Locals Spotlight #4

This month we have a very special edition of locals spotlight that focuses less on the person and shines the light on their very special efforts to make a difference here in Costa Maya. We have a lot of people that move here from all over to make a life and end up addressing a problem that helps make our community better and stronger. This is definitely the case with Heather and Gil Johnson.

Heather and Gill moved to Costa Maya around 2&1/2 years ago and, after seeing all of the street dogs that are sick, homeless, or undernourished around the area, started Costa Maya Beach Dog Rescuea non-profit that provides shelter, food and medicine for sick dogs and helps find them foster homes locally and abroad. Their efforts are purely out of the kindness of their hearts and they are making an impact locally. Let’s see what they had to say…

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CML: How did you get started with CMBDR?

Heather: Our first visit to Mahahaul was in 2004. There were a ton of street dogs and cats. It was incredibly sad.  Most of my vacations were spent feeding as many strays as I could (which is nice but isn’t a solution).  We always knew we wanted to help once we moved here but weren’t sure how to start or what to do.  While our house was being built, I saw the saddest, skinniest homeless dog I’d ever seen wandering around our construction site looking for food.  The sight of him really solidified my resolve to help.  We spent our vacation taking him to the vet and trying to help him, but he was too far gone to save.  His suffering and his death could have been prevented.  I named him Pinto and vowed in that moment that my time here in this beautiful place would be spent helping all those like him.  He broke my heart, but also inspired me to do something about it.

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CML: How many dogs have you rescued thus far and how many adoptions have you done?

Heather: We currently have 16 street dogs in our house.  Most come in sick & skinny, covered in fleas & ticks, patches of hair missing from mange.  They are filled with worms and often anemic from tick diseases.  At one point last year we had 32 street dogs living in our house.  Right now we also have a medical foster puppy who we’re are treating for mange.  He has a home, but his family doesn’t have the money to help him.

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71 dogs have come through our front door.

42 have been adopted into permanent loving homes.

13 sweet souls have left this world – they were too sick to be saved.

141 dogs have been spayed/neutered through our rescue – most from the street – some from families who love them, but simply can’t afford it.  We plan to take 11 more dogs and 5 cats to the upcoming clinic this weekend.

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We also provide dog food and basic care to local dogs here on our coast.  Our rescue is an hour north of the town of Mahahual, so many of the dogs here will never see a vet in their lifetime.  When money permits, we treat fleas & ticks, parasites, mange and tick-borne illnesses.  If a dog needs emergency treatment, we drive to the ER vet 2.5 hours from our house.

 

CML: Where do most of the adoptions go?

We have partnered with rescues in the US and Canada.  Adoptions have been split equally between Mahahual and the US & Canada.  Dogs go where the best homes are.  If it’s here on our coast that’s perfect.  If it’s in Canada or the US, then we fly them there.

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CML: What is the hardest part of what you do? What is the best part?

Heather: It’s difficult for me not to feel overwhelmed by the size of the problem.  Every time I leave the house, I see a dog I want to rescue.  A dog that clearly needs rescuing, but I don’t have the space to help everyone.  Last year we had 32 stray dogs living with us.  That’s pretty much our limit.  We don’t have a facility – just our house.

Another challenge is convincing people to spay and neuter their pets. Many dogs and cats have owners who let their pets roam the streets and refuse to have them sterilized. The cycle of birth and death seems never ending.  A few groups of wonderful people in town organize spay/neuter clinics several times a year and have been doing so for a long time.  That has drastically cut down on the homeless animal population.  But still there are those people who refuse, so the cycle starts again.

By far the best part of rescue is when an adoptive puppy parent sends me an update with a picture of a happy, chubby, spoiled-silly dog.  For a moment all seems right in the World.  Dogs who once were filthy on the street are now curled up on couches.  Puppies who were once covered in ticks are now going to dog parks and romping around with their friends.  It’s incredible!  It gives us hope and reminds us that anything is possible.

