighborhood 

The restroom in Parque México in the Condesa neighborhood

A rather bizarre painting on the side of a building in Condesa

Downtown along Juárez Avenue

Across from the Andrés Molina Metrobus station

In the Guerrero neighborhood

This mural isn´t along the street, but inside the Insurgentes Metro Station.  Here the painters José Clemente Orozco, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera have a shot of tequila.


Friday, February 23, 2018

Independent Women

This summer, Mexicans will go to the polls to vote for a new President.  Something new in this year's election is that independent candidates will be allowed to run.  In order to appear on the ballot a candidate must gather over 800,000 signatures, one percent of the country's electorate.  Three candidates have so far garnered the necessary signatures.  However, people are suspicious of how "independent" some of them really are. 

One of the independents is Margarita Zavala, the wife of former President Felipe Calderón.  When she was unsuccessful in gaining the nomination of her husband´s conservative PAN party, she resigned from the party and took the "independent" route.  She hopes to be Mexico's first woman President, but her candidacy may simply result in splitting the conservative vote. 

Another very different woman is attracting a lot of attention, even though she probably won't succeed in getting on the ballot.  María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, popularly referred to as Marichuy, aspires to be not just the first woman President, but the first indigenous female President.

During my recent trip to Mexico City, I saw tables set up in a couple different locations, where volunteers were collecting signatures for her.

"Sign for the independent candidacy of Marichuy!"

Marichuy is a Nahua (Aztec) speaking woman who is endorsed by the National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatistas, the revolutionary group based in the state of Chiapas that rebelled against the government in 1994.  I admire her desire to become the first native woman President, but her politics are much too far to the left.  Mexican politics definitely needs to be shaken up, but I certainly do not want to see the nation go the route of another Cuba or Venezuela.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Venting at Home

I arrived home last night from a six week stay in Mexico City in a very negative mood.  If you have been following this blog, you know that, even though I managed to do some of my usual travelogue posts, this trip was nothing like my usual stays in Mexico.   Although I cannot claim to have experienced the level of stress, grief and depression suffered by Alejandro and his family during the illness and loss of his mother, as an adopted member of the family, I definitely shared in those emotions.  I certainly am glad to have been there to lend moral support to the family, to help where I could, and to bond more closely with them.  But it was definitely not a happy trip.

I still love Mexico, and I plan to return in April.  However my view of the country was much affected by my frame of mind. 

First of all, the things that Alejando told me have left me with nothing but contempt for the public health care system in Mexico.  Yes, we gringos who travel and live in Mexico can take advantage of very affordable (for us), first rate, private medical facilities.  But from the experiences that Alejandro's mother endured, I can say that I would not send a dog to a public hospital in Mexico.  In early January, a few days before I arrived down there, Alejandro took his mother to the emergency room. In addition to her kidney disease which had been progressively getting worse, she was hemorrhaging.  This eighty year old lady sat in a chair in a cold hallway for ten hours waiting for a bed.  According to Alejandro, some people wait for days.  Several days after being admitted she developed a nasty bedsore because she had been left to lie in her own urine. It was an exceptionally cold January in Mexico, and hospital room was unheated.  Alejandro's mother was constantly suffering from the cold, but there were not enough blankets for everyone.  And family members were absolutely forbidden from bringing in blankets or warm clothing.  There were, I am sure, many dedicated and caring staff members, but they were so overworked that they could not properly care for everyone.  An insider told Alejandro not to file any complaints, because there were some "very bad people" in the hospital who would take it out on his mother.  It is no wonder that she wanted to return home to die.

I also noticed the damage from last September's earthquake more than on my previous trip.  There are many buildings which are still standing but which are damaged.  You notice these buildings... the businesses on the ground floor are shuttered, and offices or apartments above appear vacant, and vandals quickly move in and cover the structures with graffiti.  The government has yet to determine which structures need to demolished.  Five months after the quake, many people are living in limbo.  Their homes are still standing, but they don't know if they are habitable.

