Souvenir Of The Week: Bolsas De Mandados From Mexico

Bolsas de mandados translates to “errand bags,” and they were fixtures at Mexican markets long before the BYO grocery-bag trend arrived on this side of the border. You see styles all over Mexico (and online), especially multicolored mesh bags, some with the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe. But the less-touristy score is a cheap, solid-color canvas or vinyl tote with plastic piping and handles, printed with a business’ charmingly basic graphics, usually the name of a panaderia or carniceria. Merchants might make them to give out as freebies for the store’s anniversary or a holiday. I happened to be visiting my in-laws in Mexico City when their mailman gave them the one pictured here on New Year’s Day. To them it’s a common utility bag that was probably destined for a spot under the kitchen sink, and they looked puzzled when I squealed and hugged it and made them translate the wording. Get your hands on one of these in Mexico if you can (in Oaxaca, the large market by the zocolo has sold even cooler retro styles in the past). Or look for plain ones in bright colors and stencil “El Trader Joe’s” onto it yourself.

[Photo by Megan Fernandez]

Video: Wingsuit Through A Waterfall

Think of your aspirations and goals in life. Do they involve jumping off very high things and generally “running amok”? If so, Chris “Douggs” McDougall is living your dream, the lucky bastard.

But if that’s not your thing, you still have to hand it to the jovial veteran wingsuit pilot, who is living something of a GoPro fantasy in the Swiss mountains, jumping off very high things indeed in a webbed superhero costume and dubstepping happily from one adrenaline kick to the next.

This particular kick sees him fly through a waterfall, which to this desk-bound critic’s eyes isn’t as impressive as flying through a cave, really, but looks fun and dangerous as hell nonetheless. Anyway, he still has plenty of time to impress us further because he’s going to Mexico next on his world tour to fly through god-knows-what. We will be patiently waiting for the bass to drop on the next video of his exploits.

Riviera Maya: An Accidental Honeymoon

I was in Mexico last December, just before the 21st of the month. The date would come and go without catastrophe, of course, but the fringe theories had brought Maya culture to the forefront of the media and I took the opportunity to learn a bit about the ancient and modern Maya myself. My time spent in Merida was grueling, but rewarding. My room at Hotel Dolores Alba, which was located near the noisy downtown center of the city, had a shower that spilled water from the bathroom into the rest of the room when used. When I swapped out that room for another, I was happy to find my luggage still dry after a shower. I propped a chair up against the flimsy door at night because the lock was wobbly. I mysteriously watched a disturbing movie starring Ashley Greene all the way to the end while taking a break from the sun one afternoon. I had black coffee and refried beans for breakfast in the hotel lobby, which was adorned with portraits of Frida Kahlo. There was something unmistakably charming about the place; maybe it was the open-air courtyard bolting the wings of the hotel together. But charm doesn’t cancel out exhaustion and I was beat.

%Gallery-186761%I had been attempting to keep a more or less vegan diet while in Merida and as one might imagine, this isn’t easy to do in any city and just plain difficult to do in most foreign countries. Guacamole, beans and fresh juice had become my sustenance and the sun was my motor, revving me out of bed each day and hovering over me from one place to the next. The streets of Merida were enthusiastically loud that weekend; they were loud late at night and loud early in the morning. I was missing sleep and calories and looking forward to the two “off” days I’d planned for myself and my husband before we flew back to New York. We’d booked just two nights at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. We would be there for a total of 43 hours.

My fingers were crossed as we made the four-hour trip from Merida to Riviera Maya. All-inclusive resorts often get a bad name – they often earn a bad name. But we wanted to detox and just stare at the ocean for a couple of days. We hadn’t ever had the chance to honeymoon and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally stop looking in every nook and cranny for story-worthy happenings or perfect photo ops while traveling and to just relax. I was depleted. I didn’t want to have to leave our room to hopelessly look for vegetarian food in town. I didn’t want to have to drive around during the two days off trying to entertain myself. Grand Velas, so it seemed through my research, had everything I needed on site and for once, I wanted that. They had kayaks and snorkeling gear, bars and restaurants, spas and shopping – I never dreamed I’d be so tired as to want this manifestation of serenity, but it was what I needed and I only hoped the accommodations and amenities would match the glowing reviews online.

