Friday, December 28, 2007

The Free End joins Amazon's Associates Program

Over the past week or so while people were off involved in Christmas shopping and celebrations I have been adding Amazon content to The Free End. As you read down through my posts you will observe Amazon content running down the right hand column. The Amazon text is pretty self explanatory so I won't elaborate here except to say that if you click on a product because you want more information, or want to purchase the product, you will be routed to the site for more information or for order processing.

Some products Amazon displays are automatically chosen by their software based on the text that I have written, the purpose of The Free End and other factors. There are also products that I personally have chosen because I use them, or in the case of books because I have read them or others have recommended them. At the bottom of the page you will find The Free End Store sandwiched in front of the CommunityWalk map of Xalapa. This store section functions as a complete order processing facility. You add desired products to your shopping basket and then checkout and never have to leave The Free End.

Based on feedback I get I will be "tweaking" the content of the store to insure the products you see are appropriate for the site and will be of benefit. I invite you to let me know how you feel about the Amazon upgrade. I continue to look for topics of interest to site visitors.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Internet banking with HSBC

After more than a year in Mexico coping with the inevitable lines at my bank branch (which is no different than other Mexican banks so far as I can tell) I finally committed to working through the signup procedure to gain access to my visa and checking account via the internet. I was resigned to facing a frustrating procedure, but in the event, the process went pretty smoothly. Perhaps this result is a testament to the fact my Spanish is really improving. I was actually able to figure out all the forms displayed and confidently make choices I was offered, or submit information the forms demanded.

Well, wouldn't you know, there was a crucial question on the last step in the process where I was asked to say yea or nay. I worried over that one because had I answered nay, about 45 minutes of suspenseful decision making would have been wasted. Finally, I was confident I understood what the program was asking and haltingly elected yea. Since the question was security related, I´m afraid you will just have to forgive me for not describing the details. If you yourself decide to go for online banking you can sweat that one like I did. Later I was able to confirm with a Mexican friend that I did in fact understand what I was about.

Perhaps one reason I did not have too much trouble with HSBC´s process relates to my long years of experience with home banking, which began almost from the time it was offered by my bank. As an early adopter I recognized there would be benefits but along with that would came some pain. However, because the bank was eager to entice customers into using online banking, when I did encounter problems, bank representatives adopted a very conciliatory attitude. Here in Mexico, I was not sure HSBC would do likewise. I hasten to say I have no complaints with HSBC in over a year doing business with them. The other sticking point, was over account security. Would HSBC provide a secure platform to bank on the web?

My fears are allayed. During the registration process I was subjected to inordinate scrutiny and had to provide three questions that no stranger could successfully devine answers to or devise a program to break on the basis of brute computer power. On top of the multiple security question precautions (which many financial sites are now implementing) HSBC offers a one time password (OTP) device that generates codes to use when accessing their servers. So it seems like everything is up to date in Mexico as far as keeping online financial transactions secure.

If you are still struggling with the cash only way of doing business and are tired of waiting in long lines at the bank, perhaps you should investigate electronic banking here in Xalapa. I can now pay my visa, electric, water, and telephone bills online. Who wants to waste time when they are retired?

Disclaimer: I did not read all ten pages of the contract, but then, I stopped reading financial contracts and web agreements years ago. Why change just because I live in a foreign country and the contract is written in Spanish? Even when agreements are written in English, who can understand the gobbledegook ? Can Spanish gobbledegook be any better?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Western Xalapa and beyond

My bedroom window provides a sweeping view to the West and I have been curious to investigate what the western side of Xalapa is like. So, after reading about the Club Hípico Coapexpan that is out on the extreme western border of Xalapa I decided to drive out there and pin down the exact coordinates for the CommunityWalk map featured on this blog. Now I wish I had gone the day before when there was an international riding competition going on for young riders. The facility is very large, obviously very well financed and even though I have not ridden a horse since I was a teen, intriguing. The next time they hold competitions out there I will make it a point to attend. (For those without cars, I noted there were buses running out in this part of the city.)

Directly across from the club is a gated residential community, which looks pretty toney. From the Google Earth image one can spot a few swimming pools in the backyards of some homes.

Continuing on west from the club the avenue turns into a narrow paved road that meanders through some beautiful countryside. I passed several haciendas, a dairy farm, and eventually wound up at a country resort, Bosque de las Cipreses. Their sign says join them for desayuno on Sunday. Perhaps I will do that and afterwards continue on westward so I can investigate a settlement you can see on the Google Earth image, but that I cannot find on any map. From the Google Earth image I think I can make out a road leading to Coatepec.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Preliminary information about my GPS experience

While attending a conference in New York recently I took the opportunity to buy a GPS unit for my car. The unit I chose was the Garmin Streetpilot, c550, which has been on the market for some time and is therefore dropped in price. My impression is that Garmin is the heavy favorite in the GPS slugfest taking place now. I paid $324 at DigCity in New Jersey, which is a web store. Actually, Pricegrabber was showing a price of $284, but that may have been for a rturned unit that was no longer in stock. Over the years I have had good luck buying tech toys that have been returned. I think many people buy stuff that they simply cannot understand how to use. As long as the web store has a good rep and a good return policy you can save a bunch of money buying returned merchandise.

To go along with the Garmin unit, I purchased a downloadable "global map" of Mexico, surprisingly named "Global Map Mexico", which I think is a product of a Mexican company, but cannot pin that down. The other piece one needs is software to download and upload data to the GPS unit. That software is "MapSource" by Garmin and is free (not to be confused with the version intended for blue water navigation, which requires a payment).

