travel – Lonely Planet

Guatemala guidebook Lonely Planet guidebooks revolutionized travel & reinvented the guidebook genre in the same way that Cirque du Soleil reinvented the circus.

Starting on a kitchen table in 1972, the Australian company grew quickly to dominate the industry overcoming many long-established competitors.

What did Lonely Planet do right?

  • The best maps
  • No advertising
  • No endorsements
  • Focus on good value at all price ranges
  • Support of ecologically sensitive vendors
  • Support of indigenous vendors over outsiders
  • Highlights maps
  • Top 10 lists
  • Recommended itineraries
  • Lonely Planet holds people to account. If vendors cheat or misrepresent to travellers, they do so at their peril. In some cases businesses close after LP gives a bad review or even drops a listing.

    And brutally accurate write-ups. While they have gotten softer over the years, my current Central America on a Shoestring still includes:


    … Those who have wrecked havoc on Central America. A Hall of Shame:

    1) Pedro Arias de Avila – bishop-murdering Spanish founder of Panama City

    2) Pedro de Alvarado – Spaniard whose burning of captives in the 1520s disturbed even Cortes

    3) Alonso de Caceres – Spaniard who called fake truce in 1537 to murder Honduran indigenous leader Lempira

    4) William Walker – bully American in 1850s who tried to take over Central America

    5) Ronald Reagan – US president of 1980s who broke records for outside intervention

    Other travel guidebooks were inferior. I recall the horrible Lets Go Europe we carried in 1976. And the stupendously useless Rough Guide China (1st edition) I foolishly did not throw in the dumpster in 1998.

    Now in a very few regions there are good competitors; the best example being the South American Handbook (now Footprint guides).

    Thence I was shocked (as you might imagine) to stumble on to Moon Handbooks Baja — a better guidebook than Lonely Planet! Why so? For one thing it is authored by Joe Cummings, the legendary lead writer for Lonely Planet in the early years. When Mick Jagger wanted a guide for his entourage in Thailand, he phoned Joe.

    I’ve started to browse other travel guidebooks recently and been very pleasantly surprised. They have improved. Most by copying LPs format and style.

    It reminds me how Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL search engines exactly copied Google and, as a result, are starting to improve. Have you seen the prettiest Google imitator?

    I may finally (faintly) consider alternative guidebooks in future.


    new website –

    My dream job is to manage my own websites from any WiFi coffee shop in the world.

    It’s getting closer. I write from the Bagel Barn in Antigua, Guatemala. (toasted cinnamon raisin) AND I just posted a new website:

    I like the website. But I like the product even better. Bill Pawluk has built and patented a vehicle hauling trailer which easily converts to a flatbed. This way the trucker can haul vehicles in one direction, and anything else on the return trip. Brilliant.

    automobile truck trailer

    travelogue – snorkelling Belize

    Being a fast walker in Belize is a no go. Rastafarians corrected me, “Go Slow, Mon.”

    After weeks complaining about Mexico, I had a jerk eating grin when crossing the border into the tiny country of Belize. This is an English speaking enclave in Latin America — though I have to admit I understand more Spanish than the Creole English spoken here!

    EVERYTHING is different in Belize. I loved it.

    Tourists avoid Belize City known for drug violence, street people and crack whores. They head straight for the Cayes. Belize feels more like a Caribbean island than mainland, anyway.

    Backpackers like best Caye Caulker, only 6.5km long, 600m wide.

    I have always been poor at not drowning. I fear all bodies of water larger and colder than a jacuzzi. That’s why I am proud of the many days snorkelling I have put together on this trip. I can relax. The highlight for me was the Marine Reserve reefs off Belize including Shark and Ray Alley.

    southern sting 1

    See photos of Caye Caulker and BIG marine life by jumping to my photos on flickr.

    Nurse Shark
    Nurse Shark

    Next time? I would love to take a sailing holiday through the cayes, living on the boat or camping en route.

    music – Broken Social Scene

    Canadian music was hot in 2005. Of the many critically acclaimed newish Canuck bands I am most intrigued with Broken Social Scene.

    It is a collective with over a dozen band members. For live gigs, whoever is available shows up and they wing it. Cool!

