Friday, October 31, 2008

Day of the Dead Voyage

"Dia de los Muertos" is a holiday celebrated primarily in Mexico but also in Hispanic and African communities worldwide. Families honor memories of their departed with music, costumes, festively decorated sugar skulls, and altars to the dead with many candles. Families visit graves to leave the favorite foods and drinks of their departed. Loved ones are celebrated with stories, feasts, dancing, iconic skeletons, and always with good humor.

These ceremonies date back 3,000 years and began as a celebration of death as a voyage to a higher plane by the pre-Hispanic Olmecs & Zapotecs. The Aztecs celebrated for an entire month, honoring their goddess of death. The modern celebration occurs on the 1st and 2nd of November, fusing the pre-Hispanic celebration with two Catholic holidays - All Saint's Day & All Souls' Day. In Brazil it's a public holiday and Spain holds parades and festivals. If you'd like to participate in Dia de los Muertos ceremonies, there are several villages in Mexico with colorful celebrations worth attending.

My Grandmother departed this month, joining my Grandfather who passed four years ago this week. I will be toasting to their memories tomorrow. Rita & Ray, you are saints in my book!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Latin American Clown Convention

For four days in D.F. aka "Mexico City", there are seminars and workshops for the region's best clowns. Recently, more women are clowning around at the convention - a world formerly dominated by men. Almost 30% of Mexico's 10,000 clowns are women.

Accordingt to Janet Rodriguez of Mexico, "When you have that spark within you, it makes it easier to fit in, but you have to learn dance, singing & child psychology to make people laugh."

If you are tired of the watching American clowns on the election year stage, turn your attention to the real deal at the 13th annual Latin American Clown Convention.

For insights from past years of this wonderful phenomenon, visit Stephania Silveria's blog at

Photo courtesy of Eduardo Vedurgo. Enjoy!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Changes in Attitude: Left-leaning Hemisphere

Add Ecuador to the growing list of nations leaning left in the Americas. Today, President Correa’s new left-leaning constitution was approved by a significant 64% margin. There are few right-leaning countries remaining in our hemisphere and Latin America is merely a microcosm of the global liberal/conservative contest.

In colonial times, the fear over liberalization was derived from fear by the ruling elite over sharing the land, wealth, and power they amassed through conquest and slavery. They chose to conserve their land, wealth & power, so they were conservative. Those seeking balance, retribution, fairness, (you decide) were liberal in their approach. The 21st Century finds Presidents Correa (Ecuador), Chavez (Venuzuela), Morales (Bolivia), Garcia (Peru) and Lula (Brazil), among others, liberalizing their countries.

A similar battle is waging in the USA today. Instead of colonizers, the right now represents U.S. corporations such as Bear Stearns, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac. The CEO's of the nine major banks that taxpayers now partially own were paid $32.2 million last year, on average. On the retail end, we've seen similar gluttony. Global colonizers such as Wal-Mart entice young people from all over China to leave their family farms to slave in squalor in company-owned factories producing plastic gimcracks for voracious consumers, in the name of monopolistic ambitions, profit, and cheap consumer crap.

Consumer culture – isn’t this a crime against nature?

Regardless, corporations are paying billions to their leaders and shareholders, such as the Walton family, while a generation of indigenous peoples move away from their fields to barely subsist in polluted cities working for Fortune 100 companies producing unneccesary consumables. Whether it's a Nike sweatshop in Asia or a garment sweatshop in Latin America, CEO's are making hundreds times more than the workers.
Why grow food when you choke the planet in cheap plastic toys for “happy meals”? The children who throw away today’s toy tomorrow do not realize its half-life is 5000 years. This is the modern day conquest - pillaging once peaceful agrarian societies of their way of life to line the bank accounts of multinational corporate executives. The consequences are not tangibly different from colonization that occured centuries ago through slavery.
In this context, it is not hard to understand backlash against capitalism. "We need to reintroduce morality into capitalism" - Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France.

The USA is set to join the leftist movement next month by inaugarating a liberal to the White House on promises of increased regulation and an economy that works for people as well corporations. The U.S. Congress is already leaning left. Obama shuns lobbyist contributions and special interest money. His average contribution is $86 and he's received such donations from over 3 million voters. If you are surprised by this, read on.

There are three reasons our hemisphere continues to lean left, according to the book “Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left”:

1. The end of the Cold War removed the stigma of the left. The USA could no longer label leftist governments ‘communist sympathizers’.

