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June 26, 2007

 

 

Dear Parent/Guardian

 

As you might be aware, we are planning a trip to Mexico during next February vacation.  The trip is open to juniors or seniors (classes of 08 &09) who have completed at least Spanish 3.  The trip will run from Friday, February 15 through Sunday, February 24.  Information for the trip is available online at www.myexplorica.com/holman-2546.

 

I realize that this happened rather quickly at the end of the school year.  We (Mrs. Ferris and I) had been discussing it in some of our classes, and seemed like something we should explore.  We put together the proposed trip and had a meeting with students on June 8 during school.  More than 100 students came to the meeting!  However, we did not want to commit anyone until the trip was approved by the school committee, and our trip was not on the agenda until after the school year  had ended.  Once the trip was approved, I sent an e-mail to students who were interested in the trip.  I apolgize that I did not get this letter out with that one, it just wasn’t ready at 9:00 last Thursday night. 

 

Some important information:

 

 

Students may enroll in the trip as long as they meet the requirements:

 

q       Junior or Senior

q       Completed at least Spanish 3

q       Is generally “well-behaved”. (=Does not get in trouble much, or serious trouble ever.)

 

Enrollment can be comlpeted at the website (www.myexplorica.com/holman-2546.)  Please read all the information before you enroll.

 

I have included the itinerary and the letter we sent to the administration and school committee regarding the trip to give you some more information.

 

If you have further questions, please send me an e-mail at cholman@ipswichschools.org.

 

 

Enjoy the summer!

 

Chuck Holman (a.k.a. don Carlos)


Itinerary


Day 1 > February 15 > Start Tour

Meet your Tour Director & check into hotel

         
Day 2 > February 16 > Cancún--Mérida

Travel to Mérida

Retro road trip! Head to Mérida, taking a stop back in time along the way. You'll visit Tulum, a major Mayan trading port with about 500 different buildings, the oldest from 564 AD. Stroll the "streets" of this huge site and ponder the evidence of Mayan town planning.

 

Retro road trip! Head to Mérida, taking a stop back in time along the way. You'll visit Tulum, a major Mayan trading port with about 500 different buildings, the oldest from 564 AD. Stroll the "streets" of this huge site and ponder the evidence of Mayan town planning.

Visit Akumal

Encounter colorful fish and coral reefs as you snorkel or swim offshore from Akumel, a beautiful Caribbean beach.

 

Encounter colorful fish and coral reefs as you snorkel or swim offshore from Akumel, a beautiful Caribbean beach.

Tulum visit

See the Mayan idea of a beach town. Tulum is the largest Mayan coastal city and one of Cancún’s favorite daytrips. Survey the limestone ruins, the surrounding lush jungle, and the super-blue ocean with your Tour Director.

 

See the Mayan idea of a beach town. Tulum is the largest Mayan coastal city and one of Cancún’s favorite daytrips. Survey the limestone ruins, the surrounding lush jungle, and the super-blue ocean with your Tour Director.


Day 3 > February 17 > Mérida Landmarks

Mérida guided sightseeing tour

Tropical flowers in fuchsia, yellow and orange. The dark green leaves of almond and tamarind trees. Couples dressed all in white, sitting on ornate stone benches ringing the central plaza or "xocolo". The capital of the state of Yucatán, this sunny city is also the perfect base for excursions to the ancient Mayan Empire. But check out the city's sites first: A licensed, local guide will take you to the Cathedral of San Il defonso, located on the central Plaza de Armas. Begun in 1563, the Cathedral is the oldest on the American mainland, with the oldest true dome in Mexico. See what many consider Mexico's most "dignified" church interior, complete with thick Tuscan columns, a coffered nave and high altar. Step back outside and walk across the sunny plaza to the Government Palace to see huge murals depicting scenes of the Spanish conquest of the Yucatán Peninsula and aspects of the Mayan culture that still flourish. Continue to Progreso Beach, a favorite seaside resort lined with turn-of-the-century mansions.

v     Government Palace visit

v     Cathedral visit

v     Progreso Beach

 

Day 4 > February 18 > Uxmal

Uxmal guided excursion

What did this region look like before the Spaniards arrived? Set off to Uxmal, one of the largest and most powerful of the former Mayan cities, to see. A licensed, local guide will lead you through the wooded valley to the wide, uncrowded plazas, where you'll find some of the best-proportioned Mayan buildings known. See the restored Magician's Pyramid, a three-tiered structure built between the 6th and 10th centuries, the grand Governor's Palace, and the Nunnery Quadrangle, four buildings surrounding a central courtyard, resembling a monastery or nunnery.

v     Magician’s Pyramid

v     Governor’s Palace

v     Nunnery Quadrangle

Sound and light show at Uxmal

Still confused about Mayan ways? Learn more about the Mayan culture with a Sound and Light show - a visual blast from the past.

v     Flamingo-watching tour

 

Day 5 > February 19 > Mérida--Valladolid

Travel to Valladolid

Ruins, ruins everywhere. Join a licensed, local guide for a visit to Chichén Itzá, one of the country's most famous Mayan sites. The city dates from around the 7th century AD (though there is evidence of farmers living here as early as the 4th century BC). A major trade and ceremonial center, Chichén Itzá is known for its huge, 365-stepped, four-sided, pyramid El Castillo, as well as other buildings, sculptures and carved murals. Then continue on to Cenote X-Keken, a natural lake inside a subterranean cave.

