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Calgarian living like a local during six-month hiatus in Mexico
WANDA ST. HILAIRE
FOR THE CALGARY HERALD
When you think of Puerto Vallarta, an image of all-inclusive resorts and typical tourist attractions may spring to mind. Because of time constraints, many vacationers to Vallarta unfortunately miss the rich food, art and culture scene that bubbles beneath the facade. The city is a magnet for talented artists, chefs, writers, musicians and instructors.
I am in PV for a six-month solo writing sojourn and love the blend of metropolitan life with small-town heart.
For those who prefer a homey holiday, cooking here is a pleasure with the neighbourhood markets’ availability of freshly picked produce, herbs, cheese, fish, seafood and meat. On Saturdays, the Old Town Farmer’s Market is filled with gourmet goodies made by vendors from around the globe.
On Sundays, a similar market is held in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a beautiful town an hour north of Vallarta. The friendly ambience and live music are reason enough to go.
A video from our Puerto Vallarta restaurant’s buffet night. Come check it out for yourself on any given Wednesday. All you can drink and eat for $180 Pesos.
By Jayne Clark, USA TODAY
Despite tales of drug violence, visitation to Mexico was up almost 19% over last year, as of September. And with 22.6 million tourists expected by year’s end, numbers will about equal the record-breaking totals in 2008. About 80% of visitors are North American.
In fact, slightly more foreigners are vacationing in Mexico now than before the drug wars, which have killed about 30,000 (mostly drug traffickers) in the past four years, The Economist reported in November. Mexico now ranks No. 10 in international arrivals worldwide.
I’m just back from San Miguel de Allende, a gorgeous colonial city in central Mexico (read about it Friday at usatoday.com/travel), where, not surprisingly, more than one conversation during my visit turned toward security concerns.
But not the sort of concerns you might think. The Americans I spoke with there were worried about the bum rap they believe the entire country is getting due to drug violence that , for the most part, is concentrated hundreds of miles away near the U.S. border. (more…)
Our new pool is ready, take a look at some pictures:
More international travelers are visiting beach resort towns that have not experienced much of the country’s drug-related violence, officials say.
In a surprising turnabout, international tourism to Mexico showed a sharp increase this summer — a sign that tourists may be putting aside worries about the economy and fears of drug-related violence, analysts say.
Foreign visitors arriving by air to Mexico jumped to 7.1 million in the first eight months of the year — up nearly 20% from the same period in 2009 — with most visitors coming from the U.S. and Canada, according to Mexican tourism officials.
The biggest rise came in July, when tourist numbers grew 27.5% over the same month last year.
The increase came in spite of a rash of drug-related violence and kidnappings, primarily along the border, and the August bankruptcy of Mexicana Airlines, the nation’s largest air carrier.
The growth in tourism has been focused primarily in Mexican beach resort towns that have not experienced much of the violence.
In the first eight months of 2010, 7.1 million foreign travelers flew to Mexico, up 19.2% from the same period last year. Of those visitors, 4.33 million were from the U.S., 1.3 million from Canada and 200,513 from Spain, according to Mexican tourism officials.
The latest numbers are a significant increase from 2009, when international tourism to Mexico dropped dramatically after the outbreak of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu. But compared with 2008, international travel to Mexico is up only 6%.
Still, analysts say, the latest jump in visitors suggests that U.S. travelers feel more confident about spending on travel again and see Mexico as a good bargain for vacations.
“Memories of last year have started to fade,” said Anthony Concil, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Assn., a trade group for the world’s airlines.
The sharp increase in visitors to Mexico is also significant because Concil and other analysts have predicted only modest growth in travel worldwide. International air travel, for example, was up 6% in August compared with a year earlier, according to the International Air Transport Assn.
Hawaii has also seen tourism begin to rebound lately, but not enough to overcome the steep drop-off it suffered in 2009. In August, total arrivals by air to Hawaii were up about 11% from the same month last year, marking the ninth consecutive month of growth.
