REMEMBER, YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST: NOBODY EVER KNEW THE TROUBLES CARDENAS WOULD SEE:

I’m sorry to have to say that the new mayor of MexCity is in even worse trouble than I predicted last summer when I urged him not to run, because he might win.

Yesterday it was reported that, to add insult to injury, the outgoing administration not only ran up an unpayable debt before it left, it took the records with it. And not just the records of their financial jiggery-pokery, oh no! They wiped the computer disks of essential employment records (think pension, hospitalization, etc), property transfers: even the records that gave the addresses and ownership status of thousands of government-owned and -rented buildings. And then, they took most of the computer terminals, along with the desks, the drapes, the carpet and the telephones. One functionary was heard to moan “all they left were a few pencils”. Thousands of city automobiles have “disappeared”, and the thousands that are left are mostly junk, in spite of millions spent for alleged “repair and maintenance” of said vehicles. At this juncture, it would appear that the world’s largest city is unable to pay its debts, unable to deliver basic services like water and electricity to its citizens on a reliable daily basis, and unable to protect its denizens from what are being reported as massive increases in crime and police corruption.

In my wildest imagination, I did not believe it would get this bad. It is not inconceivable that Cardenas will have to make an accommodation with the old PRIistas and share power in order to save the city.

YANKEES GO HOME — BRINGING DOWN THE TEQUILA CURTAIN IN CHIAPAS:

All indications are that the Mexican army is planning a final solution to the Zapatista problem in Chiapas. New death squad grouops are popping up — and popping off at PRD organizers — in Comitan, and the authorities are blaming the victims. Zedillo continues his militaristic sabre rattling in “support” of the military who now effectively call the shots in Chiapas. The calls for the death of Bishop Samuel Ruiz of San Cristobal are increasing, as are the number of bodyguards he has been forced to hire. PRD leaders in Chiapas have been being assassinated at a rate of more than one a week and in the last week more peasants in the north of Chiapas have been driven from their land (and their valuable coffee crops).

As part of the buildup, patrols of Immigration inspectors (La MIgra is a department of hardliner Labastida’s Interior Ministry) now routinely stop foreigners in the sreets of San Cristobal and demand to see their visas. Frequently, they are escorted downtown to be interrogated about their activities. Summary deportations of “suspected violators” are increasing. Mexican law says that tourists may not take part in any political activity, a view that recently led to a woman from the US being ejected for marching in a Peace march, and a longtime activist Tom Hansen being run out for filming a Zapatista meeting more than a year ago. Outside observers, whose main job has been to be a “presence” to deter army excesses, are now being considered to be “outside agitators”, and ever since an incident where a group of European and north american observers prevented a Televisa network TV crew from doing their thing in the northern highlands, there is a growing movement to expel all observers from Chiapas. In the PRI run Chamber of Deputies, a bill has been introduced which in part urges all government agencies to “fully enforce all laws against foreign intervention” in the affairs of Mexico.

Incidence of robberies of tourist buses, particularly in the area of the Ucimacinta river on the Guatemalan border also appear to have been increasing, as have physical attacks on foreigners and robberies of foreign tourists, particularly in Mexico City and along the roads of southern Mexico. The effect is bound to be the removal of as many witnesses as possible from the scene in preparation for a massive army incursion into Zapatista influenced villages and jungle areas. I have changed my advice in my Orientation class from “it’s ok if you stick to the main roads and do not travel at night” to “not a good idea at this time”.

MADRE TIERRA AND PIZZA RUSTICA: REAL EUROPEAN CUISINE COMES TO OAXACA:

Once upon a time, there were two Pizza Rustica’s. Owned by Italian brothers, one was downtown across from Santo Domingo and one in Colonia (neighborhood) Reforma. A couple of years ago, the brothers split up their partnership, and the downtown bistro changed its name to Pizza Nostrano. A couple of months ago, the other brother expanded into downtown himself, and took over a troubled location where, for the last four years, no restaurant had managed to survive. He is not only surviving, but prospering. Starting with an extremely tasteful redo of the interior courtyard that forms the main dining room in this colonial mansion, and continuing with the staff of experienced waiters, and ending with some of the best Italian food we’ve found, the restaurant, right next to the Library, is a treat for the senses and the palate. Try the gorganzola sauce on any of their home-made pastas.

Madre Tierra is an import from Chiapas. Run by the daughter of the British woman who founded it in San Cristobal many years ago, and ensconsed in a two-patio rambling colonial which had been abandoned for years, Madre Tierra serves an eclectic selection of mostly vegetarian dishes. There is also live music at night, and because of a tightly organized group of neighbors they have been forced to cut off the rock and roll they used to feature in favor of romantica and acoustic guitar, adding to the ambiance. Try the spinach canneloni. Also stop in their deli for such delicacies as balsamic vinegar, virgin olive oil and imported pasta, as well as home made bread and sweet rolls (I recommend the pan ajo (garlic bread).

Neither of these eateries are Cocina Economicas (low priced kitchen), but they fall within an acceptable “high middle” range, and they deliver value for money.

ON THE ROAD WITH STAN AND DIANA (AND DAN), CHAPTER III:

When last heard from, our intrepid travelers were asleep in Pachuca, Hidalgo. As we return to our saga of the open road, they are traversing Eastern Hidalgo on the road to Morelia, Michoacan.

