The People's Guide To Mexico

Later Notebooks

Carl's Notebook

Carl’s Notebook, In which I attempt to deal with the towering piles of unanswered mail, unread books, news clippings, and other fascinating tidbits that threaten to overload my desktop and computer hard drive.

Having launched this rather aimless ramble through my chaotic files and over-stuffed archives in issue #6 of this Travel Letter, I’d like to jump right in by thanking S. Guzmán-C. (who signs himself “Rio”) for sending me the 3rd edition of his book, A Vagabond In Mexico (Nomads Press, Seattle, 604-621-3911). In a prelude to a review in issue #5, I lamented the publishing industry’s “historical lack of interest in anything south of the border”. Nomads Press is to be commended for keeping a good (but relatively unknown) book in print for several years.

Returning from plugging the 25th anniversary edition of The People’s Guide To Mexico in the Bay Area last week, I snatched up a first edition of Bordering On Chaos by Andres Oppenheimer for $3.88 from a special sale table at the San Francisco airport. This 1996 title gives fascinating insider background on Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista rebellion, NAFTA, PRI machinations, and the scarcely believable Salinas de Gortari family soap opera. My only gripe is that the book ends too soon, and leaves me breathlessly curious about events since it was published.

R. Jaeger took advantage of the “Reader Response” form in a past issue to share a number of enthusiastic comments and observations: “In February of 1998 it was shocking to see the double (Oct & Nov 97) hurricane destruction at Mazunte and Playa Ventanilla, Oaxaca. At the latter, we saw 2 crocodiles instead of the previous hundreds, and the mangrove was destroyed. The bird variety was still utterly amazing. At Mazunte the turtle museum & all the turtles there were destroyed! Very sad.”

On a happier note, eco-travelers will welcome Ron Mader’s new book, Mexico: Adventures In Nature (John Muir Publications, 800-888-7504). I’ve just had time to skim the book, but it promises to fulfill my expectations — Ron is both a very knowledgeable eco-traveler and a skilled writer. His website, Eco Travels In Latin America <> is a “virtual” treasure house of travel resources and reliable information.

Lorena and I spoke with the publisher of the excellent International Travel Maps ( recently. I was dismayed to learn that Kevin Healey, chief cartographer for their wonderful series on Mexico and Central America, had died. Kevin’s ITM maps of Latin America have always been my favorites, so it is some consolation to know that the company is continuing to produce more maps in this series. In fact, I’ll be taking their newly-published Mexico North West with me to the Copper Canyon in a couple of weeks.

...pause.... In order to separate the wheat from the chaff, I’ve taken a few minutes to clear away some of the more irrelevant rubble from my desktop. This includes a large Bogen tripod — I’m using a digital camera to “photocopy” small Mata Ortiz pottery for our web site — outdated Polaroid film packages, two very nice Batopilas daggers, a compact Sony shortwave radio, miscellaneous yellowing Mexican newspapers and some spare computer cables.

These archaeological excavations led to a grisly discovery: a thick stack of books, unanswered mail and news articles that I swore I’d dealt with before Lorena and I headed for India last winter. I groaned with embarrassment when I read a very nice letter (dated June 1997) from Kenny & Maggie Dessain, offering information on their “Turtle Island Peace Camp”. Isla Tortuga is a sustainable technology and environmental education project on the Agiabampo Estuary, between the Mayo and Fuerte rivers in southern Sonora. The project looks fascinating, and full details are available by writing to: Isla Tortuga, A.P. 12 Huatabampo, Sonora 85900, Mexico. Email:

There were also letters from friends in Panama, Columbia and Mexico, reminding us that many countries in Latin America now host regular 10-day Vipassana meditation courses. As some of you know, Lorena and I have been practising Vipassana under the guidance of S.N. Goenka and his assistant teachers for several years now. Our compadres Steve Rogers and Tina Rosa are also meditators, as are a growing number of our friends and family. The recent introduction of this remarkable technique to Mexico and Latin America has been especially gratifying for us, as we can easily schedule our trips south to coincide with meditation courses there. For information, see page 24.

The thought of meditating in Mexico inevitably leads me to think about living there again, if only for part of the year. I make this association because it is almost inevitable that there’ll be a permanent Vipassana center in central Mexico. When this happens, Lorena and I hope to have a small, modest house near the Center, a place we can use as a winter refuge, and as a base for our meditation study and travels. To promote this plan, a few years ago we began outlining a “People’s Guide To Mexican Retirement”. Going on the tried-and-true cliche that experience really is the best teacher (and researcher), it seemed obvious that in order to be legitimate “retirement experts”, we’d obviously have to retire! Now that the revision of our first book is finished, we’re focussing our attention on the retirement book project. Stand by, therefore, for a lot more info and discussion of living and retiring in Mexico in this newsletter and on the web site.

Retirement tidbits: The 1998 edition of Fran Furton’s newsletter, “Retiring or Relocating In Guadalajara” mentions their new email address: Fran offers quite an assortment of retirement publications from his home in Mexico so this email address should expedite ordering them.

Guatemala Living & Retirement newsletter (Mar/April ‘98; P.O. Box 669004 A-192, Miami Springs, FL 33266) details Dave’s low-budget lifestyle near Antigua in “Batching it... Under the Volcano”. A retired Marine, Dave squeaks by on less than $300 a month, including $100 in miscellaneous pocket money.

If Dave’s Guatemalan retirement seems unreasonably economical, the April/May ‘98 issue of AIM (Adventures in Mexico) says, “An American who owns his home {near Patzcuaro, Michoacán} says his living costs run $300 to $350 a month and Ralph Gray {a realtor there} confirms that living costs have been stable for years.”

Snakes, Etcetera: Constantino, a friendly warden at the Tikal National Park in Guatemala, passed on this tip for visitors who are interested in leaf cutter ants. As you may have seen in nature films, huge numbers of these large ants emerge from extensive underground colonies at dusk. Following well-worn paths, streams of ants move throughout the jungle, cutting and harvesting green leaves. These are carried back to the burrows and incorporated into fungal gardens, which in turn produce food for the ants.

As Constantino noted, however, the tunnels made by leaf cutter ants are also favored as ready-made homes by poisonous coral snakes. “Avoid these places at dusk,” he warned me. “And don’t walk through them, especially with sandals.”
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