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CML: Where do you see it going in the future?

Heather: I hope to rally the community to become more involved in rescue.  Our greatest potential for lasting change is to teach children about animal issues.   There are so many people who care about animal welfare, but maybe, like me a few years ago, don’t know how to help.  I would like us all to work together to convince our friends and neighbors that this cause is worth our time.  That animals deserve our help.  That spaying & neutering is a good thing.  Together we can fix this. We really can.

 

CML: How do you get funding?

Heather: We are very fortunate to have many generous supporters.  I am beyond thankful for them.  We do, however, always spend more than we take in.  This summer we filed with the IRS to get our non-profit 501(c)(3) designation.  My hope is that more people will contribute as a result and we can start to partner with local businesses.  Rescue is expensive.  Rewarding beyond belief, but expensive.

 

CML: Hand here is the BIG question: How can people help?

Well locally I hope to grow a network of fosters. i could save so many more if people would open their homes and let a dog crash at their place until a home is found.

For everybody else, we are always in desperate need of dog food, flea/tick meds, sponsors for spay/neuter surgeries so donate if you can.

To donate via PayPal – beachdogrescue@gmail.com

To donate via Gofund  – https://www.gofundme.com/beach-dog-rescue-fall-fundraiser

Like my Facebook page and follow our journey.

https://www.facebook.com/costamayabeachdogrescue/

 

CML: Thank you for your time and efforts! Changing the lives of these dogs is an amazing thing and the community AND DOGS surely appreciate it!

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We are officially in the holiday season and it really is the season for giving. What you spend on a pumpkin spiced late can make a huge difference down here in the lives of these dogs and this wonderful couple who comes out of their own pocket to help these animals. Any size of donation helps so please contribute if you can. Your heart will swell like the Grinch in Whoville when you do!

 

 

How to Make a Proper Day of the Dead Altar

The Day of the Dead is upon us! As this holiday grows in international fame, due to the beauty of the rituals and ideas that make it, there can be some confusion for first-timers on how exactly to make your altar and what the significance of each piece is. Searching google on the topic will leave your head spinning, with some websites laying out very specific steps and offerings for seven days surrounding the holiday and others having a more lassiez-faire approach, stating that it doesn’t matter what you put, it is all about your personal intentions and experiences. Still others have traditions based on region.

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It can all be confusing, but I did find several things that almost all of the guides have in common which I will lay out for you here and we can consider “essential offerings” for your Dia de los Muertos altar. Let’s take a look at what they are what the meaning behind them…

  1. A glass of water – A glass of water is found on every altar how-to page I came across. The glass of water is laid out for those loved ones whose souls have made the long trek back and are thirsty from their journey. Some put out the glass of water as early as October 28th to quench the lone souls that arrive early with no family to remember them.

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  1. Flowers – Every day of the Dead altar has flowers. Looking around online the most common flower is the orange marigold or Cempasuchitl as the Aztecs called it. It is commonly known as the Day of the Dead Flower or Flor de Muertos. But some say that other flowers of different colors such as white and purple all have difference significance. The overarching theme however is that the aroma of the flowers helps lure the spirit back to its family and looks nice to help make them welcome. On the 2nd of November petals are placed from the doorway to the altar as a path for the spirits.

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  1. Pan de los Muertos – Day of the dead bread is a sweet treat for the souls that have returned to celebrate with their family. It is a light fluffy round loaf of bread with a light citrus glaze and a healthy dusting of sugar crystals. The bread ribbons laid over the top represent bones. In Mexico it can be found in any panaderia, or bakery, but may be harder to find elsewhere. White bread can be a substitute for those who can’t find it.

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  1. Candles – Candles are another must-have for your ofrenda. Some people have innumerable candles set out and some say that simple altars can have just 2. One specific guide had a new white candle set out for each day from the 28th of October to November 3rd. The candles help light the way for your loved one’s souls and represent purity.

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  1. Copal Incense – Copal incense comes from a tree resin in southern Mexico and has a strong and clean aroma. Copal is used to ward off bad energy and to cleanse and purify the area for the souls. Copal may be hard to find outside of Mexico so you may need to plan in advance in ordering it or use some other purifying incense.

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  1. Photos – Of course we need photos of the honored dead that we wish to remember. This helps make them present. You can also lay out their personal effects such as pipes, hats, watches, etc…

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  1. Favorite foods and drinks of the deceased – This needs no explanation as the whole purpose of this celebration is to remember our departed loved ones. On November 1st, which is the day that the angleitos, or little angels, return, participants put out sweet treats and candies for children that have been lost. On November 2nd the adults return and families put out cooked foods, drinks, and spirits for the departed. The deceased feed on the essence of the food and the living actually eat it.

 

  1. Papel Picado – This is colorful cut-out tissue paper that is used to adorn the altar and make it festive. Some people believe that different colors represent different things but the important thing is just to have some.

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  1. Crosses or religious elements

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And that basically does it for the “essential offerings” for a Dia de los Muertos altar. There are a few other more common elements such as salt, candy skulls, skeleton dolls, arches and others but the above list represents the absolute must-haves. Cultures constantly exchange ideas and have since the beginning of time despite what all these “cultural appropriation” silly folks are screaming about. If it appeals to you take the opportunity to participate in a beautiful tradition that honors your departed relatives and invites them to be a part of the family again. Kids learn and adults remember. It is one of my new favorite holidays. Feliz Dia de los Muertos everyone!

 

Mexican Independence Day: A Brief History

September 16th is Mexican Independence day and it is right around the corner. Like many things in Mexico, the story of independence is long and complicated. Compare it to other countries such as the U.S., where the independence movement was basically a straight line, or others who simply had their independence granted to them, and the unique nature of Mexican independence can be appreciated. Now if you are a reader of this blog I assume that you aren’t a Mexican local, and we could all use a little history lesson to appreciate the country that has accepted us into its’ busom. So I am writing a brief account of the events to inform us all.

The story starts in the early 1800s as marginalized mixed-race peasants and some high-born Mexicans of Spanish descent (criollos) in New Spain (Mexico) had become disillusioned with the crown and its treatment of locals as 2nd class citizens and much worse. A well regarded priest by the name of Miguel Hidalgo had been having secret meetings in his home with other prominent men to discuss the possibility of revolt against the crown.

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Hidalgo

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Ignacio Allende, a famed military leader, joined the secret meetings to discuss the validity of Spanish rule in New Spain at the home of Hidalgo. In the early morning of Sept 16, after discovering that loyalists had gotten wind of his secret metings, Hidalgo ran to the church in the city of Dolores and rang the bells to gather the towns people and asked them to join him in revolt. The “Grito de Dolores” or Cry of Dolores as it has been named, called for an end to 300 years of Spanish rule, redistribution of land, and racial equality in Mexico. By the morning of Sept. 16 he had a mob of 600 men, armed with whatever the could find, ready to fight. Most of his mob was made of the poor and mixed race lower class indians and mestizos who felt that the Spanish and New Spanish aristocracy treated them poorly.

His mob of the poor and neglected marched south from town to town killing all the Spanish and loyalists they could find and recruiting others to join their efforts. On Sept. 28th, numbering around 30,000 they reached the town of Guanajuato and killed some 500 Spanish and criollo loyalists that they found hiding in the Granaditas of Guanajuato (granary).

On Oct. 30th Hidalgo and Allende’s army encountered a small group of Spanish military, hastily organized by the viceroy (Spanish colonial governor of new spain), made up of 1,000 soldiers, 400 horsemen and 2 cannons and defeated them ouside of Mexico City at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces. He then committed what scholars roundly agree was his greatest tactical error and decided not to march on Mexico City. No one knows for sure why but most speculate that he wanted to spare the people of Mexico City the violence and plunder that he knew would ensue had he invaded.

