The People's Guide To Mexico

Earlier Notebooks


Carl's Notebook
# 6..

15 November, 1999
Lake Chapala
Jalisco, Mexico

My gloating summary of last week’s weather.

Overheard while eavesdropping....

Be the first in your forum to have a revolutionary mousepad.

Believe it or not: decent $10 hotel rooms in Mexico City.

Huehuecoyotl: an alternative community established in 1981 is alive and well, and delightfully imperfect.

Frustrated by

Mexico's bureaucratic bungles: $400 - $800 car fees spark Paisano revolt.

Look at what the mailman brought:

they sure have stirred up a hornet's nest w/ this one.....
your beginning notes on Lake Chapala are helping with our decision to chuck the land of wetness....
•...he is suffering from
little, irritating bites of some kind of parasite that I brought back from Honduras....
• your book available in England? ...
Can we buy a VW van in Mexico?
•...I'm traveling by myself and
will be taking a motorcycle.
single woman prepares to drive alone to Mexico.


Estimados Amigos,

I’ll open this edition of my rambling Mexico update with a gloating summary of last week’s weather: our nighttime low was 54F and the daytime high was 77F (in the shade). My mother’s emails from western Washington describe a classic grey November, with heavy rains, lowland flooding, and high temperatures in the clammy 40-50’s. Sorry, Mom, but like most other foreign residents in Mexico, my attitude about winter this year is a smug, “What me worry?”

A tourist asked long-time resident Tom Horn, “What do you people actually do here in San Miguel de Allende?” Tom’s dry reply, “Well, you either play golf or you do good”.

Eavesdropping in San Carlos Bay, Sonora, I heard a recently arrived RV’er comment to another: “So, I hear your trip here was pretty rough, huh?”
“Hey, we left San Antonio with six long-stem wine glasses and now we’re down to just two!”

"Mas vale morir de pie que vivir de rodillas"
"It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees"

A striking Emiliano Zapata mousepad can be yours for just $10 (+$5 shipping).
“These mouse pads are made by HomeBoy Industries in East Los Angeles. By purchasing a mouse pad you are giving a barrio youngster a job. Home Boy industries helps youngsters from the barrio to lead more productive lives. Their motto is "Jobs not Jails." <>

Decent, $10 dollar hotel rooms: a recent discussion on the Mexico Connect General Forum revealed some great hotel bargains in and near the historic district of Mexico City.

Bill suggested “The Hotel Consul at Insurgentes Centro 133, Colonia San Rafael, very near the corner of Sullivan and Insurgentes (2 blocks from Insurgentes and Reforma) is a 10 minute walk into the heart of the Zona Rosa and has single rooms for US$8 and Doubles for US$10. Centro Historico is full of hotels in the same price range. These hotels are used by Mexican businessmen and by families travelling to the D.F. The Consul, for example, has clean rooms, telephone, and television with local stations. The hotel is safe. However, there are no coffee shops, bars, etc. in the hotel. There are also no other "bells and whistles." English is not always spoken in these hotels, so a little Spanish will help. However, with a little effort anyone will be able to rent rooms.”

Charles added, “lots of hotels less than or around 10 dollars on Ignacio Mariscal near the monument to the Revolution in Colonia Tabacalera (Metro Revolucion or Hidalgo). It’s convenient, but not as hectic as the centro historico.”

The cultivation of amaranth grain in Mexico was banned by the early Spanish conquerors. Why? Because Aztec amaranth flour was kneaded with human blood into “heathen idols”. (Source: Handbook of Indian Foods and Fibers of Arid America by Walter Ebeling)

Driving an RV to the Copper Canyon? Check out Creel's new KOA campground online.

If you’re deeply interested in the Copper Canyon’s geology, read The Guidebook for the 1988 Field Conference of the El Paso Geological Society: Stratigraphy, Tectonics and Resources of Parts of the Sierra Madre Occidental Province, Mexico by KF Clark, PC Goodell and JM Hoffer.

