Saturday, June 25. 2011
Romantic Hotel Revisited Posted by Roadlogger in Fortin de las Flores at 07:56
Geotagged: 18,54.0434N, 96,59.7488W
Hotel Fortin de las Flores, Veracruz One of the dangers of travel writing is that things change. That pretty much makes it impossible, or at least dangerous to coast on your reputation or rest on your laurels. Oh Lord, have I learned that over the 30 years I have been publishing travel articles. In fact, sometimes things change as soon as I am heading out of town.
So, it was with great trepidation that I approached the Hotel Fortin de las Flores in the town of Fortin de la Flores in the state of Veracruz. My memory was never the best, and as I have left sixty years of age in the rear view mirror, it seems to be eroding rapidly. Hotel Fortin de las Flores is one of those hotels Graham Greene would say had "faded grandeur." The faded part has nothing to do with being run-down. In fact, the opposite is true. Hotel Fortin is kept up and is still first-class. However, its glory days are behind it, simply because the days of travel glory are behind us all. In its heyday, people came to this hotel from all over the world. It sports a stunning view of Mt. Orizaba, a snow-capped volcano. The mountain can best be seen from the pool, which is famous in itself.
In the season (spring), the pool is entirely covered with gardenias every morning. This romantic touch is still maintained. I was so glad. Since my traveling companion (Bill Kaliher) was hardly conducive to a romantic evening, it was fortunate that we met a couple from San Miguel de Allende who checked in about the same time. I asked the lady if she thought the hotel was romantic. She wasn't sure. Her husband, however, quipped that he would let us know how things went later that evening. His wife hit him, but not very hard. I believe it would have been called a love tap. She was smiling when she did it.
The next morning, they were both smiling and giggling, so I think I got my answer. I have it on good authority that many a lovey-dovey, turtle dove cuddly night has been inaugurated there. So my dilemma was that I had been recommending the hotel with a caveat to couples, based on feedback others had given me, and to be honest, my own experiences of decades past. I was always upfront, telling them that other clients had told me it was still a grand place, but it hurt me to do that. Finances and time kept me from checking it out in the past few years.
The hotel has heavy wooden beams and hand-crafted archways all around. The polished tile floors are so perfect that is seems a sacrilege to walk on them. The gardens combine palm trees and tropical foliage that seems incongruous in the shadow of a snow-capped volcano. The rooms are ample (and, yes, they have TV, though I did not turn it on to see if it worked) and blessedly quiet. The staff is friendly and happy to be there. That is the biggest recommendation a hotel can give itself. The Internet is actually decent, with multiple routers.
When you stay there, you think of the days when men wore tuxedos (or at least suits) and women wore long gowns to come down for dinner. Elegance is gone, for the most part, in today's Mexico and USA. We are so casual now. But, if you go to the Hotel Fortin de las Flores and want to dress up, you will fit right in. Alas, part of the old days that will never be recaptured is that Pico de Orizaba blew its top several years ago and is not quite as impressive as it was. Perhaps that was Nature's way of commenting on the decline in tourism standards.
Finding the Hotel Fortin de las Flores was a challenge, due to construction, but everyone in town knows where it is. We were guided there by a wonderful lady who drove up on our right in a traffic jam and asked politely if she could cut in. She was so nice (oh heck, she was pretty, too), that we said, Sure. Then we asked her if the next exit was for Fortin de las Flores. She said it was. We asked her if she knew how to get to the hotel. Of course! she exclaimed.
Then she lead us around the construction right to the front door. We gave her our cards and she wrote us back. As it turns out, she works for the United Nations here in Mexico. The whole incident was soooo Mexico. Mexico is the land of serendipity. Chance encounters lead down a cascading path of pleasant discoveries. A leads to B, but then to E, and on to R and so on.
We were in a traffic jam for maybe 50 miles and several hours. Nobody knew exactly why. Rather than curse the jam, people got out, stretched and joked with each other. I got some great pictures. Then, because of the jam, we did not make our destination. That was how we ended up in Fortin.
Because we went to Fortin, we met the nice lady, Lucy, who shared part of her country with us. So those of you who are sitting home, imagining Mexico to be an armed camp could not be more wrong. We are here and people like Lucy are still here too. Oh, and we should not forget the nice people who took time out of their day to explain and draw maps for a shortcut to get back to the freeway.
The nice people included a shop owner and a policewoman. So don't miss an opportunity to come to Fortin because of the negative media propaganda. Just come on down. The weather and the views are fine. Hotel Fortin de las Flores Web site: http://hotelfortindelasflores.com.mx/ Rates: About $800 pesos double
Saturday, June 25. 2011
Catemaco, Veracruz Posted by Mexico Mike in Veracruz state at 02:42
Geotagged: 18,24.7935N, 95,7.2009W
Never say never. During my last trip through Veracruz last year, I had to bypass Catemaco. I thought then that I would never get back there. Never came early, because we just left Catemaco.
Catemaco is not the sort of destination that your average jet-setter would visit. I think that is a good thing. There are many Mexicos and many types of tourists. God bless the jet-setters â€“ they are the bulk of tourists to Mexico and as such, contribute to the economy more than people like you and me. And, even I have jetted to destinations when I was on press trips. It is not really how you get to Mexico that matters, it is what you do with your time and where you go once you are here.
