A Travellerspoint blog


Mexico 2005

From Mexicio City north to Copper Canyon,, and some time in Puerto Vallarta

semi-overcast 15 °C

Hight Points

• La Quemada (near Zacatecas) an unexpected surprise. 5 level city (200 to 1200 AD) built on a mountain by the Indians who later moved to found Mexico City.

Low Points

• Mexico City’s crowds – often overwhelming and sometimes frightening. 18 million people and it often feels it.

• The wintery conditions in the Copper Canyon.

• Creel – a real pit – it makes me think that in future I shouldn’t trust the Lonely Planet guides so readily.

This was a freebie – an Airmiles trip on KLM from Amsterdam to Mexico City. Michael Natzke came from San Francisco to spend 4 days because he was keen to see Mexico City. My arrival was much better than my last trip to Mexico City (in the early 1980’s) when I arrived late in the evening. On this occasion I arrived mid afternoon and using the authorised taxi service from the airport got to the hotel quickly. The Metropol Hotel is in a great location and much more deluxe than I expected. Large room with a view of – earthquake damaged buildings. This area was the center of the huge earthquake in 1985 and there are still buildings which have not been rebuilt since then. One author calls Mexico City ‘post apocalyptic’ which is a good description, Its problems : poor water supply, inadequate sewage systems, and pollution make it a crazy place for people to live – and yet the people continue to pour in … the figure of 22 million is bandied about but the official population is 15 million making it the 7th or 8th largest city in the world. Unofficial population is 18 million.

I tried to meet Michael at the airport but due to poor signs, I got lost in the airport and missed him. Found him later at his hotel and was very concerned because he had such a terrible cold. Luckily his condition improved a bit before he returned to San Francisco.

We went to the Museum of Anthropology which is simply one of the finest museums I have ever seen ; the collection is fantastic but the 1960’s buildings are classic and a real delight. Because of my trip to Yucatan and a much better knowledge about the history of Mexico, I enjoyed it more than on my previous visit. One thing Michael and I enjoyed .. each building has an adjoining outside area – some with significant archeological buildings or artifacts ; others landscaped in a pleasing way. In either case, a good place for Michael to have his ciggie and for both of us to get fresh air and some sunshine. We had lunch in the terrace restaurant there – very good value in a great setting. That evening we looked for a restaurant in Michael’s neighborhood and ended up in a ‘European’ place which specialized in food from Alsace – we each had charcuterie – a huge platter of sauerkraut and pork in various forms. One plate would have been enough for the two us – delicious and authentic (Michael lived in Strasbourg and knows the real thing). A pianist with good musical taste added just that extra note to the evening.

On Sunday we went to the zoo – interesting collection but the part we enjoyed most was the landscaping. Perhaps not as spectacular as San Diego Zoo, but well landscaped and a feeling of being natural. It felt miles away from the pressure of the city. Michael returned to San Francisco on Monday ; I spent the day on a combination of chores and sightseeing around the Cathedral area.

On Tuesday I took the first of my many coach trips – First Class bus to Guadalajara. Altogether I traveled more than 2000 miles on the Mexican bus system. Excellent terminals, for the most part, clean and well managed. Spacious buses and good baggage control made travel easy and in a couple of cases, downright posh. As much room as you get in Business Class on an airplane. Down side is a video blaring away and air conditioning cold enough to chill meat! One company (ETN) had ear phones so I could ignore the video – others were so loud and violent that I got a headache from them.

I found the good old Number 616 bus at Guadalajara Bus Terminal and took the cheap (35 US cents) bus ride into the city. I was feeling quite smug until I tried to find the San Francisco Plaza Hotel .. someone had ‘moved it’. Well, my memory let me down and it was two blocks away from where I left it. Great place – old colonial style place with huge rooms and lovely interior courtyards and tiled walls. A welcome addition since my last visit was an electric heater in the room,. So I was very comfortable. Although I enjoyed Guadalajara and saw more of the ‘sights’ – I found it more polluted than Mexico City. The fantastic murals by Jose Orozco in the classic museum (Hospicio Cabanas) amazed me ; the centrepiece - Man on Fire – defies description or photographing, but is beautiful and mysterious. The Regional Museum with its amazing collection of early ceramics in a building which is fascinating make this city a must. The elevation (4500 feet; 1500 metres) means that it was cold at night but by late morning the sun made it comfortable for walking and touring.
Next stop was Mazatlan. I gave up on the old Hotel Belmar which really was too grim the last time I stayed there and opted for the expensive ($40 or £22 a night) Hotel La Siesta and was very happy with my room which had a balcony overlooking Olas Altos Beach .. a lively 5 or 6 block stretch. The Ladies Bar in the Belmar is as scruffy as ever and like a scene out of Starwars – its customers have a beat look and attitude and was great fun. The city has improved the promenade along the beach and connected it with the main beach where all the fancy hotels are located, so there is a great walk which can be as much as 5 miles if you are up to it.

Saturday night in the nearby plaza was great fun. It was decorated as part of the buildup to Mardi Gras and tables were set in the centre of the plaza for a private party. I was lucky enough to grab a table at a restaurant and ate dinner while watching the arrival of the sells in fancy dress. Lots of live music of all kinds and a general festive atmosphere.
My favourite hamburger joint in Mazatlan (Thorney’s) has closed, but there are plenty of places to eat and drink. I’m told that the place is dying – it simply does not attract the tourists the way it did years ago. On the other hand, the area around Olas Altos seems to be moving upmarket ; it is close to the centre of the city and has interesting art galleries, a theatre and a fairly large expat community. A visit to the hotel strip seemed to indicate they were eager for business even though this should be peak season. Several hotels were offering rooms for $30 a night. There is not much to see in Mazatlan, so I was ready for the bus journey to Los Mochis after my 3 days there.

Los Mochis is spread out and my map reading skills failed me, so I walked for ages before finding a taxi to take me to the Hotel Montecarlo. The place looked OK but the room was cold and there was only a trickle of water – hot or cold – even though the plumbing was all quite new. My plans for an early night were disturbed by a wedding party (or a successful drug deal from the looks of some of the party) which went on until well after 3am. They did not look like the sort of people you tell to pipe down – and when the alarm went at 4:30 am I was glad to clear out of the place.

The main goal of my trip to this part of Mexico was to visit the Copper Canyon – (Barrranca del Cobre in Spanish). This is a series of six massive interconnected canyons in the Sierra Madre mountain range. The canyon system is said to be four times larger than the Grand Canyon in the USA; four of its six canyons are deeper than the Grand Canyon. I had to take all this on trust because I simply looked down into it – any thoughts of exploring were out of the question because of the cold wet weather. CHEPE (Ferrocarril Chihuhua al Pacifico) connects Los Mochis near the Pacific Coast to Chihuahua, 393 miles (655 km) to the northeast. It has 87 tunnels and climbs from near sea level to 8000 feet (2400 metres).

