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Previously posted in www.planningmexico.com

The last couple of month has been very busy and post updates has been limited, at best.

A few weeks ago I took a break from a busy schedule going on a long weekend in Lisbon with miss Z.
This is a beautiful city with interesting architecture strongly influenced by the moors, but at this trip the resignation was the most notable. Portugal is under pressure of the Euro crisis and it becomes very clear as a visitor.
I have tried to write this post in many different ways, but to much time has past and the feelings and impressions I had walking the empty streets are gone, so I will leave it to the walls to tell the story.


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Previously posted in www.planningmexico.com

This pearl in in the south of Estado de Mexico is truly magical.

Malicalco

Photo: Dan Freed

We are about to see a very interesting piece of Mexican history.
First, to little surprise, there is stairs. Everything you want to see in Mexico is up, you have to walk up high mountains, volcanoes or, as in this case, steep stairs. 358 stairs to be exact. But it is well worth it.


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Previously posted in www.planningmexico.com

A golden part of Mexico

On our road trips around Estado de Mexico we visited another small town in the north –
El Oro. Today not much bigger than a village, but with a rich history.

Just a few decades after its founding in the late 18th century El Oro grew at an impressive rate due to a gold rush. With miners, and all the services and pleasures needed with them, people from all over the world settled here. Mostly English mining companies, but there were also French, Chinese, Norwegian and many more languages spoken on the sloping streets.
Unfortunately we went here on a Sunday, being on vacation you don’t think of what day of the week it is, and the mining museum was closed. The history from the first settler to the peak in the 19th century is said to be well documented and it would have been interesting to see.

Also the magnificent city hall was closed. With the cosmopolitan aura and European influences at the time it is built in the by then popular French architecture style.
Luckily the theater, Teatro Juaréz, was open for visitors. Built in the same way with a French neoclassic facade and an interior leaning towards art nouveau with golden ornaments

Not much have changed from the theaters glory days and you feel history waving when walking among the red dressed chairs. Take a seat on a balcony with closed eyes and you can almost hear the callings for the stars who have enter the scene throughout the ages.
Leaving the theater we were thrown back to the 21st century by the rain which caught up with us again.

Or next stop were the train station, also this were closed Sundays, kept in the original construction it looks like it did when it was built in the end of the 19th century.
In front of the station rest an old train car, today remodelled to a restaurant. Luckily this was open and we got something to eat, coffee and shelter from the rain.

The restaurant is decorated as a small museum, with photos from the golden era everywhere. Old train tickets and pieces of minig equipment is spread out on the walls and between the tables.
When the rain calmed down we went for a walk in the surroundings seeing traces of mining everywhere, 100 years after the mines were tapped out and closed.

Once again the rain cut or trip short. Going back home we leave a golden part of Mexico behind us, a beautiful town now turning to tourism as a mean to survive.

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Previously posted in www.planningmexico.com

“If you want to hear God laugh tell him your plans”

New times, new adventures deserves a new theme.
I was going for a more simple theme, amazing how much code was needed to make something look plain. Of course I could choose one of the hundreds, thousands of theme already existing, but how fun is that? And make adjustments are less complicated if you know how the foundation is build.
At the same time I had an annoying spam attack which had to be taken care of, I tried out a few different solutions until I found a good one. I needed something effective against spam bots without too much of a hassle for real commentators. You see it in the comment form, just copy and paste.
I have been quite busy the last week.

free

Anyway, while this is published I am on my way back home, to my second home – Mexico!
Different from my previous trips to this wonderful country I actually know what to expect this time and I will probably not come back to Sweden with some fun-embarrassing-striking stories.

