Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Boquete Paradise


Where to stay in Boquete? An excellent option is ‘Boquete Paradise’ which is like saying ‘Paradise Paradise’. Travelers accustomed to unique inns that delight the senses will be thrilled with the setting of this boutique hotel in Palo Alto, five picturesque minutes from downtown. The rooms and suites are comfortable and well-appointed, but the setting is truly paradise, for many reasons:

· A river runs through it;
· The gardens must be seen to be believed;
· The morning symphony of birds is divine;
· Vistas include coffee plantations and mountains, including Volcan Baru; and,
· A gazebo beckons guests to BBQ and sip wine while enjoying all of the above.

Each suite has two bedrooms with full-size beds and a private, enclosed balcony overlooking this idyllic scene and a kitchenette, for preparing that BBQ in paradise. Upper floor suites #9 and # 11 have vaulted ceilings with loft sleeping quarters (3rd bedrooms) for families with children. Suite #10 is the one ground floor suite and it has private parking very near the entry.

The inn also has seven standard rooms with full-sized beds, for half the price of a suite, and one with twin beds. Each set of two rooms share an enclosed balcony. Instead of kitchenettes found in the suites, rooms include a coffee maker, refrigerator, extra sink, toaster and microwave. Other amenities include satellite tv, dvd/cd players, and wireless internet. The best view rooms are #’s 5, 6, 7 & 8.

Rates include breakfast and the café serves coffee all day, along with beer and soft drinks. This property provides one of the best values in Boquete given its spectacular riverside setting. There are many overpriced lodging options in Boquete, and more expensive options that can justify the expense. There is not, however, a better value for upscale travelers that prefer staying twice as long to paying twice as much per night.

Finally, the manager is a partner in the property, so the service is excellent. Ask for Maky at + 011 (507) 720-2278 or write info@panamatropicalvacations.com

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hostal Boquete


Hostal Boquete is “a charming inn on the river where the world meets”, according to its innkeeper. In a single day I’ve heard Dutch, French, German, Italian, English, and Spanish spoken here, so this description rings true. This inn spins on its own axis with patios, terraces, balconies, hammocks on the river, couches and music in the lobby – all inviting visitors and locals to unwind in a relaxed atmosphere.

Charming? Definitely! Hostal Boquete has been my favorite WiFi hotspot until Internet gets to my new office. I’ve been charmed by Innkeepers Dave, Cristina, Haydee, Josue, Eibar, Yahaira, Katherine & Nemisis. This team runs a comfortable, clean, and fun inn with an excellent café and outdoor bar with the best location in Boquete.

In the past five years, I’ve checked out every lodging, working, and café option in this pueblo. Survey says… this is the best hostel in Boquete, a place where guests join forces in hiking, white water rafting, zip lines, hot springs, and moped touring in the “Valley of Eternal Spring”. Guest’s lodging choices range from shared dorm rooms to private rooms with private baths, in a central downtown location.

It is heartening to watch so many cultures come together in such a special place. The photo above is taken from the bar on the inn’s riverfront "Baricci Café". The menu includes regional favorites along with Italian cuisine, beer and wine, all at good prices. The soothing sound of the Rio Caldera makes this café a river refuge where guests gather and linger to enjoy stunning views. I always leave Hostal Boquete with a smile on my face.

If you find better economy lodging in Boquete, your drinks are on me (local cell 6696.2691). If you agree that Hostal Boquete rocks, hook me up with a sweet spot in a place you know well?

See you here… Paz!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Boquete, Chiriqui, Republic of Panama


I'm in Boquete this month, preparing for my family's move here at the end of summer. I can report that the economy in Chiriqui is strong. While the global economic crisis is having some effect, its not as pronounced as in the USA or Mexico.

