All posts by Robert Nickel

Flying the Airlines Like a Pro – More Seating

There is flying, and then there is flying like a pro. Millions of people each year plan an exotic vacation to Mexico or the Caribbean, only to have it sullied by an abominable flying experience. Get the most bang for your airline ticket buck, and follow a few simple guidelines when planning the next flight. The previous article in this series outlined a couple rules of thumb when it came to good and bad seating on a plane. Sitting in front of the engines will be more quiet, while the opposite is true when sitting in back of the engines (plus its more bumpy). The exit row has lots of leg-room, but it is also more noisy and people are often entering the aisle to access toilets.

Now we all know the middle seat is the least desirable, especially if the row is five seats deep. There is less room, less privacy and one has to climb over two other people to get out to the bathroom. If the flight is relatively short, then sitting in the middle may not be an issue. However if the destination is the beautiful Cancun, Jamaica or even further, then sitting in the middle will be far more uncomfortable.

If your plan is to sleep for most of the flight, try an aisle position or of course the coveted window seat. Aisle seats are great if you know you will be getting up to move around or use the toilet a lot, but remember there will be additional moving for your neighbors. Also be careful of bumps and knocks from meal or drink carts, and other passengers.

Although airlines do not recommend this practice, it is possible to simulate the comfort of first class in economy. If there appears to be rows of empty seats after everyone has boarded, try to find out if you can use the seats as a bed. Simply raise the armrests and lie down for a snooze! If you end up trying to nap in your seat, be sure to strap your seatbelt over top of the blanket. Then when the flight attendants come around, they will not need to wake you to check for seatbelts.

Keep in mind, the flight attendants are there to help make the flight a relaxing experience. If your neighbor is ill or takes up far more room than they should, or if the electronics in the seat don’t work, tell the flight attendant right away and they may be able to get you a new seat. On the other hand, when traveling with a lot of other people you do not know, there is a certain amount of understanding and tolerance that must take place. Don’t be overly picky, but know your limits as well.

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The Future of the Tainos

The Tainos were a pre-Columbian indigenous people living in the Caribbean region. Christopher Columbus met their large population when he landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492. In two previous articles of this series we explored the history of the Tainos, and their status in present day populations of the Caribbean. We learned that although historians had previously declared the Tainos race to be extinct, one study done in Puerto Rico found that over 61% of the population had Amerindian mitochondrial DNA. Those results supported the findings of biology professor Juan Carlos Martinez at the University of Puerto Rico, who conducted his own studies. He suggested that the prevalence of indigenous mitochondrial DNA in people of the Caribbean may be even more than that of Caucasoid and Negroid.

The previously reported facts suggest a future for the Tainos, despite a complete loss of their language and the purity of their traditions. Through historical and archeological study we have learned the Tainos adopted numerous traditions, customs, skills and practices from other cultures they came into contact with. It is therefore difficult to determine what is a wholly Tainos characteristic, in some areas of the culture as it exists today. Yet despite the ambiguity of tradition, many people in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Haiti identify themselves as descendants of the Tainos.

Many heritage groups have formed in the West Indies with a mission to foster Taino culture. Herein lies the controversy, partially because of the reasons mentioned above and partially through the knowledge of Tainos culture being blended with Spanish and African cultures. In reality there is no reason for argument over the purity of traditions practiced today. The implied genocide of the Tainos by the Spanish is a part of the history of the race, just as the adoption and blending of cultural methods, and now the re-emergence of Tainos pride.

There are numerous groups based all over the Caribbean dedicated to celebrating Tainos traditions and teaching future generations about their heritage. Since the original Maipurean language of the Tainos did not include a written component, some groups have created unique scripts. The ideas is to help strengthen interest in the Tainos, both by their own ancestors and by other cultures. Of course the argument here is the inclusion of a Tainos script is not true to the Tainos history because one never existed before. On the other hand, every culture on earth evolves and grows – why shouldn’t the Tainos?

The future of the Tainos is bright, no matter which side of the fence you sit on. There is scientific proof of the existence of Tainos DNA in the population. Heritage groups exist in each region the Tainos inhabited, all with an aim to promote their culture and traditions. Most importantly, there is awareness and appreciation of the unique history of the Tainos.

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Revolutionary Graffiti Art of Mexico

Anyone who knows anything about the subculture of graffiti art will know there is just one group tied to the revolutionary graffiti art occurring in Mexico. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) first publicly proclaimed their existence on January 1st, 1994. Their purpose is to oppose the Mexican state as they claim the government has lost sight of what the people want so significantly that no legitimacy for the existence of the government exists. From the beginning the message the EZLN has been change through democracy, not violence. Their war is waged with a view to be heard, not to inflict death or damage.

It all began the day the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect. Over 3000 entered several towns in the state of Chiapas and began to make their statement. They freed prisoners from jails and set fire to buildings belonging to authorities. Once the conflict was suppressed by the Mexican Army, the EZLN retreated to the surrounding jungles and made relative peace with the authorities – but it took time.

