People's Guide Homepage Copper CanyonLive & RetireCarl's Mexico NotebooksLettersFavorite Books Visit our SponsorsTable of ContentsThe Best of Mexico: Favorite PlacesSearch This Site

Past Notebooks

The People's Guide To Mexico

Carl's Mexico Notebook

20 December, 1999
Lake Chapala
Jalisco, Mexico


Once upon a time, before cyberspace was discovered, information about Mexico was exchanged almost entirely by word-of-mouth, or in quaint collections of ink and paper known as guidebooks, newsletters, and magazines. In those prehistoric days, I used to complain about the difficulty of getting timely information about Mexico to our readers. Today, as information literally floods from our computers, I mutter darkly about the hazards of instant creative gratification, and the public’s insatiable demand for even more People’s Guide material. (Lorena: Ease off a little here. “Insatiable” may be a bit much. BTW, how's your supply of St. John’s Wort?)

As I was saying.... over the years we’ve accumulated a huge backlog of notes, reviews, clippings, articles, travel tips, letters, photographs, bus schedules, lottery tickets, handbills, scribbled maps, salsa labels and other priceless material about Mexico. Using a Macintosh Powerbook and a small Mallory flashlight, Lorena has now undertaken the task of burrowing into this archive and converting it to People’s Guide web pages.

Oaxaca Street Music

About a year ago, Lorena and I were promoting the 25th anniversary edition of the People’s Guide at bookstores in northern California. We’d put together an informal “dog & pony show” that included a few slides of Mexico and a reading from the book (see Parrot Fever), followed by an exchange of questions, personal experiences, and comments from the audience.

Most of the people who came to these events were already familiar with our books. Although we were “singing to the choir”, it was nonetheless quite gratifying to meet readers who credited the People’s Guide with helping them make friends and cultivate interests in Mexico that go deeper than just tourism.

Among those attending was P.G. Meier, who offered us a cassette tape he’d put together of Oaxaca street musicians. Thinking “home movie soundtrack equals utter boredom”, I accepted with a certain reluctance. I also admit that it took a couple of gentle email reminders from P.G. before I actually broke down and plugged his tape into a deck.

You’ve probably already guessed my punchline: instead of garage-grade noise, I listened (twice in a row) to an amazingly well-produced collection of authentic Oaxaca street-folk, right down to the clink of coins in a musician’s cup. It was not only good music, but was in some ways better than commercially produced archival recordings I’ve heard from Mexico.

P.G.’s next surprise came in response to my gushing “review”: contrary to what I’d expected, he was simply not interested in selling copies of the cassette. As he explained, recording the music in Oaxaca, photographing the musicians, and producing the tape (and later a CD) was an entirely personal project, and nothing more.

Ground Control: Are you listening, Mr. Trump?

I’m now happy to say that even though P.G. still wants to maintain a “low profile” with this project, he has generously offered to share selections from his Oaxaca recordings with us. When will the music be available? We’re not sure... as the saying goes, “stay tuned”, we’re definitely working on it.

Oaxaca Cooking Video

In the meantime, P.G. consoles us with a tempting review of "Seasons of The Heart" featuring Susana Trilling -- a fine video cooking series on the foods of Oaxaca produced for PBS.

Joan drives Mad Max to Baja

Central America may be beyond your reach, but you can still find genuine adventure and bargain hide-outs as close as the Baja Peninsula. Joan's description of an extended snowbird-style ramble through Baja is one of my favorite articles from The People’s Guide Travel Letter.

(If you’re interested in the gory technical details, please consult the photo to the right. The archive itself is said to be located deep within a Chihuahua salt mine.)

What's the point? Why are we doing this? As someone once said, if you have to ask, you probably wouldn’t understand the answer. I know we certainly don’t....

Anyway, in this latest of my online Mexico Notebooks, I attempt to briefly describe new additions to The People’s Guide website. Lorena has prepared a lot of material on a wide range of topics, however, so don’t be surprised if I’m actually not brief at times, or even if we wander and become a little confused....

I’d pick chile rellenos as the all-around favorite dish of visitors to Mexico...and Flan

If I had to choose, I’d pick chile rellenos as the all-around favorite dish of visitors to Mexico. However, making chile rellenos at home that taste like the real thing takes a certain sazon (cook’s touch), so we’ve also added Steve's Chiles Rellenos to our Recipe section. You’ll also find Amber Zavada’s excellent “Vegetarian Fusion” recipes for enchiladas, bean soups and flan.

The perfect bug dope

In her never-ending quest for the perfect bug dope, Lorena finds a human volunteer for a frightening “no-see-um” experiment on the coast of Nayarit.

Can prescription medicines be mailed to the US?

David Eidell not only survives, but goes on to write a definitive two-part article on buying prescription medicines in Mexico. In part two, he answers the question, "Can I have prescription medicines mailed to me in the US?") David knows his stuff, but as usual, anything you read or use from the People’s Guide “Health Department” is entirely at your own risk.

Doing The Dozens

Mexico offers a mind-boggling selection of arts, crafts and eye-catching geegaws. If buying souvenirs and gifts isn't your favorite pastime, however, check out Lorena’s one-stop-shopping technique, Doing The Dozens.

Live & Retire in Guatemala

Guatemala Lifestyles News Update is a free email newsletter published by Jim and Maria Hearne. A recent issue includes a list of exit taxes for every Latin American country, news blips, and a very interesting collection of tips and suggestions for those considering a move to Guatemala. Highly recommended! To subscribe, send email to:

Louis Barton in Chiapas

Louis Barton is another Travel Letter contributor who continues to keep in touch. In fact, his latest misadventures in Chiapas and hard-earned travel lessons threaten to typecast Louis as our “do as I say, not as I do” correspondent. At the very least, Louis deserves high points for outspoken honesty and gritty determination.

Travel Journal

Carl's Notebook Homepage

©1972-2002 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens