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Safety in Mexico City

Questionable Ladder Usage…

Now, I’m not saying that this guy isn’t a highly-trained professional…

As seen in Polanco this weekend

….I’m just not saying that he is….

"...just...a little...farther...I can...almost....reach it..."

Anyone in Mexico City offering review courses on ladder operation? Perhaps something like, “Slanted Ladders: Which Side is Your Friend?”

P.S. Bicentenario pics coming soon to a blog near you!! Honest!!

Now who’s more dangerous: Mexico City vs. Omaha, Nebraska

I flew from Mexico City back to Omaha, Nebraska rather unexpectedly on Thursday. One might reasonably assume that Omaha (epitome of the good ol’ Midwest with a population of around 830,000+ in the Omaha/Council Bluffs metro area) would be vastly safer than Mexico City (capital of narco-landia with a population of 23,000,000+).

Imagine my surprise when one of the top stories on Omaha’s evening news Thursday night was, “Two Bodies Found Outside Zoo”. What?!?  The zoo in question is the famed Henry Doorly Zoo, “nationally renowned for its leadership in conversation [**often know as ‘conservation’ when spelled correctly] and research”, according to Wikipedia, and also “Nebraska’s #1 paid attendance attraction”.

A quick Google search for “Omaha bodies zoo” will turn up a variety of news reports, but I will award the Prize for Informed Interviewees to WOWT.com.

WOWT.com’s current updated version of the story titled “Bodies Found Outside Zoo Identified”, includes the following statements, which start off as facts related enough to the issue:

  • The Omaha Police Homicide Unit is investigating the deaths of a man and woman whose bodies were found outside the Henry Doorly Zoo around 4 a.m. Thursday.
  • “Officers were in the area of 10th Street on patrol when they were flagged down by zoo personnel stating they had located two persons down to the side of the street,” said OPD Officer Jake Bettin.

Ok, I’m with you so far WOWT.com. Then continuing on, quotes include:

  • “We’re just excited and ready to get in and have fun,” said Steven Boldridge, …”
  • “The kids are psyched….”
  • Boldridge noticed the crime scene tape and police cruisers in the area, but didn’t think much of it.
  • The discovery didn’t stop Mindy Gibbs from fulfilling a promise made to her son Parker. This was going to be a zoo day no matter what, but Gibbs does feel for the victims. “I think that’s sad. I mean why here, there are a lot of families that visit every day. We’ll see what happens.”

Huh. An Omaha.com article offered similar citizen commentary, including:

  • Liz Cox of Omaha was among zoogoers who were rerouted to avoid the investigation scene. When her son asked about the detour, she kept her explanation short: parking problems. “That’s not what I’d explain to my 5-year-old,” she said. “He doesn’t need to know (about the bodies).”

True enough, Liz. Let’s get past the “Mommy what are those two elephants doing” hurdle first.

Admittedly I don’t really have a clear point here outside of shock/surprise, but nonetheless a few comments apropos Mexico City vs. Omaha:

  1. Unless I have missed an article amongst the (to be fair) heavy stream of news coverage in DF, not even the narcos in Mexico are dumping bodies around kid-frequented ZOOS. For the love. What kind of jerk criminals are operating here in Omaha?
  2. Slightly fascinating how blasé the Omaha zoo-goers seem about the whole dead bodies/crime scene thing. I’m not saying one should assume the killers are lurking around the zoo while there are 50 cop cars swarming the area, but still, they seem surprisingly unconcerned.
  3. Perhaps this is a sign that Americans are growing less concerned about tourism near areas of, shall we say, recent incidents of distress? Maybe this will bode well for northern Mexico.

Needless to say, I will be watching back during my remaining time here & hoping that Omaha avoids landing on any State Dept Travel Advisory lists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Doorly_Zoo

Motorcycle Helmet FAIL

I feel someone needs to have a chat with the man on this motorcycle regarding “how helmets work.”

Superama deliveryman safety FAIL

True, the fact that he even has one with him puts him above many motorcycle drivers here in Mexico City… but now if he would just read the user’s manual…

Pig Flu Mexico City Day 6: in which we decide to eat lots of Bacon

As we close out Day 6 of Mexican Swine Flu Mania, it appears this virus has no intent of leaving the country quietly. A smattering of recent developments for anyone living under a rock:

  • The World Health Organization has raised the pandemic alert level to phase 5 on a scale of 6, meaning there is “sustained transmission among people in at least two countries”.  To get to phrase 6, the virus has to show an outbreak in two different regions. It believes “a global outbreak of disease is imminent.”
  • There are now 99 confirmed swine flu cases and 1 death in Mexico; 91 confirmed cases in the US and 1 death; other countries are being added to the list continuously. (UPDATE Thurs AM: now 5 confirmed swine-flu deaths in DF)
  • Mexico City has officially closed *all* restaurants; some are open for take-out only. The government will be paying them $50 PESOS a day to help offset their financial losses. (FYI, that is ~$4USD for the day.)  No such financial offsets are announced for street-performing clowns.
  • The Mexico City government has dictated a closure of all “non-essential government and private business activity” between the 1st and 5th of May.
  • The financial impact of this crisis is currently estimated at $57 million USD a day in Mexico City alone due to the drop in economic activity.
  • Suspicions regarding the source of the virus point towards a (seemingly absolutely disgusting) pig farm in La Gloria in the state of Veracruz. The farm is a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, and townspeople nearby had 1,800 cases of an “acute respiratory infection” back in February that apparently didn’t get mentioned to the federal governement (allegedly). Check out this excellent description of more interesting pig farm details.
  • Mexico is great for conspiracy theories; check this out for some hot proposals of how Obama secretly snuck swine flu into the country.
  • A number of countries are considering/instituting bans on flights to Mexico, foremost those whiners the French. So far so good on flights to China…will I make it onto my plane May 8th???

