Monday, October 26, 2009

Don Cuevas' Top 5 Hotel Picks

When we last heard from him, Felipe was concerned that the Cuevas couple was still skimping on pesos and staying in wretched backpacker budget hotels.

Rest your fears, amigo. With two borderline exceptions, we have not stayed in a budget hotel since 2004. Those exceptions were the Posada de La Villa (pretty basic and older),
and the Hotel Casa Galeana, (newer, nicer and noisy) both in Morelia. Neither of which would be on our Top 5 List, however. Since then, we have made it a point to spend the necessary money in order to be comfortable.

These are our top picks.
Mexico, D.F. is where we usually stay in hotels these days, going to and from the Aeropuerto Benito Júarez (MEX).

Hotel Milán, Av. Álvaro Obregón, Colonia Roma Norte. (Map) This is a 3 star hotel which is well located in a pleasant zone of the city, near parks and fountains, restaurants, coffeehouses plus new and used book stores. The rooms are modest in size but nicely renovated. The bathrooms are small but very clean and functional. Sometimes there is free wi-fi in the rooms.*

Hotel Catedral is our choice when staying in el Centro Histórico. It's a couple of blocks north of La Catedral. It has all the amenities but still, despite its increased popularity among Lonely Planet fans, its rates are still affordable. Book by email and save by not opting for the breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Save even more by paying en efectivo.

Also in CH, we have stayed at the
Hotel Gillow, the Catedral's older sister hotel, on Isabel La Católica at Cinco de Mayo, and we didn't think it worth the extra money. The Gillow has great, 1930's Art Deco style in its lobby and public spaces, but the room we had, though large, was quite worn.

Similarly, the cute Hotel Canadá on Cinco de Mayo itself has a pleasant staff but tiny rooms and street noise. The chief advantage of the latter two are their terrific location in the very center of the CH. The wonderful
Jugos Canadá is next door. The Gilipollos chicken restaurant is across Cinco de Mayo. (I confess; we haven't eaten there yet, but the '30s and '40s style Cafe La Blanca is only a block away.)

Back in Colonia Roma, we have recently pampered ourselves at the
Hotel Stanza (used to be called Hotel Parque Ensenada). The rooms are like the Catedral, but a higher notch in amenities and style. The rates are reasonable for the quality and service. We like it because it's a great place to rest while decompressng after a visit to the U.S. It's the closest decent hotel to Hamburguesas a la Parilla, just 3 short blocks north on Calle Morelia.*

*Note that both my Colonia Roma choices are within convenient range of several
Bisquets Obregón restaurants, including the Mother Ship of all Bisquets in Mexico. They are notable for serving decent fare at good prices.Breakfasts, accompanied by café con leche, are a strong point.

Puebla, Puebla.
We have only been in Puebla once, and we chose to stay at the quirky but pleasant
Hotel Imperial. In a way, it's a semi-budget hotel. They offer a geezer discount, if you show an INAPAM card. They also include a Manager's cena, but it's pretty basic. There's a breakfast included, a bit more elaborate. There's wi-fi, and it works. The location is quite central; a few blocks to the Zócalo. The rooms are old, and worn, but we were comfortable. We opted for a Suite Ejecutivo, as the price was so reasonable: $550 less INAPAM discount. In your spare time, you can get in a few holes of mini-miniature golf, while in your bathrobe. (Included in the Suite Ejecutivo price.)

Oaxaca, Oaxaca.

Really, we've only stayed in one hotel in Oaxaca, the
Casa Arnel. We have a great deal of affection for this hotelito and the family and staff that runs it.
On our first stay, in the early '90s, we skimped and took a very minimalist budget room, resembling a barely converted mop closet. Since then, Casa Arnel has renovated and improved so that the rooms are pleasant, although they could not be called luxurious. The attractions, besides the hospitable family, are the green leafy patio and the neighborhood. There is a small restaurant for guests, serving breakfasts, drinks and light meals.

