Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mexico City's subway stations map. ("Metro" map in high resolution, downloadable PDF).

Mexico City's subway or "Metro" is one of the biggest subways in the world, and maybe one of the best ways to move within the city. It is inexpensive, fast and easy to master, even though, a good map of the stations comes very handy. In order to travel efficiently you would need to know few things: the station were you are, the destination station, the line you need to travel and the direction you are traveling. Even though every line has its number and every station has its name, they have colors and drawings that you could easily identify (this system was developed for people who can't read). Click the link below the image (preview) to download a PDF with a high-resolution map of all the subway stations. 

If you have any question or doubts please feel free to leave a comment (or your question) below the post.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Music recommendation: a mexican guitar duet with an original music style that I call "Flamenco-Rock".

Last saturday I was stuck in traffic and while changing stations on the radio I stumbled with a mesmerizing guitar tune. It was an acoustic session by "Rodrigo y Gabriela", a couple of mexican guitar players with a great story. Rodrigo Pineda Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero are not only a guitar duet, but also a married couple. Both started playing the guitar professionally many years ago, but they found no one who believed in their music (in Mexico), so they decided to travel around the world, playing the classic (or spanish) guitar. They traveled all the way to Europe and toured principally in Spain and Ireland. Actually, it was in Ireland where they found a record label to sign with and a launch-pad for their career. After 8 years of traveling and playing around the world, they returned to Mexico in 2008 and gave a concert at Mexico City's venue "El Lunario". 
"Rodrigo y Gabriela" play acoustic music, principally with classic guitars, but their style is not classic at all. They have a unique style that I call "Flamenco-Rock" because their main inspiration is Rock N' Roll, but their guitar playing sounds like Flamenco (a spanish music style). They demonstrate their rock inspiration by playing an acoustic version of "Staiway to heaven" and "Orion" (from Metallica).  Their original compositions are sensual and very passionate, actually it is virtually impossible to hear their music and not feel the necessity to move (dance or drum something). Their ability to play the guitar is incredible, here are some videos to prove it:

Tamacun - Rodrigo y Gabriela - Live

Stairway to Heaven - Rodrigo y Gabriela - Live

You could buy "Rodrigo y Gabriela" album at amazon.com or download some tracks or full album and videos from iTunes. Personally I love this type of dynamic acoustic music because I could concentrate in other things while listening to it. I find it a perfect soundtrack for driving long distances or for jogging. 

Do you like this type of music style? If so please leave a comment, thanks.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Flying over the beautiful Lake of Tequesquitengo, Mexico. Great location for an unforgetable experience.

Imagine the thrill and the beauty of flying over a beautiful lake in complete silence (in the actual flight the motor is turned off while you fly over the lake, so you can enjoy the moment). Now a days there are many ways of flying, but one that is accessible to everyone is ultralights (a delta wing, seats and a motor). One of the best places in Mexico for ultralight gliding is called "Aerodynamic de México", located at the state of Morelos, Mexico. They are the best not only because of the location or the equipment, but for the pilots: Marcú from France and Hans from Holland are great people, very friendly and profesional (with a lot of years of experience).

Here is some info from the Aerodynamic's webpage:

Welcome aboard! We invite you to extend your horizons by flying through our web page.
The excellent climate in our valley permits us to fly on a daily basis. The passenger flights are relatively inexpensive and offer lots of fun for everyone. FOR ALL AGES!
If you'd like to try to fly yourself, we offer an extended flight that goes to over 2000 Ft. in which you get to steer yourself while we are gliding with the engine turned off. Of course you'll be accompanied by an instructor. All our flights are insured and we fly only in new certified aircraft, fully licensed in Mexico. Our pilots are licensed, insured and certified by the Mexican FAA, the DGAC.

We are situated about 90 minutes south of Mexico City, and 20 miles south of Cuernavaca, in a Valley that permanently offers nice weather. On clear days we see three big volcanoes: The popocatepetl, The Ixtlacihuatl and The Neavado from Toluca. Right nex to our airport is a big lake where you'll see people engaging in many different water sports.

There is an abundance of hotels and lodgings, ranging from luxury and exclusive to economical. Our recommendation is the Hotel Hacienda Vista Hermosa, an adventure in itself.

Here, I'm receiving some instructions and information from Marcú about the flight we are about to take.


In this photo from the Aerodynamics site you could see the hangar and the landing field, at the back you could see the Lake of Tequesquitengo.

Here we are inside the hangar were you could see some more ultralight crafts and small airplanes.

I totally recommend this experience, it is a great way of feeling free within great surroundings and great people. There are very accessible prices, flight prices start at $50 dollars approx.

Contact Info:

Webpage: www.ultraligeros-mexico.com (in English, Spanish and French)

Adress:
Calle de la Torre s/n
San José Vista Hermosa
Morelos, México.
C.P. 62680

Telephone: 01 734 345 5487
01 734 345 5476 (Fax)

Mobile: 01 777 374 0860

Position: N 18° 38. 80
W 99° 16. 04
Elevation 974 m.

Email:
marcoumx@hotmail.com
hansmx@hotmail.com

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Nothing says Elegance more than a Pearl Necklace.

