Category Archives: Book Review

Mexico’s Beautiful Towns

By John Mitchell

Every once in awhile I come across a book about Mexico that is so inspiring I feel compelled to spread the word. One Hundred & One Beautiful Small Towns in Mexico (101 Beautiful Small Towns) by Guillermo Garcia Oropeza and Cristobal Garcia Sanchez is just such a work. Published in 2008 by Rizzoli International Publications, this generously illustrated coffee table book introduces readers to some of the most alluring places in Mexico. Spanish colonial towns, seaside villages, and even pre-Hispanic ruins are grouped by geographic regions, and almost every state in the country is represented. Lively text giving detailed historical background accompanies the eye-catching photos. Plus an appendix lists addresses of state and municipal tourism offices, hotels, and restaurants, making this a guide that should appeal to both armchair and active travelers who have a passion for Mexico.

View of the Spanish colonial town of Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico. Please click on the image for more information.
View of the Spanish colonial town of Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico. Please click on the image for more information.
Click to see more images of small and not-so-small Mexican towns that I’ve visited.

‘Treasure of the Haunted Hacienda’: The Palo Alto Bilingual Adventure Series Begins with the Mystery of the Haunted Hacienda

The first book in the bilingual Palo Alto adventure series by B. Palma, “Treasure of the Haunted Hacienda: El Tesoro de la Hacienda Embrujada” (published by AuthorHouse), tells the story of four young friends who unearth the secrets of Hacienda Palo Alto and reveal how its ancient tragedies still haunt the present.

Written in two languages, side-by-side, “Treasure of the Haunted Hacienda: El Tesoro de la Hacienda Embrujada” is an ideal tale for children in bilingual classrooms and children from adjacent cultures who wish to understand the differences between their backgrounds and to read about them in their desired language. Besides its format, this tale is also one that is sure to capture the imaginations of students and readers ages 10 to 16 with its intricate plot derived from real historical events.

B. Palma’s story begins when 11-year-old Juanita Reyes returns to the Mexican countryside to care for her sick grandmother. Juanita reunites with her childhood friend Pedro, her cousin Juan’s stepson. Along with Luis, a young neighbor, and Rafael, the son of the owner of the nearby Hacienda Palo Alto, they explore its ruins. Rafael laments the hacienda’s former grandeur before it was sacked and burned after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The massive ruins of the great hacienda overshadow the outbuildings that have been Juanita’s family’s home for centuries. They are intrigued by tales of how the two families have been intertwined for generations and how the destruction of the hacienda struck both with equal pain and tragedy. Their curiosity about how their ancestors were killed defending the payroll gold, and the mystery of what actually happened that terrible night, leads the young friends to discover the secret that the old walls had held captive for almost a century. A newborn foal and a black Spanish stallion play important parts in the story.

Entertaining and educational, “Treasure of the Haunted Hacienda: El Tesoro de la Hacienda Embrujada” is full of adventure, bravery, imagination and rich cultural history that every young reader will appreciate.

B. Palma grew up in the Mexican countryside, as did her husband who lived on his grandfather’s 17 haciendas. Many of the tales in her books are based on true events and some actually happened to her and her husband. They still ride daily. Palma holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in education, specializing in the Montessori system of education, graduating Summa Cum Laude. She currently owns and directs two Montessori schools in Mexico City and has earned accolades for her work as an educator. Other books in the Palo Alto adventure series include “Lucifer,” “The Monarch Mystery,” “The Secret of the Tarascan Ruins” and “10 Horses and a Pony” (all published by AuthorHouse). For more information, please visit the Palo Alto adventure series website at http://www.paloalto-bilingual-adventures.com/.

Mexican poet Jose Emilio Pacheco wins Cervantes Prize

By John Mitchell

I first discovered the works of Jose Emilio Pacheco during the 1980’s when I came across an English translation of his poems in a Mexico City bookstore. Pacheco immediately became and remains one of my favorite contemporary Latin American poets. His haunting verse probes the mysteries of time and decay and expresses wonder and a profound respect for the natural world.

Recently it was announced that Jose Emilio Pacheco has won the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary award for writing in Spanish. Pacheco, now 70 years old, lives in Mexico City. In addition to numerous books of poetry, he has written essays, short stories, and novels. The Cervantes Prize honors his entire body of work.