Why Boquete? The climate is wonderful here in the "Valley of Eternal Spring". The landscape is gorgeous. The town has everything you need, yet its a very liveable small town. The people and the culture are warm and wonderful. The cost of living is reasonable and the economy is strong.
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Boquete is in the shadow of Volcan Baru, the highest peak in C. America. At two miles in altitude, you can see both the Caribbean & the Pacific from its peak, on a clear day. With only 50 miles between the two coasts bisected by the Talamanco mountains, there is a constant sea breeze passing through this the Valley of Boquete. People here wear sweaters and jackets in the mornings and evenings, but its perfectly warm 365 afternoons/year. Want heat? It's a short drive to the beaches of either coast.

The landscape is lush rainforest. Flowers are everywhere. Some of the best coffee in the world grows in and around Boquete, in the shade of fruit tree. Fresh produce is always available. If you drop a seed or stick a branch in the ground, it grows because the rich, volcanic soil is extremely fertile. Here you can find some of the cleanest air and water in the world.

The town has a refreshing diversity of culture, entertainment, fine cuisine, and shopping outlets for its size. There are eco-tours, river rafting opportunitities, great hikes, a zip line rain forest canopy tour. People walk everywhere, but taxi rides to most areas are less than a dollar. You can find lattes made from beans that consistently place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in world cupping contests at one-third the price of Starbuck's over-roasted beans from unsustainable sources. (To order Boquete beans roasted and shipped to your door today, contact Seth and select "Casa Ruiz".)

Rumor has it that Hondurans are the friendliest people in Latin America but Panamanians are equally open, friendly, and good-natured. Panama has the highest literacy rate in Latin America and Boquete has excellent schools. The children safely roam about town and they are multilingual and multicultural. In addition to the beautiful culture of locals, there are many transplants in Boquete from around the world. Here Panamanians peacefully coexist with Europeans, N. & S. Americans, and other expats. You will hear French, English & German in the streets of Boquete on a daily basis. There is an excellent language school called Habla Ya where many pilgrims study Spanish, my family included.

Above is a photo of our new home, with Sr. Nicolas Guerra, an extraordinary coffee farmer and first-class gentleman. I am looking forward to driving from Seattle and pulling into the new driveway for the first time around Sept. (The family will follow by plane.) We're located on the edge of National Park Vocan Baru, very near the Costa Rican border, where we hope to establish a sanctuary for healing arts and wellness in the rainforest to detox from consumer culture and grow organic coffee, chocolate, fruits & vegetables. Come visit and hike with us into the International Park Amistad (Costa Rica & Panama), an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and summit Volcan Baru!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Planning to Drive the Pan-American Highway



  • Note: This blog will serve as Mango Steve's travel journal beginning with a drive from Seattle through C. America;

  • Changes in Latitude's regular Latin America blog has moved to www.ChangesInLatitude.org/wordpress

Travelers investing the two weeks required to drive from the U.S./Mexico border through C. America tend to do their homework. When its your turn to drive the Pan-American Highway, check out Drive Me Loco, an online travel guide that is updated frequently. There is also an eBook with details on roadtripping through Mexico and C. America. I've driven all over Mexico and this guide is worthwhile.

Two weeks is the time required to drive (not enjoy) Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. It is a good idea to allow another two weeks so you can drive every other day, leaving time for exploring the countryside.

That's my plan and I'm sticking to it. Our destination is Parque Amistad, an international park in the Talamanca Mountains and an UNESCO World Heritage Site... my family's new home in the rain-forested shadow of Volcan Baru. (From it's peak, you can see the Pacific and the Caribbean - check out the photos in the last link.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Boomers Retiring Outside the USA


A new online community and social network was launched today. Niche portal "Boomers Abroad" is focused on baby boomers retiring outside the USA, notably in Latin America.

The number of Americans and Canadians living abroad is approximately 7 million, twice the population of Chicago and greater than that of 33 U.S. States, according to the Washington Post. This number is expected to more than double within ten years. In the next 20 years, 100 million N. American baby boomers are going to retire. "Five million baby boomers turn age 60 each year, 10,000 per day, eight per minute, and scores of them are purchasing property abroad as vacation homes or investment homes", according to the company’s press release dated today.