Last spring in Cuernavaca, Jeannie Anderson of Los Encuentros language school loaned me a several years-old photocopy of a newsletter published by the alternative community, Huehuecoyotl. On the faint hope that this commuity might still be active, I sent them a message which fortunately brought this reply:

Hello Carl,

Huehue is indeed still alive and well, still evolving, still delightfully imperfect. Here's the basic rap:

Huehuecoyotl is an eco-village in the Sierra Tepozteco, 13 km outside of Tepoztlan, Morelos. Established in 1981 by an international mix of artists and activists, the community now comprises approximately 19,000 square meters. Infrastructure includes a 400,000 liter cistern,14 houses, a communal building which contains a workshop/performance space, kitchen, dining room and vistors' dormitory, and organic vegetable gardens. The residential population varies between 15-20 and includes both members and renters. In addition, the community embraces a large, extended family of those who have lived here or visited over the years.

The name "Huehuecoyotl" means "old, old coyote" in Nahuatl, the local indigenous language.

Community members are active in various alternative movements, including bioregionalism, permaculture, holistic health, consensus decision-making and the global ecovillage network. Workshops on these and other topics - as well as concerts, performances, rituals and fiestas - are held at Huehuecoyotl throughout the year.

Email is

Visitors are welcome to stay in the dormitory or camp. Conditions are "rustico" (i.e., dry toilets, cold showers) and there are usually no organized, communal meals, although this varies, depending on who's around and what activities are going on. There is a modest fee for visitors (currently 50 pesos per person per night for dormitory accomodations, 30 pesos for camping). Bring your own sleeping bag and/or tent. More "deluxe" accomodations in private homes are sometimes available. Advance notice appreciated.

Saludos, Beatrice Briggs

We earn a few pesos on each book that is sold by when you “click through” from The People’s Guide website. To give you an idea of how important a revenue source this is, during the last 3 months our Amazon commissions were a grand total of 40 cents! Why so little? For reasons which defy understanding, Amazon mistakenly listed The People’s Guide To Mexico as “unavailable” and “out of print”. It took months to straighten this out -- if you'd like to pick up a book or two (or maybe a dozen?) for Christmas gifts, just click here: The People's Guide to Mexico

dear carl & lorena

i tried to order your book from but they're out of stock. is there anywhere else that might have it. i'm off to mexico soon and you've convinced me that i shouldn't go without it. hellllllp...

(follow up message) ... your help in getting your book from your distributer a couple of months ago, before you left the states, was highly appreciated. like i'm sure you've heard a million times, the book is great.
we're coming to lakeside [Chapala] to check it out next month. we've been to other parts of mexico, but from all i've read on the net, i can't wait to get there and skip the liquid sunshine we get in kalama, wa, the home of the tallest contiguious totem pole in the world. (that's really all there is).

by the way, sure am glad you've chosen lakeside to check out. your beginning notes on it are helping with our decision to chuck the land of wettness, and restart the exploration that we gave up 10 years ago for the world of materialism. look forward to hearing from you. hasta luego.

harris and kathy gottlieb,

---Harry, I don't really consider myself to be an expert on "lakeside", but my caffeine credentials are impeccable. For my money, the best coffee and most interesting conversation is found just a few doors from Ajijic’s central plaza, at CABA (Centro Ajijic de Bellas Artes).

Subject: bugs!?

Dear folks, I'm a very satisfied, "newly- minted" owner of your guide to Mexico. I get it home, and my roommate says, "Oh, I have that book!" -Seems he bought some earlier edition. Anyway, like I said - it's such a fun read - thanks for writing it. One misconception that I seemed to have had was that the days of a fun, relatively inexpensive, safe Mexico had come and gone. I'm happy to hear that it can still be there for the intrepid (or bumbling) tourist like me. Seriously - your book got the travel juices flowing - much like yourselves - I go places to meld me to their world, not the other way around. And so, I actually have a question of a rather strange nature.

Here goes - I returned from two months in La Ceiba, Honduras this summer in August, and my roommate claims that he is suffering from little, irritating bites of some kind of parasite (perhaps) that one can't really see. Have you ever heard of anything like this? This is a dead serious question - because it seemed to coincide with my returning. The reason I think it could be something I brought back -is because in La Ceiba, I would awake often with little red marks from the bites of some little, irksome, but not particularly dangerous parasite that I never saw.