Death of Ron Butler

By John Mitchell

Anyone interested in Mexico has probably run across a travel article by Ron Butler at one time or another. He wrote extensively and passionately about his wanderings south of the U.S. border, and his articles were published in numerous newspapers and magazines. Ron is perhaps best known to Mexicophiles for his book Dancing Alone in Mexico: From the Border to Baja and Beyond, which chronicles his solo journeys in Mexico after his wife left him with their two children. Ron also won the prestigious Pluma de Plata award for his outstanding travel writing.

Ron Butler died, reportedly of a heart attack, earlier this week at his home in Tucson, Arizona. He was 77 years old.

A Must-Have Guidebook for Archaeology Addicts

By John Mitchell

The ruins at Monte Alban, Oaxaca
The ruins at Monte Alban, Oaxaca

I confess that I’m a ruins junkie. I just can’t seem to get enough of exploring ancient Mayan temples and climbing Aztec pyramids. Year after year, the mystery and stark beauty of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic ruins keep me coming back for more.

Over the decades, I’ve accumulated a large stash of archaeology guidebooks to feed my habit. But the one I always reach for first is Archaeological Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Ancient Cities by Andrew Coe. The son of two well-known anthropologists, Andrew Coe grew up visiting Mexican archaeological sites, and his enthusiasm for them comes through on every page.

Coe provides historical and touring information about popular sites such as Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan, and Monte Alban, along with dozens of less-visited ruins throughout Mexico. However, what is really outstanding about this book is how Coe examines the archaeological record and attempts to cut through questionable myths that have grown up around many of Mexico’s pre-Columbian civilizations.

Each chapter of the book highlights a different geographical region, and Coe ranks archaeological sites by assigning them different numbers of trowels. For example, Four Trowels indicate “a world-class site, a must for every visitor,” and One Trowel denotes a site for the “indefatigable archaeological tourist.” Coe also includes useful maps and sidebars on special topics relating to Mexican archaeology.

Unfortunately, the latest version (2nd edition, 2001) of this indispensable guide can now be a bit difficult to track down, and some of the practical information is out-of-date. Needless to say, I keep praying to the gods that Avalon Travel Publishing will provide me with a new fix in the form of an updated and expanded edition.

Mouse over images in the slideshow below to view captions or click on them to see licensing and purchasing info.

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Ancient Cities of Mexico – Images by John Mitchell

A Fave Mexico Guidebook

By John Mitchell

When people ask me what my favorite Mexico guidebook is, I don’t come back with the latest edition of Lonely Planet or Frommer’s (although both have their merits), but rather a book that has been out of print for almost two decades, Mexico Places and Pleasures by Kate Simon.

The first edition of Mexico Places and Pleasures was published in 1962, and the last one appeared in 1988, two years before its author died of cancer at the age of 77. Kate Simon, whose originall name was Kaila Grobsmith, was a Polish immigrant who grew up in New York City. Cosmopolitan and well traveled, she penned a number of literate and popular guidebooks, including ones on Italy, Paris, London and Rome.

What make Mexico Places and Pleasures so special are its unrepentant subjectivity plus the fact that it is as much a travel memoir as it is a guidebook. Unlike most of today’s travel guides, which tend be long on practicalities and short on fun, Kate Simon’s book is full of vivid descriptions of places that she clearly loves, colorful vignettes of daily life, humorous insights into the Mexican character, and judgments that are usually — but not always — kind. Information about hotels, restaurants, transportation and the like is given, but it always takes the back seat (best to consult Lonely Planet for this).

Finding a copy of Mexican Places and Pleasures could be difficult these days, and I’m not about to sell mine. However, if you can track down a salsa-stained used copy, scoop it up. It just might prove to be worth its weight in Aztec gold.

Author Ann Hazard Loves the Baja

By MP Mexico News Staff

Ann Hazard is passionate about all things Mexican. In addition to writing four books on Baja, she has published more than 150 articles about Mexico. Her work has appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, The North County Times, The Coast News, The Baja Tourist Guide, Discover Baja, Discover Los Cabos Magazine, Los Cabos Magazine, Visit Los Cabos (in all hotel rooms 2008), Mexico File and on numerous Mexico websites. Originally from San Diego, Ann has lived part-time in Baja since 1993. She now resides in McCall, Idaho and spends the snowy months in La Paz, Baja California Sur.

