Saturday, July 30, 2011

La Cd. de México Para Codos

A fragment of a message washed ashore near here,  about cost of living for retired expats in the Morelia and Pátzcuaro areas.

On Jul 28, 2011, at 9:10 PM, on Michoacan_Net, moreliaamigo wrote:
"I would tend to put vacation travel in a different category. The $2,000 peso splurge allowance could allow for a monthly trip to Mexico City, Zihuatanejo, or someplace and cover transportation, hotel, and meals for a short two-day trip."
"MoreliaAmigo" brings up an interesting spin off from the topic of general cost of living. ("Vacation" takes on a new meaning anyway, when you are retired and already Living la Vida Buena in Mexico, but decide you need a change of scene, so you decide, for example, to take a long weekend in Mexico City. —I think of lodging in Zihua as generally higher priced, for similar quality. Besides, I prefer Mexico City to the beach scene.)

My theme will be "Mexico City On a Budget", and I don't mean staying in backpacker's hostels and eating instant oatmeal and reusing teabags for breakfast, and the comida económica at $30 pesos for your main meal, antojitos por la calle at night.

A big chunk of the cost could be transportation. It's a little more for us here in the Pátzcuaro area than it is for our City Cousins in Morelia.

A trick to solving some of the transportation burden is to travel lightly, with just a couple of carry on bags. So equipped, we can catch a local combi (schedule indeterminate) to La Estacíon in Lower Pátzcuaro for $7 pesos each. (Here, "$" refers to Pesos Mexicanos, unless otherwise indicated.)

At La Estacíon, we board a second class Purhépechas bus to Morelia's Camionera Central, $36 each. We can live without an onboard video for the hour or so it takes to get there.

View Larger Map

At the Camionera Central de Morelia, we go to the AutoVías ticket counter, politely flash our INAPAM senior benefits cards, and buy two tickets to México Terminal Poniente; $218 peso each,  as of 20/11/2013, depending on class of service. IMO, the cheaper upper deck is better, but my wife likes the lower, as it is less vertigo inducing. 

Food: pack a sandwich and a piece of fruit. The bus line hostess will give you some kind of snack and a choice of water, refresco or a Boing! fruit drink. I like the Boing!
You have just saved the price of a meal.

Upon arrival, you'll also have saved $3 or $4 pesos each by sagely using the baño aboard the bus, or enter the AutoVías waiting room (or, if you have the cojones, boldly stroll into the more spacious ETN waiting room and use their baño).

Stroll past the Taquilla de Boletos Taxis with a slight, knowing smile, grasp your bags closely, cross the busy street (with the light), thread through the tianguis, and descend into Metro Station Observatorio. Buy boletos, $3 each, saving some $80 or more pesos. I have read, from a generally reliable source, that INAPAM card holders can show their credentials and ride for free. But I wouldn't have the chutzpah.

These tickets will open up most of metropolitan México D.F. to you, if should you choose to accept the challenge. But really, yours will be a trip of modest distance, of only 5 stations. It's also easy to find a seat when boarding, as Metro Observatorio is the first stop on Linea Una.

Stay on until Metro Station Insurgentes, ascend to the gladiatorial looking sunken plaza, and exit by way of the short underpass marked "Calle Jalapa". Please note that you will be entering Colonia Roma Norte, a genteel artsy neighborhood, very different in tone from the glitzy, sin drenched Zona Rosa immediately to the north. We will now find decent lodging, at a budget price. It's not far, but here's a map.
(Problems encountered embedding the map to fit this page, but here's a link—Click Me that should work.)

Immediately upon reaching the Calle Puebla cross street, turn left and walk two blocks, past Calle Orizaba, to the Hotel Embassy, at Calle Puebla # 115, adjacent to the Salon Covadonga. You can't miss it.

This is your habitacíon sencilla, one king bed, a nice sized room, a very nice bathroom, free wifi just off the lobby, at a cost of $300 a night for one or two persons. Mmm; a mirror running along one wall of the bedroom. Use your imagination.