The train station for CHEPE is about 4 miles outside the city and looked desolate but a few people came in and at 6am we boarded the train. Nice clean train ; (it was First Class – there is an Economical service which leaves an hour later but it makes many more stops and is not recommended). There is a smart dining car and after a good breakfast I began to feel better. The early part of the journey is through flatlands and I slept for a hour or so but luckily woke up as we entered the most interesting part of the journey. Many more people (mostly in tour groups) joined the train at La Fuerte about 3 hours from Los Mochis; this avoids the flat farmland and does not require such an early start.
As the train gains altitude, the scenery becomes very intriguing. There are mountains in the distance and miles of forest – oak trees according to the book I was reading – but interspersed with cacti and dogwood (both rose and white). There was also a tree with red bark which I could not identify. The rivers were flooded, in some cases creating huge lakes – there has been a lot of rain this year. By 10 am, the train was going up steeply and doubling back as we climbed. The highlight of the trip is a town called Divisadero which is right on the rim of a huge canyon. This is clearly the place to stay – the hotel there is posh - $175 a day with meals – but if I do this trip again this where I would stay.

Weird Scene

CHEPE relies heavily on freight and one of the most astounding scene was a series of 15 or 20 flatbed rail cars with US and Canadian RVs (Recreational Vehicles) on them, the owners proudly sitting in front of their vehicle in portable chairs. I saw two convoys of these which were in marked contrast to the regular freight train which had very poor Mexicans huddled in the freight cars – ragged and poor. I guess the RV owners chose to go by train both for the scenic journey and to avoid the long drive from the high plateau to the Pacific.

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I went on another 3 hours to a town called Creel which was recommended by the Lonely Plant guide for its range of cheap hotels. They did not mention the stray dogs, the people who looked furtive and unfriendly – altogether a rough and unpleasant place. The fact that the train was 3 hours late, it was dark and driving cold rain did not help matters. My first choice hotel was closed up tight so I went to Casa Margarita which turned out to be a fire trap posing as a hotel. $20 a night included meals and I had a good but basic dinner (cheese on everything ; this is Mexico) ; a short walk revealed no bright lights or place for a drink and the crowd of backpackers in the hotel were not friendly so it was early to bed. The gas heater kept making booming sounds during the night which combined with the pouring rain to keep me awake. After a quick coffee in the morning I walked through driving cold rain to the bus station and asked where the next bus was going … luckily it was to Chihuahua (a major city on the high plateau).

Weird Scene

This bus was not one of the First Class ones and was very crowded and made lots of stops. There was a strange (American, I think) ‘family’ .. a blonde man in his 50s was clearly in charge; he was with one man and 4 women, all in their 20s. The younger people consulted him throughout the trip and he had a strange habit of raising his right arm and fist in the air. His T shirt message was NOT TO YIELD and SERVING THE MISSION. Is this a cult? Bad vibes .. or was this just the Creel Effect?

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I checked into the Chihuahua’s best hotel and relaxed after a hot bath. Creature comforts never looked and felt so good. Chihuahua is a cowboy centre and there seem to be dozens (hundreds) of places selling outlandish cowboy boots (camp bright pink and fuschia with winklepicker toes .. I loved them), saddles, all types of cowboy getup. I thought the place was fun. Sunday evening was amazing – the whole city seemed to congregate in the plaza for an old fashioned promenade – young and old – all walking about the enjoying themselves until well after 11pm. It was also the site for a ceremony the next day when the flag was lowered at 6pm (not sure if this was a special occasion) – The music included kids playing recorders ; the Municipal Band dressed in black wool overcoats over beige trousers and looking vaguely like London skinheads, and finally a military drum and bugle corps.

.The cathedral is impressive and very restrained by Mexican standards the tasteful stone interior and small beautiful floral arrangements on the side alters made the place feel more loved than some of the gilded and gaudy places in Mexico City. The three real sights were (1) the small ancient church dedicated to Hildago – simple and impressive – (2) the Pancho Villa Museum – a hilarious place. It was like a small castle but very quaint inside with French furniture and rather twee murals on the walls. I found it difficult to imagine Pancho Villa in a bourgeois setting like this but there was his pistol holder hanging from the brass matrimonial bed. I gather than one of his many wives lived here and although he visited the place, his main home was a ranch outside Parral.. The museum had a lot of interesting photographs, including those of the gun toting women who joined Pancho Villa’s army as they moved south to capture Zacatecas. Chihuahua was also famous because earlier revolutionaries (Hidalgo ; Jaurez) were here.

(3) The other place of interest is a Art Nouveau home (Quinta Gameros) on a grand scale, built in 1907. It would look right at home in Paris – really a huge mansion.. The story is that a rich man built it for his bride to be, but she fell in love with the architect and married him instead. There were only a few rooms with original furniture but the bathroom had all the original Art Nouveau ceramic tiles, a mad circular antique shower and lovely light fittings. The other room was a child’s bedroom with bed, dresser and walls all decorated in a Little Red Riding Hood motif. I doubt if I could have slept there – the wolf seemed to be everywhere – what a curious choice of theme. Many of the rooms were filled with rather indifferent modern paintings but the building was still well worth the visit.

My next stop, Parral, is a very out of the way place .. about 150 miles from Chihuahua with only cattle country and small towns en route (and few towns at that). It rained during the journey and at one point a man got on and played his guitar and sang sorrowful songs. Because all the Mexicans gave him some coins, I did too and then he got off the bus at a remote crossroads – I gather that is how he makes his living. One of the most fantastic things I saw was a low level cactus which was distinctly purple in colour – maybe this is commonplace but I had never seen one. All my attempts to photograph failed.

Parral (official name is Hildago del Parral) is a mellow town of 110,000 most famous for Pancho Villa being assassinated there in 1923. It was founded in 1631 and while there is not much of interest there, it has a nice feel about it and the people and polite and leisurely. Hotel Acosta is a family run place with 1950’s décor and fittings .. a nice little place with friendly staff. There were also a couple of cute restuarants with 1950s décor and a fun bar at a place called Calipso.

I particularly enjoyed a huge funeral there on the Saturday – not sure who the deceased was, but there were at least 10 pickup trucks filled with huge floral displays – 6 feet in diameter - waiting outside the church for the trip to the cemetery. What a send off ; nice day for the floral trade. Also interesting that women were wearing rather smart casual gear and no hats – the days of ladies covering their heads in Catholic churches seems to have passed (where was I when that happened?).

I stopped in a hardware shop to buy some locks and the man insisted on getting his wife who spoke English. I am glad he did – she lived in London for several years during the 1970s and spoke excellent English. She was interested in my travels in Mexico and very curious about what I was doing in Parral. We had a half hour chat and I brought her up to date on things in London.

Weird Scene

I thought I saw nuns in Parral but it turned out to be young Mennonite women wearing white kerchiefs on their head. They were standing at an intersection, selling cheese. Mennonite cheese is apparently highly regarded in these parts. These people moved here from America and I have seen them in bus terminals – the men in bib overalls and the women usually wearing black .. odd that they should end up here.

