Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Carnival relocation – but why?

As local media outlets in Merida are today reporting, the deadline for deciding the location for Merida’s 2014 Carnival is fast looming on the horizon.

Mayor Renan Barrera is calling on state governor Rolando Zapata to provide the city with free use of the Xmatkuil fairgrounds, and says that he believes he will have the governor’s support on the issue. If the city fails to secure usage of the grounds at Xmatkuil, Barrera has stated that he will seek alternative venues to avoid using Paseo de Montejo.

The real question though is why the carnival needs to be moved in the first place. The official version is that moving the event to Xmatkuil will “improve the safety, health, and cultural aspects”. So, to follow established reasoning when listening to politicians speaking, those are obviously NOT the reasons.

Let’s take a quick look at them. First, safety. We can hit that one on the head right away, by looking at a glowing report published at the end of Carnival 2013 by the Secretary of Public Security (SSP) who stated that no major crime had taken place during the event. On the final day as an example, 170,000 people were reported to have attended, with 72 arrests, mainly for disorderly conduct due to alcohol consumption. Due to the central location, most of the ‘borrachos’ can stagger home at the end of the day. One can only imagine the carnage if, instead, they get in their cars and attempt to drive home from Xmatkuil. The city and state provide a huge (some would say overbearing) police presence, quite easily taking care of safety. Move along please, nothing to see here.

Second, health. No concrete examples have been provided as to the ‘health’ risks posed by the current location, beyond a vague suggestion that a lack of adequate food stands may prove a sanitary issue. Anyone who has been to the carnival in the past will agree that the food stands are no more or less insanitary than any other food stand in Merida.

Third, cultural aspects.  Again, nothing concrete has been provided as to how the move would improve things culturally, beyond the comments that moving would help to ‘renew the concept of the carnival to make it a tourist attraction, generating economic benefit… instead of being a giant street saloon’. Somehow, it seems that culturally, showcasing the event in the city’s historic center and along its premier thoroughfare would be light years ahead of a soulless park far to the south.   

One doesn’t have to look too far to find the real reasons; in fact, they are lined up along the sides of Paseo Montejo, in the form of the hotels and business owners fronting the famous boulevard. Perhaps more telling is that the driving force behind the change is ‘The Business Sector’ of Merida, according to media reports, whose cries for change have for years fallen on deaf ears at city hall, but who, in newly elected Mayor Renan Barrera, have finally found a sympathetic listener. These hotel and business owners resent the fact that for 5 days each year, vehicular traffic is restricted to their properties, and access is reduced. Instead of embracing the carnival and marketing it to their advantage, they take every opportunity to complain about it and campaign for its move.

The fact is that all the most famous carnivals in the world take place in the streets of the cities concerned, not in parks 20km distant. Merida’s carnival is already one of its premier tourist attractions; however that will quickly change if the event is banished to the wilds of Xmatkuil.

The ‘benefits to the people’ of moving are constantly touted; however, Merida has a huge population within walking distance or a short bus ride from the current carnival location, including vast numbers of low income families, who are happy to be able to walk with their children to enjoy a fun, exciting, colorful, and above all free day out. How are they to fare if the event is moved to Xmatkuil? The cost of transportation alone will make their attendance prohibitive, and one has to wonder whether “generating economic benefit” is code for “an entrance fee will be charged”? ‘The Business Sector’ is not interested in these people; they are of no economic worth, and are not customers of the hotels and businesses along the Paseo. If a way could be found to ban them altogether, it would probably be welcomed. In reality however, this is the same thing, since carnival is probably the only time in the year when they darken the Paseo with their presence, leaving it, for the rest of the year to the rich, white, ‘entitled’ community and the tourists.

A ‘sub-theme’ in all of this appears to be a growing puritanical movement to restrict ‘fun’ (remember the ‘giant street saloon’ comment, clearly meant to incite horror in the reader that such a thing could exist?), which has been encroaching on other events in the region recently, notably in Progreso, where once bustling, party like street events have been reduced to the atmosphere of a church coffee social.  Merida is a warm, tropical city, and its events should reflect that.

The carnival has taken place on Paseo de Montejo for 80 years, long before any of the current hotel and business owners were in place. They should embrace this tradition, and indeed seek to enhance and expand it.

The fairgrounds at Xmatkuil are indeed grossly underutilized, and a plan should be developed to benefit from the facilities throughout the year. This however, is not the answer.

Unfortunately, despite the public ‘discussion’ taking place, it appears that the decision has already been taken, and that the ‘anti-carnival’ shills have finally got what they have been waiting for and salivating over for years. The result, sadly, will likely be the end of carnival in Merida as we know it, and the end of Merida as one of the foremost carnival locations in North America.

A (Canadian) Cheeseburger in Paradise

It turns out there is a very ‘Canadian’ way to make a cheeseburger. Who knew? Starting yesterday, the lucky residents of Merida have the chance to taste this unique style, thanks to the opening of Canada Burger, 3 blocks from Gran Plaza mall.

Local resident Canadians, Mark Miller and Scott Jaspar, driven by “a love of food and a love of Canada” decided to combine their two passions, and drawing on a background in the food service business, they conceived the concept for a Canadian themed burger joint here in Yucatan.

The result, in a word, is delicious.

Keeping it simple, the menu consists of two basic items; the Canadian style cheeseburger, and poutine, a creation from Quebec, popular across Canada.

The cheeseburger begins with a toasted bun, brushed with melted butter. A choice of mustard, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, ketchup, or Canada Burger’s signature maple barbecue sauce is offered, and the piping hot off the grill patty is stuffed with a secret mixture of four cheeses, making for delightful oozing when bitten. An additional slice of cheese graces the top, and crisp lettuce, juicy tomato slices, onion, jalapeño and pickles are available for topping the burger, which is then wrapped for easy eating.

Poutine – for those of us unfamiliar with this Canadian treat – is French fries, topped with cheese curds and beef gravy, and Canada Burger’s poutine is indeed sublime.

Soft drinks available (“pop” in Canadian) are Coke, Coke light and zero, and to the delight of many, Cherry Coke and Vanilla Coke.

Prices are accessible - $39 pesos for the cheeseburger and $21 pesos for an order of poutine if ordered separately, with drinks $11 pesos or $16 pesos for the flavors. The combo, which includes the burger, an order of poutine and a drink, is priced at $66 pesos ($71 pesos with flavored Coke).

Current location is Calle 26 #237, x 73 y 71, in Colonia Montes de Amé, 3 blocks behind Gran Plaza, in the north of Merida, and opening hours are from 7pm to midnight, Monday to Saturday. Visit them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/amocanadaburger for more information.

In the future, the plan is to relocate to Prolongación Paseo de Montejo, in the vicinity of Superama. Watch this space for news when that happens. For now, make the drive to Montes de Amé, enjoy a unique taste of Canada in Merida at Canada Burger, and tell Scott you read about it in The Yucatan Times.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Traveler's Life

Welcome to the first edition of our new column, ‘The Traveler’s Life’, with me, Stewart Mandy. Through this column I will be your virtual guide to a host of useful and interesting information, features, and events. I will be bringing you the latest travel news related to the Yucatan peninsula, getting here, and moving around, as well as reports of events, attractions, and information you can use.

I’ll cover local happenings, show you the hidden side of places you may already have heard of, and take you to some places that foreigners don’t often go. Sometimes, I will ‘eat and drink’ on your behalf, so you’ll know if a place is worth the trip. If you are planning a trip, I will help to whet your appetite for what awaits you. While those of us who live here already know that the Yucatan is the best place on earth to live, we all need to get away sometimes, and therefore I’ll also be covering other destinations within Mexico and abroad, for when you fancy a change of scene.

Please let me know if there is an aspect of living in or traveling around Mexico and the Yucatan that you would like covered in a future column. I hope in the weeks and months ahead to keep you entertained, intrigued, and informed.

Without further ado, let’s look at this week’s top Mexican travel story - the exciting news that VivaAerobus, Mexico’s fastest growing airline, has agreed to purchase 52 Airbus A320 aircraft, representing the biggest Airbus aircraft order by a single airline in Latin American history. The airline will begin welcoming the new aircraft in the 2nd quarter of 2014, and will replace its entire existing fleet of older 737-300 aircraft by 2016. The new aircraft will also be used to realize VivaAerobus’ domestic and international expansion plans. The airline’s intention is to convert long distance bus travelers to air travelers, by offering low fares and convenient services. Its operation is similar to low-cost carriers such as Southwest Airlines in the USA, or Ryanair in Europe.

Currently, VivaAerobus serves 5 cities in the southeast of Mexico: Cancun from 11 cities across the country including Mexico DF, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Veracruz; Merida from Guadalajara and Monterrey; Campeche from Mexico DF; Villahermosa (Tabasco) from Cancun, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Toluca; and Tuxtla Gutierrez (Chiapas) from Cancun, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Cancun is the airline’s third largest hub, providing easy access from the Caribbean coast to destinations across Mexico.

What else this week? Here in Merida, we are preparing to celebrate Hanal Pixan, the Mayan version of the Day of the Dead celebration which is observed in the rest of Mexico. Hanal Pixan occurs on November 1 and 2, and as a prelude, on October 31, Merida will experience El Paseo de las Animas, the Passage of the Souls. The route will run from the General Cemetery to the arch at San Juan, starting at 6pm. There will be music, regional gastronomy, the ceremonial parade, and exhibition of the typical Yucatecan altars. Guided tours of the cemetery will be available (in English and Spanish) as well as three performance stages along the route. It’s a truly unique event, not to be missed.

And coming soon… the Yucatan State Fair at Xmatkuil, one of the highlights of the year for many people in the region.