Founder Luis Miranda shares the Boomers Abroad vision, “Using the online community model, our goal is to provide the necessary information, education, guidance, resources, tools and alternatives to start boomers down the path of discovering and understanding all that living, retiring and investing abroad has to offer. Everybody learns from everybody. We understand the proven power of collaboration. It is collective wisdom.”

Explore this new community at http://www.boomersabroad.com/ Photo courtesy of Cristina Berg.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Costa Rica's best hotel near San Jose


Many visitors head straight to beaches or rainforests when arriving in Costa Rica. The Central Valley has much to offer, however. Linger here on your next visit.

The home of Glenn & Teri Jampol is many things. It is a gourmet bistro bar. It is a boutique hotel, the best near San Jose. It is a coffee plantation. It is tropical gardens with foot paths and fruit orchards. It is a luxurious spa. It is Finca Rosa Blanca, the first hotel in Costa Rica to win a 100% sustainability rating.

To learn more about this spectacular hideaway in Santa Bárbara, Heredia, visit http://www.fincarosablanca.com/ Plan on staying awhile. You will not want to leave. Check out the inn's list of activites before you go. Make sure you plan dinner outside at sunset. The views overlooking the valley are breathtaking.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Guanajuato's Cervantino Festival: Oct. 2009


Guanajuato is Mexico’s most charming small city. It is European in its layout and architecture, with dozens of plazas connected by pedestrian walkways. Cafés spill out into vibrant streets and plazas. There is always music in the air. At night, student choir groups wander with guitars and serenade people of all ages, who are dining, sharing a park bench, or strolling while holding hands. Guanajuato is a very romantic city.

Everywhere there are staircases leading to colorful residences. The children are laughing, genuinely happy. Near the plazas, produce stands offer fresh fuits and artisans show their crafts. The climate is, like the city, enchanting. You’ll find art galleries and boutiques along hundreds of alleyways. Guanajuato has something for everyone. It's the perfect place to take a Spanish Immersion Course.

The best time to visit Guanajuato is during the Cervantino Festival, named in honor of Cervantes, author of 'Don Quixote'. 2009’s celebration of music and the arts will be Oct 14. – Nov. 2. Ask us to plan your journey now; every room will be booked by summer. People travel from all over the world to Guanajuato every October. One visit and you'll know why!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Legend of Tequila & The Finest Blue Agave Nectar


In the village of Magdalena, Jalisco, Mexico, “El Caudillo” is produced by Cooperativa Tequilera la Magdalena S.C. de R.L.

“El Caudillo” translates from Spanish as “the chief”. Not just any chief; a revolutionary chief. El Caudillo is an ultra premium tequila double distilled then carefully aged in white oak barrels previously used for maturing bourbon, imparting a complex golden color and oak flavor, before being bottled. Hail to the chief!

Other brands produced and bottled by this cooperative include Sangre Azteca and Pueblo Mágico. The town of Tequila is a "Pueblo Mágico", meaning "Magical Village", a place with symbolism, legends, and history according to Mexico’s tourism agency. There are three other Pueblos Mágicos in Jalisco. Visit them all. Book a flight into Guadalajara; board the tequila train; go to Magdalena. This village's amazing tequilia cooperative does not export its spirits to the USA or Canada … yet. Look for this to change in 2009.

If you research Magdalena on http://www.tequila.net/, you may be misled that “the name Magdalena is Xochitepec, which means the place next to the hill of flowers.” This is not true. Magdalena is a Spanish version of the Hebrew name “Magdalene” found in many languages. “Xochitepec” comes from the Nahuatl language and means “on the hill of flowers”. The town of Xochitepec is 300 miles away, near Cuernavaca, and has little to do with Magdalena, except they both have hills with flowers.