Mexican tourism officials attribute Mexico’s tourist increase to a marketing campaign that kicked off in July, with the tagline “Mexico, the place you thought you knew.”
“We have had all of these challenges, but we are in the right track,” said Alfonso Sumano, regional director for the Mexico Tourism Board for the Americas.
Local travel agents say the growth in tourists’ interest in Mexico comes from a pent-up demand to travel.
“I think there’s a perception is that it’s a good deal,” said Carol McConnell, founder of Around the Globe Travel in Huntington Beach. “But it’s mostly about being where the water and the weather is really nice.”
Jack E. Richards, president of Pleasant Holidays, a Westlake Village travel agency that specializes in vacations to Mexico, agrees. “The all-inclusive resorts offer exceptional value for the vacation dollar, which is still important to American travelers as they emerge from the economic recession,” he said.
While reports of drug-related killings and kidnappings continue along the border, most international tourists are staying clear of that area, visiting beach resort towns instead, Sumano said.
The number of visitors to Cancun, the easternmost coastal city, jumped nearly 31% in August compared with a year earlier; tourism to Los Cabos, on the southern tip of Baja California, increased 30%, according to Mexico tourism officials.
Southern California travel agents say U.S. tourists don’t seem too concerned about drug violence because they know to stay far from the border. “As long as you stay in the resort areas, you’ll have no problem,” McConnell said.
And several Mexican and U.S. airlines have stepped in to fill in the void left by Mexicana Airlines, Sumano said.
“We would like to spread the word,” he said. “The resorts are ready for the visitors.”
Via: Los Angeles Times
First: A reality check on Mexico
Mexico is in a unique position to reap many of the benefits of the decline of the US economy. In order to not violate NAFTA and other agreements the U.S.A. cannot use direct protectionism, so it is content to allow the media to play this protectionist role. The U.S. media – over the last year – has portrayed Mexico as being on the brink of economic collapse and civil war. The Mexican people are either beheaded, kidnapped, poor, corrupt, or narco-traffickers. The American news media was particularly aggressive in the weeks leading up to spring break. The main reason for this is money. During that two-week period, over 120,000 young American citizens poured into Mexico and left behind hundreds of millions of dollars.
Let’s look at the reality of the massive drug and corruption problem, kidnappings, murders and money. The U.S. Secretary of State Clinton was clear in her honest assessment of the problem. “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent the weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians,” Clinton said. The other large illegal business that is smuggled into the U.S.A. that no one likes to talk about is Human Traffic for prostitution. This “business” is globally now competing with drugs in terms of profits.
It is critical to understand, however that the horrific violence in Mexico is over 95% confined to the three transshipping cities for these two businesses, Tijuana, Nogales, and Juarez. The Mexican government is so serious about fighting this, that they have committed over 30,000 soldiers to these borders towns. There was a thoughtful article written by a professor at the University of Juarez. He was reminded of the Prohibition years in the U.S.A. and compared Juarez to Chicago when Al Capone was conducting his reign of terror capped off with The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. During these years, just like Juarez today, 99% of the citizens went about their daily lives and attended classes, went to the movies, restaurants, and parks.
Is there corruption in Mexico? YES !!! Is there an equal amount of corruption related to this business in the U.S.A.? YES !!!. When you have a pair of illegal businesses that generate over $300,000,000,000 in sales you will find massive corruption. Make no mistake about the Mexican Drug Cartel; these “businessmen” are 100 times more sophisticated than the bumbling bootleggers during Prohibition. They form profitable alliances all over the U.S.A. They do cost benefit analysis of their business much better than the US automobile industry. They have found over the years that the cost of bribing U.S. and Mexican Border Guards and the transportation costs of moving marijuana from Sinaloa to California have cut significantly into profits. That is why over the past 5-7 years they have been growing marijuana in State and Federal Parks and BLM land all across America. From a business standpoint, this is a tremendous cost savings on several levels. Let’s look at California as an example as one of the largest consumers. When you have $14.2 billion of Marijuana grown and consumed in one state, there is savings on transportation, less loss of product due to confiscation and an overall reduction cost of bribery with law enforcement and parks service people. Another great savings is the benefit to their employees. The penalties in Mexico for growing range from 5-15 years. The penalties in California, on average are 18 months, and out in 8 months. The same economic principles are now being applied to the methamphetamine factories.