ANN’S FOUR BAJA BOOKS

COOKING WITH BAJA MAGIC DOS
Published 2005
Retail Price: $28.95
ISBN: 09653223433

Released in 2005, COOKING WTIH BAJA MAGIC DOS is a must have for all Baja Aficionados! All 175 recipes from the original, classic Baja cookbook have been updated and improved. There are 90 new recipes and stories about Ann and Terry’s adventures over the last eight years. The 80 pieces of all-new art by Janna Kinkade (cover), Gayle Hazard and Terry Hauswirth are inspiring and pure magic. 
Ann says: “The original Cooking With Baja Magic was published in 1997 and reflected my life and travels up to that point. In the intervening years, I have had the opportunity to further explore this magnificent peninsula and meet some amazing people. In  2003, my husband Terry and I sold our houses in San Diego and La Bufadora and moved to Buena Vista, midway between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas on the Sea of Cortez. Since then, we have traveled extensively and learned much about our adopted country. The life here suits us perfectly. 

“I always felt more at home in Mexico than in the US and for years I pondered why. Now I know.  I now know that my heart is Mexican. Mi corazón es Mexicano. That’s why I am here and I believe that because I am in Baja, the experiences I share now in Baja Magic Dos are more authentic. I’ve also added 90 new recipes — some that I’ve created, many that I’ve discovered and several that were given to me by talented Baja chefs. There are lots more surprises too … more stories, all-new art, and more historical and culinary information. There are now 50 restaurant recipes from 31 Baja eateries and two from our favorite US Mexican restaurants.”

New recipes from old favorites from the first Baja Magic include Tío Pablo’s in Los Barriles, Pancho’s in Cabo, Caffé Todos Santos and the Buena Vista Beach Resort. Eighteen of Baja’s hottest hotels, restaurants and bars are contributing for the first time here. They are: Hussongs and Taquería Mexico (Ensenada), Pueblo Bonito (Cabo), Posada la Poza and Hotel California (Todos Santos), El Chilar, Hotel Tropicana, Brisas del Mar and Buzzard’s (San Jose del Cabo), El Corral and Rancho Buena Vista (Buena Vista), Tacos Los Barriles (Los Barriles), Ray´s Place (Mulege), Isla Loreto (Loreto), Mr. Azucar´s (La Paz) and the Giggling Marlin (Bahía de los Sueños). The chef on the Spirit of Endeavor, a small cruise ship that sails between Cabo, La Paz and Loreto shared a recipe. My favorite stateside Mexican restaurants, Las Olas (in my former hometown of Cardiff, CA) and Chapala (in my favorite summer hangout, McCall, ID) also inspired recipes. 

Additionally, there are several new sections in Dos. They are: La Comida Mexicana, All About Chiles, Baja Wineries, Aguas Frescas, History of the Margarita, Mexican Cookies & Candies and A Few Parting Thoughts. Far superior to the first Baja Magic, Dos became an instant classic when it debuted in 2006. It is the authority on fiesta, Baja-style.

AGAVE SUNSETS
Published 2002
Retail price: $19.95
ISBN: 0-9653223-3-5

Fasten your seatbelt! Laugh until your sides ache. A collection of 50 treasured Baja tales, Agave Sunsets will transport you to magical places south of the border, introduce you to characters you’ll never forget and implant in you un corazón Mexicano—A real Mexican heart. The stories traverse four generations of Baja adventures that are equally hilarious and heart-warming.

It all began back in the 1890s with Ann’s grandfather, a notorious poker player who traveled with Erle Stanley Gardner—creator of Perry Mason. Later on, it was “Boys ‘n Beer in Baja,” and “Fishing for Those Little Bastards.” Next, Ann regales you with 20 “Tales from La Bufadora,” including “Dirt Roads in the Dark,” “Torrid Tales from Teenage Summer Camp,” “How to Become a Five-Star Houseguest” and “What Do You Mean … He Lived in a Tree?”

Traveling Baja is all about the people, places and adventures along the way, and Ann dishes up 22 of those, including: “As the Palapa Turns, or Expatriated Americans Down East Cape Way,” “Baja’s Exotic Wine Country,” and “Following the Whale Trail.”

