Of European descent

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 04/18/2013 - 19:42

A colleague of mine at Facultad de Ingeniería pointed me to a note published in the Faculty's gazette about a short cycle of talks we had on April 4th, trying to get life and interest back in the once-active LIDSOL (Laboratorio de Investigación y Desarrollo en Software Libre, Free Software Research and Development Laboratory), which nowadays lies mostly dormant.

Good thing the official communication channels got notice of this! Only I am not sure if they can properly produce Spanish (as this feels more like an English redaction). Quoting only the first lines of the paragraph that referes to me:

La última conferencia fue presentada por Gunnar Wolf, que aunque su nombre nos hiciera pensar en una nacionalidad europea, él es nacido en tierras mexicanas pero con descendencias húngaras, austriacas y polacas.

Which translates to:

The last talk was presented by Gunnar Wolf, that although he has a name that makes us think about an European nationality, he was born in Mexican soil, but with Hungarian, Austriac and Polish descent.

As far as I can tell (and I am almost sure I know all of the story — At least on that regard), I have no descent yet. Not Hungarian, Austriac, Polish, nor of any nationality.

(nitpickers: Yes, similar words are often used. In Spanish, it would be correct to say de ascendencia húngara, austriaca y polaca, and in my attempt towards English translation, it would be of Hungarian, Austriac and Polish descent).

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Looking for a (small) place to host a Free Software-related meeting, course or similar in Mexico City?

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 03/29/2013 - 11:00

Hey, Mexican hackers!

If anybody is interested in holding a small Free Software-related meeting (say, with up to 10-15 people) in the South of Mexico City, please tell me — We have adapted a nice room at our house where we want to invite people to come and do activities — Courses, meetings, whatever. It is not very big (~5×5 meters), but it has all of the needed amenities (some chairs, a projector, coffee-related amenities, and is very conveniently located). We are not charging for hosting your activities (but will of course want to schedule it beforehand with you).

So, if you have something to teach, or some project to hack on, and want a nice place to do it in, please drop us a line/call.

(hmh, yes, this is one of the posts that should probably be in Spanish — But this blog has a long-standing policy for English content ;-)

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So you want to be a leader

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 03/11/2013 - 18:46

So we are at the beginning of this year's Debian Project Leader elections. And yes, after Stefano's long and (IMO) very successful DPL term, I feel as my voting machinery is somewhat stuck; it will not be so easy to get it back up to speed. Anyway, I have glanced over the three platforms, but only actually read 1.5 from the three DPL platforms. I know that whoever succeeds, I will be quite happy with the results.

This year there are three runners for the post. I have worked in several teams with two of them, and would love to know better the third. In the same order as presented in the vote:

Gergely Nagy
I have not yet worked with Gergely, but enjoy reading him. The closest I have been to working with him was sketching a packaging tutorial during DebConf11, in Bosnia. Sadly, I was quite busy, and he picked up the complete workload — And correspondingly, got the credits. I can say that Gergely has a very important quality, the ability to put in seductively easy words the most complex processes. So, yes, being the Debian Leader post a public-facing one, I am certain he has one of the important qualities.
Moray Allan
We have worked together organizing DebConf for many years, first loosely as orga-team members, and starting two years ago (and together with Holger Levsen) as formal delegates. I think our team is quite well balanced, and Moray plays an important role. Holger and I are sometimes anxious to take measures, measures that IMO would have proven disastrous more than once. Moray is often the voice of reason. Given that another one of the DPL's roles is to mediate in social conflicts and keep Debian working smoothly (or something close to it ;-) ), that is also a very important trait of a DPL, and I'm also sure Moray would shine as a good leader.
Lucas Nussbaum
I have long been part of the pkg-ruby-extras team (although I am way less active than what I used to, where Lucas often dazzles us with his intense streaks of activity. Among this group of three, I see Lucas firstly as the most technically oriented, the biggest implementer. Also, as the proactive bug-finder and team-herder. And yes, Lucas is maybe the most enthusiastic about the (always) important Making Debian Sexy point. So, if elected, I'm sure this facet will also make him shine

So, it's not that I'm trying to bribe our next DPL with sweet nice words about how interesting a person or how good a friend he is, but am trying to look at the election process as something different. It seems for me that we are going to choose which Debian do we want to pursue for this starting period.