FOX News continues to scare people with its focus on kidnapping. There are kidnappings in Mexico. The concentration of kidnappings has been in Mexico City, among the very rich and the three aforementioned border Cities. With the exception of Mexico City, the number one city for kidnappings among NAFTA countries is Phoenix, Arizona with over 359 in 2008. The Phoenix Police estimate that twice that number of kidnappings goes unreported, because like Mexico 99% of these crimes were directly related to drug and human traffic. Phoenix, unfortunately, is geographically profitable transshipping location. Mexicans, just like 99% of U.S. Citizens during prohibition, go about their daily lives all over the country. They get up, go to school or work and live their lives untouched by the border town violence.
These same protectionist news sources have misled the public as to the real danger from the swine flu in Mexico and temporary devastated the tourism business. As of May 27 2009 there have been 87 deaths in Mexico from the swine flu. During those same five months there have been 36 murdered school children in Chicago. By their logic, if 87 deaths from the swine flu in Mexico warrants canceling flights and cruise ships to Mexico, then close all roads and highways in the USA because of record 43,359 automobile related deaths in the USA in 2008.
What is just getting underway is what many are calling the “Largest southern migration to Mexico of people and real estate assets since the Civil War” A significant percentage of the Baby Boomers have been doing the research and are making the life changing decision to move out of the U.S.A. The number one retirement destination in the world is Mexico. There are already over 2,000,000 US and Canadian property owners in Mexico. The most conservative number of American and Canadian Baby Boomers who are on their way to owning property in Mexico for full or part time living in the next 15 years is over 6,000,000. Do the math on 6,000,000 people buying a $300,000 house or condo and you will understand why the U.S. Government is trying to tax this massive shift of money to Mexico through H.R. 3056. The U.S. government calls this “The Tax Collection Responsibility Act of 2007”. Those who will have to pay it are calling this the EXIT TAX.
Mexico: A better economic choice than China
Another large exodus from the U.S.A is high paying skilled jobs. The job shift in automobile sector, both car and parts manufacturing, is already known by most investors. In the last few months as John Deere and Caterpillar have been laying off thousands of workers in the U.S.A., and hiring equal numbers in Mexico. The most recent industry that is making the shift is the aerospace manufacturers. In the city of Zacatecas there is currently a $210 million aerospace facility being built. With the 11 U.S. companies moving there, it is estimated to provide over 200,000 new high paying jobs in the coming years. One of the main factors for the shift in job south to Mexico instead of China is realistic analysis of total production, labor and delivery costs. While the labor costs in China are 40% less on average, the overall transportation costs and inherent risks of a long distance supply chain, and quality control issues, gives Mexico a distinct financial advantage.
Mexico’s real economic future
Mexico has avoided completely the subprime problem that has devastated the U.S. banking industry. The Mexican banks are healthy and profitable. Mexico has a growing and very healthy middle and upper middle class. The very recent introduction of residential financing has Mexico in a unique position of having over 90% of current homeowners owning their house outright. U.S. banks are competing for the Mexican, Canadian and American cross border loan business. It is and will continue to be a very safe and very profitable business. These same banks that were loaning in a reckless manner have learned their lesson and are loaning here the old fashioned way. They require a minimum of a 680 credit score, 30% down payment, and verifiable income that can support the loan. In most areas of Mexico where Baby Boomers are moving to, with the exception of Puerto Penasco (which did not have a national and international base of buyers), there is no real estate bubble. The higher end markets ($2-20 million) in many of these destinations are going through a modest correction. The Baby Boomers market here is between $200,000 and $600,000. With the continuing demand inside the Bay of Banderas, that price point, in the coming years, will disappear. This is the reason the Mexican government is spending billions of dollars on more infrastructure north along the coast all the way up to Mazatlan.