I had the understanding that Global Map Mexico had detailed street information for Veracruz City, Villahermosa and Oaxaca, but if it is there, I cannot find it. The information for Xalapa is very sparse. State route 140 is shown with a few streets simply labeled "Calle de Xalapa", which confused me at first because I thought the map label meant Av. Xalapa. Silly me. Later on I looked at Veracruz City and could see many map lines labled Calle de Veracruz, obviously this is simply a conventional way of labeling streets when the detail is missing.

A thing that really surprised me was that my Garmin seems to have some basic map information for Mexico and indeed many more places. I hasten to add that there is no detail in this "basemap" until you hit the border of the US which has tons of detailed information. Just for the hell of it I asked my unit to route me to an address in San Diego, CA. Using a product feature that lets you simulate the trip, my Garmin promptly instructed me to drive to route (state road) 140. I was then led towards Perote and then into Puebla. I turned of the unit at that point because the simulation was running very slowly and my battery was getting low. I think the fool thing was going to take me through Mexico City, DF. No way, Garmin!

There does not appear to be a lot of map choices for Mexico that show "street level" detail. Nonetheless, I have discovered there is a way to use Google Earth information along with some public domain software to derive detailed maps of just about anyplace on earth. I will be reporting more on this in future posts as I climb the learning curve.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

BBC publishing first person accounts of Tabasco disaster

Here is a link to the BBC website, which features first person accounts.

The Xalapa cable provider, Megacable has not restored CNN to our cable system, so we are relying on BBC and CNN Internet sites for information. CNN has been off the cable for just over two weeks. Perhaps Megacable's search teams are still surveying the cane fields for the the dish that was receiving the satellite feed.

This most recent outage started the night we experienced "frente frio 4"' or as this cold front condition is called, a "norte". I think it is interesting that Mexicans track cold fronts and number them. Sort of says how important these things are to the rhythm of life in Veracruz. As I reported in an earlier blog, wind speeds were up around 60 miles an hour. Besides causing a lot of wind damage here, that weather system was the start of the tragedy down south of Veracruz in Tabasco state.

Living on this side of the border one begins to appreciate why Americans are thought of as shallow, self absorbed, self-centered and indifferent to what happens outside their borders. Since CNN is out of action I watch the American Network, which carries CBS news. During an early morning broadcast November 5, there was a brief, all of ten second report on the flooding in Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco. Take note that the floods have destroyed or severely damaged the homes of 500,000 people. Tens of thousands are still stranded on roof tops or whatever high ground they can find. They lack dry clothing, food, and water. In terms of the area flooded and the lives affected, this flood makes New Orleans pale by comparison. The loss to Mexico is staggering.

But, on the bright side, CBS morning news November 5, gave the story a whole 10 seconds. I know this because I timed the segment. The 30 minute evening news program did not even mention the tragedy.

Ok, we all know that network news in the United States sucks. But if we didn't know this I think the way CBS news reacted to one of the biggest natural disasters to befall our Mexican friends and neighbors tells us something. Maybe, just maybe, we are shallow, self absorbed people.

Friday, November 02, 2007

More bad weather news

I am closely in touch with the recent severe weather events that have battered the eastern coastal states of Mexico this summer and now are extending into the fall. Tonight, it was heartbreaking to witness this evening's television reporting on the current crisis in Tabasco. Even more disheartening is the news that yet another storm is forecast for this weekend.

To the south, the flooding in Villahermosa, Tabasco is already the worst in 50 years. Over one million are homeless and like in Katrina, many are still stranded on roof tops without dry clothing, food, or water as the crisis deepens. Over 20 people have lost their lives, crops are destroyed, and roads and bridges have sustained major damage. For Mexico, the loss is staggering and officials describe this tragedy as the worst natural disaster to ever befall Mexico.

Our Mexican friends, families and neighbors desperately need our generous support. One of the best ways you can help is to contribute to the American Red Cross and specify that you want your donation to go to help Mexican flood victims. I cannot get over the Spanish way of expressing such unfortunates: "damnificados", which I assume translates literally as "the dammed".

As a resident of Mexico for over a year I can testify to the wonderful people I am meeting here and I am deeply saddened to witness their tragedy. Please help. Here is the American Red Cross web site:

If you read Spanish, you can follow local newspaper reports by reading the online editions of Diario Xalapa:

For other towns and cities go here:

I don't know how CNN is reporting this tragedy because my local Megacable service lost CNN two weeks ago during a fierce wind storm that racked Xalapa. I suspect the CNN satellite dish is long gone and they have not managed to install a replacement.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Even more spectacular than Naolinco

To approach Pico de Orizaba on the route chosen for our drive on October 28, 2007 we went south from Xalapa to Coatepec and then continued generally south, passing through the villages of Tuzanapan, Tlaletela, Pinilla, Ohuapan and Tutula, which barely appear on the Guia Roji map. On our single minded way, we sped through some famous river rafting country Veracruz promotes to tourists eager for a thrill. Although my camera shutter finger twitched to go into action, we did not pause for pictures -- we pressed on. As we left Xalapa, the prospects for a cloud-free day had looked remote, but we hoped the afternoon might see a break in the cloud cover.

Our goal now was the pretty little town of Coscomatepec, where a branching road runs straight east to the skirts of the mountain. Before making that our route, we needed more information from the locals. Eventually, the tertiary road system we were on spit us out at Totutla, where we joined a major highway that runs between the coast and the town of Orizaba.

