Thursday, May 31, 2012

What makes Tepoztlán so different?

Money Can’t Buy You Love.  In Tepoztlan, money doesn’t get you very much as far as respect is concerned.  Your position in the community, your standing with your neighbors and your barrio is everything.  Do you contribute to the local festivals? Do you lend a hand to a neighbor? Are you involved? I can’t tell you how many examples of people who have come to Tepoztlán thinking that money will get results.  That isn’t the case.  It is what you do that counts, not what you have.  

Buy Local.  There are very few non-local businesses here.  Apart from two banks, there are no franchises, department stores or big supermarkets.  As well, there are no big hotels, no golf courses (will get to that in a minute), and no big box stores.  People wouldn’t support them and the town wouldn't allow it.  That makes things a little expensive here, but people are willing to pay the price to support local businesses.  Moreover, the daily market and the Sunday/Wednesday farmers market is a big attraction and a local staple in the economy.  People have engaged in buying local here as a way of life long before it was considered fashionable.

Someone to Watch Over Me.  About 20 years ago or so, there was a planned condominium golf course community to be constructed close to Tepoztlán in the National Forrest Preserve.   The town was vehemently against it.  It was believed that there would be a tax on the water table, chemical runoff, lots of outsiders, and tons of maid and gardener jobs.  The town basically said, "we like our life as it is" and began manning a blockade to earth-moving equipment for a couple of years.  The mayor was brushed aside.  The barrios took over the town to provide essential services such as security.  This caused citizens to take up the duty of monitoring their neighborhoods and keeping an eye out, making sure that things were safe.  The golf course development project came and went.  This community activism saved the town and put in place a sense of responsibility for your own neighborhood/barrio.

Contentment. This is important.  Contentment is everything in life, right? This is still primarily a subsistence farming community.  People produce for their own consumption on a plot of land outside of the valley and sell or barter the rest in the local market or among friends and relatives.  Many people have a local “tourism-related” business that they operate on the weekends when Tepoztlán receives its normal flow of guests.  If you have a roof over your head, enough food to eat, a nice and safe community to raise your kids, and a beautiful backdrop to your city, you can’t really ask for much more.  People are content here.

Sense of Community.  It grows on you.  Recycling has been in effect for decades and is almost obligatory with the snide look the non-recyclable garbage guys gives you when you have too much trash.  Daily people sweep their stoop in front of their house where through the hard work of members of the barrio streets are constructed and maintained.  Tepoztecos are involved in various projects to support the community but also just lending a hand to a neighbor when for example he is adding a second story to his house.  After being here for a while you want to contribute as others do.  It is infectious.  Robb was inspired to contribute and started the first little league baseball team here to offer kids a positive activity and many others offer the same type of service to the community.  As well, you are constantly enveloped in the sounds of the community – the rooster crowing, the newspaper headlines announced over the loudspeaker, the church broadcasting mass, next door neighbor kid practicing his trombone for the local children’s orchestra.  The community web around you is palpable and part of what makes it an enjoyable place to visit and live.

Adherence to Tradition.  If you don’t appreciate religious processions, fireworks day and night, an occasional traffic inconvenience, and lots of celebrations, Tepoztlán is not the place for you.  There is a something going on literally every week or weekend in this festive town. Sometimes (but not always) non-Tepozteco Mexicans see the strict adherence to local customs as inconvenient or backwards. Yet this is the glue that keeps the community together. As a result, locals are a little suspicious of other non-Tepozteco Mexicans, but do appreciate foreign tourists.  It is thought that foreign tourists visit Tepoztlán because they appreciate the local customs, traditions, and festivals.  As a result people are very nice and courteous to you as a guest in town. 

I am reminded of the slogan for Austin, Texas – “Keep Austin Weird.”  You want to keep what makes your community unique and Tepoztlán does this very well.  It is different than any place you will visit in Mexico.  These elements taken together as a whole certainly make Tepoztlan safe but also a very authentic and wonderful place to visit.   

Okay.  Off my soapbox for a while.  Next posts will be cooking related!

Peace, Love, and Good Food!

Chef Ana Garcia

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

As Safe as Kokomo?

Quick Quiz:

Which town has the lowest murder rate?
A. Omaha, Nebraska
B. Toledo, Ohio
C. Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico
D. Kokomo, Indiana

Okay.  Trick question.  There are two right answers: Tepoztlán is tied with Kokomo for the lowest rate over Omaha and Toledo.  What?  It can't be. Is crime out of control in Omaha and Toledo? Will Anderson Cooper be hitting the "mean streets" of Kokomo in a helmet and flack jacket for his next piece on "60 Minutes?"  Should the state department issue a warning about travel to America's heartland?  Of course not.  They are all safe places . . . . and so is Tepoztlán.  They are not only great towns but idyllic communities in which to live, visit or just be.

