Last month California Native founder and president Lee Klein, again attended ATMEX, the premier Adventure Travel event in Mexico held in Chiapas, quickly becoming renowned as the adventure capital of Mexico. It was a great opportunity to meet again with adventure tour providers in Mexico and develop future partnerships for providing California Native adventures in this exciting and beautiful state.
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We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Penny Mackrory and Heather Bullen, from Mogale City, South Africa, wrote us this short letter about their recent adventure in the Yucatan:
We are back from out trip to Mexico and had a wonderful time. Thank you for your wonderful organisation. We enjoyed the food, hotels and everything on the itinerary. The arrangement in Mexico were excellent. Please thank your team there for all they did to make out team a success. I have now achieved my seven wonders dream and will have to decide on a new bucket list.
Thank you all at the Californian Native
Penny Mackrory and Heather Bullen
Mogale City, South Africa
Colors set our mood and add an important dimension to our feelings and memories of the places we visit. I thought it might be fun to group some of the photos from our library of California Native images by their predominant colors. Our first collection was based on the color yellow.
This, our second collection is based on the color blue. Blue is the color of the sky and the ocean. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, and truth.
“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”—Lyman Frank Baum
“Mozart has the classic purity of light and the blue ocean”—Henri-Frédéric Amiel, 18th century Swiss philosopher
Beautiful, blue Agua Azul falls, located 40 miles from the Mayan ruins of Palenque, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, tumble down from the jungle in a series of cascades where they have carved out delighful limestone swimming holes.
Photographed from an aircraft, the dark blue hues of Mount Popocatépetl, located in central Mexico, are highlighted by the blue sky just before sunset. Popocatépetl, which can be seen from Mexico City is a very active volcano, whose last eruption was just last year (May, 2013).
Wearing blue aprons and caps, Chinese ladies go home from work in Yunnan Province.
Falls cascade down into the refreshing lagoon in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park.
The blue of this Patagonian glacier looks almost unreal as it glistens in the sunlight near the bottom of the world.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last summer, Bonnie Brunt from Spokane, Washington, enjoyed our tour to Chiapas and Yucatan.
I wanted to write you a quick note to let you know how thoroughly this trip surpassed my expectations. It really was a magical trip for all of us—one that we will never forget—and much of that was due to the services of our amazing tour guide Javier. He really was a great match for our group of bright, professional, well-traveled women. His knowledge of the Mayan civilization and culture was profound, his passion for the subject deep, and his explanations, articulate. He was extremely professional and personable (good-natured, kind, sensitive to the needs and desires of the group). In addition, he was really good at organizing our time such that we were in the right places at the right time, taking into consideration the weather, the size of the crowds, etc. We just could not have been more happy with him.
Thanks for all you did to make this trip so special for all of us!
Dean, Visual & Performing Arts
Spokane Falls Community College
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last summer, Mardis Nenno from Spokane, Washington traveled with us to Chiapas and Yucatan and had this to report:
I want to thank you for providing an excellent tour. The six of us were impressed by the scope of the itinerary, the variety of experiences and the professional way in which the tour was conducted. The accommodations were well chosen and very comfortable.
We so enjoyed the luxury of sitting back and relaxing as each new day unfolded. And each day brought a new adventure — thanks to our wonderful guide, Javier. His knowledge of Maya history, architecture and culture is extensive and his fluency in English is remarkable. He was patient, unhurried and always courteous. He went out of his way to make sure that we had a positive experience and came away with a deeper knowledge of the Maya people’s past and their lives today.
This was a trip I’ll never forget. I had an extraordinary experience in Chiapas and Yucatan and hope to return to continue to study and improve my Spanish! In a very significant way the success of it was due to the excellent service and professionalism provided by CalNative.
Instructor, Fine Arts
School of Design and Construction
Spokane Falls Community College
A few weeks ago, as guests of the Mexican Tourist Board, we traveled to the city of Merida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan, to attend the 5th Annual Feria Turistica del Mundo Maya, Mayan World Tourism Fair, a trade show which featured tourism vendors from the area that once was the Mayan Empire. Now this rain forested terrain encompasses Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras and the Mexican states of Yucatán, Tabasco, Campeche, Quintana Roo and Chiapas.
We met with regional tour operators, tourism boards, hoteliers and other vendors, and visited many sites where we had not previously explored.
