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  • A Linux adventure in Mexico

    Tux the Linux penguinI had been using WiFi connections all over the US and northern Mexico for the previous six weeks, and was looking forward to getting an almost-permanent residence so I would be able to get a reliable connection with DSL or a cable modem.

    The house I now live in has a DSL connection, but as any geek knows, things don't always work as expected.

    When I connected my laptop running Kubuntu 12.04 to a Telmex DSL connection, things looked OK for the first few minutes. I soon discovered several nasty problems:

    • While some web pages displayed OK, some did not, two examples being and (Interestingly, these sites still displayed with Rekonq.)
    • I was unable to upload pictures to the photo gallery on this site.
    • I was unable to add or change articles on Wordpress and Joomla sites.
    • Incoming email worked fine, but most outgoing email didn't work. And when they didn't work, it was impossible to save them to the IMAP draft folder.

    So, how do I fix this? Some Googling indicated that Telmex, Mexico's largest ISP, caps upload traffic. So, I phoned them. Fortunately, they have English-language support.

  • How to play tennis in Mexico

    Centre court, Club Britania, LeonPublic courts are rare in Mexico. Mexico has a lot of private clubs, where guests are usually welcome. These clubs don't do much in the way of publicizing their existence, so you'll have to do some asking around.

    “Deportivos” (sports clubs) are more accessible. Usually, you pay a day fee of 100 to 150 pesos at the entrance. This fee covers all the club's facilities, so bring your bathing suit. The “Club Britania”'s found in many Mexican cities are actually deportivos.

    Ball boys are commonplace wherever tennis is played. This is something easy to get used to; they speed up the game considerably. You're expected to tip them; the going rate is ten or 15 pesos per player per set.

    If you're going to a high-altitude place such as Mexico City, Oaxaca de Juarez, or San Miguel de Allende, don't bother to bring balls with you. Only pressureless (“sin presión”) balls are legal in these areas. The most common brand is Tre-nis (sold as Tretorn in the US and Canada), but pressureless balls are easy to spot on store shelves; they're sold in cardboard boxes instead of cans.

    There are clay courts (“canchas de arcilla”) in Mexico, but they're gradually going the way of the dinosaur, due to maintenance costs. Hard courts are called “canchas duras”. You may come across synthetic turf courts; I suggest trying to avoid them.

  • How to use your smart phone in Mexico

    I knew before I went to Mexico that smart phones would work there, but there wasn't much information on specifics. So, here's my story.

    First, you're not going to get much help from sales people. They make money by selling phones and recharges.

    Yes, your phone will work if you swap the SIM chip, but you have to unlock the phone before you do this. This isn't as big a deal as it sounds. I went to and paid them ten euros. The unlocking code arrived a couple of days later, with some easy-to-follow instructions on how to do the unlocking. This worked with no problems.

    The next step was buying a SIM chip, from Movistar. A lot of internet cafes sell SIM chips, and I went to one of them because the people who work there are more tech-savvy than the sales people you find in stores like Coppel and Elektra. The chip cost 120 pesos, and the phone connected to Movistar, and gave me a phone number, as soon as the chip was plugged in. Of course, this is useless unless the phone has time on it, so a bought 60 pesos worth of time. A day or two later, I set up an account on Movistar's web site, and used a credit card to purchase more time. When I did this, Movistar gave me some free minutes, and ½ GB of free data transfer.

    I learned later on that you can mail-order Telcel, Iusacell, and Movistar SIM chips from

  • My brief survey of Mexican food

    Coctel de camaronesNow that I've lived in Mexico for over two years, here's some culinary discoveries I've made.

    Coctel de camarones(shrimp cocktails):Shrimp and avocado in a spicy red sauce. I've learned that the difference between the good ones and the not-so-good ones is, the not-so-good ones are made with ketchup. The best ones I've found in Guanajuato are from Mariscos Los Amigos in Embajadores Park (see picture). The best one I've found in Mexico was in the Old Town of Mazatlan.





    CerdoCerdo(pork):There's something that they do when they cook pork that makes it melt in your mouth. I've heard that they use lard, which can't possibly be good for you. My preferred method of ingestion is in a torta(Mexican sandwich). This yummy picture was taken at the Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato.








    Pozole VerdePozole verde:Pozole is actually hominy, but what we're talking about here is a soup that includes (usually) chicken, hominy, and some unknown spices, garnished with onions, lettuce, and radishes. It never tastes the same way twice, even when prepared by the same cook. There's also pozole rojo,which I don't like as much, and pozole blanco,which I haven't tried yet.







    Torta CubanaTorta Cubana:Something that you order if you're especially hungry. You could call it a torta with everything on it; chorizo, ham, slices of hot dog, yellow cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Incidentally, I recently spent two weeks in Cuba, and didn't see torta cubana on a menu once. This picture was taken at Tortas Mi Lugar at Positos 11 in Guanajuato.

    Elote(corn on the cob):As sold by street vendors, it's corn with grated cheese, mayonnaise, chili powder, and lemon. You often get a choice of medium or asado (well-done). You can also choose whether you want an actual cob on a stick, or de-cobbed corn in a foam cup (vaso). I've always taken the vasooption, because I don't want to wear it. I also tell them to hold the mayonnaise.