There are other, costlier rooms, which we haven't seen. There's a list of prices here and photos.
Friends seem to like the Hotel Colonia Roma,on Av. Álvaro Obregón at the corner of Jalapa. I've only looked in, and though it's a bit more ventral central to the action, it seems very worn to me. The main attraction is that it's cheap. $200 for a king bed? ¡Increible!

Now for some food. There are cheap eating places on Calle Orizaba at Calle Puebla and north. There's a cheap comida corrida offered at the Punto y Coma restaurant on the corner.

Calle Orizaba at Calle Puebla
Punto y Coma
Continuing on Calle Puebla toward Ave Insurgentes, you'll find a wealth of inexpensive and often attractive street food stalls, as well as an inexpensive, American style coffee shop.
 These do not necessarily constitute recommendations.

Or a torta holding a deep fried tamal.

If by some chance you get touched by an intestinal bug, or even simple indigestion, there's a Farmacia de Dios just across Avenida Insurgentes Sur. With a name like that, it must be good.

Pricier eating places are found as close as the Salon Covadonga (which is usually panned for its food and service, but may be fine for a drink and a snack), and south on Orizaba to and through the Plaza Río de Janeiro. There are some pretty uppity restos in the area of Calle Colima, where it crosses Orizaba, notably the la-di-da dining spots in the Hotel Brick. There's also the overpriced Ristorante Rosetta, which I previously reviewed.

Lucille's, on Calle Orizaba at Calle Tabasco is o.k. for a beer and a light pizza.

At Av. Álvaro Obregón at Orizaba is El Diez, a very decent Argentinean style steakhouse. There's also salads, pizzas and hamburgers there. El Diez is a favorite, neither the cheapest nor the most expensive of choices in the area.

The best and by far the cheapest hamburguesas are found at the corner of Calle Colima and Calle Morelia; Hamburguesas a la Parilla. Grilled Hamburgers. Standing room only. You could, I suppose, take your juicy, dripping purchase and refresco Jarritos across the street to the park, but we never have.

For decent, if unspectacular, Mexican family food favorites, there are several restaurants  Bisquets Obregón within a few blocks. On weekend mornings, there is often a waiting line. An attraction for codos is that they'll give you a modest discount if you show your INAPAM card when you sit down.

There's more, but I'm not going to detail them here. Look in My Mexican Kitchen's archives for that.

Diversions para codos:

• People watching, especially in the Plaza Río de Janeiro and the Plaza Luis Cabrera. For that matter, just about anywhere in the area.

• Used and new bookstores, many on the south side of Av. Álvaro Obregón.

• The weekend tianguis of odd collectables and more, as well as socks for diabetics and some food. This is always an attraction.

• Walking, enjoying the architecture, much of it French influenced, a legacy of the Porfiriato (esp).

You could even walk to Colonia Condesa, about 15 to 20 minutes away. We did it, and it was very pleasant.

Museums operated bu government agencies are usually free on Sndays. But an INAPAM card will get you discounts any time, except Monday, when many museums are closed.

When you get tired of yuppie haunts, take the Metro to the Centro Histórico. You will probably have to transfer from Linea Una to Linea Dos at the Pino Súarez station. Consult your guidebook for possibilities.

Getting home.

We often splurge on a taxi for our return to Terminal Poniente, in order to avoid the press of crowded weekday morning Metro coaches. But if you leave early enough, or on a weekend, you can manage the Metro. Remember, it's only five stops away from the Insurgentes Metro station.

Getting INAPAM discounted seats may be slightly challenging at times. Sometimes there may be only one discounted seat available. Sometimes none, until a considerably later departure. If, on arrival, you'd thought ahead, you could have bought your discounted return tickets in advance. But we rarely show such foresight.

If AutoVías doesn't have what you want, try ETN or Primera Plus.

Conclusions: can a three day weekend in Mexico City be done for $2000? The buses alone will cost you $600, from Morelia to México and return.

