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Mexico – safe travel location

Mexicans do not steal.

I traveled four times to different locations in Mexico, never had anything stolen. Having now spent over three weeks at the Bahias de Huatulco, southern Pacific, a grand tourist location. Examples of my experiences: Hotel safe, not necessary here. No cleaning staff touches any guest property. This includes cash money, jewelry. When arriving I had forgotten my cash Pesos in my room, thousands, left openly on the wardrobe. Coming back afternoon after the cleaning lady had done my room, found everything where left. Today buying some fruits in my little grocery store, paid with a 200 Peso bill, thought is was a 20. Can happen when your  brain fries in the heat. They called after me with my exact change. Even when I said I am an idiota, they said, NO, es normal. Don’t you love it !

Want to try this in Canada or the USA  ? Don’t!  Most of valuables I had stolen was exactly in those countries. And these were not hotels.

How safe is it here for a single lady ? Couldn’t be safer. I could go out at night after dark alone. There is lots of specialized security personnel and police and auxiliary police. Everywhere, even in parks.

Taxis. When I travel I usually do not take taxis. Here the prices are pretty much fixed, there is no hustling.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Trip to Huatulco, Mexico

s.a. Previous post MEXICO TRIP TIPS.

This southern Pacific area, Huatulco, is a large tourist area, full of many hotels and resorts, they also sell condos here. It has expanded in scope tremendously over the years. Most of the infrastructure along the many bays now consisting of hotels.  Not long ago there was only desert. Seems construction here is never ending. Because of the vicinity of Mexico City (only an hour’s flight from Huatulco), the majority of visitors hail from there, families with small children. Of course, there are also resorts for Canadians, as well as the obligatory American Holiday Inn. The entire bays area received apparently the UNESCO Biosphere and other ecological accreditations. Large areas here ecological reservations.

Although one gets good return for dollars, prices are not low. Some restaurant prices are comparable with ours on Canada’s Westcoast, which is one of the most expensive. The cost of a taxi for a 20 minute ride is 30 $MXN. That’s cheap. There are also regular bus services to further away areas.  A BF here would be around 60 or more, that’s like over 5 C$. Ice cream the same, a piece of cake more. Dinner on the average from small $140 MXN to anywhere up to 300 per meal. The breakfast that’s included with our hotel stay is mostly taco with some cheese sprinkled on top and always eggs, coffee, a fruit plate or orange juice,  the fruit always water melon and papaya. Bread around here always only white bread. Weekends buffet, lots of food. I get from the small store tomatos, also found apples, bananas are the other staple fruit. Coffee with milk, often coconut milk, very sweet. Saturday’s market stuff is cheaper, but not much variety. In the nearby little town La Crucecita found a pastelaria selling pastries. Still no brown bread.  Of course lots of seafood and fish. Not bad.

MEXICO TRAVEL TIPS

UPDATE February.  

NOTE. Any of these tips are based on my own experiences, you should always follow-up and use your own advice.

This will be my fourth trip to Mexico. Different considerations, because of a long and interrupted flight connection and because rules have changed. I’ll stay 4 weeks and need to be prepared. Let me say that in all of those visits I never met any Mexicans who were not friendly, accomodating and helpful. They  definitely do not deserve a “wall”.

BAGGAGE

I will have three stops and long layover times at each, requiring hotels for overnight in Los Angeles. Meaning that any checked in suitcase will never arrive at my final destination. Decision, take one small carry-on suitcase and wear most of the clothing on my body. Coming from Canada is cold, arriving southern Pacific Huatulco is hot. Best, not to wear any winter clothes for the four hours it takes for me to get to Vancouver Airport. Instead, wear multiple layers of summer clothing and hoodies on my body. Pack only the most necessary items, like First aid Kit, couple summer tops, sun screen, and vitamins. [NOTE. All creams, liquids in plastic outside thru security check.] Leave space when arriving south to peel off your clothing and put into carry-on suitcase. Also, when traveling I always wear my special vest for wallet, passport, during trip toothbrush kit. The hotels will have everything I need.

