Tag Archives: The Arts

Amigos de la Musica Guitar Concert

March 18th

By Christina Meyer-Perez

SEEDING
(GUITAR QUARTET “LIDIUM”)

Ten years after its formation, the guitar quartet ¨LIDIUM ¨ is a solid ensemble committed to traditional and concert music. For this quartet, the guitar is more than an instrument of expression; it is, above all, a vital means of communication in our present.

The quartet was created with the intention of promoting art and culture through traditional Oaxacan and concert music by offering a new concept of musical style and character based on the timbre and sonority of four guitars. This idea is conceived by young Oaxacan guitarists, graduates of the School of Fine Arts of the Autonomous University “Benito Juarez” of Oaxaca (UABJO).

The quartet realized with the secretary of arts and cultures of the government of Oaxaca across the program (PACMYC) the recording of his first disc titled ” GUELAGUETZA IN GUITAR PART 1 ” for which it has offered numerous recitals and concerts in different forums, educational spaces and cultural enclosures, also in some regions of the state of Oaxaca; (the Coast, Isthmus, Mixtec, Central Valleys) with the purpose of promoting the essence, importance and transcendence of each piece and musical works that identify them as Oaxacans.

Within these wonderful musical works are integrated into the program of the concert; The Tonaltecas, Flor de piña, sones , syrups mixes, sones de poclutla and the Sones Jarabes zapotecos de Betaza, very outstanding works with own arrangements of the guitarist assembly.

CUARTETO “LIDIUM”
Juan Carlos Bautista Vásquez.
Emmanuel Alejandro Camacho Zárate
Isaías Cruz Bautista
Juan Antonio López Osorio

Intrepid Women Writers of the 21st Century

By Carole Reedy

“Some things work far better in imagination than in reality.”
Lauren Willig, author of historical fiction

The word “intrepid” is often used to describe explorers and travelers, but anyone who breaks out and moves beyond the norm to discover the mystery of humanity also deserves this classification. The women in this article do just that. They have committed to dedicating their lives to the written word and our amorphous world.

These books are big and bold and unsettling. When I finished reading the masterpieces written by the women below, I sat and stared into space for a moment, absorbing the beauty and fierceness of their creative abilities, of how they weave a narrative with flair and conviction about who we are and who we may become.

Olga Tokarczuk
I first saw an interview with this Nobel Prize winner in 2020 at the prestigious Hay Festival (streamed rather than live due to the pandemic). I had read several of her novels, including the philosophic Flights (2007), and thus was expecting a staid, serious woman. Instead I saw, seated with her translator Jennifer Croft, a woman who looked 40 rather than her actual 60, bouncing in her chair, animated, often smiling and joking, and with a funky hairstyle.

Here’s a woman who writes historically about life, literature, and philosophy, books like Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (2009) and Flights. Her novels, written in a distinct narrative style, tackle the most onerous of philosophical subjects with determination and hope.

From the Booker Prize-winning Flights, a taste of this philosophy:

Standing there on the embankment, staring into the current, I realized that—in spite of all the risks involved—a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence; that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity.

Fresh off the press is her thousand-page The Books of Jacob (first published in 2014 in her native Polish, in English in 2021). It begins in 1752 in what is now western Ukraine and ends in the middle of the 20th century in eastern Poland, where a family of Jews is hiding during the Holocaust. The story is that of historical figure Jacob Frank, leader of an heretical Jewish sect and whose unusual practices were controversial.

The translation of Tokarczuk’s text to English is a daunting task. Consider that in Slavic the word order varies significantly, and is more complicated than English. Tokarczuk’s translator, Jennifer Croft, won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Flights. Croft says that “The words of the text are the embodiment of its past, and its sentences, on the other hand, lead the way to the future.”

In its review of this much-awaited novel, the Wall Street Journal recognized the diversity and command of Tokarczuk’s writing: “Ms. Tokarczuk is as comfortable rendering the world of Jewish peasantry as that of the Polish royal court.”

Hanya Yanagihara
After turning the final page of Yanagihara’s newest, 600-page-plus novel, On Paradise (2022), I felt as I did 40 years ago as I closed the cover of the final installation of Marcel Proust’s million-word tour de force Remembrance of Things Past (7 volumes, 1913-27), wondering “What could I possibly read now that I have read the final, definitive word on humanity?” This too is Hanya Yanagihara.

Her unusual structure, deeply creative approach to history and society, and the emotional prices paid by her finely wrought characters contribute to this literary success.

The novel takes place over three centuries (1893, 1993, and 2093) in a North America unrecognizable to us. We’re surprised and fascinated by the enormous shifts in society’s norms, the principal players developing in the most unexpected situations as we follow the families and individuals across the centuries.