Let’s get back to tequila. The region surrounding the village of Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico is the only place where tequila is produced, as champagne comes only from the province of Champagne, France. Magdalena is just minutes from the magical village of Tequila. This is the place where the finest blue agave is harvested for El Caudillo. Magdalena's volcanic soil has produced the finest agave in Jalisco since this succulent plant was commercialized around 1600, when the first tequila distillery was established. In 1621 the oldest recorded description of tequila was insightful: "wine clearer than water, but strong as liquor" (from Nueva Galicia's Domingo Lázaro).

This early description refers to blanco, silver tequila, tequila that was not aged in wood. Purists insist blue agave suffers from wood flavor. Others argue the opposite, that reposado, gold tequila, is the finest. This argument will never be settled. Why should it be? With a cigar, reposado añejo is sublime. With food, a fine blanco is divine. Why argue?

The favorite tequilas according to a poll of 3,402 aficionados in the USA: 1) Patron; 2) Don Juilo; and, 3) Don Valente. El Caudillo is better than all three according to aficionados in Mexico, where they know tequila better than the average gringo. El Caudillo was not included in the poll, because it is not yet available in the U.S. The history of tequila in Mexico is rich and fascinating. The origin of the blue agave begins with Aztecs deities. Aztecs fermented agave long before the Spanish arrived.

The goddess of agave is Mayahuel, the young and beautiful Aztec woman who gave birth to the first blue agave. She left home to marry Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of redemption. Both of them turned into two branches of a leafy tree so they would not be found by their terrible grandmother, who according to legend, ordered their execution. Quetzalcoatl lived, but Mayahuel died. In the place where she was buried, the first agave plant grew. It was struck by a lightning bolt from a great storm sent by the enraged gods. A fire started.

From beneath the thorny leafs emerged a seductive nectar from the heart of first agave. This is why fine tequila provides a mystical experience. To drink "Sangre Azteca" is to drink from the plant nourished by "Aztec blood". To taste "El Caudillo" is to taste the nectar of the Aztec goddess Mayahuel, bride of the god of redemption. Her revolutionary spirit inspired blue agave and rebels such as Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and others.
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Today, the spirit of the Aztec goddess continues to grow in the hills of Magdalena, the Pueblo Mágico of Tequila in the highlands of Jalisco.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Plan Columbia


Of all the good and bad deeds the USA performs in Latin America, spraying herbicide on coca plants is, perhaps, the worst. Indigenous peoples chew coca leaves as part of their culture. Food is also grown in these fields and in adjacent fields, and herbicides are subject to over spray. The chemicals are carried by the wind into rural villages. Rains carry the poison downhill and downriver, tainting the soil and the water supply.

It is unethical and immoral to continue this practice. People live in these fields, as you can see in this photo from the highlands of Columbia, recently fumigated by crop dusters. For more on Columbia's resistance to coca fumigation, listen to this NPR report and check out related NPR stories.

The "war on drugs" has spent billions of dollars in the past decade with significant investment in the spraying of chemicals on rural food crops, women, children, and nearby villages. This practice is funded by the USA and is carried out by its agents, and agents trained by the USA. Between Plan Columbia and the Merida Initiative (Plan Mexico), the USA is now spending billions annually and accomplishing little outside of increasing violence in Latin America, moving coca production into national parks where aerial fumigation is banned, and filling courts and jails with peace-loving marijuana smokers.

The street price and quality of cocaine and marijuana remain unchanged. The current drug strategy amounts to prohibition. History is clear on how this strategy worked with alcohol - it failed. It is also unethical and immoral to continue wasting limited funds on a failed military strategy to continue this war indefinitely. The concept of legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana is gaining traction with many law enforcement policy makers given the failure of the war on drugs. The advantage of legalization is that it would provide a tax windfall for social programs and education.

In the meantime, it would be beneficial for the 111th Congress to make it illegal to spray herbicides on rural fields, regardless of what is grown there. Such a ban would logically extend to the USA funding fumigation. We have one planet and it came with marijuana and coca plants. It did not come with herbicides. Write your representatives in Congress. Chemicals sprayed on innocents and their countryside and crops should not be a strategy in the war on drugs. America is better than this.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Grace in Latin America


Grace is an appropriate name for reflection before a meal. It is an entirely graceful gesture to pause before eating, to consider what is involved in bringing health to those with whom we share food.