All members of the EZLN are of Mayan descent, but they do have supporters from international nations and cultures as well. Since the Internet became for readily available for everyone’s use, the EZLN has had the opportunity to make their ideology, history, purpose and message heard more clearly by the world. As a result many Non-Governmental Organizations have taken interest in their struggle, as well as mainstream media entities. In a time when there is an increased awareness of the deterioration of the environment and its resources, EZLN’s beliefs of preservation and environment protection has given them global popularity.

Members of the EZLN may be young, but they are not irresponsible or volatile. Their beliefs lie in a weapon, drug and alcohol free society that a complete halt to the destruction of the natural environment. It is easy to stereotype groups that oppose government. Take note, stereotyping is just the kind of blind thinking the EZLN is trying to eradicate in the Mexican government

All over the state of Chiapas the message and history of EZLN can be seen through striking graffiti art. Just as graffiti in the US and Canada has come to be seen as the voice of youth, so too has that of images seen on the walls in Mexico. The bright and detailed pictures don’t just make a demand, they tell a multi-layered story. Some account for the suppression of the indigenous populations by the Mexican government. Others honor revolutionaries from the Mexican Revolution. In essence, the streets and alleys of the little villages in Chiapas have become a sort of art gallery. Except admission is free.

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Mexican Cuisine: Barbacoa

To all those backyard grillers out there who deem the good old USA as the birthplace of barbecue, think again. It was the pre-Columbian Taino and Arawak Indians who lived in the Caribbean region, including Mexico, that first began slow cooking meat over an open fire. They used the green (and fire resistant) limbs of fig trees to create skewers or grills for cooking meats and fish.

The earliest variations of barbacoa incorporated herbs and spices found on the land as a marinade for the meat. One example used by the Taino includes the root of the cassava plant. The herbs and spices were used on all meats, fish and grilled vegetables for flavor enhancement, but also for preserving. In a tropical climate foods spoiled quickly without refrigeration, so the added conservation qualities of the herbs became very valuable. It was the Arawak Indians who gave the method of cooking meat its name, barbacoa.

As time went on, the recipes and methods of barbacoa changed. Every part of the animal was still used, but the absence of spices and herbs increased. After the initial Spanish conquest of the 16th century, marinades and sauces were not applied to the meat until after it was cooked. Then it was the chocolatey mole sauce that was used most prevalently. Game birds were soon included in barbacoa, as well as animals introduced by the Spanish, such as cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and chickens.

Barbacoa slowly made its way up to the US through Texas, largely because portions of the state used to belong to Mexico. Barbacoa gradually became ‘barbecue’ and methods of cooking evolved into what we now identify as barbecue. Today in Mexico, the traditional Mexican barbacoa is made from parts of the head of a cow, goat meat, lamb or pork – depending on the region. It is served on a warm soft corn tortilla with salsa and guacamole. Onion, cilantro and lime juice are also common additions to the serving. Barbacoa is considered a specialty meat, thus it may only be found during holidays or in the event of a family celebrations such as a wedding.

Next time you slap a thick t-bone steak on the grill, consider where this cooking method has its roots. For thousands of years people have been roasting meats over a fire, but only the Mesoamerican Indians came up with the idea marinating the meat in herbs and spices, then sticking it on a stick to grill. Thank goodness they did!

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The Lost Caribbean Fort of Columbus

We know Christopher Columbus left Spain on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. His intention was to colonize those islands which he had seen on his first exploratory voyage in 1492. We also know he made his presence known on several of the Caribbean Islands during those two voyages, but it wasn’t until his fourth visit to the region that he actually touched down on mainland Central America.

What most armchair historical students are not aware of, is the small fort of La Navidad Columbus established towards the end of his first voyage. In August of 1492, Columbus departed from Spain on the Santa Maria with two smaller vessels in tow (the Pinta and the Santa Clara). In the dead of night on October 12th a lookout on the Pinta spotted land far off in the distance.

The island was what we now know as belonging to The Bahamas, but Columbus and his crew would learn much from the natives living there. He reported the men’s bodies appeared to have numerous of scars, and through a series of gestures and drawings the natives were able to tell the Europeans what happened. A mainland tribe had come to the island and attempted to capture people as slaves, but the men defended themselves and received many injuries.

Later that same month, Columbus took his ships on further exploration of the islands. The largest ship in their fleet, the Santa Maria ran aground just off the coast of what is now Cuba, near Haiti. The natives living there gave permission for a party of 39 men to stay on the island. Columbus instructed the men to use timber from the Santa Maria to build a settlement in preparation for colonization. It was now December of 1492 and Columbus intended to make one last exploratory stop in the Caribbean, so he left his crew members promising to return in a year with supplies.

Columbus went on to the southern end of the island of Hispaniola, arriving in January of 1493. After kidnapping several natives to bring back to Spain, he and his remaining two ships headed for the Atlantic. When Columbus arrived home and spoke of his travels in ‘new’ lands, everyone took interest. In September of 1493 Columbus set out on his second voyage, loaded down with 17 ships, 1200 colonizers, priests, farmers, and soldiers. In November he made a stop at the island of Hispaniola to check up on and deliver aid to La Navidad, but all he found were ashes and corpses.

For hundreds of years adventurers and archaeologists have searched for the ill-fated settlement. The records of Columbus are not clear on exactly where the La Navidad was, but many have looked in Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Columbian archaeology wishes to definitively answer the question: what really happened to those 39 men?