He instead took on a defensive strategy and met the spanish army again in January 1811 at the Battle of the Bridge of Calderon and was defeated.

Hidalgo, Allende, and leaders Jimenez, Aldama were all captured in Coahuila, tried, and executed. All of their heads were hung from the four corners of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas of Guanajuato where they had slaughtered the 500 loyalists as a warning to those who dared follow in their footsteps.

Following the execution of Hidalgo, Jose Maria Morelos assumed command of the insurgency capturing key cities. In 1813, he convened the Congress of Chilpancingo to bring representatives together and, on 6 November of that year, the Congress signed the first official document of independence, known as the Solemn Act of the Declaration of Independence of North America. However in 1815 Morelos too was captured, tried and executed by the Spanish.

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by 1815 the revolt seemed all but squashed as most major factions and all major leaders had been defeated and captured. Between 1815 and 1821 most independence fighting was done by small bands and factions of rebels. The monarchy in Spain had it all but under control.

in 1821 the crown sent famed military leader Augustine de Iturbide, who gained his reputation fighting Hidalgo’s forces, to squash an insurgency force lead by Vincente Guererro in Oaxaca. Iturbide was a criollo (Person of Spanish descent born in Mexico) who was very conservative and staunch supporter of the established order and monarchy. When a liberal uprising in Spain overthrew the crown and forced King Ferdinand to reinstate the liberal constitution of 1812, establishing a constitutional monarchy, Iturbide saw it as a threat to the status quo in New Spain (Mexico) and called for a meeting with Vincente Guererro in Iguala to discuss joining forces and fighting for independence.

Iturbide

Iturbide

The “Plan of Iguala” established the “three guarantees” for Mexican Independence from Spain: 1) Mexico was to be a monarchy 2) criollos were to have equal rights to peninsulares (Spanish people born in Spain), and the Roman Catholic Church would continue its privileged position in Mexico. Mexicans of mixed or indian blood would still, however, have lesser rights. Guerrero and Iturbide’s forced joined and formed the Army of the Three Guarantees and defeated the remaining Spanish Royalist forces.

On August 24th, the viceroy signed the Treaty of Cordoba which agreed to make Mexico an independent constitutional monarchy. Since no European monarch could be found, Iturbide was named emperor. However, his reign was short lived as in 1823, republicans Santa Ana, who would become the famed general, and Guadaloupe Victoria, another independence leader, overthrew the monarch and established a republic with Guadaloupe Victoria as the first president.

Independence day is celebrated on Sept. 16th as the first day that arms were risen in Mexico against the crown and Hidalgo is considered by all as the “Father of Mexican Independence”. So this weekend when the festivities kick off, this date will mean more than just beers and barbecues to those visitors and ex-pats from afar. Enjoy and VIVA MEXICO!!

Locals Spotlight #3

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This edition of Locals Spotlight we are reaching waaaaaay back in the bag of locals and Talking to Evan Mckenzie, the well-known and long established owner of Nacional Beach Club, a great hotel, restaurant, and all-around hang out spot on the malecon, to find out about himself, his lovely family, and his business. Evan is an “O.G.” of Mahahual, if you will, and has seen a lot of changes to our little community. Let’s dig in…

CML: Thanks for sitting down with me Evan. Let’s jump right in. How did you discover Mahahual and when did you come here for the first time?

Evan: It was the glorious year of 1998 the first time I visited Mahahual with my father.  A neighbor of ours in Playa del Carmen told him about a quiet little fishing village located in the South of Quintana Roo called Xcalak. He bought his first property there in 1997 but it didn’t take him long to decide that Mahahual would probably grow first as a tourist destination. So I came down with him in ’98 to check it out.

CML: What were your impressions of the town? What was it like?