Quality pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries, and because of this, the word pearl became a metaphor for something very rare, very fine, elegant, admirable and very valuable.
Tomorrow is my mother's birthday and I was looking for something special as a gift. I needed something that will look expensive but at a reasonable price. And immediately I thought about pearls, but there was a little problem, most of cultured pearls are very expensive, at least in Mexico City. I recalled seeing some inexpensive freshwater pearls in Ixtapa, a beautiful beach in Jalisco, Mexico but I am 8 hours away (by car) or many dollars away by plane. Other problem about those Ixtapa's pearls is that they are natural freshwater pearls and they have irregular forms and I remember my mom telling me that she likes round cultured pearls more. So I decided to search the web for fine, inexpensive, cultured pearls and after a while I found a great site with international shipping.
I found a great site that sells pearls (obviously not only pearls, but hand made pearl necklaces, pearl earrings and gorgeous black pearl necklaces) called Pearl Necklace Center. The great thing about this site is that everything looks very expensive and well made but prices are very reasonable. They have a special section of "under $100" gifts with great prices, like a black pearl necklace for $90 dollars. They also have great deals in Akoya pearl necklaces (which are one of the best type of cultured Japanese pearls), for example, there is one cultured pearl necklace for $119 dollars. I was looking for a pearl necklace, but at this site you could also find pearl earrings, pearl bracelets and pearl rings.

I selected this two-stranded Akoya Pearl Necklace, the great thing is that its quality makes it look very expensive (at least $500) but its retail price at this web site is only $199 dollars. I'm sure my mom will love her birthday present (or at least I hope so), she will wonder where did I bought her gift and never even imagine that I bought it at the web.

Product page here

Friday, September 5, 2008

Special report of a New Yorker who visited Mexico City for the 2008 Aids Conference.

Photo of Reforma Avenue taken from the Angel Statue, Mexico City

In a previous post I gave some advice for foreign visitors coming to the 2008 Aids Conference in Mexico City and one of those visitors, Shawn M. from New York, wrote an incredible report about his experience at Mexico City:

"Before my trip to Mexico City for the 2008 International AIDS Conference, I must admit I had some negative expectations of my visit. As an uninformed American who has never visited, I only heard of the negative aspects of Mexico---kidnappings, drug cartels, extreme poverty, corrupt police, and so on. This was compounded due to the fact I would be traveling to the conference alone (and staying in a "budget" hotel, the Hotel Fontan).

My flight was delayed out of Dallas to Monterrey, which forced the airline to board myself and 4-5 other passengers in a hotel for the evening and catch a morning flight to Mexico City. Even worse, the airline lost my poster tube containing the poster I was to display at the conference, which I had checked as a 2nd luggage piece. These things happen, I guess! So it took me 2 hours and lots of inquiries at different offices to finally find my poster tube at the airport in Mexico City. My pre-paid shuttle service from the airport waited for me during this time, with no complaints or problems. I was very grateful for that, to say the least. When I tried to check into my hotel, the concierge could not find my reservation for almost 30 minutes, until a manager came along and resolved the problem. The floor I was on was under construction, which I had somewhat expected, having read reviews of Fontan to that effect. My room was very basic---again, this did not surprise me since I only paid $46/night. Besides, I was there for work and didn't need anything fancy anyway. The staff at Fontan were great, and offered very friendly service. The breakfast buffet was good too----offering a wide variety of foods each morning. The only negative though was me getting locked INSIDE my hotel room by a jammed door that would not open! It took the night manager and a maintenance worker over an hour to get the door open, but I took it all in stride. After all, that's why they're renovating, right?!

Now, enough of these "negative" experiences and onto the city itself. I expected to see a lot more impoverished Mexicans in the streets than I actually encountered. My first impression was, "Wow, this city is a lot more cosmopolitan than I expected!" This is coming from someone who lives in New York, so I consider myself an urban dweller and fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of urban living. I did see some questionable neighborhoods on my way from the airport to my hotel, but my neighborhood (Avenue de la Reforma, near Hidalgo Metro Station) felt safe to walk around and explore.

I met some other conference delegates at my hotel, who I went out with and explored the neighborhood. We ate at a decent restaurant (the name escapes me), and even had some street food as well, which was absolutely delicious and dirt cheap. I had 5 tacos for 15 pesos, which is about $1.50 US. There's a similar eatery in the Spanish Harlem (El Barrio) neighborhood of New York that sold mini tacos for $2 apiece, so the price difference was great. I absolutely love authentic Mexican food, and was happy to eat at different places throughout the trip. I even had enchiladas with a mole sauce from a 7-11 near my hotel and even THAT was good! I was also pleased that cigarettes were only 25 pesos ($2.50/pack) and Coronas were 7.50 (about 75 cents US) each. As someone who went to Mexico City on a budget, I was pleased that I didn't have to spend much for things like food, taxis, riding the subway, and yes, even cigarettes and beer.

Traffic to and from the conference was terrible. It took a minimum of 1 hour to get to Centro Banamex from Hotel Fontan. It was actually a wiser choice to catch the 2 train from Hildago to Panteones Station and then take a conference shuttle rather than take a taxi the whole way. That's what I did most of the time. When I wasn't at the conference, I usually spent time at my Hotel or at a local internet cafe across the street, where I went online to check my email and browse the web for a much cheaper rate than the internet prices that Fontan was offering. Hotel Fontan offered 24 hours of access for $11/day, which I thought was a complete ripoff. The internet cafe was only 20 pesos for one hour, and since I only needed about an hour every other day to go online, that was a much better deal. It was strange though---almost like being in a mechanic's garage (no doors, completely visible to the street) and checking my email on very old computers. But the internet speeds were great, and some PCs even had Firefox installed on them (a sure sign that someone knows what they're doing).

