Last week we returned from Morelia, Mexico where we attended the third annual Feria Mundial de Turismo Cultural, the World Cultural Tourism Fair and trade show. There, we met with Mexican tour operators and representatives from all of the states of Mexico as well as representatives of the federal government.
Looking for more unique destinations to offer our California Native guests, we visited several colonial cities which have been designated Pueblos Magicos, magic towns. These towns have been chosen for their natural beauty, cultural riches, and historical relevance and are said to offer visitors a “magical experience.” Among those we visited were Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Pátzcuaro, Cuitzeo and Santa Clara del Cobre.
Last week I attended ATMEX, the Adventure Travel Event in the State of Veracruz, Mexico. It was a great opportunity to meet with adventure tour providers in Mexico and lay the groundwork for future partnerships to develop California Native tours to this beautiful region. We joined with Mexico Verde Expeditions and rafted down the Rio Antigua, zip-lined and mountain biked in the rainforest nearby the village of Jolcomulco. The State of Veracruz offers a plethora of historic and cultural destinations in addition to its wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation. Please let me know if you are interested in joining us on future tours to the historic and wildly scenic State of Veracruz.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Jim Whilden, from Bethleham, Pennsylvania, just returned from his Yucatan Adventure and had this to report:
Everything worked exactly as it should have. It is always great to be met at the airport by someone who is expecting you and can speak your language! When that occurs the trip is always great. Our guide even seemed glad to see us.
Guillermo, the guide, was superb! He not only explained the tourist sites but answered every question about Mexico’s government, areas, culture, language, etc. He helped us find things we read about in our guide books.
Uxmal, Valladolid, Campeche were wonderful. I loved clinbing the pyramid steps.
The trip really included everything—even specialty shops (ice cream in Merida). The hotels were wonderful and the food was great, especially in the small restaurants and cafes.
Where else can I travel with The California Native?
This June we are celebrating our 30th Anniversary—30 years of leading fantastic trips to exotic destinations around the world.
This anniversary comes as a proud moment for our company’s founder, Lee Klein, who continues to scout new locations world-wide in search of new destinations for the active traveler. Klein, who holds an MBA in Management and a BS in International Marketing, spent more than two decades as a corporate manager and college professor until, in 1983, while climbing Ayer’s Rock in the Australian Outback, he decided to drop out of the corporate world, take off his suit and tie, and create an adventure travel company based on the lessons he taught his students on how to succeed in business: “keep the quality high, keep it affordable, and treat people the way you would like to be treated.”
The initial offering from The California Native was a tour billed as “The Other Los Angeles.” This day-long excursion traced the route of the San Andreas Fault from the Mojave Desert to the San Gabriel Mountains without ever leaving Los Angeles County. The tours became so popular that colleges in three California counties offered them as part of their community-education programs. From this, the company expanded its offerings to include tours to the Channel Islands, Death Valley, Yosemite, and other uniquely California destinations, as well as white-water rafting, ballooning, spelunking (caving), sailplane gliding, and other outdoor adventures. “My family has lived in Los Angeles for generations,” writes Klein in the company newsletter, “hence the name The California Native.”
Satisfying the growing client base led to the development of The California Native’s most popular destination—Mexico’s Copper Canyon. These escorted and independent tours feature the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad (labeled as one of the most spectacular train rides in the western hemisphere) and highlight one of the most primitive indigenous cultures still subsisting in North America—the Tarahumara Indians. The California Native has become a leading source of information on this remote area and the company and it’s guides are known throughout the area for their work with the Tarahumara.
They noted that although there has been much coverage by the US media of the crime situation in some areas of Mexico, millions of US and Canadian citizens visit Mexico each year, and many live there year-round.
Last night we attended a VIP Reception and Premiere showing of Mexico: A Royal Tour, a film by Peter Greenberg for PBS.
In the film, President Calderón takes Greenberg on a tour of Mexico—but not your average tour. It’s a spectacular visit to many beautiful and unusual places with lots of adventure, including zip-lining, scuba and more. The President and his family clearly enjoy being the tour guides, and showing off these fabulous and interesting places, well-known and not so well-known. There is also discussion of the current security misconceptions. In the end, you will want to get on the next flight south.