New to us was the Mayan archaeological site of Dzibilchaltun, a lesser visited site not far from Merida which was inhabited since around 500 B.C. We climbed around its temple, plaza and other structures, and were quite impressed with its museum of artifacts from throughout the Mayan world.
We then traveled to the town of Palenque, in the state of Chiapas. After driving through the jungle we boated up the Usumacinta River to the ruins of Yaxchilan, capital of one of the most powerful Maya states in the region and a rival to Palenque and Tikal. The site contains many impressive ruins, with palaces and temples bordering a large plaza above the Usumacinta River. Throughout the ruins are impressive hieroglyphics depicting the history of the kingdom.
South of Yaxchilan, on the border of Guatemala, we explored the ruins of Bonampak, another Mayan city, noted for its vivid 8th century murals.
In the near future we will be offering these Mayan sites as add-on options to our Yucatan adventures.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last July, Judy Theodorson, from Spokane, Washington, traveled with us on our Yucatan & Chiapas Adventure.
Overall, I could not be more pleased with this trip. Just abut everything exceeded my expectations. While I have extensive travel experience, I have never before used services of packaged/guided tour. This trip taught me the value of utilizing the experts.
Highlights are many. Perhaps the most memorable stop was the church in Chemula where we saw an amalgamate of Mayan and Catholic practices. My academic area is architecture, so I was delighted by the Mayan ruins, in particular, I enjoyed those less traveled—Calakmul, Edzna, and Uxmal. In the future, I hope to visit more of the smaller ones. I was also pleased by the opportunities to experience the natural world—rivers, jungles, beaches—which helped to contextualize the ecological foundations of this impressive place.
I appreciated that our group was able to customize the tour to meet our needs. I hope to do another trip in the future with students that will require even more customization.
The hotels were fine. Several—San Cristobal, Merida, Chichen Itza—were unexpectedly wonderful in terms of both architecture and comforts.
The absolute highlight of our trip was our guide, Javier Sosa Pacheco, who was perfectly matched to our group. I must sing his praises—foremost is his deep knowledge in many subjects including archaeology, anthropology, architecture, Mayan beliefs, history and natural history. He is a natural teacher, delivering the knowledge with clarity, with stories, and with a point of view. By the end, he had done a beautiful job of tying our experiences into a coherent and memorable whole. Furthermore, he is professional in every way—on time, courteous, attentive—and gifted with patience and humor. Importantly, he took the initiative to massage the itinerary so that we had the best experiences possible, for instance, visiting Chichen Itza early in the morning rather than late on a busy day. Finally, he was a great driver.
My experience overall is so positive that I’m already planning another trip to the Yucatan peninsula.
Assistant Professor Interior Design
School of Design and Construction
Washington State University
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last month, Olga Muratova and her family members from New York and Los Angeles traveled with us to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and reported this:
My family took a California Native vacation in Yucatan between June 15 and 21, 2013. First of all, I want to thank your company for a wonderful trip that it organized for us. Secondly, I would like to take this opportunity to express my family’s admiration with Mr. Javier Sosa, our tour guide and care-taker in Mexico. Mr. Sosa’s high professionalism, vast knowledge of Mayan culture, engaging narrator’s qualities, impeccable manners, affable and personable attitude, and exceptionally agreeable nature made our trip very pleasant and memorable.
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?
A recent post on the blog “never stop traveling, the source for travelers 50 and beyond,” listed the top tourism destinations in Mexico, as reported by the Mexico Tourism Board.
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.
The economies of the world’s countries are slow. Travel and tourism are down. Hotels have plenty of space. Crowds are down. Now is the perfect time to take that trip you have been dreaming about for so long. Travel now before the crowds come back and the prices go up. Join us on a trip to one of the exotic destinations around the globe that we specialize in. Whether it’s Mexico’s fabulous Copper Canyon, the magical Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, or the rainforests of Costa Rica we are ready for your call.
Always wanted to come eyeball-to-eyeball with a flightless cormorant or a giant tortoise? Then the Galapagos is for you. How about enjoying a fantastic cruise through the Straits of Magellan, hiking on a glacier and sipping whiskey over-the-rocks of ancient glacial ice? Patagonia is the place, or travel back in time to visit the mighty empire of the Maya—the Yucatan is your destination. Perhaps you prefer to stroll or bicycle through the green hills and friendly villages of Ireland? These are just a few of the adventures that we have lined up for you.