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In both Chihuahua and Parral, the role of the Indians is not quite as simple as the guidebooks would have you think. Yes, they are dressed with great colour and often selling handicrafts, but they were also begging at banks, in bars and appearing very much like gypsies. They clearly were not popular with the local population. Sad, since they are striking handsome people and many of them have a natural dignity.

The next bus journey was 6 hours to Durango – another cowboy city. This is a place with many fine buildings and more character than Chihuahua. I stayed in a converted mansion which housed a restaurant I was keen to eat in – until I found that the a la carte menu had been replaced by one of those ‘all you can eat’ formulae. It was a carnivore delight Brazilian place with waiters carrying beef in all forms all over the place while people stuffed themselves silly – very off putting. I found a nearby Italian place and had a good pasta – it had great style and a fun crowd, so I enjoyed it. Alas, the hotel room was cold and I had to pile blankets and wear several layers of clothing. This cold weather was getting to be a real bore!

Durango was noteworthy because of the lack of guns. One of the things which is disconcerting about Mexico is that you see guns everywhere – usually in the hands of private security people – even the CHEPE train had a man wearing dark glasses carrying a serious looking automatic weapon. Guadalajara was filled with guns, but not so many in evidence in Puerto Vallarta.

My next stop was Zacatecas ; a city of 115,000 which was founded in 1548 and with a fine Baroque Cathedral and many beautiful colonial buildings. UNESCO designated it a heritage city and pumped funds into it, so it caters well for tourists and has at least 10 museums. It rained while I was there which spoiled it a bit for me, but between showers I walked around the lively market, saw several of the buildings and generally enjoyed the great atmosphere. There is a mountain (La Bufa) dominating the skyline and a cable car connects it with the city – a fun ride. The mountain is flood lit at night and I had a excellent view of it from my hotel room (a very nice place – Hotel Condesa ).

In common with most places I had visited, there were no interesting bars in Zacatecas. With all those plazas and beautiful buildings, it was crying out for a bar with a terrace to people watch. This is odd thing about Mexico – it is very puritanical about bars – you can rarely see into them from the street and have to go past a screen to see what type of place you are about to enter. Puerto Vallarta is an exception and there are more bars with a terrace (or at least open to the street).

I booked a tour of the city which included a trip to a nearby town known for its silver mines. Some deep level mines are still operating but when the Spanish came, the silver was in veins near the surface which could be easily scooped out and this accounts for the prosperity of the region. One small town looked picturesque from above and I asked the guide to take me down there. He was somewhat reluctant and I learned why. Although it looked charming from a distance, it was very poor and the people looked almost desperate – he said that most of the men in the place were working in the United States and the families had broken down and it had problems with drugs and violence. We did not stop and it was one of the few places I saw in Mexico which I really found menacing.

The next day I went on another trip – some 30 miles outside Zacatecas to an archeological site – La Quemada. There were 5 of us and the guide was knowledgeable, so I enjoyed this tour. This turned out to be the most pleasant surprise of my trip. I knew nothing of the place but it is impressive and has a informative small museum with a fascinating video which explained that the Indians who lived there from 200 to 1200 AD, then abandoned the site and later moved on to found Mexico City. The site is on a mountain which provides a natural lookout from which you can see for miles in every direction – an impressive military site. The city is on 5 levels – we climbed up to the 3rd level which was about 200 steps and quite vertigo making enough for me. Level 1 had a marketplace where the local people came to trade goods; Level 2 had the court where ballgames were played, overlooked by a small pyramid; level 3 was where human sacrifices were carried out and through a niche in the wall, the priests could display the heads to the population below. Level 4 was the religious center and Level 5 for astronomy. The structures were made of dry stone walling – no cement used. Often it was difficult to tell which parts of the mountain were natural and which man made. Apparently the population of the city was only 500 but there were 10 to 15 thousand people living in the plains below it who provided the food and effort to keep the place going. While it is not as impressive in architectural terms as the Mayan ruins in Yucatan, I still found it interesting and it had a a great sense of atmosphere because of its impressive setting.

Things began to speeded up after I left Zacatecas .. I went to Guadalajara and stayed at a dreary hotel near the bus terminal so I could catch an early bus to Puerto Vallarta. This was Primera Plus – a really deluxe company with a fine bus. In Puerto Vallarta I stayed at Hotel Rosita, right on the sea at the north end of the Malecon, the lively strip of bars and restaurants. I did not have a sea view but the hotel has fine public spaces on the ground floor which were conducive to reading and relaxing. I received a great reception from Ken and Gary who have a condominium there. Ken’s sister Brenda and her daughter Laura were visiting and they were fun gals – we all hit it off and had lots of laughs. That is, until I tipped over. I was coming home around midnight and made the mistake of trying to jump up a low wall to the promenade, I lost my balance and fell down into the cobble stone street, just managing to catch myself with my right hand. I landed on the right side of my chest and hip. At first I thought I’d cracked some ribs but I think I just pulled muscles – in any case it cramped my style and it was still sore when I got back to London. Naturally I blamed myself for being so silly – I should have waited until I got to some stairs or a ramp before going up to the promenade. No permanent damage done .. but any fall is a serious matter and it was a shock to my system.

I had some bad memories in Puerto Vallarta during two of my previous visits there when Ken Johnson was so ill ( and when I had pneumonia) but I laid those ghosts to rest and enjoyed it – it was nice to be with lots of English speaking people again (or in my case, English listeners) and the whole restaurant/bar scene is simpatico. Ken and Gary cooked a great dinner on Sunday evening (delicious salmon) and gave a fun Mardi Gras party and we finally had a evening out going to the art galleries followed by a good dinner. Eating outdoors at 9 pm is such a treat … the weather has lovely.

The return journey to Amsterdam was taxing – in part due to my painful chest … but also because I had a boring 4 hours in Mexico City airport which has no seats (I ended up sitting on the floor), no restaurants (until you get past immigration into the Departure lounge). In any case, it was good to get to my Amsterdam hotel and after a shower, have a quick drink with my friend Andrew Watt before an early night. I left my hotel in Puerto Vallarta at 10am Thursday morning and checked into the Amsterdam hotel at 4pm Friday, so it is no wonder that I slept 12 hours that night.