This summer there will be a presidential election in Mexico.  The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, is nearing the end of his six year term and is dismally unpopular.  Peña Nieto is not allowed to run for a second term, but, even so, his political party, rotten with corruption, is facing well-deserved defeat.  The problem is that none of the other parties offer a good alternative.  The leader in the polls, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is a populist whom many fear will turn out to be a Mexican Hugo Chávez.

So it is that I return to the Disunited States of America, a nation headed by an incompetent, lying, egotistical, morally bankrupt, racist "pendejo"...  a country whose electoral system is being subverted by Russia...  a nation where young people are gunned down in their schools... where the NRA fills the coffers of politicians... and where right-wingers call students protesting gun violence puppets of the liberal media.  

Perhaps Alejandro was right when he joked that he and I should move to Switzerland, herd cows, and make cheese. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Heading Home

After spending six weeks in Mexico City I will return to Ohio tomorrow.  It will be a long day.  I need to be at the airport at 5:30 tomorrow morning.  I am flying on Interjet from Mexico City to Chicago, and then after a long layover I will fly on United to Cleveland.  It will be 9:00 tomorrow evening before I am back in my house.

I still have quite a bit to write about my stay down here, so be sure to come back to read more.

Time now for me to pack my bags.

The Dreadful "Pesero"

Mexico City is served by twelve Metro (subway) lines and six (soon to be seven) Metrobus routes.  While at certain hours they are jammed with passengers, they are generally quite efficient means of public transportation.

However around sixty percent of the people in Mexico City using public transport rely on the 28,000 little buses known as "peseros"... vehicles which Alejandro calls the worst!

"Peseros" got their name from the fact that the fare used to be one peso.  Now it generally costs between four and five pesos to ride a "pesero".  The bus driver gets to keep all the fares he collects over the daily quota which goes to the vehicle owner.  As a result, the drivers are always in a hurry to make as many runs and to carry as many passengers as possible.  I have witnessed "peseros" running red lights a number of times.  On the other hand, the fact that the buses are constantly stopping to pick up or drop off passengers anywhere along the street adds to the traffic chaos.  The "peseros" also contribute to the city's noise pollution.  The drivers love to lay on their horns whenever the traffic in front of them is not moving fast enough to suit them.  And, believe me, those little buses have horns that are louder than any big truck.  

What is most scary is that there is no regulation of these buses.  Many of the vehicles are poorly maintained, and there is no criteria for the hiring of drivers.  The buses are notorious for causing accidents... sometimes fatal accidents.  (The driver usually runs away from the scene of the accident, never to be seen again.)  Until the city government takes some action, regulating the "peseros" or providing better public transport options, those little buses will continue to be a blight on the city.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dining Out

I am back at the condo for one more night before I leave to go home on Wednesday.  Since Alejandro's home is closer to the airport than the condo, and since my luggage is still at his place, it is logical that I go back there tomorrow to pack my bags and spend my last night.

So my dinner today was my last time out at a restaurant for this trip.  I was at the "Reforma 222" shopping mall, and I ate at "El Bajío", a chain of restaurants specializing in traditional Mexican cuisine.  It is usually a dependable chain, and my meal today was excellent.  I ordered a pitcher of melon water to drink, and I started with a plate of "fideo seco"... slightly spicy noodles garnished with cheese, cilantro, sour cream and avocado.   For my main course I had pork loin in "mole de Xico".  Since there is a town in the state of Veracruz called Xico, and since the supervising chef of "El Bajío" hails from Veracruz, I am assuming that this "mole" is from that state.

The pork was very tender, and the dark, rich "mole" was exceptionally good.  Hot, homemade tortillas were served in a basket.  (Tortillas are a must for sopping up the remaining "mole"!)  For dessert I had "cajeta" (Mexican caramel) cake.

An excellent meal for bringing this stay in Mexico to a close!