MOBILE PHONE or CELL

I do not take mine this time, although it is unlocked. Reason: As per January 2018 there are new rules for immigration and customs controls. Like, customs agents can take possession of your phone, check data, download files or other stuff, for no reason whatsoever. Or, maybe just keep your phone. They now have the right without telling you why. Instead, if phone is needed the hotel may help. [NOTE. Easy to get SIM card on arrival Mexico City Airport, largest service provider in Mexico is Telcel. I usually buy call package only for international calls, if I take my phone.  Check it out:   [ http://extras.telcel.com/en/international-calling ].

Should have taken my mobile phone for at least emergency.

COMPUTER

Will take my iPad, camera kit and chargers. Hopefully get some decent network somewhere down there. Mexico is not exactly North America. Huatulco Marina Hotel Resort , no WiFi in my room, need do my business in the hotel lobby in the heat and noise.

FOREIGN CURRENCY

I am just going by my own experience in many travels, not browsing thru hundreds of travelers’ forums on this subject.

You can buy foreign currency in your bank account, then pick up at your branch (+/- 5 business days). Of course there is always gouging compared with the actual currency rates (C$ to Mex. Peso).

Example: RBC Canada has an online foreign exchange calculator site. These rates are the current 2018 rates for non-cash purchases. Buy cash foreign exchange thru your online bank account you will pay more for Pesos. It’s for the extra work to send and pickup the cash. When ordering Pesos at your Bank branch and you pick up you’ll get the rate as of that day of pickup. When buying Pesos at an ATM machine in Mexico, you may get better conversion rates. Problem is, how reliable are those machines ? Two things can happen: (1) The machine is physically out of cash, you get nothing except for charges to your Bank account. Therefore, always use ATM machines during the banking hours, not weekends. * (2) Your Bank can cancel your bank card (happened to me multiple times). Forced to use a credit card costs a bundle in those machines. So, best to buy expensive Pesos before leaving. US$ don’t help much, Mexicans prefer Pesos, and small bills. Nobody changes MXN 5,000 bill for you. *[NOTE. Machine out of cash, happened to me in Alberta, I was lucky I get my money back next business day from that Bank.]

UPDATE Huatulco Mex, RBC again cancelled my bank card, as they always do. Something wrong with their security programming.

WATER and FOOD

Careful, mostly not potable nor even suitable to brush teeth. Use bottled only or dilated juice or whatnot. Food: I like my veggies and fruits, only fruits I can peel.  UPDATE. Hotels provide bottled water.

TRANSPORTATION, TAXI

I would never book any shuttle bus before trip start from a website. And be charged for it immediately. Because, most of these websites service airports and locations all over the planet. Don’t expect your pickup is there when you arrive after a lengthy flight way south in Mexico. Taxis, inside airport are double price than outside. Best get airport map ahead of time to know where you are when arriving. 2018 taxi maybe max. MXN 300 from HUX Huatulco to Santa Cruz resort area, if shared bus or more if private car. 

UPDATE. Huatulco, Bus from airport to resorts only 140 Peso.

HOTEL

Never go by those beautiful elegant pictures they show you on a hotel’s website. Minimum, expect noisy air conditioning. Who knows it may be just wonderful. Never forget ear plugs.

Always be prepared, and GOOD LUCK.

The Christmas Tree

There are three kinds of Christmas Trees.

The first and most commonly known today is the tree that Christians put up in their homes and decorate during the end of December. This kind of tree – not only because of the fire danger – is mostly an artificial tree, decorated with the most outlandish tinsels, glittering with lights and ornaments. Often plastic angels top the tip of the tree. Its main use today is for presents laying down under this tree. The good part is, it can be recycled, it does not burn, and one live tree saved.

The second kind of Christmas Tree is the real wonderful natural tree growing somewhere on a faraway mountain, surrounded by snow on the ground and happy people. Today the Christmas Tree is a center of our activities and gives meaning to the Christmas Season. When I lived in Alberta in the mountains, my tree was always outside and alive.