I do however have something to tell. More of personal information to friends and family.
Not too many of my friends have heard it and no one in my family knows, so this could be a good test to see how many and whom actually reading my blog.
A couple of month ago I had a beer with a friend and of course we spoke about tech, Internet, social media and blogging. The name Planning Mexico was a topic, the name could mean a lot of things, when started this blog is was just another mean for me to write about travel, Latin America, Mexico in general and more specific my plans to move to Mexico.
Well, that have change a little. I have found love in Mexico, as it turns out it seems like we will be living in Sweden.
I can understand that, just to make it clear I do love Mexico, but my Mexico.
My Mexico is that of a tourist, it doesn’t matter whom I spend time with, where I am or which language I talk, I am still a tourist, a foreigner. I can even find it neat to pay an occasional bribe to smooth things over or make things go faster, but live with it every day is probably not that fun.
Further more my woman works, among other things, with womens rights, holding seminars for local authorities, corporations, communities. She really see and hear the dark side of Mexico, her work is much needed, but not always appreciated. Even threats have occurred.

mexico-women-s-rights

Mexico Women's Rights Pictures & Photos

This is a real Sisyfos work, machismo is deeply rooted in the Mexican culture and system and in a country teared apart by poverty, crime and violence women and children pays the ultimate price with harassment, abuse, rapes and murders.
I have seen how many women are treated, specially service and catering business. Trying to explain for my Mexican friends that they should show some respect they usually look at me as I were from another planet. Which I just as well could be.
I do hope my new love find a way to keep working for equal rights in Mexico even if living in Sweden.

Enough about that, I am on my way to 2 great weeks in paradise with Mexican food, beers and Tequila!

My thoughts goes to my mother, who on her first trip abroad in 34 years, decided to spend her anniversary in Turkey. Go mom!

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Previously posted in www.planningmexico.com

The worst thing about travel is the people you leave behind

This is not an altogether positive post from my latest trip.
To be fair I did go with pretty bad conditions. I only had eight days in Guatemala and I stopped for two nights in my beloved Mexico on the way which very few countries can compare to.
Just to make it clear, I think Antigua is a good city to live in and if you have plans to travel around this beautiful country this is a good starting point, Antigua is in the middle of everything and you can get tours and buses everywhere from here. But for me used to travel off the beaten track, even now in low season, there were to many tourist and with the North Americans and Europeans living here I felt as I could have been in any European tourist destination. I missed the feeling of “real” Guatemala.

It is a beautiful country and my first encounter with Guate was nice. Beside it was clouded, the rain season had a sneak start the evening before I arrived, it was a comfortable climate, warm and not to humid.
Already at the airport you saw the Mayan women in their colorful dresses. I read about it, but I didn’t thought the Mayan culture was this vivid.
A note for travelers, don’t exchange your money on the airport, you must understand that if they shove the exchange offices in your face they probably don’t have the best rates. You even get more Quetzales per dollar in change if you buy an airport coffee.
Transport to Antigua is no problem, if you’re not in a hurry you can check around with the shuttles, but I chose the first one. 10 dollar for over an hour drive is not to bad, seems to be the going price.
Antigua is a picturesque town with the huge volcano Agua throning in the south as a reliable landmark. I was surprised, and a little sad, to see the heavy traffic wearing down the old cobblestone streets. On these narrow streets they were driving pretty hard.
Antigua is a UNESCO world heritage, one would think they should take a little better care of the given heritage.

agua

Volcano Agua Photo>: Dan Freed

I looked up a few hotels before I left and chose Casa Cristina, good stay for the money, small rooms, but clean bed and bathroom, wifi throughout the hotel even in the rooms. All I need for a vacation.
Once settled in I took a walk through the city center. Looking for a bank to get some local currency I asked a man who turned out to be a christian missionary (here I should have suspected something), and he warmly recommended his bank, Banco Reformador, never any lines and fast service.
They ripped me off on 50 dollars, yes I should have payed more attention, but I was tired and hadn’t got grip on Spanish yet, but still… I understand why there is no lines there. Later I heard that the locals don’t use that particular bank.

For the first of two important test I bought a coffee. Sitting in Centro Plaza I enjoyed probably the best coffee I ever had on my trips, but I also got a first glimpse of the poverty in this country, everywhere there were shoe shiners trying to make a living for the day and Mayans trying to sell there textiles. What really hurt was that most of them is just children.