    TripeTripe:Not something worth writing home about, but it's listed here because there's a funny story that goes with it. The first time I tried it, I saw it being deep-fried by a sidewalk vendor, and my reaction was “umm, calamari; I lovecalamari.” Well, I learned about three days later that tripe isn't calamari; it's sections of cow intestines. Had I known this, I never would have tried it. Having tried it once, I like it OK. However, you never see tripe on a menu in a restaurant. It's always sold by sidewalk vendors; if you see it cooked before your very eyes, you know that it's cooked sufficiently. This picture was taken at Embajadores Park in Guanajuato.

  • Sea Shepherd society protecting endangered marine species in the Sea of Cortez

    The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ships M/Y Farley Mowat and M/Y Sam Simon are in the Sea of Cortez (a.k.a. the Gulf of California) for Operation Milagro III.

    The purpose of Operation Milagro III is to protect two endangered species, the totoaba fish and the vaquita porpoise. As the name implies, this is the third season that the Sea Shepherd society has been in the Sea of Cortez.

    The threat to totoabas is poaching. The demand comes from China, where their swim bladders are considered to have medicinal value. Mexican organized crime organizations have stepped up to meeting this demand, by using illegal gillnets to catch them. These gillnets are deadly to the vaquitas, who are unable to see them in the murky water of the Sea of Cortez. Their population has been estimated to be 60.

    Mexico has regulations in place protecting vaquitas, and the Mexican Navy and the Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) have been making an effort to enforce them. As is almost always the case, their resources are insufficient to deal with the problems, so the Sea Shepherd society is on the scene to help out. They patrol for illegal activity, and when they spot it, they communicate the position to the Navy.

  • Volcanos and monasteries in Puebla State

    Popocatepétl as seen from Cortez Pass. Photo by Jakub Hejtmánek at Czech Wikipedia.
    Popocatepétl as seen from Cortez Pass. Photo by
    Jakub Hejtmánek at Czech Wikipedia.

    The volcano Popocatépetl, located between Mexico City and Puebla, is currently 5,426 meters (17,802 feet) in elevation; it's the second-highest mountain in Mexico. It erupted on May 8, 2013, and has been sending up ash frequently since January 2012. There are webcams pointed at it, and it's often visible from planes flying in and out of the Mexico City airport. (Sometimes too visible; on July 4, 2013, 40 flights had to be canceled because there was too much ash in the air.)

    I wanted to get a somewhat closer look at it. Three places where you can do this on the Puebla (east) side are San Andrés Calpan, San Mateo Ozolco, and San Nicolás de Los Ranchos/Santiago Xalitzintla. There are frequent buses from Puebla to San Andrés Calpan, and frequent collectivos (passenger vans) from Cholula to San Mateo Ozolco and San Nicolás de Los Ranchos.

    The place where you get the really good view, though, is Cortez Pass, which is between Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, a dormant volcano north of Popocatépetl. The two peaks are included in the Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park. The road there requires a Jeep-style vehicle. If you don't have one, you might be able to arrange for someone in the towns mentioned above to give you a ride up and back. Problem is, this will require some lead time. Another possibililty is Gozamex, which runs a bus tour from Puebla to Cortez Pass. It costs 1,400 pesos, takes nine hours, and requires at least two people. Keep in mind that, like all mountains of this size, Popocatépetl often has a cloud cover.

  • Wine tasting in the Valle de Guadalupe

    The Valle de Guadalupe, located in Baja California between Ensenada and Tecate. Is Mexico’s primary wine-producing area. The first commercial winery on the scene was Domecq in 1972. L.A. Cetto and Santo Tomás are two other major producers with national distribution in Mexico. However, a map of the valley shows 54 of them, and I suspect that there’s a few more that aren’t on the map.

    Visiting these wineries and doing tastings is a fun activity, but there are some logistical issues that are addressed in this article.

    First, if you want to stay overnight in Valle de Guadalupe, there are a few hotels and bed and breakfasts, with some of the B& B’s run by wineries. They are all expensive. The one exception I’ve been able to find is Glamping Ruta de Arte Y Vino, which has a collection of renovated Airstream camping trailers. They rent for USD $45 a night. (Note that, because of the proximity to San Diego and Southern California, a lot of businesses in the area quote prices in dollars.) There’s some posadas and B& B’s in nearby San Antonio de las Minas, most of which can’t be found in Trip Advisor or other accommodation listings. So, you’ll probably end up staying in Ensenada, where high-quality and reasonably priced hotel rooms are available.

    That leads to a “gotcha”; Valle de Guadalupe is one a a very few places in Mexico where there are no taxis whatsoever. There are van tours, but they’re pricey; do you want to spend money on this, or tasting and procuring wine? There are passenger vans that leave from Calle Sexta and Miramar in Ensenada every half hour, and the one-way fare is a dollar. Other that the frequency, this isn’t a very satisfactory way of getting around. For one thing, wineries tend to have long driveways, and for another, do you really want to be carrying around a lot of full wine bottles? Once you get over five or so of them, they get heavy.