Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Well, we are back. Lissa and I spent the last 25 days driving, flying, bussing, and generally meandering our way down to Veracruz, México. On the flight from Phoenix to Mexico City I sat next to a teenager named Fernando who had been detained for trying to enter the United States illegally. Eventually, on our journey back home, I sat next to a middle-aged biomedical engineer on his way to a conference in Arizona. In between the coming and the going, we hung out with my old friend, Mexihcatl (meh-shi-cottle).

Porfirio Díaz is usually attributed with saying, "¡Pobre México! Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos." Translation...'Poor Mexico. So far from God and so close to the United States.' Sitting next to Fernando on the plane ride definitely set the tone for a trip on which I would be often reminded of the harsh reality for so many Mexicans and the stark contrast between their world and mine.

It isn't often easy to overlook said contrast while in México, unless, of coarse, you are staying at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancún. While in Puebla, we were awoken by the gritos coming from a protester's bullhorn, who was marching with many others down Avenida Reforma, as they have done every day, for the past handful of months. The Movimiento Antorchista is calling for an elevation of the quality of life for poor, working class Mexicans. Something that, as I listened to words pouring from the bullhorn and chants from the crowd, inspired and excited me. I asked the waiter at the cafe where we were seated for more detailed information, but he seemed uninterested. On our way out of town, however, I asked our cab driver (who turned out to be a retired professor, political prisoner and former member of the Mexican Communist Party) about the marches. His answer was as informative as it was disheartening. In a nutshell, he explained that the Antorchistas were aligned with the present ruling party (PAN) and were trying to gain some elbow room and/or negotiating power within the ranks before the upcoming elections. "Sadly, though," he said, "they are basically the same party." I told him that that sounded familiar, as I generally believe Democrats and Republicans to be heads and tails of the same coin, namely the arms and pharmaceuticals coin. I have forgoten our brilliant guide's name, but he left us with a poem to remember him by:

I am dying of laughter because you left me that day,
And I've learned so much having gone my own way,
Walking hand in hand with the poor and the dying.
Don't think you did me a favor by denying
To stay with me, because it's all the same really.
You see, you are quite poor, spiritually.
Your prejudging hypocrite will sure win your hand,
Alas, about your vices, he doesn't understand.
-Brilliant, Gentle, Nameless Taxi-Driver

According to our Lonely Planet Guidebook, about 11 million Mexicans-10% of the population- have no domestic water supply, and 15 million live without drainage systems. That is to say, the plight of the Movimiento Antorchista is real, and it is desperate. It is the same plight as that of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, that of Subcomandante Marcos and Che Guevara; justice, equality, human rights. The same fundamental barriers impede the realization of these goals; money, power, greed.

Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN have declared war on the Mexican Government, which they consider "so out of touch with the will of the people as to make it completely illegitimate."

Mexico has a nominal GDP of $10, 235 per capita, but as per 2002 half of the population was living in poverty, and one fifth was living in extreme poverty (worldbank.org). "While total spending increased on average by 6.3 percent a year between 2000 and 2002, social development spending increased on average by 5.3 percent a year and poverty reduction spending increased by 14.2 percent annually. Overall, the growth in social spending since the mid-1990s was achieved despite fiscal constraints." Unless the Mexican government works on the causes of the poverty (education, infrastructure and political economy...) the problem is going to get worse.

It's a crazy thing, money. Similar to my experience in Cuba, it sometimes seems that money and spirit tend to be mutually exclusive. How many people do I know in the states who have more than enough, yet almost constantly complain and/or are dissatisfied in one way or another? I think spirit is deeply tied to appreciation. One would hope that we could learn to appreciate the water before the well runs dry, maybe even share some of it! Once again, education reigns. If more people had a chance to know, to understand and experience what is going on all around them, they would undoubtedly live more appreciative, more simply, and more spiritually. Sharing is caring, kids.

I suppose simply going to a country in order to experience its story and contribute by spending your dollars there is, in essence, contributing. Many people around the world, though, are interested in honing those contributions by founding, promoting, and supporting Responsible Tourism and other Grass-Roots Organizations.

I've posted 1, 2, 3 links to Responsible Tourism sites, as well as a link to bread.org's list of anti-hunger and poverty organizations.

Lonely Planet, the travel guidebook we used on this trip, has a chapter on the environment in which the authors highlight facts and figures, best practices as a traveler, as well as organizations that foster sustainable tourism. These organizations are not only environmentally friendly, they also operate on the principles of fair-trade and respect for culture and tradition.

We were fortunate enough to stay a couple of days in the Ecological Biosphere of Naciyaga, as well as one precious night at the fabulously rootsy Los Amigos. If you ever get down to Southern Veracruz, I highly encourage you to go visit the crew at Los Amigos.

All in all, it was a beautiful trip, partially because suffering, too, is beautiful. Imperfection is perfection, say I. I love México: the grit, the color, the pain, the pleasure. That is not to say that I want suffering or pain for anyone anywhere. Alas, it seems to be part of the game plan, and it is left up to you how you decide to play.

When it's all said and done, coming home to Santa Cruz is such a blessing. It's clean, progressive, and there's a strong sense of community. It is in many ways what I would hope to experience of other places on my travels.

I think saying it like this is better, "Poor México, so far from the United States, but so close to God."

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