    A British musician with plenty of time to listen to new bands (5 years on the dole) saw BSS in London recently and raved! Then cursed me for association with Celine Dion and Brian Adams. I explained we deported one to the US and the other to the UK.

    I haven’t been this keen on a new Canadian band since Bran Van 3000.
    Broken Social Scene

    But what’s with Arcade Fire? Simply over-rated? Or am I missing something?

    Yoga is better than nothing

    I have friends whose dream vacation is spiritual, doing yoga for hours every day on the beach.

    yoga on the beach

    Historically we in the gymnastics community have been suspicious of Yoga. If you asked me to locate a fraud, I would look first in ashrams.

    I am embarrassed by my lack of knowledge mastery of the musculoskeletal system. (I have no memory syndrome.) Still, my understanding is better than 90% of Yoga teachers. Their explanations are not as science-based as I would like. Where are the chakras? Exactly?

    But my Tulum beach yoga teacher Sarah swayed me. I really enjoyed her sessions.

    Joe Laughlin convinced me too. Joe is a professional dancer and a former National tumbling champion. A serious athlete.

    Joe retired at age 37. Then made a comeback a couple of years later. He said that by doing only Pilates (something of a Germanic evolution from Yoga) he was restored to the best shape of his life. Many serious athletes I know have embraced pilates. It works.

    I now, finally concede that yoga can improve fitness and is not simply trendy posturing. Not just an excuse for sipping latte with your yoga-mat-toting friends.

    travelogue – Tulum, Mexico

    Looking for a beach paradise?

    Tulum is a Mayan walled city guarding the gorgeous Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico. However, once tourists see this Riviera Mexicana beach, they tend to forget to visit the archaeological attraction.

    Screw Cancun. Bypass Playa del Carmen. Tulum is the best beach bang for your buck on the Mexican Caribbean.

    Tulum on the Riviera Mexicana, 130km south of Cancun.



    I tented here 4 nights.


    We also rented at least one thatch roofed cabana in which I stored my gear.


    Tenting cost about US$6 / night. Cabanas run US$12 and up. A bit higher at Zazil Kin resort, your best bet.


    The beach is insect free. No hassles of any kind.


    Not much to do but walk the beach and snorkel out to the world’s second longest reef 400m from shore.


    There were many signs of last year’s hurricane damage.


    This toilet block did not survive a big blow.


    Sarah, my yoga teacher. (She is kind & helpful to all though this photo would not have you think so. She doesn’t like it!) Those are the Mayan temple ruins in the background.


    I enjoyed 2 days of yoga on the beach. Perhaps 90 minute slow, easy sessions.


    My favourite of the inexpensive beach resorts was Diamonte K. Unique, filled with interesting art pieces.


    Many resorts here long ago added “Eco” to their names. Next step is to add “solar” to the sign board.


    Big old iguanas are a highlight of the Tulum scenery.


    Monika and Monty, a lovely couple from the UK just starting 7 months of travel.


    Monty, Ron and Tom.


    This dog got plenty of exercise every day chasing his master’s kite.


    Beach bar with hammocks.


    Many of the cabanas are wedged into the dunes for protection against the wind. One night we got coated with a fine layer of sand.


    Should I book you a hut?


    Fishermen land here to sell lobster & fish to tourists.


    Kite surfer.


    Most evenings we caught the free hostel shuttle into town.


    Tulum town is noted as “butt ugly” in the guidebooks. But I still liked it.


    The hostel offered “burn your own barbecue” for US$3.50.


    We much enjoyed “The Weary Traveller”. One of the best hostels in Mexico, I reckon.


    One night I bought a basket of “carne” for a meat pig-out. Vegetarians were mortified.


    Another night we cooked fish on the beach. This is a home made barbecue tong.


    The highlight of Tulum for me was snorkelling a cenote.





    Finally we hit the modest Tulum ruins. Many backpackers never get around to paying the US$5 entry fee.


    The Spanish in 1518 were amazed by this city, painted vivid red, blue and yellow. It was one of the last fortresses to be abandoned.


    Many spend more time on the Tulum beach than touring the ruins. A spectacular setting.


    See the iguana checking out the bikinis?


    I would return to Tulum any time. It is a fantastic place!