chico

Chico Photo: Dan Freed

One boy in particular got my attention, “Chico,” 11 year old, shining shoes at days and attending schools at nights, at least that what’s he claimed. I really do hope he went to school. When I didn’t want a shoe shine, he asked me for a coffee. Who can say no to a coffee lover, I bought him a cappuccino slushee. After that he find me every time I went down to the plaza and followed me around as a dog. We talked for a couple of times and I heard his story, parents working at the market and with many brothers and sisters he had to work to help put food on the table, a story he share with a lot of children around here.
One of Chicos friends, a slightly older 13 year old, also shining shoes had a similar but more heart breaking story. As the oldest son he had to work for the family’s survival, when asked where his parents were he said “home”. That makes me angry, I can understand if the mother is home with 5-6 children, but the father should be out working, shining shoes. I heard that many of this children is sent out in the morning and not welcome home until they earned some money, I hope my new found friend wasn’t one of them.
More than once I was asked for something to eat because they hadn’t had breakfast at home.
One day I had a feast for Chico and the whole shoe shining crew, I bought them all a cappuccino slushee with extra cream, the café was packed with children covered in shoe cream and jeans worned from the little stool they sit on all day. For me it was less than an hours salary, for them a day to remember.
I wish more people back home could travel to this part of the world from time to time and they would realize we don’t have that much to complain about.

Two days later I had to checked out from the hotel due to mix up with the rooms. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because of the low season I got a bigger room at a nicer hotel just around the corner for a couple of dollars more. The day after my move a volunteer organization checked-in and filled the hotel, luckily I paid in advanced for the whole stay, nothing they could do about the deal they offered me.

There is plenty of restaurants and bars all around the town, my second important test is the food. Unfortunately I was a little disappointed, the Guatemalan food is good and well-done, but surprisingly blend, I constantly had to ask for salsa picante.
I fast found my favorite bar, Ocelot bar, where I spend most of my evenings. Good beer, nice music and friendly staff. A lot of other travelers and expats to share stories and experiences with. Good times, even if I wasn’t always in the best mood.
Carla, the manager, did her job and gave me the best advice I could get, “You should be in Mexico,” and of course she was right.
It took me a good hour and three phone calls to change my flight, but when done I could really enjoy the last few days in Antigua. My very last day I went to Lake Atitlan to get away from the city and tourist, I just sat by the lake surrounded by mountains and listen to the waves. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day and I didn’t get any good photos.

atitlan

Lago Atitlan Photo: Dan Freed

Then back to Mexico and my love for two days, but that is another story.

The worst thing about travel is the people you leave behind, whether it’s a stranger in a bar you had a good chat with, an 11 year old boy shining shoes or a woman you’ll keep in your heart forever…

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Previously posted in www.planningmexico.com

Life is either a great adventure or nothing. ~Helen Keller

The first trip of the year goes to Maya country, Guatemala.

A beautiful country and undeniable a lot to see if you are interested in culture and history. And for a coffee addict as me it is the place to visit. Unfortunately I am just there for 8 days and will not have time to see that much, I don’t rush around when traveling I take the days as they come.
Of course I will make a stop in Mexico for a day, last year I found a restaurant serving a traditional Swedish dish, Pyttipanna, “put-in-a-pan”. Originally just left overs, but with time it became a dish of its own. It tasted almost as it does in Sweden although one key ingredient were missing so I figure I drop that off before I continue on my new adventures.

What is there to say about Guatemala? (Mom, you can stop reading now).
Some of my friends, they don’t say it flat out, but to judge from their look, think I finally done it. Crossed that border between adventurous to idiot. As they see it, or rather read the news, Mexico is violent enough, now I manage to find an even more violent country to visit. And my boss is a bit worried, probably not that concerned about my personal safety, but to loose a key member of her team.
How bad can it really be? Let’s see what the Swedish embassy [Link to Swedish] have to say about:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings
  • Avoid exposing jewelery and valuables
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash
  • Be mentally prepared for the risk of thefts and robbery
  • Don’t loose your passport

I don’t know, so far it’s pretty standard stuff. But then they go on with places to avoid:

  • In Guatemala City avoid zones 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. counting all 30 zones except 9, 10, 14 and 15. But they have a note to it, even zones 9, 10, 14 and 15 is no longer considered safe.
  • Avoid going to Antigua
  • Avoid Petén
  • Avoid Tikal
  • Avoid Lake Atitlán
  • Avoid climbing Volcanoes
  • Avoid swimming in the Pacific Ocean
  • Avoid driving
  • Avoid local buses
  • Avoid taxis

What is left to do? In short what they say is – Stay at your hotel room, but only if you have a safe. Preferably hide under the bed.

