Here’s a book of travel essays from a man who obviously admires this country. He’s covered Mexico from coast to coast and from north to south in a criss cross journey that’s well described here. Thus we get informed accounts of places like Cuernavaca, Puerto Vallarta, Oaxaca, Mazatlan and so on, along with a lengthy look at Mexico City. But rather than simply giving us the usual guidebook account of a place, Butler finds all kinds of interesting facets and people, too, wherever he goes. Along the way you’re also treated to history, politics and whatever attractions are available locally. In almost every location there’s some interesting person – usually an artist – whom he wants to visit.
Not all the items to be found here are travel oriented. There’s a section in the back of the book which offers a varied selection of material, such as an appreciation of the life and work of Frida Kahlo and another on the comic actor, Cantinflas. A rundown on the production of tequila is also very informative.
My own favorite of those pieces is Mexican Food: You Are What You Eat, which also offers a few pointers on some of the better restaurants in various parts of the country. According to Butler: “Not all Mexican food is hot, but all Mexican food is good. Experts say that the basic staple diet of the Mexican peasant is among the healthiest in the world. Beans provide carbohydrates and protein. Corn, from which tortillas are made, offers proteins and calcium. Chiles, used in everything Mexican, are one of the most versatile seasonings known and contain an entire warehouse of vitamins and minerals. They’re particularly loaded with vitamin C.”
Dancing Alone is one of those books that makes you want to see more of Mexico. At least that’s the way it affects me. I’ve been to many of the places described here and there are a few still to visit – like the Baja and Yucatan. When I go the Baja I’ll be sure to take the night ferry ride from Mazatlan to La Paz. I would be going to the Copper Canyon, too, but I was there earlier this year and I’m in total agreement with Butler on the spectacular attractions to be found there.
But it’s not just the broad geographical areas that are described. I want, for example, to go back to Veracruz and this time I’ll be sure to visit the Café de Portales for “the world’s best cup of coffee”. And, when I’m in Cuernavaca next I’ll have comida at Las Mañanitas – “quite literally Mexico’s best restaurant,” according to the author.
It’s an easy book to sit back and enjoy. Butler knows how to find the interesting aspects of a place and to keep it light. However, the cumulative effect of “Dancing Alone in Mexico” means that you come away with a much deeper appreciation of what an amazing country this is. The variety that’s available to the traveler is truly spectacular. Whatever you’re looking for – natural wonders, history, city pleasures, relaxation or adventure of all kinds – it’s all here in abundance.
Butler is cited as “winner of the prestigious La Pluma de Plata Award (presented by the President of Mexico) for outstanding travel writing.” He lives in Tucson, Arizona. His previous books include Fodor’s Railways of the World, Esquire’s Guide to Modern Etiquette, Fodor’s Guide to New Mexico and The Best of the Old West.” And he’s a frequent contributor to several leading U.S. magazines.
I liked this one. However, I must offer one small caveat. I’ve never read a travel book that was so much in need of at least one map as is Dancing Alone. So many places are mentioned that it would be awfully handy just to take a quick glance at a simple map and see what part of the country is being discussed. There must be a lot of readers who haven’t a clue where some of these places are. And there are a few – like Magdalena de Kino and San Cristóbal de las Casas – that were new to me. A map would help considerably.
In my humble O: Treat yourself to a damned good ‘armchair’ journey through an endlessly interesting country..
Dancing Alone in Mexico. From the Border to Baja and Beyond
By Ron Butler
The University of Arizona Press. 2000.
Available from Amazon Books: Paperback