Wherever your dream destination is, now is the best time to travel. When the times are slow it’s time to go.
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?”
No date for Valentine’s Day this year? No problem if you are in Mexico.
Although St. Valentine’s Day probably started as a pre-Christian observance, it later became a minor religious holiday honoring St. Valentine. It was celebrated in Europe privately as a day near the end of winter and the beginning of Spring to express romance. It started to become a more public holiday in the U.S. in the mid 1800’s when a Massachusetts stationer started mass producing Valentine’s Day cards and selling them in her shop. It has grown and grown and is now celebrated in most countries of the world as a day of love and romance (seemingly not at all private!).
In Mexico, the day is called día del amor y la amistad, which means day of love AND friendship. It has evolved as a day to show appreciation for people you care about—and that doesn’t mean it has to be your significant other—it can be anyone you care about, from your teacher, your co-worker or best friend. Flowers, poems, gifts and food are exchanged as much with friends as with lovers. So, think about taking your significant other to enjoy the friendship of Mexico on Valentine’s Day or any time of year. Or join us on one of our tours to Mexico’s Copper Canyon or Yucatan.
Happy Valentine’s day to all our California Native friends!
When you travel with us on our Yucatan Explorer Trips, you now have the option of beginning and ending your vacation in either city, Cancun or Merida.
With the large number of airlines flying into Cancun daily, starting your Yucatan adventure in Cancun allows you to take advantage of the competitive airfares and direct flights from the U.S. and Canada.
Cancun is renowned for its beaches, restaurants and nightlife, with all the glitter of an upscale beach resort. Merida, on the other hand, is a cosmopolitan but at the same time tranquil and charming colonial city.
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. In addition, the Yucatan has lovely colonial cities and beautiful Caribbean beaches.
All of our Yucatan tours visit the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, El Balam and Edzna, as well as the city of Campeche—its fort was built by the Spaniards as defense against the Caribbean pirates.
The tours which begin in Cancun also visit the ruins of the Mayan port city of Tulum, built alongside a beautiful Caribbean beach. and the archaeological site of Coba.
This year in Mexico is a year for celebration. It is the bicentennial of Mexico’s War of Independence as well as the centennial of the Mexican Revolution. Two hundred years ago the first of these events set our neighbor on the path to becoming the 14th largest independent nation on Earth, as well as the world’s largest Hispanic country. It was the inspiration and leadership of one man which led to Mexico’s throwing off the shackles of Spain after almost three centuries.
That man was a 57-year-old priest whose parish was in the city of Dolores, Guanajuato. The date was September 16, 1810. Early that morning Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla had the church bells rung to summon the townspeople to the church, where he told his followers that the time had come to expel the Spaniards who had misgoverned Mexico for so long. His speech, known as the Grito de Dolores, the “Cry of Dolores,” set off the Mexican War of Independence, which resulted in Mexico’s becoming an independent country.
Hidalgo was born in 1753 on the hacienda where his father was administrator. At twenty years of age he received his Bachelor of Theology degree and lectured in philosophy and theology at San Nicolás Obispo and, after being ordained as a priest, became rector of the school. His ideas and conduct were extremely liberal, which led to his being dismissed from that post, and twice being investigated by the Inquisition, who accused him of reading prohibited books, advocating doctrines of the French Revolution, doubting the virgin birth of Mary, gambling, and keeping a mistress. His last clerical position was that of parish priest in the little town of Dolores.
Hidalgo worked hard to improve the lives of his parishioners, mastering their Indian language and teaching them crafts and skills to improve their economic condition. He also introduced winemaking and silk culture, two industries which the government declared illegal in the colonies, and one day government officials came to the village and destroyed the vines and mulberry trees.
Late in the eighteenth century it became fashionable among cultured criollos, persons of Spanish descent who were born in Mexico, to form literary societies, which met for tea and cakes and discussed the classics. They also smuggled into the country books which were banned by the Church, such as the works of Rousseau, Voltaire, and Descartes. The literary societies gradually became political societies. Father Hidalgo belonged to one of these societies whose members were plotting a revolution to separate Mexico from Spain.
