The lure of isolated beachesrimmed with palm treesbrought John Huston toPuerto Vallarta in the 1960sto filmNight of the Iguana. Hiscast included Elizabeth Tay-lor and Richard Burton.While working, the two fell inlove. Richard bought Eliza-beth a house similar to hisown that was perched on theside of a hill overlooking Bandera Bay. The houses wereacross the road from each other. The couple then built awalkway between the two places so they could visit eachother more discreetly. Elizabeth left Eddie Fisher, herhusband at the time, and married Burton. Their story be-came one of the great love stories of that century.This romance resulted in thousands of people swarmingto the shores of Mexico’s west coast in search of sun,sand, palm trees and love. Some even came looking foriguanas. The Mexicans soon realized the potential oftourism and, with the help of international companies,built a first-class infrastructure of hotels, shops and res-taurants around the bay.However, not all visitors wanted what had been built, sothey moved up and down the coast to little villages wherethey could ride horses or donkeys, snorkel among thetropical fish, trek in the jungle looking for exotic birdsand animals, watch cliff divers perform or just lay whereit was quiet and sip on tequila.In the jungles along the shore, Mexicans built viewingstations connected by cables where tourists could swinglike monkeys while looking for exotic birds and strangeamphibians. The usual adjustments took place. SomeMexicans and tourists didn’t like the environmental ef-fects caused by chasing around in motorboats looking for big fish, building hotels on the beach, and bungee jump-ing off bridges. Ecologically-sensitive practices were fol-lowed so that wildlife was protected. Garbage was pickedup and pollution-control devices were put on vehicles. Theyleft some of the jungle in its wild state and planted flow-ers in their gardens. More people came.Today, the west coast of Mexico is as popular as ever.This is because it offers every possible recreational activ-ity, suitable for almost any skill level and budget. Thearea has both economical and lush accommodations.The food is safe to eat and the bottled water, found in ev-ery hotel hallway, grocery store and café is safe to drink.The crime rate is low in tourist areas and the locals arefriendly, though the usual pressures of tourism oftenshow. But the best draw of all is that the price for a com-parable vacation in any other tropical paradise is abouttwice what it is here.The best time to visit the Pacific coast of Mexico is be-tween November and May, when humidity and tempera-tures are down. This is when most North American andEuropean countries are cold. It is also when the whalesmove south looking for warmer waters and when the mi-gratory birds are passing by on their way to winter nest-ing grounds.
Anywhere I go I want to know who was there before me.I want to know their stories.
20,000 BCIcepack in North America recedes and landbridge is formed between Asia and NorthAmerica.
12,000 BCMesoamerica is populated.8000 BCAgriculture is practiced in Mexico.
5000 BCCorn is cultivated in Southern Mexico.
3000 BCPit houses are constructed.
2300 BCPottery replaces stone dishes.
1700 BCOlmecs and Totonacs become powerful. Theydevelop hieroglyphics.
600 BCOlmecs disappear.
700 ADTeotihuacans gain power in Mexico.
1100 ADMaya living in Mexico disappear and Aztecsbecome ruling group.
1517 Diego Velasquez and Francisco Fernandezde Cordoba start exploration of Mexico, andwere followed by Hernan Cortez.
TheUnited Mexican Statesis the official name of thecountry commonly known as Mexico. The capital ofthe country isMexico City. Mexico is a federal republicwith 31 administrative divisions called states.
The following is a list of all Mexican states.Aguascalientes, Baja California, Baja Cali-fornia Sur, Campeche, Chiapas, Chihuahua,Coahuila, Colima, Distrito Federal, Durango,Guerrero, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Jalisco,Mexico, Michoacan, Morelos, Nayarit, NuevoLeon, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quntana Roo,Sinaloa, San Luis Potosi, Sonora, Tabasco,Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Yucatán,Zacatecas.
The government is made up of an executive branchheaded by a president, who is both the chief of state andthe head of government. The elected government in-cludes a National Congress and a Federal Chamber ofDeputies.TheCabinetis appointed by the president after an elec-tion, but the assigning of an attorney general requiresthe consent of the Senate. TheNational Congressismade up of 128 seats, with 96 of those being elected bythe people in each district. The 32 non-elected seats aregiven to members of the elected parties and are propor-tionally split up according to the number of votes won inthe election. This provides for fairer representation. Eachmember serves a six-year term.TheFederal Chamber of Deputiesconsists of 500 seats,300 of which are elected by popular vote. The other 200seats are given to members of the elected parties and, asin Congress, are proportionally split according to thenumber of votes each party has won in the election. Thedeputies serve a three-year term.TheSupreme Court of Justiceis appointed by the pres-ident, but must have the approval of the Senate. Thereare 21 judges who function as the full court or tribunal.Circuit judges and district judges are appointed by theSupreme Court and they must all have law degreesawarded from recognized law schools.