 

Ruins, ruins everywhere. Join a licensed, local guide for a visit to Chichén Itzá, one of the country's most famous Mayan sites. The city dates from around the 7th century AD (though there is evidence of farmers living here as early as the 4th century BC). A major trade and ceremonial center, Chichén Itzá is known for its huge, 365-stepped, four-sided, pyramid El Castillo, as well as other buildings, sculptures and carved murals. Then continue on to Cenote X-Keken, a natural lake inside a subterranean cave.

Izamal visit

See the melding of Mayan and Catholic culture at Izamal, where the enormous 16th-century Convent of St. Anthony stands atop the ruins of an ancient Mayan pyramid. The church's atrium, almost as large as St. Peter's in Rome, holds newly discovered frescoes. The ruins of other Mayan temples surround the site, giving Izamal the nickname "City of the Hills."

See the melding of Mayan and Catholic culture at Izamal, where the enormous 16th-century Convent of St. Anthony stands atop the ruins of an ancient Mayan pyramid. The church's atrium, almost as large as St. Peter's in Rome, holds newly discovered frescoes. The ruins of other Mayan temples surround the site, giving Izamal the nickname "City of the Hills."

Chichén Itzá guided visit

Ruins, ruins everywhere. Join a licensed, local guide for a visit to Chichén Itzá, one of the country's most famous Mayan sites. The city dates from around the 7th century AD (though there is evidence of farmers living here as early as the 4th century BC). A major trade and ceremonial center, Chichén Itzá is known for its huge, 365-stepped, four-sided, pyramid El Castillo, as well as other buildings, sculptures and carved murals.

v     Ikkil Cenote visit


Day 6 > February 20 > Valladolid--Playa del Carmen

Travel to Playa del Carmen

Add to the record books—Playa del Carmen is now, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the fastest growing town in the world. Attracted by the gorgeous white-sand beach and stunning blue water, the town's newcomers maintain Playa's friendliness and vibrancy. Check out the beach or shop for souvenirs along the bustling main strip.

Add to the record books—Playa del Carmen is now, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the fastest growing town in the world. Attracted by the gorgeous white-sand beach and stunning blue water, the town's newcomers maintain Playa's friendliness and vibrancy. Check out the beach or shop for souvenirs along the bustling main strip.


Day 7 > February 21 > Playa del Carmen

v     Beach time

X-Caret excursion

See the diversity of Mexican wildlife. “X-caret” means “little inlet” in Mayan, and this ecological park occupies the beautiful site of a former Mayan port town and religious center. In addition to archeological sites and a reconstructed Mayan village, the area has amazing beaches, a botanical garden with over 100 species, a butterfly pavilion, a dolphin arena, a coral reef aquarium, and more.

 

See the diversity of Mexican wildlife. “X-caret” means “little inlet” in Mayan, and this ecological park occupies the beautiful site of a former Mayan port town and religious center. In addition to archeological sites and a reconstructed Mayan village, the area has amazing beaches, a botanical garden with over 100 species, a butterfly pavilion, a dolphin arena, a coral reef aquarium, and more.

Day 8 > February 22 > Start Extension to Playa del Carmen

v     Beach time


Day 9 > February 23 > Playa del Carmen Beach Time

v     Beach time

Excursion to Isla Mujeres

This “Island of Women" got its na  me from clay figurines of Mayan goddesses found by the island's Spanish conquerors. Search for your own goddesses at the ruins on the south side of the island, race the sea turtles at their breeding ground on the west shore, or just sit back and enjoy the island's beautiful beaches.

Don't expect Amazons waiting for you on shore: this "Island of Women" got its name from clay figurines of Mayan goddesses found by the island's Spanish conquerors. Search for your own goddesses at the ruins on the south side of the island, race the sea turtles at their breeding ground on the west shore, or just sit back and enjoy the island's beautiful beaches.


Day 10 > February 24 > End Tour

 

 

Letter to Superintendent:

 

 

June 7, 2007

 

 

TO:      Rick Korb, Superintendent

            Barry Cahill, Principal

 

FROM: Chuck Holman, Karen Ferris

 

RE:      Trip to Mexico- February 2008

 

 

 

We are requesting permission to take a group of students on an organized tour of the Yucatan Penninsula in Mexico during the February vacation, 2008.  The group would leave on Friday, February 15- missing one day in school- and then return on Sunday, February 24. 