So, you may have wondered where I have been with my lack of blog updates.  What have my legion of marketing minions been doing with their spare time (bad Robb! bad Robb!)?  Thankfully, we have been receiving a steady flow of guests and with my three kids (four, if you count the big one), I just haven't had the time to keep up on the social media.  I am sure many of you know the feeling - you know you should be doing it but real conversations and real people get in the way.  I guess I have got to make the time in this day-and-age for the "face," the "tweet," the "pin," the "blogidty-blog" and the "i-don't-know-what."  If my children would just surrender my iPhone every now and then, I might be able to do more. But I promise I will be more communicative from now on.  Really. 

I have wanted to do this post for a while.  We have had a great flow of reservations this year primarily due to studious foodies who do their homework about Tepoztlán and the quality of the experience at La Villa Bonita. We have been very busy. We still get the occasional call asking about security - which is ABSOLUTELY FINE.  We are happy to explain what a wonderful place this is.  The problem is that there is no reference or perspective to give you over the phone that would accurately portray an authentic and secure place like Tepoztlán.  So, we wanted to be able to offer a quick answer that would get right to the point.  With Robb doing his research, we can now respond, "as safe as Kokomo."   

Everyone who lives here knows that Tepoztlán is a wonderful place.  The community is very tightly knit, the town maintains its traditions, great farmer's market, vibrant artistic community, wonderful children's orchestra, even a little league baseball team.  Life goes on here as it has for generations.  Robb, wanted the actual hard data to show with numbers how safe Tepoztlán is so he decided to start with the local tourism board.  The person in charge of tourism in Tepoztlán then petitioned the state for the official information who passed it along to Robb.  This is the first time this information has been shared.  Since this is a small town sometimes people don´t think about what it represents outside of the town.  The first reaction from the local functionaries was "We all know how it is here.  Is this a surprise?"  However, it is much easier to explain how nice a place this is with real data and comparisons than with anecdotes. 

Tepoztlán, as a town and county, has a lower homicide rate than pretty much every major city in the US.  Actually for 2011, there was not one murder inside of the town of Tepoztlán and only three in the entire county which has a population of over over 45,000.  

Okay.  Lets take a step back and understand how this works.  Very special thanks to my Robb for putting this together, because this is not my forté.  I cook -- I don't crunch numbers.  The actual town of Tepoztlán has a population of about 29,000 people and Tepoztlán is the county seat for Tepoztlán county (or "municipio" in Spanish) which includes other towns such as San Juan Tlacotenco, Santiago Tepetatla, Santo Domingo Ocotitlán, San Andres de la Cal, Santa Catarina, Ixcatepéc, Amatlán.  The total population of Tepoztlán county is about 45,000 people almost exactly the same as our friends in Kokomo.   

The murder rate is the number of murders and non-negligent manslaughter calculated per 100,000 residents.  Obviously the actual town of Tepoztlán has a rate of 0 for 2011.  The only incident that took place in the town of Tepoztlán in 2011 was the tragic death of a worker in the market who was hit by a drunk driver early on a Sunday morning.  For international statistical purposes that is not considered a murder even though in Mexico it is.  If you make the calculation for the county of Tepoztlán, you reach a number of 6.6 - same as Kokomo.  Lets take a look at some sample city rates for 2010 (we had to use these 2010 numbers because the FBI's official stats for 2011 aren't released yet, which surprised me):

New Orleans 49.1
St. Louis 40.5
Baltimore 34.8
Newark, NJ 32.1
Washington, DC 21.9
Kansas City, MO 21.1
Buffalo, NY 20.7
Cincinnati 20.5
Cleveland 19.0
Atlanta 17.3
Omaha, NE 7.3
Toledo, OH 7.3

Some smaller communities that are the size of Tepoztlán county:

Hot Springs, AR 17.5
Manchester, CT 14.0
Lancaster, PA 9.1
Hattiesburg, MS 7.5
Great Falls, MT 6.7
Kokomo, IN 6.6

I have never visited Kokomo, but I am sure they are a great people in a beautiful town.  After visiting their their site it looks like a fabulous place that I would love to visit. The pictures portray an idyllic small town America that time forgot.  Kokomo was named "Community of the Year" by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce as well the first car was created in Kokomo in 1894 by Ellwood Haynes.  They even have a Kokomo mobile app for Iphone!  Very impressive.  

Apart from the statistics, there are some similarities between the two towns: Tepoztlán is a very attractive town that time forgot with a flow of tourism, local eateries, great shopping, an artistic community, a vibrant farmer's market, and a population that treasures its history, customs and traditions just like Kokomo (okay, we don't have a mobile app but you don't have a pyramid, eh).  I think fate (or Robb) has brought our two cities together and I am going to actively propose a sister city connection.  Two historic, artistic, fun, and safe places coming together.  What do you think, Kokomo?

My next post coming soon will discuss why Tepoztlán is such a authentic, safe and great place to visit.

Peace, love, and good food!

Chef Ana