Barrio Jalatlaco

The location is within 7 blocks of the first class bus station, in the picturesque Barrio antiguo Jalatlaco. It's a 20+ minute walk to the Zócalo, but an interesting paseo. A few blocks away is the Parque Júarez, better known as
El Llano, a very relaxing and pleasant place.

Casa Arnel is in a fairly quiet neighborhood, but there is sometimes noise from other guests out in the patio.

For longer stays, they have some basically furnished but pleasant apartments a few doors up the street.

Bonuses: A nice, inexpensive 
Morelia hotel; and a very nice expensive B and B:
1. Hotel Plaza Morelos.

We don't need to stay in
Morelia very often, as we live 45 minutes away. But sometimes there are occasions when we are in the city for some special event, for example the recent Lila Downs concert. We stayed one night at the Hotel Plaza Morelos, just off Avda Acueducto, on the west side of the eponymous plaza. Behind the colonial facade is a modern hotel. They have renovated parts of it, so you have a choice of "nice" and "better" rooms. None of it is luxuriously appointed, but for only $450 pesos (special promotional rate, usually $650), we had a very large room with 2 beds, a large bathroom, an unusually large closet space, free wi-fi, a Continental breakfast. Quibbles: the desk was silly, designed for tiny people with low knees, and there's a good sized outdoor swimming pool, but it didn't attract me because the water looked overdue for a change.

2. Now, if cosmetic defects bother you, such as paint spatters on the walls or unfinished wiring, or that the two sections of the building join in a skewed juncture, pass up the Plaza Morelos and get a reservation instead at the
Posada de San Antonio, nearby on the leafy, tree lined Calzada Fray Antonio de San Miguel, where you'll pay $1200 pesos a night for tranquility and peace and near perfection, plus a full breakfast, attended to by unusually amiable hosts. There are only 3 guest rooms. Some have great bathtubs, and plentiful hot water.

The map. Note Plaza Morelos just east of the Posada San Antonio.

This concludes my hotel picks for now.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hoteles Mexicanos: Los Buenos, Los Malos y Los Feos Part 3

I'm beginning to realize that these anecdotes of Bad budget hotels could go on for a long, long time. Conversely, what's so interesting about a Good hotel?

I think I'm getting close to wrapping up this theme.

But I must highlight just one more really bad hostelry. It's
hard to choose: the hotel in Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, whose bathrooom window almost fell to the street below when I opened it? The Hotel Lorena, in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, looking like a suite of bare bones dental offices, with the bare electrical wires in the closet?

The room in the Hotel Avenida in Chihuahua that had the concrete support column in the middle of the tiny room, and a good view of the flashing lights of the marquee just below our window? Not to mention the literally piped in central AC that came on and off at the whim of management?

No; the outstandingly bad hostelry was the Casa de Húespedes Bed and Breakfast in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, January, 1993. We were in full backpacker kit and mentality as we drudged up the cobbled streets of SCLC, while light drizzle fell. Our goal was this fantastically cheap hostelry which offered a room with bath PLUS breakfast for the peso equivalent of U.S. $10 a night/dbl.

After a long walk from the bus station, we arrived at the two story Casa de Húespedes, where we were greeted and shown two different rooms. The first was closer to to the main house. We imediately detcted a foul sewer odor upon entering. We quicly noted that the bathroom was separated from the bedroom by a coarse curtain.
We immediately asked to see another room.

That looked and smelled a lot better. By now, our energy reserves were at the point of no return. We needed to stay because we lacked the strength to return to the centro and look for another place. Besides, we really wanted to experience the cheapest lodging deal we'd ever read about.
We took the room.

It was nearly bare: a bed, a few pegs in the wall for clothing and a small card table for a nightstand.
We soon realized that the bed had no mattress but only a boxspring, covered by the bedding. There was one, bare light bulb in the room.