We entered through a washed out fortress of a wall that stood erect behind turquoise pools of water in a man-made beach at the resort’s entrance. We were shown to our beachfront room by our personal concierge, a man who somehow anticipated most of our needs before they could be vocalized. When we asked him for suggestions of where in the resort to find vegan or vegetarian food, he made reservations for us at their French restaurant, Piaf. When we sat down to eat, our waiter informed us that the restaurant had put together a special menu just for us – it was almost entirely vegan, a nearly impossible accomplishment for a French restaurant. All of our other meals panned out the same way. Grand Velas’ website had conveyed flexibility for diet restrictions, but after eating mostly guacamole, beans and juice for four days, I was shocked at the spontaneous fluency in plant-based foods the chefs on site proved to have. We had several dishes to choose from no matter how or where we dined, whether we were in one of the resort’s restaurants, having food brought to us as we lounged on the beach or ordering from their 24-hour room service late at night. We scheduled and received some of the best massage treatments we’ve ever had at their spa. We swam in the pools. We admired the lapping waves of the Caribbean.

We saw only a few other guests while there; it felt as though we had the grounds to ourselves. The reviews were right. Grand Velas is the antithesis of the traditional all-inclusive resort where kids run amok, meals are slopped onto plates from buffets, cocktails are made from bottom shelf liquor and the beach is crowded. I wish I had stayed longer in Riviera Maya, where a much-needed break became an accidental honeymoon.

[Photo Credit: Ben Britz]

The Beaches of Riviera Maya, Mexico

Vagabond Tales: Fear And Loathing In San Felipe

The strip clubs in San Felipe, Mexico, aren’t open on Tuesdays.

For most travelers to Baja, this isn’t overly concerning. After all, with all of the surfing, fishing, diving and fish taco eating that can easily consumer your entire day, the fact that strip clubs are closed for one day of the week shouldn’t be a point of concern.

If, however, you’ve descended upon San Felipe after three days of camping in the desert with a reclusive, one-legged hermit (a story for a different time), and it happens to be a bachelor party, the fact that it’s a Tuesday suddenly becomes an issue.

This, however, is not a tale about strip clubs or hermits. It’s a tale about safety, and how the road to bad decisions can be a very gradual slope.

As I’ve mentioned before in the “2013 International Adventure Guide to Baja” and articles such as “I Traveled to Mexico and Came Back Alive“, the only way you’re going to get in trouble as a visitor to Baja is if you do something stupid like engage in drug deals in a back alley of a border town with unsavory characters in the middle of the night.

This isn’t a Mexico thing, mind you; this is an everywhere thing. Whether you’re in Mexico or Chicago, back alleys at 2 a.m. are potential staging areas for the next morning’s headlines. When you hear a report that two tourists were stabbed or robbed, and then find out that it was in a back alley of a border town at 2 a.m., a small part of you thinks they had it coming.

Just like no one plans on an accident, however, you don’t always plan on ending up in a back alley of a border town-sometimes it just happens. While you would never jump from Point A (land of good decisions) directly to Point D (land of horrendous decisions), sometimes the smaller jumps from A to B and B to C put you in striking range of Point D, the slippery slope of how you got there blurred by the casual descent.

Throw in a Mexican army general and a moonlighting prostitute, and you’ve created a mezcal-flavored cocktail for disaster.With regards to the San Felipe situation, one thing you should never do in a border town is publicly complain. (For the record, San Felipe is not officially classified as a border town. It’s actually two and half hours south of the border on the Sea of Cortez, but as a popular weekend destination it can come with its share of tourist town perils).

The problem with complaining in a budget international tourist town is there is a buck to be made in “solving the problem”. If you’re piecing the breadcrumbs together, when someone offers to “solve the problem” of a closed strip club it can only lead to bad places.

Which, as it turns out, is exactly how we met Emilio.

Casually seated on a motorcycle whose best miles were clearly behind it, Emilio told us he could help with our apparent dilemma.

