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Los Cabos: The call of the Baja coast October 5, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Mexico.
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Pilar McNear wanted to do something really special for her 40th birthday. So she and her husband Jeff pulled out all the stops and invited 12 other couples to join them in Los Cabos, the spectacular resort town that lies at the tip of the Baja Penninsula.

The fiesta was, by all accounts, a huge success. Swimming with dolphins, jet skiing at Playa Médano, snorkeling at Playa Santa María, partying at Cabo Wabo and a dinner cruise at sunset were just a few of the highlights. Check out the story, and tips on planning your own Cabo getaway, in this month’s The Buzz Magazines.

Here’s the slide show, compliments of Wendy Yu, one of the invitees.

Enjoy!

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Bite of El Diente, and Tips for Climbers October 2, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, ecotravel, Mexico.
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Most climbers tackle their art with a passion that could only be called contagious. I exposed myself to that particular virus this spring, carried by veteran rock climber/writer/attorney Jamie McNally, and I suppose that’s why, as I prepare for a week in Guadalajara, I’m packing my climbing gear.

One of the menu of outings offered by the Society of American Travel Writers in its pre-conference lineup was “Eco-Adventure in El Diente,” and with a name like that, how could I resist? Especially with the excellent training provided by Jamie, who nearly killed me in my first exposure to rock climbing this spring. It wasn’t until I went online today and googled it that I realized that where he failed in May, he may have succeeded in October.

El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me...

El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me...

My account of my May adventure will appear in the Dallas Morning News this fall (posthumously, perhaps) so I asked Jamie to provide a few tips for beginners as I prepare to punish myself on the cliffs of El Diente. (El Diente pic compliments of Marc and Kristi, who climbed there a year ago and made it sound like a piece of cake in their excellent blog… Thanks, guys!)

OK, so after reading Marc and Kristi, and after going through Jamie’s tips (below, for the very brave), I’m feeling better about the climb. Honestly, it’s the mountain biking that I’m kind of freaked out about. I’ll keep you posted – if I’m not in traction.

Read on for Jamie’s excellent tips. And if the climbing bug bites you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Los Cabos: A view from the other coast August 24, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Latin America, Mexico.
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Mention a getaway to a Mexican resort, and most people think of the Yucatan: Cancun, Cozumel, the Riviera Maya. And while Mexico’s Caribbean corner can have its charms, too many tourists stop there.

One spectacular alternative is Los Cabos. This resort area on the Baja Peninsula is comprised of the posh and energetic Cabo San Lucas, the nearby colonial town of San Jose del Cabo, and the lush corridor between.

Keep an eye on The Buzz Magazines for my upcoming story about an unforgettable birthday getaway hosted there by Houstonians Pilar and Jeff NcNear. Meanwhile, here’s a slide show of breathtaking images by Houstonian Wendy Yu.

Mexico City offers tourists a healthy deal August 3, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Mexico.
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Another good reason to visit Mexico: Mexico City, in an innovative move designed to combat fear of swine flu, is offering free health insurance to national and international travelers, the LA Times reported today.

Anyone staying in a Mexico City hotel will receive free hospitalization, prescription drugs, doctor’s care and even hotel accommodations during convalescence.

A total of 353 people have died of the virus worldwide since the so-called pandemic hit the news in April. Meanwhile, several hundred people die of regular flu each week, as CNN pointed out.

Mexico’s tourism industry, one of the country’s most important sources of income, has been battered by the wave of negative press coverage, first because of drug-related violence (virtually none of which has affected tourists) and then swine flu (ditto). Which is a shame, since Mexico is home to an enormous wealth of culture, history, cuisine and some of the friendliest people in the world – and it’s right next door.

As for me, I’ll be going to Mexico as soon and as often as possible. With or without free health insurance.

Aventura en Potrero Chico May 30, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, Latin America, Mexico.
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POTRERO CHICO, Nuevo Leon, Mexico – Less than half an hour from the crowded metropolis of Monterrey, the mountains rise in a spectacular series of limestone peaks that have come to be known as a world-class climbing destination. It started as a municipal park with a swimming pool and barbecue pits, but it didn’t take long for climbers to discover the pitted limestone face of these towering walls.

 Today at the base of the mountains there’s a cluster of businesses catering to the climbers from as far away as Australia and Japan. We chose the cozy Posada Potrero, a picturesque retreat with houses and rooms for rent, grassy places to pitch a tent under the trees, a commodious pool with hammocks and a big communal kitchen that at night becomes a lively community of climbers from all over the world.

We arrived at about 6 p.m., leaving San Antonio at 9:30 a.m. and stopping at the border to buy Mexican car insurance and get car and tourist permits. We’d seen the mountains for an hour or more on the approach, but the hazy blue in the distance gave little clue as to what we’d find: a dramatic series of vertically layered cliffs, pointing heavenward like vast curtains of limestone. I couldn’t imagine myself scaling them, ever. But German and Marco had promised me there were beginner climbs, so I didn’t panic.

There was time for one climb before dinner, so we packed our gear and made our way up to the area known as the Wonder Wall. It was so tall and so vertical that my neck ached from watching German make his way up, leading the way in placing the rope at the very top to secure us as we climbed. I tried not to think too much about it as I stepped into my harness and borrowed shoes.

Unlike Enchanted Rock, where I first learned to climb, Potrero Chico is a sport climbing site, where thousands of routes have been marked and bolted. The bolt fastens a hanger, or a steel loop, that allows a climber to insert a hook attached to his rope, securing his way as he goes.

German had reached an impasse in the climb, and he was retracing his steps to seek another way. I couldn’t see how on earth he was going to make it to the next hanger; it was two body-lengths up a sheer wall, even for a giant like German.

“This doesn’t seem like a beginner’s pitch to me,” I countered. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a way up.”

“There’s always a way,” Marco said, as German felt his way along the wall. “It’s just a puzzle, and you have to figure it out.”

Figure it out he did, and the next up was me. Face to face with the rock, I found my friends’ words to be true. This stone yields its secrets to those who persist. I climbed five pitches during my three days here, working my way up to a 5.9, an advanced beginner pitch, and this with an arm injured in my previous week’s beginner climb.

My guides were Andres and Karla, two young climbers from Monterrey who seemed as much at home on a rock face 100 feet up as they did on the ground. Andres began climbing at 12, and by the age of 19 had scaled most of Potrero as well as Argentina’s Aconcagua, the second tallest peak in the Americas. Karla, at 27, is the single mother of Samadhi, a winsome 6-year-old who carries her climbing gear in a little pink pack decorated with teddy bears. Samadhi’s name is taken from the Hindi word for enlightened consciousness, or, as her mother says, concentracion — an appropriate appellation for a child who began learning to climb before she learned to walk.

With the same care that she coaxed her young daughter up the limestone wall, Karlita coached me up a 5.8 and halfway up a 5.9, meaning I’ve progressed to the level of advanced beginner.

Samadhi and her mother taught me a great deal. After our day on the wall, I feel I’m coming to a sharper focus and a greater mastery of my fear — poco a poco.

Climbing is about more than having a good time, as Karla taught me. It can change your life.

EROCK

Mision cumplida en Potrero May 25, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, Latin America, Mexico.
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Mision cumplida… Potrero Chico escalada…. ahora, casa y cama! (Mission accomplished, Potrero Chico clumb, now home & bed!)