Getting familiar With Mexico City

Europe south of the border

I recently visited Mexico City as part of my job as a grocery company Sales Director operating in the Southwest United States. The goal of the trip was to study Mexican supermarket merchandising so we could apply it to Spanish speaking customers at our stores. Our trip was well directed by a bevy of Mexican representatives of companies who supplied products for our stores here in the states. We stayed at a nice hotel in the very center of the city which in addition to making it convenient for our daily tours also gave us an insider’s view of life in Mexico City.

My first surprise was when the sales reps told us they would arrive at the hotel to take us to breakfast at 10 a.m. Of course, I woke up and was showered, shaved and dressed by 7 a.m. I walked downstairs for coffee and saw most of my co-workers gathered around a large table in the center of the dining room. Our cell phones were pretty much inoperative.

We had previously decided that our boss would call the office several times a day and then notify us Directors if we needed to make any calls to solve problems in our departments. Since we couldn’t use the phone we decided to take a stroll on the blocks about the hotel. At 8:30 in the morning, we found the streets and sidewalks to be very lightly traveled and many closed signs on the doors of street-front businesses. At first, we assumed that the perception we had of Mexico as the “land of manana” was right on the money!

It was only when we began to discuss our stroll around the area that our guides explained that Mexico City was much like European cities. Business began later in the morning and extended into the evening. Meals were eaten in mid-morning, late afternoon and late evening. As we started our tour I began to look at the city through the prism of European cities. Sure enough, the clothing of people on the streets—now that the workday had begun—was stylish, attractive and the people appeared sophisticated and professional.

As we toured the supermarkets, we found them to be clean and heavily stocked with well merchandised products. I was amazed at the amount of fresh produce purchased by what appeared to be almost every customer. We arrived back at the hotel about 7 p.m. and were told we would meet in the lobby to go to dinner at 8 p.m.

By the time we arrived at the restaurant, ordered and received our food it was almost 9 p.m. We finished a leisurely dinner at 10:30 p.m. and then went to several reputable nightclubs afterward. Once again, we were surprised that the night was just getting started and would go as long as we wanted; the European analogy seemed to still apply.

We, however, were beat and went to bed early, at least the Mexican guides thought so.


Learn a foreign language with salsa

This free Spanish language site is just what every family needs!

Thinking about teaching your child a second language? Spanish is a great choice if you live in America, considering that a large portion of our country—as well as our neighbors—speaks the language. Most other countries do teach at least two languages, if not more (not necessarily English, either) and knowing only one language may put us behind in the new global economy.

Salsa is a wonderful Spanish website where both children and adults can easily pick up some conversational Spanish. Though it is geared toward ages five to nine, it can be helpful to anyone wanting to learn a new language.  Salsa works so well because it’s a collection of puppet videos depicting familiar fairytale stories in Spanish.

All of the stories are super simple but they’re completely in Spanish, which gives us plenty of context clues to figure out what the words mean and start using them as one would in the language. It’s a tiny immersion program right in your living room, which is incredible at its free cost! My daughter and I have been using Salsa videos for months now and I can vouch for it being both entertaining and educational. So far, it’s her favorite Spanish program.

The neighborhood superstore

Mexican store across the border

Several years ago, I was treated to a visit to a neighborhood grocery store in a small town outside of El Paso, TX. The town’s population was comprised of mostly Hispanics with many families being longtime residents, going back many generations. The neighborhood grocery was operated by a local Hispanic entrepreneur as one of his many holdings. His father had opened the store in the early 1900s. Since then the store has tailored its offerings to the Hispanic community. The store had a tortilla factory—not simply a tortilla machine—but a real factory of three giant machines and approximately 12 workers operating it on the day I was there.

The produce department was having a one-half price sale and it was buried in customers. There were huge displays of mangos, tomatillos, melons, avocados and peppers of every size, color and shape. Amid the huge stacks of fresh produce and swirling crowds of people a Mariachi band was ratcheting up the pace and creating a frenzied excitement. Customers jostled each other as they scooped dried pinto beans, black beans and rice out of huge barrels.

The meat department was full of fresh hog’s heads, cow tongue and cheek as well as intestines and stomach. The fresh muscle meats—regardless of the type—were cut into thin strips and loaded onto trays ready for purchase. Many of the shoppers had large families and bought the thin slices so that everyone in the house got a share.

The aroma of the spice aisle was unbelievable. Baskets of every type of spice imaginable were displayed—all farm fresh and ready to flavor the next exotic dish.