Given that you are all probably well-saturated with data points about the swine flu frenzy, let me share how I have spent my last 24 hours (besides working from home). We did indeed make our wild venture out Tuesday night to Costco & Chedraui (local grocery store) to buy supplies for aforementioned friend’s birthday dinner.

As you may or not be aware about Mexico City, many of its citizens (chilangos) have sort of a fatalist attitude towards life, perhaps stemming from the crazy/random things that seems to happen to/in D.F. (as per prior post re. swine flu + earthquake in one day). So instead of approaching things from the standard, American, hide-under-your-bed-until-it’s-over point of view, we decided to embrace the apocalypse & host a pork-heavy Night Breakfast. (i.e. tasty breakfast foods for dinner, heavy on the bacon)  Take that, pig flu!! We aren’t skerd of y’all.  Anyway, pics below from grocery store trip + bacon frenzy.

John is fully prepared to fight our way through the crowds at two grocery stores with his blue-post-it-mask.

John is fully prepared to fight our way through the crowds at two grocery stores with his blue-post-it-mask.

We came expecting a madhouse, but Costco turns out to actually be fairly quiet. Note conspicious absence of people near the pork section of the Deli on the left. Probably ~50% of people had masks on, but all store employees.

We came expecting a madhouse, but Costco turns out to actually be fairly quiet. Note conspicious absence of people near the pork section of the Deli on the left. Probably ~50% of people had masks on, but all store employees.

Contrary to Costco's belief, apparently Corn Flakes & Special K are *not* what people stock up on during a flu pandemic...

Contrary to Costco's belief, apparently Corn Flakes & Special K are *not* what people stock up on during a flu pandemic...

OK, this isn't super-relevant to the swine flu, but who was the marketing wizard behind this brand of hotdogs?? "See guys, the thing is, they really aren't food, since they are all just lips & *ssholes, so that's why we'll call them FUD instead. I already submitted the copyright. Whaddya think?"

OK, this isn't super-relevant to the swine flu, but who was the marketing wizard behind this brand of hotdogs?? "See guys, the thing is, they really aren't food, since they are all just lips & *ssholes, so that's why we'll call them FUD instead. I already submitted the copyright. Whaddya think?"

One of the fine selections on offer at the Costco deli was this "Pastel de Carne". I realize this is meatloaf, but directly translated it says "Cake of Meat". Mmmm. Luckily we were not confused by the Spanish "cake" word usage & did not mistakenly buy this as a birthday cake...

One of the fine selections on offer at the Costco deli was this "Pastel de Carne". I realize this is meatloaf, but directly translated it says "Cake of Meat" (or Pie of Meat). Mmmm. Luckily we were not confused by the Spanish "cake" word usage & did not mistakenly buy this as a birthday cake...

As we left Costco to go to the normal grocery store (Chedraui) down the hall, we passed the Costco cafeteria. FYI: Do not eat here. While their hotdogs + drink for $1.75 or huge slice of pizza for $2 SOUND like fantastic ideas, they are almost certain to give you the Mexi-poops. Best avoided at all costs; go back and buy yourself some Cake of Meat.

As we left Costco to go to the normal grocery store (Chedraui) down the hall, we passed the Costco cafeteria. FYI: Do not eat here. While their hotdogs + drink for $1.75 or huge slice of pizza for $2 SOUND like fantastic ideas, they are almost certain to give you the Mexi-poops. Best avoided at all costs; go back and buy yourself some Cake of Meat.

In the commercial center that holds Costco, Chedraui, and a movie theatre, many of the other small stores were shut down Tuesday night. But not the PET STORE, generally recognized as a bastion of cleanliness and sanitation. Good choice, Pet Store Manager! Let's press our luck & see if we can get some Dog Flu action going here.

In the commercial center that holds Costco, Chedraui, and a movie theatre, many of the other small stores were shut down Tuesday night. But not the PET STORE, generally recognized as a bastion of cleanliness and sanitation. Good choice, Pet Store Manager! Let's press our luck & see if we can get some Dog Flu action going here.

Inside Chedraui, activity was brisk but overall things seemed normal. The only sign of a run on supplies was this shelf that had been nearly wiped clean of canned soup & bags of pasta.

Inside Chedraui, activity was brisk but overall things seemed normal. The only sign of a run on supplies was this shelf that had been nearly wiped clean of canned soup & bags of pasta.

One promising item we observed for sale was this yogurty drink called "Svelty". I seriously considered buying a dozen to see if they could actually make me look svelty, despite all this sitting on my butt I am doing since our gym is shut down.

One promising item we observed for sale was this yogurty drink called "Svelty". I seriously considered buying a dozen to see if they could actually make me look svelty, despite all this sitting on my butt I am doing since our gym is shut down.

Our first shocking discovery at Chedraui was the number of pork products still for sale! Obviously there must be at least one sane Chedraui store manager out there who knows the swine flu is not transmitted by eating pork! Perhaps he should have a chat with Egypt before they make all their country's pigs take a dirt nap.

Our first shocking discovery at Chedraui was the number of pork products still for sale! Obviously there must be at least one sane Chedraui store manager out there who knows the swine flu is not transmitted by eating pork! Perhaps he should have a chat with Egypt before they make all their country's pigs take a dirt nap.

Next stop: the Chicharron stand!! For those unfamiliar, these are fried pork skins. We were curious as to how the chicharron business was faring with all the bad PR, but were not able to find any managers to ask about that NOR how they felt about the Egyptians trying to flood the market.

Next stop: the Chicharron stand!! For those unfamiliar, these are fried pork skins. We were curious as to how the chicharron business was faring with all the bad PR, but were not able to find any managers to ask about that nor how they felt about the Egyptians trying to flood the market.

We finally made it to the checkout. Here's me, getting the death glare from the people in line behind us as I prepare to pay with my FOOD STAMPS (job "perks" are a little different in Mexico). This is almost invariably a hellish process in which the checkout person cannot trust the amount of food stamps I have given them & so must count them 4-7 different times, each time rearranging/restacking the piles of food stamps to ensure no one knows exactly how much I am paying.

We finally made it to the checkout. Here's me, getting the death glare from the people in line behind us as I prepare to pay with my FOOD STAMPS (job "perks" are a little different in Mexico). This is almost invariably a hellish process in which the checkout person cannot trust the amount of food stamps I have given them & so must count them 4-7 different times, each time rearranging/restacking the piles of food stamps to ensure no one knows exactly how much I am paying.

As you can see, my first outing in Swine Flu City was fraught neither with drama nor blatant interaction with swine-flu-carrying crazies. Whew. So then, on to the Night Breakfast! To prepare for the pork-fest, we created an impromptu ofrenda for the Swine Flu, similar to those associated with Dia de los Muertos here in Mexico (but less ornate). It seemed only fitting…

John spends a moment to reflect at the Swine Flu Altar, with the feast that we are about to receive.

John spends a moment to reflect at the Swine Flu Altar, with the feast that we are about to receive. (and yes, he's wearing his Utilikilt, the defacto fashion choice for all men in times of influenza pandemics: www.utilikilts.com

Sasha confessed that being house-bound for days on end has left people slightly crazy, with a tendency to dress up their babies in things like Superman (or Superbaby?) costumes. I felt this was a good approach for making Ivan appear less vulnerable to viruses.

Sasha confessed that being house-bound for days on end has left people slightly crazy, with a tendency to dress up their babies in things like Superman (or Superbaby?) costumes. I felt this was a good approach for making Ivan appear less vulnerable to viruses.

Sasha's claims were backed up by the arrival of Alan with newborn daughter Ruby dressed in a Syracruse cheerleader costume. :)

Sasha's claims were backed up by the arrival of Alan with newborn daughter Ruby dressed in a Syracruse cheerleader costume. :)

The guest of honor, Ben the birthday boy, boldly made the first dive into the sea of bacon, eschewing all talk of pig flu on his special day.

The guest of honor, Ben the birthday boy, boldly made the first dive into the sea of bacon, eschewing all talk of pig flu on his special day.

Despite his tough talk, Ben was later seen communing at the Swine Flu Alter, offering ground pork leftovers to Herman, Jackie & George in an misguided gesture of goodwill.

Despite his tough talk, Ben was later seen communing at the Swine Flu Altar, offering ground pork leftovers to Herman, Jackie & George in an misguided gesture of goodwill.

To close the evening, I brought our final piece of bacon to the Swine Flu Altar in hopes of exchanging it for a cessation of the virus's attack on Mexico City. This may have been foiled by someone eating the offering when I turned my head for 2 seconds.

To close the evening, I brought our final piece of bacon to the Swine Flu Altar in hopes of exchanging it for a cessation of the virus's attack on Mexico City. This may have been foiled by someone eating the offering when I turned my head for 2 seconds.

That’s all the news tonite from the Hot Zone, but keep posted tomorrow for an expected update from the US Embassy & continued developments on the international flights front! Thanks to all for your thoughts & well wishes; we are staying safe and hopeful. May the bacon be with you.

Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City: Day 4

As we wrap up Day 4 of Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City and beyond, all is still well here on the Southern front. I have essentially not left our apartment building since Friday night, not so much out of fear as a lack of anywhere to go. As per all of the news, much of Mexico City has been pretty quiet the last few days, with all public events, schools, movie theaters, and a number of restaurants shut down. John did go into work at the Embassy today, but even that was quieter than normal, with the consular section shut down for the week to avoid having ~1600 people a day waiting in close proximity to get a visa. He commented that among the general public, mask-wearing ranged from between 20-50%, frankly not as high as I expected.

OK, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but these tapabocas (aka face masks) that my husband got today from the Embassy are outrageous. My best analogy: blue post-it notes with dental floss ties. I reckon this prevents the intake of swine flu about as well as a lucha mask, which I may consider purchasing instead. You will note the pug is similarly displeased.