The Spring 2009 issue of Yes! magazine shared the following translation of Grace heard in Latin America.

To those who have hunger, give bread.
To those who have bread, give the hunger for justice.

This sentiment was echoed by Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva when he said upon being elected President, "If by the end of my term of office, every Brazilian is able to have three meals a day, I will have accomplished my mission in life."

Lula is the only leader from Latin America to rank on the Newsweek 50 Global Elite list of the most influential leaders in the world. Newsweek noted, "Brazil, once at the edge of ruin, now has $207 billion in Treasury reserves and the lowest inflation rate in the developing world. Thanks to Lula's fiscal smarts, Brazil is among the world's healthiest emerging economies."
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Nearing the end of his 2nd term in office, Lula enjoys an 80% approval rating. For those still hungry in Brazil, you have good reasons for hope. At grace tomorrow, may the world share in your hopes for Lula to accomplish his life's mission during his final year in office.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Spanish Film Stars


Last night Penelope Cruz was the first Spanish actress to win an Oscar, although she was nominated in 2007 for best actress in Pedro Almodóvar’s film, Volver. Almodóvar, an Oscar winning director, is also from Spain. Cruz won best supporting actress for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Her co-star in this film, Javier Bardem, was the first actor from Spain to win an Oscar (last year).

The 81st Academy Awards reflect a recent move in Hollywood toward recognizing international films and collobarating with filmmakers globally. This is because many of the best movies in the world now come from outside Hollywood. It is also a matter of survival. Prior to its more global focus, Oscar honors were becoming increasingly irrelevant, seen as Hollywood talking to itself while the world’s best filmmakers and performers focused on other awards, leaving the Academy Awards behind.

Spanish Comments at the Oscars

In keeping with its new international theme, one of Penelope’s Oscar presenters and this year’s best actress both hail from Europe. Awards went to German, French, Japanese and Indian film projects. The show’s host was Australian. We heard many languages and accents at the 81st Oscars. Penelope Cruz gave part of her acceptance speech in Spanish after saying, "this is a moment of unity for the world because art, in any form, will always be our universal language".

She added "Todos los que desde España ahora estén compartiendo este momento conmigo y sientan que esto también es de ellos, se los dedico. Y a todos los actores de mi país. Muchisimas gracias.” Penelope's remarks translate to “All the people of Spain now share this moment with me and feel that this is theirs also, so I dedicate it to them. To all of the actors of my country, thanks a lot.”

Cruz stated earlier, “I cannot talk about great female characters without thanking my friend Pedro Almodóvar for having made me part of so many of his adventures. Almodóvar praised Cruz afterwards, by noting her history of "jumping head first and without a parachute, and taking on very risky roles. I cried with joy when I heard her name after the classic line, and the Oscar goes to…”

New Latin American Films

This year Cruz stars in the Almodóvar film Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces), opening next month. It is a tale of dangerous love.

Penelope also has a role in Manolete, a biography of bullfighter Manuel Laureano Rodríguez Sánchez. She plays the famous bullfighter’s lover. Manolete is also set to open next month.

Che is in theatres now – an epic film about the Argentine doctor, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who helped Castro launch his Cuban revolution. “Che” is played by Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro, who won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in Traffic (speaking Spanish). His new film is 4.5 hours long and can be seen as two films, The Argentine and The Guerilla. For a primer, watch The Motorcycle Diaries.

