August 31, 2010


This weekend, over 450 mariachis participated in a parade around Guadalajara, in Jalisco. They were here, from as far afield as the Slovak Republic, Japan, Canada, Australia, the USA and several South American countries, to enjoy the 17th Mariachi and Charreria Festival. They were joined in the parade by traditional dancers and charros (cowboys), creating a colorful and vibrant display of Mexican culture. It was an event which drew over 200,000 spectators and, despite fears about violence in the area, passed without incident.

The Mariachis can be found all over Mexico. Often in distinctive sombrero hats and studded charro uniforms, they serenade diners in restaurants; entertain shoppers in the malls and markets; drift along streets, causing a spring in the step of all those passing by. They create the magical atmosphere of Mexico City's Garbaldi Plaza; and many still flood to watch the most talented of all perform their concerts. Mexicans frequently hire Mariarchis to play at weddings or on other special occasions. To an international audience, the marachi music IS the music of Mexico. It is what they hum to themselves, far away back home, trying to rekindle the feeling of their Mexican vacation.

Mariachi music was born in the state of Nayarit, in Western Mexico, during the colonial period. In its traditional sense (there has been a lot of experimentation over the years), it is played by an ensemble using a vihuela, a guitarrón, violins, trumpets, an acoustic guitar and, sometimes, a harp. In fact, it is considered that, without the vihuela and guitarrón, the band is not Mariachi. Often, but not always, there is a vocalist or two. It is noteworthy for the Grito Mexicano, moments when the whole ensemble shout out a refrain or call, like 'AY YA YAY YA!' or 'tequila!'

When Mariachi began, it was seen as scandalous. Just as parents in the 1950s worried about the influence of rock'n'roll, and their modern day counterparts panic about death rock metal, then the colonial and post-colonial elders protested the Mariachi. The instruments were mostly Spanish in origin and had been used to accompany church services. The vihuela and guitarrón provided a backdrop of music by which the Catholic devout could take Communion. Then the younger generation started using them for popular music.

These instruments, perceived as religious, were now used to sing songs about machismo, revolutionary heroes, love, death and politics. Some of these were even anti-clerical. Priests railed against the Mariachi from their pulpits, exorting Mama and Papa to rein in their wayward youngsters. Despite, or because of, this, the Mariachi flourished. Then, as Mexico gained independence from the Spanish, Mariachi grew in popularity as something distinctly Mexican. The songs became used to spread news from village to village, town and city. The bands played at Independence Day celebrations everywhere; and also during the 1934 presidential election campaign of Lázaro Cárdenas.

But it was the advent of movies that truly pushed the Mariachi into the hearts of Mexicans; as well as linking this genre of music with Mexico for all foreigners. Mexican movies, and the appearance of Mexicans in Hollywood movies, promoted the idea of macho Mexican men, with charming smiles and hearts of gold. Idols, such as Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, turned their smouldering gazes towards the camera, quickening the heartbeats of women all over the world. Their Latino hot, tough guy image was underscored with Mariachi music.

It's still happening. Robert Rodriguez's directorial debut, in 1993, began with the first of his 'Mariachi Trilogy'. 'El Mariachi', 'Desperado' and 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico'. They went on to achieve global acclaim, Hollywood 'player' status, several movie awards and a lot of profit for Rodriguez, as well as launching the American film careers of Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. Mariachi music worked its magic again.

August 30, 2010

The Face of Ancient Mexico

She is known as La Mujer de las Palmas (the Lady of the Palms) and she made her home near Tulum, on the Riviera Maya. Not as a legendary creature, but as a living, breathing human being. Only she was there between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago, and that is changing a lot of what historians took for granted.

La Mujer's remainsLa Mujer's skeletal remains were discovered, in the Las Palmas cenote, in 2008. It is uncertain how she died, though it's unlikely that the water was the cause. The Yucatan Peninsula was a desert-like prairie at the time, so the sinkhole would not have been flooded.

However, it is now known what she looked like. The hyper-realistic reconstruction, pictured above, was created by Atelier Daynes, a company based in Paris, France. By taking casts of La Mujer's skull and skeleton, these experts were able to use state-of-the-art techniques and sculpture, alongside the latest paleo-anthropological knowledge, to determine precisely how she would have looked in life.

La Mujer de las Palmas was aged between 44 and 50, at the time of her death. She weighed around 128lbs (9 stone) and stood at 1.6 meters (5.1 ft). What has really surprised those coming face to face with her is her race. She doesn't look like any of the indigenious people of Mexico nor the rest of the Americas, as they were supposed to be at the time. Atelier Daynes wrote, in their report, "Her body structure, skin and eyes are similar to the population of Southeast Asia."

Dr Alejandro Terrazas, an anthropologist at the University of Mexico, explained that, until now, it was believed that Mexico was populated through one or two waves of migration, crossing the Bering Strait from North Asia. La Mujer has changed that view. "History is not that simple, there were a lot of movements."

“What Mujer de las Palmas reveals is that there were more migrations from Southern and Central Asia, that resulted in a local evolution in America," he continued, "producing a great diversity of populations, which already existed when the Clovis Culture developed."

Americas migration
Image Copyright Mark Hubbe

This idea, that the Americas were an ethnic melting pot from the very dawn of its human population, has also gained credence with Prof Susan Gillespie, at the University of Florida. However, she cautions against us comparing La Mujer de Las Palmas with the modern-day inhabitants of South Asia. These were not necessarily the same people who were there 10,000 years ago.

"You have to find skeletons of the same time period in Asia, or use genetic reconstructions, to make a strong connection, and cannot rely on modern populations. Do we have any empirical data on what Southeast Asian women looked like ... 10,000 years ago?"

The reconstruction of La Mujer de las Palmas is currently on display, in the 'Altered Planet: Climate Change and Mexico' exhibition, in Silao, Guanajuato. It is part of an Expo being held to mark the Bicentennial of Mexican Independence and will continue until November 20th, 2010.

August 27, 2010

Cancún Shopping: The Smaller Malls

Plaza Las Americas

Plaza Las Americas

Opening times: Mon-Sat: 9am - 9pm; Sun 11am - 7pm

Avenida Tulum SM 4 and 9
Cancún, ROO 77500

Plaza Las Americas has 234 stores and two ,movie theaters, with 18 screens showing films in both English and Spanish. There is also a video arcade. Its vast complex also includes the Amerimed Hospital, which specialises in healthcare for tourists. It is American owned and all of the staff are bilingual. It is open 24 hours a day and takes care of all medical emergencies from the Hotel Zone.

