Sunday 22 November 2015


With fear a topic of conversation around the world, it seems timely to revisit this post I originally wrote in 2008. At the time, I was the Chief Purser on a cruise ship sailing the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


"But aren't you scared?"

It was the second time today that someone had asked me that question. The first time was early afternoon when I was on the pier in Manzanillo, a port substituted for Acapulco this week due to technical problems. I was on my way in to town, and seeing a long line of people waiting for the shuttle bus, and a complete lack of taxis, I elected to exit the port gates and take the local bus, something I have no hesitation in doing anywhere. I saw a couple of other crew on the pier, who asked me, since I had been here before, what are the options for getting in to town. I listed their choices. A long wait for a shuttle bus. A long wait for a taxi. Or walk out to the street with me, spend 4 pesos, and take the public bus. They looked at me incredulously.
"The public bus? But aren't you scared?"
"Scared of what?" I inquired.
"Well... of how they drive... and the people...?"
I left them to their long wait for a shuttle or a taxi and headed into town. Miraculously unscathed from the 'dangerous' journey, I found a festival taking place on the edge of town, at the town beach, and after taking a walk around the town center, returned to the festival where I made some new friends and enjoyed several hours of music, beer and fun. In the meantime, it got dark.
Feeling in need of some exercise I decided to walk back to the ship; a walk I had done before in the daylight, and which I knew from experience would take about an hour. I headed out along the dimly lit and almost deserted road. Just over an hour later, I was entering the gates of the port. As I neared the ship, a taxi pulled up, and a friend of mine emerged.
"How did you get back?" she demanded. I replied to the effect that I had walked. For the second time today I saw that incredulous look.
"But weren't you scared?"
"Scared of what?" I inquired, also for the second time.
"Well, of the road, and the traffic, and of being attacked... and..." - she hesitated - " know.... other things?"
It got me thinking. Why are they really scared? How much of their lives is spent being consumed by fear? How many experiences do they miss because of it? Maybe I am lucky. But getting on a bus has never scared me. Walking down a road at night has never scared me. And I have definitely never missed out on something because I was scared. 
There really is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Was it only Paris?

Have you heard about the attacks which took place in Paris on Friday (credited to Islamic State)? Well, yes, unless you have spent the last two days in a cave, you can’t fail to have heard about them, or to have witnessed the deluge of “support” on social networks, of people “standing with France” and overlaying their Facebook profile pictures with the French flag, so conveniently provided by the company to help users easily “show their solidarity”. It’s great to be able to do so without taking too much time away from important things like the latest Kardashian pregnancy, or who got voted off” Dancing with the Stars”.
How about the terrorist attack (also credited to Islamic State) which took place in Beirut the day before, in which at least 41 people died? Didn’t catch that one? I’m sure there was a similar deluge of people “standing with Lebanon”. Strangely I didn’t notice it on Facebook, but I’m sure it was there. I’m sure I just missed the application allowing users to overlay their profile pictures with the Lebanese flag.
Remember the airplane crash in Egypt a couple of weeks ago? 224 (Russian and Ukrainian) people died in that incident (also credited to Islamic State).  You probably heard about that, but the coverage was somewhat less than extensive. Remember seeing your friends “standing with Russia” and overlaying their Facebook profile picture with the Russian flag?  No? Surely they did, but your attention must have been distracted.
Heard about the scores who die every day in Mexico’s ongoing and unwinnable “war on drugs” (actually the USA’s “war on drugs”, being fought on Mexican territory)? Where’s the world’s solidarity with Mexico?
To all those in Mexico, and elsewhere in the developing world who are so generously “standing with France” and displaying the French flag in their social network profiles, I ask the question: What would happen if the shoe was on the other foot? What if the attack had taken place in Monterrey? Asuncion? Gaborone? Dhaka? Would the developed world be standing with you? Would Facebook users in Europe be overlaying their profile picture with the Paraguayan flag?
Of course we denounce the attacks in Paris, as we do the attacks in Beirut, and the (likely) bombing of the Russian airliner. The answer to the question of why are these attacks occurring requires a detailed analysis of the developed world’s meddling in the Middle East over the last 60 plus years.
The world’s reaction (or lack thereof) to these events over the last couple of weeks has only served to reinforce the notion that Western European or North American lives are somehow worth more than those of people in other parts of the world. And isn’t that exactly what started all of this? 

Saturday 26 September 2015

Journalism a dangerous trade, in Mexico and around the world

MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – Being a journalist is a dangerous occupation in many countries, Mexico among them. Around the world, 46 journalists have been murdered so far in 2015, 9 of whom were in Mexico. Photojournalist Rubén Espinosa Becerril, who was found murdered in Mexico City last month became the latest addition to the count, bringing the total number of victims in the country since 2000 to 89.

Espinosa worked for AVC (a Veracruz news outlet), Proceso (a national investigative magazine) and Cuarto Oscuro (a photo agency), and had fled to the capital in early June, following death threats in the state of Veracruz where he was based. He was at one time the official photographer for the governor of the state of Veracruz, however resigned as his criticism of the violence against journalists in his state was incompatible with a government job. He later publicly accused current Veracruz governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa of direct responsibility for violations of media freedom in the state, as well as for the threats against him personally. Veracruz is considered one of the most dangerous states for journalists in Mexico, as The Yucatan Times reported last month; however the danger followed Espinosa to Mexico City where he sought refuge.