He's going crazy, and is trying a course of flea powders, bug killing clothing treatments, and the like. I would appreciate some feedback or suggestions. I know, you're wondering, "what do we look like? CDC or something?," but I've really been in a quandry over who to even ask. A foreign bug you can't see? They might lock us up! I sure hope you guys actually read all your letters as daunting as that task must be. Thank-you, Peter Putnam

ps - I put together my own Rube Goldberg-kind-of trip to Honduras - I called some hotels in and around La Ceiba and Trujillo, and found out the numbers of some of the people who had worked for one of the language schools that Mitch had put out of business. So slowly I put together a teacher and a wonderful family that I stayed with. They treated me like a member of the family! It was one of the highlights of my life - I didn't want to come back, to tell you the truth. To make it even more tempting- I even got offered a job teaching in some little private school. Oh boy! bye.

---Peter, your good experience in Honduras certainly contrasts with what most people expect, especially after the media horror stories of last year’s flooding. The collapse of tourism only adds insult to injury for all those unemployed teachers, etc. Please tell us more about your trip, I’m sure that others would also enjoy hearing further details.

As for your mystery bugs... how interesting, how odd, how... annoying. Yes, as a matter of fact, Lorena and I have had the same sort of out-of-body, drive-you-out-of-your-mind infestation upon returning home from Central America. We thought it was just "us" but it happened more than once. Our solution: we washed everything we could in very hot water, including our backpacks, and what we couldn't wash, we put into my mother's freezer for a day or two. Honduran bugs do not like sub-zero temps.

I believe that your mystery bug is some kind of semi-microscopic chigger. If you've ever traveled rough in the south of the U.S., you'll have encountered a slightly larger cousin. They burrow into the skin, but are so small that you rarely see one.

They go away. Eventually.

The Ongoing Soap Opera of Mexico's Bureaucratic Bungles

We’ve had a minor email avalanche from people preparing to drive to Mexico. In addition to practical questions about which route to take, or how many spare tires to carry, many of you expressed concern about the Mexican government’s misbegotten plan to implement new bonding requirements for tourist vehicles on the first of December. (which I described in detail in Carl’s Notebook #5).

The latest wrinkle in this story is the growing “Paisano” revolt in the U.S. Paisano is the “friendly” nickname for Mexicans-residing-in-the-U.S. and Mexican-Americans who visit Mexico. The new bonding regulations are aimed squarely at the Paisanos, and they aren’t taking it well. Boycotts of popular Mexican-made products are being organized by influential Paisano groups in California, Texas, and Illinois. No one really knows if these protests will influence Mexico’s notoriously thin-skinned bureaucrats, but one thing is clear: it is a big mess!

Here’s a typically hot letter on the topic from one of our readers:

Boy, they sure have stirred up a hornet's nest w/ this one...everyone on the net is really pissed! I keep reading conflicting reports. I've heard variously that this program will only affect certain crossings, that they are pushing back the start date indefinitely, that they will take credit cards, and that only Mexicans and Mexican-Americans will have to pay the deposit.... but who knows. And of course the Mexican gov isn't really doing much to clarify the situation....que sera sera, I suppose. But what do I care, anyway? I'm flying into D.F. on the 8th. Gonna try an' set up shop somewhere and work for the winter. I've narrowed my Mexican job possibilities down to drug mule, male prostitute, or ESL teacher. I haven't decided where yet either...I guess I'll pick a bus station when I land.

Sean P.

---Other than his job plans, Sean’s letter is fairly typical. My suggestion is simple: relax and try to quit worrying. The bureaucrats are taking a huge amount of flak for this, both inside and outside Mexico. They are also waffling, backpedaling, and issuing face-saving statements as fast as they can. I think it’s safe to assume that once the dust settles, the border crossing requirements won’t be unreasonable. (I’m not saying they’ll be logical, but as some wag once observed, this is the risk of leaving government in the hands of politicians.)

Whatever the bonding requirements are, you’ll undoubtedly want to have a credit card with you.

Great to find your site - must be the most successful search I've ever done. I would like to get a copy of the book - is it available in England? We are European travelers and have spent many summers in a VW camper over here. Can't get away til November this year and Europe's pretty cold by then. Always wanted to go to S. America and Mexico seems like a good place to start. We would love to do it in a VW van andwondered if we could buy one over there, maybe shipping it back to the UK as they are expensive over here and it might be possible to cover our expenes by selling it. I know they only make Combis not campers, but that's nothing a few cushions and a mattress wouldn't solve. Do you know if anybody has ever done it, if not to England maybe to the US? Or maybe you might know where we could rent or borrow one, officially or unofficially.