We arrive at Coscomatepec

Before setting out, Eric had identified at least three possible routes to explore, but after some impromptu discussions with a few residents in Coscomatepec we decided on the route west out of Coscomatepec. This put us on a mostly paved road that ends at about the 9,000 foot level in the village of Nueva Vaqueria. But the pavement runs out for the last few miles.

After experiencing the mirador at Naolinco I didn't think any other place in Veracruz could be that spectacular. Boy was I wrong. Climbing to the faldas of Pico de Orizaba takes you on a magical tour of jagged peaks and steep sided, apparently bottomless canyons.

A camera simply cannot capture the sweep and grandeur of the landscape. But, since these photographs were captured at high resolution (3264 x 2448) you will get a much better appreciation of the views if you double click the photographs so that they completely fill your computer monitor (and then some).

(The Google Earth image below is an exception, it will not enlarge by much if any). By the way, I turned this image 90 degrees so that the view is from east to west corresponding to the almost due west heading we are traversing from Coscomatopec. Unfortunately the image resolution is poor. Otherwise this shot would present a spectacular sight. Nonetheless, you can get a better idea of the deep canyons radiating out from the peak and can appreciate how the road must try and follow the crests of the canyons. In Mexico, roads built on top of a ridge are often called "the devils spine". I would have to agree this road is devilish.

The good thing is a tall ridge top affords a view for miles in all directions. Peaks stud the horizon whereever you turn. Many peaks sport a twin spired church, standing alone in mute testimony to the people who cleared the rugged land and raised their vision rock by rock and plank by plank. Because of the high altitude and difficult farming conditions, the flanks of Pico de Orizaba are lightly populated. People who scratch a living here lead simple lives without many of the comforts of modern life.

Another surprising thing to see was the scale of human effort evident in the landscape. Everywhere you look, great swaths of hillside have been cleared. Of course this work was unaided by machinery until chain saws came along, so what you see is basically the result of men and women wielding axes and machetes. The plots of cleared land provide cash crops to sustain the population. Of course this work must have taken many, many years. Nonetheless who can fail to be impressed by the human dedication and muscle power.

Our destination the village of Nueva Vaqueria

This is as far as we should drive because the track gets steeper and more rugged as you climb on up the mountain. The locals tell us that to drive any further you need a "quatro por quatro", and apparently there are drivers in town who have such vehicles for hire. Eventually, at some point if you want to go to the top of the peak you will have to put on your pitons, shoulder your ropes, load up your carabiners and other gear and climb the rest of the way on foot.

From the picture of Nueva Vaqueria below you can see why we were unable to capture a photograph of the peak, which must be spectacular from this vantage point. Perhaps we will return another day when the weather is more favorable. Our current plan is to drive up Sierra Negra another extinct volcano a few miles away from Pico de Orizaba. This fifth highest mountain in Mexico now sports a huge radio telescope that is due to go into operation next year. It took 10 years, and 116 million dollars to build this Mexican (70%) - American (30%) bi-national project of the Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica (INAOE) and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The project puts Mexico at the forefront of radio astronomy where it will remain on the cutting edge until another larger telescope in South America goes into operation in 2012. The scientists running the project hope to add important new insights into the very early moments of our universe after the big bang occurred. You can read a report on the project here:

Here is another way to go up Pico de Orizaba.

Coscomatepec and the road to Nueva Vaqueria

Monday, October 15, 2007

Xico Fiesta

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Susana es una coqueta

Yes, I did go see Susana. I thought the night was worth the money ($25.00 US) even though at times I found myself wishing I was better at interpreting Spanish. That’s because Susana is quite the coquette and not at all bashful. Between songs, she flirted with at least two violinists and the maestro plus tossing frequent sly asides to audience members. They all seemed to lap it up. I have to say she is a very accomplished entertainer.

While I could not fully appreciate her humor, I cannot be too hard on myself, I realize that humor and poetry are the very last things one masters in any foreign language. I am a very long way from mastery of Spanish.

Susana has tremendous vocal range and when she sang popular songs she stayed in her lower register. So often when classically trained sopranos sing popular songs they stay in their high register and this never really sounds right. I don’t know if she made a conscious artistic choice, or she was saving her vocal cords, or what, but I liked her decision.

There were supposed to be several songs by legendary peruviana Yma Sumac according to the announcement in Diario Xalapa, but the program only noted one, and I was not even sure she sang that one (the performance and the printed program did not really match all that well). Sumac had legendary vocal range and power and could sustain a note for an incredible length of time. For some reason this is always a crowd pleaser. I wanted to see how Susana measured up because I remember listening to my sister's Yma Sumac recordings a long time ago.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Increible Naolinco

Posted by Picasa

The photo montage pulls together many of the shots taken at the famous mirador of Naolinco de Victoria, a quaint colonial town a few miles north of Xalapa. This famous viewing site is perched on the edge of a steep cliff and offers a stunning view of the canyon and waterfalls below (click on the photos for an enlarged view). Off in the distance loom Cofre de Perote and Pico de Orizaba. The area is known geologically as the Naolinco volcanic field (in the Sierra de Chiconquiaco range) and they sure got that volcanic part right. The entire area is studded with small volcanoes and mountains of debris thrown up from from all the volcanic activity.

OK, cliches are bad, but I don't know what to say. The view from this lookout is breathtaking, stunning, awe inspiring, and heart stopping. If you come to Xalapa and do not go to the mirador in Naolinco de Victoria you will have missed one of the most exhilarating experiences in the catalog of world travel thrills. Really, I'm not exaggerating a bit.