Perhaps most important, though, is Yanagihara’s descriptive flowing style, which allows the reader to traverse a seamless constellation of emotions.

Elizabeth George
Multitudes have thrilled to the travails of Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers over the past 20 years. George’s sharply drawn characters and her ability to create an atmosphere of order and resolution among the chaos of murder cases in London’s criminal justice system is why we yearn for more. Her skill in depicting the shifting mores of the various populations that make up Great Britain keeps faithful readers awaiting each new book in the series.

George’s latest novel, Something To Hide, just published in January 2022, involves investigation into a shocking and extremely sensitive issue: FGM, or female genital mutilation. The contrast of the painfully serious practice of FGM and the effect on some women in predominantly Nigerian and Somalian communities of London is a fresh approach for George, although she’s always been a keen analyzer of Britain’s class system.

Fans of Lynley and Havers will be reassured to know they skillfully navigate the horrors of this disfiguring practice and those whose lives are forever destroyed by it.

Although George is an American, she has been lauded for her insight and accuracy in setting her novels in the British Isles.

Jennifer Clement
We who live in Mexico have great respect and affection for fellow Mexican-American Jennifer Clement, president of PEN Mexico from 2009 to 2012, followed in 2015 by a term as the first woman president of PEN International. During her tenure she brought attention to the safety of journalists in Mexico and spearheaded a change in the law, making the killing of a journalist a federal crime.

Clement, along with her sister Barbara Sibley, is founder of Poetry Week in San Miguel de Allende.

Prayers for the Stolen (2014) was praised by prestigious publications and readers on both sides of the border. Recently, it was made into a film, Noche de Fuego, which has been nominated for best foreign language film for this year’s Academy Awards.

The movie itself depicts only the first third of the book, which takes place in a mountain village in the state of Guerrero where narcos dominate the lives of the inhabitants. The book goes on to examine life in Acapulco, ending up in Mexico City.

Don’t look for happy endings in Clement’s books, but rather the reality that surrounds the disenfranchised. One of my favorite books of hers is Widow Basquiat: A Memoir (2000), a portrayal of Clement’s friend Suzanne Mallouk, MD, the painter and psychoanalyst who was muse and lover of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the brilliant artist who died at 27 from a heroin overdose. Basquiat was part of the graffiti movement in New York and well known by his alter ego, SAMO. Today his paintings sell for millions of dollars.

Bernardine Evaristo
She is a dynamo. There’s simply no other way to describe her. Although only recently in the limelight for her Booker-prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other in 2019, Evaristo has been on the scene for years, fighting sexism and racism going back 40 years to when she and her drama school friends heckled London theater performances.

Evaristo is the first Black woman to win the Booker Prize, and her Girl, Woman, Other was named by Barack Obama as one of his favorite books of the year. Of note: when the novel was nominated for the Booker prize, it had not yet found a US publisher. The book itself is a remarkable tour de force, following the lives of 11 Black British women, as well as a non-binary woman, centering around a theatrical production and the playwright who reflects on her relationships with these women.

Evaristo’s latest book Manifesto, published in February 2022, is a memoir about her years of struggle to be recognized in the sacred halls of literature. Her story is one we can all applaud.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“Help each other. Love everyone. Every leaf. Every ray of light. Forgive.”
Terrence Malick

It’s almost Valentine’s Day … again. When The Eye contributors discuss upcoming topics there is always a bit of a sigh when it comes to this issue as we try and weave something about love and romance into it. Most of our contributors are married and have been for decades – the Chaikens met as children and have been married for almost 60 years! Can you imagine! Well, maybe you can, but I assure you it is difficult for me.

I am from a generation that craves variety and doesn’t really expect anything to last that long. Just a few decades ago people bought appliances for life. They would have a TV set for 20 years! I am from a generation that upgrades. And while the latest model may be sleeker and have a sharper image, it’s also made of flimsy plastic and not made to last. It’s built to be tossed into a landfill in four years.

With a cultural diet of romantic comedies, love songs and fairy-tale happy endings, is it any wonder that many of us have gotten used to moving on when things aren’t picture perfect, rather than focusing on repair? We live in a time where you can reject dozens of people with a swipe over your morning coffee. Has romantic love become disposable?

I am very fortunate to be surrounded by many amazing and long-term couples like those who work on The Eye, but I am sure they would tell me it hasn’t always been easy. In a time where women celebrate their financial and emotional independence more than previous generations it is understandable that we have come to expect more, although I am not sure we are better for it.

I also know many inspirational women who are going at it alone. When I asked an older Mexican friend if she would consider getting a boyfriend she laughed and said that she didn’t want to have to do more laundry or cook for more people.