We stayed at the Hotel Los Arcos www.arcoshotel.com.mx . This is one of those reasonably-priced middle-class Mexico hotels that I find to be such a bargain. Some say Mexico has gotten too expensive. I suppose that is a matter of debate. The Los Arcos (and most of the hotels Iâ€™ve stayed at for the last two years) costs $500 MXN single or double.
The hotel is built in a U around a pool and parking lot. Parking could not be more secure. The rooms are reasonably-sized and the ones on the side of the hotel away from the street, towards the back, are exceptionally quiet. You know me â€“ Mikey has to have a quiet room. That may be one of the personality quirks that keeps me from assimilating into the Mexican culture. In general, Mexican people are way more tolerant of noise than I am. The point for other travelers is that pretty much no matter what your quirk is, the people in Mexico will try to accommodate you.
Catemaco is about a thousand feet above sea level on the Gulf Coast. Because of this slight elevation, it has a warm, but not oppressively hot climate. I certainly love Veracruz city and the seafood, but even I have to admit that when you get away from the beaches with the breeze, it is warm in summer. Catemaco is above all that, so to speak.
Catemaco is built on the shore of a volcanic lake. There are picturesque views from just about anywhere on the Malecon. However, I remembered a particular photograph I took twenty or so years ago and wanted to return to the spot. Bill remembered the same spot as he had taken pictures there too. So we drove off down the road south of town to see if our memories were still intact. After all, the long-term memory is the last to go, so we figured we were pretty likely to find it.
Find it we did.
Why go to Catemaco? The main tourist reasons are the lake, the holistic lodge and eco-tourism park Nanciyaga, the reputation it has as a location for brujas (witches) and curanderos (healers) and just a picturesque Mexican town. For the adventurous restaurants serve a local snail from the lake.
My own humble opinion (based on personal experience and those of friends of mine who are healers themselves) is that Santiago Tuxtla up the road 16 miles north has more authentic healers. On the way there, you pass through Santiago Tuxtla where almost all of the cigars are made in Mexico. Bill stocked up but I quit a couple of years ago or I would have. I rank good Mexican cigars with any from anywhere else. But, like all travel-related things, as in the beginning of this post, taste is relative.
Another attraction is the jungle and the reforestation that is going on there. Nanciyaga can proudly boast that they have restored much of the native habitat, which speaks highly of them and the clientele that visits the. While we were there, I availed myself of the services of Ben Suykens, a European-trained, Mexican-licensed chiropractor. He has restored much of the land he owns and even the coyotes are coming back, to complete the cycle of life. Hand around Catemaco long enough and you will begin to talk like that.
My next post will be on Eyipantla Falls, an attraction I have missed seeing in all my years in Mexico. The lesson is that Mexico always has something new to offer â€“ even to an old goat like me.
See you down the road in Mexico.
Monday, June 20. 2011
The Internet has revolutionized (and demeaned) travel writing with its tyranny of immediacy and the democratization of information. Everyone who is anyone (and many who are not) has a web page, if nothing more than a WordPress blog that almost looks like a real web page. Sites like TripAdvisor make everyone an expert. Citizen reviewers are like citizen journalists. Sometimes professionals do a better job.Ã‚ We at least try to get the facts straight before publishing. And, even when we have felt unappreciated by hoteliers, we generally refrain from printing saying negative things. We may damn with faint praise, but that takes some skill. Too often, I have seen someone who had a bad experience or a chip on his/her shoulder lambast a hotel for things that were not the hotelierÃ‚?s fault. I have seen people complain about sulfur hot springs hotels because they smelled bad. Come on! Sulfur has always smelled bad. People go there because of the sulfur.
I have seen people diss a good hotel because it did not have TV in the rooms, when one of the attractions of that hotel was that it was isolated and a place to get away and mellow out. When I owned a travel agency, we lost sales and a good hotel was hurt because someone wrote a scathing review of a spa we represented. The woman had not even stayed at the spa. She had stayed at the hotel by the same name, which was a completely different setup. People who make themselves feel superior by hurting others should make sure of their facts.
Ah, but I rant. On with the story. Eventually, when I have the energy, I will put real reviews of real hotels by real travelers who know what they are talking about. And I will approve them. But that is for farther down the road. Travel writing is more than merely traveling to a hotel, staying a few days and writing about it. It is, at its best, an opportunity to show an outsider a glimpse into the society and area around a destination. It is an opportunity to marry literary excellence with journalistic impartiality. A very few writers have ever achieved that. And among those, some are just so opinionated that they get the facts wrong in order to aggrandize their egos. But hey, I have never claimed to have achieved that lofty goal. I just slog along, reporting what I can, adding a little spice of my years of knowledge.
Sunday, June 12. 2011
On June 11, Banjercito changed the fees for car permits. Now you must pay a DEPOSIT based on the age of your car (not your own ages, than God). You get the deposit back when you cancel the permit. For 2007 and newer, deposit is $400. 2001-2006 - $300. 2000 and older - $200. This is charged to your credit card immediately. It is refunded the day after you cancel your permit.
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