The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 2 (May 1, 1934.)
Our American Letter — South of the Rio Grande
Your correspondent and “scout” has just recently returned from Mexico, where she went with wide-eyed curiosity to discover the reason for the decidedly growing travel interest in “our neighbour” south of the Rio Grande river.
Her desire to visit Mexico was stimulated by the fact that the Government of Mexico has established fine offices in Los Angeles, and on her travels across the United States her path has crossed that of the publicity agent for Mexican travel. She has observed, also, that during the past two years several of the United States lines, particularly the important Southern Pacific Railway, have been cooperating with the National Railways of Mexico, with the result that schedules and services are now modern in every sense of the word, as well as convenient and economical.
The returning tourist is now Mexico's greatest advertisement, and gone are the days when Mexico was regarded as “dangerous territory.”
Mexico City is fascinating and as “foreign” as any city in Europe, and though the present Gvernment is most progressive with “development” as its keynote, the shadow of the sixteenth century still rests upon the lovely city of Mexico.
How it must wound the pride of the hustling, bustling tourist from the north to discover how little of Yankeeland has lapped across the border, and that the historic halls of the Montezumas are only spattered with the modern ideas they exemplify.
The way to taste the true flavour of Mexico is to wander about the colourful streets and the picturesque highways and by-ways. Nowhere do ancient and modern customs come into such intimate contrast. Under the finest palaces, whose ceilings are frescoed by Italian artists, whose walls are covered with the rarest paintings, one finds a common “bodega” where Pulque (the native drink) is dealt out from goat-skin gourds, and the peon stops to eat his tortilla. In any of the plazas can be seen types of four centuries in a single group, and in the country districts the native traveller still prefers his donkey to the railroad train and carries a burden upon his back or upon his head instead of using a wagon.
Mexico has a romantic location, and lies 7,500 feet above the level of the sea in a mountain-walled valley dominated by the snow-capped volcanoes, Popocatepetyl and Ixtaccihuatl, which stand like colossal sentinels guarding an enchanted beauty. The climate is almost perfect, as the temperature is practically the same all the year round. During the winter months rain is seldom seen, while in the summer time it rains hard every afternoon with clock-like regularity.
There are a number of good hotels in the capital, including some operated by Canadians, Germans, French and other nationalities. Good restaurants are equally numerous and in equal variety; but those featuring German and Italian cooking head the list.
The Zocalo, or main square of Mexico City. In the background is the world-famous Cathedral, and to the right of the picture is the National Palace.
In the matter of entertainment there are theatres where motion pictures are shown, and if the production is an American talkie, captions will be written on the film in Spanish, and there are legitimate theatres where the dialogue is all Spanish. After the theatre there are the cabarets and night clubs, ranging from the type we are familiar with at home to the kind which provide pretty Mexican girls as dancing partners. On Sundays there are always the bull-fights, the cock-fights, and Fronton, a ball game introduced by the Spaniards, and one of the fastest games in the world. The game consists of hitting the ball against the wall, with a curved basket-like bat tied to the wrist of the player. After it hits the wall it must be caught the first time it bounds up from the floor. Two sets of players contend, distinguished by different colours, and the public may bet on them.
Perhaps the greatest charm of Mexico, and the most contrasting feature of life as it is lived in the United States, is that the people never seem to be in much of a hurry. There they say “the clock walks” instead of “the clock runs,” and for two or three hours in the middle of the day all business places are closed. In Mexico, luncheon is the important meal of the day, and the people invariably enjoy a siesta afterwards.
Politeness is the cult of all classes, from the humblest peon to the highest official, for courtesy is inborn in the Mexican. The visitor who is best liked and who has the best time is one who is considered “muy simpatico,” a term meaning a great deal more than merely sympathetic, amiable or tolerant.
One unpleasant feature of the country is that despite the Government effort to suppress mendicancy, the whining voices of numerous beggars are heard everywhere. Travellers are cautioned not to encourage these miserable and bedraggled creatures, for there is no lack of charitable organisations in the Republic.
Improvement in the standard of living of the labouring classes is a matter to which the present Government devotes much attention, and a great deal has been done for education during recent years. It is claimed that there are now over 18,000 schools in the Republic. At the same time it is estimated that there are more than 2,000,000 children of school age for whom no accommodation exists at present. Steps are being taken to increase the schools and to make attendance compulsory.
The overwhelming majority of the population being still occupied in agricultural pursuits, unemployment is not very acute in Mexico, but the influx of about 300,000 Mexicans repatriated from the United States within the last two years owing to the depression, created a serious problem for the Government, and involved them in considerable expense. However, special agricultural communities have been established in various parts of the Republic, and this, together with acceleration of the road-making programme has helped settle this problem.
“Diversion” is what the traveller seeks when he goes a-touring, and if he has little time to spare “accessibility” is also important. Old Mexico offers both, and with the completion of the Laredo Highway a paved motor road will connect the two countries. This is expected to lead to a greatly increased tourist traffic with the United States, which is already a lucrative source of income for Mexico. It is calculated that American tourists spend annually in Mexico a sum sufficient to pay for one-third of Mexico's imports. Much of this has been, in the past, spent at the border in gambling and drinking spots like Tia Juana and Ciudad Juarez; but with the Repeal that phase has disappeared.
The Mexican Government has recently created a Department of Tours as part of the Secretaria de Economia Nacional, and vigorous efforts are being made, apparently not without success, to convince the American public that Mexico is “different,” and that the variety of its scenery the picturesqueness of its population and the antiquity of its monuments make it a country that must be seen.
Pacific Merry-go-round—From left to right, representatives of the six big tourist bureaux out in the Pacific, who met for the first time in San Francisco in a unique gathering: Miss Bathie Stuart, representative of the New Zealand Government Tourist Bureau, exhibiting as an inducement, her country's “tiki” charm; George T. Armitage, executive secretary of the Hawaii Tourist Bureau, showing his islands’ symbolical “lei” of friendship with the “kikihihi” coloured fish pendant; D. A. Vonk, representing the Java Tourist Bureau, displaying folds of colourful batik; James King Steele, executive secretary of the Philippine Tourist Association, offering miles of movies; R. Shimidzu, from the Japan Tourist Bureau in Tokyo, who holds a handful of artistic Christmas cards which he brought to friends in America; last and biggest, Arthur H. O'Connor, representative in America of the Australian National Travel Association, holding one of those tricky boomerangs, and backed up with a vivid poster of that great island continent.