Archive for April, 2009

Far From The Banda Crowd

After trawling the strip at Playa Zicatela, the main beach, upon my arrival to Puerto Escondido in the painful aftermath of a new bout of food poisoning 24 hours before I procured a surfboard against my better financial judgment. After finding no spare rooms in the hostels and hearing advice about the availability of beds out of town further towards the distant rocky point at the other end of the bay, I merrily blundered out into the heat of the bay along a dirt track until I realised some ten minutes later that it was a far from opportune time to wander around with a board, my possessions and a notably absent plan.

It was at this point that I crossed paths with my place of refuge from the intensity of Puerto Escondido during the sinful distractions of Semana Santa; the Sexto Senso hostel, run by two wonderful ex-pat Italians, who wreaked havoc with the development of my accent with their version of the national language. The place was full to bursting, but after recognising the frendliness in the owners and the few people drifting around the place, I snapped up a hammock spot, hanging in an open air shaded spot on the first storey of the building that overlooked the ocean. I hung intermittently in that spot, lulled to sleep by the waves and woken by the sunrise for the next week.

The hostel was a fantastic spot, quietly located in the absolute middle of nowhere on the beach front; whitewashed meandering buildings bordered by palm trees, furiously tended grass and lopsided busts of naked women and cherubs dotted about the place.

Puerto Escondido
13th April 2009


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I’m sitting on my board, submerged up to my chest in water, forty feet or so beyond the end of the breakwater that extents out from the sun baked collection of wooden shacks that calls itself Chicahua, one of only two surfers in the calm, glassy, grey-blue water. As the first collection of smaller waves from the set begin to roll in I begin paddling for the horizon, only too aware from the previous beatings that I have taken in the same spot that the bigger, more powerful waves will be arriving shortly; terrifying, but predictably peeling uniformly and perfectly off the point in the light offshore winds.

A testimonial to my learning curve, a huge bulge of water suddenly rises out of nowhere as, beneath the surface a hundred feet away, the sea bottom suddenly rises up from the depths; the pulse of swell that has traveled for hundreds of miles trips over its own feet as, my mind completely numb, I paddle towards the shore, my back to the growing 10 foot face of water. A quick glance over my shoulder tells me that my guesswork has paid off and, this time, I’m in the right spot for a takeoff.

I can feel the force take the tail of my board and kick me forwards as, within a second, the surface of the water drops away, leaving me looking down a dizzying drop. The roar of water in my ears builds as I cease paddling for a second to feel that the wave has me and then, without thinking, plant my hands on the rail of my board, straighten my arms and hoist myself into a crouch, poised over the precipice. For a brief moment I teeter on the brink until suddenly, gravity takes over and with a quick glance in either direction I make the drop, screaming down the face of the wave faster than I’ve ever been and shift the weight to my back foot, digging my rail into the water and carving a hard turn up, up, up towards the lip of the wave that I can see beginning to curl in the corner of my eye. Twisting my shoulders, I drop my hand below me to brush the water and twist my body hard, feeling the board snap around underneath me as I carve back away from the top of the wave to look down into an even bigger, steeper drop than the first.

Suddenly, I’m four hundred metres from the takeoff, kicking out of the back of the dying wave as the section closes out, eight, maybe even nine turns carved into it behind me. Impulsively, I let out a huge shout at the wide, sweeping bay and the distant, hazy forest covered hills as the adrenaline and seratonin sweep through my body in a moment, leaving me with the long, long paddle back to the point.

Monday 13th April 2009

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Taking Corporate Mascots to the Next Level

Those of you aware of the loathsome cut price pharmacy chain Farmacias Similares will no doubt be aware of their cheerful quack mascot, Doctor Simi. In times ruled by the mobile phone camera and the tatty/glorious output of YouTube, the marketing geniuses of this company have decided to employ dispensing employees who have a natural affinity for dance and are willing to showcase their talents in the heat of the day inside a vast costume outside the numerous widespread stores that litter Mexico.

My first acquaintance with him was on the town square of Chiapa de Corzo to the sound of pounding techno music and I have long tried to capture the results on video, but a quick search of YouTube yields far more entertaining results, including the “anti-corporate” bunch of Mexican teenagers who have taken great delight in public mobbings of the cheerful (but now slightly wary) face of cheap dubious medical consultations.

