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Coyoacan: The Coyote Capital January 15, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City , 4comments


Coyoacan has always been one of my favorite parts of Mexico City – indeed, it’s the favorite of millions, being a top tourist destination and the home of Frida and Diego, Leon Trotsky and Hernán Cortés. The zone has long been a hotbed of cultural and political innovation, and today it’s one of the most culturally rich and scenic parts of the city, with structures dating to its sixteenth century inception.

On Wednesday I went down for a visit with Subcoyote Alberto Ruz, and after two and a half hours of video, had only enough battery power left for a few shots, sadly. Note to self: NEVER leave home without a spare battery.

This doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive or even complete tour of this beautiful area, just a meander down Francisco Sosa street to the Plaza Central. “Coyoacan,” I learned from the Subcoyote, means “Place of the Coyote” in ancient Nahuatl, and indeed the Coyote seems to be quite present in modern-day Coyoacan, in spirit if not in the flesh.

I also had the pleasure of stumbling upon the place where, supposedly, the famous Tacos al Pastor were invented: El Tizoncito. Sadly, the battery ran out just as the tacos arrived. I can only tell you, they were as beautiful as they were delicious.

In the meantime, enjoy! I know I did.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Jogging on the Hippodrome January 10, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City, Uncategorized , add a comment

The sun peeked out from the clouds for awhile today, and as my afternoon appointment had been canceled, I took it as a cue. I shed the sweater and switched to jogging gear, grabbed my iPod and hit the street.

I’m not a natural-born runner; my body resists it in every way. But I took up the hobby last year, realizing that if I were going to stay fit on the road, I’d need to rely on means that don’t include going to a gym. Besides, running doubles as an aerobic form of sightseeing – albeit without the camera, the only thing I regretted about today’s run.

(From Friday’s walk: One of several fountains on Amsterdam Street)

I headed straight for Calle Amsterdam, a verdant loop through the heart of La Condesa with a tree-lined path in the center. Formerly called Calle Hipódromo, the loop is what remains of the old Condesa racetrack. Now laced with fountains and gardens and lined with colorful cafés and boutiques among the classic art-deco architecture, it bears no semblance to a racetrack – except for the presence of the other joggers.

The high point was Parque México, an enormous stretch of greenery filled with children learning to rollerblade, boys kicking a soccer ball, tiny dogs in colorful sweaters and their attentive owners, elders perusing newspapers, youngsters listening to MP3 players and families pedaling a four-seated bicycle contraption for rent in the plaza.

Smells of roasting corn, savory pork tacos and fresh flowers filled the rain-washed air. A gentleman sat in front of a booth surrounded by small tables and filled with wooden objects and painting supplies; for $3 you could buy a small animal or for $6 a little wooden jewelry box, and you could paint it however you liked.

Further along I found Mejor en Bici (Better on a Bike), a nonprofit group that provides free bicycles for “rent” in several parks around the city. All you have to do is leave your ID and a 200-peso note, and you can take the bike for a spin.

I don’t know whether it was because of the altitude (Mexico City is about a mile and a half higher than Houston!) or that I’m out of shape after three weeks of huddling in the cold, or simply because there was so much to see, but it was a run-walk type of run. At any rate, it felt great to unclench my huddled shoulders and feel the sun on my skin again.

From Mexico to Palestine: Carbon offsets January 10, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City, Sustainability , 5comments

treeMuch has been written about the pros and cons of http://www.immobild.de/wp-content/custom-paper-writing-service.html carbon offsets. The idea, if you haven’t been following, is that you pay money to a nonprofit organization to plant trees or invest in renewables or otherwise reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere in an attempt to offset the carbon you’ve generated.

There are many calculators online that help you to figure out how much carbon you’ve generated and where you should donate it. Carbon Footprint is a nice flexible one that lets you calculate individual aspects of your life as opposed to doing a whole audit – both can be good, but since I’m on the road, my lifestyle doesn’t easily fit into many of these calculators. Since my main impact is travel, I figured my mileage and multiplied the air travel by 1.9 to account for the increased impact airplane emissions have (the amount used by Carbon Footprint). It then lets you select from a variety of worthy projects from Kenya to Central America.

Critics compare this system with the Catholic Church’s system of indulgences in Medieval times – a system that allowed people to “buy” forgiveness for their sins by making donations to the Church. They argue that there’s a wide variance among carbon offsetting groups, none of them are regulated and there’s no way to know for sure that the trees you’re paying to plant wouldn’t be planted anyway.

La Condesa blooms through the chill January 8, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Latin America, Mexico, Mexico City , 17comments

IMG_0049 My first 24 hours in Mexico City couldn’t have been more colorful. A cold front has settled in here, as well, with temperatures dipping into the mid-40s, and since there are no heaters, people are huddling over soups and hot coffees in the open-air cafes. Except for a few golden hours yesterday morning, a drizzly grey pall grips the city. Still, the flowers are blooming and a general air of cheerfulness has made headway against the gloom – especially on Wednesday, Dia de los Reyes, a Mexican holiday celebrating the arrival of the Magi to visit the baby Jesus.

Southward Bound January 6, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, ecotourism, Esperanza Project, Latin America, Mexico, voluntourism , 12comments

backpack tracyST. LOUIS, MO. ­– Today’s the day.

