Bob Broughton's Blog about British Columbia politics

Wine tasting in the Valle de Guadalupe

The Valle de Guadalupe, located in Baja California between Ensenada and Tecate. Is Mexico’s primary wine-producing area. The first commercial winery on the scene was Domecq in 1972. L.A. Cetto and Santo Tomás are two other major producers with national distribution in Mexico. However, a map of the valley shows 54 of them, and I suspect that there’s a few more that aren’t on the map.

Visiting these wineries and doing tastings is a fun activity, but there are some logistical issues that are addressed in this article.

First, if you want to stay overnight in Valle de Guadalupe, there are a few hotels and bed and breakfasts, with some of the B& B’s run by wineries. They are all expensive. The one exception I’ve been able to find is Glamping Ruta de Arte Y Vino, which has a collection of renovated Airstream camping trailers. They rent for USD $45 a night. (Note that, because of the proximity to San Diego and Southern California, a lot of businesses in the area quote prices in dollars.) There’s some posadas and B& B’s in nearby San Antonio de las Minas, most of which can’t be found in Trip Advisor or other accommodation listings. So, you’ll probably end up staying in Ensenada, where high-quality and reasonably priced hotel rooms are available.

That leads to a “gotcha”; Valle de Guadalupe is one a a very few places in Mexico where there are no taxis whatsoever. There are van tours, but they’re pricey; do you want to spend money on this, or tasting and procuring wine? There are passenger vans that leave from Calle Sexta and Miramar in Ensenada every half hour, and the one-way fare is a dollar. Other that the frequency, this isn’t a very satisfactory way of getting around. For one thing, wineries tend to have long driveways, and for another, do you really want to be carrying around a lot of full wine bottles? Once you get over five or so of them, they get heavy.

Sea Shepherd society protecting endangered marine species in the Sea of Cortez

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ships M/Y Farley Mowat and M/Y Sam Simon are in the Sea of Cortez (a.k.a. the Gulf of California) for Operation Milagro III.

The purpose of Operation Milagro III is to protect two endangered species, the totoaba fish and the vaquita porpoise. As the name implies, this is the third season that the Sea Shepherd society has been in the Sea of Cortez.

The threat to totoabas is poaching. The demand comes from China, where their swim bladders are considered to have medicinal value. Mexican organized crime organizations have stepped up to meeting this demand, by using illegal gillnets to catch them. These gillnets are deadly to the vaquitas, who are unable to see them in the murky water of the Sea of Cortez. Their population has been estimated to be 60.

Mexico has regulations in place protecting vaquitas, and the Mexican Navy and the Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) have been making an effort to enforce them. As is almost always the case, their resources are insufficient to deal with the problems, so the Sea Shepherd society is on the scene to help out. They patrol for illegal activity, and when they spot it, they communicate the position to the Navy.

Central American migration in Tequisquiapan, Querétaro

Children riding The Beast
Children riding The Beast

“La Bestia” (The Beast) is an unofficial name applied to freight trains that start in Tapachula, Chiapas, and go to Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, or Matamoros. These trains have for many years served as the transportation method of choice for poor people of Central America migrating to the United States.

This method of travel has been the subject of many films, both fictional - “Sin Nombre”, “El Norte”, ”The Golden Cage” (Spanish title: “La Jaula de Oro”) and documentary - “Which Way Home”, “The Beast” and “Run For Your Life”.

Over the years, an informal network supporting the migrants has developed. One of the locations is Tequisquiapan, an attractive town of 27,000 people, 30 km. East of Querétaro. The Ferromex tracks run a kilometer east of the town, and the Estancia del Migrante (Stay of Migrants) González y Martínez A.C. has some space in a disused station.

I went to the old station and talked with Martín Martínez Rios to get his views on Central American migration as it exists in November, 2016.

The Estancia del Migrante is providing food, clothing, medical assistance, and moral support to three to four hundred migrants a day. If a train doesn’t stop, the volunteers toss bags containing food and bottled water to the migrants.About half of the migrants are from Honduras, and the rest are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. Many of them are unaccompanied children.

Book Review: I remember horsebuns, by Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair's 13th book can be classified as an autobiography. It covers his life up to the University of British Columbia Law School. However, after the first 150 pages, the chapters in this book alternate between autobiographical ones and ones on topics that Rafe feels that the readers should know about.

The chapters in the latter category are especially good ones. “You've gotta talk salmon” is a concise explanation of the different species of salmon (and some fish incorrectly identified as salmon) in British Columbia waters and the various dams, built and unbuilt, over the years. “Canadian bombshell: the forgotten case of Igor Gouzenko” documents some shameful actions by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. “Whither the book?” and “The electronic book arrives” are essays on the merits of bookstores, paper books, and Kindles.

Readers of this book who were born in or moved to Vancouver since 1990 will not recognize a lot of the Vancouver that is described, especially if they live outside of the upscale west side. Multiculturalism has existed in Vancouver for a long time, but during Rafe's younger years, Irish were “Micks”, Chinese were “Chinks”, and one day in 1942, the Japanese just disappeared. These minority groups had their distinct neighbourhoods, and they weren't in Rafe's west side.