I am gay, so I HAD to check out Zona Rosa, even if I was by myself. I didn't stray from Reforma too far, but was able to find a great corner bar called Papi's Fun Bar near the Angel statue, about one or two blocks off of Reforma. Since I don't speak Spanish (or very little of it anyway), I walked up to anyone who was speaking English and introduced myself. There were a great mix of locals, conference delegates, and even a few expats at this bar. The music was great, the crowds were friendly and open, and the drinks were cheap. I was surprised by how openly gay the bars in Zona Rosa were, given that Mexico City is a Catholic country. But then again, I read before my visit that Mexico has taken great strides to be more gay friendly, and there was no evidence here to the contrary. I also noticed the locals in Zona Rosa and the surrounding area were very good dressers, again attesting to the cosmopolitan impression I had when first arriving. I also noticed a lot of women with very young children out on street corners selling candy and other personal effects, especially in Zona Rosa, so I suppose this is a prime area for panhandling and getting income from tourists.

I stayed out until 4am one night at Papi's Fun Bar, hanging out with delegates and two Mexican locals I met there. It was a great time. Walking home from Papi's took about 20 minutes, but it didn't seem threatening, even that late at night. I noted the city's traffic levels were much lower than during the day, yet still pretty busy. And there were dozens of moped drivers gearing up to deliver the day's newspapers, all zipping off into the night after stacking papers on their bikes, which I was happy to witness.

All in all, I left with a very different impression of Mexico City, and vowed to return on my own time for more touring and exploration. I never got the chance to visit Zocalo Square, which I regret. I never made it to the Pyramids, either, or the Archeological Museum. There's tons I would have liked to have seen, but I attended the conference every day and didn't get back to my hotel until around 7 or 8 each night.

If you're wondering about the conference as well, let me just say it was amazing. It was my first AIDS conference, and as a young researcher I was happy to have the opportunity to attend and present a project there. At first, it was a little overwhelming, finding my way to the Centro Banamex, checking in, and so on. The sheer size of it all was daunting. I've heard estimates of 22,000 attendees this year. Needless to say, there was tons to see and do!

I'm thankful to have visited Mexico City, and will definitely visit again. It's a beautiful city. I'm know it has its problems, but don't let that scare you from visiting! I think next time though, I'll splurge on a better hotel :) "


-Shawn M., New York, USA

I want to thank my firs guest writer, Shawn M. for his great feedback. I hope this report encourage more people to visit my home town, Mexico City.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ecotourism: Rafting in Veracruz, Mexico.

If you are looking for some adventure in Mexico I could recommend you Veracruz as a great destination for ecotourism. Definitely one of the most adventurous trips in my life, rafting in level 3-4 rapids was quite thrilling (you could see me screaming in the image above, I am the one in the middle with white helmet).

Some History:
The city of Veracruz is a major port city and municipality on the Gulf of Mexico in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The metropolitan area is Mexico's First largest City on the Gulf coast (after Veracruz Tampico and Ciudad del Carmen) and an important port on Mexico's east coast. It is located 105 km (65 mi.) along Federal Highway 140 from the state capital Xalapa, and is the state's most populous city, with a population of 444,438 in the city and 512,310 in the municipality, according to the 2005 census. It is often referred to as "Puerto de Veracruz" to distinguish it from the state. The people of Veracruz are known as Jarochos. It is also referred as the Four Times Heroic City after resisting various invasions, two from France (the Pastry War and the French intervention in Mexico) and two from the USA, (the Siege of Veracruz and the 1914 US occupation).

Some Culture:
The city is known for its rich traditions of music, including marimba bands, danzón and comparsa. A special kind of music called son jarocho, a mix of Mexican folk music and Cuban son, was developed in southern Veracruz state, in and around Veracruz, Veracruz. La Bamba is the most famous example of son jarocho. An equally rich dance tradition parallels Veracruz's unique musical styles.
In downtown Veracruz, a large marble-tiled zócalo, called the Plaza de Armas or Plaza Lerdo, is the heart of the city's lively nightlife. It is lined with arcades that house bars and cafes. On a nearly nightly basis large groups of people sit outside in the plaza enjoying food, drinks and cigars, while they watch musicians and dancers that perform in the square. Veracruz's 18th century cathedral and 17th century Palacio Municipal are also located on the plaza.
The yearly Carnaval festival in Veracruz, a nine-day party in February or March, is the most spectacular festival of its kind, and it's also the oldest organized Carnaval in Mexico. The city also celebrates a yearly Afrocaribeño festival in July. These festivities illustrate the fact that the city is in many ways more connected to Caribbean culture than that of inland Mexico.
The "Malecón" harborfront walk along the docks draws many tourists, more from within Mexico than foreigners. The city has several beaches as well, like Villa del Mar and Mocambo.