Wherever you are on the romantic relationship spectrum, it’s easy to invite more love into your life this month. Talk to your neighbors, help a stranger, write a letter to someone you haven’t spoken to in twenty years, call your parents, your siblings. Wish the best to those who have wronged you and fissured your heart and surround yourself with people who want the best for you. Hug a tree, pick up garbage, repair things, use less, buy less, give stuff away, pick up the check. Love your life and let that love spread out and touch everything.

See you next month,

Jane

Spanish Lesson

By Julie Etra

We are resurrecting a monthly column that addresses local phrases to help you with your stay here in Huatulco, be it short or long term. This month we will focus on road signs and other interesting asides.

Ceda el paso = yield
Desviacion = detour. Via is the Latin root for route, way. The vehicles marked with ‘viales’ could be translated as highway patrol, but not as we know them in the USA.
Dos sentidos = two-way traffic
Grava suelta = loose gravel
Maquinas pesadas = heavy equipment working
Un sentido = one way
Solo carril = one lane only
Tope, vibradores = speed bumps (these come in a large assortment; check the EYE archives for more detail)
No estacionarse (often an E with a circle and red line across the E) = no parking
No tire basura = no littering

And what is with those seemingly randomly located stops signs heading east on Highway 200, ending at Secrets, with no one stopping? Those are for future hotels with associated bus stops and pedestrian crossings. And in La Crucecita there is the ‘no one stops at the stop sign’ at the intersection of Chahue eastbound and the north entrance to Calle Gardenia (one way), across from the ADO bus depot. And an Honorable Mention for the stop sign on Benito Juarez Blvd just west of the golf gourse where it turns south towards La Crucecita.

A few words in Zapotec. Zapotec is one of many distinct languages in the state of Oaxaca (there are at least 16), predating the arrival of the Spaniards. It resides in the family of otomangues and within the family are multiple dialects in accordance with the region, e.g the Isthmus versus the Valley of Oaxaca, often mutually unintelligible. Here in Huatulco, we have several restaurants and a few hotels with Zapotec names, such as:

Bie’ che’ is a bar and restaurant located above Xipol in La Crucecita, the former location of La Crema. It means ‘rejoice’, ‘be glad’.
Binniguenda is an all-inclusive hotel in Santa Cruz. It means ‘ancient people spawned from the clouds.’
Bladuyu is the name of a restaurant at the entrance to Chahue where they feature dishes from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. It is named for the clay (terracotta) dishes used in many restaurants.
Itoo’, another restaurant, is in Santa Cruz. It means ‘go eat’.

Enduring Novels of Unrequited Love

By Carole Reedy

“The final test of a novel will be our affection for it, as it is the test of our friends, of anything else that we cannot define.” E M Forster in Aspects of the Novel

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche felt that the state of unrequited love was preferable to that of no love at all, saying “indispensable … to the lover is his unrequited love, which he would at no price relinquish for a state of indifference.”

However debatable that idea, we’ve all experienced unrequited love at one time or another, and the feelings it evokes have provided novelists fodder over the centuries, starting with Dante and Beatrice in The Divine Comedy.

Here are a few literary gems that center on unrequited love. All remain as fresh as the day they were written.

Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham (1915)
Listed first among these noted authors is Maugham’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece about the disabled Philip Carey, who falls in love with a waitress who subsequently treats him cruelly. The story follows Philip from the struggle with his disability as a teenager in an English vicarage to his studies in Heidelberg, a short stint as an artist in Paris, and then back to England where he meets Mildred, the beginning of the pain of unrequited love.

Maugham actually had more success writing for the theater, although today he is best known for his novels. Of Human Bondage was written when he was 23 and finishing medical school. When he was refused an advance on the manuscript, he put the book aside and concentrated on his successful career writing for the theater. Maugham himself didn’t think he had the technical ability to be a good writer, but he tells a good story, which is the key element of any good book. Of Human Bondage was finally published in 1915 and to this day remains one of the most popular and best-selling novels by an English author.

The Course of Love: A Novel, by Alain de Botton (2016)
This is de Botton’s second novel, following his first success, How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel (1997). As a philosopher, writer, editor, and journalist, he has been compared to Julian Barnes, Woody Allen, and Donald Barthelme, all both smart and ironic. De Botton is also a founding member of The School of Life in London and a new institution, Living Architecture.

This novel, which received rave reviews, follows the life of a married couple from first passion through the predictable challenging years that come. It is a truly Romantic novel, exploring the longevity of love over a lifetime.

According to The New York Times, “The Course of Love is a return to the form that made Mr. de Botton’s name in the mid-1990s … Love is the subject best suited to his obsessive aphorizing, and in this novel he again shows off his ability to pin our hopes, methods, and insecurities to the page.”

Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante, published in 2005
For me, this novel evoked an intensity of emotion more pronounced even than Ferrante’s famed quartet, The Neapolitan Novels. The pain and subsequent actions of the “abandoned” protagonist are impeccably portrayed. Shocking but understandable. Is she unreasonable or incredibly sane? You decide.

Ferrante remains voluntarily sequestered from publicity in the noble attempt to attract readers based on the quality of the writing rather than publicist hype. I hope her identity remains a secret, as it adds another layer of enchantment to her books.

Another of her noted books, The Lost Daughter (2008), has been made into a movie directed by and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal; it is available on Netflix.

Heartburn, by Nora Ephron (1983)
The always-entertaining Nora Ephron brought us hours of poignant laughter during her career as a writer and observer of our times. In Heartburn, a novel based on her tumultuous marriage to and break-up with political journalist Carl Bernstein, she expertly blends a range of emotions expressing her state of being with a variety of recipes.

Adam Gopnik speculated in The New Yorker on her decision to include recipes: “In Heartburn, the recipes serve both as a joke about what a food writer writing a novel would write and as a joke on novel-writing itself by someone who anticipates that she will not be treated as a ‘real’ novelist.”

Ephron has a talent for converting the apparently tragic to the absurdly comic.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver (1981)
Not a novel, but the short stories in this collection are among the classics in modern literature. The title of the collection is also the title of one of the stories. You may recognize this title from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2014 film Birdman, in which the central character is an old Hollywood actor who is mounting a Broadway play named for and based on Carver’s story.
Carver is consistently praised by critics for his succinctness and veracity and for his ability to relate a broad range of emotion in few words. These stories about love pass the test of time.

Persuasion, by Jane Austen (1818, published posthumously)
A somewhat different twist on unrequited love in this, the last of Jane Austen’s six published novels.
In this one the protagonist, Anne Elliott, discards her love interest based on some rather bad advice from a friend, an action she lives to regret. It all turns out well in the end, as do a majority of Austen’s novels, most of which include some form of love gone wrong.

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
“Singular, intelligent, and beautiful” are words that have been used to describe this Booker-Prize-winning novel by Ishiguro, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. The praise is well deserved, and this book in particular is a favorite among readers.

The heartbreaking story of a butler in post-WWII Britain who receives a letter from the housekeeper of two decades past, this short book is filled with the ambience of the period, and of the war with its fascist-sympathizing aristocrats. But the story that moves the narrative is that of the relationship between butler and housekeeper, and the regret of unrequited love.

In 1993, the book was made into a popular movie starring Antony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez (1985, Spanish; 1988, English)
Another winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1982) graces this list. Márquez hails from Colombia, where he had homes in both Bogotá and Cartagena, in addition to Paris and Mexico City, where he died in 2014. During his long life, he not only wrote novels, he also studied law and was a journalist. Márquez also was a friend to many famous people and politicians, including Fidel Castro.

The love story of Florentino and Fermina in Love in the Time of Cholera spans a lifetime and is one of Marquez’s most beloved novels, demonstrating that over the years love is not fluid, but ever changing.

Magical realism (the mixture of fantasy and fact) permeates his creations. In his own words, Márquez tells us, “In Mexico, Surrealism runs through the streets. Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America.”

Márquez was influenced by many other writers, among them Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and especially William Faulkner. In the 1960s, Márquez lived in the colonia San Ángel in Mexico City, where he wrote his famed One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967).

Ocelots

By Julie Etra

Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis, ocelotes in Spanish) are beautiful animals found here on the southwest coast of Mexico. They are medium-sized cats (adults are 70-100 cm long – 28-40 inches – not inluding their tails). They resemble the oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus), also called the tigrillo, which occurs from Central America to central Brazil.

Ocelots and People

The ocelot is endangered in the very small area where it lives in southern Texas and in Mexico, as a result of illegal poaching for their prized pelts (records show 566,000 ocelot pelts were sold in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s), along with habitat loss and fragmentation. Collisions with vehicles have become an increasing threat. Hunting them is now forbidden throughout their range, which runs from southernmost Texas, through Mexico and Central America, and across the northern half of South America (except in Peru, where it is regulated but not forbidden).

In the heyday of ocelot fashion, people kept them as pets as well, most notably the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, who took Babou with him to all sorts of places, often to the dismay of the people in those places. He is reported to have told an upset diner at a Manhattan restaurant that it was just an “ordinary house cat,” painted up like Op Art.

In Mexico ocelots have been culturally significant since at least the Aztec (Mexica) civilizations, as depicted in their multimedia art and mythology, although whether the Aztecs distinguished between ocelots and jaguars is unclear – the Nahuatl word for jaguar is ocelotl. The ocelotl appears on the Aztec sunstone as the day sign for fourteenth day of the Aztec religious calendar (there was a different calendar to govern agriculture), and was considered auspicious for battle with success and valor.