Practical Details

Hotel Metropol
Luis Moya 39
Zona Centro
Mexico City
$42 per night (very nice hotel near Alameda Plaza)

Hotel San Francisco Plaza
$38 per night

Hotel La Siesta
Olas Altos, 11
$40 for seaview room with balcony

Hotel Margarita Plaza
($10 but not recommended ; seemed like a firetrap to me)

Hotel Plaza Cathedral
Hotel Posada San Jose Constitucion , 102 Sur
$35 per night (might be OK in summer .. no heat and too cold in winter)

Hotel Rosita
Paseo Diaz Ordaz 901
Puerto Vallarta
$47 per night

Hotel Serena
At Guadalajara Airport
(I thought this was an overpriced dump ; if possible, stay in the city)

Posted by MarshallC 07:38 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Mexico 2006

Mexico City, Acapulco to Puerto Vallarta on the west coast

all seasons in one day 12 °C

Travel Notes – Mexico February 2006

Monday + Tuesday (11/12 Feb)

Amsterdam on a Monday night might be more interesting than Peoria – but only just. I went there to pick up my KLM free-ish Air Miles flight to Mexico City. The bars were dead, streets quiet, so I had an early night. I stayed at the Hotel Park Plaza well out of the city centre, but right on a tram line and very comfortable – a bargain in Amsterdam at £42. The area is residential and has impressive large Victorian houses on a lake (what is the Dutch term for Victorian?). In good weather I’d like to explore this neighbourhood.

Long flight but no problem in transfer to Hotel Monte Real. The taxi fare had nearly doubled since last year .. I bought the ticket at the ‘authorized taxi booth – 240 Pesos ($24). The driver was partially colour blind .. he stopped for red lights, then proceeded while they were still red (I assume he was seeing green).

This area south of Alameda Park is even more chaotic than when I stayed at the nearby Metropol Hotel last year. The streets are closed due to construction, no pavements (sidewalks) or when there were pavements, they had huge pits and holes in them .. very hazardous. Next day I was able to pick a route though this mess which took slightly longer in time but less likely to find me falling in a pit.
The huge new development (Plaza Juarez) by architect Ricardo Legorreta is impressive. The office blocks and carpark are complete and final touches being made to open spaces which border on the park. It has a sculpture park and I watched a huge bronze foot being unloaded – curious because the tips of the toes are cut off .. I dubbed it Bad Manicure. There are huge grilles and reflecting ponds .. almost a modern Moorish type place. It is the size of a whole New York city block and has two huge towers at the back of the site ; interesting walkways and open spaces near the park and a restored church (now some type of cultural centre) at the front of the site. This area was badly damaged by the big earthquake in 1985 and many buildings are derelict or damaged, so this development really is an improvement. I noticed some restoration work in the adjacent streets, so assume that I will soon be priced out of this area.

Big news here is the expulsion of Cuban delegation (fewer than 20 people) from a Sheraton Hotel where they were taking part in an American-Cuban Energy Conference. The Sheraton is American owned and the hotel bowed to pressure from US Government as part of the Cuban embargo. I wonder what sanctions the USA put on the Americans taking part – the Sheraton apparently did not expel them. What is the USA trying to do? It angers/annoys the entire world. Don’t they have enough on their plate with the Middle East? The Mexico City authorities were retaliating by finding licensing and fire regulation infringements at the Sheraton and were threatening to close it down when I left the city.

Dinner at good old Sanborn’s on Alameda Park .. a touch of 1950 and good if not exceptional food. Not a tourist in sight .. this branch seems to cater for Mexican office workers and families.

Spent the whole morning at the Museum of Anthropology and finally managed to see the entire collection (but not the educational part on the upper level which is mostly in Spanish). This is certainly one of the world’s great museums and a reminder that this culture spans millennia. Fantastic objects in stone, wood, bone and ceramics. The huge Olmec heads are still as mysterious as when I first saw one in Chicago. A recurring theme in Mexican art is the mask .. through various eras and often very beautiful and slightly eerie.

Lunch at an old favourite – La Blancha in Col Madero Street. 3 courses and coffee for 57 Pesos ($5.70) Both the guacamole and the pork tacos were spicy – heaven! This is quite an ordinary place, full of locals.

The altitude (7,000 feet – over a mile high) took its toll and I needed a siesta. In the evening I had drinks near Garibaldi Square where the mariachi bands congregate. It was too early for them to be playing in the square, but they were in evidence and they were sounds of trumpet practice. As the Lonely Planet guide says, this would not be a good place to wander around at night. The people seemed nice enough but it is very poor and there seems to be an air of desperation about it all. Possibly it looks better in summer or even on the weekend when crowded with people.

I enjoy the Monte Real Hotel – not as up market as the Metropol but staff warm and helpful and £25 a night included a basic breakfast.


I did a recce (reconnaissance) of the Southern Bus Terminal for my trip to Acapulco. Just as well since it is a very confusing place with several bus companies each having its own counter (no central booking point) and some comparison shopping was required. Also, a maze of stairs and confusing paths to reach the place so getting there by public transport (carrying luggage) not an option.

I switched to a train (Tren Licora) to go further out in the suburbs to the Anahuacilli Museum which contains the ceramics collection of the artist Diego Rivera. The building is a pyramid type structure of dark volcanic rock ; the lower rooms are rough walled and dark ; there is a huge studio on the upper floor with a wall of windows flooding the place with sunlight. Rivera designed the building but died before it was completed. What an amazing place! The collection is on a par with that of the National Museum and especially the West Coast artifacts (Colima – Najrarit)) are lovely. Unfortunately access is by guided tour and it went too quickly ; I could have spent a half day here easily but the tour was just over an hour long.

Back in the city center, I walked around the Zocalo – there seem to be perpetual demonstrations here. The Gran Hotel where I stayed in the 1980s has been fully restored – very up market and I was not even tempted to check it out. Dear, dear .. what has happened to me? I used to adore these grand places and now find them pretentious. Or is it just sour grapes since I can no longer afford them?

Lunch at Gante Café – great chicken salad at an outdoor table in this pedestrian street which has many places to eat and is great for people watching. There was an interesting outdoor exhibition of Rodin sculptures in a nearby plaza – part of the collection owned by a Mexican bank.

Back at my hotel, the area was crawling with riot police (troops?) and then I realized that there is a huge Sheraton on Alameda Plaza (not the one which was the centre of the Cuban debacle), so I guess they were there in case of any problem. These police are extremely tough looking and heavily armed – I do not find their presence reassuring.

Dinner at El Regiomontano in Luis Moya Street, Cabrito (kid goat) which was tasty but not all that tender (downright stringy, in fact). I think that this is one of those places that is better in concept than in the reality.


The bus to Acapulco climbed mountains up to the southwest of Mexico City. High desert with few people/animals but interesting cacti, flowering trees and great views. The Hotel Mirador in Acapulco is in a breathtaking setting, built into the rock canyon from which the famous divers give their nightly performances. I had a large room with balcony and fantastic view. Alas, I was to find that I was directly above the band which played nightly for the diners at the expensive La Perle restaurant (so posh the menu did not give prices) which is part of the hotel. After two nights of amplified music and the clump clump of folkloric dancing, I was ready to move on.