Agave Sunsets is more than just the story of one woman’s lifelong love affair with Baja. It’s more than just a great read with great photos. Its appeal is universal; in that we all long for romance, joy and serendipity our lives. It brings Baja and its inhabitants—both Mexican and expatriate—to light, in a spirited, relaxed and often, hilarious way. Agave Sunsets erases the barriers between cultures and accurately depicts our “neighbors to the south” as the down-to-earth, loving and generous folks that they are. No other Baja book gives such an open, honest look into the Mexican heart. The stories are short, so the book is easy to pick up and put down. Finish it, and you’ll feel like one the family!

CARTWHEELS IN THE SAND: A Novel
Published 1999
Retail price: $14.95
ISBN: 0-9653223-2-7

A father dies unexpectedly and leaves his motor home to his daughter. Another woman lands a contract to write an unconventional Baja California guidebook … but she needs an RV and three traveling companions. Join Dana, Camille, Holly and Barb on their raucous, engrossing adventure.

Cartwheels in the Sand tells the story of an unlikely foursome who spend a month journeying down the magnificent peninsula in a ’78 motor home. By the time you’ve met these fictional “Bodacious Baja Babes,” you’ll be chomping at the bit to gather up your best buddies and head south! Set against one of the most dramatic backdrops on the planet, this is a powerful story about coming to terms with life at mid-life—a City Slickers for women. It’s also an accurate guidebook. Read it once for the story and a second time as you plan your trip. It even makes a great gift for people who don’t understand the lure of Mexico, or are uncomfortable outside a “first world” environment. These folks can take the journey vicariously. And … who knows? Some of them may even be converted to Baja Aficionados!

Aside from the fact that it’s a novel and accurate travel guide in one (which is unique), Cartwheels in the Sand features four women doing something that women don’t usually do without men. They take to the road in Mexico, of all places! Rest assured … these are not timid or dull women. As one reader aptly put it, reading Cartwheels in the Sand “…is like being a fly on the wall in the women’s locker room.”

There really isn’t a book like this one. It’s utterly unique. Cartwheels in the Sand is an accurate travel guide. It can be used to plan a trip down Baja. It’s also a novel in the City Slickers vein—but it’s about women, not men. These four women are traveling alone—in Baja. They are four very different, talented and outspoken women and they invite the reader to tag along on one heck of an adventure!

Ann’s books are available online at http://bajamagic.com, at http://amazon.com and http://bajabooksandmaps.com. They can be found in most hotel gift shops and bookstores throughout Baja California Sur.

COOKING WITH BAJA MAGIC—the original—OUT OF PRINT
Published 1997
Retail price: $21.95
ISBN: 0-9653223-1-9

How about dinner, under a palapa … next to the Sea of Cortez? Entice yourself with 175 recipes from all over Baja, three generations of riveting travel tales and Bob Bonn’s remarkable illustrations. Cooking With Baja Magic will tip your perspective to the south, lighten your heart and transform your outlook on life!

This book contains 175 easy-to-prepare recipes in 15 categories, 20 from famous Baja restaurants. Try Confetti Dip Mardi Gras, Pancho’s Tortilla Soup from the Cabo restaurant, “The” Original Tijuana Caesar Salad, Bay of L.A. Lobster Tacos, Expatriate Pepper Steak and Citrus Flan Extraordinaire from Caffé Todos Santos. A cookbook, storybook and art book all in one, it showcases 22 whimsical, colorful illustrations by Laguna Beach, California artist, Bob Bonn. Author Ann Hazard, a third generation Baja Aficionada, guarantees that this book will tilt your perspective too the south and inject you with a lasting dose of Baja Magic!

Cooking With Baja Magic is a Baja classic as it has always been the perfect gift for adventure-loving cooks! It’s the most comprehensive cookbook on Baja out there. It’s a book readers will sit down with and devour, cover to cover … before even trying a recipe. Cooking With Baja Magic is full of entertaining travel tales from Ann Hazard’s family’s four generations of Baja adventures. Bob Bonn’s art is magical too, and really adds to the “fiesta” mood! Plus, since it’s out of print and there are only 80 left, it has become a collector’s item.

Cooking With Baja Magic is all about “fiesta.” It’s totally upbeat and fun. It’s enjoyable to look at, it’s a great read and the recipes are remarkably uncomplicated and delicious.

Published by RENEGADE ENTERPRISES
5422 Napa Street, San Diego, CA 92110 ~ 619-298-1831
and P.O. Box 1207, McCall, ID 83638 ~ 208-634-8509
Website: http://bajamagic.com
Email: cookbaja@aol.com