Plus, the mole at Doña Josefinas Restaurant ranks with the best of this region, which is saying a lot. Every town and village around Xalapa competes for the reputation of having the best mole. Doña Josefina's location could not be more convenient. She is right on the Plaza de las Armas at #8 Col Central, tel (279) 821 50 93.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Susana Zabaleta appears with OSJEV

Personally I am not acquainted with the song styling of Susana Zabaleta, but it appears she has fans in Xalapa that eagerly anticipate her upcoming concert on October 6. Señorita Zabaleta is an award winning singer and actress. As usual, the venue for this OSJEV performance is el Teatro del Estado and the performance time is 20:30 hours.

Judging from articles in Diario Xalapa and on her web site, her repertoire covers a wide range from pop to opera. Tickets are higher than normal for an OSJEV concert ($250 and $350); but somebody has to pay Susana. I believe advance tickets are available at the upstairs offices in the theater (and in other places, but I don't have the information in front of me). If you want to attend, an early ticket purchase is advised. I promise to be better organized the next time I write a blog entry.

As Diario Xalapa notes:

No se pierden este concierto altamenta recomendado.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Insensible CNN weatherman Rob Marciano

This morning I watched CNN weatherman Rob Marciano describe the probable future of Tropical Depression 13 off the coast of Veracruz. Now, I don't think Rob is a jingoist or harbors any bad wishes for Mexico. In fact, he seems to be a rather nice guy. However, as he was wrapping up his coverage of this depression (in front of a storm map displaying a huge ugly red air mass) he indicated it could develop into a tropical storm. Which, is rather bad news. He then drew an arrow straight at the heart of the state of Veracruz.

Casually saying, "it kind of wants to drift this way. Good for us".

I know he only meant that a possible tropical storm did not threaten the states, but I wish he had instead said, "bad for Veracruz". Because, as a weatherman he has to know the tremendous damage and hardships that recent storms have inflicted on Mexico. Here in Veracruz state, homes are flooded, crops are ruined, and entire communities are cut off by washed out roads and damaged bridges. Pánuco to the north of Xalapa has been particularly hard hit.

I cringed as I thought of all the Mexicans here in Veracruz state, and indeed across the world, who watch CNN. Rob's thoughtless remark certainly did not help Mexican-American relations.

I'm going to write to American Morning. If you feel as I do, perhaps you'll send them a courteous note also. Here is the web address:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Let's talk about the weather

People seem to all agree that the weather in Xalapa is ideal so far as temperature. I have heard opinions about the humidity, but I cannot understand the complaint. It must be a personal thing. I do have one pair of shoes in my closet that has some signs of mildew, and I must dry them out and find a way to overcome this problem. None of my clothes or other items are indicating a mildew problem. When I go out for a walk, the humidity is not at all oppressive like down on the coast. The reason for the mild humidity and temperature is commonly attributed to our 4500 foot elevation.

Friends I talked to in Mazatlan tried to argue me out of living here because of the rain. This is a cloud forest climate after all. The fact is sometimes during the summer the rain comes down in blinding torrents. On the other hand the weather is really very predictable. Sort of reminds me of the song in the musical Camelot.

The rain may never fall till after sundown
By eight the morning fog must disappear
In short, there's simply not a more congenial spot
For happy ever-aftering than here in Camelot

Actually, the rain doesn't usually fall until later in the afternoon, but sometimes like the song says, it holds off until after dark. Which is all the better to observe the lightning that frequently accompanies strong rain storms.

Another weather condition is fog, but I have not experienced much of that. I think this happens during the winter so we will get a chance to observe this before long. MSN, Accuweather, and The Weather Underground all have comprehensive information about Xalapa weather. When making web searches be aware that there are many towns bearing the name Xalapa. Specify Veracruz-llave or just Veracruz. The modern spelling is Jalapa.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pico de Orizaba

This shot of the monster was actually taken from the small town of Naolinco, which lies a short distance to the north of Xalapa. I estimate Pico would be at least 70 miles distant from where this was taken.

The following post displays a hybrid mashup of a Google satellite picture and a cartographic map of the mountain and the surroundings. The town of Orizaba is to the southeast of Pico, but it is a bit hard to see on the following post because I have it set so both Pico and the town are in the frame.

Our next travel adventure is to drive up to the base of Pico, which if I have my information straight will be at about the 10,000 foot level. What I won't do for pictures to keep this blog interesting and unique.

Hybrid map of Orizaba, Veracruz and vicinity

View Larger Map

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Veracruz triathlon 2007

Posted by Picasa
At the Veracruz triathlon there seemed to be more contestants than spectators. Now I did not exactly go around and count noses. But I did read that 4,000 entrants showed up to test their mettle in what must be one of the more demanding triathlons in the world. The crowd seemed to number much less, maybe in the hundreds, but certainly not in numbers equal to the athletes. In the interests of accuracy I could have verified the number of athletes by walking down the long row of bicycles and counting them up.

One thing that puzzles me is that I saw a lot of youngsters competing. Surely they were not doing all the events. Perhaps there was a 10k run in conjunction with the triathlon.

You may have read or heard that Veracruz has a reputation for being hot and muggy, and based on my experience I think the reputation is deserved. The temperature was around the 90 mark and so was the humidity. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the experience of watching others test themselves while all I had to do was take photographs and swill water.

The venue for this annual event is the Gold Coast, so named because of the pricey sea side location. Nearby are many multi-story condominiums, international class hotels and a big modern shopping mall. I will go back and explore more of Veracruz during the winter when the temperature drops to something in the toleration range.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The best Xalapa street map ever

If you go here:

and enter, Xalapa, veracruz-llave, Mexico you will land right on the map of Xalapa. Use the zoom in/out and left/right arrows to center the map where you desire and achieve the desired level of detail. Zooming in magnifies the region you are interested in.