Book Review: Seeing for Myself: A Political Traveler's Memoir

The title of this book is totally appropriate. Some people who travel go to the beach, visit museums, birdwatch, or sample the local cuisine. Ginny NiCarthy, who lives in Seattle, got into traveling later on in life, and started doing a special type of “adventure travel”; visiting places that are in the news, talking with the local people, and trying to find out what's really going on.

A particular emphasis is the victims of the “collateral damage” that you hear about in the news stories. NiCarthy makes it clear that bombing by the US is doing far more human damage than most people realize, and is not winning any friends. Her credentials as an opponent of the US government are very good. She served two months in prison for a protest at a Trident base, and later refused to pay taxes to support the invasion of Iraq.

She visited Iraq in October, 2002, five months before the invasion. When you listen to discussions of foreign policy, you'll often hear the phrase, “sanctions don't work.” NiCarthy didn't mention what effect (if any) the sanctions in Iraq had on any policies of the Iraqi government, but the effect on Iraq's people was devastating; schools without electricity, hospitals with no phones, water, or medical instruments. This chapter also discussed the long and short-term effects of the 1991 Operation Desert Storm. One of them was the US Army's use of depleted uranium to make artillery shells more effective, and tanks less vulnerable. Eleven years later, there were areas of Iraq where the radiation level was more than one thousand times normal. One of the consequences is, the rate children born with birth defects went from 11 per 100,000 to 116 per 100,000.

Book Review: Into the Heart of Mexico: Expatriates Find Themselves Off the Beaten Path

John Scherber has lived in San Miguel de Allende since 2007. He has written 17 fiction books, and this is his third non-fiction. This book is a series of interviews of extranjeros who have settled permanently in Mexico. Scherber asked a lot of good questions, and got a lot of good answers.

At first glance, the “off the beaten path” in the title might seem misleading, unless your idea of “off the beaten path” is “outside of Puerta Vallarta, Cancun, and Cabo San Lucas”. Two of Scherber's destinations, Mineral de Pozos and San Luis de la Paz, are only a few kilometers away from San Miguel de Allende, a major Gringo colony. Morelia, Puebla, and Oaxaca are big cities that attract a lot of tourists, and Pátzcuaro is also a major tourist destination. Zacatecas is off the beaten path, however, and also included in this book are Erongarícuaro (usually shortened to Eronga) near Pátzcuaro, and Tlacolula de Matamoros in the State of Oaxaca. I thought that these three places were the most interesting parts of the book.

 Scherber has several common topics, such as, “how often do you get visits from family members?” and “why did you choose this town?” The cost of living comes up in some interviews, and not in others. Health care, an important topic for retirees, didn't come up very often. The interviewees come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but there are several common threads in their testimonies. One is that they don't want to alter the culture of the place that they have moved into. (I feel the same way.) When Scherber asks, “do you feel safe here?” the response was always “yes”, except for one incident where an interviewee was chased out of San Pedro Chenalho in Chiapas by a group of people with two-by-fours. Well, after all, there was a civil war going on in Chiapas at the time. Another common thread is, the interviewees hang out mostly with Mexicans, instead of other expatriates, and this is the case even in Oaxaca, which has an English-language library that serves as a gathering place.

Volcanos and monasteries in Puebla State

Popocatepétl as seen from Cortez Pass. Photo by Jakub Hejtmánek at Czech Wikipedia.
Popocatepétl as seen from Cortez Pass. Photo by
Jakub Hejtmánek at Czech Wikipedia.

The volcano Popocatépetl, located between Mexico City and Puebla, is currently 5,426 meters (17,802 feet) in elevation; it's the second-highest mountain in Mexico. It erupted on May 8, 2013, and has been sending up ash frequently since January 2012. There are webcams pointed at it, and it's often visible from planes flying in and out of the Mexico City airport. (Sometimes too visible; on July 4, 2013, 40 flights had to be canceled because there was too much ash in the air.)

I wanted to get a somewhat closer look at it. Three places where you can do this on the Puebla (east) side are San Andrés Calpan, San Mateo Ozolco, and San Nicolás de Los Ranchos/Santiago Xalitzintla. There are frequent buses from Puebla to San Andrés Calpan, and frequent collectivos (passenger vans) from Cholula to San Mateo Ozolco and San Nicolás de Los Ranchos.

The place where you get the really good view, though, is Cortez Pass, which is between Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, a dormant volcano north of Popocatépetl. The two peaks are included in the Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park. The road there requires a Jeep-style vehicle. If you don't have one, you might be able to arrange for someone in the towns mentioned above to give you a ride up and back. Problem is, this will require some lead time. Another possibililty is Gozamex, which runs a bus tour from Puebla to Cortez Pass. It costs 1,400 pesos, takes nine hours, and requires at least two people. Keep in mind that, like all mountains of this size, Popocatépetl often has a cloud cover.