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Some News for the New Year in Mexico

Taking out the garbage this morning—January 2, 2017—was a clear reminder that it’s the first Monday of the new year in Mexico. The party’s over; my neighbors and I slowly dragged our plastic garbage cans to the idling garbage truck, which overflowed with crumpled wrapping paper, broken piñatas, fireworks shells, pizza boxes, and bags of empty liquor and champagne bottles. Now they’re all gone, taken away like so many hopes, dreams, mistakes and memories.

Yes, 2017 is finally here, and life goes on. As always here in Mexico, it’s a life full of surprises and interesting news stories. I thought I’d share three with you.

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Gasolinazo

The big news for the start of the new year is the country-wide rise in gasoline prices. No one with Mexican friends on Facebook could miss the calls to protest, even revolution. The increase went into effect today, so not all the results and reactions have yet come to light, but here’s what we know.

The oil industry was nationalized in Mexico back in 1938. So there’s only one company that extracts oil, Pemex, and only one type of gas station in the country, also called Pemex.

A major issue for the past few years has been the proposal to privatize Pemex, which would bring modernization to the inefficient government monopoly and allow competing companies into the country. This privatization issue, like all privatization issues, is quite complex and ideological, so rather than go into its pros and cons I’ll summarize the government’s latest move: a hike in gasoline prices.

As of today, the price of gasoline will go up between 20 and 24 percent across Mexico. The prices won’t be uniform nationwide, but different in different states. And more increases are planned for the coming months.

For example, the prices in parts of Mexico City are now 16.33 pesos for regular gas (called Magna) and 18.2 for premium. In U.S. dollars, this would be 79 cents a liter (or about $3 USD a gallon) for regular, and 88 cents a liter (or about $3.33 USD a gallon) for premium.

Besides the added expense for commuters and all the people who drive for a living, these prices are especially frustrating to Mexicans because Mexico is an oil producing country, in which gas prices are usually low, often ridiculously low.

But another major reason for these high prices compared to U.S. prices is the fact that the peso has lost a lot of value against the U.S. dollar in the past two years. When I moved here in 2010, it was about 12 pesos to one U.S. dollar, and that price held steady until May of 2013 when it gradually began to change. Then in 2014 it started a rapid loss of value, finally breaking the 20 peso mark in the middle of 2016, and shooting up even higher the day after Trump was elected. Today it’s at 20.60 pesos for one U.S. dollar, which means big consequences for Mexico, much more than on gas prices. (Of course, this is great for U.S. tourists traveling here—instant discounts on everything.)

But back to today’s gas hike. In response, starting yesterday and continuing today, people all over the country have been blocking highways and gas stations (even threatening to set them on fire) to protest this. There is a large march going on in Mexico City (among other places), and the highways between major cities Querétaro and Mexico City, Toluca and Mexico City, and more have been blocked since yesterday or this morning. There will certainly be more actions like these, hopefully with minimal violence.

The entire issue has been called Gasolinazo, which translates to “big gasoline”—obviously in reference to the increase. We’ll see how this story develops and if it will be covered on international news outlets. There have been reports on Facebook and Twitter of gas stations set on fire, but as of now not on any major news sources.

Fireworks Market Explosion

Here’s a story that did make international news: On December 20, a fireworks market exploded in Tultepec, in the State of Mexico north of Mexico City. Watch the incredible video here.

Current reports state that 36 people have died and at least 86 were injured. It’s not known how it started, but probably either someone testing out some fireworks or walking around with a cigarette.

Besides the tragic deaths and injuries, the other incredible part of this story is that the market had already blown up in 2005 and 2006. Unspecified safety measures were put in place since then, but not enough to prevent this tragedy.

Loud fireworks are popular in Mexico for holidays, especially religious holidays like the birthdays of saints. Every town or big-city neighborhood has a patron saint, and on that saint’s birthday people set off fireworks on the street or from the local church, starting early in the morning and sometimes lasting all day and night. An interesting contrast: In the U.S. in Canada it’s usually the drunks setting off fireworks, but in Mexico it’s the devout (or of course the drunk and devout).

As for holidays, yes there are fireworks on New Year’s Eve, but more often it’s the locals  launching them, rather than an organized city-wide display. But, in general, people are much more enthusiastic for fireworks on religious holidays, such as the beloved Virgin de Guadalupe’s birthday on December 12.

Anyway, the parties are fun, but please remind me to never visit a fireworks market in Mexico.

Rubi’s Fifteenth Birthday

And finally, in lighter but still-bizarre news, Rubi finally had her big fifteenth birthday party on December 27. Let me explain.

In Mexico (and many other countries), a girl’s 15th birthday is occasion for a humongous party. She gets dressed up and dances the night away with all her friends and relatives.

(Contrary to popular belief, the girl is the Quinciañera, not the party, which is simply called a quince años.)

Well, when the father of Rubi Ibarra, an otherwise normal girl from the state of San Luis Potosi, announced on YouTube that “everyone was invited” to the party, 1.3 million people accepted the invitation, for sure making it a little more humungous than he’d planned.

It was a big story and the source of a lot of jokes, with speculation about which celebrities would show up and how the father would pay for it all. In sum, it was the definition of something accidentally and unexpectedly going viral.

