Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Grand Total

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All the money is in and has now been sent off to WildCoast, the charity I was raising money for. The total in the end was $170. Not the grandest total ever, but it all counts. A big thank you to everyone who helped, be it with a donation, a link to this blog, or even bringing me boots from England!

The unsightly adverts, which helped to raise a lot of that money have now all been deleted so I have a tidy on topic blog once again! I will add to the blog more as time goes on, especially if I climb Izta again in February as is currently planned. Thanks again to everyone who helped!


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Friday, December 26, 2008

I had a thoroughly unexpected encounter with Izta and Popo today. I was giving a class in the center of the city, on the fourth floor of an office block, as I have done every week for the last 3 years. I sit at a table in front of the full length windows, as I always do. Except today, when I looked out of the window, there was Izta and Popo, clear as anything.

I've never seen them before from that window. Not because I haven't looked, because I have often, although not for the mountains because I had no idea they were in that direction. I've never seen them before because they are normally hidden by the tons and tons of particles that hang in the air and go by the collective name of 'pollution'.

Why was it so clear today? Normally, December, January and February are the worst months for pollution, with the cold air trapping the polluted air in the geographical bowl that Mexico City sits in. But it's Christmas, and over the last few days most of the city's cars, which contribute something like 75% of the air pollution, have not been roaming the streets. Everyone has either left the city for a holiday or have been sitting at home getting merry with family and friends. The streets have been largely deserted. Giving the atmosphere something of a break too.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Izta in Art

Popo and Izta are not just there for climbers....Mexican mythology and folklore depends on them. They are a prominent feature of artwork, and paintings of the two, together or individually can be found all over the place. On walls in offices commonly, but there is also a restaurant in the centre of the city with a huge mural of the two. The paintings below hang in the excellent Museo de Franz Mayer, and I thought I'd share them here.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Deportes Rubens

I though I'd lost this address, but seeing as I've found it I'd best put the details up here before I lose them again!It's for a sports shop near the Zocalo where mountaineering gear can be bought or hired.

Deportes Ruben´s
Venustiano Carranza 17
Col. Centro, México D.F.
Tels: 5518-6373, 5518-5636, 5512-7037
Fax: 5512-8312

Post Update!

And funnily enough I happened to walk past the shop yesterday - so photo was duly taken! I can also give directions as well. Walk from the cathedral across the Zocalo (the main square), keeping the cathedral behind you. The jewellry shops should be to your right, and it's best you are on that side of the square. When the Zocalo ends, keep going for one block, then take your first right. Walk up there for about 5 minutes and you'll start seeing loads of sports shops. Rubens is on your left about ten minutes from the Zocalo.

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Popo Pano

I've found a neat bit of software and created a VR panorama from a series of photos I took whilst climbing up Izta. Put your cursor on the image and drag left and right. You can zoom in and out with the scroll wheel, but the photo sadly doesn't have as much detail as I'd like. If the image isn't displaying, or just to see it in a full windowm click here.


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Monday, December 1, 2008

These Boots Were Made For Walking

I was very pleased with my boots. How pleased? Pleased enough to photograph them! Well, one of them anyway. Which brings me to the point of the post - the equipment needed to go up Izta. A simple list of everything -

Thermal pantalones, two lightweight polyester trousers, a T-shirt, a lightweight jumper, a good warm waterproof jacket, a pair of thermal gloves, an acrylic hat, a tent, a sleeping bag, a rucksack, several chocolate bars, several bananas, several packets of nuts, a couple of packed tortas (sandwiches), four one litre bottles of Gatorade, three pairs of socks (all worn at the same time!) a head torch, crampons. Oh, and the boots!

That was it. Was there anything else I should have taken but didn't? Actually a thermal vest would have been good. And had I camped up at the Grupo de los Cien hut, I'd have taken more liquid.

I did notice a fair few people doing it without crampons, wearing jeans and even in trainers. Recommendable? I have to say as it's dry season, you could probably get away with jeans. It's a small risk, but if you have better clothing why take the risk? I'd perfer to be in jeans and boots though than in polyester trousers and trainers. As for the crampons....we didn't need them in the end, but then we didn't make it up to the summit where the snow is!

