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Mazatlan’s first tourists

13 November 2008

I had an odd incident last week, when I stopped at one of my favored downtown cafes to read “Jornada” and tourist watch.  The waiter gave me my change in U.S. dollar bills — something I have no way of spending, and like him, find absolutely useless (the banks don’t want ones and fives… and it’s a hassle to exchange them.  I usually end up selling them below the exchange rate to a local business here that informally trades them off with snowbirds heading back north at the end of the season).  The waiter wasn’t my usual guy, so I guess it was an honest mistake.  And, I can’t blame him… with the annual invasion of the cruise ships right now, the tourists are thick on the ground and running amok in the local market.  I have to put up with a few months of “Hey, Meester… what jew look for?” when what I’m looking for is something like carne molida or chayotes — not beads and trinkets.

Ah well… I really don’t much like tourist towns (and geezer towns at that), but I’m here, and tourism has been part of the Mexican economy for some time, making it well worth looking at.  The cruise ship season is ramping up a little late, but perhaps the U.S. downturn isn’t going to be the huge disaster many thought.  My sense is that the people who could otherwise afford to go to Europe or Hawai’i may be picking up some of the slack, and, being largely a community that caters to the retirees, we are still going to have a certain number of visitors who still have enough disposable income to come down this way… as well as the Canadians, whose dollar has held up well against the peso.

And, being expected while I’m here to “do” a Mazatlan history, tourism is certainly a huge part of that history.  Here’s my notes on how the whole thing started:

Mazatlan’s future as a resort community, as well as a business center, probably owes a debt to Queen Elizabeth the First of England. Elizabeth, like other European rulers of the time, had a rather simple view of global commerce (and one still prevalent today): making yourself rich by robbing poor foreigners was perfectly acceptable. However, robbing from your fellow European rulers was – if nothing else – bad form. Piracy on the high seas – stealing the loot your fellow monarchs had stolen from the “New World” was certain to be frowned upon. And, there was no way a reigning Queen could just go out and grab ships – she’d at least need a Navy for that. Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII had begun the buildup of the modern English Navy, but Elizabeth – a more outward looking ruler than her father – was strapped for the cash she needed to compete against the best royal thief of the era, her brother-in-law, Felipe II of Spain.

Typical Mazatlan tourist, 1579

Typical Mazatlan tourist, 1579

England hadn’t grabbed any parts of the “New World” worth stealing gold from, and her subjects were loathe to pay higher taxes to support naval expansion, so Elizabeth – with the most patriotic of motives – decided to steal the gold she needed from Felipe. Not that she herself would be going down to the sea in ships. Oh no. Elizabeth was no sailor, and a reigning queen could hardly be expected to run a pirate ship. She could afford a few ships out of her own pocket, and she could convince the nobility to pony up. The only drawback to the scheme was that Elizabeth needed what today is called “plausible deniability” – she couldn’t be known as the proprietor of a pirate fleet. The solution radicalized the world, and changed business forever.

Elizabeth paid the expenses for the pirate ship, and in return was given written documents that could be exchanged when the ship returned to England for “shares” of whatever stolen property was on board. Documents could be kept secret, and as far as the pirates knew, the owner was not Elizabeth and her royal entourage, but a faceless “company”. The English pirates were the first modern corporations.

And the best of the pirates was Sir Francis Drake. On 13 December 1577, Drake sailed out of Plymouth Harbour with five ships, bound for the New World, and some “corporate raiding”. Raiding Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Africa and the Atlantic seaboard of the Americas, Drake lost two ships, acquired another and eventually made it though the Straits of Magellan into the Pacific. He sacked a treasure ship off the coast of Peru and hightailed it north with the Spanish in pursuit. Having shaken off the Spaniards somewhere around Huatalco, Oaxaca. But all that running, fighting sea battles, losing ships and making crews walk the plant was beginning to wear on the employees. It was time for a corporate retreat… or, in naval terms… shore leave.

Typical pirate, 2008

Typical pirate, 2008

The exact date is unknown, but sometime in April or May of 1579 Drake and his crew sailed into Mazatlan harbor for … SPRING BREAK!

What exactly Drake’s crew did in Mazatlan (they anchored off today’s Olas Altas) is unknown… laze around, take on water, hang out. It’s unlikely the local people tried selling them real estate or time shares. Pirates then, as now, tend to stay out of each other’s way…. a professional courtesy of sorts.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 20 November 2008 12:58 am

    amazonmoney GooD!

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