Men and women can enter the military at the age of 18and the forces consist of an army, navy and air force.There are presently almost 200,000 active persons in themilitary working under an annual expenditure of $4 bil-lion. There are also 300,000 on reserve. It is compulsoryfor men at the age of 18 to enlist and those 16 years of agemay volunteer to receive training as technicians. Womenmay volunteer at the age of 18. Conscientious objectorsare not exempt from service. Which sector of the militaryone serves is a game of chance. Those who draw a whiteball from the bag go into the army or air force, while thosewho get a blue ball must enter the navy. Mexico offersthose in the service an opportunity for secondary educa-tion or special training in fields such as social work.
THE POLICE FORCE
The Mexican police force is notorious for its corruption.Getting into trouble is usually dealt with by paying abribe. Because of the low pay, police officers are oftenpeople with low education, and many are interested onlyin expanding their criminal connections. These factswere researched and reported in theWorld Policy Jour-nal, Volume 17, No. 3 in the fall of 2000. The story wasalso published inNexos, a monthly magazine based inMexico City, in April and August of 1998. AndrewReding, a director of the Americas Project at the WorldPolicy Institute, translated the article. For a complete re-port, go to www.worldpolicy.org/globalrights/mexico/2000-fall-wpj-mexpolice.html.But there is a good side to the Mexican police force. Thetourist policefound in areas popular with visitors don’tseem too corrupt. It appears to me that they have man-aged to clean up most of the crime in those regions of thecountry. While walking around I never felt threatened orthat I was being watched by potential robbers.However, I still wouldn’t take a chance of walking on thebeach alone after dark. I also highly recommend that youdon’t wander around drunk in a public place, that youstay away from the drug trade (of which there is plenty) and that you avoid things like nude bathing except onbeaches designated as such. These things are not toler-ated and will get you a jail sentence.Those driving may be stopped and asked for a small con-tribution, called amordida. Whether you are guilty ornot, I suggest you ask for the ticket, orboleto. The bestthat can happen is that the officer will walk away and letyou go.The worst that can happen is you will pay a finefor the infraction you have committed. If you pay a trafficticket within 24 hours, the cost is half.
Mexico is a free mar-ket economy with in-dustry, public servi-ces and agricultureowned mostly by theprivate sector. Tour-ism is a big draw forthe Mexican govern-ment and it workshard to attract inves-tors to build the in-frastructure touristsrequire. When visit-ing the resorts, youwill find high-qualityrooms, service, food,entertainment andsecurity.The signing of NAFTA,theNorth AmericanFree Trade Agree-ment,wasdoneinthe hope of improving the economy. According toTheNew York Times, November 19, 2003, the agreement hastripled trade with the US and Canada, but the wages ofworkers in the manufacturing industry, in agricultureand in the service industry have decreased. The inequal-ity of wages between the middle class and the peasant class has increased, and immigration to the US has con-tinued to rise. The World Bank reports that Mexico hasbenefitted from the agreement. The main problem seemsto be that small farmers, who are no longer subsidized forgrowing staple crops, have left the farms for the factories,but there aren’t enough jobs to go around.At present, Mexico has free trade agreements with theUS, Canada, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Eu-rope. Over 90% of the country’s trading power is underthese agreements. In 2002 this increased Mexico’s pur-chasing power to $900 billion, which resulted in a growthrate of 1%.TheGDPin 2004 was $1.006 trillion, or $9,600 per per-son. Of this, 4% came from agriculture, 26.6% from in-dustry, 8.9% from manufacturing, and 69.4% fromservices. This results in 40% of the population living be-low the poverty line. Although only 3% of the populationis unemployed, there is a huge underemployed group.But it’s not all bad. The inflation rate dropped from 52%in 1995 to 6.4% in 2002, the lowest rate in 30 years.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
After the Spanish came, it took just two generations todepopulate Mexico of its indigenous peoples. This hap-pened through disease, war and intermarriage. The pop-ulation is now predominantlymestizo, people with amixture of Spanish and Indian or Negro blood. Today,this group makes up about 60% of the total population.Pure indigenous people are 30% of the population, andwhites are about 9%.There is an unspoken class system that puts the pureEuropean white person at the top. These are theCreoles,those born in the country but originating from unmixedEuropean stock. The first Creoles to populate Mexicowere the children of the Spanish settlers. Later, theycame as refugees from the Spanish Civil War.Beneath the Creoles on the class scale are themestizosand beneath them are the pureAmerindians.There are also a number ofAsiansin the country, whoarrived after they were refused entry into the UnitedStates in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Thisgroup shares equal status with the Amerindians.
As of late, a resurgence of cultural pride among culturalgroups has resulted in shows of traditional art, theaterand dance.Mexican art includes everything from painted wild figtree bark to black Oaxaca pottery. Silver and gold havealways been a popular medium and the quality of work-manship now found in Mexico is world class. Weavingsand carpets have been finding their way into visitors’homes for half a century and the embroidered pieces thatcan be used as place mats, pillowcases or framed pic-tures come in colors and designs to accent any décor.Prices for these art pieces are less than half of what youwould pay for comparable art in the States.