Ecotourism:
Ecotourism in Veracruz is very popular, there are a lot of adventure travel agencies with a lot of different activities. I would like to share what I experienced during my trip to Veracruz. Six friends and I went to Veracruz by car from Mexico City and stayed at a local hotel (more like apartments, suites). We booked the eco-adventure package from Mexico City, and signed up for a one day visit with three activities: rafting, zip-lining and cliff-hanging.

The adventure began at a little town called Jalcomulco (we actually drove there but there is specialized transportation that will take you from Veracruz to Jalcomulco as part of your tour), where we arrived in the morning and got to "La Villa" Hotel, local headquarters of Ecco Sports (the adventure travel agency we booked). The guides gave us a crash course about the safety equipment and about security guidelines (what to do in case of an accident, wich I had) and explained us what was the plan for the day.

Rafting:
A van took us some miles up the valley and left us at the river bank where the rafts were, we put on the vests, helmets and took the paddles. We were separated in to two rafts, two friends and I in one and 4 more friends in the other one, also with one guide in each raft (see picture above). One of the guides told us that it was raining season (April-May) and that the river was very wild, with level 3-4 rapids. It was an unforgettable experience, at the beginning things were very calmed but I was feeling the adrenaline build up until we got to the first set of rapids, the guide was directing our paddling and everything went well except for a wild rapid where I fell into the water, thank god I was using a helmet and vest because I felt a lot of rocks hitting my body and head. I survived but after a while my knee was hurting like hell, and hurt for days. Ten or fifteen minutes later we got to very calm water, with a lot of caves, where we stopped and got out of the raft and into the water, we swam for a while and tried diving from the rocks above. After the break we continued our journey downstream and paddled through more rapids, in the way we saw some tramps (made with wood sticks) that locals use to fish shrimp. After a while we got to another riverbank where we got out of the water and carried the raft to the shore (and there was the moment when I felt the pain in my knee caused by the weight of my body out of the water). We left the raft and safety equipment there and walked back to the hotel (about quart of a mile from the river bank). The original plan was trail biking to the zip-lining site ,but we wanted to get there fast so there will be enough time left for cliff-hanging, so we drove there by car.

Zip-lining:
A zip-line (also known as tyrolean crossing) consists of a pulley suspended on a cable mounted on an incline. They are designed to enable a user propelled by gravity to traverse from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable, usually made of stainless steel, by holding on or attaching to the freely moving pulley. Ecco-Sports have two different zip-line sites, one is the "Tirolesa de Río" with four stations, two crossing the river (see picture above); and the "Tirolesa de los mangos" with 6 stations crossing a little forest of mango trees. Getting to the first station (we chose the Mango trees route) was a little tricky for me because of my hurt knee but once I was hanging on the cable everything got easier. It is a thrilling experience, with great views and a powerful feeling of freedom.

Nearby the zip-line site there is a cliff where my friends got equipped and ready for the descent (I couldn't join them because of my injured knee). The descent by rope is at a natural rock wall with a height of 45 meters (about 150 feet). Even though this activity seems very dangerous it is in fact very safe, guides are very experimented and keep you safe with a safety rope in case you fall. My friends told me that it was a very exiting experience with a a great view of the forest.

There are a lot of activities at Ecco Sports like the three already mentioned and others like hiking, trail biking, and the "Temazcal" (see picture above). The Temazcal has its origin in Mexico's ancient history, and its name derived from the Nahuatl word "temazcalli" which means "the bath house". It could be constructed with adobe, volcanic rocks or even with tree branches and animal fur. It represents the four elements (earth, water, wind and fire) and has a rounded form that also represents infinity or mother earth's womb. Hot rocks are placed in a hole at the middle of the temazcal and water with herbs is added, creating pleasant and relaxing vapors (like a sauna) inside. People gather around the center of the temzacal and participate in the relaxing experience. There are temazcales (plural of temazcal) where a spiritual ritual takes place and tries to establish an intimate contact with Earth and Nature. If you are interested in ancient rituals and culture, joining a Temazcal is very advisable.

Besides ecotourism there are a lot of places to visit in Veracruz. Local beaches are not as beautiful as beaches in Acapulco or Cancun principally because they are very rocky. For tourists I will recommend the beach called "Mocambo" where all the big hotels are, it is a very exclusive and beautiful beach. Other interesting sites are "La Plaza de Armas" (where you could find the 18th century Cathedral), "el Malecón" (harbor front walking path) and the most famous coffeehouse in Veracruz, the "Café de la Parroquia" where you could taste the traditional "lechero" which consists of expresso coffee mixed (at your table) with steamed milk.

If you have any doubts or need information please leave a comment below (also if you have visited Veracruz please tell us how it went).