We arrived at the JW Marriott at LA Live in downtown LA, were given wrist bands, checked off several security lists, then passed through a metal detector and into a small ballroom. We enjoyed drinks and conversation with other celebrities such as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism, Gloria Guevara, other dignitaries associated with both Mexico and the film, and entertainment icons including George Lopez, Russell Brand, Lionel Richie, James Caan, and Cindy Crawford. Then there was a buzz, lots more security, and the arrival of President Felipe Calderón and his wife, Margarita Zavala. After the camera flashes subsided, we were able chat with the President for a few minutes—our second meeting.
We moved on to the movie theater, and found seats with our names on them directly behind the President, the Mexican dignitaries and Greenberg, and next to the film’s director. After some speeches, the film began and we were entranced.
Afterward, talking to the Director, we learned that Mexico’s Copper Canyon was to have been part of the tour, but there were some weather issues on the days slated for filming so they did not film there. From previous conversations with President Calderón, we know that Copper Canyon is one of his favorite places in Mexico.
The movie premieres on Thursday, September 22, 2011 on many local PBS station (check listings for time) and will air several times in the next couple of weeks.
After the movie, check out our website and join us for a wonderful adventure in Mexico.
A few weeks ago we received a very interesting comment from Bessie "Crickett" Quijada regarding our article, A Visit With Mrs. Pancho Villa. I contacted her and she agreed to share some of her photos with us.
In her comment Mrs. Quijada told us “My grand mother’s brother, Ricardo Gonzales, rode with The General Pancho Villa. In the Military Classics Illustrated (News Letter) there is a photo of My great uncle Ricardo on horseback along with Pancho Villa and about 5 or 6 other riders. My uncle is to Pancho Villas left. I have a photo of my uncle with Mrs Pancho Villa (Dona Luz) taken at La Quinta Manor where she lived until her death. The Villa’s manor is a museum in Chihuahua, MX. In the Military Classics Illustrated along with the photo of my uncle with Pancho Villa there is an article titled, The Villistas: Soldiers in Sombreros and Suit Coats By Don Fuchik.”
The author she refers to, Don Fuchik, was a very close friend of mine from the time we were 13-years old until his death a few years ago. He was also a consultant for The California Native and led many of our trips through Mexico’s Copper Canyon.
Pancho Villa and his wife, Luz Corral de Villa, in 1914.
Dona Luz Corral de Villa with Ricardo Gonzalez in 1967.
Crickett was born in Denver, Colorado and grew up in Stockton, California. She now lives in Fresno. She describes herself as being 67 going on 12, and never wants to grow up. She has eight children, two which she adopted, and two male pet hooded rats whom she adores (she claims that rats make great pets). Her nickname is Crickett and that is what she prefers to be called.
My first introduction to the Mayans was in a grammar school textbook where our fourth grade class read a story titled “The Sacred Well of Chichen Itza.” I was fascinated with the tale of the young maidens being thrown into the well to be sacrificed to the Rain God Chac. This was back in the 1940’s and more than 20 years passed before I first traveled to Chichen Itza and stood before that very same well—too late to rescue a maiden but a wonderful time to conjure up visions of a past when exotic civilizations populated the Americas.
The Yucatan Peninsula is the homeland of the Mayan people, whose mighty empire lasted over a thousand years. Throughout the peninsula are the amazing archaeological ruins of their great cities—Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Edzna and many more—a fantastic place to take a time-traveling vacation. In addition, there are lovely colonial cities, forts designed to protect against Caribbean pirates and beautiful beaches.
After leaving the sacred well, I climbed a passageway cut into the great pyramid called “El Castillo” into an older pyramid covered by “El Castillo.” Here in an inside chamber I gazed upon Kukilkan’s red jaguar throne, its eyes and spots glittering with jade and its fangs glowing with pyrite. After exiting with the tourists I wandered alone in the ruins where I found a little entrance in the side of a pyramid and entered a narrow passage. Gradually the outside light from the entrance grew dimmer and dimmer and then my little pocket flashlight stopped working. I found myself alone in the pitch-black. Very creepy. I felt my way back up the tunnel, imagining the possibility of getting lost in an underground labyrinth and was very happy when I emerged into the sunlight—Indiana Jones would have been proud.