Now, for our soon-to-be-ex-DPL Stefano: As many will surely tell you (or already have): You rock. I truly enjoyed your DPL term, and there is much we should adopt and learn from your personality and leadership.

And, although it has waned over the past few years, many people tend to publish their (stated?) vote during the campaigning period. I (think I) have never done so, and this time I will surely not do so. Choosing a DPL involves personal feelings, sympathies, and many non-objective things. And although I know nobody will feel hurt if I don't put them in the first place, I prefer not to expose such issues. I can only assure you that this year, "None of the above" will sink to the bottom of my ballot.

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Dkg: Unwrap it with Blender. And ask @octagesimal / @casyopea !

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 02/28/2013 - 00:30

Daniel tells his story building a wooly mammoth, and throws some ideas on how this could be implemented easily with free software. But if I read his post correctly, Daniel still misses the precise ways to do it.

Our friends Octavio and Claudia (twitted hereby) have given some Blender courses here at our classroom at home (Guys! Come again! We miss you!), and host the Spanish-speaking g-blender community. At one of their courses, they showed how to model an object/character, and in order to color/texture its parts, you can unwrap it — This process yields a flattened image with the surfaces that build your object, that you can then color. Well, you can also use it as a base pattern to cut and sew your plush!

It is not meant to be used for this (although it works), so it won't give you the extra tabs to be sewn in place, and the joints might not be at the most comfortable places. But it is base you can work from.

International Open Data Day - #OpenData / #DatosAbiertos

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 02/23/2013 - 23:38

I just got this message through my University, and the least I can do (given I'm still, although barely, in time) is to repost it here, hoping it helps to spread the activity we have on this regard in Latin America:

Saturday, February 23 is the International Day of Open Data. Following its policy of promoting free, open and unrestricted access to the results of research funded with public money, CLACSO calls research centers and individual researchers to free their public data so they are available for other researchers and, most importantly, for the community as a whole.

That's the reason CLACSO invites researchers and institutions to announce in social networks, mentioning "#DatosAbiertos #OpenData", which are their freed public documents, pointing to the web pages where they can be found.

The International Open Data Day is an effort to:

  • Spread the concept of Open Data
  • Debate on the why of Open Data
  • Publish analysis done using open public data
  • Find out how more local and national (not reserved) open data can be published (i.e. Brazil)
  • Call towards using open data in research
  • Find which applications have been developed to handle and visualize open data
  • Organize events for the International Open Data Day (i.e. Monterrey
  • Call towards adding data catalogs in Latin America and the Caribbeanin the Data catalogs directory, in Datacatalogs.org, and in Open data census.

For further information on how to spread research and/or archives in digital repositories and in the CLACSO Digital Repository, please mail biblioteca@clacso.edu.ar

We can between all contribute for the Latin American and Caribbean open data community to grow, democratizing access to public data about our societies.

So, what do I consider worthy of adding to a list of resources I can point to?

  • I am part of the team that set up and has worked on convincing the Economics Research Institute (my workplace) academic groups to publish their research results and products in our institutional repository under Open Access-friendly licenses (CC-BY-SA-NC and more liberal). We have published a wealth of economics-related information there; I must thank and single out Víctor Corona, who has been long working on the digitalization and re-publication of the institute's journals from the (at least) past three decades.
  • As the repository administrator, I am part of the RAD-UNAM (Red de Acervos Digitales, Digital Repositories Network) in our university. We administer at least 10 similar repositories in different institutes and faculties, and work on finding how to promote acceptance of open access ideas in UNAM's academic circles, and providing standards-based ways to share our work.
  • As part of my information gathering activities for the e-voting analysis work we have been doing, I have set up the E-Voting observatory in Latin America site, where I gather the news I find on the topic, flagged by several categories.
  • As for my personal work, although I am pretty young and little in formal academia, I publish most of I write in my personal webpage. Several different topics are at hand; of interest to this initiative, I think it's mostly the e-voting articles and presentations.

So ZTE it is

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 02/22/2013 - 09:03

Some weeks ago I posted about the long-expected demise of my old phone. And even given I don't usually don't pay much attention to phones (and could care less about the smartphone fad), I asked for a recommendation here on what to change to.