Acapulco proved far more interesting than I expected. First of all, no matter how corny the divers sound, this is a very impressive feat. They dive into a small bit of water about 20 feet wide when the tide comes in.
Acapulco is a big city (1.5 million). Hotel Mirador is isolated but about 10 minutes walk to the centre of the city ; most of the tourist hotels are on a strip to the south of the city. The good news is that means the centre is very Mexican and not nearly as touristy as I expected. There are busy markets and shops – a bit shabby and all very Mexican. The central plaza is small and has mature trees which shade the whole place, several fountains and many cafes which are good for people watching. It is directly across a main road from the harbour and there is a working port in addition to tourist boats. In fact there were fishing boats which I thought would probably be condemned in other places – certainly they would be excluded from smart Puerto Vallarta or Ziahuatenejo.

According to the Miami Herald newspaper, there is a battle between the local police and drug cartels. In the week before I arrived, there was a big gun battle in the streets of Acapulco (near the central area) in which 6 people were killed including a police chief. This matches the battles that are going on in the border towns near Arizona and Texas .. two police chefs were killed there during my stay in Mexico. There was no sign of tension in Acapulco ; this appears to be a falling out between crooked police and criminals. Ordinary people are not involved (or possibly not even concerned) but there is another issue for them I saw a poster about the disappearance of a 3 year old girl ; a local newspaper headline said that 22 Acapulco people disappeared in the past 3 months. Mexico is a violent country – no doubt about that.


The bus to Ziahuatenejo goes along the coast but because it is such rugged country the sea is often hidden by mountains. One long beach at (….) is beautiful but I saw only one hotel in this 7 hour journey. The guidebook says the waves here are simply too strong for swimming. Zihua (luckily it is shortened) is an old fishing port and a major tourist destination. There is a new development (Ixtapa) of mega hotels to the north of the old town, but Zihua is small scale, low buildings on a lovely bay with fishing and pleasure boats. Getting really picky – it is not possible to see sunsets which are blocked by a nearby mountain, so this is not a place I will hurry back to. There are too many tourists and this is reflected in the cost of my very basic room -- $25 a night for a cold water room with fan and no view and the constant noise of children in the hotel hallways. I met an NorthWest Airlines pilot and his wife who were staying in Ixtapa where they had great sunset views. Sounds good but I don’t think it is worth $200 a night.


Based on the interesting ceramics in the Diego Rivera collection, I decided to change my plans and go into Colima, about 60 miles from the coast on a high plateau near two volcanoes. I had also had enough of the fat Yankees (and Canadians) in the beach towns.
I decided that I needed a treat after the cold water room in Zihau, so booked into the rather swish Ceballos Hotel on the main plaza in Colima. Large high ceilings with all mod cons and grand public areas.

Getting to Colima was a hassle ; the first class bus I’d planned to take was cancelled, so I had to go by local bus to a town to the north (Lazaro Cardenas), then switch to a different terminal for a Colima bus which stopped almost everywhere on the 200 km road which was curving almost all the way. There were a couple of straight bits near the coast with lovely beaches but no people in sight. At around 1600 hours I was about to doze off when 6 soldiers got on the bus. At first I thought it was a roadblock check but they took seats and were hitching a ride. They came for a highly fortified checkpoint and were all armed. The 3 young ones had rifles which looked almost World War I vintage, but the older ones had those nasty snub nosed automatic weapons which are really scary. The one who sat opposite kept dozing (by this time I was wide awake and on full alert). The muzzle to this automatic weapon was pointing upwards (admittedly at his chin and not at me). My paranoia was working overtime, so I was very pleased 45 minutes later when they left the bus.

I left Zihua at 1000 hours and arrived in Colima at 2030 hours, very tired. There was some type of festival in the plaza (traditional Mexican music first, then loud rock and roll until well past midnight). I just cleaned up, found a meal (Los Naranjos – delicious chicken a la orange). and went to bed – so exhausted that I slept in spite of the noise from the plaza.
The Regional Museum in Colima is small but informative. There was an ancient civilization in this area (2500 BC) which was related to South American and/or Pacific cultures (as evidenced by deep well tombs which are not found in other parts of Mexico). The most striking artifacts are ceramic dogs (including a charming pair of dancing dogs). The story is that dogs were buried with a corpse because they would guide the person to the Other World (a live dog might be sacrificed, but mostly the tombs had these ceramic dogs). Other ceramic dogs (very short and squat) represented those used as food. These ceramics are sophisticated and very artistic.

[Listen up there in the back, there may be a quiz next time I see you]
I learned two facts in the Regional Museum: (1)coconuts where introduced to Mexico by Filipinos who were brought to Mexico by the Spanish in 1569 and (2) the Spanish branded their animals and the museum had a collection of branding irons and an ancient document which listed brands, owners and number of animals. I always assumed that coconuts where native to Mexico and I thought American cowboys invented branding. Travel and learn.

Went to a recommended Oaxacan restaurant (Ah Que Nanishe)), reasonablably priced ($11 for chicken mole and 2 beers) but the treat was an appetizer – which I think is spelled xijoman or hijoman. It is a turnip like vegetable (the owner’s son brought a whole one from the kitchen to show me what to look for), served raw in sticks, it is very moist, almost like a melon, with a pleasant and refreshing taste.

On my way back to the city centre (the restaurant was 6 or 8 blocks outside the plaza) I encountered a parade which was related to fiesta days in a Colima suburb called Alvarez. Earlier that day I saw a sedate procession starting at the cathedral with horses, musicians, children, etc., but this one – mostly in cars and trucks was a wild affair. All drivers appeared equipped with a can of beer, there were large speakers on the back of pickup trucks with music blaring. The oddest thing was that almost all the cars and trucks had men in silly drag (bad wigs, oversized tits, caricatures to be honest). When the vehicle stopped, they would get out in the street and chase young men and humiliate them with crude sexual advances. The crowd loved it and it was odd to see these macho young Mexican men running away. It was all innocent fun and it reminded me how unusual it is to see the whole community taking part in such an event.

I walked out to the edge of the city to the Museum of 3 Cultures which had an impressive collection of ceramics .. more dogs, but also a man in some type of trance (possibly psychotropic). Both people (especially warriors) and dogs seemed to be caught ‘in action’ .. there was a tension and reality about their pose which is really captivating (they date from about 300 AD). This is a small but high quality museum. Alas, there were no postcards or museum guide.

Up early for the trip to Puerto Vallarta. There is only a night bus which goes non-stop, so I had to go to Manzanillo and change. I thought I was in luck because connections were good (10 minutes wait in Colima and only 30 minutes in Manzanillo) but it was still very long day ; I left Colima at 0730 hours and got to PV at 1700 hours. At first the countryside was similar to that which I had seen on my way from Acapulco but this was even more remote .. the bus didn’t stop as often because there were so few towns. But it often stopped in very remote places when someone was standing along the road and flagged it down. No road, no town, no buildings in sight .. where did these people come from? Odd.

About 2 hours south of PV there was a dramatic change in environment. The high dry desert mountains gave way to more greenery which became more lush (and eventually looked like jungle). We were inland and about 45 minutes north of PV turned a corner and there was the Pacific .. what a welcome sight.