Grocery shopping can be done in Plaza Las Americas. It has a large Chedraui, which is Mexico's answer to Wal-Mart. There is also a Sears for electrical goods, hardware, household items, apparel etc.; and a Liverpool store for clothes, accessories, furniture and linen; and a Radio Shack for 'phones, mp3 players and the ilk. This is the mall for practical shopping, though there are a few stores dotted around for souvenirs. There is a section of the mall dedicated to the higher end retail market. Amongst the more luxury stores is Zara, for all of your clothing needs, and Ultrafemme, the leading Mexican perfumery.

There are three restaurants: Tumbaburros, Mama Roma, Sanborns Café; and a food court with outposts of McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, 100% Natural, Steak House, Gorditas doña Tota and many more.

For those arriving by car, there are both indoor and outdoor parking lots.

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Opening times: Every day 10am - 12am

Avenida Kukulcan km 9.0
Cancun, ROO 77500

While all shopping malls in Cancún include entertainment, Forum-by-the-Sea takes that to a whole new level. Here entertainment is the focus with the shops almost being by-products. It is a three-level plaza built within a dome. The circular aisles overlook each other, so it's easy to spot where your party is, should you become separated. This is a mall dedicated more to Mexican handicrafts and items, rather than international produce. It has several ATMs and a money exchange.

Places to eat or drink include: Hardrock Cafe, The Coco Bongo Night Club, Cambalache, Carlos’N Charlie’s and the Rainforest Café. The bars stay open after midnight.

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Plaza Mayafair

Blvd. Kukulcán km 8.5, Hotel Zone.
Cancun, ROO 77500

Plaza Mayafair was the first mall to be built in the Hotel Zone. It's smaller than some of the later ones and has a truly Mayan theme to it. There are nightly Mayan dances performed there, alongside music shows. The mall is open-air.

Plaza Terramar

Blvd. Kukulcán Km.13, Hotel Zone.
Cancun, ROO 77500

This one of the smallest shopping malls in Cancún, however it does contain a variety of stores. There are boutiques for beachwear; internationally known restaurant chains.

There is a hotel in its center, Terramar Plaza Suite, though it is a rather downbeat establishment without the lagoon views and beaches that are a hallmark elsewhere. It can offer very cheap accommodation with basic facilities though.

Plaza Cancun 2000

Avenida Tulúm, 42
Crucero, Av. Tulum & López-Portillo
Downtown Cancún

This is the mall where the locals shop, so it provides a chance to mix with people other than tourists. There are no huge international name stores here. The wares tend towards inexpensive footwear and clothing; suntan lotion; snacks; camping supplies; beachwear; bottled water; smaller appliances etc. This is the place to pick up real Mexican music, instead of the stuff peddled to tourists. It is also one of the cheapest places in Cancún to pick up your alcohol and cigarettes.


There are plenty more places to shop in Cancún, but I hope that you've enjoyed this week's run through of some of the bigger or more popular ones.

August 26, 2010

Cancún Shopping: Flamingo Plaza and Plaza Caracol

Flamingo Plaza

Flamingo Plaza

Opening times: Every day 10am - 10pm

Blvd. Kukulcán Km.11.5 Z.H,
Q. Roo,

Flamingo Plaza is a riot of color. Each of its 100 stores is brightly painted, while the interiors are set in marble; the whole complex just looks so inviting. Once inside, there are plenty of shops to wander through and pick out things to treat yourself and your loved ones. The plaza specialises in art and crafts, jewellery, clothes, sunglasses, cosmetics and boutiques, but there is more to buy too. Havana Cigars sells fine Cuban merchandise for a start. There is also more down to earth shopping to be done here, at the convenience store or the pharmacy. Those with a mind for a bargain may enjoy the duty-free shop there. The plaza does include a health club, a bank, ATMs and money exchange facilities.

The shopping center is smaller than others of its ilk in Cancun. This means that there are also fewer crowds and therefore its a much more sedate shopping experience. It is also all on one level, which makes mobility very easy. The plaza overlooks the lagoon, with amazing views, particularly at sunset.

There are a good selection of restaurants too: Margaritaville for Caribbean Food; Pat O'Briens for Cajun Good; Bubba Gump for seafood; Sanborn's Cafe for Mexican food; and Outback steakhouse for, well, steak. But if you're after just a snack or lunch, then there is Chécandole selling Mexican fare.

For those arriving by car, there are two large, free parking lots.

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Plaza Caracol

Plaza Caracol

Opening times: Mon-Fri 9am - 10pm

Blvd. Kukulcán, km. 8.5
Cancun, ROO 77500

Plaza Caracol has a very central location and is the largest of all Cancun's malls. It's a two-storey mall set in an oval shape, with wide aisles stretching out in all directions. The decor is marble with plant-filled atriums. The whole place is air-conditioned and spacious. It is has the most contemporary setting of all of Cancun's shopping malls and contains around 210 stores. It is known locally as a reasonably up-scale mall and it is a particularly good place for picking up high quality leather-crafted items.

This lively mall often stages events, such as organising a daytrip for physically disadvantaged children and teenagers, as well as 'Share the Love 2010'. A quotation from its website will illustrate the creativity and vibrancy of this mall:

' In 2010 (Plaza Caracol) will unveil its guiding concept: seeing the world as a brilliant, cheerful, and creative expression, accompanying it with colorful experiences, events that stimulate the imagination and creation, and a positive image both domestically and internationally.'

Visitors are met with characters representing 'prosperity, love, health and happiness'. It is certainly a place for artists, with seven galleries dotted around the mall and another ten stores specialising in arts and crafts. These include the gallery of the famous Mexican artist, Sergio Bustamante.

There are more prosaic services though. In this mall can be found ATMs, public telephones, money exchange, travel agencies and pharmacy/drugstores. There is also mobility assistance upon request. For those driving, there is parking outside the plaza.

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August 25, 2010

Cancún Shopping: Kukulcan Plaza and Luxury Avenue

Kukulcan Plaza

Kukulcan Plaza

Opening times: Every day 10am - 10pm

Blv. Kukulcán Km 13.5
Zona Hotelera, Cancún
Quintana Roo. C.P 77500

There are more than 250 shops in the Kukulcan Plaza. It nestles between five star hotels and houses elegant, internationally reknowned boutiques, Mexican handcrafted item and designer jewellery. Even the elevators have panoramic views of the Nichupte Lagoon. Kukulcan Plaza is enclosed, air-conditioned, and includes Luxury Avenue, which caters for the more discerning clientele. However, there are stores at the cheaper end of the market too. Once the shopping is done, then the Kukulcan Plaza offers two large movie theaters, with films in English and Spanish, as well as a bowling alley.