I’ve made my list and checked it a million times; selected and reselected my gear; said my goodbyes and received good wishes and safe travel blessings from near and far. I’ve left my car keys, my smart phone and my GPS behind. I’ll be making my way by foot now and by mass transit; everything I’ll need is either in my pack or shoulder bag, or it’s something I’ll have to find along the way, or live without.

A special appeal December 31, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : Esperanza Project, Latin America, Sustainability , add a comment

South America

(Deejay Pilot-istockphoto)

Somewhere to the south of us, an indigenous farmer is raising his voice against the eradication of ancient seed stocks by corporate interests. An army of volunteer gardeners is sowing a food security system on rooftops, patios and abandoned lots. A tribe in the Amazon is using Google Earth to give virtual tours of its ancestral forests in a bid to build global support for their preservation. A troupe of young bicyclists is plotting colorful new ways to capture the public’s attention and steer its city policy toward the path of sustainability.

As forests burn, icecaps melt and sea levels rise, people at the grassroots aren’t waiting for the government to fix things for them.

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Nowhere is this more evident than in Latin America.


Four days and counting December 18, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, ecotourism, Esperanza Project, Latin America, Sustainability , 4comments

Tuesday the movers come to put all my things into storage, and I’m fluctuating between exhilaration, panic and denial. The to-do list keeps growing, the time keeps shrinking. Here’s a piece I did for The Buzz Magazine that summarizes where I’m at right now, how I got here and where I’m going.

Location Independent
Digital nomads redefine the office

by Tracy L. Barnett, contributing writer

Last spring, I was handed an amazing opportunity. But at first it seemed like a disaster.
Like millions of others in this recession, I lost my job. It was especially unsettling, as I had moved to Houston not so long ago to take that job.

Nonetheless, I took stock of my situation and realized it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. My daughter was grown and nearing completion of her education; I had no mortgage, no debt, no health problems and a little bit of savings. I had a marketable skill set, and no urgent need to make a lot of money.

This might just be the moment to follow my dreams, I said to myself.

Most of my life I’d worked for someone else: Newspaper corporations, nonprofit organizations, a university. I had always wanted to see what I could do working for myself. And I’d always wanted to take a year for travel.
I spent hours surfing the web, seeking a way to make it happen, and I found that I was far from alone. In fact, an international community has emerged to share ideas and support each other in what is being called the location-independent lifestyle.

Lighting out for the South November 24, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : Cuba, Esperanza Project, Latin America, Sustainability , add a comment

Today I will follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, Che Guevara and Celia Cruz to the irrepressible rhythm of the Cuban son – emanating from Cuban human beings, not my CD collection or a cover band in downtown Houston. Far from the Bayou City, I’ll savor the sunset breezes on the Malecón, the famous boulevard that stretches the length of the city along the Bay of Havana. As many a tourist has done before me, I’ll sit at Hemingway’s favorite bar and have a mojito in his memory.

And while I will embrace the cultural magic of this legendary land, my journey goes beyond culture to something more essential, something universal and urgent.

Xilitla’s Las Pozas on the most endangered list November 18, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : Latin America, Mexico , 3comments

The LA Times has just released its list of most endangered cultural sites in the Americas, and a rare treasure that’s been a longtime favorite is on the list.

Las Pozas003
(Altug S. Icilensu photo)

Las Pozas, the amazing surrealist garden created by the eccentric English millionaire Edward James in the Mexican jungle near Xilitla, San Luis Potosí, is succumbing to decay and the custodians of the site don’t have the wherewithal to adequately maintain and restore it.

Las Pozas was my destination in a 2007 trip through the magical Huasteca Potosina, and I wrote about it in a piece for the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle, Jungle Wonderland. Here’s a video I created in 2007 together with my cameraman at the time, Altug Icilensu.

Jungle Wonderland

Surrealist garden evokes a strange visionary’s dream

embedded by Embedded Video

For more videos from the Huasteca Potosina, see my multimedia page. And to learn more about Las Pozas and the effort to preserve it, visit Fondo Xilitla, which took charge of the site after my visit with the aim of raising money to protect and restore it.

Here’s the story:

Calling my bluff on Los Cabos November 17, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, voluntourism , add a comment

Baja SEE Turtles 050
(Melissa Gaskill photo)
Eco-travel writer Melissa Gaskill called my bluff on my Los Cabos story last month. “Los Cabos is, unfortunately, an example of the worst kind of development and tourism,” she wrote. “No sense of place, no sensitivity to the landscape, destruction of natural resources, excessive use of water, ultra-luxury developments staffed by underpaid locals… And I’m afraid too many people think that swimming with dolphins is an eco-tourism activity (a misconception we’d do well not to encourage).
Sorry, I love your newsletter, but just had to vent on this one. Baja California is one of my favorite places in the world and my worst nightmare is that the entire peninsula will end up one great big Cabo.”

Truth be told, I have never been to Los Cabos, so I’m not in a position to judge. I wrote that story as part of a series for The Buzz Magazines, in which I interview local travelers about their experiences. I do, however, trust Melissa’s judgment; she’s an excellent Texas author and journalist (here’s her blog and profile), and one whose environmental sensibilities match my own. So I did the only sensible thing: I invited her to write her own piece about Baja California as a guest post, and she kindly obliged.

Here’s Melissa’s story about a voluntourism expedition into the wilds of Baja California, a program aimed at saving the endangered sea turtles there, and the spectacular slide show that accompanies it. Enjoy!