THE HOT RIVER:

Taking a tip from readers Ken and Barb Luboff, we went in search of a volcanic river to warm our heat-deprived bods. From the dusty crossroads town of Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, we headed north and west toward the Rio Tula where it threads through the ejido of Tolantongo. Here, after a one-hour, twenty-five kilometer drive on a dirt road, we descended through 32 switchbacks, and after an additional half an hour, we arrived at the balenario (swimming place), well- but not overcrowdedly- occupied by weekenders from MexCity. The river here is widened and terraced into pools with river stones. The effect is like being in a tepid whirlpool bath. There are also a couple of swimming pools, one with a high diving board. There are new, modern rooms for rent up the hill, but they are generally full on weekends. If you bring your own food, you can get a cabana with two double beds and kitchen for 250p a night, over and above the 20p each and 10p per vehicle admission fee to the site. There are also a couple of strips of bare earth where people put up their tents, and up the hill near the cabanas are two or three lean-to’s where you can buy quesadillas and soda pop during the day. Dan and I, being big macho creeps, enjoyed the scary drive down the cliff enough so that we felt the soak was worth the trip; Diana thought that on balance it wasn’t.

It took most of the day to drive to the river and back from Ixmiquilapan, so we bunked in at the Del Valle motel, a wonderful little modern clean place with lots of hot water for $200. The larga distancia fee to call Pachuca from our hotel was 7p/minute, so we decided to skip the email. Dinner in the superclean, attached restaurant was a bargain: huge portions, good food, excellent service, medium prices. Breakfast, however, was average — but still not bad: Ixqui isn’t exactly the center of the universe.

THE MONARCH BUTTERFLIES:

Crossing into Michoacan from Hidalgo took all day. We ended up in Zitacuaro, a dirty little town in the western part of the state. We found no really good hotels or restaurants, although many are passable. We did not stay in Angengueo, the traditional jumpoff point for the butterflies, as we thought the prices at the recommended hotel, Don Bruno, were high at 400p for a room with a fireplace (absolutely necessary at that height during a rain). Next morning, we got up bright and early (8am), had breakfast and retraced our route. The drive up the mountain to Ocampo, the town before Angangueo, the “alternative” entrance to the preserve, took about an hour, as did the drive up the road to the preserve from there: a rough but passable journey of ten miles. I recommend this as the better route if you’re going by car: you can drive it yourself, and avoid the even rougher passage standing in the back of a flatbed truck from Angengueo, and the rather high fee for the ride (we heard $30 usd per person).

Once you have run the (gentle) gauntlet of car watchers, “guides” (they can only take you as far as the park entrance) and teeshirt sellers, and paid your fee to enter, the park furnishes you with a free guide up to the butterflies.

We picked a bad time to go up. Cold weather and overcast skies keep the butterflies huddled together in the trees. We managed to have good luck, however: the sun broke through just as we arrived, and we got to see a cloud or two of yellow fliers. The guide told us that on an average weekend, the visitors amount to a couple of thousand a day, and on weekdays (we went on a Monday) slow down to five hundred. There are forty three guides, plenty enough to go around on a weekday. We got there early, and were alone at the site. As we descended, groups of tourists were ascending: good timing.

We stopped at the official park souvenir stand on the way out, and bought our fill of butterfly refrigerator magnets, gimme caps, and other gimcracks. I purchased my only trip t-shirt, and it was a good deal anywhere at 35p, a surprisingly good buy.

Outside the park, on our way back downhill to the van, the two “guides” who had accompanied us to the park entrance on our way up were waiting with stacks of picture postcards of — you guessed it — Monarchs.

We spent the rest of the day driving to MORELIA, a stunningly baroque colonial city and the capital of Michoacan, a rich state. Check out the liquados and other fruit dishes at the Restaurant Cathedral on the square, they are cheap and good and the service in the outdoor sidewalk cafe is good too.

Skip the zoo. It’s well laid out, but the exhibits are dusty, threadbare and uninteresting. Make sure you get to the Casa de la Cultura, to view the junk sculptures in the outside performance area.

The hindu vegetarian restaurant has moved. It is now upstairs on Av Madero across from the Sailinas y Rocha store, about half way from the Zocalo to the viaduct.

Mall freaks, pay attention: Morelia has a big one. Aside from the obligatory Sears, this one features Armani, Bali, Gucci and other European fashion biggies. While not as big as its namesake by any means, the Mal de las Americas is only a few minutes’ bus ride from city center.

We stayed in the Morelos, near the University and the Aqueduct. At 300p it wasn’t cheap, but it was roomy, clean, and came with a plug suitable for email. We had at first stopped at the Mansión, nearby, but it was more expensive, which was really hard to take considering that it was obviously near empty. It reminded me of a disused set for a Spanish “spa” hotel, with its filthy baroque swimming pool full of leaves, and empty ill-lit ornate two-story lobby. The walk to the Zócalo was about a kilometer.

In Morelia, be sure to visit the Casa de las Artesanias. Aside from the museum pieces, there is an excellent “FONART” type of store, and upstairs around the back courtyard there are rooms, each selling only the products of the town in Michoacan for whom the room is named. I found a blue cotton longsleeved shirt for a hundred pesos, and for no extra charge the saleslady sat down at her sewing machine and made me a pocket. Unaccustomed as she must have been to shirt pockets, I now have a pocket I can put a paperback book into — a perfect alternative to back pocket carries.