There were huge displays of various types of aqua fresco or flavored water. The flavored water was displayed in 5 gallon glass jars. The flavors included cantaloupe, watermelon, mango or other fruits which were sliced and scooped into their individual jars. The workers then added water along with the stores proprietary spices and then a huge block of ice was placed in the water. As the beverage was dipped out and sold by the quart, more water was added and the fruit was left in the bottom of the jar to continue to ferment, flavoring the beverage.

Cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco and panelo were cut and displayed in one pound blocks; ready for sale. Yogurt of every description was stacked in large jars in a long refrigerated case and was selling like hot cakes.

The best thing about the store, however, was the mural that extended around the inside wall of the store. It was begun in the early 1900s and depicted favorite customers in various everyday acts such as picking corn, rolling tamales or attending church. Each generation was chronicled on the wall mural by a local artistic family whose sons and daughters continued the tradition to this day, and there is a lot of blank wall still left. Some shoppers come in to pray with their relatives shown on the wall or simply show them off to visiting family or children.

I have written about this store in the past but there is still a great deal to describe.

Day trips around Mexico City

Puebla and Queretaro

Mexico City is a big, confusing, scary, exciting place, full of distinct neighborhoods, good food and interesting people. But sometimes don’t you want to just get out of the city? Fortunately, Mexico City is surrounded by other really attractive places. Puebla and Queretaro are both mid-sized colonial cities 2-4 hours from Mexico City, depending on traffic and from where you leave.

The road east to Puebla takes you between two big volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. Popo reactivated in April this year, shooting out ash and superheated rock.

Aside from a vibrant colonial city center with beautiful architecture, Puebla is also known for having great food. Chiles en Nogada, a pepper stuffed with ground meat and dried fruit, and topped with walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds, was created in Puebla and is in season in September. Year round you can enjoy many kinds of mole, a sauce made from a big mix of spices (even chocolate) and usually cooked with chicken.

Queretaro is northwest of Mexico City, about twice as far as Puebla and in the opposite direction. This too is a colonial city with lots of attractive architecture, museums and cultural events. The city center has many open squares and parks, making for great traffic-free walks.

Queretaro is capital of Queretaro state, which has some beautiful natural areas, including the Pena de Bernal, a huge rock that you can hike up for sweeping views of the countryside. Queretaro is also on the road west to more attractive places in central Mexico, including Guanajuato and Guadalajara.

Mexico gets a lot of fame for its beaches, but the colonial cities of central Mexico are well worth a visit as well.

Mexico City’s Historic Center

Centro Historico

You won’t see all of Mexico City in one short visit. It’s just too big. But for sure you will visit Centro Historico, the historic downtown of the city.

Before I had ever visited Mexico City, my Mexican friends warned me that it is big and ugly. Of course, like any big city, much of it is. But when I came out of the subway to the Zocalo (center square), The colonial beauty of the place blew me away.The Zocalo has a huge Mexican flag in the center and is surrounded by the cathedral and government buildings. Just to the side of the cathedral is the excavation of Plaza Mayor – the main pyramids of the Aztec city that Mexico City was built over. The policy of the Spanish was to build right over the pyramids, so under the cathedral are ruins, inaccessible because of the church.

When you visit the Zocalo look for the Holiday Inn – they have a reasonably priced rooftop restaurant that overlooks everything. It's a great place for a drink in the afternoon.

A pedestrian street connects the Zocalo with the Alameda, the central square. All along this street you will see more churches and historic buildings, including the blue tile La Casa de los Azulejos, which now houses a Sanborns, a Denny’s-like restaurant chain.

Across the street is the big skyscraper Torre Latinoamericana. You can take an elevator up to the top for sweeping views of the city. Then as you approach Alameda, the first thing you see is Bellas Artes, a beautiful stained glass theatre and museum.

The Alameda is a good place to get deals on souvenirs, like T-shirts, purses or bootleg movies. The pathways are lined with stands. Don’t forget to bargain. You can get cheap food here too.

Don’t believe the hype about Mexico City being too dangerous to visit. Come down and see for yourself.

What to see in Mexico City

Are you planning a trip to Mexico City? Great idea. As one of the world's largest cities, it is packed full of interesting places to visit.

Mexico City's historic center, centro historico, has narrow streets lined with colonial buildings and churches. A pedestrian street connects the zocalo (center square) to the alameda (central park). You can eat well in centro – look for small quesadilla restaurants. Kekas come in many ways – such as with chicken, mushrooms, even zucchini flower. Make sure to ask for cheese because sometimes it won't be included.Coming out of centro is La Reforma, an important avenue. Here is where you will find the golden eagle statue, which is something of a symbol of the city. It's a long walk (but nice) along La Reforma to Chapultepec, a giant park and one of the highlights of Mexico City. It is full of trails and has a castle in the center.