There are hundreds of Spanish language films to enjoy, and they can help people learn Spanish. One of the best is Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside), a film about what makes life worth living, starring Javier Bardem. For dozens of excellent movie options from Latin America, visit Vistawide's Spanish Language Film Index.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Baja Sur has Todos Santos at its Heart


Baja California Sur has the lowest population density of any state in Mexico with one-half million residents. The history of tourism in Baja Sur dates back to 1948, when wealthy American actors like John Wayne and Bing Crosby built the first resort on the Sea of Cortez, south of La Paz. Other luxury resorts followed until the highway from San Diego was finished in 1973, opening the door for automobile tourists. Today there is something for everyone in Baja Sur, especially fresh fish, fruits and vegetables.

Large scale farming on this arid peninsula dates back to the 1950’s when cotton was the main crop. One of the oldest export farms in Baja Sur is in San Juan de los Planes. This valley, “Valle de los Planes” is home to an asparagus farm in San Juan de Los Planes, near the first resort. It was founded by Guido Natali of Italy, who came to the area in 1958 to train local farmers for the Agricola San Vicente company. Near Valle de los Planes are the beaches of El Sargento and La Ventana where wind surfers and kite surfers enjoy the waves and strong winds. There are also estuaries with perfect beaches and warm, shallow water for swimming with small children.

Across the peninsula on the Pacific Ocean you can swim with the whales at Lopez Mateos. Whales can be seen breaching the waters just off both coasts. In the center of the Baja peninsula, the Sierra la Laguna mountain range forms a Biosphere Reserve which feeds surrounding agricultural valleys and tourism developments with fresh water. This Biosphere is the largest protected area in Mexico and one of the largest in Latin America. Its mountains are forested with pine and oak woods, with oases of palms. Its villages present excellent opportunities for hiking and birding, or just escaping the desert heat.

On the southern tip of the peninsula you’ll find Los Cabos, where Sammy Hagar built his Cabo Wabo nightclub and restaurant. Decades later, celebrities still flock to Baja. The main tourist areas are Los Cabos and La Paz. Between the two lies the charming artist colony of Todos Santos, on the Pacific Ocean. This is the best place to stay to be ‘in the center of it all’ while enjoying the “onda” (vibe) of authentic Mexico. This halfway point in one hour from either of the two main tourist areas. Todos Santos is home to orchards and organic farms in the shadow of the Sierra la Laguna Biosphere. These add pastoral views to this unique coastal village, like the one pictured above.

Todos Santos is home to 6000 artists, expats, and locals. The rich and varied agricultural communities between Todos Santos and La Paz produce citrus, mangos, chile peppers, herbs, corn, chick-pea, melons, tomato, papaya and asparagus – to name the most visible crops. Still, the peninsula is most famous as a surfing and deep sea fishing paradise. Everyone here enjoys fresh fish, fruits and vegetables daily.
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Posted from Cafelix, Todos Santos, Baja Sur

Friday, February 6, 2009

Organic in Mexico


Worldwide, 77 million acres of land are certified organic. In Italy and many northern European countries, organic land represents roughly one-quarter of total farm land. (Source: IFOAM) Helga Willer of FiBL presented the latest figures on organic farming worldwide at the BioFach Congress 2009 in Germany.

In Latin America, Uruguay has the highest percentage of organic farm land – much of it in urban areas. Even their wool is certified organic. But Uruguay is not close enough to the USA to maintain a low carbon footprint for agricultural exports. Organic consumers are very interested in regionally produced foods.

My partners and I are visiting organic farmers in Mexico to discuss organizing a program to lift awareness among U.S. retailers regarding “Organic in Mexico”. Many organic exporters are close to large population centers in the USA. Climate, soil, and affordable farm labor are factors favorable to organic farmers south of the border. Virtually all of Mexico’s certified organics are exported.

In many areas of northern Mexico, certification is a fast track process because inspectors find zero residual fertilizer and insecticide levels in the soil. The reason is simple - farmers haven’t the money to spend on chemicals for their crops.

In 2000 Mexico placed 16th in the world and fifth in Latin America for organic land under production. Unfortunately, Argentina’s 3 million hectares certified organic includes unmanaged range land, so the statistic is misleading. “The value of organic production in 2000 was $150 million from Mexico, five times greater than Argentina’s, which puts Mexico second only to Brazil in total value of organic production in Latin America”, according to agriculture researcher Don Lotter from Davis, California.