2. Latin America's extreme concentration of wealth, income, power, and opportunity (among two percent of the population) meant that it would have to be governed from the left. “The combination of inequality and democracy tends to cause a movement to the left everywhere. Impoverished masses (98% in much of Latin America) vote for the type of policies that, they hope, will make them less poor.” – Jorge Castaneda

3. Real democracy will naturally lead to victories for the left. Wealth cannot be unfairly concentrated among those who must seek reelection in a land of fair elections, unless the rising tide truly does raise all ships or the voters can be duped. Voters like “Joe the plumber” are often duped into voting against their best interests by narcissists seeking the throne (versus seeking to serve).
For example, McCain keeps calling Obama a socialist, saying he wants to redistrubute wealth with his tax policies. This is either an attempt to dupe the voting public, or evidence of how little McCain understands the progressive income tax was introduced 95 years ago. Wealthy people have higher tax rates; poor people benefit from government programs while paying little to no tax. If we want to talk about socialist actions, Paul Volcker asks "How do we reprivatize institutions" that have been "socialized" by the Bush administration?

In this context, it is no surprise that corporate greed unveiled results in the masses saying “no” to conservative party staples such as obscene wage multiples for CEO’s who create huge taxpayer debts in their bonfire of the vanities. Anyone surprised by Obama’s popularity needs a refresher course in cultural anthropology. Everyone else already knows why the hemishpere is leaning left... we are so much more than consumers and too many corporations are acting like conquering colonists instead of good citizens.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

James Bond returns to Latin America

James Bond is returning to Latin America. Thanks to Cynthia Mulder in Panama for breaking this news from one of the film sites. If you recall many of the film series’ locations over the years, you’ll easily recall the common denominator - fantastic scenery. So it is not surprising to learn that we've already treated our clients to every locale in Bond's upcoming film, "Quantum of Solace" filmed in 2008.

Looking forward, it is natural to string the latest film’s Latin American sites together for one special Bond journey. We might not be the only outfit doing this, but our niche is upscale travel and our clients are already regulars at each of the film’s locations in Chile, Panama (impersonating Haiti and Bolivia) & Mexico. Channel your inner secret agent and enjoy the ride...

We begin in Chile. Built of adobe brick, San Pedro de Atacama is home to expatriates from all over the world. This oasis has been an important village since pre-Hispanic times. Here you'll find an impressive museum, exceptional cuisine, and dry desert air leading to stunning landscapes just outside of town. There is also the favorite destination of astronomers, Vicuna -home of two famous observatories. Cerro Mamulluca Observatory was designed for the public and offers spectacular programs for travelers awed by the area's crystal clear skies. Filming occured in Antofagasta, "Pearl of the North", Cobija, the Paranal Observatory & its ESO Hotel.

From Chile, we’ll jet to Panama. The Bond film visits Casco Viejo. This is the 2nd city site built in the 16th Century to replace the original site burned in pirate raids. Modern Panama City has been called the “Hong Kong of the western hemisphere” but in this film it is depicted as Bolivia. With cobblestone streets and charmingly decayed colonial architecture, Casco Viejo could be many places. It’s a classic Latin American barrio, gentrified as it is. From Panama City we'll visit Isla Taboga to stay with my friend Cynthia who owns Cerrito Tropical with her husband Hiddo. It is a marvelous journey from the city to the island, and a special destination for viewing Panama City from a comfortable distance.

On the other end of the Panama Canal is Colon on the Caribbean, which serves as Haiti for the film and the harbor at Fort Sherman where the boat chase sequences were filmed. Closer than Haiti, there lies a quintessential Caribbean hideaway just a short hop from Colon. It’s the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. We’ll exit Panama after a few days in this bohemian hideaway via Costa Rica and continue north.

Our journey ends in Baja California, Mexico. This is where Bond's aerial action sequences were flimed. Here the desert landscape is almost lunar and very stark and dramatic. Our favorite location in Baja Sur is Todos Santos, where a friend of ours grows organic fruit. Within one day’s drive there are beaches and landscapes that seem other-worldly. To the north, Loreto is an hour’s flight from San Diego. Todos Santos & Loreto are upscale seaside villages very different from the mega-resorts many tourists frequent in Mexico.

Allow 2-3 weeks to enjoy all of the film's destinations. It’s true, 007 does not linger long in any one place. You, on the other hand, will not stay as long as the film crew resided in each location. One could say you will be stirred, not shaken. Sorry, James.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hemispheric Relations

The balance of power in the Americas has been shifting for more than a decade. N. America’s clout in C. & S. America is at its lowest point in decades of decline. The dollar still goes further when it goes south. However, the USA’s economic meltdown has led to the raising of Latin American eyebrows. For decades we have preached about financial austerity measures. Our neighbors now question the value of economic advice from an economy reeling wildly out of control.

South, Central & North America have each had their share of revolution and civil wars since the 18th Century. Recently, unrest in Latin America has been too often instigated by the USA. Who can name one major Latin American country where the U.S. government did not meddle, finance opposition governments, send covert operatives, or otherwise intervene in affairs outside our borders? We've been a bully with our neighbors, in too many cases. The Bush Doctine of overt pre-emption is just a new twist on a long history of covert pre-emptive actions.