Ocelots in Nature

Ocelots are cryptically colored in that they blend into their typically dense forest environment. They have a small, speckled brown head with two stripes on either side of the cheeks and four to five parallel black stripes along the neck. Their ears are short, wide, and rounded. Ocelot fur is spotted with elongated, irregular, rosette-shaped rings. Their bellies are dark, and tails are 26-45 cm (10-18 inches) and tapered with dark colored rings or spots. Individuals have their own unique pattern, making them easy to distinguish.

In Mexico, the ocelot’s distribution is discontinuous, but includes the coastal Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, the eastern slopes of the state of Tamaulipas to the Yucatán peninsula, and south from Sonora in northwestern Mexico. It is both diurnal and nocturnal, meaning it is active both in the day and night, but is more active at dusk and at night when it hunts. They are solitary, and make their homes in caves, hollow tree trunks and tree canopies for protection. In Mexico habitat includes tropical forests, tropical deciduous forests (which we have here on the coast), mangrove forests (also on our Costa Chica), temperate forests, and thorny desert scrub.

The ocelot is a predator, like other wild felines, but is opportunistic in its diet. It is an agile animal that climbs and swims as well as leaps after its prey, which includes small terrestrial mammals, reptiles, fish, and small birds, and even insects. In tropical Mexico, iguanas are a preferred quarry.

Litter size is typically between two and three kittens. Gestation averages two to three months, and they can reproduce year-round. Their life span has been observed to be as long as ten years.

Seeing Ocelots

Camera traps have been used for decades to monitor wildlife. In Mexico they have been used to study ocelots and other mammals in the Mexican states of Campeche, Veracruz, and Tabasco, and here on the coast of Oaxaca, Starting in 2016, the Huatulco National Park (Parque Nacional de Huatulco) installed at least three camera traps in different points in the Park to monitor native mammals as well as feral dogs (the latter have become problematic on the beaches of Huatulco where they have killed egg laying turtles as well as the hatchlings). The camera traps have captured images of ocelots as well as white-tailed deer, rabbits, anteaters, opossum, coyotes, and armadillos. My stepdaughter Joy caught one on film at her place on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Time to set up our camera again, as the back of our place faces the forest. So far, we have only captured photos of the ubiquitous opossum and the pygmy skunk, an endemic. I have my doubts, given the number of barking dogs in the neighborhood (including our own barky), but we will give it a try. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and see one while employing one of the local nature guides.

Year of the Tiger 2022: Big Bold Books to Devour

By Carole Reedy

In China, the tiger is considered the king of beasts, symbolizing power and a great deal of nerve. The authors below have proven their power, using the written word as a way to understand our mysterious world. These are the fresh voices of the 21st century exciting us about the future of books and keeping high the bar for fine literature. (Publication date in parentheses.)

Douglas Stuart: Young Mungo (April 14, 2022)
Stuart stunned us in 2020 with his first novel, Shuggie Bain, richly deserved winner of the Booker prize that year. His story of a young boy growing up in Scotland has assured Stuart a place among classical writers. The ambiance of the place and time, the vivid endowment of the characters, and the raw emotion in the novel drew millions of readers who ended up loving little Shuggie.

Stuart may have another hit on his hands with Young Mungo, the tale of two young men, one Protestant and the other Catholic, growing up in Glasgow. Assuredly, it will generate some of the same emotion and tension that drew readers to Shuggie Bain.

Stuart has led a rag-to-riches life, growing up in Scotland, moving to England, and ultimately having a successful career as a designer in New York. With Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo, his writing career is just beginning, and we can look forward to many incisive novels in the future.

Hanya Yanagihara: To Paradise (January 11, 2022)
A Little Life, the lengthy, imposing novel of friendship and pain, put Yanagihara on the map as a brilliant writer. Many of us thought she deserved the Booker Prize that year for her story of the very emotional journey of four young men.

A new twist, but surely another whirlwind of emotion, is presented in her new novel, On Paradise, which spans three centuries and covers three different versions of what the US becomes. Surely the themes of love and pain will dominate, as they did in A Little Life.

Olga Towkarczuk: The Books of Jacob (February 1, 2022)
Get ready for the literary ride of a lifetime. This book is being called the War and Peace of modern literature. Polish wordsmith Olga Towkarczuk has gifted us with books such as Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and taken us on philosophical journeys with her award-winning Flights.

Towkarczuk has clearly taken seriously the responsibility and implications of the Nobel Prize she was awarded in 2018. The Books of Jacob has already won the coveted Nike award in Poland for best novel.

Marcel Theroux of The Guardian explains: “It is a visionary novel that conforms to a particular notion of masterpiece – long, arcane and sometimes inhospitable. Tokarczuk is wrestling with the biggest philosophical themes.” He compares it to John Milton’s Paradise Lost and calls the novel one that “will be a landmark in the life of any reader with the appetite to tackle it.” I hope to be among the first to try!