Stay in PV about the same as last year .. room at the Rosita Hotel on first floor, so closer to street noise and really not very good. This hotel is a bargain at £24 a night through Expedia (double that if you walk in at this time of year) but I think I will look for a different place on any future visits.

The big event was Michael Natzke’s birthday ; he was there with several friends. We went to a very grand restaurant (Café des Artistes). This is one of the finest restaurants I have been to in ages (think Oxo Tower in London). It is huge and spacious, mostly white which showed off the large oil paintings and sculpture dotted around the place. Set menu was $36 (£20) but alas, wines were also the same price. In this case it did not matter because Simeon, a friend of Michael’s picked up the tab for the entire group. The highlight was the dessert course which was presented on a large mirror on which Happy Birthday Michael was painted in chocolate, and the various desserts we had ordered arranged around the mirror with lots of slabs of dark and white chocolate as a bonus. Great evening!

Practical Details

Hotel Monte Real
Revillagigedo 23
Mexico City
$25 per night

Hotel Miramar
La Quebrada
$70 per night (fantastic ocean view)

Hotel Ceballos
Portal MeMedellin, 12
$52 per night

Hotel Rosita
Paseo Diaz Ordaz 901
Puerto Vallarta
$47 per night (cheap rooms ar3e3 very noisey!)

Update on Sheraton Hotel drama:

The authorities have ‘closed’ the hotel (which still seems to be operating). This one will play and play.

Posted by MarshallC 08:06 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Mexico 2007

A trip to Mexico - the highlight was a bus trip on the Devil's Spine,

all seasons in one day 14 °C

Travel Notes Mexico 2007

I flew to New York (Newark International .. my new preferred gateway), spent 6 nights in Manhattan, then fly to Guadalajara and spent three weeks in Mexico.



Guadalajara continues to please me .. it is a great city with lovely architecture. The Cow Parade, though small, lived up to the previous one I enjoyed so much with my sister Liz in Chicago back in 1999.

The Devil’s Spine .. the highway which goes up, through and over the Sierra Madre Mountains from Durango in the interior to Mazatlan on the Pacific.


It was cold in several of the cities (because of the high altitude) ; not freezing, but too cold for me. The whole point of the exercise is to get to warm (or even hot) places.

The destruction of Puerto Vallarta. The Romantic Zone (the old town at the heart of the city) should really be re-named the Concrete Zone. Two old style plazas have been ״improved״ ; condominiums seem to springing up in spots which formerly had lush green riverside areas with birds.

Crime .. not particularly directed at tourists, but the drug gangs are killing police (who are described by most commentators as corrupt). In one spectacular case, 7 police where shot and killed in an Acapulco police station and the killings videoed.

Monday 29 January

An early night for my 4am departure for Newark Airport and Guadalajara (Not my choice .. the airline changed the time after I booked) .. the $70 taxi wiped out all my savings from the trip into Manhattan! The nice part is that I arrived in Guadalajara early afternoon and not 11pm as originally scheduled.

I stayed at my regular place – the San Francisco Plaza. I was not happy about my room at first ; it was on the second floor and very small compared to the grand spacious rooms in the front. Then I discovered the modern heating/AC unit and all was forgiven .. I have been cold here in the past. I don’t seem to tire of Guadalajara even though I have been there several times. The lovely architecture, busy plazas and great museums make it an interesting city.
There was even a Cow Parade .. (I recall the massive one in Chicago which Liz and I enjoyed so much in Chicago in 1999). Blank life size fiberglass cows are decorated by local artists. The ones in Guadalajara had the usual Mexican preoccupations: Day of the Dead was painted with skulls, one had a cut out section where you could view its heart and the best was Trans Border Cow .. a prosperous United States of American on one side and starving Mexicans on the other. It took me an age to figure out a centrepeice cow with many legs spread in a huge circle .. it was a Da Vinci Cow, based on the famous drawing of human proportions.

Thursday 1 February

The ceramics in the regional museum are truly amazing. Ancient art here was highly developed. There was an impressive Crucifixion in ivory with very Asiatic features ; probably done in the 17th Century by a Filipino who was brought to Mexico as part of Mexico’s colonial migration system. I was really sorry photos were not allowed .. this is a fantastic piece of art.

Finding a good Internet shop is no longer the problem as it was when on my previous visits. I found one which was quick and cheap (60 US cents for 40 minutes). I liked it because it was operated by an elderly lady who was very proficient with the computers and seemed to be giving training as well as hiring out machines. Just proves you don’t have to be a kid to be computer savvy.

I had another look at the Orozco murals in the Governor’s Palace and must say they are in a league of their own … Especially Fiery Hidalgo which portrays the priest (‘Father of Mexican Independence’) encased in flames ; it is painted in a semi dome in a staircase.


After a cheap (40 US cents) bus trip to the Central Bus Station I caught the bus to Guanajuato via a transfer in Leon. I decided to upgrade to one of the better hotels – the Sante Fe. It is in a terrific location on one of small beautiful squares but imagine my surprise that (1) there was no heat in the rooms and (2) they keep the front doors wide open so the dining room was chilly at breakfast. The elevation here is 6,649 feet (1.25 miles), so it is cold in spite of lots of sunshine.

Guanajuato is one of the most impressive colonial cities I have seen in Mexico ; it was many churches, public buildings and squares all connected by extensive pedestrian ways. Most of the traffic of the city is carried through tunnels under the city formed from a one time river bed. At first it seems almost too perfect (is this Disneyland?) but then you realise that tourists still make up only a small part of the population –even on a weekend – and there are ordinary Mexican people living and working in this place. I would love to see a 3 D (axiomatic?) drawing of the city .. it is built in a valley between two steep hills and with stairs going up hills and down into the tunnels, it is almost impossible to determine where ‘level ground’ is. It is like a very friendly maze .. at one point I thought I was lost and then there was my ‘corner church’.

Saturday 3 February

Not warm enough (Note to myself .. stop coming to these high elevations in the winter!). A big surprise was the Diego Rivera Museum ; he was born here and there is a museum in his house. Actually he lived with his family for only a short time on the first two floors of the building. It is furnished in a Victorian style (reminded me of a better taste version of the Pancho Villa home in Chihuahua). Upper rooms have many early drawings and paintings during which he went through all of the phases of modern art (Impressionist, Cubist, etc before finding his own style and subject matter (Mexican history and its Indians).

Another museum (Alhóndiga de Granaditas) is most important as the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the War of Mexican Independence. Father Hidalgo headed the group of peons who eventually massacred the Spanish wholesale. The exhibition contains few artifacts and too many words (in Spanish only) but the rather grim windowless building (built as a granary in the 1790s) is impressive and evocative.