This is a new feature Google has just released and besides mexico there are many other Latin American countries that are now covered. I will be writing more about using Google Map in future posts as I describe driving in Xalapa and share tips on intersections that have given me trouble and other ideas for surviving in a strange traffic environment. All made easier, because I can pinpoint these intersections easily to share with you. Likewise, I will make it a long term project to pinpoint important features, such as buildings, shopping centers, entertainment venues and the like. Should keep me busy.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Do I have to know Spanish?

Xalapa is not like the resort towns and cities of Mexico. In Mazatlan, for example, you find a great many hotels, restaurants, and shops that have employees who speak English. There is a large expatriate community of permanent English speaking residents and the place is swamped with tourists when cruise liners make port. Accordingly, you can survive quite well in most situations if your Spanish is limited or even non-existent.

Xalapa is not a big tourist destination like Mazatlan, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and the like. Although you will meet many people here who speak English it is much less common. Another difference is the fact that Xalapa is very cosmopolitan, probably because of the many universities located here. You will find people from all over the world living here.

For most situations you encounter in shopping, dining out, and site seeing you can probably get by with a pocket guide that has lists of common phrases organized by topics. Learn Spanish pronunciation rules and these little guides can be your lifeline. A different approach is a digital language translator, but these can get expensive if they are at all comprehensive. The best answer is to learn as much Spanish as you possibly can and work at it every day.

The good part is that the Mexicans you meet are extremely friendly, courteous and patient. Don't be hesitant to try out your Spanish on cab drivers, store clerks or just people you might encounter standing in line at a bus stop. In the big cities of the United States strangers rarely speak to each other. The exact opposite is true here in Xalapa (I cannot speak for Mexico City, it may be different there.)

Rest assured, there are strategies you can use to help get over the language hurdles.

TIP: Ask people to write down anything you don't understand. Most people find reading Spanish easier that interpreting speech.

TIP: Have trouble with pronunciation? Check out this unique University of Iowa website:

that contains animated libraries of the phonetic sounds of English, German, and Spanish. You will be amazed, entranced, missing many hours of your life practicing Spanish pronunciation. I promise.

Keep watching this post for more tips and information. You can easily subscribe to The Free End either by email or by a syndicated feed.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

How Lady Emmeline Stuart viewed Veracruz and Jalapa

Google, if you can imagine this, has set out to organize all the information in the world and make it available for free. Alright that may be a tad hyperbolic, but the staggering vision of these people boggles my mind. I guess if you have their billions you can set your sights high.

But to get to the point of this post, in the course of writing my blog entries about Cofre de Perote I thought it might be interesting to include a Google Earth view of the mountain. I like to turn on the various overlays in Google Earth and when I captured the view for the blog I happened to have an overlay turned on that displayed a dozen or more yellow icons. I had not noticed these before so later on I went back to that view to determine what these icons represented. Turns out they represent printed volumes that Google scanned and turned in to regular text that you can search, read on line, or download them as a PDF file. Each of the icons contains the word Jalapa and that is why they cluster around the callout for the city. I think the term for this scheme is geo-tagging.

One icon I picked at random represents the book Travels in the United States, Etc.: During 1849 and 1850 where the good lady Emmeline Stuart waxes enthusiastically:

One morning, at sunrise, coming from Puebla, we saw the great mountain, Orizaba, reflecting the light of the rising luminary, and looking as if it was literally made partly of gold and partly of fire, so gloriously was it beaming back those dazzling splendors from its huge crest of glittering snow. Between Jalapa and Perote, and still more between Vera Cruz and Jalapa, the astonishing prodigality and unutterable magnificence of the tropical vegetation is perfectly overpowering ! I could not have believed, without beholding it, that such a Paradise remained to this world ! Such colors—such blooms—such forests of flowers ! Such inconceivable luxuriance of foliage and fruit! You can not for a moment " begin to imagine" the glories of these scenes—their inexhaustible variety—their indescribable exuberance—their extraordinary and matchless brilliancy of coloring !
Very poetic writing, so typical of that long ago era. If you are fascinated to read more by the gentle lady here is a link you can follow.

Seasonal views of Cofre de Perote

Clockwise from upper left: the "chest" from fairly close up, another view of the western side from several miles away -- taken in spring or summer, the eastern side of Cofre de Perote as viewed from my bedroom window in Xalapa, the area around the village of Conojo (picture was posted on Panoramio). Panoramio is the Google photo sharing application that allows you to pinpoint the spot on the earth the photo was taken from. To be really accurate you need a global positioning device, which I don't have yet.

Topographic map of Cofre de Perote

This topographic map shows the route up the Western side of Cofre de Perote to the summit. To see an enlarged view click on the map or to see an even larger view go to this web site and click on their map.

On our drive to the summit, we left the main highway a few miles to the Northeast of the town of Perote at the Los Molinos junction. From there our drive was on good paved road to the small village of Pescado. Here the road changes from asphalt to cobblestone and you will think you are driving on a dry stream bed. At one point we were suddenly passed by some four-wheel off-road vehicles going like hell down the track. Later on we came upon a man leading three horses towards Pescado. Horses and four wheelers make sense on this kind of road!

I found it interesting that the Ski Mountaineer web site talks about possibly skiing on Cofre, but so far it seems no one has officially tried this. I've never seen any mention of skiing on Cofre in any guide book or any other web page that I know of, but my next post will show some photographs of Cofre dusted with snow so perhaps some day some hardy soul will try this.

