Sunday, December 28, 2014

Finding Mexico's Middle Class in Ixtapa


Mexico’s beach resorts have long been a favorite for foreigners seeking warm, carefree vacations.  Simply book an air/land package that includes hotel, decide whether to include all food and activities, and show up at the airport with your passport.  No research required, only sunscreen. The Mexican government recognized a good thing when they saw it, and in the 1960’s,  Cancun and Ixtapa were developed to attract tourists on the East and West coasts of the country.  Not included in those developments were many private ones, including Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.  Over the years, the number of hotel rooms outpaced foreign travelers and more visitors were needed.  Enter the emerging Middle Class of Mexico.

Ixtapa was chosen for a Thanksgiving family reunion as one of my brothers has had a time share there for many years.   November is considered part of the off-season for Mexican resorts and during the week, the resort was quiet and space readily available.  Because of the low census, the hotel made needed repairs in anticipation of the approaching high season.  All employees talked of “poca gente” – few guests.  But all that changed on Friday. 

As we walked out of the hotel lobby that morning, three tour buses arrived, carrying families from Mexico City.  More came through the morning.  Some children wore sweat pants, indicative of the colder climate of their hometowns.   The hotel, restaurants and pools filled up.  As the closest resort to Mexico City, a metropolis of 26 million inhabitants, Ixtapa is the obvious choice for a week-end of sun and sea.
Mexico has been enjoying a surge in the ranks of its middle class.

Thanks to the booming free trade with the United States, Mexico has the 13th largest economy in the world.  Education has been emphasized with almost all children between ages 5 to 14 in school.  As the fertility rate has dropped dramatically to two per mother, more women are working.   In a series of articles on the middle class of Mexico by Washington Post writers Nick Miroff and William Booth, they found admiration for our southern neighbor from economists.  It has controlled inflation, balanced its budget and managed debt.

The middle class has also been helped by entrepreneurs who have returned from the United States, bringing saved money to start their own businesses.  They were illegal in America but heroes at home – sending money back for food and shelter but saving enough to return to use their acquired business acumen.  Their reclaimed lives will not look like the middle class of developed countries but they are no longer in poverty and can now be assured their children will not want to cross the northern border to find jobs.

I visited with Michael, our resort’s time share supervisor about the uptick in the week-end census.  Most guests come on week-end packages costing about $300 per couple for three nights with food.  Children would cost a bit extra.  While economic by our standards, only the middle class of Mexico could afford such an excursion.

Beginning in December, Ixtapa’s resorts attract more American visitors, especially from the Mid-West, as well as many from Canada.  The closer to Mexico a U.S. state was, the fewer visitors came.  Michael laughed and said they never get anyone from Arizona.  Newspapers from border states carry more drug cartel stories, scaring many away.  Yet, the “tourist bubble” still holds in almost all Mexican resorts and Mexico works very hard to keep them safe.

The new crowds didn’t affect our schedule much.  We’re that kind of American tourist who get up early, are the first to walk on the beach, and retire after dinner.  Restaurants were often just opening when we arrived.  But later, lines would be out the door as our Mexican friends enjoyed dining at their traditional, later hours.


It was a pleasure to witness a part of the transformation of Mexico.  With such beautiful beaches and resorts, its citizens should be visiting them.  I only wish more in the United States could realize that not every Mexican wants to come to our country.  Millions are content to be a part of Mexico’s emerging economy, especially when it comes with a beautiful beach.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Traveling in Mexico with a Disability.

Author enjoying beach time at Ixtapa Island
I never expected to travel as a disabled person, at least not yet.  There was no need to pay attention to travel writers who specialize in places catering to those needing assistance. I knew the Americans With Disabilities Act applied to travel as I had seen the ubiquitous wheelchair signs for close in parking at the Grand Canyon, especially equipped bathrooms in museums and even ramps to the elephant house at the Oklahoma City Zoo.  Cruises were put on hold until I could no longer travel on my own.  But a broken tibia changed all that.  Suddenly, ramps were important.

Parking Author's walker at dinner
Our trip to Mexico over Thanksgiving had been planned long before the accident.  I intended to still go - it was just going to be different.  Quick research confirmed another statue, The Air Carrier Access Act, prohibits airlines from discriminating based on disability.  Consequently, a call to Aeromexico permitted a free change in seat assignments to the front bulkhead row, allowing more space for my partly bent leg as well as my husband’s long legs.  Also ordered was a wheelchair for all airports, especially the vast Mexico City terminal. 

By departure time, I could bear some weight with a walker and opted to advance (slowly) on my own to our flight’s gate at DFW.  At security, I had to pass the walker around a metal detector, take the hand of a security agent and hop to the other side where another agent passed her wand around me.  The walker also got the once over to be sure  no explosives were hidden inside. 

At Mexico City’s Benito Juarez Airport, Ernesto greeted me with a wheelchair and off we went, moving quickly down hallways, up elevators, and through a special line at customs.   It was quite wonderful not have to interpret signs or arrows. I noted several disabled employees in wheelchairs available to assist passengers with questions.  Since 2012, an employer in Mexico with more than 50 workers has to make accommodations for a disabled worker, a law that benefited those we saw.

Ernesto came in handy as he encouraged us to “be calm” when the flight to Ixtapa wouldn’t show on the flight board.   He did ask if I could climb stairs which was a negative.   Since Mexico City’s Airport does not have sufficient gates for all flights passing through, some planes board on the tarmac.  This requires bus transportation to the plane and entry by stairs.  Before boarding the bus, I was strapped into a straight chair, without arms but with seat belts that crossed my chest.  Two men lifted me on and off the bus.  All other passengers had to wait on the tarmac as they pulled my throne up step by step into the plane.   To my slight embarrassment, I faced outward to the crowd below curiously watching my regal advance.

Author's walker waits at poolside
We had been assured the resort was disabled friendly and all rooms were equipped for that use.  Technically, this was a true statement.  Ramps were available for walkers and wheelchairs, even if the paths were far from direct.  Each shower/bathtub had a seating area at the end and metal bar for balance – not exactly the walk-in experience I was expecting. 

But it all worked.  I could do my prescribed water walking in the resort pool as well as I could have at Paris Aquatics.  I also used the walker to enter the ocean and a family member retrieved it when I began floating.  Exiting the water was harder as waves were in a bigger hurry to get to shore than I was.

Author's walker serves as clothes line at Ixtapa resort
I wasn’t alone at the resort.  Others using a wheelchair or cane would nod in mutual sympathy as we passed.  My brothers accused me of getting special treatment from the waiters and I would agree.  At the beach, one provided a small table by my chair for lunch and added an umbrella for my personal use.  And many offered to carry my plate at the buffet. 


In healthy times, we would have taken advantage of kayaking, hiking, and biking.  Instead, more time was spent with grandchildren in the pool and drinks served poolside - not a bad trade-off at all.  Thanks to the laws protecting the disabled, the Mexico trip was doable.  Different but doable.

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