Articles written appear in the order of published date: Friends of Mexico; Find out what an employee of Princess Cruises really thinks about Mazatlan; Pedregoso: a wacky, winding street with personality plus; Artists under pressure; Our only school for the blind – a cultural chasm?; Ramps galore, but Centro needs more.
Exciting news from Friends of Mexico.
By Sheila Madsen [November 2018]
Just about everything! To begin with in February 2018 they elected a new president, Wendy de Graaff. Friends of Mexico [FOM] was founded in 1998 and over those 20 years it has been through many iterations. Like a blackboard with multiple chalk markings let’s clean the slate and start in the present.
The association has decided to focus on one primaria [grades 1-6] school only. For now, it’s La Nueva Creacion de Jardines del Valle. FOM put in a new kitchen, they donate monthly food supplies so the kids can have lunch, they provide tutors for ESL classes, building supplies, books and other school supplies and they even go in and paint desks. Because of this laser-like focus [“getting it right”] the school was brought up to government standards and now has permission to change its name. And guess what they decided on? Amigos de Mexico. This name change acknowledges the support they have received from FOM.
The scholarship program is still very much intact. Anyone can donate $2500 pesos and put a child through secondary school. Teachers recommend students who have high marks and potential and then FOM monitors their marks, the participation, the attitude and if there is a fall-off in any area they are removed from the program. It’s $2500 a year – that pays for school fees and other supplies.
How to become a member of FOM: currently there are 350 members but Wendy and her team need more, way more! It’s easy to join: every Friday at Rico’s in the Golden Zone from 10 a.m. to noon, [November to end of February] a member is there to sign you up, it costs only $350 pesos a year and that fee will go into the school’s piggy bank and you will get a 10% discount on the FOM’s discount list. Once you’ve signed up and paid, you have access to their discount list. As a member you will be able to find a list of volunteer opportunities – from one hour a week to more. Whatever time you can give would be appreciated.
Another important arm of FOM is the social aspect and Vicki Taylor runs that with the title of Member Service Chair. Her mandate is to enhance your experience in Mazatlan and have fun. Trips to Guadalajara, Copper Canyon, a Costco run, a sundowner meet and greet – events like that. There is no profit for FOM in these events, you just pay for the cost.
Joining Friends of Mexico is a win-win. You get to help educate young school children in a decent environment and also receive a discount at many places. There’s no need to remind you that education of children is the future of Mazatlan.
[Wendy de Graaff is from Vancouver Island and lives full-time in Mazatlan now. She’s comfortable at managing large groups; she was president of the British Columbia Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists, which has 5,500 members. Her hobbies are portrait painting, cooking and adoring her Samoyed, Casey. Please give her a warm welcome – believe me you’ll really enjoy talking with this lovely, talented woman – you can reach her via e:email@example.com.]
Find out what an employee of Princess Cruises
really thinks about Mazatlan.
Spoiler alert: she really, really likes it!
By Sheila Madsen (July 2015)
Luba Viakhirieva is on holiday. Normally she would spend her two-month sabbatical in her home-town of Odessa, but this year she has chosen to also vacation in Mazatlan. She’s shed her manager’s wardrobe of a smart black suit and crisp white blouse for cut-offs, a pale pink t shirt with an Eiffel Tower motif and flip flops. She’s petit, trim and her skin is absolutely luminous. Luba looks like a Scottish lass whose beauty regime consists of natural spring water and five minutes of weak early morning sun. The truth is she’s never seen the highlands; Luba was born in the Ukraine [she speaks Russian, Ukrainian and English] and has two college degrees – one in hospitality services and one in business administration. Certainly the ideal combination for job on a cruise line and Princess Cruises snapped her up in 2005.
She began her career on board as a sales associate in a duty-free shop. Today, Luba is general manager of four duty-free shops and has 16-20 employees reporting to her. While climbing the ladder she invested in courses on fine jewellery and now has the expertise to guide passengers around the tempting upscale selection. “I love diamonds, I love all precious stones, so I thought I should learn about it.” That can-do attitude and longing to learn is exactly what has made her so successful.
Life on a cruise ship is not like life on land. As a manager, Luba has her own cabin, she can dine with officers or crew [always buffet] and during certain hours she can partake of all the ship’s facilities. All crew members have access to the ship’s medical team and everyone is paid in US dollars. There is no “off” switch while sailing – the free time comes when the ship is docked. Most employees work under these rules; six months on, two months off, and if both parties agree, Princess Cruises issues another six-month contract. Even in her senior position, Luba can’t pick and choose her ships. Upper management [Los Angeles] decides where she is needed most. That conceivably means Luba has a new boss and new employees every six months. I asked her if she finds the ramping up exhausting. Luba says, “no, I enjoy it. I carry my evaluation papers from my previous boss and I learn from my performance reviews. I like being a leader for my younger employees, I like the mix of cultures and I’m always improving on how I treat my customers.” There’s that can-do attitude!
