Monday, July 26, 2004

Mexico City

Very tired.   The city is very pretty in the area where the hotel is, it is wealthy and actually feels very European with many trees and cafés.   The weather is mild, partly sunny in the low 70s, with no humidity. 

There is a street called "Horacio" which has a park running through the centre of it.   There are pine trees that line the park and it is well manicured, and it goes for what seems like miles.  Just very beautiful.

Lots of nifty book stores and boutiques in the area, as well as the typical expensive stores (Armani, Gucci, Hugo Boss, etc.) that are on the main street.

I will definitely come back to check out the city when I have more time!


Saturday, July 24, 2004

Villahermosa, Mexico

After two very full days of work, with essentially no free time, last night I took a look at the competitive hotels - and therefore my first look at the city.

Villahermosa is a green city, but largely industrial.   The Hyatt is an older building wedged on a small street off one of the city's two main roads.  Adjacent is another hotel (of obviously lower star quality) and a modern and very tall glass office building.   Across the main road is a beautiful large park with a lagoon and a museum housing some of the famous huge Olmec stone heads (I've seen them on tv before).   I plan on going there today.

The city has another main road that intersects; I can see this road rising above the trees from my window, it is very busy and crosses the city south to north.    Along this other road are some of the main shopping centres - nothing fancy, more like strip malls.    But at least all of the streets are lined by trees which is nice.

From the window of my room, which faces south, I can see the cathedral off in the distance.  I plan on taking a taxi there today to check it and the main plaza out.   But the rest of the city looks industrial and rather unattractive.     Villahermosa is an oil town, the headquarters of Pemex.    Scattered across the horizon are water towers, offfice buildings, radio towers, highway bridges and concrete houses.   

The hotel is very hip.   The rooms are modern, sleek, in cream colours and cherry furniture accented with brick red upholstery and red mexican patterned pillows.    The bathroom is small but has a glass stall with a rain showerhead and beige limestone with red granite vanity.  Surprisingly nice!    The lobby is still traditional but they plan on renovating this during the Fall. 

Today I plan on taking my time relaxing in the room, then going to the park and museum, then off to the cathedral, returning to go work out and then work in my room tonight.    The goal is to RELAX.   I leave for Mexico City tomorrow late morning...


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Conversion has gone VERY well, easily, I have budgeted much more time than needed.   The competitive site inspection, day one training and conversion could have all taken place in one – albeit long – day instead of two.   So I’ve taken advantage of the weather and enjoyed the afternoons by the pool and worked in the evenings until late.  
Today it has been sunny all day and no rain – for once.   Weather forecast is clear through the week.
A couple of funny things that have happened that I forget mentioning:
-         Driving back from Chichén Itza in the middle of the Yucatan brush hearing “Born in the U.S.A.” on the radio
-         On my first day orienting with the staff, I asked if anyone at the hotel had met the Pritzkers, the owners of Hyatt Corporation.   Rosario mentioned the closest they ever came was when one of the relatives brought a group of college students every year – from Michigan State University.   I nearly fell over.   She said they come every year and party in Mérida over spring break.
-         The nicest Wal-Mart in the world is just up the street.  It is so inoccuous that at first I didn’t even notice it – which for Wal-Mart is usually impossible.  It is make of limestone and the sign is just carved into the limestone, no tacky blue/white sign.   Inside it is very clean and, although obviously a Wal-Mart, not overstuffed and unpleasant as most of them are.
The heat and the humidity here are stifling.   I can’t imagine living in a climate of 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity for month after month.  The heat is ok, but the humidity makes it hard to breathe!
More work to do tonight, so I must sign off for now.   A full day of training tomorrow, then I leave for Villahermosa for a full day on Thursday with almost no free time. 