If you seriously contemplate driving to the top of Cofre make sure your vehicle is up to the task and allow plenty of time. Weather can be a problem so pick a day when you can clearly see the top of the mountain and leave well before noon. Take a cell phone if you have one and let someone know you are going and when you will arrive back. Plan on at least six or seven hours for the round trip. I would not advise driving on the mountain if there is any snow or the forecast is for snow or even rain. This is not a trip to be undertaken lightly.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Google Earth view of Cofre de Perote

Cofre de Perote is classified as a shield volcano, a type that has broad, gentle slopes built by the eruption of fluid basalt lava. The terrain is very interesting from this vantage point. The west side of Xalapa is actually built on the eastern hills of Perote. The area immediately around the peak is designated a national park.

The summit of Cofre de Perote

At the summit we reach the end of the road. For those with the wind power and strength there are stairs you can climb to reach the very top. I say you can use the stairs, but use may be restricted to use by the technicians who live up here and maintain the communications equipment. Someone has to fix the things that get blown away or replace the navigation lights that burn out. It occurs to me though, that Mexico being Mexico, you might just nose around and ask someone if you can climb to the tippy top. Good chance they might even take you for a guided tour. Certainly, no one would frown on you for asking in a friendly tone of voice. It is not like they are hounded by thousands of visitors and I have the definite sense that Mexicans in general are very proud of their country and genuinely enjoy helping visitors.

It is windy and cold up here so we don't tarry.

Nearing the top of Cofre de Perote

We are almost piercing the cloud ceiling now. The diagonal line in the photograph is the road we have just traversed. If you click on the photo the resulting enlarged view reveals the jagged surface of this cobblestone road. There is a very narrow shoulder and a very steep drop at this point. Here we would be at about 13,000 feet in elevation and the view is looking out towards the North. You almost have the feeling of being in an airplane, don't you? From here on there are several hairy switchbacks and the road gets steeper and steeper.

The road up Cofre de Perote

Posted by Picasa Western side of Cofre de Perote

Most visitors to Xalapa are probably familiar with, and have no doubt photographed, the Eastern side of this 4 250 meter (13,943 foot) extinct volcano, but I doubt a lot of them ever see the Western face. Perhaps because natives are aware the cobblestone road leading to the summit makes for a very uncomfortable ride and warn visitors off. The road is for sure not there to encourage visitors but to serve the maintenance people who maintain the communication towers and facilities that are situated here. I use the term "road" advisedly. To be honest, only adventurous visitors driving utility vehicles or trucks should make the trip to the top.

On a very clear night from my apartment in Xalapa I can make out the navigation lights on the communications towers that stud this peak 14 miles away. Usually in the early morning the summit is clear of clouds, but by mid-morning the clouds start forming and by afternoon clouds cloak the summit from view. This condition has been true during the summer months I have experienced life in Xalapa, but winter may bring a different set of weather conditions at the peak.

My companion drove right to the base of the rocky protuberance you see in this picture. The formation is actually what is left of the rim of the volcano, the rest having fallen away over the centuries. Some imaginative person gave the Spanish name Cofre de Perote (The Coffer of Perote) to the mountain based on ete shape of this residual part of the rim. If you squint just right it does resemble a treasure chest.

Smithsonian data reveals the last eruption occured around 1150 years ago, but the data is not clear about where exactly this eruption occured. There is a small vent on the northern flank of the mountain and it may be that the last eruption occured through this vent. I guess that is a question that requires more research. The main eruptions are quite old.

La Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil del Estado de Veracruz (OSJEV)

For those interested in the cultural life of Xalapa, the important news is that Xalapa is blessed with not one but two outstanding symphony orchestras. The famous one and it's little sibling, la Sinfónica Juvenil. That's Maestro Antonio Tornero the man in charge. I think he always wears a white jacket.

Like other youth symphony orchestras around the world, Xalapa's youth symphony is composed of young musicians and serves as a training ground, but this orchestra is definitely not in the minor leagues. You won't hear any screeching violins or sour off key clarinets because these young musicians are tops in their class and they study under some of the best teachers and coaches in the business. The maximum age of a member is 29 years, but I cannot tell from the official web page of OSJEV what the minimum age might be. I doubt they would turn away a prodigy though. Here is the official web site:

During their regular season, which should roughly correspond to the academic schedule of local universities, they present concerts in the Teatro Estatal, located a short distance from the main commercial district of Xalapa.

Now you want to hear the best part? Tickets are a great bargain. The better seats are 30.00 pesos and the economy seats are 20.00 pesos. I have listened from seats in each section and can not tell a bit of difference. The higher priced seats are of course closer to the podium, but for orchestral performances, I cannot see a great advantage. As for the acoustics in this sala, they leave little to be desired, but I should say perhaps people with better hearing acuity than me might say different.

For me, the two or three dollars (rough conversion I use is 10:1) for a performance by Orquesta Juvanil is a truly a bargain and one of the blessings of living in Xalapa.

Sinfonica Xalapa de Estado de Veracruz

Doing a web search produces many articles about the Sinfonica Xalapa de Estado de Veracruz. Here is the official web site of this Xalapa cultural giant, which some critics claim is the best symphony orchestra in Mexico:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Chow, an incredible web site

Austin, Texas food and travel writer Mick Vann starts his article in Chow with a description of lunch in Xico.

I’m sitting in a restored 18th-century house in a Mexican mountain village, about to have one of the best lunches of my life. I taste my first bite of picaditas, grilled cornmeal tortillas with raised edges that cradle black bean paste topped with pungent Cotija cheese and two salsas.