Evan: I remember telling my father when he asked me what I thought about the town of Mahahual as we stood on one of our first 9x18meter lots in the center of Mahahual overlooking the ocean “ Well Dad it is certainly beautiful here but there is not much going on”. To which he replied “You will see that will change with time”. He was absolutely right.

CML: When did you decide to come live here? What was your plan and what did your friends and family think?

Evan: I decided to move to Mahahual in the fall of 2005 once I graduated from Arizona State University with a double degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management & Business Administration. My Family was really very supportive and happy to hear I would be moving to a country full of culture & wonderful people that we all  thoroughly enjoyed visiting throughout my youth.

CML: And at some point you met your wife Ana, who is heavily involved in conservation and recycling with her group “Menos Plastico es Fantastico en Mahahual“. Tell me about that.

Evan: I met my beautiful wife Ana on the beach in Mahahual where else haha? We met while I was having breakfast in the Spring of 2007. The moment I laid eyes on her I was absolutely in love. 

I had just started my first little bohemian restaurant “Cosas Naturales” which only served fresh juices, smoothies,  breakfast, salads & wraps while Ana was working on her first restaurant with one of her best friends which served typical Chilean dishes beach side. 

CML: And then some point later you guys opened Nacional Beach Club right?

Evan: Ana and I decided to develop Nacional Beach Club once FONATUR finished developing the first stage of the malecon in 2008. We started with very basic drawings using our imagination and before long found an architect in Chetumal for the finalized plans & licensing, right where “Cosas Naturales” stood. 

We started with 3 bungalows, a restaurant/bar and three locals to service the beach.  It did not take us long to figure out that there was demand for lodging in the sleepy little village as eager tourists arrived from all over Mexico and the world to visit these tranquil white sand beaches with glistening Caribbean water at is edges. And we’ve been growing ever since then!

CML: So you guys got married and have two beautiful daughters. What is it like raising a family here?

Evan: I have only raised one family and only in Mahahual but could not imagine doing so anywhere else on earth. Many guests at our establishment truly admire us for this as it is such a peaceful place to raise children. 

CML: What are the biggest changes you have seen here, good or bad? How would you like to see Mahahual grow in the future?

Evan: Growth is inevitable but I feel that the condo developments change the image of Mahahual. We should undoubtedly grow green with more emphasis on sustainable tourism, growth & education within our community. We must all agree that no one comes to Mahahual for large shopping plazas or to visit monstrosity hotel chains but simply to enjoy pristine beaches, coral reefs, and to support small business models. 

I strongly believe that Mahahual sells itself, simple as that, and that we the entrepreneurs need to preserve the natural beauty as much as possible.  Hence the less impact we make the more of a niche we will create for a eco-tourism that will vary from our neighbors to the north.  Though many of us complain about the Costa Maya Port we must also all thank this industry for providing us with a very steady supply of tourism throughout the year.  We should also be thankful to the National & International tourism that the highway brings us constantly thanks to the Chetumal & Cancun Airport.

CML: Well put. What is your favorite part about living in Mahahual? 

Evan: Definitely always looking at the Caribbean Sea and feeling a fresh clean breeze.

CML: Is this home? Are you planning on being here forever?

Evan: Forever and ever!

Stop by and see Evan and his family the next time you are in town at Nacional Beach Club!

Mexico Eliminated from World Cup: Mahahual to Return to Normal

serveimage (14)Well it was fun while it lasted! Today “el Tri”, the Mexican national soccer team, was eliminated in the first round of the knock out stage of the world up by Brasil.

For the past two weeks, early morning cheers, screams, horns and whistles have sounded out the emotion and passion of Mahahualenos as they cheered for the boys half a world away in Russia.

The tournament started out on a high note as El Tri scored a big win over defending champs Germany in the first game of the group stage. Then another victory over South Korea had our little town floating on air as the light tourist season allowed time to watch and revel and local bars and restaurants. The normally busy pedestrian streets were empty as locals gathered to watch.