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Chichén Itza
“On the immense plain of the northern Yucatan Peninsula, with neither mountains nor rivers to disturb the uniformity of the landscape, among the agaves, thorny bushes and short trees, stands monumental Chichén Itza, one of the most spectacular ceremonial centers in all antiquity.”   - Michelin Green Guide
The morning was clear, not a cloud in the sky.   I left for Chichén Itza around 10:30am, and after getting out of Mérida (I had no idea the city was so large, nor that there were so many one way streets) it was a rather uninteresting drive all the way to the ruins.    Rather flat with tall brush all the way there, very green.
 “On the immense plain of the northern Yucatan Peninsula, with neither mountains nor rivers to disturb the uniformity of the landscape, among the agaves, thorny bushes and short trees, stands monumental Chichén Itza, one of the most spectacular ceremonial centers in all antiquity.”
Nearing the ruins is, of course, a small town where you can eat and are panhandled souvenirs – I can’t tell you how often people came up to me on the street or even at the site saying “one dollar.”   All of the souvenirs were uninteresting and copies, that I saw.
There were so many tourists it was unbelieveable.  I was expecting to be disappointed, that the site would be overrun with them.   Well… 
After paying the entry fee ($9 US, which I thought was steep for México but obviously worth it), I walked down the long trail to the open yard where stood El Castillo.   To say it was spectacular would be an understatement.   The entire complex is so incredibly spacious that it takes hours to wander through it.   It was incredibly hot – by this time, a little after 12noon and definitely nearing 100 degrees.  I climbed El Castillo and nearly fainted by the top, it is so steep.   I relaxed and surveyed the incredible view – why here?   Chichén Itza is in the middle of the jungle and I am still amazed that anyone would build anything there.
It wasn’t spiritual as it was amazing.   The ruins are so complete and in such good condition that you could imagine the priests, priestesses, worshippers doing their daily duties.  Most fascinating was the ball court, which was much more massive than I expected.   The hoop on either side was at least 20 feet off the ground, not easy to get a ball into.   There are murals depicting the winner – or loser? – being decapitated and whose head is in the other’s hands.    Around the corner is the sacrificial altar which has skulls carved into it.   More macabre than I imagined.
The sacrifice well was very, very large, and I’m surprised that any civilization could have carved this out.   It was about the size of a large house, and apparently very deep.    I have pictures so check them out…
I spent over 3 hours wandering the site and just taking it all in, despite the heat.  I would have gone inside El Castillo but it was too hot to wait in line, and I wanted to beat the potential rain.   I did purchase a souvenir from someone I saw carving a totem, the only one who wasn’t trying to hock souvenirs for $1.   It cost me 100 pesos, about $9.   He was very appreciative and much more reserved than the other 90 young men trying to sell to me, and the fact that he was actually making them made me feel like I had something that wasn’t a machine copy, so I felt that experience was worth it.
The ride home was uneventful, and now as I recount the day’s events, a heavy storm has rolled in from the southeast.   The wind is incredibly heavy, and although it is only 6.30pm, it looks like night.   All of the trees are bending in the wind and even the windows in my hotel are bending slightly, the wind is loud enough to hear through the windows.    I think I’ll eat my dinner and watch the world fall apart… 
Last night, I wandered the streets of Mérida as the rain subsided.   Paseo Montejo is a large tree lined boulevard with wide sidewalks and huge mansions – spectacularly beautiful, the mansions reminded me of New Orleans.   Not all of them are homes; in fact, Mexicana, ING and many restaurants take up shop in these former homes. 
At the end of the plaza was a little street festival called “Noche Mexicana.”  It was very charming with traditional musicians and dancers on stage, and beyond the seating were several booths with handicrafts, food and drink.  I had the best tostada I have ever had there, they must have deep fried the shell for a year it tasted so good.    I went to bed early, however, as I have a busy day ahead! 