Emily St. John Mandel: Sea of Tranquility (April 5, 2022)
This young Canadian writer follows up her successful novels The Glass House and Station Eleven (available to stream as a limited miniseries on HBO Max) with her latest glimpse into the future.

The novel begins in 1912 on Vancouver Island and takes us 300 years into the future to a dark colony on the moon. That should pique your interest, but in addition to the metaphysics and time travel, St. John brings the delicate side humanity, as always, to the novel.

This is just the beginning of our 2022 review. In future issues of The Eye, we’ll explore the new books of our favorite and new authors. Perhaps, as I am, you are grateful for the hours of entertainment and contemplation brought to you by these writers.

Understanding Huatulco

By Randy Jackson

The best part of my morning swim in the Santa Cruz Bay is, after I’m done with the exercise bit, when I pull my goggles up on my forehead and lazily tread water while looking around. It is this very spot, this bay, that has always been the epicentre of Huatulco. Oceans battle their containment everywhere. Waves are relentless against rocks and beaches. But we land-dwelling creatures have always needed calm harbours, like this spot, to land and launch our boats (and to swim). This bay has been a gateway to the land and to the sea for centuries, well before the conquistadors made it a shipping and distribution port in the 15th century.

Until the 1980’s, when the Puerto Escondido to Salina Cruz highway (route 200) was constructed, the bay at Santa Cruz was the principal connecting point for this area to the outside world. And here I am, langorously sculling water, one of many of us from that outside world. How many times over the centuries, I wonder, have outsiders looked upon this bay and these hills and stopped to ask: What is life like for the people who live here? Although this is an open-ended question, this sentiment of curiosity about Huatulco remains among many of us outsiders. I seek to scratch that curiosity itch with three more specific questions:

(1) How are people here organised (governed)?
(2) What are the principal concerns (issues) for Huatulco?
(3) What is the plan for Huatulco in the future?

(1) Governance

What most of us foreigners know as Huatulco, is a coastal area within the Municipality of Santa María Huatulco. A municipio in Mexico is an administrative division comparable to what Canadians and Americans might know as counties. It is a constitutionally defined level of government within a state, in this case the state of Oaxaca. The municipality has the responsibility to provide its residents with the public services: water, sewage, roads, public safety (police), public transport, parks and cemeteries. It is also required to assist state and federal governments with fire and medical services, social and economic development, and environmental protection. The municipio has the authority to collect property taxes and user fees, such as business licenses. The boundaries of the municipality are shown on the map below.

The municipal area is 514 square kilometres (±198 sq. mi.), 211 sq. km. (±81 sq. mi.) of which is the coastal zone, known as the Bays of Huatulco (Bahías de Huatulco). On the map, this coastal zone is the area south of Highway 200 between the Coyula River on the west and the Copalita River on the east. This area was expropriated under a presidential decree in 1984 for tourism development under FONATUR (Spanish abbreviation for National Tourism Fund). This decree did not remove any rights or obligations of the municipality for this area, rather FONATUR became the legal property owner. As legal property owner, and developer, FONATUR planned to re-sell its property for specific tourism uses – these were spelled out in a development plan (more on this below). The federal government, through FONATUR, expropriated this land to further the federal objectives of social and economic development through large scale tourism projects, similar to those in Cancun and Ixtapa.

As of 2020, the municipio of Santa María Huatulco (MSMH) has a population of 50,862 people. The three largest urban areas in the municipio are La Crucecita (pop. 19 K), Santa María Huatulco (pop. 11 K), and Hache Tres (pop. 5 K); 30% of the population lives in or near one of the 93 small rural communities within the MSMH. The population of the municipio is increasing at an average rate of 30-35 people per week. People are migrating here in search of employment or to start small businesses. Many people who move here are finding few employment opportunities; the wages are low and Huatulco is relatively expensive. This results in people living in areas without adequate public services.

MSMH has neither the capacity nor the resources to keep up with the increasing demands of the public services they are mandated to provide. Of the $329 million pesos ($17 million USD) MSMH received in 2017, 26% was from local tax sources. Federal contributions were 58% and the state of Oaxaca contributed16%.

The federal funds do not include services for garbage collection, the municipal landfill, drinking water, or sewage treatment for La Crucecita and the Bays of Huatulco. These services, as well as area maintenance and cleaning of the coastal zone are provided by FONATUR. The federal government maintains Hwy 200, and most major arteries of MSMH are built and maintained by the state of Oaxaca.