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Los Amigos

Amongst my many photos are snaps of my amigos, the guys I climbed Izta with. Like any journey you make, it's only as good as the company you keep, and I can't complain I didn't have some good chaps along with me!

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Adrian, my English student and the first to join up!

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Adrian's cousin Victor (left) and our guide Hilarion.

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Enrique and Angel, former colleagues of Adrian.

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Happy Internet Story

One of the biggest issues I had in climbing Izta was finding appropriate footwear - trainers just really aren't the best thing to have on your feet. But here in Mexico, shoe retailers don't have anything for a UK size 11 foot! Nothing at all. The largest shoe I've ever seen here was a 10, and just the one pair in one shop. Otherwise a size 9 is about as big as they get.

But I was rescued. A chap in the UK with a passion for mountain climbing had come across my blog, as as luck had it he had a trip to Mexico planned. After a few emails had been exchanged about his forthcoming adventure, to climb the Nevado de Toluca, Izta and the giant Pico de Orizaba, and my own plans, I hit upon the idea of seeing if he could bring me over a pair of decent boots.

And he was more than obliging, which was something of a lifesaver! The power of the internet, and PayPal, should never be underestimated! We met a couple of weeks ago, and the boots fortunately fit perfectly. They will remain treasured items and will hopefully see lots more use. Their climbs were more successful than mine, successfully summitting all three peaks.

I thanked them plenty, but one last official, blogged thank you, where it all began, doesn't hurt at all! Gracias amigos!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Photographs

I've processed and uploaded all my photos to Flickr now, and you can see them by clicking on the link under the photo below. I've arranged the seven sets into a collection - Flickr makes life so easy! This particular shot shows La Malinche, and a little further out Pico de Orizaba.

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The Climb Report

So the big weekend finally came, and we set off for the climb up Iztaccihuatl. We went with High Guides Mexico, who picked us up at midday at a location of our choice (COyoacan turned out to be the convenient meeting place for us all) and drove us to our destination in a big van along with two other climbers from the US.

First stop was the small town of Amecameca, just outside the Popo and Izta National Park for lunch, last minute food supplies and a short walk around. Then on up the mountain to Paseo de Cortes. This is where you pay your entrance fee to get in the park - very cheap, just 20 pesos per person I think. It also has the last toilet you'll see! It's just a big building and car park really, not a town.

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Popocatapetl was a prominent view throughout the hike.

The drive up to La Joya takes a while, and we arrived at about 5pm. The original plan had been to go straight from there to the Grupo de los Cien hut, about a four hour hike away. But the hut was full, probably because in Mexico it was a long weekend with a public holiday on the Monday. So instead, we set up a couple of tents, got out the sleeping bags and went to bed at a very early 9pm, ready to begin the hike at 2 to 3am the next morning.

In hindsight, this turned out to be just as well. There were six of us in all, including the guide, Hilarion. Myself, my English student Adrian, his cousin Victor and a couple of his friends, Enrique and Angel. The altitude took it's toll on some of the party and the four hour hike turned into a 10 hour hike!

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The Knees came into close view at the Grupo de los Cien hut.

The downside of this was that, having reached the hut, which lies at the base of the first main peak, the Knees, we had to turn around and head back. So there was no chance to reach the summit on this trip! The highest point attained was 5,000 metres, just a couple of hundred metres short of the main peak. So not bad, really!

I'm not going to give up though. I shall go again, and this time, with a new plan, reach the summit! Personally I had no problem with the altitude which was good. I will also have more to write about the trip over the next week or two!



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Thursday, November 6, 2008

High Guides Mexico

I mentioned a while ago that we had found a guide. Or my student had. Ironically, it's the same company I found, HGMexico, but the bargain price of 750 pesos turned out to be too good to be true! That's for a single day walking around the mountain, not up it! The real price is 1,500 pesos, although it has to be added this price is for Mexicans. I am assuming that I will be granted honorary Mexican status for the trip, seeing as I am going with 5 or 6 real Mexicans and I do live here!

One good reason to hire a guide is to avoid the situation below....

