Archive for July, 2010


OXXO: Mexico’s Answer to the 24-Hour Mini Mart

Monday, July 26th, 2010

An OXXO storefront in downtown Puebla, Mexico.Forget toothpaste? Need an antacid? Crave a candy bar? Convenience stores can be lifesavers for travelers — or at least make the trip more comfortable. Throughout Mexico, mini marts are an important hub of local activity, too: Residents can pay their cable and utility bills, buy potable water, reload the credit on their cell phones, and more.

Most neighborhoods have at least one corner market (typically called la tienda de la esquina or una miscelanea in Spanish) that sells miscellaneous goods as varied as tissue, AA batteries, ripe avocados, coffee, and lottery tickets. Many major cities, including Puebla and Cholula, also have OXXO (pronounced “OX-oh”).

With some 7,300 outlets in 350 cities nationwide, OXXO is the largest chain of convenience stores in Mexico. The chain is owned by FEMSA — the company behind Tecate, Indio, and Sol beers — and run largely by franchisees. FEMSA opened its first OXXO in Monterrey the 1970s to avoid using third-party distributors for its beer; earlier this year, it sold its brewery to Heineken for $5.7 billion.

“[OXXO] has become one of my favorite places for hotel essentials like snacks, water, booze, and cigars,” writes blogger El Gringo Guapo. “Perhaps one of the best things about this wonderful [place] that is so different from where we are from is that they carry a modest selection of booze. I’m not talking beer or wine coolers here; I’m talking tequila, scotch, whiskey and rum, and it’s reasonably priced! I bought a bottle of 200 mL bottle of El Jimador for 30 pesos, $2.38! This costs around 15 bucks in the states. Mmm, REAL tequila.”

A quick scan of the Yellow Pages reveals more than 100 OXXO stores in Puebla. Here, OXXO competes with scores of locally owned shops and supermarkets like Walmart, Mega, Soriana, and Superama. The chain’s goal, according to its corporate website, is to provide “a wide range of products and services that are useful and practical for daily life.”

Visitors will be able to spot OXXO by its prominent red, white, and gold signage all over town. Some locations are open 24 hours, a rarity in Puebla that gives OXXO a competitive edge over other stores.

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A Trip to Puebla’s Drive-Thru Zoo

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Kangaroos enjoy a nap in the walk-thru habitat at Africam.After seeing big cats and other exotic animals paraded through city streets in cages to advertise traveling circuses, it’s easy to be skeptical about the zoo experience in Mexico. Fortunately, Africam Safari not only defies stereotypes, but also promotes top-quality conditions for all creatures by pioneering best practices for the industry worldwide. The drive-through zoo, located on the outskirts of the city of Puebla, is a wonderful place for wildlife lovers — and kids of all ages — to visit.

Africam Safari was the first zoo in Latin America to receive accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, due largely to its conservation efforts and its high standards of animal care. With partners in Mexico and around the globe, Africam works to recover wild populations (such as the golden eagle) and to preserve ecosystems and soil. The park itself protects scores of endangered species and indigenous flora and fauna and strives to teach the public about them. Thousands of animals — from alpaca to zebra — roam freely in large, well-maintained habitats in which human activity is heavily controlled. In a single trip, it’s possible to watch a hippo bathe, a Bengal tiger wake up from a nap, a blackbuck antelope toss around a fallen tree branch, a joey emerge from mama kangaroo’s pouch, and more.

Be prepared to stop for the occasional ostrich, herd of mouflon, or rhino crossing the road and to have a gang of monkeys climb onto the roof of your SUV.

Inside the black bear habitat at Africam Safari.Safari means visitors must travel through the lion’s share of the park in a motorized vehicle, whether it’s a car or a public bus; if you don’t have your own wheels, Estrella Roja and Tip Tours run excursions from the zócalo to Africam at least once a day. Traffic must always yield to animals, and humans may not leave their cars. Posted signs indicate when windows need to be closed. (Tip: Honk your vehicle’s horn if you need assistance and a park ranger will appear.)

At the end of the safari, visitors can enjoy the lunch they packed in the picnic area by the parking lot, then continue their exploration on foot inside the Adventure Zone, or pedestrian portion of the zoo. Here you can meet more critters — bats, butterflies, turtles, and more — and even treat toddlers to a pony ride. Africam staff also occasionally put on animal-themed shows. Night tours are offered in late December and January.

Africam is open daily, year-round, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (park closes at 6:30 p.m.). Admission is 198 pesos per adult (192 for kids). For driving directions, click here.

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Posted in Do, Featured, Kids, Science + Nature | 1 Comment »

Expect a Dry 4th of July Weekend

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

My mom enjoys a margarita on the rocks while on vacation in Mexico.While sports fans are biting their nails and Americans are celebrating their independence this Sunday, Mexican voters will be at the polls electing city and state officials. This includes the next mayor and governor of Puebla. July 4, 2010, is Election Day in Mexico, and foreigners traveling or living in the area should consider two important facts when making weekend plans:

1. It is illegal for foreigners to participate in politics in any way.

2. The sale of alcohol is forbidden nationwide 24 hours before and on the day elections are held in Puebla. That means no beer, wine, or margaritas may be purchased between 12:01 a.m. Saturday and 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.

How serious are these laws? The first rule has been part of the Mexican Constitution since 1917. That document strictly bars all non-citizens from participating in politics, from demonstrations to voting. “The right to assemble or associate peaceably for any lawful purpose cannot be restricted; but only citizens of the Republic may do so to take part in the political affairs of the country,” says Article 9. Article 33 later states: “Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country.” To read the entire document in English, click here.

The second rule, known as la ley seca (or the “dry law”), was first applied in the state of Sonora in 1915 and later became part of Article 239 of the Cofipe, the federal code that governs elections. The idea was to “discourage violence and abstentionism,” according to the Latin American Institute via The Free Library. The national law was repealed in 2006, but many state and local governments continue to abide by it. This includes the city of Puebla.

“We know that this sometimes creates discomfort, but today more than ever it is necessary to prevent and manage conflicts,” Mayor Blanca Alcalá told Milenio today.

Visitors, foreign residents, and naturalized citizens (none of whom are allowed to vote) may drink alcohol, as long as they purchase it before midnight on Friday. Any American hoping to toast his or her independence with a margarita on Sunday is advised to plan ahead — and be prepared to mix their own.

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