In 2015 her new contract specified the Mexican Riviera route – quite the change from sailing around Australia and New Zealand. As always, Luba embraced the new ports: Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. She has visited these ports twenty times now and feels confident in confirming that Mazatlan’s terminal is the best. “It’s well operated, it’s clean, it’s friendly, it’s all a great experience from the shuttle service, through to the souvenir/shopping area to the where the tour busses and taxis are waiting.” I was delighted that her observations supported what Alfonso Gil Diaz, Director General of API Mazaltan, stated in my interview of May 2015.
It’s crucial to Luba and her friends to make the most of their five hours of freedom. They appreciate that they can walk [and not have to take a taxi] the blue line to Centro, sit in the Plazuela Machado and drink in the sights and sounds. They enjoy coffee and cakes at Dolce Mama [on Belisario Dominquez] and “I love going to Athina Spa – it has so much style, it’s professional, it’s just a different experience having a massage at Athina’s. The world is small on a ship, it’s the same routine so we all like to see different people, try different foods, experience a different culture. For me, Mazatlan is my favourite port. You don’t get hassled by souvenir vendors, it just has the right feeling. I like small cozy cities. I feel so safe and comfortable in Mazatlan.”
A big part of what makes Luba and the passengers – heck the entire crew – feel comfortable are the Blue Shirt volunteers. “It doesn’t happen in any other port. They are so nice, so friendly, they are from Canada, from the United States, from Europe, they make me feel really special and really safe. All the passengers comment on how safe they feel. They don’t try to sell you anything, they just wish you a great day, ‘how can I help you?’ and when you return to the ship it’s ‘how was your day, everything go ok?’ .They are unique to Mazatlan and I always look forward to walking the blue line.”
Luba’s fall contract will keep her in the Mexican Riviera on Princess Cruises’s Ruby. She will have more time to explore Mazatlan and a budding land romance. I confess, Luba is a friend of a friend and that’s how we met. I also confess that I was thrilled to hear her unprompted enthusiasm for Mazatlan, its port and its people. She travels the world, she talks to everyone and what better ambassador could Mazatlan have than Luba? She ends the interview with a five star quote: “I really want people to know about Mazatlan, it has a future, it has everything.”
Pedregoso: a wacky, winding street with personality plus
By Sheila Madsen (February 2013)
When you are two there are so many decisions to agree upon. Children, cat, dog, parrot, downtown, suburbs, condo, garden, squash, tennis, travel, stay, meat, vegetarian, organic, spend, save, eat in, dine out and the daily dialogues go on and on. For most of us who decide to move to Mazatlan, because of our age, the debates do become smaller. Something like this: view, no view, in Centro, out of Centro, to buy, to rent, house, apartment or condo? We knew within five days we wanted to live in Centro, and to buy a condo with a view.
While we waited two years for our condo, Vue Centro Historico to be built, we lived on the wacky, winding street of Pedregoso. Pedregoso has its ups and downs. Literally. It runs parallel to Angel Flores, but due to nature of the topography, namely a huge hill, it offers amazing views. The second floor of Pepe’s new apartment (he has since expanded and I refer to it as “Pepe’s Pedregoso Palace”) had most of our requirements. I won’t dwell on the deficits, but the assets were the location and the view. Four years ago we’d watch the surfers on Olas Altas, and a guy training his dog to surf. The dog became quite the surfer and knew exactly when to turn back to shore.
We always enjoyed watching the cruise ships glide in and out. But those ships have sailed. Often we’d climb up to the roof, very carefully, with our wine, and watch the sunset then star gaze. Waking up, we’d see the sun rise over the cathedral. Then there were the Pedregoso cast of characters. Poncho lived next door and did odd jobs and had odd hobbies. He changed his outfits three times a day and went from brown pigtails to a blond Mohawk. Susan Carnes was busy installing beautiful paintings in her windows. Angela Jackson had a lovely morning yoga practice on her roof. Sylvia, the talented seamstress in the peppermint green house, made me seven dresses. She still sews for me, as my shape is changing- probably because I am not walking up and down Pedregoso any more. Conchita would whip up a batch of tamales and we’d all traipse through her tiny kitchen to buy the sweet pineapple ones. She has since died. Patty Neal left Pedregoso when her husband died, tried different cities and has now returned “home” to Pedregoso. Bob and Diane would arrive from Canada and put a spring in our step. They walk up to El Faro every morning and are an inspiration.