The three hotel nights will be $600 to $900.

Miscellaneous stuff, figure maybe $300.

Food, if you can keep your dining costs at under $50 each per meal, and that's feasible, but unlikely in our case. Total for appproximately 9 @ $50 meals x 2= $900.

Let's ring it up and check out: $1800-2400. I think the higher figure will be more likely, given the many temptations waiting there for the wide eyed visitor.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I was a Volaris Virgin...

...but no longer. I have a new view of Volaris, a Mexican budget airline. It was a few years ago that I made a reservation with Volaris to speed our return from Oaxaca to Toluca. But at almost the last moment, the airline cancelled the route.  [begin sarcasm] I will give them this: the agent offered us a flight at no additional cost, from Oaxaca to to Tijuana and thence back to Toluca. I may not remember clearly, but there may have been a stopover in Monterrey. [/end sarcasm]

I was pissed, especially when I requested a refund, and I was given a complicated list of instructions that involved, among other things, scanning our passports and emailing them. Fortunately for us, a savvy friend suggested that we just contact the credit card company for a refund. That done, we got a charge back within 6 months. Good work on the part of the credit card company, but not on Volaris' part.

This spring, however, I saw a super cheap fare on Volaris, from GDL to SJC. Even with forward seating and trip insurance (given our unfortunate history with Volaris), the fare was $562 USD for two, round trip. That was perfect, as we wanted to attend the quinceañera of the daughter of the folks who own the house that we rent. At the same time, we could visit my in-laws in Campbell, CA, all conveniently situated close to the quinceañera folks, and peripherally, several fascinating dining opportunities.

After a night in the lovely Casa de Las Palomas in Tonalá in which we weathered a ferocious storm, we took a long cab ride to the GDL Airport. There we laced our way back and forth to check in, got documents filled out at Immigration, then back to the check in, where we were allowed to saltar la fila. With only a fast donut break at the in-house Krispy Kreme, we finished our check-in and went for breakfast at Burger King. It was a good Whopper, much better than the one on Calzada La Huerta in Morelia.

We ascended/descended to the Volaris waiting rooms.
It was there that I had my first sighting of the lovely birds,
Aves Illae Volaris Azafatae. (I'm certain my attempts at Latin will be corrected. Bring it on.)

Avis Illa Azafatae Volaris
By their smart uniforms and perky demeanor, it seemed as though they were just done with a remake of Catch Me If You Can. But besides being attractive, they are first rate hostesses. I had no sense of authoritarian or chilly efficiency as we have experienced with some U.S. airlines flight attendants.
(A notable exception was the First Class flight attendant on another airline, who when I requested a pillow, jokingly told me that there were none, but that I might rest my head on her bosom. I am not inventing this.)

The Volaris azafatas distributed snacks* and drinks with smiles and charm. I was entranced. I was also impressed by their snappy tailored uniforms, the precise details of which I cannot describe, due to my deficiency of couturier vocabulary.

The safety video on our return flight was done by cute kids, speaking Spanish, of course, with English subtitles, and for once, was hard to ignore.

Our return flight was at 12:30 PDT and so there were free alcoholic beverages offered by our hostesses. I had a cafecito con ron, and when asked if it was all right, I said I could hardly taste the rum, so they graciously poured more.

We've rarely had such pleasant flights as this, our first with Volaris.

*The one downside, if any, is that the snacks, while varied, are still comida chatarra. (Junk food.)

Mexico should be proud of this fine airline and its excellent staff. They are in partnership with U.S. based Southwest Airlines. I will be looking for more opportunities to fly with Volaris.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Appointment in Tonalá

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture,  now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
From Appointment In Samarra by John O'Hara

OUR Saturday departure from Pátzcuaro was threatened by the violent events of Thursday afternoon and evening. Los Caballeros Templares gang skirmished with police and the Ejército, hijacking  public and private vehicles and setting them aflame. Most of those incidents took place in distant Apatzingán, Uruapan and Morelia.

Photo from