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Palacio de Bellas Artes: Mexico City's Opera House

click the image to enlarge

History:

Palacio de Bellas Artes ("Palace of Fine Arts") is the premier opera house of Mexico City. The building is famous for both its extravagant Beaux Arts exterior in imported Italian Carrara's white marble and its murals by Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco.
During the late 19th century and the first years of the 20th century, during Porfirio Díaz's 30-year rule of Mexico, there was a marked tendency to imitate European art, styles and customs. Following this tendency, a new Teatro Nacional (National Theater) was planned and the construction of the new building began on October 1, 1904. The plans were created by the Italian architect Adamo Boari, using state-of-the-art technology as was common in European theaters.
Construction was originally scheduled to be finished by 1908; however, it was delayed by problems with Mexico City's soil, which is muddy and led to the gradual subsidence of the building. The construction site was chosen by President Porfirio Díaz because it was located downtown, on an elegant park, and face-to-face with the then tallest buildings in the city (Torre Latinoamericana) , but the choice was not so appropriate since the weight of the building is so massive that it has been sinking a few centimeters every year since the completion of its construction.
Things got a little more complicated with the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. Boari left Mexico in 1916 and construction was virtually stopped until 1932, when works were resumed under Mexican architect Federico Mariscal. Completion took place in 1934 but the square with gardens and pegasus statues, devised by Boari, was not completed until 1994.

Interesting info:

Diego Rivera's "Man at the Crossroads" mural was originally painted for the Rockefeller Center in New York City. Rivera had finished two thirds of the mural when the Rockefellers objected to an image of Lenin in the mural. When Rivera refused to remove Lenin, his commission was canceled and the mural was destroyed. Rivera, in response, repainted the mural in a smaller scale at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in 1934 and renamed it "Man, Controller of the Universe".

Nowadays the theater is used for classical music, opera and "Baile Folklórico" (folk dance, see video below). A distinctive feature of the theater is its stained glass dome representing a volcano and the valley of Mexico. It is the home of Mexico's National Symphony Orchestra, the Bellas Artes Orchestra, the Bellas Artes Chamber Orchestra, the National Dance Company, and the Bellas Artes Opera.

The Palacio de Bellas Artes has been used as a site for art expositions from Mexican artists such as Frida Kahlo. The Palacio de Bellas Artes also hosted the premiere of the film "Frida".

The Palacio de Bellas Artes has two museums: the Palacio de Bellas Artes Museum and the Arquitechture Museum. Alongside the Palace is the subway station called "Palacio de Bellas Artes". As mentioned above, the Torre Latinoamericana (Latinamerican Tower) is located across the street and has an amazing view of the city and the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

For more info visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes official web page.
Also visit the Bellas Artes youtube channel for more videos.

Here is a Mexican Folk dance video:



Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Naica: a crystal cave hidden for years in Mexico


This recently (in 2000) discovered crystal cave is located in the state of Chihuahua, northern Mexico. The three caves are located at 290 meters below the surface, and are part of a phreatic system of thermal waters, which allowed the growth of the crystals. The Naica official site is well documented and in English language, so I will like to share the link and let you explore this amazing place.

Some text from the site:

"Hidden 300 meters below the earth, Naica’s Cave of Crystals has waited until now to show its magnificent beauty. A big geode of red walls filled with selenite crystals or “moon stone”, is so named because of its color, brilliance, and transparency. Tranquil and silent this womb-like cavity originated the gradual growth of crystals, lulled by the ripples of water in the heat and darkness during more than one million years.

Captivating us with its brilliance, size, and history, we discover a place with an ice-like appearance, in contrast to its deadly heat, in a strange and inhospitable environment. Its beauty moves us and allows us to recover our capacity to contemplate and admire nature.

Naica is a voyage to the interior of the earth but also to the interior of ourselves. It invites us to comprehend its true significance and also leads us to a relevant debate about our relationship with nature and our planet."


Visit Naica web page to learn more about it's history and watch it's mind blowing photo gallery.

Source and Images: Naica Project

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Aids 2008 Conference in Mexico City: some advice for tourists.


About the Conference (text from the official site):

"AIDS 2008 will provide many opportunities for the presentation of important new scientific research and for productive, structured dialogue on the major challenges facing the global response to AIDS. Conference organizers are developing a wide variety of session types that meet the needs of various participants and support collective efforts to expand delivery of HIV prevention and treatment to communities worldwide. Central to many of these sessions will be the transfer of knowledge and sharing of best practices.

In addition to the conference sessions there are a number of activities, including satellite meetings, exhibitions, the Global Village and the Cultural Programme, that are integral to delegates’ experience at the conference.

The International AIDS Society is pleased to announce that the AIDS 2008 programme is accredited for 28 credits by the European Union of Medical Specialists-European Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (UEMS-EACCME). The UEMS-EACCME, through an agreement with the American Medical Association (AMA), guarantees a transfer of CME credits for participants working and practicing in the United States.

As in accordance with their statutes, the UEMS-EACCME guarantees that all accredited CME activities at AIDS 2008 are of a high educational standard and that that they are free of all commercial or individual forms of bias. Delegates should claim credits only for sessions actually attended. A CME booth will be set up at the conference venue where certificates of CME credit can be obtained by medical professionals seeking them."

The news are that this year the AIDS 2008 Conference will be in Mexico City (3-8 of August 2008). As a Mexican I will like to share some safety advice and destinations with the tourists coming to Mexico City during the conference. Maybe the best approach for doing this is through an example; one of my blog's visitor emailed me asking for advice so I made a map with some places to visit and gave him some safety advice. Below is the map, click to enlarge:


For general security guidelines please visit one of my previous post. The example map is for tourists staying at the Fontana Hotel or any other hotel nearby (in the Av. Paseo de la Reforma vicinity). I painted some red dotted lines in the map, going beyond those limits will be a little dangerous, but if you stay at wide streets at daylight you will be ok. One of the most important advice is not to use regular taxis but "de sitio" taxis which are more expensive but safe. Arriving at the airport use only authorized transportation (buy tickets at international gate's exit) and ask hotel personal about these special taxis called "de sitio".