The bathroom was a charmer: a copper pipe snaked into the window, ending in a big showerhead. We were not keen to use the shower, as the bathmat was a filthy car floormat. The bathroom floor was equally unattractive.

We decided to make the best of it and crawled into the bed, between thick woolen blankets, atop our boxsprings.

Lights out.

We were awakened at intervals by the shrill screams of a child. Sleep was difficult, but we somehow survived a restless night.

When we went to the sunny terrace where a breakfast of frijoles negros, tortillas, eggs and excellent coffee was served, we could almost overlook the wretched night we'd experienced. But we knew we couldn't stand another night like that, so after breakfast, we left, lugging our backpacks, and found a nice, clean warm place, with hot water showers, just off centro. It was about U.S. $17 a night, with no breakfast, but it was worth it. La Posada Virginia was cozy and homey, and we snugged right in.

Stay tuned for Don Cuevas' Picks of his favorite Mexican Hotels.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hoteles Mexicanos: Los Buenos, Los Malos y Los Feos, Part 2

In a previous post, I described some of the features of the Hotel Montecarlo, which I would rank among the best budget hotels in México.
Good price, great location, lots of ambience.

Our other hotel experiences were not always so favorable. The first one was a small place in the provincial town of Pánuco, in the Veracruz lowlands, along the winding Río Pánuco, back in '80. I forget its name. We'd had a long, tiring day, of considerable exertion, after climbing up to a cave, and we arrived after dark. Pánuco greeted us with a Hair Raising Vehicle Adventure on a steep street, ending at some posts atop a precipice, from which we'd reversed ourselves, clutch lurching and tires smoking. We'd already seen another hotel, which did not impress us favorably, but the one we selected was not any better.

 (This picture is NOT of our Pánuco hotel. Looks Australian, don't it?)

The room was "only" the equivalent of $8 USD for the 3 of us, with two beds and at least one, large cockroach.

The most striking aspect of the room was the shocking pink paint job, with a sensitive appliqúe of green frog patterns climbing in rows up the wall. Or could have been shocking pink frogs climbing a green wall. It was a long time ago.

The temperature and humidity were uncomfortable, so we opened the massive, sheet iron windows to catch whatever breeze, but catching instead the nocturnal noises of vehicles, crowing roosters and flying insects.

The small bathroom, our first experience with the "all-in-one" design, had a stuffed up commode. There was a conveniently situated vent above the toilet shared with the bathroom of the adjoining room, which also shared earthy sounds and aromas. I don't recall hot water, but because of the heat, cold water was welcome.
After a few hours of fitful sleep, we were glad to get out of there and on the road.
I can't even remember what I had for breakfast, or where.

Stay tuned; there are more hotel tales, and they get worse before they get better.

Hoteles Mexicanos: Los Buenos, Los Malos y Los Feos

A recent post by David Lida, "
It was good enough for D.H. Lawrence", on the venerable Hotel Montecarlo, in the Centro Histórico of México, D.F. brought back memories. Replying under my pseudonym, "Michael Warshauer", I wrote:
¡Viva el Hotel Montecarlo!
I started staying there on my second visit to Mexico City, February 1992. It was the equivalent of U.S. $14 a a night for a single room.

When my wife and I started staying there in ‘93, the peso price had risen but the dollar price had dropped. We last stayed there in February, 2004 for about U.S. $25. At that point, I realized that my aching, aging bones needed more comfort and we started staying elsewhere. The acrobatic antics necessary to enter some of the smaller bathrooms no longer amused me, nor were the infamous “eraser” pillows, with a consistency of firm rubber, still tolerable.
The doorlocks on the rooms were always cantankerous, but fun if you liked puzzles.
I always enjoyed arising early, going the to branch of the Pastelería Ideal across the street, and bringing back fresh pan dulce for us, the old night clerk, Arnulfo, and later, the security guard.
Gracias, David, for reawakening memories of our earlier, more adventurous travels in Mexico.

