A local business man shares his experience of welcoming President Calderon of Mexico as part of his quest to support tourism in Mexico in 2011. The president has pledged to show the beauty, diversity and safety offered by established resorts like Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Riviera Nayarit and Los Cabos. While international attention has been focused on sporadic violence along the US border, many hours from the tranquil beauty of Puerto Vallarta, the president´s campaign puts visitor safety at the top of his agenda.
His overnight stay at the hotel resort Velas Vallarta is one in a series of tour stops to show hesitant would be visitors that they have nothing to worry about.
It all happened so fast and was hard to believe that it actually happened. On Saturday afternoon, we had an unexpected visit at Los Veranos Canopy Tour . They were agents from the Mexican government and were here to see if we would be a suitable and safe place for a last minute visit from Felipe Calderon, the current president of Mexico. Their plan was to film a TV special with CBS correspondent Peter Greenburg, the idea being to promote Mexican tourism filming President Calderon, his three children and Peter Greenburg as they flew through the jungle on the zip lines at Los Veranos Canopy. An hour later, another group of agents showed up. This group seemed a bit more serious and intent on getting things set up and secured for the events to follow some 12 hours later.
Meanwhile, all of Puerto Vallarta was curious if not a bit concerned with all the buzz of low flying helicopters, and by low we are talking 20-30 feet over the water buzzing the entire coastline, and an entourage of black cars bearing license plates stamped with the Mexican flag. Obviously, something big was going down, or someone very important was in town.
Early the next morning, armed personnel in uniform and many more clandestine personnel in street clothes arrived at the sleepy pueblo of Los Veranos in trucks, busses, vans, and cars. Well, by now the word was out. President Calderon and his family would be arriving by helicopter in just a couple of hours! They were to land in the school’s soccer field, a short distance from the Los Veranos Canopy Tour.
When they arrived there was quite a bit of last minute organizing. The camera crews needed special harnesses to accommodate their heavy and unwieldy equipment. Trial runs were done in the briefing area to see if the camera and sound crew could fly over the jungle, 400 feet in the air with some cables crossing the river gorge 1,400 feet to the other side. Not a problem. Next, who is going up? Who is staying behind as ground crew? Who will be walking up to get coverage without going on the cables? All this was accomplished along with brief introductions to all the key personnel needed in about 1 hour. This was absolutely amazing.
After another briefing, the one everyone gets when they visit the Canopy which explains safety, braking, hand signals etc. the group is ready for the tour. Felipe Calderon accompanied by his three Children, Peter Greenburg, Jeff Coates Owner of Los Veranos Canopy Tour and an onslaught of videographers, photographers, sound crew, a handful of Los Veranos professional guides, and numerous security personnel. Off they went on the ziplines.
Since time is always a factor with film crews, the first few warm up beginner cables were skipped. The first cable that the family would use was Chile Piquin which is named after a very small, very hot chile pepper as the cable is short but very fast. Judging by their expressions, the public audience were quite surprised and excited to see what was to come.
The next was Black Diamond. Nearly 1,400 feet long, this line is almost 5 football fields and 500 ft high over the river rapids. It is the Canopy’s longest ride. Since it was only their second cable, I was expecting to see some hesitation. Not in the slightest! President Calderon’s kids were eagerly pushing their way to the front to see which of them got to go first. Of course the youngest won the toss and was the first of the children to cross. They were ecstatic.
As we were now getting up to the highest cables on the tour, the sounds of the helicopters grew closer. I noticed something hanging from the helicopter up above. I never was sure if it was a cameraman or just a remote camera but the Film Director John Feist was in communication with them coaching them in so they could film President Calderon and his family zipping over the river 500 feet in the air.
The group continued up the trail to Dos Cojones, or Two Big Ones.The name speaks for itself. This zip line is reportedly 590 feet high and is the highest cable at Los Veranos Canopy. Again no hesitations from anyone except for maybe the film crew who were lugging 30-pound cameras across every zip line. The tour continued with Real Enchilada, Speedy Gonzales, Banana Split. They reached the last cable, Tequila Screamer which lands you in a riverfront palapa bar with select Tequilas and the world Famous Carla’s Mango Tango, a special Mango Margarita.
As the entourage with all its paparazzi regrouped and got a snack in the palapa President Calderon was calling for his photographer as he noticed his son trying to hold Mango an 8 foot albino python. It proved to be too much for a the small child so his brother and sister stepped up to help him hold up the mammoth reptile. Before they left the three kids got a visit to the animal house where the got to go into the monkey cage and hand feed the squirrel monkeys. Apparently this is a normal event for all the visitors who want to partake in such an activity.
After the black motorcade with red white and green plates drove off an army of men clad in camouflage clothes bearing automatic weapons descended out of the jungle from all directions. After a quick head count they were loaded into a military truck and disappeared.
We are honored that they choose Los Veranos Canopy Tour to be a part of Mexico: The Presidential Tour! I overhead Peter Greenberg tell President Calderon that this was the best tour he had been on in a long time!