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Decoding Dominican Spanish

The Dominican Republic was colonized by the Spanish in 1492, and was in fact the site of the first permanent European settlement in both North and South America. While Spanish language, religion and traditions have definitely made a long lasting mark on Dominican culture, the people have created their own national identity. Spanish is the official language, but it is not the same dialect as what is spoken in Spain or other Spanish speaking countries.

In the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other Caribbean nations, the language spoken in the Dominican is referred to as Dominicanismos or Dominicanese. Some words are identical to Spain’s Spanish words, while others are completely different. If you are travelling to the Dominican, do not rely upon your high school Spanish. Instead, pick up a Dominican Spanish phrase book and study up on important phrases and words.

When you are studying, be sure to learn the different ways consonants and vowels are spoken. Their use is different than what an English speaking person would expect, and if you mispronounce something it may lead to a misunderstanding or something offensive. For example, Dominicans do not use the letter ‘s’ at the end of a word either in pronunciation or spelling. Different regions have varied pronunciation as well, so listen to people talking while you walk around. Then you can get a feel for how to say the phrases and words you learned.

Be prepared for the way Dominicans communicate. They speak loudly, quickly, and with a lot of animated gestures and very dramatic facial expressions. What may look like a precursor to an altercation for a traveler, looks like a normal conversation to a Dominican. Slang and double meanings are very common in Dominicanese, showing a deep intelligence on the part of the locals. Add in metaphors and wordplay, the Dominican Spanish language becomes clever and fun. For example, ‘avion’ literally translated means airplane, yet referring to a woman as an avion implies they are easy. Similarly, ‘kille’ means broken glass when translated literally, yet it is used to describe being angry. More humorously, ‘piltrafa’ describes being eaten by pigs, but is used in reference to someone who is useless. ‘Vaina’ means literally, vine, but is used to refer to the word ‘thing’; as in “give me that thing”.

Many travelers question their need to learn the language spoken at their vacation destination. After all, they will just be there for a few days, why bother? Well, yes the trip may be short but the reasons for learning the language are far more important than the length of stay. By understanding the signs you encounter and the words being spoken to you and around you, there is safety. Even if traveling in a group, knowing how to navigate the country through the use of the local language can prevent trouble and certainly get you out of trouble. It is also a big sign of respect towards the locals. If you make an effort to speak the language, they will make an effort to help and guide you.

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Mexican Cuisine: Tripas

In Mexican cuisine nothing is wasted. All parts of the animal serve a purpose, as do all parts of fruits and vegetables. Even leafy vegetation, trees, roots and insects are regularly used in Mexican cuisine. This ingenuity is iconic of Mesoamerican food and has been passed down through generations and cultural shifts for thousands of years. Here we will take a brief look at a very traditional dish, of which variations can be found in countless nations all over the world.

Tripas in Mexican cuisine are the cooked intestines of farm animals. After being cleaned, the tripas are boiled in a specially designed contraption called a disco (pronounces “dee-sko”). Basically it consists of two wok-like bowls on top of one another and mounted on a pole. The lower bowl holds the heat source, such as charcoal or wood. The upper bowl is filled with the tripas and water. As the charcoal or wood burns off, the water boils the tripas until they are tender and velvety. Tripas are typically served as a filling for tacos, tortilla or burritos. Common condiments for tripas include cilantro, onion, chile sauce, pico de gallo and of course guacamole.

There are three ways to order tripas, soft, medium crispy or extra crispy. Soft is tripas are served immediately after the boiling process is completed. Medium crispy is achieved by allowing the tripas to cook in their own fat after the water has boiled off. The outside of the tripas is crispy, but the inside is still soft and velvety. Extra crispy is accomplished by adding additional fat to the upper bowl of the disco and allowing the tripas to cook until they are crispy all the way through. A similar dish is produced using the internal system of a cow’s udder that has been marinated and grilled.

In truth, there are many traditional Mexican dishes that include the internal organs of animals. Cochinita pibil is a slow-roasted suckling pig, with all the internal organs intact. The carcass is marinated in citrus juices, peppered with annatto seed and wrapped in banana leaves during the roasting process. Of course there is also moronga, a sausage made out of pig’s blood. Spices, herbs and chile peppers are boiled in the pig’s intestines for several hours, then sausages are twisted, portioned off and grilled.

When you find yourself in Mexico seeking an ‘authentic’ experience, find yourself a little restaurant willing to serve you one of the above traditional dishes. They may be trepidatious, they may even refuse. Nevertheless, if you are truly committed to consuming real Mexican cuisine that is eaten by the local farming families, then press on!

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Mexican Cuisine: Tlayuda

Mexican cuisine is simple, rugged and packed with flavor. Most of the authentic Mexican dishes found in Mexico today are not that much different than they were a few hundred years ago, or even a thousand years ago. The same modest ingredients are still used, items that have grown on the land for countless generations. Certain cultural influences have been imposed over the history of the country, such as those from the Spanish and French, but the impact has on Mexican dishes has been subtle. Aztec, Mayan and Mesoamerican Indian flavors still dominate the palate.