Motorbike enthusiasts will find plenty to look at in the Harley Davidson store; a touch of glamour might be purchased at Versace, with something to sparkle at Cartier or Tiffany & Co; party people might see if Señor Frog has a 'dive into a swimming pool full of beer' theme night running; people searching for a new suit of armour or longsword will delight in La Ruta de las Indias; while those needing a pick me up have a choice of pharmacies in there. There is a huge variety of tequilas to choose between at the Hacienda Tequila Store.

The children may prefer to hang out at Kukulkids, where qualified childcare staff will watch over even very little ones, while Mum and Dad go shopping. Kukulkids Babies and older children are separated into huge play areas suited to their age range.

Meanwhile, the gamers amongst you might want to head into PlayCity, the large video gaming casino inside the mall. People of all ages will enjoy the bowling alley at the plaza. There is also free wireless internet connection throughout the plaza, just go to a service point on the second floor for the access code.

Kukulcan Plaza has a food court, on the second floor, as well as many restaurants. Here Mexican, American, Oriental and Italian food may be savoured. There is also 100% Natural, a vegetarian and health food restaurant.

Strolling musicians and street theater also add to the ambience. Occasionally the music might be the main attraction. Martin Portillo, Paraguay's leading virtuoso harpist, has performed in the artium; while Mexico's own Felix Castillo took out his saxophone to play in Luxury Avenue. Naturally both events brought crowds of people more intent on watching the show than shopping. The mall has also staged an international film festival.

As well as being a shopping centre, the plaza can be a mecca for artists. Amongst the permanent displays is a 75-foot stained glass atrium by Clemente Cameo Misrahi and Erika Almazán Quintero based on the sacred Mayan book, the Popol Vuh. There may also be photography or art exhibitions on the upper level too. The artist, Dante, has a studio in the main mall, where visitors may purchase his hand-carved pendants and other jewellery.

For those arriving by car, there is underground parking for over 1000 vehicles.

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Luxury Avenue

Luxury Avenue

Opening times: Every day 10am - 10pm

Blv. Kukulcán Km 13.5
Zona Hotelera, Cancún
Quintana Roo. C.P 77500

Luxury Avenue is actually part of Kukulcan Plaza, but is set apart with very select stores for the extremely discerning shopper. There is valet parking from the entrance to the mall, a concierge inside and personal shopper services on offer. If entering from the Kukulcan Plaza end, then you will pass under a 15 foot crystal chandelier, designed and created by Swarovski, containing 250 lights. There are just 25 stores in this mall, but they have names familiar from Milan, Paris and New York's Fifth Avenue. Visitors can be sure of a personalised service in each boutique along the way.

Fendi, Longchamp, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, MontBlanc, Tous and many more prestigious names line this wide avenue. Though the wares are expensive, they average at 40% cheaper than the same items sold in the USA.

The only Burberry store in the Mexican Caribbean is in Luxury Avenue. The dressmaker to the Hollywood stars, Max Azria, has a store here too, BCBGMAXAZRIA; while Italy's MaxMara, with its own celebrity following, is just down the street. The men aren't left behind, when there is an Ermenegildo Zegna shop here.

Nothing says exclusive jewellery like a Cartier Maison tag and Cancún's Cartier store is in Luxury Avenue. Or how about a Swarovski crystal or a Swatch watch? Both companies have stores here. There is also a boutique from the most fashionable Mexican jewellery designer, Daniel Espinosa.

Cancún is a popular wedding location. If you wish your reception dinner to be served on a Cristofle silver platter, with champagne sipped from a Swarovski wine glass, then a trip to Luxury Avenue is a must.

For dining and refreshments, there is the Luxury Bar and Café (chic setting, designed by Karim Rashid, with items of furniture donated by Veuve Clicquot; exclusive menu.)

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August 24, 2010

Cancún Shopping: La Isla Shopping Village

La Isla Shopping Village (Plaza La Isla)

La Isla

Opening times: Every day 10am - 10pm

Blvd Kukulkan Km 12.5,
No 262
Cancun 77500

How would you like to shop in paradise, with a break to swim with dolphins or look at the most extensive Aquarium on the continent? La Isla Shopping Village is for you. It straddles several canals on the Nichupte Lagoon, under a giant canopy which keeps you cool in the heat or dry in the rain. It looks like a little oasis of Venice, complete with gondola rides, and it opens up onto a marina. Even non-shoppers enjoy walking through this outdoors mall, pausing for a meal and maybe a movie at the huge cinema complex.

La Isla is a shopping mall with the familiar name stores. It is here that visitors will find a McDonalds, Haagen Daz, Hooters, Starbucks, Hertz, Benetton, Planet Hollywood, Zara and many other stores that might be found in the mall back home. There are also internationally known designer shops, like Bulgari, Von Dutch, Cartier and Chanel. But these are interspersed between stores selling the higher end Mexican items. Service shops include pharmacies/drugstores, car hire, trip booking, money exchange etc.

This isn't the place for haggled bargains, that is Mercado 28, but it is the location for luxury, quality souvenirs of your holiday. Items have a price tag on them and that is what you will pay. That tag can sometimes be expensive, though there are a smattering of the lower end souvenir traders too.

Shopping tours can be arranged too. See La Isla's website for more details. For those driving, there is a large parking area with a small hourly fee for parking there.

While the serious shoppers are distracted by the 250 stores, the rest of the family has something to see and do too. There are many activities to distract the children, from fountains that can be run through to bungee ropes and trampolines. Plentiful eateries, from snack bars to luxury restaurants, provide somewhere for chilling out and people watching. Some of those even overlook the dolphin pools of the Aquarium. Otherwise a boat trip into the lagoon can be booked, involving stunning views across the turquoise waters and the white sands of Cancun, plus the occasional sighting of crocodiles.

At night, La Isla becomes less crowded and the light shows begin on the canopies above. It might be a mall, but it's guaranteed that it's nothing like the malls back home.

Please note that people selling timeshare appartments do loiter around the mall. Just say 'no gracias' if you're not interested.

August 23, 2010

Cancún Shopping: The Mercados

Cancún is a great place for shopping. There are several malls, a handful of markets and a plethora of smaller stores in between. Brand names items may sometimes be bought a lot more cheaply than back home; while handcrafted products might provide that perfect souvenir of Mexico.

In today's blog, we'll be having a little skim around the mercados (markets). There are two major mercados in downtown Cancún, and many smaller ones. Each have a different feel to them and many specialize in certain kinds of merchandise. The vendors will expect you to haggle to secure the right price.

Mercado 23

(Pron: mare-cah-doh vain-tee tres)

Open: 7.30am - 6pm

Mercado 23

Mercado 23 is the place to go for local produce. It was the first market created in Cancún and it is where the residents go shopping. There are fewer tourists there and, accordingly, many of the vendors are monoglot Spanish speakers.