Night desk clerk Sr. Arnulfo and Doña Cuevas

Felipe Zapata responded that although he'd wanted to stay there, just once, in order to say he'd done it, my description convinced him not to.
In an email to him, I expanded the details, so that he could get the full flavor of the place. Some excerpts, below
In my reply on David Lida's blog, I failed to mention the Pervert Lounge, or whatever it's called, almost directly across the street. The large, high ceilinged front rooms would be the best ones, were it not for the Pervert Lounge disco. On Th, F and Sat, it revs up at about 10 o'clock and blasts away until about 4:00 a.m. The music (?) penetrates even the heavy wooden shutters and curtains. No wonder there're loose plaster fragments in the rooms. (Really, they're from sismos.)
Not all the rooms have acrobats' bathrooms. Some are grand salas, where you may bathe, evacuate and shave all at once, as you like. Be sure to move the toilet paper out of the range of spray before showering.
The newer, smaller but quieter rooms, at the back of the hotel, usually have windows or narrow airshafts, or no window at all, but an overhead ventilator. They felt snug and safe. Those rooms tend to be the ones with acrobatic bathroms.
Taller persons need to take care when descending the grand, curving staircase from the primer piso to the lobby. There's the underside of a marble cornice that can cause head damage if you walk on the wrong side. (There is a small and cranky elevator, capacity 3 persons and a small amount of luggage.) But you can make a grand entrance on the grand staircase, as if anyone cared.
Free local calls, through the ancient switchboard!
Another neat thing was when cars were driven into the lobby and parked in the ground floor garage.
Yes, we have a lot of affection for the old Hotel Montecarlo. It was one of the best budget hotels in which we've stayed during our earlier travels in La República. There have been much worse.

Stay Tuned

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Pole Dancers

It's been scarcely a month since our house underwent the Glorious Rectification of Electrification Project. So it was with considerable astonishment the other day, that I saw a big truck parked in our street, laden with cable, parts and stout new concrete posts.
I knew I hadn't ordered any work.

Neither the trucks nor the uniforms of the somewhat boisterous crew bore the CFE (Comisíon Federal de Electrificacíon) logo. I concluded correctly that they must be contractors.

Using posthole diggers, they excavated new holes close to the previous posts. Next, the trucks placed the new, taller and stouter posts into the sockets. This was accomplished with a large mechanical claw I call "The Grabber". Delicate nuances of positioning were aided by muscle power, through the use of the rope slings. (These slings also are the pole climbing device used by the workmen.)

After the three poles were emplaced, the crew began the changeover of the power lines to to the new poles. This meant that we had to patiently wait a 2 to 3 hour period without power. (We have become proficient at this.) Later, the lines and posts were extended for hundreds of meters farther until they reached a farm gate. The final post has a large lamp above, to light the gate.

Although at first I'd had the impression that the crew was a bunch of uncouth laborers, I gained new respect for their skills as I watched them work. The job is not only a skilled one but a dangerous one. They gracefully climbed the poles, sometimes in pairs, and reset the lines.

Soon after they had restored the power to our house, they set about removing the old post from inside our yard. This was a very delicate maneuver to accomplish without damaging our house or our new electric line-in. It was done successfully and I could let my breath out again.

Later, we met the ranchero who was responsible for not only the gravel extension of our road uphill, beyond the pavement, but also the new electric lines and posts. He's planning to build a house up in what are presently fields. The view is superb from there. He mentioned putting in a sports field for the community, but we gently tried to dissuade him. (As if we have any influence in the matter.)

He also kidded us about developing a Colonia Americana. Maybe the money will run out before that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sofas, So Good

We recently saw an ad in the Morelia_Connect email bulletin for a sofa, loveseat and a "puff", (Whatever that was. It's what we call a hassock.).

We had been wanting for some time to furnish our living room with more than the
Lifetime brand plastic folding furniture we'd purchased up to now.

