Inside a Nicaraguan cigar factory

Inside the cigar storeroom at Mombacho

Inside the cigar storeroom at Mombacho

The term ‘cigar factory’ conjures up an image of concrete floors, high ceilings, and lots of machinery. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

I visited Mombacho Cigar factory in Granada, Nicaragua. It’s disguised as a house and, upon entering, isn’t dissimilar to many of the well-to-do hotels around town.

Each day three teams of two people produce over 750 cigars. With deft and nimble fingers the intricacies of cigar rolling are made to look easy.

So my brother, Thomas Snowdon, tried his hand at it and discovered that it isn’t so easy.

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Would you leave your country behind because you hated the politics?

Victoria left the US for good after the 1991 invasion of Iraq. Now she lives in, and is a citizen of, Mexico.

Victoria left the US for good after the 1991 invasion of Iraq. Now she lives in, and is a citizen of, Mexico.

“If Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister I’m leaving the country.”

“If the Federal Government raises the price of alcohol again I’m moving overseas.”

These quotes could be attributed to a lot of people in Australia. Although I’ve heard the words many times over, I’ve never met anyone who has followed through on their promise. Well I hadn’t until last week.

Victoria Ryan lives in Mexico. She was born in Surfer’s Paradise during World War 2, moved to New Mexico where she grew up, and then left the country for good in 1993.

She left after the United States invaded Iraq, fed up with American politics she carved out a new life for herself in Mexico and became a citizen.

I met her in the Mexican seaside town of Rio Nexpa where she told me more of her fascinating story …

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On the surfing trail in Mexico

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One of the cabanas that line the beach in La Ticla

One of the cabanas that line the beach in La Ticla

“The shop on the road down was closed when we passed it,” said Joel, a Canadian surfer, “there were a couple of crosses out the front so I hope they couple who owned it weren’t killed.”

This is how visitors, and sometimes locals, talk in La Ticla. People don’t die or pass away. They are killed.

La Ticla is a rural, beachside town in the Mexican state of Michoacan. It is a 2 hour bus trip from Mexico’s biggest Port City, Manzallio (3-4 hours if you allow for Mexican time). It’s known in surfing circles for having some of the best waves on Mexico’s west coast. My brother, Thomas, is a keen surfer which is how we knew about it. A quick google search of the town will prove that the only way to hear about it is through word-of-mouth or on surfing forums. From the months of March through May surfers from all over the world converge upon its shores – well, they used to.

The number of surfers that visit La Ticla has dropped since word got out about intense violence in the area. The violence was a result of the Indigenous community’s fight for their right to own the land. A few years ago the Mexican Government tried to take the land from the local Indigenous people of Otsula – the wider community that La Ticla is part of. Locals felt their land was being taken away unjustly – so they went to war.

As the violence escalated the local Indigenous people blocked the road to La Ticla to stop the Government coming in.

“We were protecting our land and families, everyone was armed and ready to fight for our rights,” Crisheila, a 20-year-old student told me.

Fights over land rights in Mexico aren’t new and, as with a lot of countries over the world, there is still ongoing anger, violence, and mistreatment of Indigenous people in many states. Not all Indigenous people take matters into their own hands like they did in La Ticla, though. The Mexican state of Oaxaca is in the middle of a media war over its mis-treatment of Indigenous people. Thousands are being forced from their land through extreme poverty and migrating to Oaxaca city where visible but peaceful protests are ongoing.

In La Ticla the story has a somewhat happier ending, though, with the local Indigenous people eventually winning the right to keep the reserve. The fact that it is a reserve means no non-Indigenous people are allowed to set-up any sort of business there. Visitors to the area are still few and far between, though.

“The violence was very localised but it scared a lot of people away and they are still staying away,” Crisheila said with a touch of sadness in her voice.

The poverty in La Ticla is obvious as you drive through the town to get to the bungalows and many people rely on tourism for any income at all. Visiting surfers stay at a series of bungalows on the beach which are owned by 10 local families. Locals fondly refer to the area as ‘Hollywood’ or ‘mini Hawaii’, whether this is because it’s the nice part of town or the seedy part wasn’t made clear.

Indigenous families who don’t own the bungalows are given a parcel of land on which they cultivate their own crops. They create means of income by selling fruit, vegetables, and bread to visitors. Others have created small business and set up restaurants at the front of their house or make money by driving visitors to the nearest town for groceries, cash machines, or whatever else they might need. Despite its fame in international surfing circles, Mexicans were the ones who brought most of the money into La Ticla and Mexicans are the ones who are still concerned about visiting the area because of violence. Now La Ticla is keen to let everyone know they are open for business again.

Visitors are obviously still a little wary as well, while I was there a fire cracker went off. A number of visitors down at the bungalows jumped and looked for signs of a gunman. In general, though, the place feels safe and somewhat untouched.

“I’ve heard of robberies and violence in the area but I’ve never seen it happen in front of me,” Mathew, a Canadian surfer, told me, “I keep coming back so it doesn’t concern me and I’ve never felt unsafe here.

