Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mexico With Heart

I wish I had more time right now to read this website. I've spent about a half hour here, and instead of feeling like I've gotten a good overview and I can write a nice review about it, I feel as if I have just dipped my toe in the water and I'm anxious to go in for a swim!

The woman who writes this webpage (and associated blog) is Rosana Hart. She has been traveling to Mexico for many years (she talked about going to Acapulco as a child... oh! how I wish I could have seen it then!). She has created a website that gives good information about the top cities in Mexico: Acapulco, Cancun, Cuernavaca, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, etc. She lives in the Guadalajara area, and so she writes about that as well.

But she and her husband have also traveled and continue to travel through Mexico, so there is a lot more in her blog and in the section called Mexico with Heart, the Book. I loved a section on El Chorrito, a town with a shrine to the Virgen of Guadalupe (about whom I just wrote an article on Yucatan Living) and another article on Ciudad Victoria, a place I visited this summer. Wish I had read this article *before* I went there!! Another great article is her Sixteen Ways to Meet People, apparently written from years of experience and a must-read for anyone wanting to come to Mexico and see beyond the tourist hype.

Anyway, I'm bookmarking this website and I'll be going back to read more when I have some real time to devote to it. If you are interested in Mexico, I suggest you do the same.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Slow Life in Mexico City

Another blog? Yep, another blog. Another blog by an English-speaking expatriate living in Mexico.

This one happens to be a real Englishman... Seth is from the UK (although apparently he has no plans to go back). He is in Mexico working for Amnesty International, a worthy cause and something that makes me like him already.

Reading the blog, you'll soon learn that Seth is a very likeable guy. I'm not sure what first clued me into this. Was it the fact that he was a good enough sport to dress up like a girl for a party where boys dressed like girls and girls like boys? Maybe it is the fact that he cooks for his roommate Frank, in exchange for Frank's Spanish assistance. Or maybe its because I agree with him politically. Or maybe its just his all around good nature and the fact that he's working for Amnesty International.

In any case, this blog is really just all about Seth, and Seth's adventures in Mexico City. He's from England, went to school in London, but curiously the blog starts (about eight months ago) in Norway of all places. Seth has a thing for Norway. It seems that Amnesty International was the one to send him to Mexico, and so he is here now and writing about it.

He's a fresh face with a fresh attitude to Mexico. His blog is a refreshing read.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Historic Haciendas

I came across this website a few weeks ago and finally got a chance to look at in depth tonite. Historic Haciendas is certainly not the prettiest or best designed website I've seen. But it does offer a little glimpse into a world (and an opportunity) that I knew very little about.

Historic haciendas is an independent collection of hacienda hotels and vacation rentals in Jalisco, within driving distance from Guadalajara. Each hacienda and hotel appears to be privately owned, and has between three and twenty four rooms to rent. Some of them have spas in the hacienda, and they all seem to offer tours doing everything from historic walks to horseback riding. Almost every one of them looks beautiful and, of course, unique in its design and history.

One hacienda, Hacienda Sepulveda (obviously named after a famous boulevard in the San Fernando Valley...) has 11 rooms and was built in 1684. According to the website, the current owner has spent TEN years renovating the hacienda to be a hotel. The photos show beautiful stone walls, boveda ceilings and arched pasillos. The eleven suites all rent for between $145 and 180 USD per night.

The subject matter is unique and I doubt you can find out about these places in many other websites. But the website design is absolutely horrendous. The navigation alone is a case study in what not to do. It works, barely, but it looks bad and it looks different on every page. All the pages are different colors and designs as well. It has got to be one of the strangest websites I've seen in a long time.

But, you aren't going there for an example in website design. Instead, I'm thinking you'll be going there to drool over the photos of beautiful buildings turned into luxurious hotels. And maybe, hopefully, to plan to visit one of them someday.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Unknown Mexico

If you have lived for any amount of time in Mexico, you are probably aware of those beautiful magazines, Mexico Desconocido (Unknown Mexico) that tempt you in the checkout lines at the grocery stores. You pick one up, and try to pick your way through the beautiful looking magazine that promises to illuminate all the wonderful corners and cultures of Mexico for you. But alas, it is all in Spanish and you resign yourself to mostly looking at the beautiful photos.

Well, gracias a Dios, there is the internet. And Mexico Desconocido has a website, with a very healthy English language side to it. And as of today, Mexico Desconocido is no longer unknown, at least to the readership of Mexico-in-English!

Basically, Mexico Desconocido has Travel, Shopping and Publication sections. These sections appear to be only in Spanish. But within the English section, there are two divisions: Discover and Live. I'm not really clear on the distinction between these two. Under the Discover section, you'll find History, Nature, Culture & Society and Monuments & Historical Centers. Under the Live section, there's Sports, Beaches & Spas, Counties and Museums & Archaeological Zones. This is not the way I would have divided these categories; this is not intuitive to my Western mind. But there you have it.