The only thing that made me look for something other than a ~US$15 phone is that I enjoy having a GPS-enabled device. So, with that in mind, I went to my carrier's offices, with a top budget of MX$2,000 (~US$150), and asked for help. After being a Telcel subscriber for ~10 years (and ~6 with the same device), even though I use prepaid cards only (and seldom pay over MX$100 a month), I expected some advice. So, when the employee told me to go to the phone exhibit they have and pick my favorite, I declined, by telling I just want the cheapest unit with a GPS. He almost immediately offered me the ZTE V791, an Android 2.3-based unit, for MX$990 (~US$75), just around half of what I expected to pay. So I got two - One for myself, one for Regina, as her previous "nice" phone died under the Bosnian rain and had one of the sturdy, reliable but utterly boring US$15 phones for over a year ;-) As a new Mexican resident, she can surely use a GPS as well! (and some other tools in it). So, two nice phones, and still (squarely!) in my projected budget!

I *did* give some thought to the comments posted in my original post, but given I don't want to bite in to the tendency too much, I let price determine what we get. And after all, I do not plan to ever enable data over the phone network (if at all, I use it on wifi). A recommendation for people with similar profiles/interest than me: Maps with me allows for downloading OpenStreetMap data on a country basis (so I get all of Mexico with me). I also got Vespucci OSM Editor, to be able to do OpenStreetMap updates from the phone, but given it has some stability issues I have not used it much (and it's understandably not so disconnected-mode-friendly)

Not much more to add to this. I am writing this prompted by Russell's "iPhone vs. Android" post. My point after getting these two cheap phones? Having a wide range of devices under this same OS (even if it still has long ways to go freedom-wise) makes it a choice for people like me, who don't want to save money for a couple of months in order to get the newest gadget. I hope this phone lasts with me several years as well, without changing my usage pattern!

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Too cool not to repost

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 02/20/2013 - 21:54

[ post made mainly for those poor souls who don't yet follow Planet Debian, but do follow me ]

Earlier today, Roland Mas threw an idea towards whoever had too much free time: Implement a valid QR code construction that would become an interesting pattern when interpreted in Conway's Game of Life.

But, as Jurij Smakov promptly showed, there is only one flaw in Roland's request: The need for too much free time. Jurij replied within ~4hr with a arbitrary string to QR code converter that allows said code to be seeded into a Game of Life interpreter.

Jurij: You get all the geek points I had in store for this month.

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"No al voto electrónico", Triple W, W Radio

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 02/19/2013 - 21:50
Wolf G, Ruiz O.  2013.  "No al voto electrónico", Triple W, W Radio.

In yet another episode where we push for the population to be aware of the perils that electronic voting represents, Octavio Ruiz (@tacvbo) and me were invited to (briefly) talk about the topic in W Radio, one of the largest radio networks in Mexico.

The interview was short-ish, but we managed to get several points accross. And, of course, one of the best ways to do so is via a radio show with tens of thousands of listeners. So, we were quite happy to be there!

Here is the audio of the segment we presented in Fernanda Tapia's radio show "Triple W", in W Radio, Mexico.

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The phone is dead. How to stay reasonably unbound?

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 23:31

So, today an endurance test can be declared as finished.

In early 2008, for the first time, I paid for a cellular phone (as my previous ones were all 100% subsidized by the operator in a fixed plan). I got a Nokia N95. And, although at the beginnning I was quite thrilled with my smartphone (when such things were still a novelty), it didn't take much to me to start dumbing it down to what is really useful to me: A phone with a GPS. And the GPS only because it is the only toy I want in such a form factor.

Anyway, despite the operator repeatedly offering me newer and more capable models, I kept this one, and as soon as I was free of the forced 18 month rental period, switched to a not-data-enabled, pay-as-you-go plan. I don't want to be connected to the intertubes when I'm away from a usable computer!

But yes, five years are over what a modern phone wants to endure. Over time, I first started getting SIM card errors whenever the phone was dropped or slightly twisted - As I'm a non-frequent phone user, I didn't care much. Charging it also became a skill of patience, as getting the Nokia micro-connector to make contact has been less and less reliable. Over one year ago, the volume control (two sensors on the side) died after a phone drop (and some time later I found the switches broken from the mainboard loose) - A nuisance, yes, but nothing too bad. I don't know how, but some time ago the volume went down when using the radio, and as I can't raise it again, my phone became radio-disabled. And today, the screen died (it gets power, but stays black). I can blind-operate the phone, but of course, it is really not meant for that.