Mexicans, Americans, and Canadians would all gather in Joaquin’s tienda and buy one egg, one cigarette, one onion; it’s a store for every one. Lourdes takes the morning shift in stilettos, tight jeans (and a lovely cleavage) and buyers stream in for their morning munchies. Joaquin’s wife, Gerenia, manages the afternoon shift, and the two daughters assist in the evening. No need to purchase a newspaper; you heard it all there. After two years we knew every single house, almost every single person, every single dog (and strays), and every annoying rooster. The street of Pedregoso is a community.
For twenty years, the Old Mazatlan Inn has been the king of the hill. Long term renters were always friendly and would ask us in for a swim, or to watch the sunset. Short term renters gasping for breath at the top of the hill, would remark how the “trek” was worth it and how they wanted to get in shape. The manager, O’Neil, never failed to give us a ride or to extend a welcoming invitation to us. We called it the “OMI”(Old Mazatlan Inn) and the feeling was always friendly and hospitable.
This past week we decided to vacate our condo on Passeo Claussen, with all the music from Carnaval, and walk to Pedregoso and spend the nights at the OMI. Nothing has changed, just improvements. It’s super clean, the drinking water is filtered, there’s Wi-Fi, the pool is immaculate, the gardens lush and from the top roof you have a breathtaking wrap around view. There is not another view like it in Centro, not even close. Immediately you feel at home, relaxed, and it’s just the right place to be.
I forgot. One thing has changed. The OMI is going condo. If we had known that four years ago…but we didn’t and hindsight is a waste of time. So if you want to rent, to buy, and have a view to live for in Centro, Pedregoso is your street, and just perhaps Old Mazatlan Condominiums is your place. This is an opportunity to rent, while you think about buying. It’s a combination we would have embraced four years ago. But it wasn’t available, and we will always have Pedregoso.
Artists under pressure – Mazatlan’s first ever street printing event, was on October 26,27,28, 2012.
It takes a village to make a steamroller print. Leading this huge project are Glen Rogers director of Luna arte Contemporáneo, and Cecilia Sánchez Duarte representing the CMA – Centro Municipal de Artes. Starring in “artists under pressure” are ten artists from Luna and ten guest artists from CMA. Have no idea of what a steamroller print is? You are not alone. The Chinese invented paper around 105 AD. They carved images into stones, covered them in a dye and rubbed them into the handmade paper. Woodblock printing emerged in about 868 AD. Six hundred years later woodblock printing arrived in Europe. The process is: take a block of wood, carve out the design you want to appear in white, the remaining flat surface, when covered in ink, will print in black. It’s like looking at a negative. The carving is then pressed onto fabric, or paper. The invention of the printing press in 1440 did not hinder the art or production of woodblock carvings. In every century, artists are drawn to this rustic expression.
The star of this show rolls into the world in 1910; the steamroller. Horses were put out to pasture and the roller now powered by steam is used to compress the asphalt surface. Eventually steam evaporated and was replaced by the internal combustion engine. Artists were still carving their woodblocks, papermaking had evolved to large sheets, and steamrollers were everywhere flattening the roads across North America. Someone was thinking big picture when they got the idea to put these ingredients together and create massive woodblock prints. Meanwhile back in Mazatlan, Glen and Cecilia are busy coordinating 20 artists. Currently the plywood has been purchased and artists are digging in and carving their images. Artists have been asked to create images in honour of the Day of Dead, Dia de los Muertos.(José Guadalupe Posada is the Mexican artist responsible for these iconic images and they stemmed from his satirizing the upper classes as dandies, which explains the extreme elegance of the clothes on the Catrina drawings.
Since his death in 1913, his images have become associated with Dia de los Muertos.) On the weekend of Oct. 26,27, 28, “artists under pressure” will come alive from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Aurora, between Niños Héroes and Belisario Dominguez. You’ll be able to see the artist place her inked canvas of wood on the street, while the team prudently lowers the 3 x 4 foot sheet of paper onto the plywood, and then that paper is protected by a thick blanket. The two ton steamroller slowly runs over, pressing the image onto the paper. The group carefully lifts up the wet black inked paper and hangs it out to dry. The same process will be repeated on fabric for banners in the Dia de los Muertos Procession on November 1. It does take a village to create these “roadworks.” MazatlanLifeTV will be filming the creative process during the fall; stay on this page for the uncensored video of “artists under pressure.”
Participating Artists :Rubio Gallery -Manuel Alancaster,Manuel Carlock,Cecilia García Morales, Jorge LuisHurtado,Luis Kano,Alejandro Mojica,Blas Nayar,Dory Perdomo,Cecilia Sánchez Duarte,Gerardo Santamarina. Luna Gallery –Ken Augustine, Rafael Avila, Elina Chauvet, Pablo Corpus, Kathleen Baker Pittman, David Robb, Nan Robb, Glen Rogers, Lucila Santiago, Arturo de la Vega. The gala presentation of the steamroller woodblock prints takes place at Luna on Wednesday October 31 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Steamroller prints in Mazatlan – it’s a first and you don’t want to miss it.
