I’m not sure why I haven’t reviewed this book sooner. It’s been around since 1993 and it was one of the first books my wife and I read when we arrived here in Ajijic eight years ago. And – heaven knows! – I’ve reviewed more than 60 books about this fascinating country in the past few years. Anyway, this useful volume is back in a new and updated edition and it’s still as essential as ever. Whether you’re making a brief visit as a tourist, or escaping the northern winter for a few months or checking out the area more extensively as a place to spend one’s retirement years, this is one item you should have in your survival kit. It’s a nice blend of guidebook, travelogue and history text with lots of local color and some ecological notes sprinkled throughout.
Re-reading it brings back a host of good memories. I’d forgotten, for instance, Santa Maria del Oro and the impromptu New Year’s party we were invited to in the campsite there in 1994 when we visited the area – as a result of reading this book. And then there’s the lovely drive up the flower-covered slopes to Mazamitla in September and October. Also, my wife says I shouldn’t forget to mention the restaurant that Burton recommends on page 158 – the Camino Real just outside Pátzcuaro. (Cecilia never forgets a good comida.) The restaurant is located in an unlikely place, next to a gas station. But Burton’s book is like that – well researched and he’s obviously checked out all these places before writing about them. Lots of other memories flooded back as a result of a rereading.
The book covers eight distinct areas of Western Mexico in the States of Jalisco, Colima and Michoacan. Reading it leaves you wondering if there’s any country anywhere that’s offers so much variety in such a relatively small geographic area. Altitudes range from sea level to 12,600 feet, which is the peak of Tancítaro, the highest peak in Michoacan. That’s almost 2-1/2 miles straight up! The terrain includes desert, cloud forest, ocean beaches, picturesque villages, swampland, mountain ranges, tropical jungle and several cities, including, of course, one huge metropolis….Guadalajara. Also, we have volcanoes. I don’t know the precise number but there are obviously lots of them. And some are still active. As I write this, in February 2002, our local community newspaper, The Reporter, features a front page story on a volcano very close to Colima which is spewing out lava and causing the evacuation of several villages.
Guadalajara receives little mention because Burton is obviously more interested in getting into the hinterlands and exploring everything that’s out there. Be warned that it’s very much a book that’s geared to driving although the author provides maps and clear directions on how to reach the offbeat places he describes.
I know that there are lots of buses in Mexico and the first class ones are really first class. But this volume is also concerned with getting you down side roads and visiting places you might otherwise miss. Along the way you pick up all sorts of information on the various specialties offered in each community – whether it be equipale furniture, quilts, ceramic tiles, straw goods, woollen sweaters, guitars, pottery, toys or whatever. And you’re also given useful information on accommodations and restaurants and Feast Days and other occasions that might tickle your fancy.
History isn’t neglected either. People have been living in this area for thousands of years and there’s evidence everywhere regarding these former inhabitants and their societies. The author covers them with colorful accounts that enhance your explorations or are simply interesting to read, not just about the various Indian tribes that inhabited the area but also about the coming of the Conquistadors and the profound effect they had on every aspect of life here.
Burton is obviously interested in the geological and ecological history of this part of the world. He provides accounts on topics such as how Lake Chapala was formed and why there are so many of those troublesome volcanoes still around.
The book also contains some 30 or so short highlighted passages that cover various relevant subjects. For example half-page sidebars discuss topics like “Why There is Such an Astonishing Variety of Flora Here”, or “The Production of Tequila”, or “The Volcán de Fuego”, a brief look at Mexico’s most active volcano.
The book is illustrated throughout with drawings by Mark Eager. There are about three dozen of them, bringing the overall story even more to life. Maps are also provided for all the areas Burton explores and the driving routes he’s recommending.
Western Mexico: A Traveller’s Treasury is readily available in the usual shops here in the Lakeside area and also at Sandi’s Bookstore in Guadalajara. For those of you who live further afield, Sombrero Books has it.
In my humble O: It’s a volume that just makes you want to git up and go. Now then – where on earth did I leave those car keys….?
Western Mexico: A Traveller’s Treasury
By Tony Burton
Third edition: 2001
Perception Press, Saint Augustine, Fla.