Spring has sprung, Little League players are swinging their bats and baseball is in the air. Baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer (called football in the rest of the world), these are the games most North Americans think of when the subject of sports comes up. But team sports is not a concept which arrived in the Americas with the landing of Columbus. For almost 3000 years before the coming of the Europeans, teams in Mesoamerica, the region which extends from what is now Mexico south through Nicaragua, were playing ball in a game that was truly was a matter of life or death.
Today, when visiting the ruins of these ancient cultures, travelers can see the courts where these ballgames, considered to be the world’s oldest team sport, were played. Like modern superdomes, these ball courts were a major part of a city’s infrastructure and came to represent its wealth and power. Two high walls composed an alley with end zones making the court resemble the capital letter ‘I’.
Although not much is known about how the sport was enacted, it is speculated that two opposing teams attempted to have the rubber ball penetrate the defense’s end zone without using their hands. As the sport evolved, giant stone rings in the walls of the alley provided more obstacles to pass the ball through in hope of scoring. The balls varied in size from softball to beachball and could weigh up to eight pounds. Some relics of balls have been found with skulls in the middle and were thought to bounce even higher having a hollow core. The earliest rubber ball was found at the Olmec site of El Manati, in the Mexican state of Vera Cruz. It is estimated to be 3600 years old!
The stakes were high for the athletes in these games. Their belief systems were based on a balance of forces. These ancient people wanted to keep their gods happy in order to keep the sun rising in the east and rain pouring on their crops. And to keep this balance level, cities would often sacrifice members of the losing team, making the incentive to win greater than any trophy.
Two cultures that were significant in the development of the Ballgame were the Olmec and the Maya. The Olmec are generally thought to be the mother culture from which all other Mesoamerican cultures were derived. The name Olmec means “people of the land of rubber.” Their huge helmeted stone heads, weighing up to 40 tons, are speculated to be portraits of famous ball players.
Succeeding the Olmecs, the Mayan Civilization thrived from 250 AD to 1400 AD. Their zest for the ballgame is evident from the many ruins of their ball courts including the giant court at Chichen Itza, the largest of all the sites. The game was so popular that aspects of the sport are found in the Mayan Creation Story which tells the story of two hero twins who were players. The ballgame was so rooted in the culture that “ballplayer” is used as a ceremonial title of kings.
Like modern sports, the uniform was an essential part of the game. The athletes entered the court wearing their finest jewels, animal skins, and feathered headdresses. The players did not compete in this garb as the fast-paced nature of the game required agility and the aggressive action required protective equipment. Uniforms consisted mainly of a loincloth, sometimes with leather hip guards, a thick girdle made of wood or wicker covered in leather or fabric, and a decorative stone accessory worn on the girdle. Knee guards and helmets were also worn in some communities. A decorative carved stone was sometimes used to hit the ball like a bat or a stick. The balls were made of rubber, produced from plants indigenous to the area.
The rise of Christianity in the Mesoamerican world led to the end of the ballgame. The Spanish viewed the event as pagan ritual and outlawed the sport. Disease, forced labor and massacre, diminished the native populations, taking with them the world’s first team sport. The modern game of Ulamu, played in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, is thought to be its closest equivalent.
We invite you to come with us on a tour of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and visit these ancient sports stadiums and many other archaeological sites of these unique cultures. Can you hear the whispered call of the ancient Mesoamerican equivalent of “Play ball?”
On February 24, Mexico celebrates Dia de la Bandera, or Flag Day, a civic holiday with parades and festivities to honor the Mexican Flag. On that date in 1821, the Plan de Iguala, which proclaimed Mexico as an independent country, was signed.
The green, white and red flag was adopted at that time and although it has undergone some revisions since, the basic design has remained. Its stripes are green for hope and victory (or Independence), white is for the purity of ideals (or Roman Catholicism), and red for the blood of national heroes (or for the Union).
In the center of the flag is the National Coat of Arms which features an eagle with a snake in it’s claws. According to legend, the Aztecs, who were the original inhabitants of Mexico, were told by their gods to find an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus and holding a snake. At this location they would build their permanent city. The story goes that they saw this eagle on an island in the middle of a lake, and built their city, now known as México City, around the island.
Throughout all of Mexico, you will see that the most respected symbol among the Mexican people, is their national flag. ¡Viva México!