Condesa is an upscale nightclub and restaurant district. Along with Zona Rosa, it is one of the most touristy parts of the city, but regardless it's a good place to go out because of its diversity of bars and clubs.

Other than centro historico, another important neighborhood for culture is Coyoacan in the south of the city. Among other interesting places to visit (like Frida Kahlo's house) is Leon Trotsky's house, where he was murdered.

An interesting experience is to take a gondola ride through the floating gardens of Xochimilco. They fit a lot of people and you can bring food and drinks, and maybe even hire some mariachis for the trip, so you can make a real party out of it.

These are just a few of the good places to see in Mexico City, not to mention all the great day trips you can take.

Mexico travel concerns

Don't take a one-way trip!

Newspapers and electronic media—including the Internet—are constantly warning travelers from the United States that visiting Mexico is dangerous, if not deadly. I must say it certainly seems that way. Reports regarding such events as entire police forces of some small towns resigning, after the chief of police is killed, are staggering and shocking. This, in addition to the purported number of people slaughtered in the streets by the drug cartels, as well as other atrocities, would certainly concern me if I were planning a trip to Mexico.

Apparently, I am in the minority. Mexican tourism officials have announced that international travel to Mexico increased by 5.3 percent from January to April of 2012. Not only has tourism increased, but over half of the 4,098,750 visitors hail from the United States; up slightly from 2011.

It is no surprise that people who can afford to travel to Mexico head straight for the vacation paradises of Huatlco, Riviera Maya, Cozumel and Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. These resort towns are primarily dependent on international dollars and to date have not been implicated in the violence endemic to many other areas of Mexico. However, street crime is a problem, just like in some other major cities around the world. Obviously, travelers should always remain ever-vigilant.

On March 14, 2012, the U.S. Department of State raised the alert for travel to Mexico, specifically the Northern border cities of Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Monterrey, Matamoros and Nogales.

Before leaving for Mexico, make certain to do the following:

  • Sign your passport and visa and fill in all information required
  • Leave detailed copies of the following information with family, friends or lawyer: your itinerary-by-day and the hotels you have booked with their contact information as well as copies of your passport and visa
  • Investigate your medical insurance coverage to make certain it applies in Mexico. If not, decide whether to include supplemental insurance
  • Be aware: U.S. citizens are subject to Mexican law—without any special consideration—which is radically different than U.S. law and pretty scary by comparison. There are many situations that involve possible incarceration in Mexico that the U.S. citizen would not believe. Mexican jails are brutal and beyond the comprehension of most people. The State Department cannot provide any assistance beyond advising you of what you already know
  • Do not stand out by wearing jewelry or the newest style of vacation clothing and certainly keep most of your money in the hotel safe. Do not showcase yourself as a U.S. citizen. Travel the streets in a group.

Enjoy your trip!

Mexico's Madonna

Yuri the Entertainer

Yuridia Valenzuela Canseco was born on January 6, 1964 in Veracruz, Mexico. Yuri, as she became known, projected charisma and demonstrated talent for dance and singing at an early age. Her mother, Dulce Canseco, believed strongly in her daughter’s potential and against the adamant wishes of her husband moved to Mexico City to pursue Yuri’s career.

Dulce proved herself the personification of a lioness protecting her cub when—upon arriving in Mexico City—and producing her daughter’s first record, she fought the record’s producers tooth and nail to make good on their verbal contract with Yuri.

In 1979 when Yuri was 15 years of age, she earned her big break by wowing the judges in Festival OTI and receiving the "Award for the Best New Female Artist". This led to a second album "Esperanzas", which was a major hit and made her a star on several Mexican Soap Operas.

From this point forward, Yuri’s career took precedence over her life. Her mother was an able manager and kept Yuri phenomenally busy with television and movie work and recording contracts. She was to continue on this path in her life for 16 years. During this time she experienced many high points in her career and became an entertainment icon often referred to as Mexico’s Madonna.

Unfortunately, she also sank into depravity in her personal and professional life as she became a self-confessed sex addict.

Yuri’s life was changed forever when, in 1995, tumors were found on her vocal cords. When conventional treatments for cancer proved insufficient she embraced Christianity and gave her life to God. For a time she dedicated herself to testifying to the miracle of bringing God into her life and expressed regret at her actions before she found God. Yuri preached in Mexico and to Christian congregations abroad regarding the dangers of promiscuity and unprotected sex.

In time; incredibly, her tumors went away and Yuri produced a number of Christian songs that did poorly commercially but were sold widely in Christian stores.

Since the mid-2000’s, after a period of retirement, Yuri changed her image and returned to music recording and has gained renewed popularity while garnering several gold albums. She has also starred in a television series, sold out international concert tours and continued to record albums.







First Trip To Mexico

How Simple It Was in 1950

I have very fond memories of visiting Mexico. I grew up and lived in Dallas, Texas, just a stone’s throw away from the enticing country to the south. I along with my parents and four brothers visited Mexico three times while I was growing up.

Every trip was by automobile and was done as inexpensively as possible. This made for some interesting experiences that probably gave us a better view than some of the real Mexico. The first time we went was in 1950 and preparations were minimal. Dad packed his .38 revolver in the glove compartment and once we arrived in El Paso, he simply stopped and took out insurance that would protect us for the time we were in Mexico.

We crossed the border in minutes and were in another world. It was busy with people walking everywhere, hollering out the names of the goods they had for sale. As soon as the car stopping in a parking spot, young boys ran up and asking, began smearing the dirt around with towels and buckets of dirty water. Dad ran them off without payment because he knew what would happen if he gave them so much as a peso; a hundred more would appear, either begging or offering to perform chores for payment.

We wandered around marketplaces and ate in small cafes the first day in El Paso and ended up getting a late start for our next destination. We took off in a plume of dust and drove into the night. My mother was terrified that we wouldn’t have a place to stay and it was obvious that we wouldn’t make it to our destination tonight.

Fortunately, Dad spotted a very small adobe motel built around a courtyard, just off the road. He was able to get us two rooms and even paid the proprietor to prepare us a meal. The motel was too small to have a restaurant so the owner prepared just what he and his wife would eat. In this case, fresh tortillas stuffed with refried beans and shredded beef served with lots of rice.

It was close to midnight when we finished dinner and we were immediately told to go to bed. It was only minutes after we turned in that gunshots erupted outside our doors in the small courtyard. When we looked out the window we saw men milling around and firing pistols into the air.

Mom ran over to our room, certain we were all going to die. Dad took a more conservative view, picked up his .38 and walked past the men to the owner’s office. The owner didn’t speak much English but got the gist of Dad’s complaint and went out to break up the pistol party going on out front.

Everyone, except Mom, went back to sleep and we continued on our way the next morning to Mexico City.

Mexico Request U.S. to Legalize Drugs

Self-serving Request by Mexico?

While in Mexico City recently, Vice President Joe Biden unequivocally stated no, when asked by many of the country’s leaders if the United States would consider legalizing drugs. Many of the region’s leaders adamantly believe the U.S. should decriminalize drugs.

They say such a move will dramatically lessen the power of the cartels because as drugs become available legally legitimate sources will become available. This will serve to make the drug trade less profitable for the cartels taking away the money to drug proliferation as well as to fund other criminal enterprises.

The Vice President commented that the Obama/Biden administration believes that legalization of drugs will actually be more expensive to manage than the drug problem itself. Also, the social consequences of drug legalization are not acceptable.

The unintended consequences of legalizing drugs cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy.

Possibly such an action may prevent some of the 47,515 deaths that have occurred in Mexico since December 2006—when President Calderon launched his anti-drug offensive—through September 2011. However, it’s just as possible that the cartels would simply switch their business from drugs to other profitable criminal endeavors. It’s not difficult to believe they would turn their resources to the production of unregulated drugs that are stronger and more addictive to capture their customers. Certainly, no one believes they would simply fade away.

As far as the United States is concerned, drug legalization would necessitate an administrative governmental bureaucracy whose cost could potentially bankrupt the country.

The social issues involved are staggering to contemplate. Proponents of drug decriminalization maintain drugs are like alcohol in their effects, and that we currently live with alcohol’s legalization.

The truth is that even after only a few moments of thought, these considerations are obvious:

  1. Alcohol requires a quantity to be consumed and a period of time before a person becomes inebriated.
  2. Drugs require only a single pill and a few moments before the effects kick in.
  3. Alcohol is available with alcohol contents ranging from low to very high, but it is all regulated.
  4. Drugs can be manufactured in a motel room without regulation and can be deadly or permanently debilitating.

 The effects of drug legalization are truly impossible to predict. The only result that can be determined with certainty is that it would create a country that is the polar opposite of the one we currently call home.