She finally had her party, and you can see some photos here. Millions didn’t attend, but thousands did, and despite one unfortunate death during a horse race, it seems like it was a hell of a good time.

Thanks for reading, and a prospero año y felicidad to all.

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Guide to Markets in Mexico

Friends, followers, internet searchers: Thank you for visiting my blog.

Markets are some of my favorite places to visit in Mexico. Every city has at least one, from enormous labyrinths in Mexico City to warehouse-size local hangouts in small towns. Markets are perhaps the best place to immerse yourself in the colors, tastes, and cultures of Mexico—and of course to buy delicious tropical fruit.

I have the great honor of being published regularly in Transitions Abroad, the best website for travel stories and information on living outside of your home country. They recently published my story How to Make the Most of Markets in Mexico. Please click the link to read the story.

And here are a few more of my favorite photos from markets in Mexico:

13 valladolid market 15 valladolid market yucca

14b san simon candles copy 14a candy 14 medicine 13 medicine 3 12 medicine 2 11c papayas 11b fruit smaller size

Fiestas Patrias: September 15-16 Independence Parties in Mexico

On September 16, 1810, the Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bells of his church in Dolores, Guanajuato. A crowd of locals gathered around him on the front steps, and Hidalgo gave a passionate speech about the need for an independent Mexico, though today the exact words aren’t known.

Today, there are parties all over Mexico to commemorate this symbolic beginning of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain. The end of the war finally came 11 long years later in 1821.

Hidalgo’s grito (cry, shout) is reenacted all over Mexico on September 15, the night before the holiday, usually at 11 p.m. The highest government official around rings the bell that hangs from the front of the government palace in nearly every city and town. People fill the zocalo, the center square fronted by government buildings and the cathedral. They party and dance to live music, waiting for the mayor, governor or president to hang out the window, pull the cord for the bell, and give the grito. This is followed by cheers of ¡Viva México! from the crowd.

¡Viva! ¡Viva! ¡Viva!

Toluca sept 15

This is Mexican Independence day, not Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo was a victory against the French in the city of Puebla in 1862, though it’s better known in the U.S. as a good day to shove a lemon down the neck of your Corona, do tequila shots and eat tacos.

(By the way, in Mexico, they squeeze a lime into the beer, not a lemon, and never stick it down the neck. It’s like when Mexicans put ketchup on pizza – it just ain’t right.)

If a Mexican family doesn’t go to the zocalo to watch the grito, they may host or go to a noche mexicana (Mexican night), a party where they listen to Mexican music, eat antojitos mexicanos, and maybe dress up in traditional clothes.

It’s a big holiday in Mexico, and everyone has the day off on the 16th. Some fortunate folks – government workers like me – get more days off for a long weekend.

For weeks before, you can buy party favors on the street: flags, sombreros, fake moustaches – stuff like that. You don’t need to buy fireworks – the city will have plenty of those, along with bands, food and drink. It all depends on where you are.

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In a city

There will be a big stage set up in the zocalo and a few bands. In big cities, or when especially popular bands are scheduled to play, people might get there in the afternoon before it gets too crowded. In Mexico City, for example, where the president gives the grito from the executive building on the zocalo, there are outdoor parties in other parts of town as well.

After the grito you can expect big fireworks, and then more music.

Toluca sept 15 4

I’ve been to the zocalo on September 15 a few times in Toluca, where I live. Among others, I’ve seen classics like Los Angeles Azules, Los Tucanes del Norte, Pepe Aguilar, Banda el Recodo, and the comedian Adrian Uribe, better known as “El Vitor.” He’s the host of the Mexican naco version of Family Fued, 100 Mexicanos Dijieron.

victor 2

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This year is different in Toluca, perhaps everywhere in Mexico. Notices going around on social media are asking people not to attend in order to protest the government.

Small towns

In a small town with a close community, the party might be more like a huge potluck. Everyone stocks up on disposable plates and silverware and brings lots of food. The food might come out of a big tupperware container, or it might be grilled up right there. You’ll eat tacos, pozole, pambasos, tostadas, and much more. There’s also plenty of tequila, dancing and patiotism. Once in Temoaya, in the State of Mexico, they brought out a original copy of the Mexican declaration of independence:

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And then the party afterwards:

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Elsewhere, a fun thing after the grito is for the kids to spray everyone with silly string or sticky powder in a can. I’ve seen this after soccer victories too. This sleepy girl and her family are selling eggs full of powder and confetti to throw at people:

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The party goes on, before and after the grito. If small towns don’t have a stage set up for live bands, they at least have an extra loud DJ:

pueblito sept 15 1 pueblito sept 15 2

The queen of the party:

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On the beach, etc.

I’ve never been to a beach on September 15 or 16. I get a few days off work, but so does everyone else, so it’s not the ideal time to travel.

Mexico is a big, diverse country with regional cultural differences in every corner. It’s a bad country for generalizations – I’m just describing what I’ve seen here in the center of the country. Each region has at least one thing in common: deep, colorful, musical, delicious culture.

I’ve you’ve been to a different sort of Mexican Independence party, please tell me about it below.

¡Viva México!

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