Tlayuda is no exception. It begins with the ancient tortilla, a corn or wheat flatbread originating with the Mesoamerican peoples. After being slightly fried or toasted, the tortilla has a layer of refried beans spread over it. Then a thin layer of asiento, or unrefined pork lard. Then a few leaves of lettuce or cabbage, avocado, Oaxaca cheese and salsa. Meat is also a part of the topping list, and can include shredded chicken or beef tenderloin or the traditional pork chorizo. Most of the time Tlayuda is served open-faced, however some homes prefer to fold the tortilla in half.

If you properly visualized the construction of the Tlayuda, it may have reminded you of a pizza. It is in fact a lot like the common Italian-American pizza served thousands of times each day in the US. The crust is not thick and bread-like, it is a tortilla. There is no tomato sauce, just a bit of salsa added as one of the final layers. In fact, the use of cheese and leaving the Tlayuda open-faced are about the only similarities to pizza.

Each region of Mexico has a slightly different version of Tlayuda. Some use more chili spice, while others opt for adding roasted grasshoppers. Like the North American adaptation of the pizza, the Tlayuda is found with ingredients to please any palate or indeed any income level. It is not unusual to see Tlayudas offered at fine restaurants in Mexico and a few blocks down at a street vendor. One variation offers the Tlayuda folded in half and topped with spicy grilled skirt steak.

Whichever area of Mexico you travel to, make a sincere effort to sample the traditional cuisine. With such simple ingredients and cooking methods, it would easy to duplicate the dishes at home. Amaze your family and friends with a Mexico themed evening, using all the knowledge gained from your vacation.

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The History of the Taino

When Christopher Columbus arrived at the island of Hispaniola, there were five Taino territories. Each community had its own chieftain to which everyone declared their fealty for. The island of Hispaniola is what we now know as that which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, thus the island that is now Cuba lies directly northwest. Just off the eastern most point of Hispaniola is another island nation, Puerto Rico. Plus of course there is Jamaica towards the west off the coast of Haiti. All of these regions were the home of the Tainos.

There are three schools of thought on the origin of the Tainos, although none have been undeniably proven. The first theory suggests the first Tainos arose out of the Amazon Basin, an area that covers what is now Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia. This belief is supported by tracing ancestry and language origins. The second theory of the origin of the Tainos states that ancestors came from the Colombian Andes, a smaller region extending from the northern most tip of Colombia and stretching down to the border of Ecuador. Additionally, the Taino culture is steeped in the belief that they were born of caves in a sacred mountain on the island of Hispaniola.

All three theories have their own level of documentation, whether it be in ancient stories passed down through hundreds of generations or archeological evidence. For example, there are solid indications the Tainos were always at odds with the Carib tribes living amid the Caribbean Islands and South America. Could the rivalry have originated along the northern coasts of South America, where the Carib came from?

At the time of Columbus’ arrival there were at least 3000 Tainos at each population center; clearly they preferred to inhabit metropolis size locations. Perhaps the thought was safety in numbers against attacks by the Carib, or the large numbers of citizens may have been a result of social norms. Polygamy was practiced among the Tainos, by both men and women. In fact the Tainos lived in a matrilineal society, that which lineage is traced through the maternal side.

After the arrival of the Spanish, the Tainos (as well as other indigenous peoples) fell victim to disease, forced assimilation, slavery and complications resulting from intermarriage. Within 30 years of the Spanish arrival, 80% of the Tainos people were dead. Today there are many people who claim to have Tainos ancestry, despite historical claims of their extinction. In the next article of this series we will explore the Tainos of the present and the impact their culture has had on the modern world.

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Swim with Dolphins in MexicoSwim with Dolphins in Mexico

One of the most popular things to do while visiting an ocean side destination in Mexico is to swim with the dolphins. A guide takes everyone out to a particular spot on a quiet and secluded beach. Trained dolphins are brought to the shallow waters along the beach for everyone to make first contact with. After some training, swimmers play games with the dolphins and eventually go for a swim with them.

The experience is absolutely exhilarating! These creatures are intelligent and extremely social, especially with humans. They regularly circle and play around passing boats, hoping for some human interaction. Dolphins never live alone. In fact, their pods have a complex social structure which includes roles such as midwifery and protection.

In terms of intelligence, scientists usually determine the level of intellect in a creature by the amount of ‘folds’ in the brain. Human brains are extremely convoluted with numerous folds. Most other mammals’ brains’ are relatively smooth with few folds. The dolphin brain has even more folds than the human brain, leading scientists to believe the capacity for dolphins to learn is very high. Researches have even seen evidence of self-awareness.

Dolphins cannot smell, but they do have a sense of taste. Scientists have found that dolphins are able to differentiate between sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Although their mouths do contain teeth, they are not for chewing. Dolphin’s teeth are designed for gripping. Their jaw is not structured for chewing; there are no jaw muscles to facilitate the action. Additionally, the Killer Whale, or Orca, is actually in the dolphin family because of the presence of teeth. True whales have baleen instead of teeth.

Keeping in mind that dolphins must breathe air to survive (even one tablespoon of liquid in their lungs will cause drowning); infant dolphins are born tail first to prevent drowning. If the mother is have trouble giving birth, another female dolphin will act as a midwife and pull the baby dolphin out. The umbilical cord is broken by the mother swimming away speedily, but she must return to her baby immediately to get it to the surface for air. The whole time the birthing process is taking place; male dolphins circle the area keeping predators away.