Congress continues to fund intervention in Latin America in its unwinnable “war on drugs”. Yet, the current administration can’t even take care of domestic problems and is running up record deficits. We are overextended and in debt to foreign governments, which was once the norm in Latin America. Our neighbors see the USA as increasingly unreliable and, when it comes to advice about their financial markets, they see the U.S. position as hypocritical.

How does this effect tourism? First of all, we must go beyond the U.S. State Dept. to get a useful travel advisory. Visiting host country's websites is quite helpful. For objective advice in English, visit websites from the governments of Canada, the UK, and Australia. We do this for our clients. We find our own State Dept’s information to be the least useful, the most biased, its not geographically specific, and its not updated frequently enough.

In my work, we don’t rely on vague State Dept. advisories. We prefer detailed, up-to-date analysis on protests or conflicts taking place in Latin America. We prefer pertinent details and nuanced analysis. The U.S. State Dept. plays politics with travel advisories, knowing that tourism is a key revenue source for rival leftist governments in Latin America. Do we have a problem with peaceful protests of misguided government policies here or there? Not necessarily. Does the State Dept. use objections about a government’s policies to overstate a travel advisory? Yes.

The result of this hemispheric shift is positive for tourists. North, Central & South Americans are becoming closer neighbors on economic terms. We have a shrinking middle class. We're engaged in nasty wars. Our economies are crippled. We’re facing the same struggles and this brings people together. The current administration’s misguided policies have eroded our economic standing in the world. We’re slipping from the “1st world” to the 2nd as Latin America has been reaching up from “3rd world” to the 2nd. We’re meeting our neighbors in the middle, slowly but surely.

The poverty rate in Mexico has dropped from 21 percent to 18.5 percent over the past 10 years, said a report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The poverty rates in Turkey are 17.5 percent and in the United States 17 percent. Denmark and Sweden are with less inequality with only 5.5 percent of poor people. Out of dozens of countries in the OECD study, only Turkey and Mexico have more poverty to the USA. We are not even close to the top of the list on this measure because too many of U.S. workers earn less than half the median wage - a two class system is growing and the middle class is shrinking. Denmark and Sweden are 1st world countries. The USA and Turkey have the same levels of poverty, a level very close to Mexico's.

Approach the USA's 2nd world reality frankly, with humility, and you’ll make many friends when traveling. Increasingly, we're in the same boat and it may be a banana boat. According to Micheal Shifter, an Inter-American Dialogue Analyst in DC, "Latin Americans have every reason to view the U.S. as a banana republic. U.S. lectures to Latin Americans about excess greed and lack of accountability have long rung hollow, but today they sound even more ridiculous."

Bush has the lowest ranking of any U.S. President in the history of polling. In Latin America, his poll numbers are as low as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro, places where people have little control over their own lives and where the middle class is nonexistent. What lesson will we take from this emerging reality?

The USA has done much good in the hemisphere, and more than a little harm. Now, more than ever, it is time to work together with our neighbors for a better future, and treat them the way we would like to be treated. For a related report, see the one below about Argentina…

Travel Visas & Entry Fees

At present, U.S. tourists enjoy Argentina without paying an entry fee or applying for a visa. That is about to change.

Argentina is implementing new fees and visa application rules for foreign visitors for the New Year. The Interior Minister is responding to a perceived act of injustice since his countrymen pay $134 to enter the USA. Florencio Randazzo said the new fee applies to visitors from 22 countries charging fees to Argentines, adding "This is an act of justice. The fee is reciprocal; it is not restrictive in nature, not at all”.

The new fees will generate $40 million annually. Austrialia, Canada, the UK and many EU countries are being targeted. Randazzo said “the world is showing an increasingly negative attitude toward migration”. Brazil, Bolivia and Chile have implemented such policies. $134 USD is a much greater expense for Argentines than it is for citizens of more westernized economies.

It’s as if the world's citizens have been playing a game of ‘musical chairs’ for many centuries. Now, the music is about to stop. Hurry up, sit down. Fight for the last chair. Left out? You lose the game.
This blogger is nomadic. Many people are, by nature, nomadic. There must be coooperation among neighboring countries to drop the fees and the travel visa bureacracy. Immigration rules must be reformed to make the process more transparent and expedient.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Latin America via Edmonds

The side entrance to our office was lost in a dead sea of beige-painted bricks until Los Angeles-based muralist Carlie Monnier jazzed things up for us.

Here you see her rendition of our logo and a mural which invites visitors to stroll off the alley right into a Latin American pueblo scene. We're a proud sponsor of Edmond's monthly art walks but Carlie's stylings will delight visitors daily. To see more of this amazing artist's work, visit

Come visit us any 3rd Thursday from 5-8pm to discuss your next change in latitude and visit 30 neighboring art venues all within walking distance of Main Street in downtown Edmonds.