---Glad to hear that you actually found us -- Lorena and I don’t have the time or energy to promote this website on search engines, so we rely instead on word-of-mouth and link exchanges. Do you recall which search engine you used?

The People's Guide may or may not be available in England -- our overseas distribution tends to be irregular at best. You might have better luck by ordering the book from (do it via one of Amazon’s links from our website and we earn a small commission).

About the VW “combi” in Mexico: it probably isn't worth it to import a combi from Mexico into the U.S. U.S. smog regulations are so strict that it costs big bucks to convert/upgrade a Mexican vehicle to American standards.

On the other hand, you could certainly buy a combi in Mexico, drive it, then resell it here or elsewhere in Latin America (depending, of course, on the custom/import regulations in your country of sale). But... what kind of money are you able to spend? Mexicans tend to put a lot of miles on their vehicles before they sell them, so the price for a secondhand combi in good condition might be relatively high.

If you aren't pressed for time, my advice is to find a reliable, independent VW mechanic in Mexico to help you purchase a vehicle. Offer a finder's fee, which should include a very close look at the vehicle's documentation. Mexico has some very creative car thieves, so it is  important that the title and registration are in fact legit.....

Another possibility is an auto flea market. These are usually held on weekends on the outskirts of large cities, or in big vacant lots.  Buyers and sellers gather to wheel-and-deal used vehicles. Some of these get-togethers attract police officials, who moonlight by helping prospective buyers check out the vehicle's documentation. (Then again, some of Mexico’s most sophisticated car thieves are also cops....)

Unless you have deep pockets, renting a combi here is expensive. As for “borrowing"? I don't think so....

Hi Carl!

I just started reading "people's guide to mexico" (the 1998 edition) and i LOVE IT! My name is Gabriel and I'm planning my first trip to mexico in late November. I'm traveling by myself and will be taking a motorcycle. I would like to experience the country and culture outside of tourism and am looking to stay a few months. Do you have any suggestions for an itinerary that would be the most fulfilling for someone like me? Any suggestions or even places to stay away from (outside of border towns, tourist resorts) would be greatly appreciated. I'm not sure where to find information on the political situations in certain states so i really don't know which areas might be hazardous to my health.

I'm going to take a lot of photographs and sound recordings on my trip. I'm a musician and sound engineer and thought this would also be a good opportunity to do some environmental field recordings for use in my compositions. I was also thinking about buying a guitar while I'm down there and see if i can find some locals to jam with! I would be happy to share my experiences, photos and recordings with you for your web site. Is there another email address I should send correspondence while I'm in mexico or will this one be fine?

Thank you again for the advice and words of encouragement. I think most americans have a deep seeded fear of Mexico and Mexican politics and hear so many horror stories without hearing the pleasant ones. Your optimism expressed in your book has changed my mind about exploring mexico and I can't wait to go!

muchas gracias, Gabriel Mulford

---Gabe, it would help if I knew where you're starting from, but assuming you’re in the west: we prefer to cross the border at Nogales, Arizona rather than one of the southern California crossings. This route takes you straight to the Sea of Cortez, and bypasses the congested traffic in and out of Tijuana. (If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to visit the Tucson Desert Museum.)

Once you’re at the beach, you can’t go wrong by continuing south along the Pacific coast. You could beach-hop all the way to the Guatemalan border of course, but if time is limited I’d turn inland near Manzanillo, via Colima, and explore the central highlands. From there, go south to Oaxaca and Chiapas, then cross over to the Yucatan. Return to the U.S. via Mexico’s eastern Gulf coast and you’ll be back home sometime.... late next year?

As for places to avoid... really, I don't think you have anything to worry about. Read your People's Guide closely and you should do just fine.

As a general plan, I'd travel “loose” (as loose as the itinerary I gave you above) and see what comes my way. You'll meet so many travelers who will gladly turn you on to their own favorite places.  Also, there’s more to Mexico than you'll be able to see in even a few months. Don't try to do it all -- and you'll still find more than enough here to make you very happy. 

You'll also find plenty of cybercafes along the route, so I hope you'll keep us posted on your travels.

Your idea of doing sound recordings as you travel is very interesting. One of our readers kindly sent me a cassette tape of Oaxaca street musicians. He'd captured their music using a tiny mini-disc recorder, and printed a label using a collage of the musician’s photos. I was amazed, both by the quality of the music (the recording was done on the street), and the "package". In fact, it is better than some of the folk music I’ve heard on commercially produced CDs.