Chiapa de Corzo
19th April 2009

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Mescal, The Police and My Shoes

Following an enthusiastic evening in the party charged Puerto Escondido during the national Semana Santa holiday, I found myself carving a decidedly wonky path through the sand of Playa Zicatela, the main beach. My point of departure was a beach bar constructed mostly from pieces of haphazardly connected driftwood, loud classic rock tracks and clientele enthusiasm where free Mescal was served with every beer purchased. For the uninitiated, Mescal is the physical representation of a bad idea, and goes a long way to explaining my inability to hold a steady tradjectory. My destination was my hostel, some ten minutes down the beach as the crow flies, an efficiency sadly lacking in my progress. Taking a break from walking with a fellow hostel companion who had also undertaken the transition, we gracelessly collapsed on the sand and began a long and rambling discourse about something of critical importance, which I obviously can’t remember.

Our break was interrupted, unfortunately, by a local law enforcement officer. Appearing from nowhere (most probably from some distance within my direct field of vision) he cast a disparaging up and down me and my companion who, thankfully, was less influenced by Mescal than I, and with all the subtelty of a Broadway musical, requested money.

My cunning, drunken plan (after taking in the sight of his badge and gun with my bloodshot eyes) to plead utter ignorance to understanding his Spanish seemed to work; after a minute or two of persisting, he grew bored and frustrated, changing tack and shifted his demands to jewellery. When it became apparent that neither of us were adorned with any, he seemed to give up. Unfortunately as we rose to leave he noticed our sandals sitting on the sand, and with a calculated stare he descended on mine, sweeping them up with a triumphant shout “Estan nuevos!”.

He was, sadly, correct; they were brand new. After a week of walking barefoot on red hot sand (my previous “handmade” footwear having expired a week before) I had decided to invest in a nice pair of flip flops, enticed, as always, by the expensive surf brands touted inside the beach front surf shops running up and down Zicatela. After parting with more money than advisable, I was able to showcase my new investment and give the soles of my feet a break. Until, that was, later that evening when this shoe savvy local law-scout saw opportunity knocking.

Before I knew it, he had disappeared into the night, forever, with my brand new flip flops in his grubby hands. I had just been shaken down…for a pair of shoes.

Puerto Escondido
18th April 2009

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A Well Read Gentleman

Hurrah! I’ve just finished my first book in Spanish! All ninety-something pages of “El Principito” (or “the Little Prince”) are now conquered and I prepare to take on my next challenge, the abridged version of Alice in Wonderland; I can feel my reading age slowly increasing to the giddy heights of almost a six years old…

17th April 2009

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The Confusing Business of Doing Good

In the quest to make a professional name for myself out in these foreign climes under the umbrella of Fair Trade, I’ve had to come to terms with an unexpected barrier in the path of my progress; the variety of certifications available for consumer products (which consumers are, naturally, supposed to recognise and differentiate). A case in point are two recent heavyweight certification events; the crossing over of Cadbury to Fairtrade for it’s Dairy Milk bar and the Mars Inc. commitment to The Rainforest Alliance for it’s Galaxy chocolate bars.

So what are the difference between these two different organisations? Surely any commitment to certification standards by a mutli-national is good news? Well, fundamentally it depends on what you percieve as important in the inclusion of the standards that the Mars’s and Caburys of this world are supposed to follow.

In a sentence (for those members of the social networking revolution with dwindling attention spans that can be measured only in nanoseconds) and in the case in point of Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance the following differences in focus of accreditation are;

Fairtrade addresses the trading system, ensuring that producers receive a minimum price for their coffee plus a premium for investment in community projects.

Rainforest Alliance aims to cover aspects of sustainable agriculture: environment, rights and welfare of workers and the interests of local communities.

Another important factor to consider the factor of consumer recognition and relationship with these various different badges that are stamped on products; certified coffee appears relatively expensive because of the use of conventional coffee in some countries as loss leaders with substantial discounts. This is a significant barrier to expansion of certified coffee. Where discounts are not used, it is very difficult in many cases for consumers to compare prices on a rational basis because so little information is given on the origins and quality of the mainstream coffee brands. There is so much variation in the price of coffee, depending on the brand and the outlet.

Despite setbacks, consumer awareness of certification seems to be high and growing, and can only get better with the big league commitments shown over the last couple of months. However, factors also have to be considered of the certification bodies to maintain standards under a rapidly expanding remit of certified producers and their ability to monitor and enforce required best practise; a tricky balancing act with resources stretched thin by the momentum of growth.

All in all, an exciting time for ethical international business, and an especially exciting time for chaps wishing to roll up their sleeves abroad and get jolly well stuck in.

Puerto Escondido
9th April 2009

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