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Stay Over In Mexico City

Mountain climbing season begins in December in Mexico, so lots of avid climbers will shortly be making their way to Pico de Orizaba or Iztaccihuatl and others. But whichever mountain or mountains they're planning climb - most will start by tackling a few smaller, easier peaks to help them acclimatize - most will start their trip in Mexico City. Whether they like it or not - the international airport is here.

And a fair number of them will suddenly feel lost. It's a huge city and they know next to nothing about it. They've just been reading up on the mountains they're visiting! But Mexico City is a fabulous place and well worth hanging around for a few days, or even a week if it's possible. It's a city that is relatively easy to move around with an excellent public transport system, and tourist facilities.

But what is there to see? Lots, of course! There is always something new happening, an old tradition being replayed, and plenty of permanent institutions to visit. Here's my Top Ten that should keep any visitor occupied for a few days at the very least...

1. The Zocalo. It's the worlds largest town square, and is the heart of the Historic Center, surrounded on all sides by colonial architectural masterpieces. The most evident is the huge Metropolitan Cathedral. You can climb onto the roof for just 12 pesos. On the left of the Cathedral (from the Cathedral's perspective!) is the National Palace. Entry is free, and it contains some of Diego Rivera's finest murals. You'll also find the Aztec dancers in the Zocalo, and the opportunity for a spiritual cleansing if you so desire.

2. Bellas Artes. The National Arts Palace, just a ten to fifteen minute walk from the Zocalo, it's a fantastic piece of architecture with more of Mexico's finest murals inside. It's free to enter, but you'll have to pay 10 pesos to take photos. Well worth it. For the best photo of the palace, go into Sears opposite, take the elevator to the Coffee Shop (8 or 9) and wander out onto the balcony.

3. Paseo de la Reforma. More often just called Reforma, it's a huge avenue that runs from Bellas Artes to Chapultepec Park, and makes for a great walk. It's famous for it's street art exhibitions. At the moment there are dozens of decorative, sometimes bizarre, benches.

4. Chapultepec. A park, a lake, and a castle. All in one. Plan on spending a whole afternoon there, at least. The castle sits on a hill and like most of these institutions is a treasure trove of art and history. Want to take a paddle boat around the lake? No problems. There's also a zoo, but I can't really recommend that in good conscience.

5. Turibus. It's a simple enough concept. Every city has one. This turibus goes on a huge loop through the cities best parts, and you can get on and off at will. Bring suntan lotion and a cap if you want to sit on the top deck! It's a long ride.

6. Teotihucan Tour. Most hotels and hostels do this tour. It's a must. You'll visit the Basilica de Guadalupe, a Tequila farm, the Plaza de las Tres Culturas and then the monumental ancient pyramids.

7. Museo de Franz Mayer. One of my favourite museums in the Centro Historico, it's situated near Bellas Artes, and aside from all the art, has excellent temporary exhibitions and a wonderful coffee shop in an outdoor patio. 45 pesos entry.

8. Estadio Azteca and Dolores Olmedo. A ride down the Tren Ligero (see a Metro map for details) will take you past the world famous football stadium. A little further on at La Noria station, you'll find one of Mexico city's best kept secrets - the Museo de dolores Olmedo.

9. Lucha Libre. Check out Ticketmaster to get seats for the best wrestling show in the world. It's meant as a comedy/gymnastic experience, and you'll learn a lot about Mexican culture too. You can't take your camera in though.

10. Xochimilco. An excellent way to end a trip to the city, grab a tour to Xochimilco and ride down the canals in a big gondola, listening to Mariachis, eating tacos and drinking beer.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Boots Are Here!

The whole plan is coming together, finally. Two of the most important pieces of my Climbing Izta jigsaw have been put in place. Firstly, my boots have arrived, special delivery, courtesy of two amigos from the UK. They are a fine looking pair of boots and fit perfectly, thank goodness! They weren't terribly cheap for a peso earning gringo, but climbing a big mountain like Izta without them would have been .