Dolphins are clever creatures which we still know very little about. What researches have discovered is only a fraction of what is there to be found. In the meantime, have a swim with the dolphins in Mexico and see how you can relate to these incredible creatures.

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Random Trivia for Traveling to Mexico

Are you a traveling trivia buff? Or just a traveler? Either way, we have a collection of interesting little known facts about Mexico that will tickle your trivia fancies. Use what you learn to start a conversation, or bore someone. Teach the kids a few fun facts while waiting for the flight. Test them later! They would love that. Let’s get started.

Did you know the national flower of Mexico is the dahlia? It’s true. It was found there by European botanists, but had been used by the Aztecs for medicinal means for centuries. Incidentally, no one has ever been able to cultivate a blue dahlia. Lots of movies have been made with the title Blue Dahlia, but there is no actual dahlia in a blue colour.

The oldest university in North America is the National University of Mexico and was founded by King Charles V of Spain in 1551. Take that Harvard!

If you happen to be traveling to the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz or on the Yucatan Peninsula, be careful when ordering tamales. In those regions they are sometimes made to be very large, over a foot long and quite thick.

Just north of Veracruz is the state of Tamaulipas, which is home to the Zacahuil tamale. It is generally three feet long and can weight over one hundred pounds. Unless you are feeding a small army, don’t order the Zacahuil.

Those red leafy plants everyone likes to have in their homes around the holidays? They originated in Mexico. The red poinsettia was named after the first US ambassador to Mexico during the 1820’s.

The actual name of Mexico is not Mexico. It is the United Mexican States. Not surprisingly they have a constitution modeled after that of the US, but the Mexican flag is very much their own.

Mexico City is sinking, even faster than Venice! The city is built over the ancient ruins of the largest Aztec city, Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs built their most important city on a small island in the middle of a lake, as a means of defence. Unfortunately, through wars and population growth the city was destroyed and eventually built over. Now the water underneath Mexico City is being pumped out in order supply the population of the city. Engineers estimate the city sinks half a foot annually. Eek!

To end things we will remind everyone that Mexico is responsible for bringing the world such wonders as chocolate, tequila, maize (corn) and chillies. Let us all give thanks to this wonderful nation whose existence has enriched our lives so much.

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More Random Trivia for Traveling to Mexico

Oh, yes we have more random trivia for all you folks traveling to, from or in Mexico! These tidbits are sure to make you the talk of the tour bus, so sit right down and start memorizing! Don’t under estimate the power of trivia for making new friends and impressing those you already have! Sharing useless facts benefits everyone!

One of the rarest rabbits in the world is endemic to the slopes of active volcanoes in Mexico such as the Iztaccihuatle, Pelado, Popocatepetl and Tlaloc. The Volcano Rabbit is the second smallest in the world, the Pygmy Rabbit being the smallest. The Volcano Rabbit weighs just 14 ounces.

The border between the US and Canada is the longest undefended border in the world. The border between the US and Mexico is the second longest border in the world.

The Chihuahua is world’s smallest dog breed, and is named after the Mexican state in which it was first bred.

Ranked 14th in the world, the land mass of Mexico is 761, 606 square miles. The land mass of Spain, Mexico’s repeated colonizer, is 195,365 square miles. Mexico is almost four times larger than Spain.

Ranked 11th in the world, Mexico’s population as of April 2011 is 112,336,538. The ten nations with a larger population include in reverse order: Japan, Russia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Brazil, Indonesia, United States, India and China.

Mexico City is the oldest in North America and has the highest elevation. Additionally, the city has the 6th highest population in the world. There are over 8.8 million people living in Mexico City as of 2010.

The ancient Aztec civilisation was fond of sports. A favourite ritual ball game was called tlachtli. Unfortunately the losers of the game were often sacrificed to the gods.

Mixed heritage peoples in Mexico with Aztec ancestry speak an ancient language called Nahuatl. Many words we now use in English are originated from the Nahuatl. Tomato is from tomatl, chocolate is from chocolatl, and avocado is from ahuacatl.

Actor Anthony Quinn was the first person from Mexico to win an Academy Award. He earned the award for his role in the 1952 movie, Viva Zapata!, a movie about infamous Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

Women’s suffrage in Mexico did not reap any change until the mid-20th century. Despite the pivotal role of women in fighting, spying and smuggling during countless revolutions, they did not get the vote until 1958.

Finally, one of the most infamous ancient ruins in the world, Chichen Itza Pyramid was named as one of the new Seven Wonders of World.

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Dahlia: National Flower of Mexico

The very first dahlia was discovered in 1615 by Francisco Hernandez, a naturalist and court advisor to King Philip II of Spain. He was highly regarded in Spain and the rest of Europe for his study of botany as it pertains to medicinal uses. Hernandez was sent to New Spain by his king as the first official scientific expedition in the New World.

As Hernandez and his team wandered the fields of New Spain they came across spectacular specimens of dahlias in hundreds of colours and varying sized blooms. He writings about the dahlia in his books about medicinal plants found in New Spain was the first documentation of the plant. However, at that particular time the magnificent flowering plant had not yet been given a name.