The third type of ‘Christmas Tree’ (when I was a very young child), were the warning lights of Allied bomber planes during the heavy bombings of Germany, including my hometown 1940 to 1945. [We called them Christmas trees, Weihnachtsbäume.] Lights illuminating the entire sky just before the bomb loads were dropped during night bombing raids by Lancaster and Halifax bomber airplanes. A warning for us children to hide somewhere.


 

Germany and Europe has become a different world. Not only as a result of the first major terror attacks in the United States, followed by regularly recurring attacks in public places, including North America and elsewhere.
But for me also of looking more critically at differences of life in general in North America as compared to my former (long-ago) homeland Germany.
In Summary: In my 52 years after having left it, (that is 43 years out of Europe), living, working and travelling in North America (US, Canada, Mexico) I have seen so much, met so many different peoples, and had so many unbelievable experiences that if I would even consider moving back to where I came from, it is like shrinking my brain from it’s now large size to a small pea, or having to wear some giant Scheuklappen [blinkers]. It’s all a matter of perspective.

TRAVEL TIPS.
Nonetheless, Visiting Germany one can be assured that most everything works efficiently. Not anymore their public transit system, because of shrinking public roads and excessive automobile traffic. And so many people. As a Canadian, I can say that, because we have hardly any population in the second largest country.

Good city maps are always tough to get on the Internet, in fact the ones you find are more or less useless. So, on arrival in any city in Europe first thing ask for city maps and regional maps.
I arrived Frankfort Airport. To get to Wiesbaden is easy: From the Airport Terminal 1 take the S-Bahn (Rapid Transit) S8, also works S9, to main train station, from there find the Bus to get you to your address. Free WiFi at Frankfurt Airport may work certain areas only. I got a copy of the entire transit network in Canada from the Internet: http://www.rmv.de, Regionaler Schienennetzplan and Schnellbahnplan.

The day of arrival I prefer to pay a one way ticket for the Bus, to first get to the wherever one resides. After that I buy a monthly bus pass. Strangest thing is, one enters a bus in the middle door, the driver does not care to see your bus pass. But beware, any control and you don’t have a pass, can cost 100$. In Hessen, Rheinland-Pfalz, I bought a monthly bus pass for the region Wiesbaden-Mainz, it includes also the S-Bahn.The monthly bus pass also includes the city of Mainz across the river Rhein, best to use is S-Bahn.
Mobile phone (in Germany called ,Handy,) setup is easy. Enough options offered by competing network servers with SIM card, special outlets or super markets or other stores. Buy the plan with the SIM on arrival.
The nicest thing about Wiesbaden are it’s many hot springs (Thermen) and Spa’s. There are many in this entire Rhine-Main region, which rests on a thin earth crust, therefore the many natural hot springs. Thousands of vineyards, good wines, too. Germany’s largest river Rhein offers plenty of river cruises starting Mainz/Wiesbaden along this most beautiful stretch of Germany, up to Cologne.

Propaganda or eyewitness news ?, which in other words means my own personal experiences. Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei) was an equivalent to today’s citizens’ control and spy organizations, but operating within a fascist dictatorial rule, like in Nazi Germany. Nazi derived from National Socialist, the type of government under a dictator, subjecting citizens to very strict rules of obeisance. The only rule under the Nazi regime was: If you are NOT with us, you die. The punishment of choice was the guillotine (head shorter). During those times of WWII, a large number of extremely dedicated SS officers were needed for this Gestapo to function like a well oiled machine to keep the population under control. Control being the operative word. The Gestapo being the enforcers. Since they mostly operated enforcing their terror on civilians (the regular German army was at the Front, Russia) this had been even more traumatic, especially to small children. In order for this system to function as well as it did, an important aspect of it was the reliance on certain dedicated Nazi citizens to report on others, like neighbours, friends, even family. That is exactly what happened to us, my mother, sister and myself. A neighbour in our building, probably a superNazi, called in to the Gestapo reporting that my mother forbade us children to say Heil Hitler in school. I was 5 years old at that time. One day, our door bell rang, there were two Gestapo officers at the door, came in, checking out our flat even the attic, they thought my father who at that time was at the Russian Front, was hiding somewhere. Because my mother had two little children, that saved her life. Later that afternoon she tried to commit suicide, taking pills. I’ll never forget. And all this in the middle of the war, being subjected to daily and nightly bombings. Question remains: “What is so different now compared to then, with Government spy organizations controlling and terrifying citizens ?”

Located in Lower Saxony, Germany. Early history shows human settlements in and around before 12000 B.C. The actual town began to develop around the 9th century, early founders two Dukes of the Welfen Dynasty, and growing as a merchants’ town. During the 12th century the most powerful noble Henry the Lion (Heinrich der Löwe), Duke of both Saxony and Bavaria, founded not only Braunschweig with its many interconnected market towns, but also Munich, Lübeck and Lüneburg. Interesting to note: His father in law was King Henry II of England. By the 19th century Braunschweig was made capital of an independent Duchy. Braunschweig’s centre piece the Saxon lowland Castle (Burg) Dankwarderode from the 12th century exists today restored. Reconstructed during the 19th century and major damages suffered during the war.

The interesting part is about the Lion statue, which was built in honor of Duke Henry the Lion in the 12th century and erected in the center square of the Castle. It is the largest and oldest preserved bronze sculpture of the middle ages. The original Lion – to prevent from being destroyed during WWII – is now inside the castle museum, and a replica erected in the castle square.

The legend of the Lion: Henry the Lion went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. From there he brought a lion back with him. When Henry died 1195 the faithful lion as a result refused all food, and died at Henry’s grave. I was born in Braunschweig, and left my home town in Fall 1961. I remember from this Lion saga, that as children (not during the bombings of our home town but after 1945) we went to the Castle. At the large front portal there were large it appears claw marks in the stone, marks – the story goes – were made by the lion.

Brauschweig also has a dark past. Adolf Hitler who came over from Austria in 1913, paid deciding visits to Braunschweig in the early 1930th, starting the “brown” wave of the Reich and was made a German citizen February 1932 in Braunschweig. Which led to Hitler become Chancellor of the German Reich (consolidation of Austria, Germany and who knows else) on 30 January 1933. Not too late to revoke this “citizenship” thing ? [ http://www.spiegel.de/international/revoking-the-fuehrer-s-passport-hitler-may-be-stripped-of-german-citizenship-a-471168.html ]

Between September 1943 and April 1945 Braunschweig suffered at least forty large Allied bombing raids by the British AF and the American USAAF mostly B17 bombers; the worst October 1944 by 233 Lancaster bombers, destroying 90% of civilian targets. The American bombers focusing onto industrial sites. April 12, 1945, followed the invasion of the 30th US Infantry Division in Braunschweig. Subsequent occupation by British forces. I know, I was there, five years old then. [British Forces Germany, permanent deployment to end by 2020. As of 2015 there were still over 5,000 troops in Germany.].

Today’ Braunschweig: largely reconstructed areas, rebuilt formerly historical quarters, modern buildings, some ridiculous American inspired funky buildings, and populations having moved here from anywhere in the world.

Part II of Budget Travel blog. [https://renataveritashistory.com/2017/02/09/travel-on-a-budget/ ]

Home away from home. This post on cheap Transportation, excludes car rental. Besides standing by the road with your thumbs up referred to as hitch hiking (which I did in the past several times, long illegal and very dangerous); when on vacation transportation is one of the most important requirements. Even if someone rents a car.

Usually I research transport facilities prior to departing. Get my metro, bus, sky train maps, be prepared. In fact get my city maps immediately after my flight arrives. Of course if you go on a package trip with all included and some guide takes care of you, no worries, but I am independent and like to be prepared.

Example, Spain, Alicante, Arrive from Berlin, masses of travelers inside the arrivals hall of the airport, standing in line for car rentals. I walk out of the arrivals, across some street to the other side, there is the public bus. Cheap and no delay.  