This is the general sentiment of most international visitors to La Ticla and locals are hoping this will spread to the wider Mexican community. A lot of effort has been put into into ensuring the town remains safe. In years gone by stories of Banditos coming down from the mountains and pillaging the towns have been plentiful. Now night watchmen patrol the bungalows with walkie talkies (there’s no phone reception in La Ticla) to make sure there’s no one hanging around who shouldn’t be and stop any violence they might see. This is all part of the towns ongoing efforts to improve its image and bring the visitors back. Whether it will work is yet to be determined, the town is holding a surf competition at the end of March for Mexican nationals only. They are hoping word will spread of the newer, safer La Ticla. Only time will tell if it works.

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What happens in Vegas ends up in the American market

Las Vegas is well known for a lot of things. Mostly gambling, drinking, and other sorts of debauchery.

One of the many colourful and fun bodysuits Bam Bam makes

One of the many colourful and fun bodysuits Bam Bam makes

The city that’s branded itself the Entertainment Capital of the world also has a serious side though.

An international trade show is on at the moment, clothing brands from across the world have gathered to try and sell their clothes to American outlets.

Among the internationally renowned brands are Bam Bam, an up-and-coming label from Queensland, Australia.

The clothing label was started by Michael Pretsel and his brother on the Sunshine Coast and have built a name for themselves in Australia.

They had a fair bit of success at the same Las Vegas trade show last year when Urban Outfitters started stocking them.

When I was in Vegas I spoke to the brands National Sales Manager, Dean Topher and the Accountant, Sam Hardy, about what it takes for a local Australian label to crack the American market …

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Skimpy bars in the Pilbara

Ryan, Courtney, and Craig at the Mermaid (photo: Stephen Stockwell)

Have you ever been to a skimpy bar? They fairly unique to Western Australia and something that needs to be experienced if you go to the Pilbara. I spent a night inside one and this is what happened. This was first broadcast on ABC North West.

 

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Strange things happen when you’re going through the desert

Searching for golf balls on the salt flats

Searching for golf balls on the salt flats

Anything goes in the country. It’s true, I see some really strange and wonderful things in the Pilbara that would never happen closer to a capital city.

I think one of the best things I’ve seen so far was a Royal Flying Doctors Service fundraiser over the weekend. Cape Keraudren is a National Park that’s about 180kms away from its nearest town, Port Hedland. It’s a spot that’s popular with grey nomads during the winter month, some of them stay for up to 6 months every year.

Since needing the RFDS is a high possibility for them, some of the regular visitors to Cape Keraudren hold a fundraiser each year. It’s a golf day and the 9-hole course has been set up on the parks salt flats. I got out there and gave it a go and trust me, it’s lots of fun! You can listen to the results below, this was first broadcast on ABC North West.

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Fifo Relationships

Relationships are tricky at the best of times. But what if one of you was away from home more than you were there? This is the reality for a lot of people who work in the mines on a fly-in fly-out basis. It can be hard to start or maintain even the strongest relationships.

I met a bunch of blokes at one of the pubs here in the Pilbara who have had firsthand experience with the difficulties of making FIFO relationships work. This was first broadcast on ABC North West WA.

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Woodford Folk Festival 2011/12

This Woodfordia sign overlooks the entrance to the festival.

Woodford Folk Festival is definitely my favourite music festival. The week long festival is nothing like the typical festivals out there. For starters, most of the bands play more than once. So you can have up to seven opportunities to see your favourite band. This is great news for people like me who often get sidetracked.

Last year I had the opportunity to bring in the New Year at Woodford for the fifth year in a row. I’m generally always working at the festival for either 4ZzZ or ABC Radio. This is a quick wrap-up of the festival I gave on ABC radio for the national New Years Eve program, hosted by Scott Lamond. I think this explains what I love about Woodford more than writing about it ever could.

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Tweeting the muster

The country girl inside me has always wanted to go mustering. Actually I’m pretty sure the city girl inside me has always wanted to go too. I’ve spent time on farms, rounded up cattle, milked dairy cows, and done all sorts of rural activities. But I’ve never had the opportunity to go on a muster. To be honest, being from the densely built-up southeast Queensland, I didn’t actually know that mustering was still a thing.

I had the opportunity to go out to a cattle station in the Pilbara. Yarrie Station is in the Shire of East Pilbara, about four hours away from Karratha. The country out there is beautiful and the station is huge. Mustering is no small task  and this year Steph Coombs was taking the city folk along for the ride.

Steph’s from Perth and an Agriculture graduate, this year she’s been tweeting the muster and blogging about her experiences. I had a bit of a chat to her while I was at Yarrie Station to see why she was doing it. This interview was first played on ABC North West WA.

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Jeremy Donovan

Source: Jeremy Donovan

This is an artist profile I did of Jeremy Donovan. He’s an Indigenous performer (among other things) who played at The Dreaming a couple of years ago. This is a mixture of his performance and an interview I did with him. The whole show really stuck with me for ages because of his talent and passion, if you get a chance to see him, I’d highly recommend it. This was originally played on 4ZzZ and the Community Radio Network.

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