This local feel is also reflected in the merchandise on offer. This tends towards those items which are only useful if you live there, for example, fresh food, hardware, clothes and shoes. However, pressure from the many new malls and supermarkets means that Mercado 23 is slowly taking on more tourist trade. Those looking for souvenirs will be able to pick up some pottery, pinatas, hammocks, small pieces of jewelry or Mexican clothing, otherwise you would be better off at Mercado 28.

Where Mercado 23 really comes into its own is with the fresh fruit and vegetables.Mercado 23 Those more used to buying such produce in supermarkets have possibly never smelt fruit and vegetables. (Supermarkets coat them in a very thin layer of wax, so they survive longer on the shelves.) The scent of the food, at Mercado 23, will therefore be guaranteed to start the mouth watering for some healthy food.

This isn't the only food there though. Gigantic pork scratchings; dried and cured herbs, grains and beans; meat; and confectionary are all on offer at local prices. For those with a sweet tooth, then the candy stores, supplying contents for the pinatas, are truly something to behold.

There are restaurants and small food vendors here too. The meals are cheaper than most in Cancún and are authenically Mexican. Their main customers are, after all, the local people.

Stall-holders will haggle for prices, but it's not as aggressively as at Mercado-28.

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Mercado 28

(Pron: mare-cah-doh vain-tee ocho)

Opening times: 9am - 8pm

Mercado 28

Mercado 28 is the place to go for souvenirs of your Mexican vacation. It is the largest market in Cancún and, while the other markets specialise, this one has everything.

Its brightly colored streets are home to a variety of shops and stalls, ranging from bric-a-brac to quality items. This is the place for handmade Mexican crafts, art, books, calendars, hammocks, herbs, rugs, blankets, pottery, handbags, baskets, statues, hats; as well as silver jewellery.

Dotted here and there are the food vendors offering some of the most delicious fare in the city. The seafood is especially good; it's caught on the same day and prepared on site. More mainstream establishments include banks, ATMs, Internet cafes, pharmacies/drugstores and the post office. Mercado-28 is a vibrant place, where those with an eye for a bargain can be sure to get it. Some of the cheapest items, tickets/tours to local attractions and food in Cancun can be found in this market.

There are over 100 shops, packed around a large square, which make up the Mercado 28. Mercado 28 The buildings wind through maze-like aisles, covered over for shade. It should be noted that this is a vast area, so, if travelling with a party of people, arrange a time and place to meet up again later on. You can and probably will get separated in the market, then never find each other again. There are quiet areas to sit back, chill out, watch a bit of street theatre or a band, soak up the local atmosphere and sip a cold drink.

Though primarily tourists are the main customers here, there will be many local people too. They are likely to be heading for the restaurants and cafes on the site. Originally, Mercado 28 was a market for local people, but they gave in to the demand from the tourists for more souvenir type goods, while the stores catering for local produce tended to congregate in Mercado 23. Nevertheless, the eateries are the same establishments that have always been there. The food and prices in them are authentically Mexican, rather than gearing towards other nationalities.

Please note that you may be approached here to buy recreational drugs. Just say 'no gracias' and walk on by (assuming that you don't want to take up their offer).

The easiest way to get there is via bus from the hotel zone. The market is then two blocks away. (Taxis will likely take you to their friend's stores.) The return bus can be caught from near to the Walmart. The maximum time it will take to get there on the bus is 45 mins and that's from the most southern tip of the hotel zone.

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Mercado Ki Huic

(Pron: mare-cah-doh key-wick)

Opening times: 9am - 10pm

Mercado Ki Huic

Ki Huic is one of the historic markets of Cancún and is set out as a maze of aisles in the open air. It is billed as a crafts market and it deals primarily in souvenirs for tourist trade.

This is the place for tequila shot glasses, serapes, blouses, shirts, silver jewellery, handicrafts and curios, though there is also a bank, a money exchange and some restaurants.

Haggling is expected here, but as it's a smaller market than Mercado 28, the bargains might be harder to achieve. Still there are 100 stalls here, so there's plenty for visitors to see.

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Mercado Coral Negro

(Pron: mare-cah-doh co-ral nee-grow)

Opening: Every day, 8am - midnight.

Mercado Coral Negro

Coral Negro is like a smaller version of Mercado 28. There are only 50 stalls there, compared to the hundreds in the larger markets. There are no price-tags and the vendors will quote whatever they think they can get away with. It is up to the buyer to then haggle their own price. (Tip: The stalls deeper in the market sometimes have better deals than those on the edges.)

Where Coral Negro does come into its own is with the jewellery. In the depths of its market is the jewelry quarter, enclosed within sliding glass doors and air-conditioning inside. Here every surface glitters and sparkles with Mexican silver and gems of all shapes and sizes. Note: When buying silver, look for the .925 hallmark. That ensures that it's genuine.

Mostly though the market is filled with souvenir items, like handicrafts, hammocks, sombreros, t-shirts, charro suits, Mexican candy, carvings, local art, tequila and hammocks. There are also people offering to braid your hair or to give you a temporary Henna tattoo. Inside, there may also be spray paint artists, offering planetary landscapes for you to take home.

As with Mercado 28, you may be approached by people selling illegal drugs. The same advice applies.

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August 20, 2010

Aztec Remains Found in a Subway

Builders constructing a new subway, in Mexico City, got more than they bargained for. The graves of 60 Aztec people, mostly children, were discovered along the route, halting work immediately.

Aztec remains

The 24km (15 mile) subway line will connect several Mexico City suburbs and is due to open in 2012. Historians knew that these areas had been built over the top of the original Aztec settlements (much of inner Mexico City is), but no-one knew that the remains were down there.

Maria de Jesus Sanchez, an archaeologist from the National Institute for Anthropology and History, revealed, "In total, there are 60 graves, 10 adults and around 50 children of different ages, some two or three years old." It was common practice for Aztec burials to take place under the foundations of their homes. Deceased children were often placed into earthenware pots, as this aped the shape of the womb.

Also amongst the finds were pottery shards, a 50cm (1.6ft) statue of a woman and a facial stone carvings. The skeletal remains date back to around 1100 to 1500 CE, while the carvings could be as much as 2000 years old.

These discoveries have been made periodically since work began on the subway line, in September 2008. The suburb of Culhuacan has proved to be a hotspot for them. Each time a new item is found, work stops immediately while the archaeologists swoop in to excavate. Such practises are a modern development. In the past, the construction workers just plunged on and historians fear that many sites of archaeological importance were destroyed.

Mexico City was once the heart of the Aztec empire, under its former name of Tenochtitlán. The city's Aztec nickname, Mexico, ultimately provided a name for the whole country.

You Only Live Once

Joe Vass originally came to the Yucatán Peninsula as a tourist, and it changed the direction of his life. I discovered his YouTube channel last week, while searching for videos about sea turtles. His film touches upon them, but it's so much more. His enthusiasm about Mexico is infectious.

Joe and Cindy Vass, according to their YouTube profile, were construction workers, in their native Kelowna, British Columbia, in Canada. Their vacation to the Yucatán Peninsula sparked a change of vocation, into freelance videography, producing and photography.

It all fed into their personal belief in 'YOLO' - You only live once.

"How often does one promise themselves, "when I have . . . I'll . . . (i.e. get that car, travel, etc.). Time moves on - stuff happens - opportunities gone. YOLO! We are passionate about travel, HD videography and photography and decided to do it!

"Why YouTube? We wondered how we could inspire others; to travel or pursue their dreams. We decided simply to show you what we have done. Maybe you'll see something here that inspires you or amuses you (Beware of Joe's humor). In the mean time, we're going to continue to travel and produce 'clips' for you and chase our ultimate dream: to become the 'clip encyclopedia' for the world with all its wonders and beauty."
Joe and Cindy Vass, on their YouTube Channel profile

It's hard to argue with that! We, at Endless Tours, wish them well on their journey and thank you both for the amazing footage of our country.

August 19, 2010

Ironman Cozumel World Championship 2010

Applicants are invited to sign up for the Ironman Cozumel World Championship 2010. The event, held on the island on November 28th, will test the physical prowess and stamina of participants from all over the world. Have you got what it takes? The event is open to 2,300 triathletes, men and women, all competing for the $50,000 USD prize money and the Ironman Cozumel medal.

Rutger Beke
Belgium's Rutger Beke was the male champion
of Ironman Cozumel 2009.

Yvonne Van Vlerken
Yvonne Van Vlerken, from the Netherlands,
was the female champion of Ironman Cozumel 2009.

This year's arduous course mirrors the same in 2009. Last year, the race started in the water. After the opening displays, hundreds of spectators cheered the equally numerous swimmers awaiting the starting gun. It went off and the racers forged through the Caribbean Sea, heading for land. They have 3.8km (2.4 miles) to complete, praying against the swell of the ocean, before the transition to the next stage could even begin.

The athletes surge onto the sands, then rush, on foot, through the long trackway towards the bicycle event. The route is typically lined with locals and vacationers, cheering on participants and reaching out for high-fives along the way.

It is time for the bike event. 180km (112 miles) around a stunning beautiful course, that takes in much of the island. For the majority of that ride, participants will be taking a coastal route, within glorious sight of the Caribbean Sea. The breezes coming off it both help and hinder. They may cool over-heating racers, but cross-winds, in some stretches, might also slow anticipated speeds. It will take all of the skill of the cyclist to keep ahead of the pack.

Tim Ferrell
The USA's Tim Ferrell en route to finishing the race.

Last year's finisher, Tim Ferrell, recalled this stage of the championship,

The island inhabitants on the bike course (and the run) were truly what made this race worth every sacrifice. People with such little subsistence lined a great portion of the western bike loop and were cheering as if they were watching a soccer (futbol) match at the World Cup. The drums, guitars, Native Mayan and Latino Music, whistles and chants of Si Si Puede will always be in my heart. Thanks so much to the people of Cozumel!
My Ironman Story: Tim Ferrell

There is a stopping point, mid-way through this bike race, to change and reapply sunscreen. Then they're off again!

As if an Olympic length swim in open ocean, followed by that mammoth bike race, weren't enough, now comes the marathon. Those who have made it to this point will endure a 42.2km (26.2m) run to the finishing line. Those who make it are truly iron men and women.

It costs $550 USD to participate. The first five winners, in each gender, will receive a total of $50,000 USD between them. The first male and first female across the line will receive $10,000 USD apiece. All finishers will receive a host of goodies, with the top ten elite, from each age group, receiving a trophy too.

For more rules and information, please visit the Athlete Information webpage. For all other information, including programme and entry details, please visit Ironman Cozumel.

Cancun - Cozumel Diving Daytrip

August 18, 2010

Montezuma's Revenge

When setting out to choose the blog topic of the day, I often look first at perennial tourist questions. These are vacationers who have looked at the pretty beaches, the vibrant nightlife, the world heritage class tours, the fun attractions and are already excited about a vacation in Mexico. But then they spot something and worry about it. Enter this blog to evaporate the mystery, so that the worrying at least has some basis in fact.

MontezumaMontezuma's Revenge is not:

* A vengeful ghost intent on human sacrifice;
* Some kind of vague, non-specific scam enacted by all Mexicans against all tourists;
* A curse which brings bad luck to anyone visiting a certain site or touching a certain rock.

All of the above are your internet friends trying to troll you. The real Montezuma's Revenge is a lot murkier than that. It's traveler's diarrhea.

Wherever we live, our bodies become used to the local water and the local food. People generally think that water is largely tasteless, until they travel to another city or state, even within their own country. That's when the discovery is made that water can be 'hard' or 'soft', or have discernibly different aftertastes, depending upon which filtering and cleaning chemicals are used by which local authority. 'Hard' water will have a higher mineral content than 'soft' water. But if the water is too soft, it might erode our household plumbing. Some processing plants are required, by local law, to add extra chemicals, if there's a profusion of fungi or algae caused by your landscape.

However the water is treated, we each build an immunity to all that's in it. Our bodies recognize that this is how water should taste and those are the minerals and chemicals that should be in it. They cause us no harm (no water processing plant is going to add harmful chemicals!) and life goes on. Until, that is, we go on vacation. Suddenly we have a whole different kind of water and our bodies have to suddenly reassess the situation. For some, with robust constitutions, this change happens with no side-effects at all; but for those with more fragile stomachs, their bodies can panic. They will treat the difference as poison and try to expel it from themselves. Hence the diarrhea.

toilet roll

This isn't a problem peculiar to Mexico. It simply seems that way, because this is the vacation destination for millions of Americans, Canadians and those further afield around the world. This might be the only time that those tourists drink water that is treated differently to that at home. However, it's not called Montezuma's Revenge everywhere. The Turkish Two-Step; Bali Belly; Pharaoh's Revenge/Cairo Two-Step; Kurtz Hurtz (Uzbekistan); Beaver Fever (Canada); Katmandu Quickstep, are just a selection of the alternative names for traveller's diarrhea. It happens wherever people drink different water or eat different food to that which their body has formed its immunity.

It is referred to as Montezuma's Revenge, when it occurs in Mexico, because of the Aztec Emperor, Montezuma II. He is alternatively known as Moctezuma II and his story was told in a previous blog entry: Mexico City - The City of the Gods. The short version is that he was the Aztec ruler at the coming of the Spanish. It was his empire that was over-run by the invasion force of Hernán Cortés. Montezuma II fought back valiantly against the conquistadors, but the upshot was that he lived to see his empire in foreign hands and he died in chains under their rule.

If the spirit of Montezuma II was wishing to wreak revenge upon the modern invaders (tourists), then it could be imagined that it would be more bloody than an upset stomach. Nevertheless, the wry moniker 'Montezuma's Revenge' has been applied to just that.

No resort, nor business reliant on the tourist trade, wants to see their clientele confined to their bathrooms, groaning. Bottled WaterTherefore, you will find plentiful bottled water in Mexico, particularly where those on vacation congregate. Drink only this, rather than water from the faucet/tap and you'll be fine.

Ensure that you also brush your teeth in bottled water, plus that the ice in your drinks is from bottled water, for that extra security. If you are self-catering, then only wash your food in bottled water. You get the general idea! The restaurants and other eateries, in the tourist zones, will be using this in their food preparation anyway, as they are the last people who want to be accused of causing Montezuma's Revenge. Therefore areas like Cancún see very few cases of traveller's diarrhea.

If you do end up as one of the 20% of vacationers, travelling world-wide, to fall foul of traveller's diarrhea, then don't panic. It is inconvenient and downright disappointing, when you've saved up to come away, but it's usually easily treated.

Symptoms are loose bowels; abdominal cramps; nausea; and a bloating feeling. All of the above are your body's way of trying to expel something, which it considers poisonous, from your system. It is not contagious, so milk it for all the sympathy that you can get from the rest of your party; but equally don't be afraid to allow them back out into the wide world. They will not be carrying some dire virus. By the same token, if you can find somewhere with easy access to a bathroom, then you can go out yourself.

The most important treatment is fluids. Drink as much bottled water as is comfortable, so to flush out your system, and replace all of those fluids that you are losing by other means. You are also losing salts, so water primed with hydration salts is the best of all. Try to avoid alcohol, as a main way to take on fluids, as that can actually dehydrate you. Bottled soda works for some, but not others.

Drug Store Cancun

It might be worth a visit to the local drug store/pharmacy/chemist, as they would be well aware of the local variation of traveller's diarrhea. You might be able to get something over the counter to hurry along your body's stablization. It may take anywhere between one and five days to feel right again; with the average being 3.6 days.

If the symptoms are very severe, or there is blood in your stools or a high fever, then seek urgent medical advice. It might not be traveller's diarrhea, but indicative of something else.

Here's hoping that you never get traveller's diarrhea in Mexico. But if you do, at least you now know that it's only the occasional uncomfortable rush to the bathroom, and not the dismembering wrath of an Aztec king.

August 17, 2010

The Monarchs of the Madre

monarch butterflyIt is an arduous, 3000 mile migration, which no monarch butterfly survives. Those who arrive in their millions, to cloak the Sierra Madre in color, are the great-grandchildren of those who left, nine months before. Nobody knows why they do it, but the fact that they do is one of nature's most spectacular sights.

They grow to just 10cm (4"). Their distinctive orange and black wings are like starched tissue paper. Their life-span is a mere two to eight weeks, yet they will fly through storms and natural predators to complete their journey. They fly up to 161km (100 miles) a day, at altitudes of sometimes 3km (10,000ft); crossing in all terrains, from mountain to jungle, to city, to wetlands, to the Arizona desert, to the coast, to the Georgia woodlands and beyond. They are the only butterfly to migrate, like birds, rather than hibernate over winter.

Monarchs are the stars of a Mexican government tourist compaign; and the mascot insect/butterfly of no less than six American states. The Aztecs believed them to be the airborn souls of their departed warriors. Even today, some of the older Mexicans will step aside for the passage of the monarch butterfly, viewing them as carrying away the spirits of their dead. (It is a story that resonates across the world in Ireland, where white butterflies or moths perform the same service.)

To the Tohono O'odham tribe, of Northern Mexico and Arizona, the monarch monarch butterfly butterflies caused wishes to be conveyed to the gods. Catch one and whisper your secret need, then let it go. The gods will hear. It is this that has fuelled a growing industry in monarch butterly releases, at weddings and funerals, all over the USA. That and, of course, the vision of hundreds of pretty butterfly wings, soaring like petals in the air, as something beautifully special to mark the momentous occasion.

For the Guatemalan Maya, the significance of the monarch butterfly was more philosophical. The butterfly's twin wings represented the dream world and the waking world. It could only survive if the two touched constantly, and met in the heart. It was a message to us all, that dreams and reality were equally important; and one should be dismissed as fancy only at our peril.

The monarch butterflies are on their way back. They left the central Mexican highlands in February to fly northwards, passing the border into America. They summered, supping on the nectar of those countries' flora, but as August turns, the monarchs start to head back down, ahead of the northern frosts.

En route there, the females would have deposited eggs, on the first milkweed growth that she found. These have now hatched into caterpillars. Three weeks later, the caterpillar is a monarch butterfly too, living out its eight weeks in an American garden, or flying northwards too. Its children, or grandchildren, might make it into Canada.

But then they turn, this descendent monarch, hearing the impulse of its ancestor to head to the warmth of the Sierra Madre. It will die before it makes it to the Mexican border. But its child or grandchild will cross and eventually settle, swarming the oyamel trees, until not a leaf nor inch of bark can be seen. It's like a gigantic relay race of the generations, ensuring their species' survival.

monarchs swarm tree
Monarch butterflies covering a Mexican tree.

Yet human beings haven't helped in that task. Monarch butterflies are not endangered, but there was a real fear that they could rapidly become so. For many years, the major problem was illegal logging in Mexico itself. However, that has dramatically decreased, since the loggers realised that there was more money to be had in butterfly tourism, than in selling the timber.

They have also been assisted by the establishment of state-funded butterfly sanctuaries, throughout the migration route. These vast areas span more than 790,000 h (1,951,300 ac) under the jurisdiction of 22 different municipalities; 12 in the State of Michoacan, and 10 in the State of Mexico. In Michoacan alone, over 500,000 oyamel trees have been planted to combat the logging losses of the past.

A handful of these sanctuaries are open to the general public. El Rosario and Chincua are in Michoacan; while Cerro Pelon, Herradura and La Mesa are in the state of Mexico. The revenue from their guided tours and amenities help to secure the protection of the legendary monarch butterflies. El Rosario has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage site.

But despite all of this, the numbers of monarchs fell sharply this year. A study from the World Wildlife Fund showed that only one-fourth of the amount of monarchs leaving Mexico, returned last year. There are several theories as to why. February is usually one of the driest months in Mexico, monarch butterflybut last year, the oyamel trees, with their cargo of monarchs, was lashed by sleet and rain in a freak storm. As a result, fewer survived to even set off north.

This has worried Juan Bezaury, Mexico's representative for The Nature Conservancy, who told reporters, "We can say that extreme climate events will be more frequent and more intense." It is a concern that is likely to be included in the UN Climate Change Conference, being held in Cancún, in December 2010. Mexico has already promised to reduce carbon emissions, by 50 million tonnes, in 2012.

Then there are the dangers north of the border. Pollen from genetically modified corn, in the United States, has been blowing onto the milkweed - the favoured food of the monarch butterflies. This pollen is toxic to them and has been killing them in their thousands. Also herbicides sprayed onto roadsides, coupled with rigorous mowing to keep them neat, have been destroying the same milkweed. Meanwhile, blackwort has been able to thrive. This plant looks very like milkweed, but is poisonous to the monarch caterpillars. Mexican, American and Canadian officials are working together to see how these issues might be resolved.

For now, everyone is waiting, in wondrous anticipation, to witness November's grand return. They will be here until February, wintering amongst the oyamel trees. It is one of nature's most sublimely magical spectacles; and one which will see the crowds flocking into the sanctuaries to dream and watch and simply be a part of it.

August 16, 2010

The Underground Nuns

Santa Monica nunWhen the Convent of Santa Monica was searched, in 1934, it revealed an amazing secret. It was full of nuns. That might not sound so startling, insofar as convents are generally the first place that you would look for nuns. But this particular convent had been supposedly empty for 70 years; and it was in a land where all monasteries and convents had been seized by the government, their very existence rendered illegal.

An intricate system of tunnels, secret chambers and hidden passageways allowed the nuns to stay out of view. Their exterior doors were bricked up. A secret door, affording access from a private residence next door, allowed supplies to pass in and out. They lived and worshipped in utter seclusion; even their dead were buried in a small interior graveyard, away from prying eyes. Their tiny cells contained planks, stretched across blocks, as beds. Amongst their meagre possessions were self-flagellation instruments, which were used to bring themselves closer to Christ. Thus the small order of Augustine nuns went on for seven decades, before they were discovered.

Mexico is a Catholic country; however, it also has a Constitution that separates church from state. The Reform Era, commonly viewed as the period 1857-1876, laid the foundations of this. To do this, the government of the time needed first to reduce the traditional power of the Catholic church. A whole series of laws were passed, restricting clerical privilege, disabling church courts and many other measures designed to place church power into the hands of civil authorities.

Then came the Law for the Nationalization of Ecclesiastical Properties. It ordered all religious orders to hand over their monastries and convents, which were then distributed to local farmers. If the church refused, then these lands would be seized and sold by public auction to the highest bidder. Nearly all of the country's religious houses became secular in this way. But not the Convent of Santa Monica, in Puebla.

refectory at Santa Monica

It had been a convent since the seventeenth century. Before that, several other female institutions had been operating on the site. In 1609, a home for wayward Spanish women had been built on that spot. It was under the patronage of St Mary Magdelene. Donations for its upkeep had diminished over time, so the home closed down. In 1682, it had briefly been a refuge for Spanish widows and orphaned girls. Then they too moved on and, in 1688, the Augustinian Recollect Convent of Santa Monica was founded.

The day to day lives of these nuns would have been silent. They did not sing, even during High Mass, nor speak aloud. Theirs was a contemplative life, assisted by a small religious library. They undertook rigid fasts or else ate only water, bread, fruits, olive oil, and wine. They practiced severe penance, for which the self-flagellation tools found afterwards would have been used. They walked barefoot, or in sandals, with any other mode of footwear forbidden. Their daily routine was one of intense worship and meditation, but there were moments of relaxation too. The Chocolate Room was set aside for recreation.

crypt at Santa Monica

It is thought that the local authorities knew all along that they were there, but that a blind eye had been turned. Or maybe just the first officials knew and, disagreeing with the national edict against them, had helped them prepare the convent for concealment. There were certainly city folk who sneaked in food and the other necessities for survival.

However it worked, it all came to an end in 1934, when a local official ordered a search of the premises. The Augustine nuns were evicted from their convent and the building passed into state hands. It is now open to the general public and houses the Museum of Religious Art. There are some fine architectual features, some dating back to the very beginning of the 17th century; alongside exhibits from the time of the nuns.

August 13, 2010

Ancient Mexican Sea Deities

Visitors come from all over the world to explore the oceans of Mexico. From ancient and modern traders and business people; through invaders and pirates; to tourists and, of course, the local people. They have all witnessed the changeable moods of the sea. The calm serenity, that is there most of the time, to the occasional weight of tropical storms and hurricanes. They have sailed and fished and fed from its bounty. During all of this, particularly in the latter, these people have appealed to the divine entities, whom they believed ruled over these beautiful waters.

These days, the local fishing communities are most likely to be appealing to Mother Mary, or Our Lady Of Guadalupe. Those from other nations will bring their own gods or goddesses. For our ancestors, their prayers were heard by the ancient Mexican sea deities.


The Lady of the Waters, Chalchiuhtlicue, is an Atzec goddess.

Her name translates as 'jade skirt', but she was known by several names: Matalcueyeh, Xoxouhqui Ihuipil, Xoxouhqui Icue, Chalchiuh Tlatonac and Etzalqualiztli. Most of those relate to her skirt, which is variously described as blue, jade or green. The last moniker, Etzalqualiztli, means 'Lady Precious Green'.

Her icons and shrines have been found next to sources of water, streams, aquaducts, irrigation systems, lakes and cenotes, as well as the oceans themselves. She is shown wearing a skirt of blue or green, often with blue and white paper ornaments, and a shawl adorned with tassels. She also has tassels dangling down either side of her face. These are attached to an ornate head-dress, rendered from several broad braids. She is eternally youthful and very beautiful, as well as noble in status.

The Aztecs associated the sea with childbirth, so it is that Chalchiuhtlicue was evoked during labour. Newborn babies were sprinkled with water and greeted as the goddess. Four days later, they would be bathed again and blessed under the auspices of the goddess, Chalchiuhtlicue.

Chalchiuhtlicue is married to the rain god, Tlaloc. It was after he was slighted by the great father diety, Quetzalcoatl, that Chalchiuhtlicue flew into one of her rare rages. She caused such violent tempests that the whole world was flooded.

The region of Veracruz, alongside the Gulf of Mexico, was once known as Chalchiuhcueyecatl, ie 'the waters of the goddess, Chalchiuhtlicue'. Therefore, anyone worried today about the situation in the Gulf of Mexico might do well to appeal to this ancient lady, alongside their usual prayers.

Ix Chel

Grandmother, Ix Chel, is a Maya goddess.