Another Tremor

Last night I stayed at Alejandro's house.  A little before 1:00 this morning, the earthquake siren sounded.  All of us... Alejandro, his father, his sister with her 7-year-old in her arms, the dogs, and I... immediately went out to the street.  So did everyone else in the neighborhood.  None of us felt anything.  The utility wires were swaying, but there was a stiff breeze last night.  After several minutes we went inside and went back to sleep.

The alarms had been set off by a 5.9 quake in the southern state of Oaxaca (poor Oaxaca!).  Even though it was not perceptible in most of the city, when that siren goes off, people react.

As far as last Friday's quake, a decorative façade of a building in the Condesa neighborhood fell off and raised a lot of dust.  But that was the only significant damage in Mexico City.   In the state of Oaxaca near the epicenter, there were some buildings destroyed, but fortunately there were no deaths or injuries.

An interesting aside... I just read that, unlike Mexico, California does NOT have a seismic alarm system.  There are Californians complaining that, instead of building a Wall, the "Pendejo"-in-Chief should spend that money on an alarm system that could potentially save lives.

Happy New Year

On Friday I was trying to decide how I should spend the day.  I went out for breakfast, and I took a look at the front page of the morning paper for sale by the front door.  There was a picture of the Chinese New Year festival that was being held in Mexico City's "Barrio Chino"... Chinatown.  

So after breakfast I took the Metrobus downtown and headed to the small Chinatown that is tucked away just a block to the south of busy Juárez Avenue.  

A banner advertises the New Year festivities in the ¨Barrio Chino".

I have passed through the area before, and I was aware of the ornate Chinese gate standing along Independencia Avenue.

However, the city government appears to be promoting the little neighborhood as a tourist attraction, and has built a few decorative features that were not there just a few months ago.
Another Chinese gate has been built along Juárez Avenue luring residents and tourists alike to turn down Dolores Street into the "Barrio".

At the corners of Independencia and Dolores Chinese lion statues stand guard.

Farther down Dolores Street are the "CDMX" letters that are seen throughout the city, but here they are in Chinese characters.

Dolores Street is lined with Chinese restaurants and shops.

The street was festooned with lanterns for the festivities.

An open air market had been set up for several blocks along Independencia Avenue with stalls selling Chinese food and souvenirs.  Since this is the Year of the Dog in the Chinese calendar, there plenty of figures of dogs for sale.

Galletas de la Fortuna - Fortune Cookies

Not every stall in the market was related to Chinese culture...

Oaxacan ice cream

In an alley off of Dolores Street, the dragon was waiting for his big moment.

Around two o'clock the dragon came to life...

... and made his way through the streets of Chinatown.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Not a Good Sign

Ironically, on Thursday, just a day before we felt a strong tremor here, I went back to the Condesa neighborhood to see again one of the areas badly hit by last September's quake.

Prior to renting the condo where I stay now, I had rented numerous times an apartment on Amsterdam Avenue in Condesa.  The first reports I heard were that the building had been damaged but was repairable.  When I passed the building on Thursday, I saw this sign...

Loosely translated it says, "We wish to inform you that the property of Amsterdam 7 does not have an official structural judgement.  At this time it is being evaluated to determine its habitability. The use and occupation of this property is AT YOUR OWN RISK."

That does not sound good.  

Two doors down the street is another apartment building that was heavily damaged.  It now looks completely gutted, but there are men working in the building.  One of the workers told me that they are repairing it.

Just a couple blocks away was one of the collapsed buildings that was shown on the news reports at that time.  Over 40 people lost their lives here.  The last of the rubble is still being cleared away.

I saw this sign in front of a damaged apartment building...

The residents of this building are urging the Civil Defense to inspect it to determine how badly it was affected by the earthquake.  "Please do not leave us adrift."

While I am sure that the work to be done by authorities after the earthquake was overwhelming, it seems that after five months people should know whether or not their homes are habitable.