We do look forward to hearing about your adventures. Our email address is permanent, so do keep using it as you travel.

Finally, an email came from Tina Rosa, who is preparing to drive alone from Oregon to Mexico. Over the past couple of decades, Tina and Steve probably covered more miles together in Mexico and Central America than anyone else we know. (Steve co-authored The People’s Guide To Mexico and The People’s Guide To RV Camping in Mexico with us. He and Tina also wrote the excellent itinerary guide Mexico In 22 Days and The Shopper’s Guide To Mexico.) Now that Steve is gone, however, Tina has “inherited” all of the preparations required to get their Toyota camper ready for Mexico and back on the road. Instead of being a passenger, she’ll have to do it all: drive, navigate, and cope with the occasional roadside repair. It’s hardly surprising that Tina is feeling a little apprehensive -- in her place, most people would either give up and stay home or buy a plane ticket. With her departure close at hand, I tried to summarize some of my own hard-earned advice:

---Tina, I also remember what it was like to drive to Mexico for the first time without Steve at the helm. In fact, I still experience a certain vague apprehension whenever I approach the border, and a big sense of relief once I'm across it.

Since I'm not a mechanic and hate breakdowns, I've also developed some strategies that I follow pretty religiously, especially in Mexico.

First off, get the strongest tires you can find. The peace of mind this will give you when you slam into an unexpected chuckhole at 60 mph will be worth the price. Also, there is nothing more annoying than waking up in the morning to find you've got a flat (or two), and Steve isn't there to take care of it. Such as... the trip Lorena and I made in the "Whale" [our extended VW van], where we had 21 flats! If you haven't done so already, I'd go to a tire shop and tell them you want really strong, nothing-fancy tires.

Next, keep reminding yourself just how easy it has become to drive in Mexico, especially on the principal routes. Have you read the account of our drive from Nogales on the PG website? If not, please do. I especially recommend the route from Nogales to Guadalajara for you -- there is only one 3-4 hour stretch of two-lane, just south of Mazatlan.

Take the tollways and consider them a necessary expense; it is worth it for safety and comfort, as well as wear and tear on the vehicle.

Once you're inside Mexico, don't try to do more than 300 miles a day. Do your best to be off the road a good hour or more before dark. The most stressful time is that last hour of driving, especially if you have a flat or other problem. It is better to get up before dawn and quit by 4 p.m. For one driver, 300 miles a day in Mexico is plenty. By the third day you'll be deep into the country and feeling a lot more confident, without being wiped out.

Since this is the first time you've done this on your own, I'd also try not to follow a schedule -- when Lorena and I came down early this year, we suddenly decided to lay over for 3 days in a wonderful RV park south of San Blas. She was sick with the flu and I was suddenly coming down from all the pre-trip stress. For me at least, these were the best days of the entire drive.

If you can keep yourself from doing more than 2-300 miles a day, and wake up feeling good in the morning, I think you'll be amazed at how easy it is to get from the border to central Mexico. (There is now a very quick tollway from Guadalajara to Colima, or from Guadalajara to Mexico City or San Miguel de Allende.)

As for the ever-worrisome roadside breakdown: the bottom line is to simply wait for the Green Angels to appear. It may take hours, but these guys really are helpful.

A couple of other thoughts: carry a quart of alcohol to dump into the gas tank, in the event that you get watery gas along the coast. If the truck starts running rough, add the alcohol to half a tank or more of gasoline. When in doubt, use it -- it can't hurt. Also, avoid running the gas tank to the bottom, where there might be junk and water from the past.

When I park at night, I always try to position the vehicle so that the battery is reachable if we have to use jumper cables in the morning. Backing-in usually does the trick.

Check the oil and water religiously, before you start in the morning. I also walk around the vehicle, eyeball the tires, and look under it. At the very least, this quick inspection will reassure you that nothing is obviously wrong.

After reading how many highway accidents are caused by dirty windshields, I'm also very fussy about cleaning it frequently. Coming down in September, there were a lot of insects in the air, and I must have washed the windshield several times a day. Improves the view, too.

If nothing else, these highway rites & rituals will gradually strengthen your self-confidence and allow you to rest when you need it.


Emiliano Zapata mousepad

Join Carl & Lorena at the Globo Races

©1972-2002 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens