News, Travel reports & Tidbits
Mexico & Central America
by Carl Franz
Get-togethers with our friends often turn into a frantic swap meet of travel tips, favorite books and magazine articles, newly discovered music and "you gotta try this!" recipes. As Lorena extols the virtues of lime juice on mosquito bites, Linda describes an avant-garde Mexican movie and Hank paws through overflowing bookshelves, hoping to trade Gringo by Charles Portis for my mint copy of Lost World of Quintana Roo. Jack suddenly asks about travel-related resources on the Internet, but before I can answer, Steve drips huitlacoche sauce over the Momostenago blanket that Tina has accidently spread out over Churpa's drawing of a Mexican olive factory. Before the confusion clears the phone starts to ring: Mike is leaving for Guatemala in the morning and desperately needs last minute advice and suggestions. Our old cabin erupts into bedlam.
As you can tell, Lorena and I are blessed with interesting lives. The question is, how can we possibly sort all this stuff out and get things reasonably well organized and under control? After decades of futile attempts, the answer is now obvious: we can't. In fact, we officially give up. Our new motto: when in doubt, meditate.
With that in mind, I'm going to invite you to join the fun by taking a peek at the incredible, miscellaneous grab bag of information that flows across my cluttered desk. With no further apologies, here we go....
Thoreau said that true happiness comes from the least expensive pleasures. In our case, the mail box often yields moments of pure delight. Delight was definitely my reaction when I opened a letter from a Travel Letter reader in Dallas who addressed me as "Mr. Carl Franz (aging hippie). After sharing some of his travel plans, the writer concluded with, "In addition to "wherever you go... there you are" just remember that "Things are more like they are now than they've ever been before." He signed off, "Dave Acree, aspiring hippie". For some reason, this gem reminded me of a Great Truth I saw stuck to the bumper of a VW van on Interstate 5: Meditation Isn't What You Think.
To get back to "Wherever You Go... There You Are." The often-quoted subtitle of our first book, The People's Guide To Mexico, has now appeared as the title of a book, as a line in a popular movie, and even in an advertisement for telephone service by MCI. I wish I could say this bit of cosmic wisdom was an "original" but it isn't; I actually picked it up in 1965. I was home on a brief leave of absence from the Navy, having just finished boot camp. Deeply depressed by the prospects of four more years as a "prisoner of war", I was deadening my senses with earsplitting rock & roll while driving to Seattle when the dj suddenly broke into a song and screamed, "Remember, wherever you go... there you are!" All those years of dabbling in books on Zen finally paid off. With a tremendous shout of "Oh, yes!" I experienced a mind-expanding flash of freeway satori. The thrill of the moment didn't last, but "wherever you go..." certainly gave me something to chew on for the next four years.
Dipping back into our mailbox, I found an interesting tidbit in the Adventist magazine, Signs Of The Times (April '95): "...in the last few years, truck-stop ministries have been growing by leaps and bounds." They quote a report in USA Today that claims 25 percent of America's 1,000 truck stops are now served with a mobile chapel. Speaking of being on the road, we traditionally launch a driving trip to Mexico by warbling our favorite Waylon Jennings song: "Down every road there's always one more city; I'm on the run, the highway is my home." Which reminds me of Andy Cirzan, a concert promoter we met in the Sierra Madre. Andy turned us on to Collector's Choice Music Catalog (1-800-923-1122). Everything from rock to big bands, folk, show tunes, blues, jazz, etc. How about "The Singing Boys of Mexico" on a traditional mariachi CD for just $6.95 (cassette $3.95)? Good music isn't this cheap in Mexico!
Shifting gears slightly, Lorena's (sainted) mother, Marion Mayfield, continues to supply us with a steady stream of interesting news on Mexico, including a clipping from the Anchorage Daily News. (Marion actually lives in beautiful Yuba City but like most mothers, her info networks are as far-reaching as the CIA's.) Writing for EcoTraveler magazine, James Russell, editor of Rail Travel News, rates the Copper Canyon rail trip from Chihuahua to Los Mochis as the most scenic train ride in North America. To put this into perspective, the run between New York and Cincinnati took a distant tenth place.... Speaking of surveys, here's the shocking results of a study by the Travel Industry Association: "...the most popular reason for taking an adventure vacation among all age groups was for fun or entertainment". Brace yourself, there's more: 39% of younger travelers took the trip "for thrills" whereas only 58% traveled with a spouse.
Esther Schrader writes for Knight-Ridder that, "The North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation, an intergovernmental agency set up under NAFTA to monitor environmental abuse in Mexico, Canada and the United States, is powerless" to investigate a massive bird kill in the Silva Reservoir near Leon, Guanajuato. Why "powerless?" Because there has been no "official" complaint.
Just before the huge devaluation of the peso, economist Victor Lopez Villafane of the Monterrey Technological Institute estimated that slightly more than 1% of Mexicans qualified as los yuppies.
An Associated Press article on Guatemala says that 135,000 Americans visited Guatemala in 1993. Tourism brought in $266 million and employed 70,000 people. DNA researchers quoted in the Washington Post estimate that the first tourists (my joke) arrived in the New World via the Siberian land bridge about 22,400 years ago. A somewhat less arduous trip was had in the Sierra Madre by Dave, Gord & Bev, three hard-core bicyclists I met there from Alberta, Canada. Rashly interpreting my casual raving about a possible road connection from Creel to Alamos via Divisadero as "expert advice", they "took 2 full days to ride/push/pull and carry the bikes 36 km." Heavy rain and fog didn't help matters. "It was a bog. Only one vehicle passed us in two days. We saw it later, abandoned in a mudhole!" Abandoning the attempt to cross the Sierra Madre by bike, they hopped a train to Los Mochis. Speaking of suffering, "I'd much rather be in Mexico..." was pathetically scrawled on a postcard from Abe Franklin, a biologist working aboard a factory trawler in the Bering Sea. Think positive, Abe. Back in the "bad old days", Steve Rogers and I also spent two months before the mast in the Bering Sea, on a hell-voyage in a leaky research ship. Our stomachs go out to you.
And speaking of my stomach, "Coconut oil in popcorn is not as bad for you as it's made out to be". Not bad, that is, if the coco oil isn't hydrogenated, says Health Alert newsletter (P.O. Box 22620 Carmel, CA 93922). Laying the blame for bad press on sinister elements within the soybean industry, Health Alert (Volume 11, Issue 12) points out that "Populations in the tropics thrive on coconut and coconut oil. Entire towns... routinely eat coconuts themselves." If you've ever feasted on Belize's wonderfully fattening coconut oil johnnycakes, you know what a delightful routine that can be.
¡Qué le vaya bien!