A Balloon in Cactus
Mexico’s economic downturn may be worse than those of other nations, because so much of Mexico’s economy depends on tourism.
Mexico City is desperate to restore its tourism industry; perhaps they’re suffering from an abundance of media coverage of killings, kidnappings, and cartels. What can Mexico possibly come up with to attract tourists under this extremely negative publicity? They came up with a solution, the Tourist Assistance Card, which covers guests at all of Mexico City’s hotels, including emergency medical and dental care at public or private hospitals of their choice. An added enticement is that the Tourist Assistance Card includes ambulance service, prescription drugs, legal assistance (presumably for robberies), and reimbursement if your flights are delayed or, heaven forbid, canceled.
Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said that Mexico City is the first city in the entire world to initiate such a plan. Pamphlets explaining the plan, and a 24-hour multilingual hotline, are available at the Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México (commonly known as Benito Juarez). Mayor Ebrard must be on the right track with this solution, since, in late April, hotels were down to 5 per cent occupancy, and are now up to 59 per cent.
July 31, 2009, Cancun was hard hit economically when the Mexican Navy closed down the Gran Caribe Real Hotel on a charge of Sand Theft. I’m not making that up. It was done by order of the Environmental Protection Attorney General, Patricio Patron, for “ill-gotten, illegally accumulated sand.” You just can’t beat that charge as a funny reason to get arrested. In 2005, Mexico spent $19 million to restore sand at the resort after Hurricane Wilma washed it away. That sand, too, was eventually reclaimed by the sea. How can Cancun attract visitors with no sandy beaches, as advertisements offer? Here’s Grand Caribe Real Hotel’s solution; they built breakwaters in order to divert the flow of sand from other beachfront hotels, to theirs. Smart, but illegal. “They promised us a beach. This is very unpleasant,” said one visitor from Uruguay. We hope the real sandman visits Cancun soon.
What about Ajijic? We have the Lake Chapala Society, a magnificent lake surrounded by mountains, and weather fit for royalty. Like Mexico City, we also have a nearby airport for giving out pamphlets, if they are ever written: the Aeropuerto Internacional de Guadalajara (commonly known as Miguel Hidalgo). So how can we attract more tourists? First, visitors have to get here, and probably by plane. Lots of airline accidents lately could discourage visitors, unless they check out the airlines they’d fly on, bringing us to Benefit No. 1.
Mexicana Airlines has had only three accidents since 1969, the last one being 1986. Aeromexico has had only 6 accidents since 1973, and none since 2000. Source: AirDisaster.Com accident databases.
According to Frommer’s latest book, Guadalajara has much lower crime rates than Mexico City. Crimes against tourists and foreign students are infrequent and most often take the form of purse snatching, targeting outdoor restaurants and other busy places. Ajijic is a short 35 miles south of Guadalajara, hardly stomping grounds for The Sopranos.
Disclaimer: I can only recommend the one I stay at, La Nueva Posada, on Lake Chapala. The price is better than right (and includes a divine breakfast), service is excellent, food superb, rooms are beautiful, and there is no ambience in all of Ajijic that’s more conducive to relaxation and comfort than this wonderful home-away-from-home boutique hotel. No matter where you are, you’ll have a room with a view. This is my personal favorite. However, in all fairness, there are other exceptional accommodations in Ajijic.
The U.S. has pyramid clubs and pyramid schemes, but no actual pyramids. However, there’s one in Guadalajara, reasonably close to Ajijic. Unless tourists are determined to see the famed and awesome Pyramids of the Sun and Moon near Mexico City, they can visit Iztepete Pyramid and can still tell their kids they saw one. Guachimontes, over 2,000 years old, isn’t too far either, as the Monarch flies. With its unique circular pyramids and nearby royal palace, it certainly deserves to be a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Want to get away from rap music? Come to Ajijic and try public transportation: a little bus that tilts if there are more passengers on one side than the other. More often than not, someone on that bus will be playing soft music on a sweet guitar. Before getting off the bus, I always thank the musician as well as the bus driver. For parties, hire ballet folklorico dancers. The price is reasonable, they are all great looking, and it was in the State of Jalisco that the Jarabe Tapatío, originated. Best of all, Michael Eager of La Nueva Posada locates the best dancers, and can supply a wooden floor to install over your lawn for dancing. Nothing musical is impossible in Ajijic, especially if you play the tuba.
Lake Chapala Society
There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met yet. New in town? Looking for a place to rent? Videos? Books? Spanish lessons? Volunteer work? Need to know how to move here? Anything can either be found at the Lake Chapala Society, or someone will know where it is. And you won’t find more beauty than these large grounds and gardens, bequeathed to LCS by author and benefactress, Neill James.
Remember that from when you were a kid? Just add floral fragrance drifting on a warm breeze, and you’ll have the scent of Ajijic.
I suppose we could always offer a Tourist Assistance Card, like the big boys in the big cities, but insurance against what? And if Lake Chapala lost the sand on its shore, would the Mexican Navy invade and arrest somebody? Highly doubtful.
Until it becomes illegal to breathe clean air, eat tomatoes that taste like tomatoes (not like a blob of wet cardboard), and make new friends, Ajijic may be that magical place you’re looking for.