Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle So Many Guidebooks... So Little Time!

By Kate X Messer

JUNE 1, 1998:  Wherever you're at, there you are. Perhaps a guidebook would help tell you exactly where that is. Not all guidebooks are created equal - which does not necessarily mean better or worse. Different travelers have different needs. Here are a few books to consider filling them.

My favorite so far is Lonely Planet's series. Their new edition of Lonely Planet - Mexico (1998, $19.95, 1,013pp) has just hit the shelves. It's a huge tome, a tad unwieldy in a rucksack but a helluva fine brick to chuck at the head of any perpetrator. Better still is its irreverent take on local scenes. While being neither disrespectful nor ethnocentrically snide, it speaks no double speak about what it finds. (The "sweaty, smelly, seedy" description of Tampico from the Tuxpan essay was found here.) It is chock full of helpful charts, graphs, maps, a handful of color pages, and translations. The organization and indexing is logical and user-friendly and the paper stock sturdy enough to ride out your most hectic trip. Also available: Lonely Planet - Baja California (1998, $16.95, 321pp); Lonely Planet - Latin American Spanish Phrasebook (1998, $6.95, pocket-sized, 304pp).

Similar to this no-B.S. approach is Fodor's UpClose - Mexico (1998, $17.50, 493pp). Previously published as The Berkeley Guide to Mexico, the UpClose series is not afraid to tell you about things like exposed sewage pipes, barbed wire, and American cultural saturation. While the book is generally clean and well-designed, its organization logic takes a few thumb-throughs to understand. It lacks in graphics, and its cottony paper stock seems less suited for hard travel. It is, however, a good read.

Fodor's 98 - Mexico (1997, $19, 581pp) is as dense as the two titles listed above, but its narrow size makes for handy handling. Some of the text is repeated in UpClose, but the layout is crisper, making the organization clear. Fodor's descriptions of lodging and eateries are more exhaustive than some of the other guides and they classify by price, while not shying away from more expensive joints. The paper stock is similar to Lonely Planet's.

For affordable and off-the-beaten path suggestions, check out Rough Guides - Mexico (1997, $16.95, 603pp). The overall style here is not unlike UpClose and Lonely Planet, but their specific city histories tend to be more academic in approach. Despite the density, it is physically the lightest and most compact of the guidebooks. The update of the Mexico edition will be out November 1998. Also available: Rough Guides - Mexican Spanish (1996, $5.00, 262pp).

Great graphics and a clean design distinguish Fielding's Mexico (1997, $18.95, 857pp). Their specialty is attention to detail in descriptions and illustrations of buildings and ruins. Fielding's employs a clever system of graphic symbols to identify a variety of things like interesting architecture, markets, sports activities, spectacular cuisine, etc., plus a rating system to indicate time savers, money savers, and the like. The legend, however, could be located in a handier place.

Moon Travel Handbooks - Mexico Handbook (1996, $21.95, 1,457pp) is a great resource to stock if you travel to Mexico frequently. It's the largest of the guidebooks presented here and includes exhaustive city histories and context for much of what you find. Their ethnographic, cultural, and historic data is unparalleled. This is a freakin' textbook of info. For limited travel, you might consider obtaining one of their impressive regional books instead: Northern Mexico (1994, $16.95, 500pp); Cancun (1997, $13.95, 254pp); Yucatan Peninsula (1997, $15.95, 397pp); Pacific Mexico (1997, $17.95, 559pp); Cabo (1996, $14.95, 205pp); Baja (1994, 362pp, $15.95; Puerto Vallarta (1997, $14.95, 303pp).

For the gay and lesbian traveler Ferrari Guides has a number of titles available suggesting safe and friendly travel options. The first edition of their Gay Mexico: The Definitive Guide to Gay & Lesbian Mexico (1998, $17.95, 304pp) should be out on the shelves any day now. Also check out: Gay Travel A to Z (1998, $16, 512pp) and Inn Places: Gay & Lesbian Accommodations Worldwide (1998, $16.00, 592pp). Special separate men's and women's books are also available from Ferrari.

Damron has also just updated its Women's Traveler '98 (1998, $12.95, 567pp), one of the world's most popular women's guides. A little over pocket-size, this is considered the source for women-safe and gay-friendly accommodations and destinations.

Our Copper Canyon correspondents Wendell & Audrey tell us that Johnson's Books - Mexico's Copper Canyon Country: A Hiking & Backpacking Guide (1994, $16.95) is the must-have book for hearty adventurers heading into the region.

And on a final note, while perusing the book selection at a local store, I stumbled into a talk being given by "Mexico" Mike Nelson, a jolly ol' hippie-type of fella who has spent the better part of the last 30 years traveling or living in Mexico. His prose is candid and refreshing and worth a check out. Here's a list of his titles published by his own company, Roads Scholar Press: Live Better South of the Border (1997, $16.95, 158pp); Spas & Hot Springs of Mexico (1997, $16.95, 141pp); Mexico From the Driver's Seat (1991, $8.95, 129pp) (to be updated as Mexico's Unique Places & People, early 1999); and More Than a Dozen of Mexico's Hidden Jewels (1997, $9.95, 37pp) Mail order only: http://www.mexicomike.com or 800/321-5605. - Kate X Messer

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