Secondly, it looks like we've found ourselves a guide, with the essential equipment, including walking sticks and crampons. Most of the guide companies are set up for americans with dollars and are priced as such. USD$250 per person has been the average going rate. But we've found a more affordable company who charge just 750 pesos per person and that, I believe, includes transport and gear.


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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mountain Climates

There is one unavoidable, unpredictable and slightly frustrating issue with mountain climbing - the weather. As was ably demonstrated when we went up the Nevado de Toluca, it is often foggy. But unlike beach holidays, you can't really check the weather forecast and change plans on the fly. Mountains make their own climate, that can be pretty independent of the world around it, as you can see from the photo below. You just have to cross your fingers that it clears up when you summit!

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Friday, October 24, 2008

A Learning Experience

The trip up to the Nevado de Toluca was meant as a learning experience, an opportunity to experience a little 'light' mountain climbing before we attempt Iztaccihuatl next month. Was it a worthwhile exercise you might ask? Definitely was!

Did I learn just how much hard work it is to climb a mountain? Well, yes and no. I knew it was going to be a hard slog, but actually doing it brings home to you just how hard! The higher we got, the more sandy the ground was, and keeping your footing really becomes an issue!

The altitude itself was a concern - would any of us get altitude sickness, or otherwise feel unwell? Fortunately no one felt any the worse for being 4690 metres above sea level, and I myself was quite relieved to feel so good. Being the smoker that I am, I had worried that any more oxygen deprivation might cause my limbs to give up! I suspect that living in Mexico City helps on two counts. Firstly, I already live at an altitude of 2600 metres. Secondly, the air here is so polluted that being depreived of the oxygen stuff is something my body has gotten used to!

I really do need some proper hiking shoes though. I didn't slip on the way up in my trainers, but I did have a couple of small, but quickly recovered slips on the way down! It's also been pointed out to me that wearing cooton jeans is a cardinal sin when mountain climbing, so I guess I need to look for some light weight and waterproof trousers too!

Another lesson learned regards recovery. It was pretty tiring going up the Nevado de Toluca, but Izta is going to be a much bigger task. So we are probably going to put back the climb by one week. The 17th of November, a Monday, is a bank holiday here, and I think most of us will need the extra day to regain our strength and use of our muscles!

It's easy to think that Izta is just 500 or 600 metres taller than the Nevado de Toluca - 4690 metres compared to 5200 metres or so. But we were able to drive more than half way up the Nevado de Toluca! That won't be the case with Izta. And that 600 odd extra metres...that's one and a half Sears Towers!

But the most valuable lesson? Izta is a big mountain, and a big task. But doing Toluca's finest mountain in preparation has given us all confidence - we can do it! Even if we just target the knees, we'll be up to the challenge. The 'we' part is very important by the way. One of my students (not someone in on this venture) went up the Nevado de Toluca on a school trip many years ago. One of his classmates, got seperated, lost and slipped on the edge of a steep drop and died. There's been a fair few fatalities on that mountain.

Anyway, I leave this post with a little video I took from the summit of the Nevado de Toluca. It's very short, and there's not much to see. A little rock, which drops off sharply, disappearing quickly into a blanket of fog!






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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nevado De Toluca photos


I've finally processed and uploaded all my photos from the mountain. Do you like fog? Because there was plenty of that! But the skies did clear for a few minutes and allow me to get a few nice shots, and there were some interesting flowers up there too.The photo below is of the path leading to the Moon Lake, before the really tough climbing, but it gives a little idea as to how barren and rocky it is up there.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Climbing Nevado De Toluca

Yesterday, also my birthday incidentally, I climbed the Nevado de Toluca with a few of the gang who will also be going up Izta with me. Plus my wife Paola, who decided to brave the elements this time, but who has no intention of trying to climb Izta! The Nevado de Toluca is no small mountain, but you do have the advantage of being able to drive half way up.But it's still a 4690 metre mountain, only 600 metres shorter than Izta itself.

Although in fairness, this isn't as much of a cheat as it sounds. You could easily walk up that first part - it's not challenging, just time consuming. What we did establish very quickly though, was that today was going to be a cold and very misty day! Sometimes, if it's clear you can get not only great views at the top, but see the lakes bathed in sunshine which gives then a very blue, surreal look. Not today though - that's the thing with climbing mountains.