Well, travel on a budget for me does not include Taxi for that matter. Too expensive, too unsafe. A few times I had nightmarish experiences with taxis. In fact, in many countries – even Europe – there are advisories against taking a taxi. Taxis only if there is (which is the odd times) a woman driver.

Good example, St. Martin, in the Caribbean, a tiny island shared by two countries Netherlands and France [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Martin ]. I spent some time there shortly after the big volcano Montserrat eruped in the 1990s. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/oct/05/volcano-earthquake-caribbean-montserrat-maarten ]. I was in a resort on the French side of it. Wondering why there were so few tourists despite it was summer season. {Because of this major eruption.} One day, from St. Martin I tried a trip to the Dutch side St. Maarten, Philipsburg.

Went with a guy who gave me a ride in a truck. To get rid of that type, I simply slipped away inside a store. But needed a ride back to my resort hotel St. Martin. There was this very nice local cab driver lady who gave me a ride. I did not have much cash money on me. As I speak French, it was easy. I offered her all my French Francs for the trip, not much, she took it. What a decent thing to do ! When coming back, met some Americans who told me they spent US$20 the same trip that cost me couple of dollars. There you see !

Marrakesh, Morocco, took a taxi to the major Square and walled in Souks, Jemaa el-Fnaa, but had I not been able to speak French, they would have driven me to doomsday that day. If in Tunisia, or Morocco taxi drivers will drive you anywhere you do not want to go.

In Europe anywhere we have very good, efficient and reliable transportation systems. No need to do extensive research. Get a map, get costs for bus passes (cheaper than single trip), mostly also try to get discounts. I always do. Including train. I love trains. Always prefer the train to anything else. Cheap, fast, easy ! Any major airport to any town or city usually has an express bus system, but check for trains – they are much less expensive and usually reliable.

Except – can happen – when in Monte Carlo, Monaco, trains fell out, waiting hours, finally a special train from Prince Albert II, Principality of Monaco, was installed and all of us got back to Cannes, France. Things happen, not always only in London, when the Tube strikes.

Canada has a large rail system (close to 50,000 km to traverse). Primarily today for commercial freight transport: CN (Canadian National), CPR (Canadian Pacific) Railroad. VIA Rail is for passenger transport. A private corporation operates the Rocky Mountaineer rail system. After thirty years in Canada, in 2008 for the first time I took VIA Rail from Quebec City to Montreal. Late Fall. It was cold.

Mexico for long distance travel, their bus system was one of the best. Big comfortable coaches, separate washroom for ladies, gents, and each passenger got some lunch and water included in the price. TVs each isle. Local buses not so good, old and outdated suspension systems, watch your back.

Further back in time, I took the train from my hometown to Berlin, during the time of the Berlin Wall and the DDR (GDR). Berlin lies at that time in the Russian zone. All trains were special trains with special bars for windows and underneath the train also, to catch those who tried to escape the Russian zone into the West. At stops along the way, the VoPos/Volkspolizei came in to check passengers. At that time it was always a good idea to keep your mouth shut, else you end up being pulled from the train and put into a Soviet DDR prison.

Also during that time took the train from Munich to Zagreb, then Yugoslavia. Long trip, many countries to traverse. Was like in the movie Dr. Zhivago, passengers with all sorts of farm animals, no room, one had to sit on a suit case all that long trip. Usually in those Eastern States people speak also (besides Russian or Serb Croatia) German or French. When taking a train into the country side from Zagreb, I had a Serbo Croatian dictionary with me. Not realizing that most peasants could not read.

Good tip: Before travel to Europe best not to purchase any rail passes. They are cheaper on location. Plus, often rail lines have special deals. Europe, trains are a wonderful alternative. Locally Bus systems are preferred. Certain other countries outside of Europe, wait times can be very long. Never traveled to any country where I did not find public transit maps and schedules at the airport on arrival or any train station. Also check not only government trains systems, but also private companies operating trains (like in Italy).