If you wish to donate time, money, toys, a musical session please contact Rosa Angelica Garcia Ochoa : 982 1288, cell: 669 129 7404.
Our only school for the blind – a cultural chasm?
By Sheila Madsen (March 17, 2012)
For various medical reasons many babies are born blind in Mazatlan. In 1997 the city founded and funded the only school for the blind in Mazatlan, Una Luz Hacia El Mundo. Today, the city still funds 80% of the school’s budget. Children from the ages of four to 19 are being taught by a group of dedicated teachers five days a week from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The school is located on Avenida Gabriel Leyva #2100, in front of the La Escuela Nautica. The annual fee is $100, and if the family can pay the monthly tuition it’s $100 per child. No blind child is turned away.
Children have access to Braille computers, Braille printers, and the very latest technology ipads – loaded with JAWS software especially designed for the visually impaired. Kids are taught math on an abacus. Many attend regular school, record the sessions and return to Una Luz to prepare and print out homework assignments on the Braille equipment. Why am I telling you this story?
The video above captures the essence of the school and the various programs it offers, but it can’t convey the delicate cultural situation. John Castro is a fully bilingual volunteer at the school who explains: “If you are a parent with a blind child in Mazatlan that child will most likely never work, nor ever live on his own. There are no white canes or guide dogs in Mazatlan. The parents are involved to a certain degree; the goal of becoming self sufficient is not on their radar. Aunties, cousins, siblings will always assist the blind family member.
Yes, it’s the Mexican way, but the result is that these kids lack self confidence, are shy, and will most likely never really be assimilated into a seeing world as our blind are in Canada and the United States. We’ve started two group therapy sessions, one for the mums and one for the kids. Tears are shed, stories are told, so this is a step forward to help with the low self esteem.” What can you do to help? Money is always helpful for the latest equipment, but John Castro passionately expressed “what’s needed most are volunteers to come to the school, sing songs, perhaps teach knitting, crocheting, play a musical instrument, bring tactile toys for all ages, just be there and give them a loving hug.
Peggy Sieber and Liz Bannister are two volunteers the kids live to see every Thursday. Peggy and Liz don’t speak Spanish, that’s not important, the little girls giggle and laugh along when they sing.” And so we return to the basics. While Braille and ipads may be leading the blind, nothing replaces machines like a soft human touch and a caring presence in the classroom. If you wish to donate time, money, toys, a musical session please contact Rosa Angelica Garcia Ochoa : 982 1288, cell: 669 129 7404.
Ramps galore, but Centro needs more
I have been riding around on my three wheel scooter (motoelectrico) for almost ten years. Spinal problems and surgeries have resulted in reducing my ability to walk more than a few steps. And now, getting on in years, my wife and I have become part time residents of Mazatlan. We chose this wonderful city because it provides me with access to most of the places we wish to visit. Many people come here to walk along the beach, play golf or fish in the amazing waters surrounding the city.
I can’t do that, but I can ride The Malecon and manoeuvre myself around Centro Historico. There are challenges, but I can get to the market, the Angela Peralta Theatre, and the Cathedral. Every day they are improving making new ramps, and curb cuts (slices of concrete removed with a jackhammer) which really helps people like me: as well as mothers with babies in buggies, older people on canes, or grandparents in wheelchairs. Curb appeal for me, would be lower; or no curbs.
Centro has high sidewalks due to the heavy floods which occur in the summer. I’m not here during the summer, so I often forget the practical reason for the height. Which is exactly why Centro needs to focus on more ramps, and curb cuts. Once I’m up on the sidewalk I can access most buildings or bring out my trusty canes and walk up that final step.
People are very kind and offer to lift my scooter over the step and into a store or restaurant. Of course, all the Big Box Stores in the Golden Zone are very handicap friendly. Even our new Canadian Consulate is ensuring complete access for the handicap. On the one way streets I have to be careful. If a car comes toward me I try to pull over into a space and I always acknowledge with a wave any vehicle that slows or moves over to accommodate me.
My wife, Liz, sometimes walks ahead of me on a busy road to show the driver I’m there. I really should have a high flag but I don’t feel comfortable flying it. My scooter is collapsible and will fit easily into a taxi or pulmonia – it weighs only 73 pounds. Recently I travelled to Guadalajara which is quite scooter friendly. One crazy scooter scramble was when I boarded the El Chepe train in Los Mochis. This train climbs through the tunnels of Copper Canon and over numerous trestles to a height of 7000 feet. To cross from one carriage to the next, in order to access the washroom, was a challenge in itself as the rocking train does not provide a level surface. I took a run at it and managed to cross the gap.
I’m a lucky guy to be able to get around as well as I do. So, thank you Mazatlan and please keep on improving your access for those with mobility problems.