In the map, marked with numbers are:
  1. The Conference Venue, Centro Banamex, located at 311 of Conscripto Avenue.
  2. "La Condesa" district, there you will find many small restaurants and bars, gardens and some "Soho" like shops. At Mazatlan and Michoacan (and Nuevo Leon) streets you will find a bunch of bars and places to eat and a lot of night life. This district at daylight and until 10 pm is fairly safe.
  3. "Polanco" district is full of expensive shops (designer clothing and accesories), nice gardens, a lot of restaurants (expensive an inexpensive ones), and Masaryk Avenue is great for walking and visiting more exclusive and sofisticated places. Masaryk Avenue is quite safe at daylight and fairly safe at night.
  4. "Antara Polanco" Mall. Inside this Shopping Center you would find fine restaurants and a food court, a lot of different shops (Sony Shop, Armani, Sharper Image, Swarovsky, Body Shop, Zara, Berger jewlery, and more), a Cinema (movie theatres) and a electronic casino called "Playcity". Inside the mall you will be absolutely safe, stores close at 9 pm, but restaurants will be open till midnight.
  5. World Trade Center, Mexico, where you would find a Cinema, some small shops, some restaurants and few bars. This a very transited area and inside the WTC you would be very safe, an at nearby streets it is fairly safe.
  6. "Chapultepec" district. In this green area you would find the "Chapultepec Zoo", the Antropology Museum, a photographic exposition along Reforma Avenue (big images at the street with text insets about Mexico's History and Culture), the Chapultepec Castle, Botanical Garden, the Chapultepec Lake (and the "El Lago" restaurant). Nearby is the Hard Rock Cafe Mexico but I would recommend to visit this district at daylight and take good care of your camera and other belongings, visiting this area at night is not advisable.
Some general (and safety) advice:
  • At Reforma Avenue "Tourism Police" could be found, and could be identified by a white badge across their chest. They are supposed to speak English but I would not count on that one, however you could ask for help or information.
  • Avoid buying things at the street (these are illegal parlors) try to find a little stores like Seven Eleven, or the Mexican version called "OXXO" or "Super-K" if you need to buy some water, soft drinks, fast food or anything else.
  • Never count money at the street
  • Avoid "flashy" equipment or watches, keep your camera or video equipment in a bag and not hanging around your neck.
  • If you need to use the subway please research your route in advance, in order to have a safe trip avoid direct eye contact with people ( I know, sounds awful, but it works keeping you out of any trouble) or being noisy.
  • Never drink tap water, always drink bottled water.
  • Try to look confident and never look lost, you could ask for directions but don't tell people you are lost.
  • In general young wealthy (well dressed) people speak English and will be glad to help you, but if someone offers you to give you a lift wherever you are going maybe the best thing to do is to decline the offer politely; getting in to unknown people's car is always dangerous.
  • wash your hands frequently and before eating anything, try to carry a hand sanitizer.
Costs:
  • Authorized airport transportation to your hotel will cost between $20 to $30 dollars.
  • The one way trip in "sitio" taxi from your hotel to the Centro Banamex will cost between $4 and $ 6 dollars (regular taxis will cost between $3 to $5 dollars but are not as safe).
  • A complete meal will fluctuate between $6 to $20 dollars (or more, depending the type of restaurant, eat at the street at your own risk).
  • A 20 oz. Coca-Cola will cost about 70 cents.
  • A quart of bottled water about 50-80 cents.
  • A beer will cost between $2 and $ 4 dollars, other drinks are from $4 to $9 dollars
  • Marlboro or Camel cigarretttes (for smokers) will cost about $ 2.50 dollars.
  • A subway ticket is 20 cents of a dollar
During the time of the Conference we will be expecting a lot of tourism so I hope that police will be reinforced to protect everyone. Don't be scared or anxious about coming to Mexico City, it is a great place, full of culture and good people, I hope you enjoy your trip to my dear Country.

Don't forget to visit the Aids 2008 International Conference web page it is full of information about the conference and about Mexico.

For any doubt, or any feedback please leave a comment or send me an email.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tequila Exrpess: a train travel through time.


The spirit named Tequila is world known but not many people know the region were it is produced: Jalisco, Mexico. The name of the spirit actually came from the little town called Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico. The best way of knowing this region is by the tour called "Tequila Express". In this tour you will travel by train to the "Hacienda San José del Refugio" were Tequila is produced in the traditional way (since 1820). The train has 4 cars with a capacity of 68 tourists, all equiped with: AC, restrooms, music, security, medic service, English speaking guides and Live "Mariachi" music.