The other major area where America has become overpriced is in the field of health care. This massive shift of revenues is estimated to add 5-7% to Mexico’s GDP. The name for this “business” is Medical Tourism. The two biggest competitors for Mexico were Thailand and India. Thailand and India’s biggest drawback is geography. Also recent events, Thailand’s inability to keep a government in place and the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai, have helped Mexico capture close to half of this growth industry. In Mexico today there are over 56 world class hospitals being built to keep up with this business.
Mexico is currently sitting on a cash surplus and an almost balanced budget. Most Americans have never heard of Carlos Slim until he loaned the New York Times $250 million. After that it became clear to many investors around the world what Mexicans already knew: that Mexico had been able to avoid the worst of the U.S. economic devastation. Mexico’s resilience is to be admired. When the U.S. Federal Reserve granted a $30 billion loan to each of the following countries Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, and Brazil, Mexico reinvested the money in Treasury bonds in an account in New York City.
According to oil traders, Mexico’s Pemex wisely as the price of oil shot to $147 a barrel put in place an investment strategy that hinged on oil trading in the range of $38-$60 a barrel. Since the beginning of 2009 Mexico has been collecting revenues on hedged positions that give them $90-$110 per barrel today. Mexico’s recent and under reported oil discovery in the Palaeo Channels of Chicontepec has placed it third in the world for oil reserves, right behind Canada and Saudi Arabia.
The following is a quote from Rosalind Wilson, President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce on March 19, 2009. “The strength of the Mexican economic system makes the country a favorite destination for Canadian investment”.
OPPORTUNITIES: WHY PUERTO VALLARTA & THE RIVIERA NAYARIT?
The answer is simple and old fashioned: SUPPLY AND DEMAND.
The area of Puerto Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit inside the Bay of Banderas is an investor’s dream. This area has the comprehensive infrastructure in place, world class hospitals and dental care, natural investment protection from the Sierra Madre Mountains, endless future water supply, low to nonexistent crime, international airport, and limited supply inside the Bay, first class private bilingual schools and higher than average appreciation potential. Like many areas in Mexico there is large demand for full and part time retirement living and a lot of construction underway to meet this demand. Pre construction of course is where the best bargains are available.
I would offer a word of caution for investors in Mexico. Do not be seduced by the endless natural beauty that is everywhere, both inland in colonial towns and along thousands of miles of beach. Apply conservative medium and long term investment strategies without emotion. The demand for full and part time living by American and Canadian Baby Boomers is evident throughout the country. The top two choice locations are ocean front, and ocean view. The third overall choice, which is less expensive, is inland in one of the many beautiful colonial towns or small cities.
Mexico, with the world’s 13th largest GDP, is no longer a “Third World Country”, but rather a fast growing, economically secure state, as the most recent five-year history of its financial markets when compared to the U.S.A.’s financial markets suggests.
DOW JONES AVERAGES MAY 2004 10,200 MAY 2009 8,200 20% LOSS IN 5 YEARS
MEXICAN BOLSA MAY 2004 10,000 MAY 2009 23,000 130% GAIN IN 5 YEARS
If you have not seen it you will find this article by a well known journalist interesting.
Linda Ellerbee (born August 15, 1944) is an American journalist who is most known for several jobs at NBC News, including Washington (DC) correspondent, host of the Nickelodeon network’s Nick News, and reporter and co-anchor of NBC News Overnight, which was recognized by the jurors of the duPont Columbia Awards as “possibly the best written and most intelligent news program ever.”
One Journalist’s View
By Linda Ellerbee
Sometimes I’ve been called a maverick because I don’t always agree with my colleagues, but then, only dead fish swim with the stream all the time. The stream here is Mexico .