Imagine a city of 80,000 people with no traffic lights, no neon signs, no Starbucks or MacDonald’s .. and that is Guanajuato. The well sited Casa Valadez on Jardin Union produced a first class chicken salad and the nearby Bar Potro serves a Guinness type beer which is dark and sweet but tasty.

Sunday 4 February

Oh dear! Bit of a wasted day. I walked up to the Museums of the Mummies (described in the Lonely Planet as ‘absolutely gross’ which should be right up my street). The light rain turned heavy, I got a bit lost and by the time I climbed way up the hill to the museum there was a very long queue of Mexican families (just the thing for kids) so I decided the whole enterprise was a bit silly. I was not about to spend hours waiting to get in and I retreated. I got some stunning views of the city which made it worthwhile and after a great lunch from a basic place on Avenue which spit roasted chicken over wood fires. The rain increased again so I spent the afternoon reading and resting.

Monday 5 February

I am beginning to do lateral thinking with the bus system. There was only one direct bus to Zacatecas later in the day, so I tacked my way there via Leon and Aquacalientes. .Bus stations in Mexico are generally a cut above their Greyhound counterparts in the United States but there is a slight problem There are several competing bus services and no central ticket point, so you have to do a bit of shopping from company to company and they are not always helpful in informing about alternative services.

In arrived in Zacatecas by 2pm and I stayed at the same hotel (Condesa), dropped my laundry off and was feeling quite at home until I found that my favourite bar was closed, apparently forever. Zacatecas is also a colonial city but more open and spacious than Guanajuato. It has a nice Mexican vibe to it and few tourists.

After the fog cleared it was a warm sunny day and I walked for hours. I went to the edge of the city to the Rafael Coronel Museum, as interesting for its setting as the collection of over 3,000 masks. The building and gardens were founded in 1593 as a Franciscan mission and abandoned when the Franciscans from Mexico were expelled from Mexico in 1857. Currently the buildings are partially in ruins but somehow they have found good exhibition space for this unique collection. 3,000 masks may sound like overkill, but because of the variety of styles, materials and the broad range of time represented, this is a fascinating place. Materials include gems, stone, ceramics, wood, papier mache, even painted corrugated paper. I found those incorporating animal parts – skulls, teeth, horns, hair, bones and skin – the most captivating. Odd that there were few masks of women and fewer skulls than one normally seen in Mexican art. Oner whole area was devoted to a display of Christians and Moors (the Spanish obviously brought these tales of battle with them)

I walked up to the cable car station (a strenuous hike) and took the trip above the city. I then walked back to the city centre through some basic housing .. not quite slums, but a poor neighborhood of shoddily built houses. Most were unfinished with reinforcement bars sticking out the top as if waiting for another floor to be added. (a subsequent conversation with the American owner of the place I stayed in Puerto Vallarta revealed there is method in this madness. As long as a house is not complete, you do not have to pay full tax on it .. regardless of how long it takes to complete).

Odd sighting. At lunch time and then in the early evening I saw a young man in a distinctive orange sweatshirt walking very fast through the crowds with his arms swinging out and back in a strange fashion, staring straight ahead. He did not bother anyone but appeared to be emotionally disturbed. In Thailand such a person would be viewed with a look of sympathy, but here he was the object of ridicule, mostly by teenagers but also by people who looked like they should know better. Whether through ignorance or cruelty, there is a streak in the Mexican behaviour which is not pleasant. (2) this is a positive note .. both here and in Guadalajara, shops which sell fabrics and sewing accessories appear to have sewing classes with lots of ladies sitting around a table and what appeared to be a teacher helping them. They seemed to be having a good time ; I’d liked to have joined this constructive fun.

I treated myself to a massive Argentinean steak at Garufe, a posh restaurant in a lovely old building. $22 with a huge Martini, and a roast pepper starter. It was a bit spoiled by a waiter who seemed bored almost rude – not just to me but to other guests. This is unusual in Mexico.

Clever Mexicans .. I noticed that in New York (like London) many drivers run the red lights. In Zacatecas, the green light blinks to indicate it is turning, then goes yellow, then red, so there is little excuse for going through on red .. and no one seemed to be doing it.

Wednesday 7 February
The bus trip to Durango was a ‘chicken run’ with lots of local stops. I stayed at the Hotel Roma – only $25 a night and just around the corner from the cathedral. It is being refurbished but my room was newly decorated, clean and with a view of the grand local theatre. Durango is back in the land of the franchises (MacDonald’s, Wal-Mart) and it was hard to find a real place for dinner. At least it has a good bar .. the Belmont on Bruno Martinez Street alongside the theatre.

Thursday 8 February

Scrumptious breakfast at La Tostada opposite the Florida Plaza Hotel. Lots of locals eating there. I am developing a passion for scrambled eggs with chorizo – not the firm salami type I get in Spain but a soft spicy sausage.

I walked to the park .. which was hardly worth the trip .. scrubby grounds, pine trees. Then a longer walk to the Museum of Culture at Santa Ana Plaza …. Folk art, local crafts but not really much that you could not see if a good craft shop. Dinner at an Italian place – Corleone Pizza at Constitucion 110 North. Limited menu (pizza/pasta) but good and reasonably priced.

Friday 9 February

Bad start to the day .. I went to the Central Bus Station for a 0905 hours bus for Durango and was told it would be an hour late .. but it never appeared and I was transferred to a 1200 hours bus instead. I did not realize the significance of the term ‘de paso’ on my ticket .. it means that a bus going on a longer journey might stop .. but then again it might not. I will need to watch for that in future and it helps explain the hesitancy of the ticketing agent to sell me the ticket.

The late bus was not First Class (scruffy in general and with no seat belts). The upside to it was that it had no blaring video, no freezing air conditioning and the frequent stops meant I got to see a lot of local colour.

Even the dreadful brat in the seat in front of me (he keep bouncing around and flipping the arm rest back on to my knee cap) could not spoil this journey. This is one of the most fantastic bus journeys I have taken .. anywhere. First a description from an objective source:

  • *****************

Source: AAA Tour Book on Mexico

The 320 (200 mile) journey west from Durango to Mazatlan via Mexican Route 40 passes through some of |Mexico’s most spectacular scenery. The views of the Sierra Madre Mountains are truly impressive. The Devil’s Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo) is a narrow mountain ridge with steep cliffs slanting down from the edges of the highway. The road climbs to over 8,000 feet in the vicinity of geological formations, forests and waterfall.

This highway goes up, over and through the Sierra Madre Mountains (8,100 feet ; 1.5 miles high) and then right down to sea level at Mazatlan. Mountains ranges stretch off to the north and south as far as I could see and there were often sheer rock walls rising up above the highway, then suddenly dropping off on the other side. The road is rarely straight .. miles and miles of tight curves, hairpin turns, up and then down. We came to a sign announcing that we were crossing the Tropic of Cancer and it seemed that suddenly the whole flora changed from high desert with pines to much greener landscape with a mixture of trees, flowers and ferns.