Itinerary:
  • 10:00 am - Check in
  • 10:15 am - A welcome with Mariachi
  • 10:30 am - Train boarding (at Guadalajara, Jalisco)
  • 12:45 pm - Arrival to Amatitán Station
  • 1:00 pm - Tour to Hacienda San José del Refugio in small groups, to the brewery (tequila tasting), to the museum of tequila brewing, presentation of a video explaining the tequila production process and a tour to the "Casa Grande" (big house).
  • 2:20 pm - Traditional food tasting buffet
  • 3:30 pm - Artistic variety: Mariachi, folkloric ballet, traditional singers, "charrería" tricks (like rodeo rope tricks) and open dance floor for everyone.
  • 5:30 pm - Trip to the Amatitán Station
  • 6:20 pm - Train boarding to Guadalajara, Jalisco.
  • 8:00 pm - Arrival at Guadaljara Station

Mariachi musicians


Traditional Tequila brewery


Folklore ballet


Hacienda San José del Refugio

Recommendations:

Wear comfortable cloths and shoes, have breakfast in advance, bring your camera and be at the Guadalajara Station (Washington Avenue and Independencia street) by 10:00 am with your tickets ready. Pets and weapons are not allowed in the train.

For more information visit: www.tequilaexpress.com.mx
(Phone number: 01800 5939720)

Tickets could be purchased at any Ticketmaster dealer in Mexico. If you are visiting Mexico City you could ask for information about a complete tour at this addresses:

Trenes y otros servicios S. de RL de CV
Praga 27, Col Juárez
México, D.F.
C.P. 06600,
Phone: (52 55) 52072258
Fax: (5255) 52077154

Cóndor Verde Travel
México Incoming Operador
Insurgente Sur 1833-4 with Juventino Rosas No 118
Colonia Guadalupe Inn. México, D.F.
Phone: 5255- 5663-3512, 5661 0925

Information in Guadalajara, Jalisco at:

Cámara Nacional de Comercio de Guadalajara, Delegación Centro Histórico
Morelos #395 altos with Colón street
Centro Histórico de Guadalajara
Phone: 0133-3614-3145 y 397

Costs (prices): about $90 dollars for each adult and about $ 50 dollars per child ( 6 to 11 years old), child under 5 years old without cost.

Hotels recommended at Guadalajara Jalisco:

Hotel Aranzazu Catedral serán atendidos por la Señorita Marisol Ribera
www.aranzazu.com.mx
mribera@aranzazu.com.mx
01800-9000900

Hotel Misión Carlton
Gerente de ventas, Señor Sergio Alarcón
www.hotelesmision.com
s_alarcón_j@hotmail.com
01800-9676400

Enjoy your trip.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Security guidelines for tourists visiting Mexico City


If you are planning to visit Mexico City maybe you have heard rumors or stories about Mexico being a dangerous travel destination. First of all Mexico City is one of the largest and most populated cities in the world so you may expect the inherent problems of a big city like New York for example. I have been a Mexico's City resident all my life so I believe I know one thing or another about keeping myself safe in the city, hence I will like to share some advice or safety guidelines to keep you safe during your visit to this great country:

- Arriving at the airport use only authorized taxis.

- Try not to look like a typical tourist: no matter the climate you would rarely see residents using shorts in the city, jeans and trousers are more common.

- watch your belongings at all times and try no to be too flashy about them, expensive equipment will be a big temptation for thieves. Place any camera or electronic equipment in a bag while not in use.

- walk on busy streets (not to busy though) in daylight and avoid walking in streets at night, if you have to, look for well-lit streets.

- Before exploring unknown zones of the city ask hotel personnel if those places are safe to visit.

- In daytime you may use hotel transportation or taxis parked outside the hotel, at night use private taxis called "de sitio", using regular taxis is not advisable for tourist. Public transportation like "MetroBus" and the subway ("Metro") are relatively safe during the day.

- On the streets never accept or pay for unrequested services. I sometimes call Mexico City the "gratuity land" because there are infinite unrequested services, like people in the street that will help you park and watch your car (suposedly), people thay will offer help carrying your shopping bags or luggage (very dangerous) or any type of service in exchange of money.

- when traveling by car, lock your doors and keep your windows closed.

- If you need to use a ATM machine or bank services try to use the ones inside shopping centers or Malls.

- If you want to party at night try to visit well known zones like "la Condesa", "Coyoacán", "San Angel", "Altavista", "San Jerónimo", "Insurgentes Sur", "Polanco" or "La Roma" and try not to drink to much.

- Never count money in the street, if you notice any strange situation or if someone is bothering you, just enter any store or shopping center and ask the shopkeeper for help.

- The best money exchange rate is at the airport or at international banks like HSBC.

- The best first approach for visiting important tourist sites is to use the "Turibus" (Touristic Bus) service.


I'll try to keep this post updated with new security advice. Soon I'll be posting about places to visit in Mexico City.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Arroz con leche: a clasic mexican dessert


"Arroz con leche" means rice with milk and it is a very common dessert in Mexico. It is easy to prepare and very inexpensive.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups of white rice (previously washed with fresh water)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 8 cups (2 quarts) of milk
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon (or grounded cinnamon)
  • raisins (optional)
Preparation:
  1. Put the milk to boil and add cinnamon sticks (or grounded, half a tablespoon), then add rice and stir constantly until the rice is soft, cook at high or medium heat, don't cover.
  2. Add sugar and keep stirring, cook on high until milk is reduced and rice could be seen on the surface.
  3. Put it on a serving plate, or in individual dessert plates and add some grounded cinnamon on top before serving (look the picture for suggested serving).
It will make 4 big servings and you could eat it warm or cold. I like it warm but all my family like it cold (try it both ways and decide which one you like it more) . It could be decorated with raisins on top or with a cinnamon stick.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site


This year UNESCO included San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in the World Heritage List. San Miguel is located in Guanajuato, Mexico, at 260 Km (about 162 miles) Northwest from Mexico City (between 3 to 4 hours by car or bus). GPS: 20°55′N 100°45′W / 20.917, -100.75. The municipality rests at 1,870 m (6,140 ft) above sea level and over an area of 1,537.19 km² (593.51 sq mi). According to the 2005 census, the municipality of Allende had a total of 139,297 inhabitants.

