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Boris and the Catrina
Originally uploaded by planeta.

Things are a little dicey in Oaxaca, Mexico, but do some digging to find out what’s happening at ground level.

I just had a phone conversation with Ron Mader, who runs the responsible travel site Planeta.com. He lives in Oaxaca and is in close touch with the vendors and people who run the tourism infrastructure. While the political situation there is far from settled, it’s more nuanced (as usual) than what you see on the 24-hour news channels.

“Teachers went on strike, the government sent in the state police, then the locals basically kicked out the police,” Mader said. “As a result, tourism has dropped 95%. Shops are open now though. The governor may be on the run, but it’s not as crazy here as many outsiders think it is.”

It’s often hard to find out from people living in a place what the situation on the ground is really like. He has set up a page with safety information and a link to a forum–the latter containing only posts from people who live there. So to get the real deal, go here:
Oaxaca forum.

obnoxious and annoying.

Originally uploaded by justbadpot.

This article from Budget Travel is a good one on how to avoid being an “ugly American” while traveling. But though my countrymen may be a bit wider and less-traveled than others, they don’t have a monopoly on bad behavior. Anyone who has been around the world knows that there are plenty of traveling jerks from almost anywhere. (Except the Japanese perhaps–either they get an A in manners or they just don’t want to make mistakes using their English.) As Rolf Potts says in his recent column on The Worst Tourists in the World, “The worst travelers in the world are, after all, the rude, small-minded ones — and rude, small-minded travelers can hail from any nation.”

Nevertheless, it’s a good article with a worthwhile list of things to watch out for. Combine these ten tips with the five from Rolf’s article and you’ll be more culturally sensitive than 95% of the tourists out there. The real key is to turn off the computer and read your guidebook. Localized dos and don’t are pretty standard in most guides–you just have to read them and actually follow through.


Originally uploaded by Globetrots.

I imagine most people reading this blog don’t have so much money lying around that they would put a pile of it into buying a vineyard in Argentina. But if you know someone with dreams of owning their own winery, you might want to point them to this article I wrote for EscapeArtist.com, for their real estate quarterly. Dreams and Disappointments: Wine Investing in Argentina.

This came about because a guy from my home town lives in Mendoza now, running a consulting business for people who want to get into the wine business there. He’s also going to figure into a story I’m writing for Transitions Abroad right now on people doing “normal” jobs abroad. It’s a piece on people who have moved to another country to work, but are not teaching English, selling real estate, or doing tourism-related jobs. They’re just doing what they were already good at. More on that come December…

After you’ve got a few travel miles under your belt, it becomes obvious that some governments are filled with gifted planners, while others are full of people who belong on the short bus to elementary school.

Today, let’s contrast the local government that dreamed up Cancun with the people currently making a big splash in British Columbia. The former not only turned a mostly deserted stretch of sand into one of the world’s most successful beach resort destinations, they rebuilt in less than a year after a devastating hurricane. (Yo, New Orleans, anybody paying attention to this?)

Then there’s B.C. where blogger Erin Julian reports that two massively expensive tourism projects are going bankrupt. We can just imagine the planning conversations where people passionately believed tourists would be willing to shell out $20 or more to see what is essentially a fancy map. How about I just pull up Google Earth for free? (2012 update: the website I was linking to in this post is kaput.)

The other was an interactive history museum that came with a $22 million price tag. As Erin says, “So here we have two multi-million dollar tourist attractions, both very unique but what went wrong? Simple…the locals weren’t interested and they were solely relying on tourists who weren’t willing to pay the approx. entry $20-$30 per adult especially seeing as though Western Canada tourism is mostly outdoors experiencing what the land has to offer and not seeing it portrayed indoors.”

You shouldn’t have to conduct a lot of market research to figure that one out. But you might want to try some next time guys. Or just take a Spanish phrase book and set up some meetings in the Yucatan.

Reports on Bangkok’s shiny new airport haven’t been very encouraging so far. There’s no direct public transportation without getting in a cab or bus, first of all, despite the site being planned a generation ago. There are complaints that there aren’t enough restrooms, which is even more baffling.

A report out in USA Today says 1,200 bags were lost over the weekend. Straight off the job of arranging a coup, the military called in 50 soldiers “to help manually direct 6,700 bags to outgoing flights.” (Goals for this month: 1. Oust the prime minister. 2. Clean up baggage mess at new airport. 3. Get rid of Bangkok smog.)

Kind of makes me pine for the old days when you walked out of a creaky terminal, crossed the street to a creaky train, and were on your way to the teeming city.