Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mexico's Hotel Santa Fe in Puerto Escondido

My favorite hotels in Mexico have that authentic Mexican ambiance found no where else in the world. You can enjoy French and Italian-inspired hotels in Mexico, but vice-versa? Sure, there are German towns in S. America. Where in the world can you find that wonderful Mexican "onda"? (Spanish slang for "vibe", onda literally means wave or ripple and "la onda" means "tune in".)

There is nothing more liberating than a week on the beach in a genuine Mexican hotel in a bona fide Mexican town with a perfect tropical climate, handmade margaritas, surfers gracefully riding great waves, and hippie expats mixing with long-time locals. Now I'm going to share one of Mexico's best-kept secrets, an act typically reserved for clients of "Changes in Latitude".

Puerto Escondido is home to one of the most extraordinary hotels I've discovered in Mexico. Should you ever find time to experience this bohemian surfer's paradise, stay at Hotel Santa Fe. The Presidential Suites are amazing if you really want to splurge, but the Master Suites are also fabulous. The restaurant is a vegetarian's dream, the grounds a lush paradise, and the hospitality is impressive even by Mexico's high service standards.

The hotel was founded 25 years ago by Robin Cleaver and his wife and friends. Robin's parents had retired in Guadalajara in the 60's and he discovered then-tiny Puerto Escondido while vagabonding about Mexico. The town has grown to 50,000 friendly residents but the costa chica onda remains. Indigenous Zapotecs and Mixtecs continue to live in the area ... in much the same manner as they lived 2,500 years ago, trading village-to-village, living off the land and the sea. Be sure to visit the villages neighboring Puerto Escondido on market day.

Puerto Escondido is a quintessential Mexican village ideally situated on a protected bay along Oaxaca's Pacific coast. It is home to coffee farms and fishermen. You can connect to a direct flight from D.F. to avoid the occasional political turmoil in Oaxaca City but allow 2 hours for your layover. While there, be sure to visit the Living Museum of Sea Turtles on Mazunte Beach. For news about forever peaceful Puerto Escondido, read the fabulous local web magazine El Sol de la Costa. Click here to learn more about Hotel Santa Fe.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

S. America is Huge & other important lessons

This is my first post of criticism from a travel client. It is constructive criticism and it arrives on the first anniversary of Changes In Latitude (after 11 years touring Latin America solely with produce executives, friends & family). While I would like to claim that I have created universally stellar experiences for all my travel clients this year, there is a first time for everything. I was reminded of three valuable lessons from clients recently returned from Peru, Chile & Argentina.

1. S. America is Huge

I was not assertive enough to dissuade these world travelers from biting off more than they could chew in S. America. I cautioned when I should have insisted they reconsider their long list of desired destinations. It is natural, especially when we travel very far, to want to see as much as possible of the region we're visiting. On the surface, more appears better. But with travel, it is often true that "less is more". I am reminded that trying to see too much can diminish the overall quality of any travel experience. I will insist on small bites because distances are great enough to be daunting for even the most seasoned travelers.

2. Even triple references do not ensure satisfaction.

It has been a rare occasion when clients have wanted to visit someplace I haven't been in Latin America. On this recent S. America trip, however, the clients wanted to visit the Peruvian Amazon. Having never been there, I called an old friend in Lima about the best Amazon Lodge. He replied, "there are only three good ones; Tahuayo Lodge is the best". I did some research and learned the owner had published a book about the Amazon. In addition, this lodge was named "One of the ten best wilderness lodges in the world" by Outside Magazine ... and this was only one of a dozen such accolades. With such positives, client satisfaction was virtually guaranteed, right? Wrong. An Amazon wilderness lodge is not for everyone. I'll use a more formal client questionnaire to better match people with places from now on.

3. Guide books are like casino bets

These particular clients did something I have never tried, and we can all learn from this one. They relied on Frommer's advice in S America in determining some of their desired destinations and restuarants. They were not satisfied with the results. Guide book advice can never be "all things to all people". Changes In Latitude serves upscale travelers, not "all people" In this case, Frommer's advice disappointed my clients. Travelers, think about the nature of guide books - they are highly subjective. You'll win some and lose some.