The usual holiday traveler looking for sun and bath would probably choose an other destination. All my trips usually turns in to adventures anyway so I say…

Bring it on, challenge accepted!

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Previously posted in www.planningmexico.com

He who does not travel does not know the value of men ~Moorish proverb

A new year of travel in front of us. In the beginning of a year there is plenty of blogs and sites giving tips and advices of traveling and traveling on a budget. I recommend you at least skim through them if you, like me, are adventurous and looking for new ideas and destinations.
I can only share my experiences and go-to sites but there are many others, much depending on where in the world you live. And what we see as budget-travel is different for all of us. For example I will never fly AirFrance again and am happy to pay 50-100 USD extra for another airline, if you don’t have any preferences there could be good savings checking different airlines to see when and where they have special promotions. I usually stay at hotels, although sometime cheap ones, with my own room even if I could save some money staying at a hostel. You never know what is going to happen, if you get food poisoned you will be glad having your own bathroom.

If your vacation time is flexible travel in low season. In the northern hemisphere we have our summer approximately June-August. And you notice it on the airline fares, from mid-June to mid-August the prices raises through the roof. If you have the possibility go late August-September or in May. Not only do you get a nice deal on the flight, there is less tourists and you have the opportunity to see more of your chosen destination. I don’t know about you but I don’t go to Asia, Africa or South America to meet Europeans or Americans. You also have more leverage to bargain on sight-seeing trips and other activities.
When you decided when and where to go there is the question of where to stay. I either book the first one or two nights when I book the flight or I search the net for recommended hotels so I know where to go on arrival, my number one go-to-site is Lonelyplanet. An other good way to receive accommodation tips is twitter and similar sites.
Once there you can take a day to search for other better or/and cheaper hotels.
When you find one or more hotels that seems good check internet for special deals, many hotels have special internet-booking fees. I usually have a netbook traveling, but cyber-cafés are everywhere these days. Find a reliable hotel-booking site, I use Swedish MrJet, a part of ebooker if you travel from elsewhere in Europe. Last year I saved 70 USD per night on a hotel in Mexico city compared to just walk in from the street. This is a good advice for both hotels or a hostels.
Now you have the trip and your bed, my last tip is the food. The domestic food is usually not that expensive and some of the small family owned hole-in-the-wall places have great dishes with a homecooked touch. For me this is a big part of traveling, taste new flavors. After all I don’t go half way around the world to have Swedish meatballs or go to McDonalds. Although last year I made an exception. I found a restaurant in Mexico City serving traditional Swedish Pytt-i-panna. Sitting in the middle of Mexico eating such a Swedish dish felt quite exotic.

pytt

Swedish Pytt i panna Photo: Dan Freed

If you still haven’t decided this years trip Lonelyplanet listed the 10 best valute destinations.

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Previously posted in www.planningmexico.com

New Year’s Day is every man’s birthday. ~Oprah Winfrey

2011 has made its entrance and we start a new count down for a perfect year. I marked all my e-mail as read and my appointments as done, ready to start the year clear.
New years eve were great, old and new friends from all corners of the world. My Spanish friend Susana took on the Latin cape and cooked – plenty. A variety of tasty Spanish dishes and French desserts.

dinner

Dinner and laughs. Photo: Dan Freed

newyear

New years menu. Photo: Dan Freed

Midnight came and went, without any New year resolutions given, not by me anyway. But I promise to be the same charming and humble man I am.

fireworks

Fireworks. Photo: Dan Freed

Event if we had a somewhat warm night, snow dripping from the roofs, I am fed up with this cold and snow. I need to go somewhere warm and that soon.
I will go back to my beloved Mexico in a few months. Just for a week to warm up. Later this year I am thinking of going a bit further south, Guatemala or Costa Rica.
Both beautiful countries with a lot to offer. Both has their pros and cons. It is a hard decision, anyway I am not much for planning anyway. I always have a bag packed with essentials and prefer to just grab it and get to the airport and see where I can find a good deal. I have arrived to a new country with now idea where to spend the night more than once and I love it. It’s not for everyone though and that’s why I prefer to travel alone. Sometimes I book the first night in advance on some cheap hotel, but have everything set for the whole trip, like an all-inclusive or a charter is not my thing. When I travel I like to mix up with the locals and figure out my own way around.
Guatemala or Costa Rica I would like to hear your recommendations.