We immediately emailed the seller to put a hold on this alluring sofa set and to make an appointment to see it.

When we arrived at their Morelia home, it was something of a surprise that the furniture was not in use in the owner's living room, but rather, jammed upright in a storeroom, and partially hidden by other furniture.

We got a glimpse of the handsome
vinilpiel covering, and a better look at the zippered beige fabric cushions. The price was very reasonable, so without hesitation, we made a partial payment on the furniture. We already had a passing friendly acquaintance with the family, so were willing to purchase the set semi-sight unseen.

Over a week we hauled the pieces back to our country home near Pátzcuaro. Once all the pieces were in the house, we tried various configurations that were both pleasing and practical.

It is not possible in this house to have a both a good view out the window and a pleasing arrangement of the furniture. The many swing-inward windows of the dining room threaten the risk of a blow to the head when comes a gust of wind. Thus, there were some constraints.

When the sofa and love seat were lined up, the room looked like a doctor's waiting room. We tried several configurations over two days, and then hit upon an L shape. (See photo below)

I then decided that the dining room table (not seen, behind and to the right of the sofa in above photo) had to be turned 90º from the previous placement. That freed up more space for the new sofas and gave an aesthetically more pleasing feel to the room. But this new arrangement deprived Doña Cuevas of her accustomed view out of the window. She now has to sit at the narrow end of the table. She is adaptable.

It was quickly apparent that the "new" furniture, although attractive enough, was somewhat stark and needed some color accents. We made a fast search in Costco and Wal-Mart for possible throw cushions So far, nothing ignited our attention.

Fortunately,we have a collection of serapes and rebozos originating in Oaxaca and Michoacán to lend visual interest. Before you know it,
we'll be out browsing local talleres and galerías, looking for artesanías.
(No; never; not us!) But we might paint the stark white interior walls something bright and cheerful, during the dry season ahead.

In the few days since we set up the sofa and love seat, we've so far given them limited use. We have to retrain ourselves to change from our usual lounging spots to take advantage of them.

We'd no idea that buying this sofa set would be such a life-changing experience.

Autumnal Equinox

The Autumnal Equinox has passed. The fields are graced by wildflowers, notably the showy pink cosmos.

The waning days of September are a time for reflection for us.
This is the time when I mark another birthday, when we note that we've lived in México 4 years, and our adopted city, Pátzcuaro, celebrates the anniversary of its founding.

It was in the ugly, pre-dawn hours that we crossed the border at Nuevo Laredo on September 15, 2005. After a strenuous two day journey, hauling a 12 foot cargo trailer, our transmission blew out some 50 miles short of Morelia, We were kindly given refuge for the next two weeks at the home of an expat American lawyer in the heights above the city.

On the night of the 28th of September, 2005, we joined Patzcuarenses in celebrating the Anniversary of the City, with a blast of fireworks at the Plaza Grande.

On the first of October, we moved into a chilly, woodland cabin in the heights above Pátzcuaro. We lasted there six months before the cold and dust got to us. Then we went to house sit for the late Jimmy Blackfeather. His house was sheer luxury after the cabin. I especially enjoyed the lengthy hot showers afforded by the 3 or 4 large hot water heaters.

In June, 2006, we were guided to our present home out in the ranchos by the late Mel O'Hara. This has become our place of contentment.

Over the past three years our house has enjoyed a couple of upgrades, through the kindness of our landlords. First was a new, traditional tiled, techo de tejas, plus a lovely cerulean exterior paint job.

This year they paid for a rewiring of the house so that we now can enjoy safe electricity and fewer trips to the breaker box. We can now operate the toaster oven and microwave at the same time.

There have recently been many changes in our neighborhood. Both of our American neighbors moved away to larger homes on the edge of Pátzcuaro. Although we still will see them, we will miss their congenial proximity out here on the rancho. There are new friends to be made.