OK, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but these tapabocas (aka face masks) that my husband got today from the Embassy are outrageous. My best analogy: blue post-it notes with dental floss ties. I reckon this prevents the intake of swine flu about as well as a lucha mask, which I may consider purchasing instead. At least the lucha masks reflect the shape of my face; these masks seem to assume my face is two dimensional. You will note the pug is similarly displeased.

Things took a turn for the apocalyptic around noon today when we also got hit with an earthquake. A cool 5.6 on the ol’ Richter Scale, I was initially excited because this was the first earthquake I have actually *felt* during our time in Mexico. The neighborhood we live in is one of the more seismically stable, so until this AM I had been deprived of any earth-shaking excitement. Luckily, no injuries or damage have been reported from this one, so at least it shouldn’t ADD to the general level of panic. That said, I think it is safe to say that most of us are awaiting the plague of locusts or frogs dropping from the sky, just as a bit of icing on the cake to follow our trifecta of druglords, swine-flu, and terremotos.

The CDC announced tonight a recommendation to avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico. What was originally a Mexico City school closure through May 6th, has now become a country-wide closure of all schools. Starbucks has even closed 10 shops in Mexico City & reduced hours of operation of others. You know when even Starbucks is willing to forego a few bucks, things must be tense.

Despite all of these signs of doom, as my friend Joy pointed out, there is so much we don’t know. We keep hearing stats on number of “possible” flu cases in Mexico City & corresponding numbers of deaths that seem to be a disturbingly high percentage. However, few stats seem yet available on how many mild flu cases have been seen or how many cases & deaths are officially, 100% sure, from the swine flu (this A/H1N1 strain). Word this afternoon from the Embassy (working with the CDC who is visiting Mexico at present) was that only 26 cases have *officially* been diagnosed as this strain of swine flu and only 6 of those cases have died.  Another article in Reforma (MX City newspaper) tonite stated the number of reported cases have been falling over the past three days.  Argh. Trying to keep up with the stats in a situation like this seems like a lost cause.

 

Thus far, air travel in and out of Mexico has not been impacted. However, many of us here are suspicious as to how long of a reprieve we will have… (especially those of us heading to China on May 8th for her MBA interim trip!!)… The airport in Tokyo is “thermo-screening” arrivals from Mexico to try & detect high body temps. Anecdotal evidence from US airports shows them not even making a cursory glance at incoming passengers as of today. Where is a good middle ground? Does closing borders/airports really help in a situation like this? Arguably no. But realistic assessments can hardly stand in the way of a media stampede over the cliff of reason, eh?
Speaking of over the cliff of reason, I want to let any fans of Jackie, George and Herman know that we are taking excellent care of them, taking every precaution to hide them from the pig-haters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. (Well, at least Jackie and Herman are protected.) Overprotective, you ask skeptically? Um, hello people, it's called SWINE flu. Who do you think are its most likely victims?? (Note poignantly-titled sheet music book resting above the little dears on our piano.)

Speaking of over the cliff of reason, I want to let any fans of Jackie, George and Herman know that we are taking excellent care of them, taking every precaution to hide them from the pig-haters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. (Well, at least Jackie and Herman are protected.) Overprotective, you ask skeptically? Um, hello people, it's called SWINE flu. Who do you think are its most likely victims?? (Note poignantly-titled sheet music book resting above the little dears on our piano.)

From a personal perspective, I am more sad than scared at this point, since most of what we’ve heard about this particular influenza strain is that it responds to prompt treatment from drugs like Tamiflu (of which we are assured there is plenty here in Mexico City). The difference in mortality rates between the US and Mexico cases is certainly concerning & curious, but also not inconceivable when one considers the disposable income that your average Mexican has to spend on health care, whether they would choose to spend it on an immediate doctor’s visit based on fairly unremarkable initial symptoms of fever/coughing/lethargy, and how that delay in diagnosis might negatively impact them when it turns out they have a strain of the crazy pig flu. Obviously after the shit-storm of media coverage, me and every other chilango here in D.F. will be sucking down Tamiflu ASAP if we have symptoms even remotely akin to those!

 

At this point, I am more depressed on behalf of Mexico, who needed this media blitz like a hole in the head after months of totally unbiased (ha) “Everyone’s being killed by narcos” coverage. Even if this influenza epidemic dies down over the next week, I fear it will still take a considerable toll on tourism throughout Mexico, since it is not as easy to draw a map showing where viruses don’t do business. Just within Mexico City, the number of businesses on lock-down + the number of parents who can’t go to work (because their children are home from school) will have a crippling economic effect if it continues long term.

To those of you potential travelers with trips coming up this summer, please don’t start making any cancellations yet!! I believe we’ll know a lot more by the end of this week as to whether this will wither out or continue to ramp into pandemic proportions. While obviously I agree with avoiding travel over the next couple weeks, it is hard to make any accurate forecasts beyond that & the CDC/Mexico government needs a few days to sort out the facts from the furor.

Anyway, that is the latest from the new “ground zero”. I will likely venture out of the house tomorrow to purchase groceries for an impromptu birthday-dinner we will host on Wednesday for a fellow “inmate” in our apartment building. This asssuming a) the grocery stores are open, and b) I find a face mask with more protection than blue tissue paper. Over and out from the hot zone!!

¡Obámanos!!!