Mexican music has been popular in European countriesas well as the US and Canada since the beginning of thelast century. This is probably because of the huge Mexi-can population in the southern US, especially Texas andCalifornia areas, which were once part of Mexico. In re-cent times, artists like Joan Baez and Linda Ronstadtsang for a large Hispanic audience and popularized Mex-ican songs likeGracias a la Vida.
The land forms a bridge between North and South Amer-ica and consists of high rugged mountains, plateaus,deserts and low coastal plains. Of these lands, 12% isfarmland, 40% is pasture and 25% is forest and wood-land.Within the vegetated hills are plateaus and basins thatform rich valleys like the Atemajac Valley nearGuadalajara. A number of rivers drain these valleys intothe Pacific Ocean.The American Pacific coast from Alaska down to Tierradel Fuego is rock interspersed with sandy beaches. Justoffshore most bays are dotted with tiny islands rich withwildlife. There is a limited amount of coral off the coast.
Environmental issueshave been a big prob-lem in Mexico. Hotelsand cities along theoceans often dumptheir raw sewage intothe ocean. Waterpurification plants areinefficient and belowstandard. Wildlife hasbeen hunted almost toextinction. Air pollu-tion is extreme and de-forestation has re-sulted in erosion. How-ever, there is a goodside. Tourism is creat-ing a market that de-mands clean air, cleanwater and lots of wild-life. The Mexicans arerealizing this and theirenvironmental practices, although still not up to thestandards of places like Switzerland, are improving. Peo-ple in the tourist industry are starting to insist on catch-and-release fishing and no-touch viewing of animals.More people are hiking rather than taking all-terrain ve-hicles into the jungle and Mexicans are putting emis-sions controls on their vehicles.The best you can do, as a visitor, is insist on travelingonly with tour companies who are environmentally sen-sitive. Below are a few examples of environmental groupsworking in Mexico. All are open to enlarging their mem-bership and their bank accounts.
The climate varies from tropical to desert and is dictatedthe most by elevation. Between November and March, itis warm and dry along the coast. Temperatures runaround 26-28°C/80-85°F during the day and drop about16°C/60°F at night. If you go up to Guadalajara (5,000feet/1,500 meters), the temperatures average16-21°C/60-70°F, with 60% humidity during the day. Nighttimetemperatures drop as they do along the coast.In the wet season, from April to the end of October, thecoast experiences around 90% humidity that, coupledwith temperatures of over 30°C/90°F, makes walkingmore than three minutes a huge effort. Guadalajara tem-peratures average 21°C/75°F during the day, with 80%humidity. This is what locals call the eternal spring cli-mate.
Since Mexico sits on a tectonic plate, the country is sub-ject to frequent tsunamis. The last one to hit the westcoast of Mexico was in 1995, when Manzanillo wasstruck. Tsunamis can be expected after an earthquake orany other underwater volcanic activity. Occasionally, anunderwater mountain will collapse or a landslide will oc-cur and start a wave.Tsunamis consist of huge waves that are formed far outat sea and can measure up to 90 feet/30 meters in heightwhen they finally hit land. Moving toward land, they cantravel as fast as a jet liner, up to 500 mph/800 kmph.They can move back and forth across the ocean forhours, over distances of up to 12,000 miles/19,000 km,before they finally peter out.
POLICE & OTHER AGENCIES
Mexico has almost more types of police than it hasbeaches. There are the Federal Police and the FederalTraffic Police. TheFederal Policehave no jurisdictionover immigration documents or other tourist-type mat-ters. If you are stopped and asked to show documents bythese people, tell them to come to your hotel. Once there,have the manager call your consulate. Because of lowwages, these police have a reputation of being corrupt.TheTourist Police, on the other hand, patrol areaswhere tourists gather. To my knowledge, they are fairlygood, and I never felt threatened or unsafe when dealingwith them. If you are robbed or harmed in any way, re-port all instances to the Tourist Police (numbers aregiven at the start of each town section in this book).Green Angels(Angeles Verdes) is Mexico’s national roademergency service that is in place to help motorists onmajor highways. They have a fleet of 300 trucks that pa-trol fixed sections of major highways twice a day. DriversspeakbothEnglishandSpanish, can help with me-chanical problems, have firstaid, radio-telephone com-munications and can tow abroken-down vehicle into agarage. Although this is afree service, a tip is alwaysappreciated. They can bereached at%800-903-9200.TheConsumer Protection Service,knownastheSecreteria y Fomento Turistico (SEFOTUR), is in place forcomplaints about businesses in Mexico. They are locatedin all major centers. If you have problems with a mer-chant, report it to this agency.