Desarrollo, the Spanish word for development, is the key term in virtually all the documents relating to Huatulco governance. We outsiders enjoy the Bays of Huatulco, often without realizing we are in the second poorest state in the country; 13% of the population of the state of Oaxaca is illiterate (MSMH a bit better at 8%). In MSMH, 58% of the population has only a primary school education. Social and economic development for MSMH is of primary concern. In its development plan for 2019-2021, MSMH quoted a federal study indicating that in 2015, 49% of the population of the municipio lived in poverty.

Long term progress towards solving these problems relies on one principal industry in Huatulco – tourism. Tourism represents 90% of the direct and indirect economic activity of MSMH. There is no question that the investments by the Mexican government (through FONATUR) for the creation of Huatulco as a tourist destination have fundamentally changed this municipality. Before FONATUR’s “CIP” (Central Integrated Plan) for Huatulco, 2,500 people lived in MSMH. There were no paved roads, clean drinking water or sewage treatment. There were high incidences of malaria, dengue, and intestinal infections. Today progress seems obvious. Yet a central issue remains: to what extent will Huatulco develop as a tourist destination, and how will this impact the local population and environment.

2) Principal concerns (issues) for Huatulco

As centrally important as Huatulco-the-tourist-destination is to the people of the municipio of Santa Maria Huatulco, only the federation of Mexico or the state of Oaxaca has the resources or capacity to determine the future of Huatulco. This brings up the question of just how important is Huatulco to the tourism industry in Mexico, and in the state of Oaxaca?

Statistics from Secretaría de Turismo (SECTUR) in Mexico show that for 2019, Huatulco was the 22nd most popular destination for tourists in Mexico (8th most popular beach resort). In the state of Oaxaca, Huatulco is the second most visited destination for tourists. Oaxaca City (Oaxaca de Juárez) receives 24% of tourists visits in the state, and 32% of the tourism revenue. Huatulco sees 12% of tourist visits in the state, but 44% of the tourism revenue. On average, tourism in the state of Oaxaca comprises 97% national (Mexican) visitors, and 3% international visitors. In 2007, Huatulco hosted 83% national and 17% international visitors. .

Of the four large FONATUR CIP resorts in Mexico – Cancun, Ixtapa, Los Cabos and Huatulco – Huatulco has struggled the most. And not for lack of investment through FONATUR. Between 1974 and 2015, FONATUR has spent $10 billion pesos (± $48 million USD) on CIP Huatulco (source OECD/DATATUR). This is more than what was spent on Ixtapa and Los Cabos combined, and second only to Cancun, where $14 billion pesos (±$672 million USD) were invested. Results, measured by hotel room capacity (re: 2013 Tourism Competitive Agenda) were:

    Hotel Rooms                Annual Occupancy

Cancun 30,027 65%
Los Cabos 12,123 61%
Ixtapa 4,988 45%
Huatulco 3,409 49%

The last major injection of funds by FONATUR to develop Huatulco was under the administration of Felipe Calderón (2006 – 2012), under his “Relaunch Huatulco” plan (Relanzamiento del CIP Huatulco). This plan spelled out specific long term development objectives for each of the nine bays of Huatulco. The sum of this planned development adds up to 20,000 hotel rooms, a second golf course, and numerous residential and commercial properties. Some of the near term objectives of the plan were accomplished, including the expansion of the airport, the pedestrian walkway between Santa Cruz and Crucecita, and the Copalita Anthropology Museum. Yet the hoped-for commercial investment in Huatulco did not follow these initiatives.

Secrets, built in 2010, was the last major resort hotel constructed in Huatulco. Previous to that was Quinta Real in 1996. In 2014 Melia Hotels announced the construction of a 500 room resort, and in 2018 there was an announcement to invest $5 billion pesos ($256 million USD) for a hospital in Huatulco, primarily for medical tourism. Now, years later, neither of these two projects has begun construction.

Under the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-18), a review of the tourism sector was undertaken. The 2013 Tourism Competitive Agenda provided a detailed review of CIP Huatulco. This seems to have marked a change in the approach to development in Huatulco. The “build it and they will come” model, which worked for Cancun, Ixtapa and Los Cabos, wasn’t working for Huatulco. FONATUR was restructured away from a purely real estate sales model to a broader development model. Starting In 2016 FONATUR could act as a venture capitalist and invest up to 25% in a tourism venture. They were permitted to contribute land up to a value of $7 MM USD to a tourism project (as long as that did not exceed 49% of the overall project value). The gist of the numerous reports under the Peña Nieto administration seems to have been finding a way to market Huatulco strategically, in line with the specific realities of Huatulco itself, while avoiding further social and environmental problems.

The current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has committed approximately 250 million pesos (±$12 million USD) to Huatulco to improve deteriorated infrastructure, but nothing further. His tourism expenditure priority appears to be building the Mayan Train.