So we saw him!! Eeeee! Know that I sacrificed the chance for a handshake in favor of “The President is only 4 feet away!!!” photo attempts, realizing that the memory of a handshake would be less effectively conveyed via a blog. 😉  John almost managed to get a hand in, but was foiled at the last minute by a secret service agent who was pushing his way through the crowd paralleling Obama as he walked along the perimeter shaking hands.

The entrance to the hotel + intimidating warrior.

The entrance to the hotel + intimidating warrior.

The festivities were held at the Presidente InterContinental Mexico Hotel in Polanco, conveniently located within walking distance of our apartment, where Obama spent the night. The area around the hotel had been on near-lock-down for the two prior days, so the walk to the hotel was intriguing as we passed hundreds of armed local police/army (which for whatever reason, doesn’t make me feel particularly “secure” here in Mexico…). One stat we heard was over 3,000 local police were on the scene, but total security was probably well over that between police + army + Secret Service + whatever other organizations were out and about.

Here’s a photo overview of our experience with ¡Obamanos! ’09, followed by some additional commentary regarding his visit.

We passed dozens of parked buses/trucks/jeeps that had brought in the hundreds of police/army members to secure the area around the hotel. Once you got within a few blocks, all streets were barricaded & heavily armed dudes were hanging out everywhere.

We passed dozens of parked buses/trucks/jeeps that had brought in the hundreds of police/army members to secure the area around the hotel. Many buses were still filled with snoozing police. Once you got within a few blocks, all streets were barricaded & heavily armed dudes were hanging out everywhere.

The barricades directly around the hotel were lined with hopeful Obama-watchers & photographers, all of whom I believe were disappointed by his arrival through the hotel underground parking garage.

The barricades directly around the hotel were lined with hopeful Obama-watchers & photographers, all of whom I believe were disappointed by his arrival through the hotel underground parking garage.

Entering the hotel entailed passing through metal detectors, I'm sure to the delight of any hotel guests who were unfortunate enough to have chosen the Intercontinental for their Thursday night stay.

Entering the hotel entailed passing through metal detectors, I'm sure to the delight of any hotel guests who were unfortunate enough to have chosen the Intercontinental for their Thursday night stay. We also had to turn on all phones & cameras to verify they were real & not secret bombs.

 

Unsurprisingly, we were not the first folks from the Embassy to arrive at the hotel to get in line. Apparently over 800 workers + family members had tickets for the event.

Unsurprisingly, we were not the first folks from the Embassy to arrive at the hotel to get in line. Apparently over 800 workers + family members had tickets for the event.

Our initial point in the *lengthy* line was conveniently next to one of the hotel restaurants, so we were able to have a brief sit.

Our initial point in the *lengthy* line was conveniently next to one of the hotel restaurants, so we were able to have a brief sit.

I was pleased to see one of the Presidential Bomb-Sniffing Dogs on the alert in the hotel lobby.

I was pleased to see one of the Presidential Bomb-Sniffing Dogs on the alert in the hotel lobby.

During our walk to the hotel, a bird made a "deposit" on Mark's arm, which is supposed to signify good luck. This theory was proven tru, as he managed to get a handshake with El Presidente himself.

During our walk to the hotel, a bird made a "deposit" on Mark's arm, which is supposed to signify good luck. This theory was proven true, as Mark managed to get a handshake with El Presidente himself.

As we wound through the hotel in line, we passed this storefront with a security guard MANNEQUIN in the window. I was intrigued as to both a) how many robberies this fake cop deters, and b) why a store selling *property* (arguably something that can not be stolen from your storefront) would feel the need to add this extra layer of highly effective security...

As we wound through the hotel in line, we passed this storefront with a security guard MANNEQUIN in the window. I was intrigued as to both a) how many robberies this fake cop deters, and b) why a store selling *property* (arguably something that can not be stolen from your storefront) would feel the need to add this extra layer of highly effective security...

Finally! We have reached the 2nd set of metal detectors right before entering the official ballroom.

Finally! We have reached the 2nd set of metal detectors right before entering the official ballroom.

Inside the ballroom, we noted two more interesting tidbits. 1) Somebody must have spent *a lot* of hours/dollars on that super-special "Welcome to Mexico" sign in the back... 2) What is the deal with the FIVE American flags vs. ONE shorter Mexican flag on the stage? Are we trying to remind the Mexicans of US dominance (+ height)? This seemed a bit misplaced to me, but perhaps there is a deeper meaning of which I am unaware...

Inside the ballroom, we noted two more interesting tidbits. 1) Somebody must have spent *a lot* of hours/dollars on that super-special "Welcome to Mexico" sign in the back... 2) What is the deal with the FIVE American flags vs. ONE shorter Mexican flag on the stage? Are we trying to remind the Mexicans of US dominance (+ height)? This seemed a bit misplaced to me, but perhaps there is a deeper meaning of which I am unaware...

So we basically stood in that room for 1.5 hours, pressed against all the other embassy employees to get as close to the podium as we could. Rough estimate of number times John & I received comments about how we were lucky to be tall: 27. Number of bitter comments heard about our height from people behind us: 13.

So we basically stood in that room for 1.5 hours, pressed against all the other embassy employees to get as close to the podium as we could. Rough estimate of number times John & I received comments about how we were lucky to be tall: 27. Number of bitter comments heard about our height from people behind us: 13.