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The third match was something of a cardiac case as the national team took a 3-0 walloping from Sweden, putting Germany in the position to knock us out if they were to merely tie in their match with the much weaker South Korea. As the games were taking place simultaneously, Mahahual collectively held its breath as the clock wound closer to the 90th minute and the score remained 0-0 for the Germans and Koreans.

Then one minute into extra time Korea scored the first goal sending roars into our tiny collective atmosphere, but there were 5 minutes left to play and the German soccer machine is a titan not to be counted out. at 5:51 into extra time Korea sealed the deal, sending a wave of celebration across the lower portion of North America, local celebratory tequila shots, and sparking international displays of praise and gratitude for any Korean seen by a group of Mexicans (see some hilarious videos here).

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But everybody knew today would be a tough ask of the boys in green as they faced the South American soccer juggernaut Brasil. Neymar, Brasil’s best player, or actor depending on who you ask, did what he does best and put on a Lebron’ing showcase that would make the Lakers’ newest acquisition proud.

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Meanwhile Ochoa, Mexico’s revered goal keeper, put up a brick wall, blocking 8 attempts on goal and drawing the admiration of soccer fans for the second straight world cup in the 2-0 loss.

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End the end El Tri did well. The win over Germany will not soon be forgotten in the minds of Mahahualenos and Mexicans everywhere and making it to the round of 16 is an accomplishment in and of itself. Maybe in 2022 we will finally see the team to the quarter final match that has eluded them since 1986. For now, Mahahual can return to normal.

 

 

Local Knowledge #3

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Mahahual is  very small town. I don’t know how many of you grew up for spent any time in small towns but I have come to realize that they are very similar to one another in many ways, regardless of culture or language. I am from a tiny farm town in eastern North Carolina and I have been serendipitously reminded of my formative years more than once since moving here.

The local knowledge for this post applies to the Oxxo post and to most small towns that I know of. There are always lots of talk and rumors about things going on in town, most of them erroneous or innocently misinformed. If I had a chicken strip for every time my childhood friend Nick told me that Taco Bell and Bojangles were coming to our small town I would have a lot of chicken strips.

When you hear these rumors, you should know that you’ll never really know until the rumor becomes a reality! Don’t waste your time and hope speculating. Just wait….and see…

The Legend of Oxxo in Mahahual

There has been a rumor circulating in our small town for quite some time. A rumor about a sacred place that where goods are exchanged for money, bills are paid, money is wired, and the pueblo gathers under the glow of incandescent light. Late at night on the street you hear whispers of it. Once in a while you will see a flyer for it. One day Mahahual will become the chosen home of the newest Oxxo! Dum dum duuuuuummmm…

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Oxxo, if you don’t know what it is, is probably the most popular chain of convenience stores in Mexico. Think of it as the Mexican 711. That might not get you very excited but no matter how you view it, will be good for our little town. It will bring some much needed services that aren’t available here under its own banner and may even attract a few other businesses that are sorely needed in this part of the world.  We surely don’t necessarily need another place to buy cerveza and chicharones, but sending and receiving money and paying bills more easily would be a breath of fresh air.

The only thing is that, Mahahual being a tiny town, the rumor abounds but nobody seems to know quite where or when it will be. Judging by the lack of certainty I wouldn’t even be completely sold on the fact that it is actually coming if I hadn’t seen the flyer a few months ago looking to interview employees. That sold me, but I can’t for the life of me figure out the mystery.

Every new construction in town is assigned to Oxxo by one person or another. At the beginning it was going to be at the beach beside the Mahahual Cigar lounge but that didn’t make sense because that lot is huge and beach front. Way too much for a tiny Oxxo. One guy says it will be where they are building new condos on Calle Chacchoben in Casitas but I asked the contractor and he assured me that he was building condos. Everytime ground is broken, someone says it is Oxxo.

The only thing that we can do here is watch and wait. One day it is certain that a touch of modernity will land in our area but where and when we won’t know until they turn on the light! Which leads me to local knowledge #3…