You would have to be living on another planet to avoid hearing how dangerous Mexico has become, and, yes, it’s true drug wars have escalated violence in Mexico , causing collateral damage, a phrase I hate. Collateral damage is a cheap way of saying that innocent people, some of them tourists, have been robbed, hurt or killed.
But that’s not the whole story. Neither is this. This is my story.
I’m a journalist who lives in New York City , but has spent considerable time in Mexico , specifically Puerto Vallarta , for the last four years. I’m in Vallarta now. And despite what I’m getting from the U.S. media, the 24-hour news networks in particular, I feel as safe here as I do at home in New York , possibly safer. I walk the streets of my Vallarta neighborhood alone day or night. And I don’t live in a gated community, or any other All-Gringo neighborhood. I live in Mexico .. Among Mexicans. I go where I want (which does not happen to include bars where prostitution and drugs are the basic products), and take no more precautions than I would at home in New York ; which is to say I don’t wave money around, I don’t act the Ugly American, I do keep my eyes open, I’m aware of my surroundings, and I try not to behave like a fool.
I’ve not always been successful at that last one. One evening a friend left the house I was renting in Vallarta at that time, and, unbeknownst to me, did not slam the automatically-locking door on her way out. Sure enough, less than an hour later a stranger did come into my house. A burglar? Robber? Kidnapper? Killer? Drug lord?
No, it was a local police officer, the “beat cop” for our neighborhood, who, on seeing my unlatched door, entered to make sure everything (including me) was okay. He insisted on walking with me around the house, opening closets, looking behind doors and, yes, even under beds, to be certain no one else had wandered in, and that nothing was missing. He was polite, smart and kind, but before he left, he lectured me on having not checked to see that my friend had locked the door behind her. In other words, he told me to use my common sense.
Do bad things happen here? Of course they do. Bad things happen everywhere, but the murder rate here is much lower than, say, New Orleans , and if there are bars on many of the ground floor windows of houses here, well, the same is true where I live, in Greenwich Village, which is considered a swell neighborhood – house prices start at about $4 million (including the bars on the ground floor windows).
There are good reasons thousands of people from the United States are moving to Mexico every month, and it’s not just the lower cost of living, a hefty tax break and less snow to shovel.. Mexico is a beautiful country, a special place. The climate varies, but is plentifully mild, the culture is ancient and revered, the young are loved unconditionally, the old are respected, and I have yet to hear anyone mention Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, or Madonna’s attempt to adopt a second African child, even though, with such a late start, she cannot possibly begin to keep up with Anglelina Jolie.
And then there are the people. Generalization is risky, but- in general – Mexicans are warm, friendly, generous and welcoming. If you smile at them, they smile back. If you greet a passing stranger on the street, they greet you back. If you try to speak even a little Spanish, they tend to treat you as though you were fluent. Or at least not an idiot. I have had taxi drivers track me down after leaving my wallet or cell phone in their cab. I have had someone run out of a store to catch me because I have overpaid by twenty cents. I have been introduced to and come to love a people who celebrate a day dedicated to the dead as a recognition of the cycles of birth and death and birth – and the 15th birthday of a girl, an important rite in becoming a woman – with the same joy.
Too much of the noise you’re hearing about how dangerous it is to come to Mexico is just that – noise. But the media love noise, and too many journalists currently making it don’t live here. Some have never even been here. They just like to be photographed at night, standing near a spotlighted border crossing, pointing across the line to some imaginary country from hell. It looks good on TV.
Another thing. The U.S. media tend to lump all of Mexico into one big bad bowl. Talking about drug violence in Mexico without naming a state or city where this is taking place is rather like looking at the horror of Katrina and saying, “Damn. Did you know the U.S. is under water?” or reporting on the shootings at Columbine or the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City by saying that kids all over the U.S. are shooting their classmates and all the grownups are blowing up buildings. The recent rise in violence in Mexico has mostly occurred in a few states, and especially along the border. It is real, but it does not describe an entire country.
