PUERTO ESCONDIDO “SUN” A NEWSLETTER FOR THE “OTHER OAXACA”:

PE’s light news and entertainment infozine has just put out its fifth issue. At 12 pages, about half advertising, it appears to be healthy as well as informative. Published by Istituto Bilingue y Cultural de PE, a local language academy, the Sun is available by subscription by emailing ptosun@aox1.telmex.net.mx If you are a true PE habitue, the $25 price tag for 12 issues will probably seem a fair price indeed (it is free to local folks).

DESTROYING ECO-TOURISM FOR POWER AND PROFIT:

In a real-time Mexican version of the old wars between cattle barons and sheep ranchers, beef farmers and tree harvesters are destroying the Manialtepec Lagoon.

Manialtepec is about 15 miles west of PE. Thought of by some as the only beneficiary of Hurricane Pauline, the lagoon, due to be dredged this year to clear out a decades-long accumulation of sand in the main channels, was swept clean by the same winds that destroyed so much along the coast.

This was particularly significant for the local folks who had been stuggling to build up ecotourism as one alternative to the massive slaughter of the local turtle population for perfume base.

According to Michael Malone, writing in this month’s PE Sun, local cattle ranchers came in the middle of the night, and bulldozed a new channel through the protective sand bar, sending one meter of water out of the lagoon and into the sea.

When the water level drops that much, a significant portion of the mangrove growth surrounding the lagoon is left, literally, high and dry. The trees die.

The wood is very valuable, so the ranchers harvest it. The land thus exposed is turned into pasture. It’s a vicious cycle of wastefulness that hurts the incomes of local fishermen, guides, restaurant and hotel owners, and tschatchke sellers.

PE has a sort of “wild west” reputation in other ways, for instance in the reported readiness of local folks to settle their disputes with guns. There is a lot of bad feeling reported over this latest behavior, and things are probably a little tense around Manialtepec, although it is unlikely that the average tourist would ever be aware of it from direct experience.

B&B’S SPROUTING UP IN OAXACA:

When I first came here four years ago, there were maybe five well known b&b guest houses in the center of town. Now there are more than a dozen, many opened in the last year. Prices in the lower range from $15 to slightly over $20 for single occupancy. Quality is generally good to fantastic. No question about it, Oaxaca is growing as a tourist destination.

As an example, I have now had two travel agents who specialize in Mexico travel visiting my Orientation class, one from Canada and one from the US. Both were interested in steering old customers from the increasingly crowded and overpriced destinations such as San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Vallarta to Oaxaca.

Fortunately, Oaxaca has lots more room for turismo, because that is what the future appears to hold.

MORE FROM THE ROAD:

Today, we continue our annual travel extravaganza, which took place in January.

GUANAJUATO has more hillside than San Francisco and is equally as charming. More easy to get lost in than any other place I have ever been. One way streets end up swooping into tunnels that come out far across town, and getting back can be a nightmare. Park your car and take cabs or walk.

We found a cheap, no frills hotel, the Mina d Rayas, very close to the center, with a parking garage, for $180p. No tv, no phone.

We were going to stay for only one night, but found the town interesting enough to warrant a second day.

We visited the Diego Rivera House and Museum, with a lot of his preliminary sketches, a small mural, many pictures and photos of Frida Kahlo, and some interesting photos of the artist standing before nearly finished canvases while the model is posing. The most interesting thing about these is how much more sexy and powerful the models look on canvas than they do in real life: a tribute to the artist’s vision and his attraction to women.

Don’t miss Restaurant La Pi¤ata, on the second floor, just up the street from the Plaza Los Angeles. Pleasant, kooky atmosphere, full of color and textures, and good and plenty food for reasonable prices. On Wednesday nights, the local gringos gather for a little palaver. Bring the books you have read, any day, for exchange at their informal exchange library.

There is an internet service here, RedInternet, but they charge 25p (1/2 hour minimum) for 2 minutes worth of email connection. I walked: I’d rather they used a gun…

The Zocalo is the way Oaxaca used to be: throngs of locals promenading, talking, goofing around; lots of young people walking and older folks sitting on benches. The tables outside the sidewalk cafes are crowded, and a festive air prevails.

We went to a classic music concert in the “Teatro Principal”, a modern, large theater with padded seats and lots of legroom, and excellent acoustics. The University Symphony played, and they were excellent. A significant portion of the musicians were foreigners.

ZACATECAS: is a town whose vaunted narrowness and steepness pales when compared to Guanajuato, and it’s not as easy to get lost. Nonetheless it is both steep and confusing.

The town was founded on the mining in the adjacent hills, and some of those mines still function. There are many stores in town that sell quartz and other crystals, semiprecious stones and objects made from same.

This is cattle and wine country. There are numerous small shops, each owned by a winery and selling their own produce. Since we never see these labels in Oaxaca, I have to assume that they sell out without exporting. La Nueva Galicia is a wonderful restaurant, with friendly and winsome waitress, good food and moderately high prices. We were joined at dinner, by our request, by a lone diner, a Canadian woman geologist working for a mining company in the area. After 18 months there, she had had it with being the lone gringa in town, and was leaving. I asked her, “the ONLY?”, and she replied “the only.”

We had breakfast at Caf‚ Zas, recommended in some guide books. It was a disappointment: mediocre food, spotty service.

Before you take the telefierico, check out the overlook at the lower terminal. Unless you just crave being suspended in air, the view from there may satisfy your desire to overlook the city.

Bands form up around dusk, and play in one spot until they can gather a crowd and get them dancing At that point, they begin to wander the streets, tootling away, gathering more people and more dancers. It’s free, so bring your dancingest walking shoes and join the parade.

ZAPATISTAS WILL BE DECIMATED BY ARMY AND PARAMILITARY UNITS BY END OF MAY:

Based on current developments in Mexico, including increased army occupations of villages in Zapatista influenced areas of Chiapas, growth in number, size and viciousness of paramilitary units, Zedillo’s announced determination to impose a PRI solution in Chiapas, and the increasing number of arrests and deportations of foreigners in the conflict zone, I must, with great sadness, predict that extermination time is near.

If, as is likely, the PAN will vote for Zedillo’s eviscerated version of the San Lareanzar accords that has been recently introduced to congress, the Prez will have the 2/3 majority he needs. At that point, he will have a “legal basis” for sending in the army. The Zaps are trapped in the mountains with the Mexican army in front of them, and the Guatemalan army at their back.

There is little that foreigners such as I can do, as long as we are in Mexico, to affect change. One of the latest expulsions was for merely WATCHING the 1,111 person Zapatista march from Chiapas to the capital, as it came through Oaxaca. Writing about affairs using a pro-Zapatista approach is clearly a violation of the law as currently being interpreted by the Interior Ministry.

The irony from my point of view is that being expelled actually frees one to work actively against the current regime (in one’s own country), which is far more likely to affect change down here than is staying down here where one is not allowed to demonstrate one’s feelings at all. As long as there is an uncensored and uncontrolled Internet, access to Chiapas information is about as good from Timbuktu as from Las Margaritas.

Still, I hope it won’t come to that for me, nor do I think that it will; but it would be foolish not to recognize that this country is plunging ever deeper into crisis, and that in such times there are no guarantees of anything.