Meanwhile I am looking forward to a new adventurous year!

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Previously posted in www.planningmexico.com

And some places you been before are so great that you don’t ever mind going back…
~Morgan Freeman

For about a week we had bare ground here in the south of Sweden, it was cold but at least I didn’t have to trudge around in snow or slide down icy roads. Then came Thursday with a blizzard. Friends not living here or not see snow that much thinks it is beautiful and sure enough there was a short lull in the evening where I got some nice photos. Although I can’t stop wonder what I done to deserve go through Dante’s ninth circle of hell again.

All I can do is accept it and look forward. There is still at least 2 more month of winter but I have decided to take a couple of weeks off work in the spring. Go to the sun after a long dark winter feels like the perfect way to kick start life again. Haven’t decided where to go yet though.
A week in the Mediterranean is cheap and hustle free, maybe a bit boring. Then there is a wedding in Guatemala I am invited to, that would be an experience but from Sweden there is 25 to 30 hours trip one way, adds up to 50 hours on planes and airports for a stay of 5-6 days. I would love to see Guatemala but I like to stay for a few weeks and really explore the country. There is a lot of other places I could go but for a short trip I prefer to go somewhere I have been before so I don’t feel I miss something, a place I love and where I have friends to relax with. It’s pretty clear it will be a week or so in Mexico. Only problem I see is jetlag, I’m struck hard by it flying west and I need 4-5 days to get my hours straight. Falling asleep around 7 in the evening is not so fun but even that has it’s upside. I remember my first morning in Mexico, I woke up at 5 and the city was still sleeping. Somewhere I heard an old 78 record playing the same Mexican song over and over, I went by the reception at this cheap hotel I was staying at and the owner was sleeping on the desk. Taking an early morning walk was nice, see the streets evolve from dead silence to the chaos that is Mexican traffic.

Good food, sun, Tequila and friendly people – Now that is a recipe to get life back in the veins again.

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Previously posted in www.planningmexico.com

“Bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire”
~Elvis Presley

Remember the time you went with a roll of film to a photo store and had it developed? I was cleaning out a closet last night and found a box of old photos. Bad quality, a lot of noise, but it was a trip down memory lane. Las Vegas 2001 was fun. I spent a lot of money, met some fun people and saw some impressing sights.
Oh yes, I got married but that’s a sidetrack, and as a true Vegas wedding it didn’t last very long.

One character I remember vividly is ‘Fast Eddie’. Off the strip far from the tourists I met this old school mobster who in his young days knew all the right people. I made the mistake calling him a wise guy (as I said in my previous post I’m not following my own advices about safety). Being in his 70’s he would probably still have taken me out back and beat me up if my newly wedded bride hadn’t been with me, and that is the best case scenario. As the rumor went he had buried bigger and tougher men than me out in the desert.
Luckily I wasn’t alone so I bought him a beer and we sat in the bar talking for hours, I had to keep my voice down because he had to hear what was going on around us at all time, old habits sticks I guess. Apparently Las Vegas was better before, the 60’s was a golden era. For the city or for the mafia I really don’t know, but it was better.

We manage to do some sightseeing too. Among other we saw Grand Canyon, actually flew through the Canyon. Mother earth do know how to create wonders. On the ground we were guided around by Native Americans, nice but so sad to see this once proud people standing on the side of the road selling cheap jewelery.
We were taken to see Eagle rock, a sacred place for the Hualapai people, I can see why. I had some mixed emotions about having it as a tourist trap though, sacred are sacred no matters which God.

Eagle rock - Rocky mountains. Photo: Dan Freed

Eagle rock – Rocky mountains. Photo: Dan Freed

Anyway it was a great trip which had it all. Married in Little White chapel, beer with the mafia, lost all my money (thank you Amex saving my last week) saw Grand Canyon and Hoover dam.
I think I got the most out of Vegas

Have fun, travel and go south. The north is to cold

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