In 1787 a French botanist of questionable motives visited Mexico in the hopes of stealing a few cochineal insects to sell to fabric magnates; the red dye created by these particular beetles was highly prized and fetched a hefty price. While in Mexico he too came across the flower now known as the dahlia. His companion, Antonio Jose Cavanilles just happened to be the head of the Madrid Botanical Gardens and understandably, coveted the seeds for his collection. Later on the head of the Mexico City botanical garden agreed to send Cavanilles seeds and roots for the Madrid gardens.

During that same period, Swedish botanist Anders Dahl was working in the field of botany in Sweden and Germany. He was the curator of private natural museums, botanical gardens, earned his medical doctor’s degree and began teaching botany at the University of Helsinki. He published numerous works that changed the face of botany for that era. Towards the end of the 18th century botanists visiting Mexico began sending seeds and roots to the Netherlands, describing them as being from a wonderful plant that produced huge colourful blooms. Since Anders Dahl was making a pretty big name for himself at this point, botanists named the plant Dahlia Coccinea.

Over the years the dahlia has proven to be a fairly easy plant to clone and crossbreed. To date there are approximately 36 species, but no one seems to be able to produce a blue dahlia. Every other colour has been achieved, even such a dark purple that it appears to be black. Thus, when something is said to be blue dahlia, it is impossible or unattainable.

The dahlia is an ideal choice for the national flower of Mexico. Aside from originating there, the huge variety of colours and sizes of blooms are a great symbol for the diverse history of the region. From complex indigenous cultures, to invading European nations, to multiple attempts at independence and finally being successful world nation; Mexico has a diversity of people and history like no other country.

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How to Survive an Airport Delay

There are probably hundreds of reason flights can be delayed. When it comes right down to it, the reason doesn’t matter. What matters is how to deal with the delay, especially if children are in tow. Short of cancelling the entire trip and heading home for pizza and a movie, there are ways to survive the mind-numbing monotony of sitting in a building full of grumpy travelers.

If it looks like the flight will be delayed quite significantly, consider getting a hotel room. At least then people can nap, watch television and have a meal. Plus, a bathroom at hand will prove useful for those with children or who want to freshen up with a shower. This measure is only recommended if the airline can agree to notify you when the plane will be ready to leave, and with enough time to get there without missing it.

If it looks like the delay is going to be long search your smartphone for other flights. Since every other delayed passenger will be calling the airlines, using your smartphone to locate and reserve an alternative flight will prevent being on hold for hours. Check airline website directly, as well as using search sites. The airline websites will often post updates directly on the home page.

When packing for the trip, slip a deck of cards and snacks in the carry-on luggage. It won’t take up much room, and will definitely help pass the time. If the cards are forgotten, play a few games with the kids that don’t require props. A few old favourites are Eye Spy With My Little Eye, 20 Questions, Charades, Who Am I?, The Sentence Game and many others.

If weather isn’t the cause of the delay, but there are a couple of hours to kill, take the kids out for a run. One adult can stay at the gate with a cell phone in case the flight is called. The other adult can take the kids for a jog around the terminal, making sure to have a cell phone on them as well. The kids will have the raw energy run out of them, and maybe they will even have a little nap!

Flight delays are the flea bite on the posterior of every vacation. That is, they are annoying and unpredictable, but can be squashed. Plan ahead, be creative, and definitely be patient. Nothing can be gained by becoming angry, least of all an earlier departure.

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The Rights of the Airline Traveler

Between your home and blissful solitude on a Cancun beach is the flight. Meant to be a simple form of transportation, the flight can be the difference between a fabulous vacation and a nightmare trip to hell. We all hope and expect flying to be a mere afterthought on our way to a sunny destination, but it rarely is. And since the airlines present themselves (either realistically or not) as huge powerful corporations, when something goes wrong we are hesitant to speak up. Perhaps some of us feel there is no point because the issue will never be resolved. On the contrary, passengers do have rights and therefore problems must be solved.

If you have confirmed your flight reservation and have a ticket or hard copy confirmation of the reservation, then the ticket agent cannot deny your boarding of the flight. They cannot deny you even if their computer has no record of it. However, if you fail to show up for a flight and do not cancel the reservation, then the airline will assume you will not need the return reservations. Including all the connector flights.

Airlines make a pretty big deal about their ‘non-refundable’ tickets, and in reality the rules do vary greatly from airline to airline. However there are a couple hard and fast guidelines applicable to the entire industry. First of all, a non-refundable ticket purchase that needs to be cancelled can be used towards another flight at a later date. The only downside is the airline can charge a cancellation fee. A refundable ticket purchase that needs to be cancelled will be credited to the credit card it was purchased on.

Every flier knows airlines overbook their flights on purpose, to allow for no-shows. Unfortunately there are times when everyone does show up and the airline must come up with seats. Generally the first plan of action is to ask passengers if they are willing to give up their seats and take a later flight. Usually those volunteers are compensated with flight vouchers, cash, or other rewards. If no one comes forward, then the airline is left to determine who will be involuntarily bumped from the flight. In these cases the bumped passengers have certain rights and it is the responsibility of the airline to inform them of those rights. You are entitled to keep your ticket and use it on a later flight, make other arrangements for travel and request an involuntary refund, plus you are entitled to compensation for the inconvenience. However, if the airline has made arrangements that would get you to your destination within one hour of your original arrival time, then there is no compensation.

