The People's Guide To Mexico

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Packing Up

Packing Up

Carl’s Mexico Travel Writing Toolkit

by Carl Franz

Published March 2008

Once upon a time, when I first began a serious writing routine, I worked entirely with pencils, ruled 3 x 5 index cards and a very sturdy Olympia portable typewriter. The Olympia was an all-metal machine in a thick bombproof case. It was built like a tank and almost as heavy, but I was young and insisted on lugging it wherever we went.

It was in Guatemala, in a wonderful little house perched on a cliff above Lake Atitlan, where I first began hammering out several hundred pages of densely spaced manuscript that would eventually become The People’s Guide To Mexico. Lorena and Steve soon got their hands into it and by the time we’d filled the gaps and organized a final draft, I’d probably put at least three thousand sheets of paper through that typewriter. (Though I often begged for help with the tedious job of re-typing their corrections, Steve always seemed to be too busy in the kitchen and Lorena’s dyslexic spelling created more problems than it cured.)

After the first edition of The People’s Guide To Mexico was published in 1972, we continued to use the Olympia typewriter to update and revise the book. Then, in a moment of self-doubt, I traded this loyal machine for very large and valuable antique Mayan drum. Before the Olympia went off to a new life in the Sierra Cuchumantan, however, I’d worn out and replaced the platen two times. If this term is too archaic to have meaning for you, let me explain that wearing out the platen (the roller) on a typewriter is the equivalent of driving your VW van to the planet Uranus (and back).

Other typewriters followed, including a bulky upright Royal as heavy as a plumber’s toolbox; an erratic, hyperactive IBM Selectric, and even a couple of genuine antiques that should never have left the thrift store.

Then, in 1985, an article in the newspaper about personal computers and something called “dedicated word processors” changed my life. Within months Lorena and I had mortgaged our cabin in order to pay the astronomical sum of $5000 for an Eaglewriter CPM word processor and a huge daisywheel printer. In present day computer terms, the Eaglewriter’s memory, functions and processing power were at best ant-like. Nonetheless, I loved that machine dearly and chortled like a maniac every time I commanded my obedient “Daisy” to print yet another pristine copy of a manuscript. Even after buying a “real” computer, I stored the Eaglewriter in a closet for many years before I could face its final consignment to the Salvation Army donation bin.

The computer, accessories and gadgets listed here make up my complete travel writing kit. It might seem a bit “over the top,” but thanks to miniaturization, I doubt that the actual weight and bulk of all this stuff exceeds my original Olympia portable typewriter. And, like clothing and camping gear, I don’t always carry everything on the list; it all depends on where I’m going, what the purpose of my trip is and how long I’ll be away from home.

The fact is, Lorena and I are both very project-oriented. I like to do much more when I’m traveling in Mexico than just take in the local sights. I have to confess, in fact, that even though I am a travel writer, I’m actually a lousy tourist. This is one of the main reasons why you won’t find much information about specific places in the books and articles we’ve written about Mexico. My idea of a satisfying and productive day isn’t door-by-door research from one hotel, restaurant or tourist attraction to another. This kind of work not only bores me to tears, but requires a dedication to nitpicking detail that I simply don’t possess. I’d much rather sit under a mango tree with a campesino for several hours and ask questions about planting his milpa (cornfield), or do a self-guided “taco tour” on the back streets of Oaxaca.

At the end of a typical day in Mexico, I’ll usually have quite a collection of handwritten notes, photos, audio recordings and ideas to rework on my laptop. The ability to do all this while traveling is tremendously satisfying to me.

So, if you’re a writer yourself, or perhaps a computer programmer or cyber-worker who would like to continuing working while traveling or living in Mexico, here’s the start of a full inventory of my personal portable office (followed by some related thoughts on our home office and the tools we use to create this website):

Computers & PC Hardware

MacBook: I've carried various laptops over the years and this one qualifies as "best of the litter". The MacBook is light in weight, compact, tolerant of voltage fluctuations and has a bright, very sharp screen. I normally don’t buy extended warranties or protection plans for my tools and equipment, but considering that this laptop is going to travel far & wide and be subjected to a lot of handling, I’d seriously consider AppleCare.

Laptop Sleeve: A protective sleeve is very helpful if you decide to carry your laptop in a large purse or even a shopping bag. A friend actually carries her computer and digital camera in a diaper bag -- "No one steals diapers!" she says.

Computer Backpack: The Synergy from SwissGear by Wenger

There is a lot more to come, but Lorena insists that I get back to work..... so this will be continued later... Carl

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