She's been called 'Lady of the Seas'. Her temples and shrines tended to be around water or upon islands. She famously had her shrine on Isla Mujeres desecrated by the first Spanish visitors to Mexico. That story, along with Ix Chel's own, has been told in a previous blog.

She is the ancient deity for the Mexican Caribbean Sea.

Mama Cocha

Mama CochaSea Mother, Mama Cocha, is an Inca goddess. She was also known as Mama Qocha.

Mama Cocha had dominion over all of the oceans and waters. She is a kindly, motherly divine lady, who protects fishermen and sailors. They would petition her for a large catch and calm waters. Mama Cocha would set about preventing storms and making sure there were plenty of fish around the fishermen's lures and nets.

As the goddess of both the waters and the rain, she could control the weather. She was most often evoked around the Pacific shores.

Her husband is Viracocha, the creator of the universe, sun, moon and stars. He also created civilization, walking amongst his people disguised as a beggar, in order to teach them certain skills. Mama Cocha and Viracocha were the parents of other Inca deities.

Comic book readers may recognize her from the Marvel publication, 'Thor & Hercules: Encyclopaedia Mythologica'. Mama Cocha appeared in issue one. She also lends her name to a Peruvian home for abandoned children, Mama Cocha, in Los Organos.

Thank You

Endless ToursHaving surpassed 1,000 unique visitors to this blog, I wanted to thank you all for reading it. What makes us even prouder is that 700 of you kept coming back for more! I am glad that you are finding it an entertaining source of information about our beloved Mexico.

When we started this blog, in May, I didn't expect to be sitting here just three months later looking at nearly 2000 visits, amassing 3,863 page views, on it. That's really made my day. Thank you very much and I hope that you will continue to enjoy the articles that we write.

You may be interested to know which are the top ten most viewed blog entries:

1, Why Biodegradable Sunscreen?

2, Pirates of the Caribbean - Jean LaFitte

3, Why Can't I Climb on the Maya Pyramids?

4, How to Haggle for Goods at the Mercado

5, El Calendario de Todos Santos

6, Roger Waters, 'The Wall', in México City, 2010

7, Drug Wars - Cancún is Safe for Tourists

8, Gay Vacations in the Riviera Maya

9, The Oil Leak isn't in the Mexican Caribbean

10, Xcaret - The Secret Sanctuary

Thank you very much for reading! <3

August 12, 2010

"Sea turtles, mate."

Sea Turtle
Ragetti: Is that... can't be.
Pintel: How?
Captain Teague: Sea turtles, mate.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Sea turtles can be found in all of the world's oceans, minus the really cold ones up by the poles. They spend their lives in the sea, coming to the surface to breath, before dodging back underwater to feed. Here they can live for up to 80 years. The largest of the five species of sea turtle can grow up to eight feet (2.5m) long, weighing in at 1,300lbs (93 stone; or 590kg). They are truly one of the great, gentle giants of the sea.

Only the mature females ever venture onto land and then only to lay their eggs on the beaches. Beaches in Mexico are some of the dwindling number where nesting occurs, as anyone who reads A Canuck in Cancun knows:

A gigantic mama turtle was RIGHT THERE laying her eggs!! Super awe, jaw on the sandy floor, ga ga girls, we oohed and aaahed and watched her do her thing ... Turtle patrol came along and took her measurements and clamped a tracking device on her flipper. Her shell was 106 cms by 96 cms, big girl! We got hit by some flying sand when she started to try to get out of her hole, her powerful flippers making loud THWACK sounds as she dug her way out. We left her in peace to make her way back to sea.
A Canuck in Cancun: Where the Boys Aren't: Girls' Beach Getaway

And if you don't read 'A Canuck in Cancun', then why not? It's a brilliant blog!

When these eggs hatch, there is a sudden surge of tiny babies rushing towards the ocean. Seagulls and other predators lunge in and only a fraction ever make it. Then there is the arduous task of growing up, amidst the sharks and others who like to see sea turtle on the menu.

Sea turtles have been around for 130 million years; yet they have now been hunted to the brink of extinction by human beings. Sadly, a large proportion of this happens in Mexico, where poachers illegally catch and sell them into the international market, or eat them at home. Tourist are warned to boycott and report any restaurant with sea turtle on offer. Moreover, please don't buy any tortoiseshell products.

Even more recently, BP came under sharp criticism for burning sea turtles alive, by trapping them into controlled 'burn zones', in a bid to remove oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. The Nature Institute in New Orleans estimated that at least 425 sea turtles had perished that way, with many more being picked up by conservationists. The survivors had to be cleaned up, with toothbrushes used to scrub the oil from their shells.

Sea TurtleSea Turtles are globally protected under the regulations of both the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Mexico is amongst those countries who have added extra laws to strengthen international law. It is illegal to poach, hunt, catch or eat sea turtles in Mexico. It is also illegal to use shrimp nets that don't allow sea turtles to escape. By-catch (when something other than what you were fishing for ends up caught) was a major threat to the sea turtles before that law came in. Traditional nesting beaches, in Mexico, are protected under law. They are often incorporated into national parks in order to ensure this protection.

In addition, there have been many other campaigns in the country, aiming to combat some of the cultural, religious or superstitious reasoning behind the consumption of sea turtles. In this very Catholic of countries, sea turtles are often eaten during Lent. This is such a problem that activists wrote to the Pope hoping that he would rule that sea turtles are meat, not fish, and therefore prohibited during that period. He hasn't done so yet.

Another pervasive (but utterly incorrect) belief was that sea turtle eggs boosted male potency. Playboy pin-up and singer Dorismar was enlisted to help combat that one.Dorismar For the non-Spanish speakers, that legend reads, "My man doesn't need turtle eggs."

Dorismar also made an appearance on the extremely popular TV show, Sábado Gigante. She used her charms to convince Spanish speaking men everywhere that they really didn't need to eat sea turtle eggs. Wearing nothing but revealing pyjamas, she explained carefully that it's a myth that they help male virility.

The TV show broadcasts to an audience of over 100 million people, spread across 42 countries. Dorismar's slot on it was part of Sábado Gigante's campaign tour of Latin America, ending in Mexico City. During which they spread the 'Don't Eat Sea Turtles' word even further. Live music and personal appearances by Dorismar helped the message to sink in.

May to October is sea turtle breeding season, so it is possible that any visitors to Mexico might encounter their nests. If you see a mound of sand with a stick in it, then leave it well alone. It is being monitored by one of the many volunteer or state sea turtle conservation organizations. If you happen to spot a giant turtle leaving the ocean, with huge tyre track grooves in the sand, then report it immediately to the beach patrols. They can then alert the relevant people to come and protect the nest.

Then sit back, at a distance, and revel in the fact that you have witnessed one of nature's more wondrous moments. Because, if the poachers win, no future generation will be able to see it at all.

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