3) What is the plan for Huatulco in the future?
Alas, after a month of research and several interviews, I am forced here to quote Yoda: “Difficult to see. Always in motion the future is.” Nonetheless, I offer up what I have distilled on this information quest.

-There appears to be a recognition among all three levels of government (municipal, state, federal), that the earlier FONATUR CIP Huatulco development model has not succeeded and a new approach is needed.

-It seems obvious to any observer of Huatulco over the years that growth is taking place despite the lack of large-scale resort investments. Tourism statistics show steady growth since 2008. I note a mention in one of the FONATUR planning documents a recognition of the demand in Huatulco for second residences. This seems evident in the construction of new condominiums.

-The state of Oaxaca together with the municipio of Santa María Huatulco have initiated a plan for 2019 – 2023 to Transform Huatulco (Desarrollo Turístico de las Bahías de Huatulco). This is an aspirational document, but with objectives outlined and steps to be followed (without mention of funding commitments). This document recognizes that commercial investment rather than large government expenditures is the path forward for Huatulco. The plan calls for a focused strategic marketing plan to differentiate Huatulco as a unique destination, calling for, among other things, bike paths, pedestrianisation of central La Crucecita, and an overall emphasis on the environment and sustainability. Here one could quote another movie figure, Jerry Maguire, in saying “Show me the money.” Noticeably absent from this Transform Huatulco document is the FONATUR logo.

-The autopista cometh. Connectivity has always been an issue for tourism development in Huatulco. A new highway that connects Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido, and thereby Huatulco, appears to be near completion. This autopista is 17 years overdue, but it looks as if it will be finished in 2022. This shortens the drive from Oaxaca City to the Coast to two hours from the current six. This likely will increase the number of national tourists to Huatulco dramatically. In turn, this will, no doubt, exacerbate the poor social conditions with even more people living in marginal, unserviced areas.

So now, back in Santa Cruz Bay, treading water and watching the on-shore restaurant staff ready tables and umbrellas for the day’s tourists, I wonder what I have actually learned about Huatulco? To start with, things are more complicated and nuanced than I had imagined. There are no clear indicators of the path forward for Huatulco, and problems are many. But I’ve also learned that these problems are well understood and documented, and many people are seeking solutions to them. It occurs to me that Huatulco as a paradise, like any paradise anywhere, is a veneer. A thin strip of coastline with turquoise bays, where children play in the sand and people enjoy themselves. I think Yoda is right, the future IS uncertain for Huatulco, but for now, here we are in this beautiful place.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” ~Pericles

A year ago we were counting down to say goodbye to 2020, which most people felt was one of our worst years. A year later I am not sure we are doing much better. I have been struggling for a week or so contemplating what I would say in my editorial and even as I latched onto something positive it would quickly spiral in my mind and the reality of our collective malaise would come into view.

I am writing this on the eve of American Thanksgiving and coming up with things I am grateful for on a personal level is an easy task. I love most aspects of my life. I have a job that I am excited to go to, I work with dedicated and kind people who exceed my expectations. My daughter is a smart and loving person who is doing well in school and we say ‘I love you’ with the same ease we did when she was four years old. My house is an oasis and a delicious meal is never too far off in the future. This week I have seen the faces of customers who over the years have become friends and I am thrilled that people are traveling again. The sun continues to shine in Huatulco, the ocean is refreshing, the economy is slowly recovering from pandemic shutdowns and I have an amazing support network of friends.

But looking beyond my bubble I am less optimistic. Groups of displaced people continue to push against borders in an effort to improve their lives or even just to survive. Today marks the 100th day since the Taliban took over Afghanistan and much of the population is struggling just to get enough food to survive. Women’s rights in the US are being challenged as violence breaks out on the streets in Wisconsin. Delhi is on lockdown because of poor air quality, while British Colombia is battling mud slides and heavy rains. This year saw record-breaking natural disasters from erupting volcanos, droughts, floods and hurricanes. Nearly two dozen species of birds, fish and wildlife were declared extinct this year.

So what can we do beyond recycling, eating less meat and all the other little acts that we do to make us feel like part of the solution instead of the problem? What can we learn from this coronavirus experience? We are interconnected. There is so way to move through the world bouncing only on the walls of our personal bubbles.

Our resolutions for 2022 should be to spread empathy and compassion all across the globe. To learn to have civilized conversations with people who don’t have the same political views as our own. Our goal should be to ensure everyone is safe from persecution, has food and shelter. We need to get kids out of immigration detention centers where they are held like prisoners without a place in the world. It’s no longer enough to resolve to exercise more and eat better in 2022- these are drastic times that call for BIG peaceful and loving action.

Let us embrace our interconnectedness and see the suffering of one as the suffering of all as we strive to make our world more inhabitable.

See you in 2022,

Jane