Coyoacán Chronicles

by Juan on August 27, 2009

About five months ago I wrote the post “startup and the simple life” committing myself to bring some ideas, concepts, business plans and even a moderate budget on my next vacation.

My family and I have been in Mexico for the last four weeks, an unusually long vacation for us. Aside from some important family time in key moments of our lives, we’ve had the opportunity to visit this great country at what has clearly been its lowest point as a tourist destination in a very long time. The result has been a magnificent journey that has taken us from the essential beach destination to the magnificent and desolated landscapes of its mountain ranges, to remote and forgotten ghost towns in the process of being re-conquered by entrepreneurial ‘gringos’, to the most glamorous wilderness experiences.

But I also devoted time to put in motion a small idea that in less than four weeks has taken a live of its own and now has a chance to become a worthy enterprise, something I’ve started calling the Global Culture Tour. Here is the account of that little project.

The Global Culture Tour is a collective creative experiment to document special neighbourhoods around the world. Places that have found a way to balance the many attributes that I often write about in the blog. Our tag line is “Sustainable, Memorable, Livable travel experiences for global citizens”, so that should start giving you an idea of what destinations may qualify. It’s objective is to create an online guide that helps discerning travellers find ways to immerse themselves into these areas. Hyper-local by nature, these guides feature a destination using a strong editorial approach with a solid and coherent narrative, while showcasing beautiful, original photography that could be the envy of any other travel guide.

In the months preceding my trip, I started shaping the idea through a number of posts such as “reinventing tourism in mexico“, “I could live here” , “give up your urban devil“, “meaningful experiences“, “the quest for liveability” and “the greatest destination“. Feedback on these posts helped tremendously to orient the project and understand which areas generated the most interest. Clearly there was something appealing. One of the first things I did once the journey started was to organize the various ideas throughout these posts into a single Creative Brief that could be used to present to any person I would talk to. This was important as it helped me focus the project and helped me persuade people that I was serious about it.

Sustainable, Memorable, Livable travel experiences for global citizens:
Global Culture enables memorable travel experiences through the continuous exploration of regions that provide a culturally rich environment for the urbanite on a livability quest.

Such was the tag line of the Creative Brief and immediately became the tag line of this blog as well. A friend of mine had taken some of the key ideas and created a mood-board, sort of a visual guide for what we were trying to convey:

Mood Board

Mood Board

There were other discussions about the technical aspects of the project, but to be honest those were the simple ones. The very next day I arrived in Mexico City started listening to the Twitter conversation about Coyoacán (the place I had decided to feature) and photographers. It didn’t take long before I ran into a photographer featured in Flickr with several “interesting” photos of the area. Needless to say he jumped at the opportunity to meet to discuss the project. And with the amount of preparation I had done there was an immediate alignment of the minds. He even coined the term “Coyoacán Chronicles”. A week into my trip, I knew this was going to happen.

During those first days I also did a few walk-around photo-shoots to scout the area for interesting places to feature in our guide. I knew very little about pre-production, release forms, permits, etc. But asking people was enough to get up to speed. One of the first important shifts in the project happened after these scouting sessions. It was obvious the amount of preparation to do the photo-shoot in a single weekend was too much, almost impossible to arrange. I bet that’s why you see the large film crews parking on location for several days. We knew the effort would have to be spread over several weeks, managing to produce a few “scenes” each time. This was by no means a problem, because the plan was to publish this in some sort of a blog format. All we needed was to serialize the photo-shoots at the same pace that we would publish them. I was feeling a TV producer at this point.

Soon it became obvious that finding the right photographer was likely the most important accomplishment. Not only was he ready to shoot, but he used his own local contacts to recruit the other person in the team: a writer. Around this time we had a good idea of which locations we wanted to shoot, a time frame, the general structure of the posts, etc. I was puzzled by only one small problem: we couldn’t find any kind of accommodation in the area. Any serious travel guide would have to offer at least one good option and we didn’t have any.

Although many travel sites list several hotels in this area of the city, many of them are wrongly geolocated due to some duplicate street names. From a long list of possible hotels, we ended up finding only two that really were within the boundaries of our photo-shoot. Luckily one of them (La Cuija) was exactly the type of small hotel that we were looking for. Once we had debunked this mistery, we had almost everything under control. Almost.

I had decided to hire a professional model to aid during the photo-shoot to create lively scenes that would stand out when compared to the typical shot you find in travel guides. I had plenty of leads and referrals but couldn’t get any one of them to commit in the short time frame we had. One day, walking around the city, I ran into an old friend of mine and quickly gave him an account of the project. He was quick to offer some help as he had some connections in the show business. Two days later the casting call was answered and we found not a model, but an actress. That happened yesterday.

Tomorrow is my last day in the city and we are doing our first full photo-shoot. Just in time. In the next few days, I’ll post some of the first results from this project and will explain where this is going.

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