It would be nice if we could put what’s going on in Mexico in perspective, geographically and emotionally. It would be nice if we could remember that, as has been noted more than once, these drug wars wouldn’t be going on if people in the United States didn’t want the drugs, or if other people in the United States weren’t selling Mexican drug lords the guns. Most of all, it would be nice if more people in the United States actually came to this part of America (Mexico is also America , you will recall) to see for themselves what a fine place Mexico really is, and how good a vacation (or a life) here can be.
So come on down and get to know your southern neighbors. I think you’ll like it here. Especially the people.
From San Pancho – More news of the Vallarta area.
With its profoundly rich Indian and Spanish culture, its spectacular beaches and charming colonial hill towns, its real estate bargains and its proximity to the United States, Mexico is the undisputed number one destination for American retirees. It boasts thriving expat communities in Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara; San Miguel de Allende, in Guanajuato; Baja California; and Cancún, in the Yucatan. They all have their attractions, including a low-cost, laid-back lifestyle, but our choice in Mexico is the Puerto Vallarta region, located on the Pacific Coast in the state of Nayarit. Its combination of first-class urban amenities and charming palm-fringed villages have made it an appealing retiree draw as well as a popular tourist destination, without the serious crime that blights some other parts of the country.
(A quick word about crime and safety in Mexico: Yes, it’s extremely dangerous in the cities bordering the United States and a few places elsewhere. Mexico, however, is also nearly three times the size of Texas, and most of the country is reasonably safe and secure, especially resort areas and tourist destinations.)
Puerto Vallarta’s handsome beachfront promenade can be overcrowded with tourists, but venture a few blocks back from the bars and curio shops, and the town’s Mexican charms are on display—whitewashed houses bedecked with flowers, and plazas where locals and expats alike greet, eat, and seat themselves on benches to watch the passing parade. In Nuevo Vallarta, the newer luxury area, you’ll find U.S.-style condo complexes and even a mall. You’d think you’re back in the States, but at a steep discount.
Forty minutes north of PV, the seaside village of Sayulita is a lively place, with a colorful mix of tourists, retirees, and surfer dudes that keeps things hopping. Rollie Dick, 70, and his wife, Jeanne, 65, both former teachers from California, own and operate the town’s most popular restaurant—Rollie’s—known for its delicious quesadillas and a chef who dances his guests around the tables. “We love the plaza life,” Dick says. “It reminds me of the States in the ’50s.”
The one thing expats most appreciate about life here: the traditional Mexican friendliness. Peter Glass, 65, a former Procter & Gamble executive, lives with his wife, Charlotte, in a charming small house in Sayulita. An African American from Washington, D.C., he says that “Mexico is the only country I’ve experienced where I haven’t felt that I was being judged one way or the other by the color of my skin. It is a breath of the proverbial fresh air.”
What to Expect in Puerto Vallarta
Winters—sunny, pleasantly warm; summers—rainy, humid, hot.
Estimated at 50,000, including a good number of Canadians.
Cost of Living
According to one recent survey, almost half of U.S. expats on the Pacific Coast report living “comfortably” on less than $1,000 a month. (In PV region, $2,000 a month is more like it.) Dinner out: $30 for two.
Mid-price range for condos and houses: $200,000, but bargains can be found for as little as $90,000. Three-bedroom beachfront villas: $300,000 and up. Rentals: year-round rents start at $800 monthly.
PV has good hospitals (you’ll find good-to-excellent hospitals in or near large cities throughout Mexico), and the hospitals in Guadalajara, three hours away, are highly regarded. Basic-care clinics abound.
Culture and Leisure
Fiestas, surfing, jungle tours. There’s also an impressive arts scene in Puerto Vallarta.
Access to the U.S.
Excellent, with nonstops from Puerto Vallarta to the U.S. East and West coasts.