Yes!!! Finally Obama arrived!! Here he is waiting while the Chargé de Affairs Leslie Basset gave him a 10-second introduction.

Yes!!! Finally Obama arrived!! Here he is waiting while the Chargé de Affairs Leslie Basset gave him a 10-second introduction (the brevity of which he appreciated).

Obama spoke for about 90 seconds, basically thanking everyone for their service to America. He commented that the use of diplomatic power is just as important as the use of military & economic power. It was perhaps a bit shorter of a speech than we had hoped, but I guess his impending dinner date with Mexican President Calderon *may* have been more important than chatting with us at length...

Obama spoke for about 90 seconds, basically thanking everyone for their service to America. He commented that the use of diplomatic power is just as important as the use of military & economic power. It was perhaps a bit shorter of a speech than we had hoped, but I guess his impending dinner date with Mexican President Calderon *may* have been more important than chatting with us at length...

Then he was ushed over to the left for a photo with all the kids over 6 years old, (who a few Embassy employees had managed to keep entertaining/still for at least an hour-- well done). I trust the official photos are less blurry...

Then he was ushed over to the left for a photo with all the kids over 6 years old, (who a few Embassy employees had managed to keep entertaining/still for at least an hour-- well done). I trust the official photos are less blurry...

Obama was merely feet away from us at this juncture, all the while carefully monitored by Señor Secret Service behind him.

Obama was merely feet away from us at this juncture, all the while carefully monitored by Señor Secret Service behind him.

Another close-up as he made his way along the crowd of raving fans.

Another close-up as he made his way along the crowd of raving fans.

The furor of cameras was intense! This was just before he held two lucky babies (who I guess now will never have leprosy).

The furor of cameras was intense! This was just before he held two lucky babies (who I guess now will never have leprosy).

And like that, our brush with fame was over. Here's John & Sergio on the walk home, flanked by one of the many readily-armed security forces... Definitely doesn't make you nervous in the least... ;)

And like that, our brush with fame was over. Here's John & Sergio on the walk home, flanked by one of the many readily-armed security forces... Definitely doesn't make you nervous in the least... 😉

And so ended ¡Obamanos! 2009. It was a lot of standing & waiting, but it was definitely cool to see our new President in person, who seems like such a normal, down-to-earth, smart guy. Although his talk was very brief, his ease and comfort as a public speaker, ability to think on his feet and to get a quick laugh from the crowd were plainly evident.

For additional photos from the day, check out these photo galleries from El Universal newspaper here in Mexico City: security pics, Obama pics. In general, Mexicans seemed excited about his visit, though most of the press skewed more towards “Thanks for coming but we’re not holding our breath that you’re actually going to do anything for us since you Americans have so many problems back home these days.” One El Universal headline read “Obama abre los brazos pero comprete poco“, or “Obama opens his arms but commits little.”

One of the many current US/Mexico hot topics is the assault weapons ban. Obama essentially told Calderon that he supports it, but lacks the political capital to get it through Congress right now & will instead focus on enforcing existing laws. I am not remotely an expert on gun laws nor am I naive enough to think that the drug cartels wouldn’t get their weapons elsewhere if we made it harder to get them in the US, but reading the spate of recent articles on this topics certainly makes you wonder, “Could it be any EASIER for the narcos to buy assault weapons from US gun shows?” (at gun shows, unlicensed sellers can sell from their “personal collections” to any buyers without a background check).

Anyway, some other random facts from Obama’s visit!

  • When Obama stays overnight on his travels, he is accompanied by over 800 people (Secret Service, White House staff, members of the press, Congressional delegation, etc. etc.)
  • The White House flew down the 2 armored limos, armored SUVs, and multiple (~5) helicopters that Obama was transported in while in Mexico City.
  • Terminal 2 of the Mexico City airport was shutdown for the arrival of Air Force One around 1:30 on Thursday, affecting the departures/arrivals of about 40 flights.
  • El Universal highlighted that “Obama did not walk on any street of Mexico City during his visit.”  As though this is a great surprise…  If Mexicans thought security in Polanco was crazy for this visit, can you imagine if they tried to coordinate him going for a stroll down Reforma???
  • Alas, no opp for a height-comparison photo, but hopes are high for a return Obama visit during our time here in Mexico City!!!

“Am I going to be a victim of violence in México?” Take this simple quiz to find out!

As most of my fellow Mexico blogs have addressed recently, the news coverage around security in Mexico has reached fever pitch in the last few months. A flurry of articles in the US press is sending everyone into a panic, which is only amplified by so-called experts busily spreading fear regardless of facts. Some people are convinced that tourists are being gunned down in Cancun on a daily basis (NOT TRUE!! Reality: drug cartels killed the man who was the area’s “anti-drug chief’), and that rebel armies are seconds away from taking over Mexico City (NOT TRUE!! Reality: I am not aware of any nearby rebel armies, and I reckon that even if they did exist– if they tried to storm the city, they would end up stuck in traffic & probably lose motivation by the time they arrived at any important government buildings).