Reporters Without Borders / Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) of which this writer is a member, tracks threats to press freedom around the world, including murder and imprisonment of journalists, and their figures tell a troubling story. In addition to 46 journalists murdered worldwide since the start of 2015, 144 have been imprisoned, with 12 netizens/citizen journalists killed and 170 imprisoned.

The worst country in which to be a journalist according to RSF’s 2015 World Press Freedom Index is Eritrea, ranked at number 180, closely followed by North Korea and Turkmenistan. Mexico is ranked 148, keeping company with Russia, Gambia, Democratic Republic of The Congo, Turkey, Malaysia and Bangladesh. The best? Finland at number 1, followed by Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, and Sweden, while honorable mentions go to Canada (8), Ireland (11), and Costa Rica (16). The United Kingdom is ranked 34, while the USA is at 49, below Burkina Faso (46) and El Salvador (45).

We can consider ourselves fortunate that Yucatán is probably the safest state in the country for journalists (as indeed for everyone), with no murders of journalists recorded in modern times. However, we pause for thought and remember the great risks our colleagues around the country and around the world take every day to report on events and bring the details to us.

For more information about RSF, to learn about threats to journalists worldwide, and to view the interactive 2015 World Press Freedom Index map, visit

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Where in the world is Ellen Fields?

MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – Merida’s “expat community” has in recent weeks been rocked by revelations posted online by Romero Books ( – a blog which, as per its own “About” page, is writing “Stories… ripped from the headlines and told from the perspective of the people who are the protagonists… these are true stories of Americans run amok south of the border.”

Sounds dramatic? Well it’s been quite a ride so far, with the promise of more to come. One of the main characters in the stories is “Gringa Zapatista”, aka “Helen Shields”, proprietor of a fictitious website called “Living in Yucatán”.  Perhaps a complete coincidence that Ellen Fields, proprietor of an actual website called “Yucatan Living” seems to have followed a remarkably similar path over the last 9 years?

Perhaps… but I doubt it.

Chapter nine of the “Gringa Zapatista” saga revealed that the fictitious “Helen Shields” fled Mérida in 2011, following a fourth citizen’s report of her engagement in immoral activities endangering the welfare of Mexican children, which triggered a federal investigation into sex tourism and the activities of the proprietors of the fictitious website “Living in Yucatán”. Following an overland trip to California, the fictitious “Helen Shields” set herself up as a masseuse. Perhaps a complete coincidence that Ellen Fields, proprietor of “Yucatan Living” appears to have departed Mérida in 2011, making an overland trip to California, and has not been seen in town, except fleetingly, since?

Perhaps… but I doubt it.

If, as appears to be the case, Ellen Fields and her husband James have not been resident in Mérida since 2011, it seems to be at the very least somewhat dishonest that they continue to publish their articles on “daily life in Mérida” as if they are here, experiencing “daily life in Mérida” for themselves.

I set out to locate Ms. Fields, and set the story straight. I advised her I had some interesting information to share with her, which, she responded to say, she was eagerly waiting to receive. My initial email requested a meeting at her office in Mérida, however only served to confirm that she is not in México at this time; in fact she openly admitted she “wouldn’t be back until October”.  I dug a little deeper, and noted that her Facebook page lists her as a CMT at Plus Massage in California, since February 2014.

The Plus Massage website certainly makes it appear that she is living full time in California: Sources tell me that James Fields is in Las Vegas, although I was unable to independently confirm this.

I confronted Ms. Fields with this evidence; unfortunately her initial eagerness to talk suddenly vanished, and since then, my emails have not been returned.

Where in the world is Ellen Fields? Certainly at time of writing, she is in California, where it would seem she has spent much of the last 4 years. Does this qualify her as an expert on “daily life in Mérida”? It would seem from chatter around town that her loyal readers are beginning to have their doubts.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Requiem for Bar El Bufete

MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – Bar El Bufete (“The Firm” – as in law firm) was founded in 1932, and for over 80 years stood on the corner of Calle 62 and Calle 65 in the center of Mérida, a silent witness to history. It opened during the golden age of cantinas in the city, under its original owner, Antonio Vera Lixa. Ownership passed to Antonio Mezquita Valencia, known to all as “el Calvo” (the “bald one”), who became the most famous proprietor of the bar, owning it for almost 50 years until his death in 2007, when his son, also Antonio, took the helm.

Throughout its long history, El Bufete remained a traditional cantina; a unique place in the center of the Yucatán capital, a place where the customers were friends, and where at any time of the day, you could find someone you knew; all the more remarkable given the fact it was only a block from the Plaza Grande. Its location near banks, government offices, newspapers and other businesses gave it a varied clientele, who appreciated the ice cold beer, mixed drinks, botanas, and friendly service. It was visited by celebrities such as actor Pedro Infante Torrentera, and well known reporters David Dominguez and Manuel Escalante, but remained a place for the people.

It held a place in my own affections, since coincidentally it was the first cantina I visited during one of my early sojourns in Mérida. A number of years later, as a resident of the white city, I became a ‘regular’, spending many enjoyable hours in its unique ‘classic’ atmosphere.

On February 4, 2015, it all came to an end, when, following a dispute between the old owners and new owners of the building, it was unexpectedly forced to close, and itself became part of history. It was a special place, and its many loyal customers will miss it. Hasta luego, Bar El Bufete.

Bar El Bufete was one of the cantinas featured in our September article “The Ultimate Guide to Mérida’s Cantinas”