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Mérida, Mexico
This is the “capital” of the Yucatan, an old town that is the gateway to the Mayan culture.   To get here, you have to fly either through Mexico City or Cancun – on this trip, it was Mexico City.
The good part of the trip – no delays, I slept part way to Mexico City and nearly the entire way from Mexico City to Merida, and I was greeted at the airport and arrived quickly.
The bad part of the trip – screaming baby for at least half of the way to Mexico City; the Aeromexico gates for the flights to Merida were all together, and it made Southwest look organized and luxurious – I’ve never seen so many masses of people crowded in such a small space; it has rained nonstop since I arrived; and the hotel is average, a better fit compared to our hotels in the USA.
That being said, there seems to be a great deal of organization here about the Mayan culture and lots to do in Merida.  The staff gave me a great guide that says what is going on nightly, and tonight there is a traditional Mexican party happening in the centre of town.   As the rain seems to have subsided (perhaps only briefly), I think I will head down there.
Because it was raining, I went to OXXO (the Mexican 7-11) across the street and got some Sol beer and some chips to snack on to wait the weather out.   I was horrified to see at the Fiesta Americana next door is a Chili’s restaurant.  
Many more Americans here than I expected, about 10-15% of the flight here and there are many in the hotel.   It’s a weekend, so perhaps everyone is touring the Mayan ruins.  I guess I will find out tomorrow!
The airport is the nicest I’ve seen in Mexico.  It is small, but clean and I think relatively new.   Modern, good lighting, no trash or peeling paint.

Sunday, July 04, 2004


What an incredible city is Santiago.

On my last day in town, I took the day off and toured the city. I took the metro - only two years old, very clean and only C$320 (around 40 cents) one way - to the Centro. There, I went on a tour to...

La Maneda: home of the presidency, beautiful and well guarded
Museum of PreColumbian History: not huge, but some incredible artifacts
Place de los Armes: as usual, a beautiful Plaza with many old buildings and a bandshell
Mercado Central: market similar to those in Madrid, with restaurants, vegetables, fish
Bellavista: bohemian neighborhood with many art galleries and restaurants

At Place de los Armes, a concert was going on in the bandshell. The Santiago Instrumental Orchestra was playing a medley of Abba hits, which was a little unexpected but not bad.

Mercado Central is a cross between a flea market and an eatery, similar to Madrid's markets but also with a CampdenTown fleamarket built in. All the merchants kept trying to persuade me to eat at their restaurants, it got old so I left. When you cross the river, the flea market continues. Lots of produce and meats and nuts and fish as well as tshirts, pottery, incense, etc. It was cheap and I just made my way down the river until I got to the heart of Bellavista...

Bellavista is a colourful area, all the houses are painted different colours. Just beautiful, big trees. There are many neat restaurants and my full lunch with wine at one of th nicer places was C$9500, or US$15. Along Avendia Bellavista are many lapis lazuli vendors. The stone is indigenous to Chile and after a while you get bored seeing it, but it was neat to see all the vendors.

I then took the metro back to Las Condes - the very modern district where the Hyatt is - and went to Pune. It is such an incredible store, and I got my gifts there. Then I took a cab back, packed and headed home.

An incredible city... can't wait to go back. Beautiful, clean, great weather, safe...

Friday, July 02, 2004


Last night I finally had some free time. The weather has been spectacular - the smog has been greatly reduced, and the sun is shining getting to a high of about 60 degrees. Incredible.

I walked up the street to a local shopping mall and it was like... a shopping mall. This country is so modern it is astonishing. They had a Laura Ashley, Polo Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, two Dunkin Donuts, a McDonalds, as well as some European brands - Zara, NRG, Lush, etc - on top of two department stores, a Carrefour (French grocery store) and a zillion cell phone stores. Chile may be far away, but it is certainly the most modern and safe place I've been to on my travels to Latin America so far.

The park is adjacent to this mall, so I walked up and looked at the incredible mountains as the sun started to fade. They are so HUGE. You can't miss them anywhere. It is like San Francisco being built on the edge of the Sierras, but the Sierras are 20,000 feet tall.

I walked through some of the adjacent streets to get a feeling for the neighborhood here. I am in "Las Condes" which, as I see on a map, is on the outer edge of the city. Modern, safe, everyone has cars and there are many high rise condo buildings.

Today I plan on taking the metro to the old town, then to an area called BellaVista across the river which is apparently very picturesque. I will then backtrack and go to Los Domenicos, which is a trade area with Chilean goods. Marcela, one of my colleagues here, took me to a very upscale store with nice Chilean things and if I can't find anything I like in Los Domenicos, I will go back there. My flight is at 8:30pm, so I better boogie...