The towns were a disappointment .. very grim. They seemed to centred on logging and mining and although small (2,000 to 4,000 population) they seemed to be near slums with corrugated steel roofs, trash everywhere and downtrodden people. One place had a potentially beautiful river cutting through rock right in the centre of town but it was overflowing with rubbish.

I am getting to be an Old Hand in Mazatlan and got a nice balcony room with sea view in La Siesta Hotel ($44 a night) and was soon out enjoying the walks along the Pacific Ocean. The Ladies Bar at the Hotel Belmar (the hotel is still a dump but they seem to be trying to refurbish it) is still as interesting as ever and with beer at $1 a bottle (50 pence UK), I undid any tension from my 7 hour bus journey through the mountains.

Mazatlan is not spectacular like Puerto Vallarta but it is a pleasing place and the small bay and beach at Olas Altos very attractive. Most of the big hotels are up to the north of the city in the Hotel Zone, but Olas Altos is just a few blocks from the old city centre with its lively plaza, market and shops. There is a lot of rehabilitation of buildings going on here but luckily no ugly new developments (the damage has already been done ; my award for the ugliest building is the seven storey monstrosity next to La Siesta Hotel .. a 1960’s building which now houses a federal agency .. truly ugly and out of place).
Mostly I like Mazatlan for its Oceanside walk .. a broad promenade which goes on for miles of traffic free walking and great views. I also walked up the hill at the south end of Olas Altos beach to a viewpoint which overlooks the lighthouse and the ferry landing (this is where my cruise ship docked in 2002). There are some lovely homes up there but I fail to see the attraction of the new developments south of there because they are totally cut off from Mazatlan by water .. it must to a long journey to get into the city.

The restaurant below my hotel is called the Shrimp Bucket and I have always ignored it because it is part of a chain (said to be the first) mostly known as Senor Frog. Usually it is filled with large groups of loud tourists. Because I was having an early start and the place was quiet on a Monday night, I gave it a try and was very pleased (and a bit sheepish for being such a snob). 10 huge coconut shrimp (shrimp coated with toasted coconut) was excellent. With cocktail and 2 beers, the bill was $20 .. not cheap by Mexican standards but good value for the quality of the meal.

Tuesday 13 February

There was no good direct connection to Puerto Vallarta , so I took a bus to Tepic and caught a First Class bus to Puerto Vallarta from there. I like this journey through the foothills with glimpses of real cowboys at work.

The Adagio Inn in Puerto Vallarta proved to be a good home for the next week. I have a spacious apartment with full kitchen (alas, I used it only for breakfast), well decorated and very clean .. for $70 a night including tax (Not cheap for Mexico, but cheap by Puerto Vallarta standards). It is located about 10 blocks from the beach in a real Mexican neighborhood, not at all fashionable but interesting. Views from the rooftop terrace include the nearby mountains and the city roofs. Michael and Armando who own this small place (there are 4 apartments) are extremely hospitable and fellow guests were friendly.

Most of my time was spent with my friend Michael Natzke (from San Francisco) and his friends Jack and Simeon. We were there for Michael’s birthday which we celebrated in style at Café des Artistes (Guadalupe Sanchez 740 – Downtown) .. a real 5 star place ; we ate in the garden under the stars. Excellent food and wine and great company.

I think Puerto Vallarta is being ruined by overdevelopment. Last year it was Plaza Hidalgo near Hotel Rosita which was ‘improved’ by removing the local street traders and covering the whole space in concrete. This year it was the plaza at the end of Olas Altos which was being converted to an underground car park with a sea of concrete above it. The area near the river which once had Hotel El Molino de Aqua (Lonely Planet description: Fully in keeping with Puerto Vallarta’s tropical village image with cabins dotted around a tranquil garden) is now raw land on which a huge condominium development is under construction. All the trees and greenery have been swept away. The former arts and crafts market near the central plaza is now a multi storey car park (why cars need an ocean view is beyond me). In addition to ‘uglifying’ the city, these developments are pushing out ordinary Mexicans in favour of franchise units, posh shops and foreigners. How do you say THE GOOSE THAT LAID THE GOLDEN EGG in Spanish?

Tuesday 20 February

Very posh bus (ETN) to Guadalajara with the bonus that the sound to movies is delivered through headphones and does not blare out all over the bus. I had a good meal at Sanborns 16 de Septiembre and Juarez); the Happy Hour menu included two beers for 23 pesos ($2.20) A nice finish to my Mexican journey

Much disparaged by the backpacking set, Sanborns is a chain of upscale cafes and restaurants seems to have no British or American equivalent (the long departed Lyons Corner House in London or New York’s Schraft’s were similar). Good food in pleasant surroundings (often buildings of historic significance). Especially the Mexico City House of Tiles branch:

Wednesday 21 February

Ash Wednesday and the Mexicans were flocking to the churches. They do not get that grey smudge that I sometimes see on Catholics in England .. they had clearly defined crosses on their foreheads (black chalk or real ash?). An easy journey through Atlanta to La Guardia in New York where I caught the last shuttle into Manhattan. I stayed at the New Yorker at 34th Street and 8th Avenue .. overpriced at $169 but it meant I could walk to Penn Station next day for the trip to Newark Airport. Did some chores in the morning, checked out Amtrak rail pass for a trip next autumn and had a extended lunch (drinks) at Julius’s in the Village …. always fun and with excellent hamburgers (something I really get in London). No joy with my list of books (on Thailand and Burma) .. too specialised. Even though train to Newark Airport was close to rush hour (4:30 pm), it was not crowded, so easy journey to airport (to think of how I used to struggle to JFK Airport).

Thursday 22 February

The flight was delayed by an hour and totally packed, so I was happy to get to Gatwick and be home by 11am Friday morning. Altogether an interesting trip but I must reconsider going anywhere in Mexico with high elevations at this time of year .. too cold for my taste.

  • **********************

The Practical Details

Hotel San Francisco Plaza
Degollado No 267
$44 per night

Hotel Sante Fe
Jardin de la Union No 12
$100 per night

Hotel Condesa
Ave Juarez , 102
$40 per night

Hotel Roma
Ave 20 de Noviembre, 705
$25 per night

Hotel La Siesta
Olas Altas 11
$46 per night

Adagio Inn
Rivera del Rio, 172
Puerto Vallarta
$70 per night (for an apartment)

Morgan Library In New York City


Drug related violence in Mexico
Mexico: Acapulco Gunmen Attack Police, Killing 7 [i][u]
Published: February 7, 2007 New York Times
Commandos armed with machine guns and dressed in khaki with red berets invaded two police stations in Acapulco, leaving seven officers dead. The invaders were believed to be the hired guns of drug smugglers. The attacks took place on the same day that a police commander in Sinoloa State, Jorge Valdez Fierro, was killed in his car by gunmen. President Felipe Calderón has sent thousands of troops and federal agents into both areas to rein in drug-gang violence.

Posted by MarshallC 07:57 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

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