VIVA Mexico!

A fiesta-filled tour blending urban chic with rich, folkloric culture demonstrated that HBS cases are, on occasion, like a good margarita – best absorbed with a few grains of salt. Case after case on Latin American crises, financial mismanagement and controversial populist regimes can provide a dim view of such countries as Mexico.

But the 35 HBS students who embarked on a whirlwind “south of the border” Spring Break journey instead observed a country more suitably described with adjectives such as beautiful, cosmopolitan, culturally diverse and thriving. Organized by HBS Mexicans Maralty Ramirez Arroyo (OA), David Margain (OH), Felipe Duarte (OJ) and Ricardo Duenas (NH), the star-studded tour featured everything from high-brow meetings with Mexican President Vicente Fox to arguably low-brow informal tequila-tasting events.

The mosaic of activities experienced on this trip in many ways mirrored the amalgamation of drastically different cultures, peoples and belief-systems that constitute today’s unique Mexican identity. A trip to Taxco, for instance, provided a flavor of the remnants of Spanish colonialism, among them exquisite classical architecture and a thriving economy powered by silver mining (and some notable HBS students’ jewelry purchases). A tour of the majestic Castillo de Chapultepec, complete with exquisite gardens and balconies, shifted the spotlight to fabled Habsburg Emperor Maximilian and other poignant characters in Mexico’s colonial history.

Another visit took us back to pre-hispanic Mexico, as we experienced the magic of the Teotihuacan pyramids built by the Aztecs, which are among the largest outside of Egypt. We also toured the Basilica de Guadalupe, where we gained a more nuanced understanding of how classical Catholicism was adapted to be palatable to the indigenous Indian people.

Not to be missed, of course, was a taste of contemporary culture-in this case a guided tour of the Corona beer factory. Recounting the making of one of Mexico’s most remarkable corporate success stories, Corona’s marketing officers highlighted its impressive results as a leading consumer exporter, while giving students a refresher on their RC marketing course. And most important, we provided an extensive sampling of the company’s product range (you haven’t had real Corona if you haven’t checked out Negro Modelo!).

Mexico City itself is a fantastic place. During the day, our colorful guide, Pepe, explained the nuances of the city’s development. Did you know Mexico City was originally the Venice of Latin America, having been built upon the less-than-solid foundations of five tenuously connected islands on a lake identified by the Aztecs as their promised land? This has resulted in some buildings gradually sinking as others rise – arguably a windfall for the stair-building industry!

Evenings offered rich displays of Mexican folklore at the National Ballet and the newly developed Santa Fe region where the infrastructure, accommodations and businesses are light-years ahead of those in Boston’s rather aged suburbs (think potholes along Cambridge roads).

The highlight of the trip for many was the day we delved into Mexican politics. Admired by many for its mythical landscape, Los Pinos is the traditional location where the Mexican President entertains visiting heads of state. On this occasion, he generously rearranged his schedule to meet with HBSers and shared his hopes and dreams for his country.

Despite more modest bragging rights, the president’s chief of staff delivered an equally impressive presentation, informing us of recent monetary, fiscal and social reforms undertaken by Mexico. This was BGIE in action! The probing Q&A elicited thoughtful and candid insight from one of the chief architects of Mexico’s recent success. To top it off, we visited the Mexican Senate, where many an aspiring HBS student stood upon the Speaker’s podium, pontificating at the waiting masses that existed in none but their mind’s eye.

Of course Spring Break would not have been complete without memorable moments on the beach. The glorious region of Playa del Carmen and surrounds provided a setting that witnessed memorable fiestas, complete with tequila shots and forming friendships alike – while separating the sun worshipers from the deep sea-fishermen, and the paragliding daredevils from the bar-crawlers.

Aside from obligatory Spring Break rituals, the beach provided another glimpse of Mexico’s bright prospects. Following a day of snorkeling in Cozumel, home of the world’s second largest coral reef barrier, Mayor Gustavo Ortega Joaquin hosted lunch at a picturesque beach club. He recounted the island’s rapid reconstruction following the destruction caused by Hurricane Wilma and related the island’s ambition to become one of the world’s premiere upscale tourist destinations.

This was a phenomenal trip to a country with great prospects. Conversations on the flight home ranged from organizing the next visit to Mexico to how and where to invest. Mexico is, as the Corona people might put it, “Miles away from ordinary.”