I was lucky to have local produce growers show me and my travel companions around Latin America for more than a decade. My goal is to provide that type of guidance to my clients. Today I was reminded that this goal will be a journey in itself.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Peace for Cuba 2009

President-Elect Obama plans to heal U.S. relationships with neighbors in the Americas. He promises principled and sustained diplomacy with Latin American countries. This represents a return to productive relationships built by Mr. Clinton, damaged by Mr. Bush.

Mr. Obama plans to lift restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba. He will open a dialogue, tied to democratic reforms, toward easing embargo restrictions. Speaking in Miami for benefit of the Castro brothers, he said, “If you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations”.

Mr. Bush increased restrictions for Cuba in 2004. A new generation of Cuban-Americans reject this hard-line approach. Mr. Bush refused dialogue with Raul Castro after he indicated a willingness to reform his government, a position Mr. McCain supported. This type of arrogant neglect caused voters to demand a more reasonable President be inaugurated. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and the embargo has changed nothing in 30 years.

Insanity will be replaced with reason come 2009. Mr. Obama favors diplomacy to “advance the interests of the United States and advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.” He stated in Miami, “I would never rule out a course of action that could advance the cause of liberty”. Citizens throughout the hemisphere have expressed to me how refreshing this is. Foreign leaders anticipate improved relations with the USA according to a review of comments made to the press in S. America, C. America & Mexico since November 4.

The last Cuban administration supported by the USA was run by a military leader named Batista who gained power in 1933. He retained power as a dictator for 25 years while financed by U.S. gangsters. Castro came to power with a coup in 1958 with popular support from the Cuban people. Long-term U.S. support for Batista's criminal regime is viewed as hypocrisy in the eyes of the Cuban people. Such hypocrisy has been a common theme in dozens of U.S. interventions in Latin America, many of which have socialist leaning governments today.
Cubans wonder why gambling, prostitution, and state-sponsored murder were supported by the U.S. for 25 years, but not socialism? Or they ask why the U.S. conferred prefence to a criminal dictator but not a revolutionary who deported their own gangsters back to Florida, New York & Las Vegas for prosecution? Castro ended Batista's monthly receipts of $1.28 million from Meyer Lansky's bagmen. The U.S. media deemed Fidel "a tropical Robin Hood" until the Cold War intervened.

Regardless, the embargo should have been abandoned when the Soviet’s abandoned Cuba. As a policy to encourage government reform, the embargo is a complete failure. The Cuban people never deserved increased suffering at the hands of their neighbor, Uncle Sam. Simply stated, government reform is the furthest thing from the minds of people struggling to survive. While this concept comes from the pages of Political Science 101, Mr. Bush evidently failed this course in favor of fraternity parties reminiscent of the mob's heyday in Havana.

For a detailed analysis of “How the mob owned Cuba and then lost it all to the revolution”, read Havana Nocturne by T.J. English. Thanks to Bobbi for this photo from her Cuban journey.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Obama gets Peruvian Shaman Vote

Here we are in November, just days before electing our nation's 44th President. The spiritually-minded are wondering, who gets the shaman vote? For the answer to this question, we look to Peru.

Of 11 shamans in the Peruvian healing organization Apus-Inka, nine support Obama. The shaman group's leader, Juan Osco, is sure he is going to win. "Obama is growing stronger, I've seen that he has the spiritual support of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy to protect him", Osco intuits. "We have seen that if the election is not fair, there will be another global economic crisis, war and despair."

"He will win and he will change history. He is going to help all the Latinos living in the United States", adds Mary Gomez, a healer from Chiclayo. Apus-Inka held a cleansing ceremony on the beach in Lima this week using Andean spirit totems to prevent negative energies that could effect his election. Obama may be in Lima, Ohio this week, but he is receiving mighty supportive energy from Lima, Peru.
Thanks to Linda in Lima for this graphic and to Andrew Whalen for reporting this ceremony. Now, get out and vote!