Air travel is big and expensive business, but that doesn’t mean the traveler should have to bear the brunt of the inconvenience and increased costs all the time. After all, without the passenger there would be no airline industry. Fight for your right to reasonable airline passenger rights!

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Make Your Mexican Vacation the Best Ever

For every grain of sand on a Mexican beach there is someone with a piece of advice on how to make a vacation incredible. Some recommend leaving the spouse at home, others opt for group travel. Many people say cruising to Mexico is the best way to go. Still others think the best way to really get to know Mexico is to stay in the home of a local resident. Here, we will offer a humble set of suggestions for making a trip to Mexico enjoyable. Take them or leave them, it is entirely up to you.

We all know the bustle of balancing work-home-family can be compared to running a marathon. So while in Mexico slow down. Not every moment needs to be planned out, but a vacation with no plan is also a dud. Schedule a few different activities, leaving lots of time for naps and lying on a beach. Consider slow travel, where there are fewer destinations but a greater amount of time spent in places. It cuts down on the chaos of catching buses or shuttles etc.

Don’t rely too much on reviews. Remember, they are not always accurate but are always subjective. Your fabulous may not be the same as someone else’s fabulous. Someone who is very picky about their Mexican cuisine may give a particular restaurant a bad review, but you may find the food quite good. When in a position to choose a place to have a meal, ask a few fellow travelers or look for establishments that always seem to be busy. These are signs of good food and reasonable prices.

If hiking is part of the plan, consider hiring a guide. From a safety point of view, a guide can ensure you do not become lost or misunderstand any culture differences with the locals. Guides are also able to point out interesting characteristics of the landscape. They will know where to find the wildlife, and they will certainly know how to find a good place to eat.

The biggest and most important piece of advice when traveling is this: be polite and make a solid effort to speak the language. Be doing so, you are showing the locals that you respect their country and culture. They will be more willing to help you and less likely to try and swindle you. Be patient, most things in Mexico move at a slower pace. The people are not lazy; they just have a different sense of time.

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Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling to Cancun

Cancun, Mexico is one of the most popular travel destinations in the Western Hemisphere. The tropical climate and leisurely beaches provide the perfect setting for an escape from the mundane daily grind between work and home. Whether you fly or cruise to Cancun, there are certain situations any traveler should avoid. Knowing how to avoid such scenarios will help ensure your vacation dollars are well spent and your holiday time is well used.

Read the fine print and know your dates. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of travelers end up costing themselves a lot of unnecessary time and money when they get the dates or times wrong on various travel arrangements. All it takes it a few minutes sitting down and reading every tiny little word on your airline ticket or cruise ship boarding pass to ensure you know every detail. Check, re-check and check again that you have the dates and times of departure exactly correct. Know how far in advance your party needs to be at the airport or cruise ship pier. Arriving hours early is not advised as it triggers suspicion with security personnel. Time your arrival as close to the recommended hour as possible.

Know where you are supposed to be. Most large cities have more than one airport, train station or bus station so be sure you know which one you are leaving from. It would be a bit of a disaster if you arrived at the right time, but the wrong place! The same goes for accommodations. Study your maps carefully, making sure to accurately assess the distance between the hotel and airport (or other method of travel). If you find yourself in a bit of a time crunch at the end of your stay, it will be very helpful to know how far there is to go to catch the plane. Also, if you plan to walk to the hotel, it can be very easy to misjudge distance on a map. What may look like just a couple of miles could really be ten or twelve miles – a long way to hike with luggage!

Don’t over-pack. It is such an easy thing to do, but remember Cancun is not Paris or Milan. No one is expecting high fashion, and certainly no one is expecting a completely different outfit everyday! Depending on how long you are staying, bring a few mix and match items, a ‘going out to dinner’ outfit, a sweater, a couple of pairs of shoes, a swim suit, a hat and accessories. That’s it. There is no need for a completely different outfit for each day. The extra clothing is just a waste of space.

On the subject of packing, always keep one outfit and a pair of shoes in your carry-on luggage. If your checked bag somehow gets lost into the great bottomless pit of airline luggage, at least you will have one set of clothes to change into. And really, in Cancun who needs more than one outfit and a swimsuit?!

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Make Your Mexican Vacation the Best Ever

For every grain of sand on a Mexican beach there is someone with a piece of advice on how to make a vacation incredible. Some recommend leaving the spouse at home, others opt for group travel. Many people say cruising to Mexico is the best way to go. Still others think the best way to really get to know Mexico is to stay in the home of a local resident. Here, we will offer a humble set of suggestions for making a trip to Mexico enjoyable. Take them or leave them, it is entirely up to you.

We all know the bustle of balancing work-home-family can be compared to running a marathon. So while in Mexico slow down. Not every moment needs to be planned out, but a vacation with no plan is also a dud. Schedule a few different activities, leaving lots of time for naps and lying on a beach. Consider slow travel, where there are fewer destinations but a greater amount of time spent in places. It cuts down on the chaos of catching buses or shuttles etc.