My recent favorite is an e-newsletter my friend Todd forwarded me from a travel agency in Omaha, NE who specializes in trips to Mexican beaches. The email alert starts off with:

“So, is Mexico Dangerous?? Should I Go there?
If you have plans to visit Tijuana, on the California boarder,
Juarez, Mexico on the Texas boarder, Nogales on the Arizona
boarder, Mexico City or similar cities – don’t go! As the news is
correctly reporting, there are some major drug “wars” between
rival gangs, and who’s going to run the drugs across the US boarder.
There is a travel advisory on traveling to the U.S./Mexico BOARDER
TOWNS, that have the drug traffic problems. On the other hand,
if you’re going to beach locations like the Riviera Maya /Playa del
Carmen area, Cancun, Cabo San Lucas etc., you’re over 1,000
miles from where they are having the major problems. “

Now to be clear, I do not dispute the risks of being a tourist in the towns along the border. (Although I have no idea where the Texas “boarder” is…)  But I love how they throw in “Mexico City or similar cities” just for good measure.  First, given that Mexico City is one of the top 5 largest cities in the world with 20+ million people, what are the “similar cities” in Mexico that you should avoid??? Helpful. Also, what is the basis for listing Mexico City in the first place? Even the State Department Travel Alert for Mexico does not highlight Mexico City as a place to avoid because of violence.

Anyway, what I consider important to remember here is: any city can be dangerous if you’re an idiot. By no means am I trying to make light of the situation on the border, which I fully agree has become disturbingly violent and is wise to avoid as a tourist. But Mexico is a huge country (761,000 square miles, 3x the size of Texas). The drug-related drama on the border is NOT indicative of what you will experience in the remaining 90% of Mexico.

To make it even easier for potential visitors, I have written up a quick quiz to help you determine your risk level for traveling in Mexico. As I said, obviously bad things can happen anywhere, but there are some fairly clear issues that you should consider first.

The Official MidwesternerInMexico.com Quiz for Determining your Risk of Violence in Mexico

(please answer yes or no to the following questions)

  1. I am the head of a powerful drug cartel.
  2. I am employed by a recent drug cartel start-up, and my title is “Business Development Manager, Mexico”.
  3. I cannot leave the house without my 3 diamond rings, diamond stud earrnings, and emerald necklace.
  4. I only travel by limo.
  5. I insist on wearing shorts, sandals with socks pulled up to mid-calf, a Hawaiian shirt, and a floppy hat at all times, while using my obnoxious American “outside voice”.
  6. I have a tendency to flash wads of cash while trying to pay for a $10 peso bottle of water with a $1000 peso bill.
  7. I travel strictly using libre taxis hailed off the street in Mexico City, like the green VW bugs, because I don’t want to pay the extra $30 (+/-) pesos for a safer sitio taxi.
  8. I am a high-level Mexican law enforcement official actively engaged in the fight against drugs and am not on the narco payroll.
  9. I prefer to drive long trips between cities in Mexico only at night, and I am too cheap to pay the tolls to drive on the safe, well-maintained cuota highways.
  10. I insist on going out drinking by myself, getting loaded, then stumbling around the back alleys of Mexico City singing “You are my sunshine” at the top of my lungs.
  11. I sell drugs to a circle of depressed, soccer-moms in a US suburb, and I am traveling to Mexico to take advantage of the crazy dollar/peso exchange rate to find a new dealer for my drug supply.
  12. I am visiting Mexico to conduct a major business transaction for which I intend to convert $20,000 USD into $306,000 pesos in public at the airport currency exchange desk.
  13. I ask taxi drivers to take me on tours past the homes of local drug lords, where I get out of the taxi and take photos from the middle of the street during broad daylight.
  14. I insist on traveling to parts of Mexico City not mentioned in guide books or specifically mentioned as areas full of criminals, like Tepito, a.k.a. the “Thieves’ Market”.

OK, end of quiz! Time to review your score. 

If you answered yes to #1, #2, or #8: I strongly recommend you avoid travel into Mexico, leave Mexico if you are already here, or seriously consider a new line of work.

If you answered yes to #3, #4, or #6: perhaps you have forgotten that you are visiting a country where the daily minimum wage for 2009 is $54.80 pesos. That is $3.58 USD PER DAY at the current exchange rate. Please bear this in mind and stop flaunting your money like a fool.

If you answered yes to #7 or #9: have you checked the exchange rate lately?? During the 8 months we have been here, it has gone from 10 pesos / 1 dollar to 15.3 pesos / 1 dollar. Stop being a cheap ass and spend the extra pesos to pick the safe option.

And finally, if you answered yes to #5, #10, #11, #12, #13 or #14: you are simply not very smart and probably shouldn’t be allowed to travel, period.

I hope this insightful quiz has eased your fears about travel to Mexico, as long as you are not an idiot or a criminal.

In our eight months here, we have been amazed by all that Mexico has to offer and truly hope we have the chance to show more of our friends & family around Mexico City and beyond. I do not feel scared or nervous on a daily basis. I take normal minor precautions and have thus far (knock on wood) been completely fine here in the heart of the action, D.F.  Hopefully our stories will inspire others to travel to Mexico’s amazing cities, towns, beaches, and jungles as well. It is totally fair to be a little worried and take the appropriate extra precautions for travel in an unfamiliar land, but don’t let the craziness of the border drug wars prevent you from experiencing the rest of a beautiful country.

Various Forms of Security in México

Security personnel are incredibly pervasive throughout México, but we’ve seen a few incarnations in the last couple months that strike me as particularly amusing.