Each category is further divided into sub-categories, and within each sub-category are anywhere from 10 to 40 or 50 articles. It appears that these articles are reprints of articles previously published in the magazine, as they are notated with the author name and dates. Some that I've read are dated back as far as 1994. The depth of information about different parts of Mexico, its traditions, culture, treasures and people. Just casually exploring, I have come across articles about everything from Ricardo Bell, "the clown that made our grandparents laugh" to the mining museum in Pachuca. I've found articles about the Xalapa Museum of Anthropology (surely one of the most beautiful museums I've ever seen) to the History of the Altar of Forgiveness in the Cathedral in Mexico City.

Now don't get *too* excited. Some of the articles are nothing more than a paragraph or two of rehashed facts that are all too familiar to the casual student of all things Mexican...hardly desconocido. But at least one half of the articles are in-depth, interesting and full of details and tasty tidbits of information.

This website is a gold mine of little nuggets of information about Mexico. I'm bookmarking it, and next time I go on a little roadtrip, I'm going to research my destination with this website. I might find out about a little church I might have missed otherwise or a tradition I might not have otherwise known about. After you visit it, you might decide to do the same.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bookmark the Larpman

Here's a website recommended by one of our readers. And what a great find! has some valuable information that you don't find on other sites. The website is divided into four simple categories: Transportation, Books, Maps and Photos. Four categories of resources that are useful when planning a trip to Mexico.

The books category is a simple listing of a few books that John Barreiro (the Larpman, one would assume) recommends. These are links to his Amazon affiliate listings, of course, so he stands to make a few cents whenever you order one of these books through him. The books are pretty surprises there at all.

The maps category is more indepth, and therefore more valuable. Not only are there links to INEGI, Mexico's geographical institute that produces excellent quality maps, and Mapquest, Expedia, multi-map and the obvious Maps of Mexico, but there is a link to the Google Maps website with 97 separate places within Mexico already mapped for you. Señor Barreiro has also developed his own way to view Google satellite maps, called LarpMax, which I did not want to tax my broadband to test, but which sounds promising.

The third category is Photos. links to various websites that have photo galleries of Mexican locations. He promises that this section will grow, as now it only covers five areas: Mexico City, Puerto Escondido, Guanajuato and Palenque. Our other website, Yucatan Living, has a very nice photo gallery of the Yucatan, which I would love to suggest to Mr. Barreiro.

Which brings me to one of the flaws of this website. There is absolutely no way to communicate with the creator of the site. Mr. Barreiro has crafted a valuable site from which he makes money through Google Ads, Amazon referrals and possibly other affiliates. I don't have a problem with this. But in this 21st Century, when communication is so easy, why not have a way to provide feedback or suggestions? I'm sure he has his reasons... perhaps he'll notice this posting and let us know!

Last, but most definitely not least, is the section on Transportation. I find this to be the most valuable information on the website. Larpman has done his homework, and while I cannot attest to the accuracy of all the information without duplicating his research, it looks good and has got to be some of the most detailed on the web on this subject (in English, anyway).

The Transportation Section is divided into 5 sections: Air, Bus, Train, Auto and Bicycle.

The Air section provides all the airlines that fly to and within Mexico, and listings of which cities are covered by each airline, as well as links to aviation photo websites. Each mention is followed by a link to the airline's website and a link to the Wikipedia page about that airline, if there is one.

The Bus Section includes information about how to purchase bus tickets, a rundown on the difference between the different bus classes, links to bus company websites, schedules and a special section on busses at the Mexico City airport, complete with schedules. This alone is worth bookmarking this website. But there's more! A section on bus travel from the USA to Mexico, complete with the hours and distances for common routes and links to the American bus companies that travel to Mexico. The last section under Bus Travel explains how to travel into Mexico by bus from the South (from Belize & Guatemala), again with links to the bus companies.

But wait! Maybe you've heard about the trains in Mexico and want to travel that way. Señor Barreiro has researched that as well, and shares his knowledge. There are links to the different rail services (the "remaining" rail service, as he puts it) with explanations of routes, times and distances. This is the weakest section of the website, however. The photos appear to be missing (weren't uploaded to his server...) and one of the paragraphs in the introduction is about the bus system, not about trains. Again, if there was a way to give feedback, this might have been fixed before this review.

The Auto Section, entitled "Driving to and within Mexico" is Under Construction, as is the Bicycle Section, but we can probably look forward to similarly detailed and well-researched information. Though I would caution anyone that the rules about cars seem to change all the time here in Mexico, as laws are changed and updated. I can speak from experience when I say that you need to be prepared with a modicum of patience when bringing your car into or out of Mexico. There are times when you might need it.

Overall, this is a well-researched and well-designed website. It has valuable information and it is easy to find that information. The navigation bar at the top is simple and always tells you where you are in the website and there is a site map in case you get lost. Kudos to John Barreiro for his excellent research and presentation... now if only we could tell him personally!