What makes Chow unique is the combination of expert knowledge of food and dining together with advice on where to eat, what to eat, what to buy, and where to have fun at your destination; in this case Xalapa, Mexico and surrounds. Actually those basics just scratch the surface. You will also find recipes, shopping guides geared toward food, and ratings of Chow's readers. In fact, pick a country or a city and you will probably find some unique information on this web site, some of it generated by residents.

The author of Mole in the mountains, Jon M. “Mick” Vann is a retired professional chef who has been specializing in international cuisine for more than 30 years. He has been a food writer for the Austin Chronicle for nine years, and coauthored a cookbook on international appetizers with Art Meyer titled The Appetizer Atlas: A World of Small Bites. Vann also owns Atlas Culinary Adventures, a company conducting domestic and foreign culinary tours.

The small town of Xico is a short distance from Xalapa, Veracruz and is only one of the side trips covered in Mick's article.

For residents of Xalapa (or other towns in the vicinity) it would be interesting to receive comments on the articles and recommendations of Mick Vann.

CNN is back

Sometime early this morning CNN reappeared on Megacable. I am something of a news junky and I have my DVR set to record snatches of their segments throughout the day. Having a DVR makes it possible to skip through the commercials (all american products, not Mexican) and the repeated program segments. I plan on writing a post on my take on Mexican cable programming after I get some other topics about Xalapa covered.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

CNN is missing in action

My cable provider, Megacable, seems to have a lot of problems keeping CNN on the air. Maybe the outage today is related to our little hurricane that blew through here yesterday, but CNN has been off the cable more times than I like. And then at other times the signal was just really bad, almost unwatchable. I suppose I could call Megacable, but if you think talking to a cable company back in the states is frustrating, just try talking to a Mexican cable company in pidgin Spanish. In a way though, the conversational experience is good. I usually have to get the person on the other end to say everything twice, and I have to make at least that many attempts when I speak. We get more practice this way.

Digression. Here in Mexico, if you are having an exchange and you don't understand something, it is considered impolite, or at least gauché, to just blurt out: what? In Spanish that would be: como? No, the correct rejoinder to a string of Spanish you didn't understand is: mandé? This translates roughly to: at your service (being a conjugation of the verb mandar). The meaning is: will you say again?

There are just so many conversational traps relating to culture you have to learn. I like, mandé, and I seem to use it a lot. Sometimes to keep from sounding like a mindless robot I throw in: no entendí, which translates to: I don't understand.

For your edification and enjoyment, I have included access to the google language translator on this blog. Take a look at the right hand column. If you search for mandé you will not get the full story from this little translator. For example, the fact that the custom of using this expression is only common in Mexico and that it dates back to the days of the aristocracy in Spain.

Now that's a thought -- talking to the cable company as though they were aristocrats. Just goes to show how far the Mexicans will go to be polite.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hurricane Dean hits Veracruz state

Today is wet and wild as hurricane Dean slams into the East coast of Mexico up North around Tuxpan. The power has been out twice this morning (August 22), but only for brief periods. Last night I shut down my television, DVR, fax machine and computer and pulled the power cord from the wall because I was afraid of a power surge. I do have power strips that are supposed to trip if a surge hits my line, but recently I lost the motherboard in my desktop computer and that experience has made me more cautious. I suspect a power surge fried something but will never know, because repair shops do not troubleshoot to the component part. Replacing my motherboard cost about $200.

Last night around 11:00 the wind started to increase and just about the time I decided to stop reading and go to sleep I heard a loud explosion and simultaneously saw a bright flash in my bedroom window. Because there was no clap of thunder I ruled out lightening. looking out my window (I am on the fourth floor) at the houses behind my building I could not detect anything amiss. What could this be? The electricity seemed to be OK, because the houses behind me had lights. I finally decided it might have been a small propane tank that exploded, but I have no easy way of verifying what exploded. The tanks on most of the houses are so big that if one of those exploded it would surely level a house. No fire trucks or ambulances arrived so I still don't have an answer. It was hard to get to sleep and I spent a restless night listening to the howling wind and the driving rain pelting my window.

With daylight I was able to survey the houses behind my building and could not see any damages. I'll have to ask around to see if I can find out what exploded last night.

It is 12:54 now and the winds are at 39 MPH according to I occasionally hear crashing noises, but when I look out I cannot determine what is happening. I am checking around my windows for water entry and so far there is not a great deal of water seeping in. By 6:00 PM the forecast is for 69 MPH wind and I think seepage may start to be a problem then. I'll take some more video later. The avenue in front of my building is fairly full of water now.

As we approach 19:00 hours the winds are calm. The Accuweather forecast of 69 MPH did not materialize, so I think we should be in the clear.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Diario Xalapa

I get this major daily newspaper delivered to my building here in Xalapa. Actually, Xalapa is blessed with lots of newspapers, both local editions and newspapers from other towns and cities. The newsstands are groaning.

Diario Xalapa is a pretty hefty paper and is part of a media conglomerate, OEM (not sure what that stands for), that owns major papers and broadcasting outlets around Mexico. I think they are into the Internet also. Does this sound familiar? Just like in the US, Mexican media has been consolidated into fewer and fewer hands. Maybe you are OK with this, but I don't think it can be a good thing. At least a lot of media critics and just plain private citizens have raised objections to this in the US.

Today, I happened across an article in the online edition of Diario Xalapa that is published in English. Perhaps this is a new feature, but it looks like a fluke. I cannot find the same article in the printed edition and indeed even the electronic version section does not jibe with the printed edition.