"I totally have this situation under control. As you can see, I've been working out. I strategically chose this height of stone to maximize the view for the ladies."

"I totally have this situation under control. As you can see, I've been working out. I strategically chose this height of stone to maximize the view for the ladies."

Mark & John take their turns guarding the highly-coveted Santo mask

Mark & John take their turns guarding the highly-coveted Santo mask

During our visit to Garibaldi Plaza, we were befriended by this gentlemen on the left who was selling cervezas & tequila shots, who seemed to take ownership of our little group of 6 gringos. When crazies approached us trying to sell crap (i.e. not tequila/cerveza) or beg for money, he shooed them away. Here, our bartender-turned-security-detail is seen in a rare moment of letting his guard down with Ben & the bottle of tequila in question

During our visit to Garibaldi Plaza, we were befriended by this gentlemen on the left who was selling cervezas & tequila shots, who seemed to take ownership of our little group of 6 gringos. When crazies approached us trying to sell crap (i.e. not tequila/cerveza) or beg for money, he shooed them away. Here, our bartender-turned-security-detail is seen in a rare moment of letting his guard down with Ben & the bottle of tequila in question

 

And finally, you may recall Ponch from the television classic CHiPs in the late 70's-early 80's, yes...?

And finally, you may recall Ponch from the television classic CHiPs in the late 70's-early 80's, yes...?

Well, the town of Morelia has Ponch on duty 24-7, intently trying to figure out the protocol for writing traffic tickets. Classic.

Well, the town of Morelia has Ponch on duty 24-7, intently trying to figure out the protocol for writing traffic tickets. Classic.

Election Night 2008: Expected Highs and Shocking Lows

Tonight John & I had the honor to witness one of the most hotly contested elections in our limited political lives, while attending the US Embassy Election Night Party in Mexico City.  Quite the interesting experience. The excitement surrounding the big Obama win was somewhat marred by the news early in the evening of a plane crash in Mexico City, only about 1 mile away from where our festivities were happening.

During the evening we learned that 8 people were killed in the plane crash, including Mexican Interior Minsiter Juan Camilo Mourino and Deputy Attorney General Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, along with at least 6 people killed on the ground & 40 injured.  Mourino was a close ally of President Calderon & the highest ranking national security official in the government, and Santiago Vasconcelos has been a key player in the army-led war on drug cartels. If those facts PLUS the fact that this incident occured on the night of the US Presidential Elections in central Mexico City one block off the major Periferico highway aren’t enough to raise your eyebrow, there’s more.

One of our friends was out at one of the rooftop restaurants here in Polanco, about 0.5 miles from the site of the crash. As a former pilot, he saw the entire thing from the roof & stated with a high degree of certainty that this did not to appear to be an “accident”, as the initial press reports claim. The Learjet dropped from normal altitude into a ~170-degree fast-paced dive towards the ground. To be clear, this was not a “oops-my-engine-went-out” or “I-lost-a-wing”, corkscrew free-fall to the ground. Rather, the plane directly nosedived at increasing speeds with lights visible the whole way down, meaning there was no loss of power. He lost sight of it after it went below the building line, but did see the massive fireball that emerged after the plane crashed into a number of parked cars that exploded around it.

Suspicions are high-to-quite-high, despite initial commentary from the Communications Minister regarding “everything pointed to the crash being caused by an accident”. Hmpf. For most of us, it seems to be a harbinger of a new level of activity among the narcotraficantes here in Mexico & a slap in the face of the government who is trying to control them. A little scary, to say the least.

On a happier note, we were thrilled to mark the momentous occaison of Barack Obama winning the US Presidential Election with probably ~1,000+ of our closest friends at the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico City! John had the priviledge of playing a key role during the night as Uncle Sam, dressed up like a Disney character who doesn’t have to talk very much, just take lots of photos. :) I was honored to join Emilia in the key role of “Uncle Sam’s Handlers”, so we escorted him around the ballroom, helping to take photos with fans & ensuring that no one got too frisky with Uncle Sam’s see-through pants.

I have to say, it was pretty exciting to hear both McCain’s concession speech as well as Obama’s acceptance speech. I got a little weepy during both, as it is pretty crazy to think about both how far we have come as country to elect an African-American to office, and how far we have yet to go to get everyone in the US on board with the concept. I will spare you any further philosophizing at 1:26AM, and just let you check out a few photos from the festivities this evening.

When security companies show off

Properties in our neighborhood here in Mexico City are heavily secured, to say the least. Almost all have high walls/gates of some sort. Many have manned guard shacks or at least a guard window. The more innovative have decorative borders of electric fences, concertina wire, or shards of glass bottles/etc. jabbed into cement on the tops of their walls. Point being, most all of the residences put out a definite “Don’t screw with me” vibe.

Then you have this place. When you walk by the entryway, you can almost hear the glass doors shouting, “Come on! Just try to break me! I bet you think you can break glass real easy, don’t you, tough guy? Well come on then! Give it a shot!”

[insert witty caption about 'those who live in glass houses' here]
[insert witty caption about ‘those who live in glass houses’ here]
Don’t get me wrong, structural engineers; I am sure these are like, totally unbreakable, dude. All I’m saying is that if I was a felon & was sussing out an entry gate to ram with my ’78 VW Bug, I would definitely pick glass over steel.
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