Mexico’s domestic demand is still small; however, the value of organic production in Mexico is expanding at twice the rate of the USA’s. Coffee is Mexico’s largest organic crop. For organic coffee from Mexico, fresh roasted the day you order it, visit http://www.uniquecoffee.com/ - Seth Appell has been importing organic coffee for decades. Buying organic coffee from Latin America helps small rural growers more than most foods you can buy. "Over 50,000 small farmers, with an average holding of 2 hectares produce over two-thirds of organic production value in Mexico. Since it is far beyond the abilities of a producer of that size to seek individual certification, certification is done by farmer groups and cooperatives", states Lotter.

We’ll be following in Mr. Lotter’s footsteps as we meet with growers this week. We highly recommend Don’s field notes from 2004 focused on Del Cabo Cooperative, a 300-family project from Baja's organic gardens.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tearing Down Fences in Cuba ...and Beyond


President Obama took an early first step on his promise to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. On his first day in office he directed the military courts to halt prosecutions of all detainees held unlawfully by the Bush Administration, until a proper and legal prosecution can be mounted, where supported by the evidence.

President Obama is expected to issue an executive order on Jan. 22nd to close the detention camp. Some of the 240 detainees have been held for seven years without having charges filed against them. Some were detained as adolescents. Only 3 detainees have been convicted of crimes since 2001.

The White House draft of the executive order says closing the facility “would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice, stating that the detention facilities at Guantánamo for shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” (Source: AP)

Unlike Mr. Bush, President Obama has a background in constitutional law. From this perspective, President Obama deems the Bush Administration’s special military prosecutions lacking in basic protections of the American legal and traditional military justice systems. Under existing laws, much of the evidence gathered from detainees is inadmissible due to the Bush administration's practice of torture during interrogations, in violation of Geneva Conventions.
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Fidel Castro stated that Barack Obama "seems like a man who is absolutely sincere", according to Argentina President Cristina Fernandez who met with him today in Havana. She added, "Fidel believes in Obama".

President Obama’s actions this week begin to restore the USA’s reputation in Cuba, Latin America, and the world. In his inaugural address, he stated "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals".
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Sections of Mr. Bush’s fence along the USA/Mexico border may be the next to fall under President Obama’s ax. Construction was delayed last year in areas with sensitive habitat, and where land owners filed court appeals. Many miles of new fencing already divide communities that existed long before current political lines were drawn, and the border fence has been compared to the Berlin Wall by once-integrated binational border communities.
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The Bush administration ordered (but did not build) fencing over wetland habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, "a proposed National Heritage Area", according to Los Caminos del Rio Executive Director Eric Ellman. If the river valley is fenced as proposed by Mr. Bush, Texas will effectively cede a national treasure to Mexico.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chile Peppers - A Natural High


Capsaicin is the active ingredient in peppers, which come from the genus capsicum. Hot varieties of capsicum are called chilies. In addition to bolstering the body’s immune system, they cause the release of endorphins. The result is morphine-like pain relief and an increase in heart rate and circulation. Nerve response is affected. Adrenaline production is stimulated. You get high on chilies. You want more.

Worldwide, people want a lot more chilies these days. Global consumption of chilies is rising rapidly. Chiles have been a staple in Latin America, India and Asia for centuries. Decades ago, grocery stores in the southwest USA began carrying a greater volume of more varieties. The 21st Century has seen this rise in popularity spread to the rest of North America and Europe. Chefs are spicing up traditionally bland recipes, and food producers are adding chilies to a wide range of products such as jams and chocolate.

Dr. Andrew Weil published his study of the physiological effect of chilies in his first book, The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon. “The effect of capsaicin on the oral membranes is spectacular. A person uninitiated into the mysteries of chili eating who bites down on a really peppy capsicum pod may exhibit all the symptoms of furious rabies. It is difficult to convey to such a sufferer the truth that relief comes only of eating more chilies, but that is the case. Water makes the agony worse. The only real help comes of plunging in and developing tolerance to the effect.”