So, I expect this Saturday to go get a new phone. Between now and then, I'll be cellphone-deprived (in case you wonder why I'm not answering to your messages or whatever). I would love to get a phone with a real keyboard (as I prefer not to look at the screen when writing messages, just to check if everything came out right and fix what's needed). I understand Android phones are more likely to keep me happy as a free software geek, and I'd be delighted to use Cyanogen if it is usable and stable — But my phone is *not* my smart computer and it should not attempt to be, so it's not such a big deal. I will look for something with FM radio capability, and GPS.

Of course, I want something cheap. It would be great to get it at no cost, but I don't expect I'll find such a bargain. Oh, and I want something I can find at the first Telcel office I come to, am I asking for too much? :)

Anyway - I'll enjoy some days of being really disconnected from any wireless bugs (that I am aware off).

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The joys of Internet The Bolivarian dream

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 23:54

Oh, the joys of the Internet.

A Mexican and an Argentinian listening to a Spanish cantaor singing Mexican music for an Argentinian audience, remembering a Costa Rican woman.

What?

Regina and me are finally back home in Mexico, after a month (me) and six weeks (her) of vacations in Argentina. And this week, in the city of Cosquín (Córdoba, Argentina), they celebrate most important Argentinian folkloric festival. The Cosquín Festival can be followed live on the TV Pública website.

Right now, while I finish writing a short article and Regina fights her way to learn some of the GNOME 3 tricks, we are following Cosquín. Among many great Argentinian folklorists, they invited a Spanish cantaor, David Palomar, who is remembering Chabela Vargas, a great singer, born in Costa Rica, but who became famous in Mexico, singing very heartfelt Mexican music, and deceased earlier this year.

Trivia: Q: What do Mexico, Argentina and Spain have in common (besides a language that can be almost-understood)? A: They all have a city called Córdoba.

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Brazilian electronic booths hacked in a real election — Surprised, anyone?

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 12/26/2012 - 14:44

Doing my regular news scan, I stumbled across this: Hacker reveals in Rio how he rigged an election (in Portuguese; you can try the Google-translated version).

Why am I reposting this? Because, even after the reported studies by Diego Aranha and the information disclosure exploited by Sergio Freitas, Brazil is still portrayed as the biggest example on how electronic voting can be 100% secure and tamper-proof. Well, in this case, Rangel (his full name ahs not yet been disclosed), a 19 year old hacker, not only demonstrated how elections could be rigged, but admitted on doing so together with a small group, and even pointed at who was benefitted from this.

Rangel's attack was done during the transmission phase — After ~50% of the electoral results had been sent over the Oi network. And yes, the provider will most likely close the hole that was pointed at, but this basically shows (again!) that no system can be 100% tamperproof, and that the more electronic devices are trusted for fundamental democratic processes, the more we as a society will be open to such attacks. The security-minded among us will not doubt even for a second that, as this attack was crafted, new attacks will continue to be developed. And while up to some years ago the attack surface was quite smaller (i.e. booths didn't have a communications phase, just stored the votes, and communication was done by personal means), earlier booths have been breached as well. And so will future booths be breached.

So, the news of this attack are indeed very relevant for the field. The presentation I am quoting was held around two weeks ago — And December will surely dillute attention from this topic. Anyway, I will look for further details on the mechanism that was used, as well as to the process that follows in the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal). I hope we have news to talk about soon!

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Goodbye, LastFM - Again

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 12/14/2012 - 08:15

I started using LastFM probably around 6 years ago, and loved its offering. I discovered a huge amount of music I would have never found otherwise.

Then, some time later, it changed its terms of use, and those of us not in some selected countries lost the ability to stream them for free. Bummer.

About one year ago, I decided to purchase a subscription. After all, getting to know new music is always good — And listening to recommendations for friends with interesting music tastes is fun as well!

Of my last music purchases, both in CD and as MP3 downloads (not a spectacular volume, probably some 15 albums in the last year), I can only point to two that I knew the interpreter beforehand. So, we could say I have bought approx. 1 album per month completely thanks to LastFM.

