Saturday, July 11, 2009

Monterrey A City Leading The Way, Don’t Miss It.

Sitting here in the loft of a very notable Café at Fiesta San Agustin, admiring the view of the Sierra Madre mountains, listening to easy piano Jazz, and sipping on my Caramel Macchiato early on Saturday morning, is a perfect recipe for inspirational writing. So today I will dedicate my latest post to it happened in Monterrey.

It’s no secret that I like Monterrey the capital of the state of Nuevo Leon. El Estado de Progresso, (The State of Progress) as the state slogan declares is absolutely true. In Mexico, if there was an award given for progress then Monterrey would win hands down every time, since it’s one of the newest cities in Mexico, and pretty much since it was founded the city has been in a state of progress.

First I would like to elaborate about Monterrey as we call it, which is actually made up of several municipalities that I would like to divide into 2 groups. The 1st the industrial group is made up of Santa Catarina, Escobedo, Apodaca and Guadalupe. Of course for tourists there is very little to see or do in these municipalities, since it’s populated mostly by the working class who labor in these highly industrialized areas which are in turn home to many varied national and international companies. If you want to avoid the possibility of trouble than let’s say these are the areas you don’t go into alone like for example you don’t go into the Bronx in New Your City or so I’ve always heard.

San Nicolas de los Garza, San Pedro Garza Garcia, along with Monterrey then form the 2nd the tourism group and have a huge array of things to see and do. For shopping and night life definitely San Pedro is the place to go also known as Beverly Hills Mexico with Galerias Valle Oriente, Fiesta San Agustin and Paseo San Pedro malls all within 5 minutes of each other, as well as Calcada del Valle street shops and el centrito (micro city center) with many restaurants and night clubs, as well as great city views from Chipinque.

In Monterrey especially in downtown known as the Macro Plaza, you have the historical area, several excellent museums, parks, street shops closed to traffic, and my personal favorite Santa Lucia river walk, which is nice now, but will rival San Antonio’s river walk in 10 years, if not less. If you ever visited San Antonio you will know what I’m talking about. In the historic center you also have a different brand of nightly entertainment such as quaint pubs and bars.

Less important but still worth visiting is San Nicolas which has great mountain views, and some decent shopping and is mostly made up of middle/upper class residential areas. All have good to superb hotels represented by almost all the major chains. Also language is not a barrier as many young urban professional are fluent in English. They may be shy to speak it but they will understand it better than your Spanish.

All my posts will tend to provide a bit of a political opinion about my likes and dislikes of whatever the subject matter may be, and in this case Metropolitan Monterrey. What I like is its natural beauty since it’s a city growing in and around several lomas (hills) and mountains. This gives the city some great panoramic views. It also provides a lot of the things North Americans have come to expect from their urban centers which are cleanliness, organization, tranquility, and safety. Since Monterrey grew in part based on its steel manufacturing it is also known as the Pittsburgh of Mexico not withstanding that both cities also share a similar landscapes although Monterrey’s river Rio Santa Catarina is dry almost year round. In fact I’ve often stated that I feel more like I’m in the states in Monterrey and more at home in Mexico in San Antonio Texas. Indeed the police force for example are well equipped, and will fine you for excessive speed, and severely for things like DUI (driving intoxicated) so in terms of safety I feel relatively safe walking around in these Municipalities. Statistically Monterrey has been recognized as the safest city in Latin America, and the numbers show that it’s a safer city than most in North America cities. Here you will also find excellent medical facilities and universities, which turn out some of the best prepared professionals in Mexico.

The other thing that makes me feel connected to Monterrey goes back to the time of the founding fathers of Monterrey when Alberto do Canto failed to establish it as Santa Lucia which then gave its name to the new river walk, and later successfully by Luis Carvajal which were both Portuguese explorers conquistadores sponsored by the king of Spain under the Spanish Flag, and if you didn’t guess I’m also of Portuguese ancestry.
There is very little to complain about in Monterrey as far as Mexican cities go. Yes like every other large metropolitan area there are pockets of maddening traffic especially prevalent at rush hour, drivers do tend to drive like as if they are Michael Schumacher which probably explains why motor sport is very popular in the city to which they have hosted several events. The weather can also be a source of dissatisfaction for some, but here it is because of some of the extreme hot temperatures coupled with lots of humidity. This probably explains why another large segment of the industry found here is refrigeration and air conditioning. Oh and finally although as mentioned above the police force is well equipped their prime motivation to fine you is really to line their pockets since this is a source of income for them. So if you are guilty no matter where you are you got to pay.

In conclusion stay tuned to the "Sultana Del Norte" (Sultan of the North) as the city is also known. They have had a failed attempt to recruit a professional team (the Montreal Expos) in 2003, but have plenty of sporting events with two 1st division soccer teams, professional baseball, tennis, bowling and lots of concerts with most important acts performing here. Recently hosted Universal Forum of Cultures, as well as United Nation Conference on Financing for Development & OAS Special Summit of the Americas, are organizing to host the summer Olympics, and attract major league baseball, football, hockey, and basketball, as the venues are built or in the planning stages.

Monterrey a city leading the way, don’t miss it.

Hope you find this information helpful, and your comments are always welcome.

Safe travels. Brought to you by Travel Guru @ No Nonsense Travel Advice.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Getting Around Cancún.

The cost of mobility in Cancun can be aggravating to say the least. It can be expensive at its best and a complete rip-off at its worst. Here are some tips, dos and some don’ts.
Choose your Hotel wisely.

- By doing so you can avoid the whole transportation thing. For example, if you book all inclusive you should not need to even leave the hotel facilities. If you like clubbing at night then stay at hotel near the Punta (tip) (elbow) area whatever you want to call it. Most of the famous clubs are in this area as well as the Forum Plaza. If you like shopping then you may consider staying near La Isla Km 12 the biggest Mall in Cancun. From there if you walk north to Km 11 (a bit over ½ mile) you have Plaza Flamingo with more traditional shops at more reasonable prices, or South toward the airport to Km 13 where there is Luxury Avenue which the name speaks for itself.
Bus (Combi) in Spanish.

- Personally I’ve never used the bus in Cancun, but I hear its air conditioned and cheap. Of course you will have to share the bus with the locals but if you avoid the rush hrs. you should miss having to rub shoulders, and probably even be able to get a seat. The trip will also be short if you are just using it in the hotel district.
Taxi Cab
- Well there is a lot to say about commuting via Taxi. Taxis have no meters, with that said do ask before you get in the cost up front. Especially if you do not speak Spanish (Cuanto cuesta para) and the name of the place (Hard Rock), most drivers will or try to understand you. Usually you can get this information from the door man at the hotel also, but they tend to inflate it so as not to get into trouble. I will illustrate an example, I left Plaza Flamingo at the south door, and outside was a lone taxi driver, and I asked him how much to take me to La Isla north entrance about ½ mile. After hearing my accent he advised 80 Pesos and I waved my hand to him in disgust. Most foreigners will try to quickly convert that to their currency and surmise that it’s a bargain. Not so, that fare should not cost more than 50 Pesos and because it’s in Cancun. In another city it would be 20. I made it walking in 7 min. in the heat and carrying my lap top. My point here is weather you can afford it or not should not be the issue, the sole taxi service is run by a union, therefore a monopoly who has issued an excess of licenses to bolster their membership. Without meters the amount you will pay will be based strictly on the discriminating fact of what language you speak, since everyone is after the quick buck. What a shame that such a beautiful place to vacation should not be more regulated. So a word to the wise, know where you are going, ask for the fare up front, that will automatically make them think that you are on to their scheme, and keep track of points of reference for example a taxi ride from La Isla to the airport is about $250.00 Pesos. Of course not all taxi drivers are this way, but I tell you anyone at any time can be tempted depending on their day to day circumstances. And if you happen to have extra money better to tip them well for a job well done.

Car Rentals
- You have two choices here, which are using an accredited rental company or a not so reputable rental company. The major difference between the two occurs at the time when you arrive at the counter to claim your reservation. Some of the big name companies that everyone is most familiar with will reserve up to $2000.00 USD on your credit card. So even though your reservation indicated renting a compact vehicle for $10.99 USD a day it will be triple once you add the minimum insurance plus surprise $1,000.00 USD blocked on your credit card. With a less reputable rental company this amount will be more like $300.00 to $500.00, or if you are like me and know your way around nothing 0. Just sign up for the full insurance and negotiate hard. The place is not pretty, but essentially you get the same vehicle and avoid putting all that money into their hands.

- I say this because it’s not uncommon for you to have difficulties in having your deposit returned, and if so it will take a min. of 2 weeks to relieve the credit card hold after you make a few phone calls to your credit card company. The car rental agencies claim when I question them about these practices which are not common elsewhere, that those other places don’t have their cars stolen or totaled in an accident. While it’s true that there have been many incidents of young spring breakers leaving their favorite drinking spots and winding up in the lagoon, the cars are insured. Insurance costs over $40.00 USD a day for a compact vehicle valued at $7,000.00 USD which if you do the math amounts to $14,600.00 a year which is what you would normally pay for a Porsche back home.

- Now I think again the vacationer is being discriminated against since a family couple with two kids arriving in Cancun for a vacation are very unlikely to be would be car thieves. Again where are the regulations? By the way I think most of the so called accredited rental companies are owner operators because when I called the 800 number to file a complaint the number was only valid in the US, which also explains the fact as to why your deposit is so difficult to return, it’s called cash flow.

- Finally another difference is in the gas tank. While everywhere else you get a car with a full gas tank, here you will get a car running on fumes. You will be told to return it the same way, but what they are really hoping for is that you will return it with a full tank. So don’t make the mistake of filling the tank just outside of the airport. Put in $200.00 pesos in your compact car and that should be enough to get you around locally for the full week, even with the air on full blast, and please like anywhere else don’t drink and drive and obey the traffic signs.
Airport Shuttle Service
- A brief word about this service. If not renting a car they may be your best option. The companies are reputable and provide good service. For me again I do find the cost expensive, since they charge $41.00 USD double occupancy return for a drive from the airport to a hotel by La Isla Mall, since this is a mere 11 miles or 18 Km. Now I know back home it would be more expensive but to compare this rate to another city it costs me $600.00 pesos ($44.00 USD) via a private car for a 100 Km (62 Miles). But upon arrival in Cancun and exiting the secured luggage claim area of the airport you will find someone with a sign representing their company most of the time. They will escort you to the taxi area and in most cases you will be inside a well maintained van with air but shared with other people going to different hotels. If you are 1st on the list great, if you are last then enjoy the scenery because it could be a while. If for example you wait in line for a cab then this cost can be reduced in half, by following the rules here in mentioned. If you are willing to walk out of the airport ground transportation area you can save even more.
- For information of a reputable taxi driver please request it via e-mail. Nice guy with good vehicle and fair price.

Hope you find this information helpful, and your comments are always welcome.
Safe travels.
Brought to you by Travel Guru @ No Nonsense Travel Advice.

Punta Cancun