Travel on a budget

Home away from home. This post on food and vacation rentals.

Though I hate to generalize, but I can safely say – after traveling alone most of my life – that no matter if you find a way to “travel on a budget”, this only works if you NOT travel alone. Almost all accommodations advertise “sleeps 3, 4, 5, or even 12” (whatever that means). The odd times, I can find “sleeps 2”. Never once seen “sleeps one person only”.

Rule of thumb: As a single traveler you usually pay more. This applies to renting vacation accommodations. [Cruises, you always pay double.] However, even the odd time I found vacation rentals for 500 a month. Lots of ‘foot work’ to dig that up. Mostly it is much more.

I am considering for example the Bahamas, because it is half way between the Pacific Coast where I live and Europe, where my family lives. Plus, it is pleasant climate and few restrictions for Canadians. In the following link [ http://www.bahamasonabudget.info/ ], someone implies that “
One of the biggest costs away from home is
food and drink” (quoted from that web site). No matter which country you travel to, from experience I found that accomodation is the most expensive item when traveling. Food is not. Having a decent “roof over your head” is priceless and costly. Unless you travel in a group (most people do not) and share with half a dozen others. What kind of fun is that ?!

Eating out in restaurants on the other hand can get pricey. Because of service costs. While food items bought in super markets, grocery stores, any kinds of markets, is cheap. No matter which country one travels to. Mostly it is much less expensive than the city where my home is. The other reason I do not eat restaurant food is, that I am a good cook and do not trust what others present me with. Drink likewise. Anywhere in the world, one bottle of good wine cannot be more expensive than 20 or 30 dollars (in a store), in fact in Europe more like under ten . Restaurant ?, try get a glass for that.

Conclusion. To save while traveling: try get accomodation/vacation rental with at least a small kitchen. Try, not to eat street food in certain countries. Make sure the food you buy is clean. Wash your own laundry. Do your own cleaning. Find the best deals where to buy groceries and a decent cup of coffee. [Example: Here in Cannes, Côte d’Azur, one bistro asks 5 for one cappuccino, next door it is 2.50]. To look at (food) cost of living, first thing I do is check out how much a cup of coffee and specialty coffee costs. [Transportation = next post.]

1967 was the year the World Wildlife Fund Canada was founded, Toronto ON. It became a member of the worldwide global network of the WWF, which came into being April 1961, in Morges, Switzerland. 2017 will be the fiftieth anniversary of the WWF. In recognition of this and the tremendous effort and work of this organization, its members and contributors and supporters were asked to write a personal story about the year 1967. “Where were you in 1967 ?”

In my case, the year 1967 was very special. In January 1967 I got married to a Dutchman. Living in Holland and working for the European Space Technology Centre (ESA) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. In June that same year we took a vacation of two weeks to Varna, Bulgaria, the Black Sea. Just shortly prior to that, the six day war had broken out in Israel, the conflict between Israel and the Arab countries.

[ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six-Day_War ] Our plan had been to take a boat voyage across the Black Sea to Odessa, at that time still the USSR (Soviet Union). But because of the war, European nationals were not allowed into the USSR, because Russia was pro-Arab, whereas Europe was pro-Israel. Particularly the Netherlands.

Therefore, instead, we took the boat from Varna to Istanbul, Turkey. That crossing was not easy, it was rough. Istanbul in contrast was a wonderful and exciting cultural experience. That same year 1967, late in September my son was born. Making him next year also fifty years old, the same age as the World Wildlife Fund of Canada.

Of course during those years and living in Europe there was no such thing as wildlife. The best we came up with had been house pets. My caring for wildlife and the environment started in North America, when completing my graduate studies at Syracuse University, New York State. My major projects were on environmental information systems, in particular the United Nations Environment Programme. It was also during that period that I became aware of the problems our oceans are facing. The period was 1974. And today ? we hear the same. Nothing much has been accomplished as of yet. Keep up the good work for endangered wildlife species. It may be hard work, but it is worthwhile to never give up the fight.