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.