But, as of January 15, they are changing their licensing terms, and LastFM streaming service will no longer be available in Mexico. All it will continue to give me is recommendations based on my listening habits, given I continue "scrobbling" - Much less useful, not to say completely useless given my usual patterns.

So, I'm sadly cancelling my subscription, and quite probably will stop using the service altogether. And yes, this will make me reevaluate freely licensed music services. But while I know of several free music distribution sites such as Jamendo, I will long for this LastFM abililty to deliver me music that is aligned to my current tastes (instead of looking them up by myself)

Any suggestions on where to look for a similar service?

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Becoming a teacher!

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 11/30/2012 - 17:29

For many years, I have aspired being a university teacher. I remember asking at different universities as early as ten years ago — But I didn't have the needed papers. And yes, I have been a "Licenciado en Ingeniería en Software" for one year already.

Anyway, I won't go into the details on why I didn't do this earlier on. But this time, I did get my act together in time, and by mid October, I contacted Juan Carreón, an enthusiastic teacher I met a long time ago as he helped a lot for the formation and cohesion of the (now defunct?) LIDSOL group (Laboratorio de Investigación en Software Libre, Free Software Research Laboratory), a group of very worthy students, mostly from the Engineering careers.

Juan Carreón had long offered me help in getting to the right people in Facultad de Ingeniería as soon as I had my formal requirements ready. I just didn't expect it to be so swift! Within two days of my initial mail, he contacted me back asking me to look at the subjects in Computing Engineering and choosing some I would be willing to teach — Yes, understanding that due to my time (as I'm already full-time employed in UNAM) would allow me to take only one group.

Rush of excitement, of course. I promptly looked at the program, and answered with a list of 12 subjects I would be confident to teach. Next day I was contacted by the Chief of Computing Engineering Department, offering me to dictate the Operating Systems course. A subject that has always motivated me, and towards which I feel confident. A fifth semester course (from 9 semesters in the career), with around 30 students in the classroom.

And I'm very happy with this! Yes, this will be my first formal university course experience (either as a student or a teacher), and I'm quite nervous on how this will turn out. But I'm already reading again my books on the subject, starting to structure a set of teaching notes, and... Lets see what comes next!

So, I will be teaching this course starting January 28, three times a week for 1.5hr, for a formal theric total of 72 hours. We shall see how this results six months from today! :-D

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Update on my e-voting-related work — @e_voto

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 11/12/2012 - 11:15

For the last couple of years, one of the topics I have tackled with several columns and a couple of articles published, several presentations on conferences and many comments wherever I can is raising awareness on why security experts around the world oppose electronic voting.

Slightly over a year ago, I started gathering all the published news (in Spanish, with some notes in English if I feel them relevant enough) that came to my greedy hands and archiving them, categorized as well as I could, into what I came to call an Electronic voting observatory. I don't feed it with the frequency I'd like, but overall I do feel there is an interesting amount of information in there.

About a month and a half ago, via Twitterfeed, I set up a Twitter account where my bot echoes everything I get on that regard.

So, while you can follow the observatory via RSS (as probably most readers of my blog will do), I know there are many Twitter users among you — @e_voto might be interesting to you if you speak Spanish and are interested in the topic.

I try not to be partisan on the information I copy there; of course I am subjective (I try not to refer to news which don't provide new insight or data points, or to obvious repeats), but I am doing this effort to follow the development as it unfolds, not to push my viewpoints.

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Road trip to ECSL 2012 in Guatemala

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 11/09/2012 - 18:57

Encuentro Centroamericano de Software Libre! Guatemala! During a national (for us) holiday, so it's easy to go without missing too much work time! How would I miss the opportunity?

Several years ago, I started playing with the idea of having a road trip… Probably this was first prompted with the UK crew and the Three Intrepid Motorcycle Riders arriving by land to DebConf 9 — I don't know. Fact is, I wanted to go to DebConf10 in New York by land, as well as to DebConf12 in Nicaragua. Mostly due to a lack of time, I didn't — Although we did start making some longish trips. Of course, my desire to show Regina what Mexico is like also helped!