The group selected Hidalgo to lead the movement, and thus on the morning of September 16th, 1810, Hidalgo, with his “Cry of Dolores” launched the revolution, and the rebel army set forth, armed with machetes, swords, knives, clubs, axes, and a few muskets. As they passed through each town they opened the local jails and recruited the prisoners for their cause. Eventually their numbers grew to sixty thousand.
After six months of fighting, Hidalgo fell into a royalist trap and was captured. Because he was a priest, he was subjected to a lengthy hearing by the Inquisition, after which he was found guilty of heresy and treason, defrocked, and, on July 30, 1811, executed by a firing squad in the city of Chihuahua. His head, along with those of three other revolutionary leaders, was cut off and sent to Guanajuato, where it was put on a pole and displayed for a decade.
After Hidalgo’s death, the revolutionary movement continued until September 28,1821, when Mexico finally became an independent nation.
In Mexico, Hidalgo is credited with arousing the spirit of rebellion against the Spanish oppression. Because of his patriotism, his championing of human rights and his personal courage, he is considered by Mexicans to be the father of their nation and the symbol of Mexican independence.
Each year on September 15, Independence Day is celebrated throughout Mexico, with parades, fireworks, and the cry of “Mexicanos, Viva Mexico!”
We’re halfway through 2010 and it’s a good time to look forward to next year and the exciting places waiting to be visited. As an added bonus for your forward thinking, The California Native will help you save money on your 2011 vacation.
To quote some famous thinkers on the subject of saving money:
“Money frees you from doing things you dislike. Since I dislike doing nearly everything, money is handy.” – Groucho Marx
“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” – Woody Allen
“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” – Yogi Berra
In the United States we honor the Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day, the Italians on Columbus Day, and the Mexicans on Cinco de Mayo. But what the heck is Cinco de Mayo?
Most Americans think that Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) celebrates Mexican Independence Day. Not so. Mexican Independence Day is September 16. Then what is Cinco de Mayo?
After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, it went through forty years of internal power struggles and rebellions. By 1861 the country’s finances were so bad that the nation owed 80 million pesos in foreign debts. Mexico’s president, Benito Juarez, pledged to pay off these debts eventually but, as an emergency measure, he suspended all payment for two years.
In France, Napoleon III saw this as an opportunity to establish French colonies in Latin America. He believed that the United States was too involved with the Civil War to try and enforce the Monroe Doctrine, and that if the South won the war—and after the Battle of Bull Run it looked like they might—opposition to his plan would be minimal.
Napoleon enlisted England and Spain to join him in a mission to encourage Mexico to pay off its foreign debts. The mission began with the landing of French, English and Spanish troops at Vera Cruz. The French minister then demanded that Mexico pay 12 million pesos to France, an impossible amount, given the state of the Mexican treasury.
Napoleon then set up a provisional government with his personal emissary as its head, and brought in a much larger French army to enforce it. England and Spain, now realizing Napoleon’s scheme for French domination, protested France’s moves and withdrew their forces.
The French, now alone, marched 6000 dragoons and foot soldiers to occupy Mexico City. On May 5 (Cinco de Mayo), 1862, on their way to the capital, the French soldiers entered the town of Puebla. To stop the French, the Mexicans garrisoned a rag-tag army of 4000 men at Puebla, most of them armed with fifty-year-old antiquated guns. The French general, contemptuous of the Mexicans, ordered his men to charge right into the center of the Mexican defenses.
The handsomely uniformed French cavalry charged through soggy ditches, over crumbling adobe walls, and up the steep slopes of the Cerro de Guadalupe, right into the Mexican guns. When the shooting was over, the French ended up with a thousand dead troops. The Mexicans then counter-attacked and drove the French all the way to the coast.
Now the honor of France was at stake. Napoleon III committed an additional 28,000 men to the struggle. They eventually took over Puebla and Mexico City. Napoleon next arranged for the young archduke Maximilian (photo above), brother of Austria’s Emperor Franz Joseph, to establish himself as emperor of Mexico, as a way to set up a legitimate-seeming government, while insuring French interests in Mexico. Maximilian’s reign lasted just three years. On June 19, 1867, he was executed by a firing squad, four months after the last French troops left the country.
Every 5th of May in Mexico, school children throughout the country celebrate the victory of the Mexican people over the French at the Battle of Puebla, but these celebrations are minor compared to their counterparts in the United States, where millions of Americans drink beer, eat tacos and hold parties to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, even though they have no idea what the holiday is all about.