In the 1950s, San Miguel de Allende became a destination known for its beautiful colonial architecture and its thermal springs. After World War II San Miguel began to revive as a tourist attraction as many demobilized United States GIs discovered that their education grants stretched further in Mexico at the U.S.-accredited art schools, the privately-owned Instituto Allende, founded in 1950, and the Bellas Artes, a nationally chartered school.

American ex-servicemen first arrived in 1946 to study at the art school. By the end of 1947, Life magazine assigned a reporter and photographer to do an article on this post-war phenomenon. A three-page spread appeared in the January 5, 1948, edition under the headline “GI Paradise: Veterans go to Mexico to study art, live cheaply and have a good time.” This was possible when apartments rented for US$10 a month, servants cost US$8 a month, rum was 65 cents a quart and cigarettes cost 10 cents a pack.

As a result of the publicity, more than 6,000 American veterans immediately applied to study at the school. Stirling Dickinson thought that San Miguel, which then had a population of fewer than 10,000, could only handle another 100 veterans, bringing the student body to around 140.



La Parroquia, Church of St. Michael the Archangel


Local Camping Site in San Miguel:

This year I traveled to San Miguel and stayed at "La Siesta" hotel and RV Park, located at exit 82 to Celaya ( 20°54.005′N 100°45.12′W, phone number: (011-52) 415-152-0207). This campground provides facilities for tent camping, RV's and cabins. There are 60+ pitches that includes facilities such as: water connection, sewer connection and AC power connection, also in common areas you could find restrooms, showers, laundry, restaurant, swimming pool and some vending machines. There is no Wi-Fi but sometimes there are unlocked wireless networks that you can join to. Restrooms and Showers are cleaned twice a day so they are mostly clean. Pitches (or tent camping space) are $17 dollars for 2 persons , per night and hotel rooms are about $60 dollars per night. Dogs are allowed (restrictions apply), security available, very calmed and spacious place. Tourists staying at La Siesta are mostly Canadian and US citizens and behave respectfully and friendly.

La Siesta RV pitches

La Siesta swimming pool

For more information in english of San Miguel de Allende click here.

Chapultepec Zoo, Mexico City

This afternoon I went with my girlfriend to visit one of Mexico's City zoos named "Zoológico de Chapultepec" (Chapultepec means in Nahuatl "The hill of crickets"). It was constructed in 1923 by the biologist Alfonso L. Herrera. The Zoo had some good years between 1950 and 1960 but it became very popular since 1975 when China gave Mexico as a gift a pair of giant pandas. Since then 8 pandas were born in Mexico's Zoo, being the first zoo to successfully bred pandas in captivity outside of China. Between the years 1992 and 1994 the zoo was restructured as part of the project "Rescate ecológico del zoológico de Chapultepec" (Ecological rescue of Chapultepec Zoo). There are species from around the world and some local species (endemic species) like the Mexican wolf, Ajolote, Xolosquincle dog (hairless Mexican dog) and the Jaguar which is the zoo's logo.
The zoo has free admission, with about 5.5 million visits per year expect a lot of people, so getting a good spot for taking pictures is quite a task. There is a reptile section with a cost of $35 pesos (about $3.40 dollars) and the restrooms are clean but you have to pay $ 4 pesos (about 40 cents) to use them. Parking is nearly impossible but there is a subway station near the zoo entrance.

I took some pictures that I will like to share:






For more info and pictures visit this Wikipedia article of the zoo.

Official Chapultepec Zoo website.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tepoztlán: a small town with huge culture.

Tepoztlán means in Nahuatl (old Mexican language) "The place of the copper hatchet" and it is localized 71 Km (44 miles) South of Mexico City. This small town with a population of 36,135 + is full of culture and many places to visit. There are camping sites, restaurants, shops, museums , an ex-convent and some local attractions like carnivals, archeological sites and an ice cream parlor called "Tepoz Nieves" with a wide and exotic variety of ice cream flavors.



This is a nice view (above) from the "Exconvento de la Natividad" or Ex-convent of Christmas which was a convent and now is a museum with a great view of the "Cerro el Tepozteco" or Tepozteco Hill (below).



This is another view (above) of the central courtyard of the "Exconvento de la Natividad".

For more information visit Tepoztlán webpage or leave a comment with your questions.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My first MexCity View Post, Mexico City overview.

Welcome everyone, this is my first post to MexCity Views a blog dedicated to Mexico City. I will be posting about news and views of Mexico; Mexican culture, food, traveling destinations and more.

Meanwhile I will like to share with you this youtube video with astonishing images (from an helicopter) of Mexico City interlaced with general info of this multicultural city.