Don’t rely too much on reviews. Remember, they are not always correct but are always subjective. Your fabulous may not be the same as someone else’s fabulous. Someone who is very picky about their Mexican cuisine may give a particular restaurant a bad review, but you may find the food quite good. When in a position to choose a place to have a meal, ask a few fellow travelers or look for establishments that always seem to be busy. These are signs of good food and reasonable prices.

If hiking is part of the plan, consider hiring a guide. From a safety point of view, a guide can ensure you do not become lost or misunderstand any culture differences with the locals. Guides are also able to point out interesting characteristics of the landscape. They will know where to find the wildlife, and they will certainly know how to find a good place to eat.

The biggest and most important piece of advice when traveling is this: be polite and make a solid effort to speak the language. Be doing so, you are showing the locals that you respect their country and culture. They will be more willing to help you and less likely to try and swindle you. Be patient, most things in Mexico move at a slower pace. The people are not lazy; they just have a different sense of time.

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Themed Cruises

The difference between a themed a cruise and cruising style is in the longevity. A themed cruise is temporary, that is the theme runs for one cruise beginning on a particular date. A cruising style is the use of the ships amenities to suit a particular lifestyle, and the styled cruise is recurring. Here we will look at some of the fun and unusual cruises available today.

Music themed cruises can range anywhere from heavy metal and punk, to country and classical. Passengers are treated to daily musical performances, sometimes by the original artist. For example, a KISS cruise in 2011 will include performances by the actual KISS band. In the instance of an artist not being able to join the cruise, world class tribute bands take their place. Such as on a Beatles Tribute Cruise, there are several tribute band shows aligned with dance parties and storytelling sessions. It is also fairly common for cruise lines to offer annual cruises in which a particular genre of music is featured, such as jazz or 80’s music.

For the sports enthusiast, there are those cruises centered on a particular sport or sports celebrity. There are cruises focused on celebrating past baseball stars, hockey legends or golf athletes. Occasionally a cruise will arrange for a popular sports figure to be aboard and offer lectures or lessons. Alternatively there are opportunities for learning more about the sport, playing the sport, themed parties and even game wagers.

Gaming cruises are very popular among the young adult crowd, and can be a great way for people to meet the faces behind their favourite games. Developers teach lessons on code building and the nuances of reaching the high levels of any particular game. On a broader scale, there are the cruises focused on a particular software company. For example, Apple hosts a cruise designed as a conference on the latest Apple launches in software and hardware.

Arts and crafts cruises have become another well-liked theme. Avid sewers, quilters, knitters and scrap-bookers are able to come together and share their skills while still soaking up the cruising luxury. Lessons in all manners of crafting are offered to passengers, including painting, ceramics, drawing and many more. Any pieces created during the lessons are happily displayed on ship for all to see!

There really is a theme for every cruise. Even if you think your hobby is a little unusual, chances are there is a cruise related to it. Well, at least if it can be accommodated on board a ship! Try your hand at a cruise, and don’t forget to pack our creativity!

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More of What to Expect on a Caribbean Cruise

In the first article of this series we discussed the varied policies around tipping the staff on a cruise ship, as well as smoking policies throughout a few specific cruise lines. We also laid out some of the most sensible and secure methods of payment while on a cruise. Now let us move on to the next set of topics.

The subject of dress code while on a cruise used to be quite black and white: budget cruise lines permitted casual dress, all the rest had formal and semi-formal activities with no allowance for ‘casual’ dress. Today, things are much different. When travelers choose their cruise package they are well aware of the style of cruise, such as a gourmet, family, adventure and so on. Within each style, the dress code will be clearly defined. Almost every cruise package will include at least one formal evening in which there will be fine dining, an extravagant show, dancing and perhaps other entertainment.

Typical dress code would be as follows: formal evenings call for suits and ties for the gentlemen, cocktail dresses for the ladies. Smart casual includes jackets and ties for men, dresses or pant suits for women. Casual consists of sport shirts and slacks for gentlemen, pant suits and sundresses for the ladies. No bare feet, swim suits or shorts are permitted in the dining room. Jeans are only permitted if they are in new condition and fit properly, in other words no tight fitting jeans that are designed with discolorations or tears.

In general, cruise lines based in the Caribbean and the southern US enforce the same alcohol regulations as the US. Minimum age of consumption is 21 years, but if the person in question is departing from a country with a lower legal age limit then (with an accompanying parental waiver signed) they will be permitted to partake. For most cruise lines bringing alcohol on the ship when first boarding is not allowed. Security personnel may inspect luggage or suspicious bottles if there is reason to believe alcohol is present. The exception lies with cruise lines that allow wine or champagne to be brought on board, but corkage fees apply. Purchasing alcohol while at a port is permitted, but the bottle(s) will be kept locked up until the end of the voyage. The same rule applies to anything bought at the onboard duty-free stores.

The above rules and policies may sound restrictive, but they are in the best interest of all travelers and cruise ship staff. There is so much to do, see and experience while aboard that little things like not wearing jean shorts will seem completely unimportant.

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