So, up until a week ago, our (according to my standards) long distance driving experience included:

  • México → Guanajuato → Puerto Vallarta → Guanajuato → México, in early November 2011, for Festival de Software Libre and with Regina and our Blender friends Octavio and Claudia. Totalling almost 1900Km, mostly consisting of wide, toll highway.
  • México → Xilitla → San Luis Potosí → México, in April 2012, just for fun and for a nice short vacation, alone with Regina. Totalling almost 1200Km, but through Sierra Gorda de Querétaro, a very tough stretch of about 250Km which we did at about 50Km/h on average. Beautiful route for sure! We didn't originally intend to go through San Luis Potosí, and it does not appear to make much sense, as it adds ~350Km to the total, but it was even quicker than going back by the same route — and according to those who now, even faster than our planned route, via Tamazunchale and Ixmiquilpan!
  • México → San Luis Potosí → Zacatecas → Aguascalientes → Guanajuato → México, in May 2012, for Congreso Internacional de Software Libre, again with Octavio and Claudia. Totalling 1250Km, and following very good roads, although most of them were toll-free.

But there is always a certain halo over crossing a border, maybe more so in countries as large as Mexico. We convinced Pooka and Moni, and –granted, with some aprehension, as we knew of some important security risks in the more rural areas we wanted to go through– we decided to go to Guatemala. And, although we wanted to go with a bit more time, Real Life took its toll: We could not take more time than the intersection of what our respective jobs offered. So, here goes a short(?) recap of our six day long, 3200Km trip. Of course, we have a map detailing this.

Mexico–Veracruz

I came to my office early on Wednesday (31-oct), and left with Regina around 10AM towards Veracruz. We agreed to meet there with Moni and Pooka, who would take the night bus, and continue together. Crossing Mexico City proved to be the longest obstacle — We arrived to Veracruz already past 3PM, and spent a nice evening walking down the center and port of the city. Veracruz port can still be seen as part of central Mexico; I knew the road quite well.

Veracruz–San Andrés Tuxtla–Catemaco–San Cristobal de las Casas

We met with our friends at the iconic Gran Café de la Parroquia at 6:30AM. Had a nice breakfast with coffee, and by 7:30 we were heading south-west.

The reason to have a road trip was to get to know the route, to enjoy the countryside… So, given we "only" had to make 650Km this day, we took the non-toll road — A narrow path stretching along the coastal plains of Veracruz, until Acayucan. Doing so, we also saved some money, as the equivalent toll road is around MX$300 (~US$25)!

Veracruz is a hot state. We ended up all sweaty and tired by 19:00, when we reached San Cristobal. We had agreed not to drive at night, due to security issues, but fortunately there was quite a bit of traffic both ways between Tuxtla Gutiérrez (Chiapas State capital, around 1hr from San Cristobal, where darkness got us) and our destination, so we carried on.

Now, San Cristobal is a high city, almost as high as Mexico City (2100m), and being more humid, it was quite chilly. We went for a walk, and were convinced that at a later time, we had to stay for several days there. The city is beautiful, the region is breath-taking, there is a lot of great handicrafts as well, and it's overall very cheap. Really lovely place.

San Cristobal de las Casas–Cd. Cuauhtémoc–La Mesilla–Guatemala

Once again, this day started early. We woke up ready to leave at 7AM, and not earlier because the hotel's parking didn't open earlier. After a very quick visit to San Cristobal downtown, to take some photos that were not right the night before, we took the road to Comitán, stopping just for some tamales de bola y chipilín for breakfast. Central Chiapas is almost continuously populated, differing from most of my experience in Mexico. It is all humid, and has some very beautiful landscapes.

We passed Comitán, which is a much larger city than what we expected, went downhill after La Trinitaria, crossed a plain, and continued until hills started taking over again. We stopped in a very chaotic, dirty place: Just accross the border, where Ciudad Cuauhtémoc becomes La Mesilla.

This border was basically what we expected: There is no half-official place to exchange money, so we had to buy quetzales from somebody who offered them on the street, at MX$2 per Q1 (where the real exchange should be around 1.50 to 1). While on the road, I was half-looking for exchange posts in Comitán and onwards, and found none (and being a festive day, they would probably be closed anyway).

But we were expecting this, after all, and exchanged just the basic minimum: MX$600 (US$50, which by magic became Q300, US$40). The tramit consists of:

  • Spraying the car against diseases (which has a cost of Q18)
  • Each of us has to go through migration. Note, in case you cross this border: We didn't expressly cross Mexican migration, so officially there was no record of us going out. Be sure to go through migration to avoid problems at re-entry!
    Migration has no cost.
  • Customs. As we were entering by car, I had to purchase a permit for circulation. I don't remember the exact quote, but it was around Q150, and the permit is valid for 90 days.
  • That's it! Welcome to Guatemala!