“You need girls?” he asked, the words rolling off his mustachioed upper lip with the class of a human trafficker.

Despite the fact that half of our troupe soberly recoiled at the offer, two of our them, presumably spurred on by breakfast beers which are a staple of Mexican bachelor parties, decided to run with the offer to see how it would play out.

After a cryptic conversation which contained far too much dirty laughter, it was determined we would meet Emilio at 8 p.m. that evening at a bar that tourists don’t normally frequent. He asked for a deposit. We declined. Shockingly, he never showed.

Having been stood up by Emilio, I slid some crumpled pesos across a bar of even worse shape and ordered a round of Tecate’s for the table. In the dingy atmosphere of the poorly-lit cantina there was an aura of two parts disappointment and three parts relief. We never had any real plans about what we would actually do with Emilio and whoever walked through the door with him, and his failure to appear at the agreed upon destination was probably for the best.

The problem, however, is that seven American men in a seedy local establishment can draw a fair bit of attention. In our case, that attention happened to manifest itself in the form of a 250 lb. Mexican army general named Miguel who was in town on leave before returning back to active service. Or so he said.

Miguel joined our table, and by the time the sticky plastic square on legs could fit no more empty cans, shot glasses, or broken dreams, three things had become hazily apparent: Miguel “had our back”, he was taking us to another bar, and he’d made a call about some “girls”.

Following Miguel into the dark recesses of San Felipe, three wrong turns and numerous back alleyways led to a place no visitor should ever go. This place had no music. This place had no windows. This place was not the place to be. Ever. Luckily, we were cruising with a Mexican army general, so we would be fine. Right?

Settling uncomfortably into the den of sorrows, matters only became compounded when a shy and husky twenty-something female entered the den and sat at our table. This was curious, of course, because no one knew this woman, nor did she seem to have any plans of engaging in conversation.

Apparently the only one who knew what was happening was Miguel, and he couldn’t have been more pleased at the situation he had arranged.

It was then that we realized that there in that cartel-controlled (not a fact), disease-infested (potentially a fact), parlor of illicit underworld, a Mexican army general had made some phone calls and actually ordered us a prostitute (unfortunately, fact).

This, it should go without saying, is not where you want to find yourself.

With the next round of beers also came the terms: There was a motel across the street. The room would be $20. The remaining price was to be negotiable upon services. After an awkward and tequila-induced back and forth of potential costs, it was collectively determined that we had to get the hell out of Dodge.

One by one we made our escape, the fear of letting down Miguel blending with the fear of being shanked with a rusty fork the moment we stepped outside. The last we saw of our female companion she was sitting at a bus stop with a forlorn sense of failure. She had left when she realized the night was going nowhere, and my heart goes out to that girl at the bus stop wherever she might be today.

Thankfully, all seven of us would wake up in the tent-less, sandy campground we had opted to call home for the night. In an evening that could have gone any number of disastrous directions, the only direction we wanted to go was home.

Five hours and two taco shops later, we would cross the border into San Diego definitively worse for the wear but happy we weren’t a headline.

Besides, we had other problems to worry about now, like how to pay for the $8,000 in damages we had caused to the rental cars.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

[Photo Credits: Kyle Ellison]

Seven Dead In Mexican Resort Town Of Cancun

News of Mexico rebounding from a string of drug-related violence still looks bleak; on Sunday, six people were strangled and one was decapitated in the southern Mexican tourist resort of Cancun.

Police found the bodies of the five men and two women in a shack in the outskirts of town. They believe the slain are independent drug dealers without any links to a specific cartel. The news comes just a month after two men opened fire in a bar in Cancun, killing six and injuring five others. More than 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2007.

Set on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, Cancun is a favored beach destination for spring breakers (and, of course, those who want to skip the parties, too). Although violence has erupted in several Mexican cities over the past few years, there are still plenty of safe areas to visit. In fact, our own McLean Robbins just visited Cabo San Lucas, and Kyle Ellison seems to have no reservations about recommending Baja as a hotspot for adventure travel this year.

[Photo credit: Getty Images]