Destination: Mexico

They Captured ‘El Chapo,’ but They Can’t Take Away His Songs

The billionaire drug kingpin captured in Mexico over the weekend was, of course, the subject of numerous narcocorridos. How could he not be? After all, the guy once escaped from a Mexican prison in a laundry cart.

In this song, recorded after that 2001 getaway, Los Tucanes de Tijuana predicted he’d never be seen again. They were almost right.

A Sort of Happy Ending

David Farley was 15 when his older brother took him to a strip club in Mexico to make him a man

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Swallowing Fear in San Miguel de Allende

Swallowing Fear in San Miguel de Allende iStockPhoto

Kristin Van Tassel's ideal window for learning a foreign language closed over 30 years ago. Is there still time?

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R.I.P. Chavela Vargas

The singer who recorded countless classic Mexican rancheras during her long career died in Cuernavaca, Mexico, last night at the age of 93.

Like a number of Americans, I suspect, I fell in love with her deep, husky voice the moment I heard her rendition of “La Llorona” in Julie Taymor’s 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic, “Frida.” That was my gateway ranchera to others she recorded, like this one.

Writer Daniel Hernandez has been tweeting from Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City tonight, where people gathered to remember Vargas. “A couple thousand people just sang ‘Volver’ at once behind Eugenia Leon like it was one big therapy session,” he wrote. “Overwhelming. Only in Mexico.”

Here’s Vargas singing “La Llorona”:


Video: Luis Alberto Urrea on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Luis Alberto Urrea has written a number of great books—fiction and non-fiction such as “The Devil’s Highway”—about the U.S.-Mexico border and life in the two countries. He appeared on Moyers & Company recently, where he discussed migrant deaths, book-banning in Tucson, growing up in Tijuana and a San Diego suburb, and a range of related topics. Great stuff. Here’s the hour-long show:

Travel Movie Watch: ‘Mariachi Gringo’

This looks promising. That said, I don’t see an official release date set; it got a mixed review in Variety; and according to a piece last month in the Hollywood Reporter, “The film has no sales agent nor distribution deals in place.” Hmm. (Via @TranquiloTravel)

Paul Theroux Walks Into Mexico

Nogales, to be specific.

In a lifetime of crossing borders I find this pitiless fence the oddest frontier I have ever seen—more formal than the Berlin Wall, more brutal than the Great Wall of China, yet in its way just as much an example of the same folie de grandeur. Built just six months ago, this towering, seemingly endless row of vertical steel beams is so amazing in its conceit you either want to see more of it, or else run in the opposite direction—just the sort of conflicting emotions many people feel when confronted with a peculiar piece of art.

Theroux has written more about Africa, Asia and Europe than he has Mexico, so it’s nice to see his take on someplace closer to home. His story appeared in Sunday’s New York Times.

Mariachi El Bronx, Metalachi and the Rise of Mariachi Fusion

Photo by jimaral via Flickr, (Creative Commons)

Is it just me or is mariachi-rock fusion a thing these days?

There’s Metalachi, which, as its name suggests, mixes heavy metal and mariachi. The combo has resulted in some intriguing songs, including an unlikely cover of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law.”

There’s Tucson-based Calexico, whose mariachi-infused rock is so evocative of the American southwest.

And now there’s Mariachi El Bronx, a side project of the Los Angeles punk band The Bronx. The group’s second mariachi album will be released Aug. 2, and it just earned a rave review from NPR.

Mariachi El Bronx sings in English and plays with more abandon than the typical buttoned-down folkloric mariachi ensemble. But its songs follow the strict conventions of the form to the letter.

When I heard the first Mariachi El Bronx record in 2009, it struck me as a bit of a clever gimmick—you know, dress a punk up in an elaborate charro suit and watch what happens. On II, inside the tales of lost love and other tragedies, there’s plenty of tradition balanced by shots of pure joy and irreverence. And that makes all the difference.

It sounds pretty good to my ear. Here’s a taste:



The Special Chaos of Mexico City

Mexico City smog Photo: kainet via Flickr, (Creative Commons)

In an excerpt from "Down & Delirious in Mexico City," Daniel Hernandez endures smog season in Mexico's famously polluted capital

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Democracy and the Zócalo

Democracy and the Zócalo Photo: stevecadman via Flickr (Creative Commons)

As labor protests raged in Wisconsin, Maya Kroth found herself in Oaxaca, Mexico, getting in touch with American ideals

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Confessions of a Travel Snob

Confessions of a Travel Snob Photo by adpowers, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Amy Williams Bernstein considered herself an intrepid, independent traveler. Then she found herself at an all-inclusive Cancun resort.

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World Travel Watch: Tube Strike in London, Election Worries in Egypt and More

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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My Own Mexican Revolution

My Own Mexican Revolution REUTERS/Daniel LeClair

The catcalls and machismo culture were poisoning Sarah Menkedick's relationship with the country she loved. Would she change Mexico, or change herself?

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Sea Change

Sea Change Sea of Cortez (iStockPhoto)

With her marriage on the rocks, Catha Larkin headed to Baja's Sea of Cortez seeking "a bit of the blue"

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The Milk Run to Mexico City

In The Smart Set, John Washington has a lovely dispatch from a bus ride between Nogales and the capital. Here’s Washington’s introduction to the vehicle where he’d spend almost two days:

The bus was set to leave Nogales at six in the evening. A few minutes past six a tall, skinny European delivery type van pulled into the wide, empty, dirt and gravel parking lot. A few of the migrants and I looked at each other, mumbling some concern that this would be the vehicle to take us all the way to DF, which is some 1,700 miles away, and, for a few of the migrants, all the way to Quintana Roo, another 600 miles. A rumor quickly circulated among those of us waiting that we would ride in this van to a full-sized bus, which was waiting for us downtown. In a few minutes, however, after some of the luggage was strapped to the roof, we were beckoned to present our thin paper tickets and enter. There were 17 of us, including two drivers. The bus had 15 seats, including a half-seat in the front, which straddled the radio and dashboard. One of the drivers unrolled a carpet scrap and one of the younger men volunteered to take the space on the floor, which, he was quick to recognize, would probably end up as the most comfortable and spacious seat in the van. I squeezed into the second to last row, in a window seat, and put my bag on my lap. It would sit there for the next 40 hours, though I didn’t know that at the time.