La Mesilla is in Guatemala's Huehuetenango Department, and from all of the Departments we crossed until Guatemala city (Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, Totonicapán, Sololá, Chimaltenango, Sacatepéquez and Guatemala), this is the largest one. Huehuetenango is home to the Cuchumatanes mountain ridge. We found beautiful, really steep, really fertile mountains. It is plainly amazing: Mountains over 60°, and quite often full with agricultural use — Even at their steepest points!

The CA-1 highway is, in general, in very good shape. There are however many (many, many) speed bumps (or topes, in Mexican terminology. Or túmulos in Guatemalan), at least a couple at every village we crossed, not always painted. The road is narrow and quite winding; it follows river streams for most of the way. We feared it would be in much worse shape, from what we have heard, but during the whole way we found only three points where the road was unusable due to landslides — and an alternative road was always in place when we needed it.

After Totonicapán, the narrow road becomes a wide (four lane) highway. Don't let that fool you! It still goes through the center of every village along the road, so it's really not meant for speeding. Also, even though the pavement is in very good condition, it is really steep quite often. It is not the easiest road to drive, but it's (again) by far not as bad as we expected.

We arrived to Guatemala City as dawn was falling, and got promptly lost. Guatemala has a very strange organization scheme: The city is divided in several zones, laid out in a swirl-like fashion. East-west roads are called Calle and North-south roads are called Avenida (except for zona 4, I think, where they are diagonal, and some are Rutas while the others are Vías). I won't go into too much detail). Thing is, many people told us it's a foolproof design, and people from different countries understand the system perfectly. We didn't... At least not when we arrived. We got quite lost, and it took us around one hour to arrive to our hotel, at almost 19:00 — Almost 12 hours since we left San Cristobal.

Went for a quick dinner, and then waited for our friends to arrive after the first day of work of ECSL, which we missed completely. And, of course, we were quite tired, so we didn't stay up much longer.

Antigua Guatemala

On Saturday, ECSL's activities started after 14:00 — so we almost-kidnapped Wences, the local organization lead, and took him to show us around Antigua Guatemala. Antigua was the capital of Guatemala until an earthquake destroyed it in the 1770s; the capital was moved to present-day Guatemala city, but Antigua was never completely abandoned. Today, it is a world heritage site, a beautiful city, where we could/should have stayed for several days.

But we were there for the conference, so we were in Antigua just a couple of hours, and headed back to Guatemala. Word of caution: Going from Guatemala to Antigua, we went down via the steepest road I have ever driven. Again, a real four-lane highway... but quite scary!

The main focus for this post is to give some roadtrip advice to potential readers... So, this time around, I won't give much detail regarding ECSL. It was quite interesting, we had some very good discussions... but it would take me too much space to talk about it!

The road back: Guatemala–Tecún Umán; Cd. Hidalgo—Arriaga

So, about the road back: Yes, we just spent three days getting to Guatemala City. We were there only for ~36 hours. And... We needed to be here by Tuesday morning no matter what. So, Sunday at noon we said goodbye to our good friends in ECSL and started the long way back. To get to know more of Guatemala, we went back by the CA-2 highway, which goes via the coastal plains — Not close to the Pacific ocean, which we didn't get to see at all, but not through the mountains.

To get to CA-2, we took CA-9 from Guatemala. If I am not mistaken, this is the only toll road in Guatemala (at least, the only we used, and we used some pretty good highways!) It is not expensive; I don't remember right now, but must have been around Q20 (US$3). Went South past Palin and until CA-2, just outside Escuintla city, and headed West. All of Escuintla and Suchitepéquez it is –again– a four lane highway; somewhere in Retalhueu it becomes a two lane highway. We were strongly advised not to take this road at night because, as the population density is significantly lower than in CA-1, it can get lonely at times – And there are several reports of robberies. We did feel the place much less populated, but saw nothing suspicious in any way. Something important: There are almost no speedbumps in CA-2!

