We had been to Mexico several times before but always to all-inclusive resorts. I
am not good at being held captive without choices and had always managed to get a tour
to an agricultural area or at the very least to go up town to where the locals shop. Even
with a day or two off of the resort I don’t really count it as a visit to that country. If it
were not for the flags at the desk when you check in, could you really tell the difference
between a resort in Mexico, or Cuba or the Dominican Republic—before you found a bar
and saw the brand of beer?
Our cruise would be stopping at four ports of call along the west coast of Mexico
and I was intent on learning something about the country, something more than how well
they could follow the recipe for an all-inclusive resort.
Our first port of call, Cabo San Lucas was about twice as touristy as I
anticipated—and I have pretty high expectations when it comes to the number of bars and
t-shirt shops available to me. While on board the ship we had signed up for a couple of
tours: the first included a glass factory, stopping at a historic church and ending with
lunch at a local brewery.
Our guide met us on the dock and we were off on the walk. She seemed a bit
hesitant but I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. We got to the town square.
I knew that the standard layout for these open public spaces consisted of the church on
one side, facing government offices on the opposite side. The post office anchored one of
the remaining sides, across from which stores balanced the square. When I asked our
guide about the business segment, I realized she was not aware of the preexisting design
of a town square. Strike one. She led us to the church and told us it was a church; most of
us had concluded that by the architecture, including the windows. When Sandra asked if
she could tell us anything about the church, our guide’s answer was somewhat shorter
“I know they have religious service here,” she said. Strike two, I have come to
expect more from guides. She then told us the glass factory was closed because it was
Monday, but we would go to a place that used glass beads from the factory to make
figures. Translation: a retail outlet. Strike Three.
The shop was more impressive than I expected and we saw at least one artisan,
placing glass beads in the wax-coated figures. The work, which was painstakingly slow
and tedious, was by no means a spectator sport. I had seen enough of the process in the
first two minutes. Though I was not really interested in purchasing a statue, I did inquire
about the cost of a fairly large bull and upon hearing the price I exited the store, leaving
Sandra to deal with the triggered and persistent sales attack. I was done, and what I did
was cruel as she pointed out later.
Our third stop was the brewery where, efficiently taking our orders for lunch and
a beverage, our guide admitted to her true identity as the barmaid. She informed us the
regular tour guide had called in sick, and she been coerced into hosting our tour. The
ship’s sales office was surprisingly easy to deal with in regards to a refund; it was just the
beginning of the cruise and it was understood there would be bigger fish to fry over the
next couple of weeks.
As poorly as the morning had gone, the afternoon went as well and exceeded my
expectations. We visited a ‘natural farm’, which by definition is not required to meet the
organic certification rules and whenever possible, shies away from commercial practices.
We observed 14 guys handpicking weeds, replacing the use of herbicides.
The farm was fed by an underground river, which came down from the
mountains, and ran to the ocean. The resulting alluvial soil had at one time been home to
a sugar plantation but had since been converted to vegetable production; nearly a decade
earlier a restaurant had been added to the operation. The chef provided a tour through
what appeared to be massive gardens, claiming the area received 364 days of sunlight.
Looking at the luxuriant green growth around us we had no reason to doubt him.
The gardens included 20 varieties of tomatoes to meet the requirements for all his
culinary specialties. Five hundred chickens provided fertilizer and the byproduct of eggs
from 200 hens. I could have been entertained the entire afternoon touring all the plots.
Instead, making our way to the massive kitchen, we were invited to cook our own supper.
I never imagined that working with 15 other people in a kitchen could be that
much fun, although, judging by the sharp edges of the chopping knives this was not the
time to mix cooking with alcohol. That did happen at the supper table, and it was a great
Next port of call was Huatulco where I was happy to be greeted by those familiar
four-foot high letters, spelling out the city’s name. They were originally intended as a
place where tourists could have their pictures taken to send to their friends, the idea being
the friend would see how much fun the city could be and want to go there—a great
marketing ploy. I have found the letters are most useful for sorting my pics at the end of a
long trip. Sometimes there’s this blur as to which city is which, and where the different
activities belong, so now I just make a point of taking a pic of the letters when I arrive,
knowing the next batch of pics will be from that city, and tomorrow—the same marketing
trick in the next city—but in my mind those letters are only there to help me sort my
This tour promised four villages and four distinct areas; it was true to its word.
The first was a stop at a weaving operation and the artisan working the loom did a
great job of explaining the process including how he worked with natural products to
extract the dyes he used for the wool. It was a tremendous presentation about the
traditional methods he was preserving. He had clearly done his homework in regards to
merchandising and knew that to make sales, his prices needed only to be slightly below
those of American boutiques. It worked, he sold a few weavings and at the prices he was
charging that was all he needed. I am sure he did not get visitors everyday, just as I am
very sure that locals did not pay those prices.
That was fair and he was a businessman; I enjoyed the visit and we have
appreciated the wall hanging.
Next up was a couple making tortillas in the most traditional way, squeezing and
shaping the corn dough through hands and fingers, then cooking them in a big griddle
over an open fire.
The next village featured a group of women weaving baskets—and of course
there was the mandatory sales table displaying a basket or two in each size. We were told
an entertaining tale about why each basket contained at least one mistake: because only
Creator God is perfect, each basket shaped and formed by human hands had a flaw.
Our final stop was a cactus farm where our host had the weathered skin that
comes with years in the sun and a straw cowboy hat with just the right amount of sweat
stain and grime on it. He did a presentation on cactus growth and how the plants were
chopped and sold in bags in the market place. At the back of the shelter beers were
available for two bucks and it was over a Corona that I got to ask my questions about
production and sales and just how viable the operation was compared to feeding cattle.
You know it is a good day when you finish it by talking to a guy with skin tougher than
an alligator, and he tips his hat back to start another story as he twists the top of a beer
that was meant to use a bottle opener. Now I was in Mexico.