Anyway, we parked up and began the hour/hour and a half long walk to the two crater lakes, which is a fairly leisurely hike along pathways, and is definitely not something anyone would struggle with. Families bring their kids along this part of the journey. We did have a bit of luck. Near the first lake, the Moon Lake, the heavy mist temporarily subsided and we got some nice photos of the valley below and the lake itself. But by the time we had gone around a largish hill to see the Sun Lake, the mist had returned.

Then for the hard part. Climbing to the summit. I have to say now, I have more respect for those guys who have climbed Everest and other monster peaks than ever before! It's hard work! It's probably only an hour long hike, or two hours for the less fit or energetic. But it's up steepish ground, on very unstable ground that continually changes from sandy to rocky. It's easy to slip, and impossible in places to keep a great pace.

There were six of us in all, and only four of us finally made it to the summit. Paola and one of the others (who may well change his mind about Izta!) stopped just 50 to 75 metres short of the summit, exhausted. It seems a shame that they got so close, but to be honest that final bit has the toughest climbing of all.

It's a good feeling to get to the top, which was just a very small piece of rock, and for me it has increased my enthusiasm to climb Izta! I couldn't see anything by fog from the summit, except at the edges, where rocks dropped down steeply....that gave the feeling of being at the peak more feeling though! Hopefully we will be luckier with the weather at Izta.

What have I learned from this trip? Plenty, but that's for another post! I will say that it was a valuable exercise though. I'm uploading photos as I speak so I shall be blogging those as well tonight or tomorrow! But here is just one that I've quickly uploaded...

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At the summit.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Another Summit Post

I've come across another excellent, and very helpful report on climbing Izta. Actually I didn't just stumble across it - a link to it was emailed to me. There's no better way of preparing for such a huge adventure than learning from other peoples efforts at doing the same thing, so these sort of reports are both helpful and encouraging!

After passing the high point just short of the glacier we put on our crampons. They remained on until we got back to this same place. There was a bit of a crevasse close to the near side of the glacier. We could see where others had crossed it at a bit of a packed down place. After that we headed straight across staying to the high line. There were several narrow cracks in the glacier, but nothing that was gaping. Do not stray too far to the west side. It drops off dramatically. You will see this when you look back further on.

The glacier drops down some in the middle before rising back up again. After arriving at the other side it is a left turn to go to the summit. Before making this turn we had to negotiate a small snow cliff. Again we saw where other tracks had found the easiest way up.

There is a narrow stretch of ridge with some up and down before the final push to the first summit. This is a place where some might want an axe. We chose to stay with our ski poles because it felt more secure. It is definitely a place to watch your step!

At the 5100m contour we started the final ridge to the summit. The ridge was mostly bare of snow. Sometimes we got to choose between some loose stuff or rock scrambling. There were a few places where there was little choice and some exposure. We topped out on the first of three summits at 537816 2120155. From here the other two summits can be seen. The three summits were bare of snow and rose above the summit glacier.

The full report can be found here.



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Monday, October 13, 2008

Mexico's Big 7 - No3

I've covered places 4,5,6 and 7 in my list of Mexico's seven biggest mountains. And now it's time for third place and the object of my blog - Iztaccihuatl! And it's with Izta that a barrier is broken. The 5,000 metre barrier to be precise. Izta stands a whopping 5,230 metres tall, at the summit of which there is only 50% of the oxygen you'd get by being at sea level. It's going to be a hard slog up it! For more infor, here is the Wiki page.


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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mexico's Big 7 - No 4

I've been listing the seven biggest mountains in Mexico over the last few months. The Magnificent Mexican 7 if you like. At number 4 in the list? The Nevado de Toluca, which I'll be climbing in about 10 days from now.