According to herbalist Jethro Kloss, author of Back to Eden, “There is, perhaps, no other article which produces so powerful an impression on the animal frame that is so destitute of all injurious properties. Capsicum seems almost incapable of abuse, for however great the excitement produced by it, this stimulant prevents that excitement subsiding so suddenly as to induce any great derangement of the equilibrium of the circulation. It produces the most powerful impression on the surface yet never draws a blister on the stomach, yet never weakens its tone."

The rush that comes from eating chilies is what keeps aficionados coming back for more. The eyes light up, nasal passages and the respiratory tract are cleared, concentration is increased, the liver is cleansed, and perspiration clears the pores of toxins and acts to cool the skin. Chilies deliver more vitamin C than citrus, bolstering the immune system. In the end, a sublime sense of well being comes from eating hot chilies.

This great pleasure has been sustained in Latin America for 8000 years, and cultivated for 5000, according to Dr. Wiel’s research. “It is a sensible remedy because chili brings a great deal of blood to the surface of mucous membranes, and increased blood supply should promote healing.” In 1493 historian Peter Mart reported that Columbus had discovered peppers more pungent than those of Asia, and within a few years the plants reached the Far East. They established themselves so well in SE Asia and India that some early botanists thought they were native there!
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Chilies are yet another example of the wonderful gifts Latin America continues to provide to the world. You can grow chile peppers in your home year round with a heat lamp. To order chile pepper plants for your home or garden, visit http://www.chileplants.com/

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sharing the Wealth


The measurement that most differentiated the USA and Canada from countries in Latin America, once upon a time, was the size and power of the middle class. As this difference continues to erode, a bit of soul searching is in order. Overall, Latin America's middle class has grown in the past decade, while the USA's continues to contract in size and purchasing power.

Last year I reported on the increasing tendency among the majority of Latin American countries to lean left politically. Now the USA will inaugurate its 44th president amidst its own profound shift to the left. The 2008 election was a massive rejection of trickle-down economics, a theory that led to enormous global problems for 2009 and beyond.

U.S. workers are earning less while their CEO’s have earned pay increases equivalent to more than 900% since 1970, even while bankrupting their companies. The average hourly wage rate has failed to keep up with inflation over the past four decades. In other words +900% for CEOs and +0 for workers. Source: Paul Krugman, sole 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics.

And deregulation has enabled record-breaking corporate bankruptcy rates. The most publicized of 2008’s systematic failures occurred in the investment banking sector. This led to a trillion dollar taxpayer bailout which is now spilling over into the manufacturing sector. Add to this billions of dollars in bankruptcy filings from home-builders and media conglomerates. Consider bankrupt retailers such as Sharper Image, Mervyn’s, Linens & Things, and Circuit City.

The travel industry has been hit particularly hard with bankruptcies such as Aloha Airlines, ATA, Frontier Air, and Advantage Rental Car. In my holiday travels I have observed stunning vacancy rates at my favorite beachfront hotels.

Clearly, Henry Ford was correct to encourage corporations to pay their workers a good wage if they hope for the general public to afford their products. A free market is of little value when sellers can’t find buyers. Economic “trickle-down theory” has been proven to be of very little value, based on 38 years of stagnant hourly wages. In this context, a political shift to left is inevitable.

In 2009 the USA joins its hemispheric neighbors in embracing the enlightened self-interest of “sharing the wealth”, a necessity explained to ‘Joe the Plumber’ by then-Senator Obama. Government regulation is obviously necessary at some greater level than has been advocated by Wall Street lobbyists. We don’t have to call it socialism. We do need to recognize what we have in common with our neighbors and work together for a better tomorrow.
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In the immortal words of Hanna-Barbera's Snagglepuss (pictured) ... "Exit, stage left already!"