The terrain stayed quite flat and easy as we crossed Quetzaltenango, and only in San Marcos we found some interesting hills — and a very strong rain that would intermitetntly accompany us for the rest of the ride. So, we finally arrived to the border city of Tecún Umán at around 16:30 — Approximately four hours after leaving the capital.

The Tecún Umán–Cd. Hidalgo cities and border pass are completely different from the disorderly and dirty Cd. Cuauhtémoc–La Mesilla ones. The city of Tecún Umán could be just a nice town anywhere in the country, it does not feel aggressive as most border cities I have seen in our continent. We stopped to eat at El pollo campero and headed to the border. In the Mexican side, we also saw a very well consolidated, big and ordered migration area. Migration officers were very kind and helpful — As we left Cd. Cuauhtémoc, Regina didn't get a stamp of leaving Mexico, so technically she was ilegally out of the country (as she is not a national... They didn't care about the rest of us). The tramit to fix this was easy, simple, straightforward. We only paid for the fumigation again (MX$60, US$5), and were allowed to leave.

Anyway, we crossed the border. There is a ~30Km narrow road between Cd. Hidalgo and Tapachula, but starting in Tapachula we went on Northwards via a very good, four lane and very straight highway. Even though we had agreed not to drive at night... Well, we were quite hurried and still too far from Mexico City, so we decided to push it for three more hours, following the coastline until the city of Arriaga, almost at the border between Chiapas and Oaxaca. Found a little hotel to sleep some hours and collapsed.

Word of warning: This road (from Tapachula to Arriaga) is also known for its robberies. We saw only one suspicious thing: Two guys were pushing up their motorcycle, from which they had apparently fallen. We didn't stop, as they looked healthy and not much in need of help, but later on talked about this — Even though this was at night, they were not moving as if they had just crashed; nothing was scratched, not the motorcycle and not their clothes. That might have been an attempt to mug us (or whoever stopped by). This highway is very lonely, and the two directions are separated by a wall of vegetation, so nobody would have probably seen us were we to stop for some minutes. Be aware if you use this road!

The trip comes to an end: Arriaga—Niltepec—Istmo—Córdoba—México

The next (last, finally!) day, we left at 6:30AM. After driving somewhat over one hour, we arrived to Niltepec, where a group of taxi drivers had the highway closed as a protest against their local government's tolerance of mototaxis. We evaluated going back to Arriaga and continue via the Tuxtla Gutiérrez highway, but that would have been too long. We had a nice breakfast of tlayudas (which resulted in Pooka getting an alergic reaction shortly afterwards) and, talking with people here and there, were told about an alternative route by an agricultural road that surrounds the blockade. So, we took this road the best way we could, and after probably 1hr of driving at 20Km/h, finally came back to the main road.

We planned on crossing the isthmus using the Acayucan-Juchitán road — We were amazed at the La Ventosa ("the windy") area, where we crossed a huge eolic plant for electricity generation, so –of course– we got our good share of photos.

From then onwards, not much more worth mention. Crossed the isthmus via a quite secondary road in not too good shape (although there is a lot of machinery, and the road will much likely improve in the next few months/years), then took the toll freeway along Veracruz until Córdoba. We stopped for a (delilcious and revigorizing!) cup of coffee in Hotel Zeballos, where Agustín de Iturbide signed with Viceroy Juan O'Donojú the treaties that granted Mexico the independence.

Traveller, beware: When crossing between Puebla and Veracruz, there is a steep slope of almost 1000m where , you will almost always (except if it's close to noon) find very thick fog; taking the highway from Córdoba, this is in the region known as Cumbres de Maltrata. We had the usual fog, and just as we left it, a thin but constant rain that went on with us up until we got home.

Crossed Puebla state with no further eventualities, and arrived to Pooka and Moni's house by 22:00. Less than one hour later, Regina and me arrived home as well. This was four days ago... and I have finally finished writing it all down ;-)

Hope you find this useful, or if not, at least entertaining!

If you read this post in my blog, you will find many pictures taken along the trip below (Well, if you are reading the right page, not in the general blog index...). If you are reading from a planet or other syndication service... Well, come to the blog!

Dreamhost woes

Oh, and... Yes, it sometimes happens: My blog is hosted at Dreamhost. This means that usually it works correctly... But sometimes, specially when many people request many nontrivial pages, it just gives an error. If you get an error, reload once or twice... Or until your patience manages ;-)

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