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It's a big mountain at 4,680 m (15,354 ft) tall, and has two very picturesque lakes in the crater. I say it's a mountain but it is in fact a volcano. It hasn't erupted for a long time, which is just as well, because the last time it did erupt it left Mexico City 2 ft deep in fine sand. It would cause severe disruption to about 30 million people in fact.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

HG Mexico

I've also found a site with mountain guides, HG Mexico, which is worth blogging about - they could come in handy. I'm going to write to them to see if they'd do a much cheaper deal than the one they advertise for a 2 day climb up Ixta. We don't need transfers and stuff like that. Although to be honest I'm not sure we really need a guide, but if one was available cheaply enough, we'd consider it.

More to the point though, is whether we can rent some gear from them. Head lamps and crampons in particular. I shall just have to find out! Their website really sucks as well, design wise. Their use of English isn't perfect either. Maybe I could do a deal with them....a shiny new website with correct spelling, in exchange for a guided trip with all equipment.

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Pico de Orizaba

I was sent the link to this video on YouTube showing a team climbing up and then down Mexico's tallest mountain, Orizaba. It looks cold. It looks tiring. It looks fantastic! I have neither the gear nor the experience at the moment, but one day...




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Iztaccihuatl Video

Here's a video of a group of climbers going all the way to the top of Izta! I found it on YouTube having been sent a link to a video of a climb of Pico de Orizaba, which I'll post soon too. The thing I'm looking at is their clothing and equipment....I'm still working out what we'll be taking!




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Life and Crimes in Mexico City

Mexico City has long held an unfortunate reputation for high levels of crime. Murder, kidnaps, armed robbery - they have it all here. But are you seriously at risk? Probably not. But first a disclaimer. My rough guide below is from both my experience and the shared experiences of others I converse with in the city. It is just a guide. Of course it's possible to fall victim to crime, no matter what city you visit. It's simply about assessing the dangers and reducing the risks, like any other place you might visit.

At the moment Mexico is in the news around the world, with beheadings and other grisly murders taking place on a daily basis. But these crimes are all part of the narco wars, and generally in specific areas. The perpetrators really don't give a monkeys for the odd tourist walking past. Tourists just aren't on the radar, hitlist, whatever you want to call it.

Kidnappings are up again this year too. But again, tourists (and resident gringo TEFL teachers for that matter, fortunately!) are not on the radar. These kidnappings are being done by very organised gangs who are picking their (always very wealthy) targets very carefully.

If you remove all these crimes, what do the statistics look like? Well, any stat with anything other than a '0' in the murder column can be improved upon! But they look a lot less scary. The reality is that even with all these narco murders, there are still quite a few cities in the US with higher murder rates.

What about robbery, pickpocketing and the such? Well, again, they do happen. I got robbed at gun point earlier this year. But I am the only TEFL teacher here who has been so unlucky, and I was walking around a dodgy area at 5.45am, in an unlit street, going past a load of dark alleys....I could have avoided it! Should have, even.

Another visitor recently got her wallet pickpocketed on the Metrobus too. But that too should have been avoided. There are simple precautions you can take! I've given a couple of examples of the negatives. I could write thousands of words about all the people here, and visitors we've had, who left Mexico City without ever seeing or hearing of a crime. There is a chance of something going awry, of course. But if you just take the same basic precautions you would elsewhere, the chance of something going awry with you is pretty slim. As for casual violent crime, I feel a whole load safer here than I ever did in the UK! The people here are really very friendly and non confrontational.

Another thing to bear in mind is that if someone does decide to rob you, they are probably just desperate, and really just want a little cash, not to actually hurt you. Hand over a little cash, and they'll be gone. And you'll have a story to tell when you get home! But it's unlikely. There's really no need to be unduly alarmed. There are thousands of tourists here right now having a fine, crime free, time.

Any questions?! :)

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Iztaccihuatl 1974

I came across a fantastic set of photos on Flickr today, taken by a chap going by the Flickr username of Prinzipal, back in 1974, and more recently digitised and added to Flickr. It's great to see how it looked...will there be as much snow when I get to the top? I'm suspecting not!

Another Redesign!

The last template didn't last long, so I have another new look to the site! I wanted to install Disqus, a third party comments system, to the blog, but the previous template made that difficult. I prefer the new look anyway!

By the way, if you have a blog, especially if it's with Blogger, it's well worth installing Disqus. It's a million times better than standard comments systems.



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