I would like to be able to select text from the online edition so I could quote it in this blog (with attribution, of course) or save it if I wanted to, or send it to a translation program or whatever. Unfortunately, Diario Xalapa locks their web pages so you cannot easily copy the content. Maybe there is a technical way around this problem, but I have a lot to do just now so finding a fix to this issue is way on the back burner. I was able to capture some of the English language article using Snagit, my screen capture program, but it doesn't really work well.

The article, if you want to read it online is entitled Both Sides, Rare no more, Mexicans in the United States. The author explains how thoroughly Mexican culture has penetrated the US. Even the smallest towns boast stores and restaurants that cater to to Mexicans.

If you are planning on visiting Xalapa and want to gather information ahead of your visit, you will find the online edition here:

Like in the US, the weekend editions have the most classified advertisements. If you want to read newspapers from other Mexican cities and towns go to this section of the OEM site:

This page organizes information according to geographic area. The banner at the top of the page is an active element. If you mouse over the titles they scroll back and forth.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A sample of pre-Columbian art from MAX

These miniatures on display at the Museo de Anthropológia (Museum of Anthropology Xalapa - MAX) are stunning. You should be able to enjoy an enlarged view by clicking on the photo.

To visit the official MAX web page, check the links at the right. It takes a while for the first web page to load and while loading you will hear some native music and maybe some bird calls. The effect the web designers wanted is fully realized in my opinion because through music and art they manage to transport you to a far off ancient primitive world.

The web site informs us that the basement of the museum houses around 25,000 articles kept in special vaults that are climate controlled. The museum is part of the University of Veracruz, a major cultural force in the life of Xalapa. This huge university draws students from all over mexico and indeed around the world and has a student population of around 60,000.

Regular educational and cultural events are held in the auditorium of the museum and most are free. So, even if you never viewed any of the exhibits in the museum, which would be a shame, you can attend these events and at the same time take in the marvelous architecture of the building, which alone is worth a trip to MAX.

For dedicated museum visitors, you should plan on spending at least one day. To get the most out of your visit, rent a portable recording device that will explain what each of the display cases contain.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Yikes! 3000 volcanoes in Mexico

The picture at the left is of Pico de Orizaba, the third highest peak in North America and at 18,700 feet the highest peak in Mexico. You can read much more detail about this extinct volcano and indeed about many other Mexican volcanoes in this article published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The author, Christine Delsol, is a freelance writer and former Deputy Travel Editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Christine's article is where I got the volcano count of 3,000, and if you really want to appreciate this number, launch Google Earth and turn on the program's ability to mark geographic features. Fly to Mexico and navigate to a spot about 2/3 of the way down the country. You will see a broad band of volcanoes that sweep across the lower waist of Mexico from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Some of these volcanoes are still active, notably the monster Popocatéptl that threatens Mexico City and is in the news now due to the shrinkage of her (his?) glaciers attributed to global climate change. "Popo" is now considered active and is off limits to climbers, but if you're feeling frisky, you can go climb Pico de Orizaba instead.

If you have not gotten around to using Google Earth you will be amazed at how our home planet looks from a satellite image. I believe most of the images in Google Earth were taken by a Keyhole satellite, which was the nearly miraculous "eye in the sky" the United States Air Force used to spy on the Soviet Union -- and probably other countries they are not telling us about. Ok, I am getting off topic here, but I have a personal connection to the Air Force Keyhole satellite project because I worked at a tracking station on Mahe, Seychelles that was part of the program. And as a further digression, I just saw on CNN that our government, led by George Bush, is going to be using this technology in defense of the homeland. If you plan on doing anything against the law, make sure you do it in your house from now on, big brother will be watching and that is no joke.

To get a free copy of Google Earth (and finally get to the bottom of exactly what your neighbor is doing in his back yard) go here:

I took the high resolution telephoto shot at uppper left from a bedroom window of my apartment in Xalapa. Pico de Orizaba and another extinct volcano, Cofre de Perote dominate the western horizon and are usually free of cloud cover early in the morning, but by noon they start to take on a frosting of clouds and usually by 4:00 PM they are completely lost in clouds. By this time, the notorious and dependable Xalapa afternoon rain storms have desended on the area.

You'll find the Google Earth database has many photographs and detailed descriptions for Mexican volcanoes and that the database is tightly integrated with the visuals. Very helpful. Actually, the volcano data comes from a database that belongs to the Smithsonian Institute. Scanning through this database you will possibly discover your hidden geologist child. Go here:

Happy exploring!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'm adding some links to web sites that feature Xalapa

There is a lot of information on the web about Xalapa. Today I started collecting some of the sites I have found interesting or helpful. Most of these sites are in English, but of the two museum web sites one is bi-lingual and the other is in Spanish. If you, my readers, would like to share links about Xalapa that you like, please add a comment.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jump to the present

I am resuming this blog after nearly two years of neglect. Why the lapse? Well I was separated from the Peace Corps for medical reasons following a mini-maze operation in early 2005. Resuming my Peace Corps assignment was out of the question.

After my surgery I traveled to Eugene, Oregon where I recuperated at my cousin's place for two weeks before traveling on to San Diego. The rest of 2005 I would like to forget since I had a very rocky recovery and spent time in the hospital on several occasions before having a procedure in the fall of 2005 that finally stabalized my heart problem. Feeling fully recovered, after lots of research and preparation, in October 2006 I moved to Mazatlan, Mexico where I lived for six months and then moved on to Xalapa, Veracruz Mexico where I now live. After I get reoriented to how Blogger works (the software is much improved), I will continue to blog from here in Xalapa.