 

The trip, if approved, will be organized through Explorica, Inc., 145 Tremont St. 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02111;  1.888.310.7120.  (See “Mission & Values”, and “Contact”, or view information at www.explorica.com for company information.)

 

 

What prompted the trip?  (Chuck)

 

One day during the February vacation I was about to take my sons to the Boston Museum of Science.  My youngest suggested we go to the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) instead.  He had been there last year for a field trip and really liked it.  I had never been, so he was going to show me something new.  The HMNH, as I later learned, is connected to The Peabody Museum, which has an excellent exhibit from ancient Mesoamerica.  After seeing this display, I knew that it would be a great place for a field trip.

 

Then, over April vacation my family went to Disney World.  During the week, half of my non-family conversations were in Spanish.  I met people from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, and Central and South America.  And of course we spent some time in “Mexico” in Epcot.  It had been quite some time since I traveled in Mexico, and the Epcot experience reminded me how much I want to return.  I told my classes on the first day back after the break how much fun it was to be able to use my Spanish during my trip, encouraging them to stick with the language for “some day”.

 

On May 10 I took my sophomore honors class to The Peabody Museum to see the Moche/Aztec/Maya exhibit.  Several students said, “We should go to Mexico!”  After thinking about it for a short period of time, I agreed. 

 

I ran the idea by Karen Ferris- we had led trips together in the 1980’s to Mexico- and she supported the idea, too.  So we began exploring the idea of leading a trip with several students to the Yucatan Penninsula in February.

 

Why take the trip? How does it tie in with the curriculum?

 

This trip would provide a memorable experience for all the students, and chaperones too.  The language which the students study in school will come to life as they observe and interact.  They will hear and see Spanish constantly during the time there, and will be encouraged to use their Spanish whenever possible.  It has been our experience that Mexicans are very appreciative of our students when they communicate in Spanish. Besides the obvious language connection, the visits to the Maya ruins tie in directly with units taught in Spanish 3 Honors (Who were the Aztecs- using the past tenses to describe an ancient civilization), and also the Spanish 5 units that deal with nature, legends and social change- all of which refer to the ancient civilizations of Latin America.

 

Besides these direct ties to the curriculum, there are cultural experiences as students will witness daily life in this region of Mexico.  See the followiing guiding principle (3) from the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Foreign Language Frameworks (http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/foreign/1999.pdf) :

 

 

Also from the Mass. DOE FL Frameworks:

And, the cultural standards for the FL Frameworks:

 

PreK-12 STANDARD 4: Cultures

Students will demonstrate an understanding of the traditions, perspectives, practices, and products of the culture studied, including human commonalities as reflected in history, literature, and the visual and performing arts. In classical language study, discussion and writing will be in English.


PreK-12 STANDARD 6: Cultural Comparisons Students will demonstrate an understanding of the concept of culture through comparison of the target culture with their own. In classical language study, discussion and writing will be in English.

Communities Strand:  Knowledge of other languages and cultures also opens the door to many types of leisure activities. On their television screens and computer monitors, Americans have a direct link with other cultures. The person who has learned another language can read the literature of other cultures directly, not just in translation. As Americans travel to other countries and interact with speakers of other languages, they realize that competence in more than one language and knowledge of other cultures empower them to experience more fully the artistic and cultural creations of those cultures.

PRE K–12 STANDARD 8: Communities Students will use languages other than English within and beyond the school setting. Students of classical languages will recognize elements of classical languages and ancient cultures in the world around them, and they will share insights derived from their study of classical languages with others within and beyond the classroom setting.

 

What are the objectives for this trip?

Academic objectives:      

 

Social goals:  By spending the 10 days traveling and living together,

 

Behavioral expectations:

 

*School rules prohibit the consumption of alcohol, even though it is legal in Mexico for students traveling on the trip.  A separate pledge outlining behavioral expectations will be signed by students and their parents.  This will include acknowledgement that any student engaging in the consumption of alcohol during the trip will will be disciplined as prescribed in the handbook regarding the consumption of alcohol during a school event.

 


What will they do on this trip?

 

For more information on the planned tour, you can visit:

 www.myexplorica.com/Holman-2546

 

 

How much does the trip cost?

 

The current price of the trip is $1807.00.  This price will hold if 5 students enroll by June 30, 2007.  Also, for all students enrolling by June 30, there will be a $50.00 discount.  (See “Price Quote”)

 

We may provide one opportunity for a raffle by which students will have the opportunity to raise funds for the trip.  There is no scholarship or reduced fee for students on this trip. 

 

All participants will be responsible for their own spending money and money for lunches, which are not provided.

 

Why Explorica, Inc.?

 

We looked into different touring companies- the company we had used 20 years, “Hispanic World Tours, Inc.” ago can’t be found.  “Explorica,Inc.” was recommended by a fellow teacher who had helped lead a group to Italy in 2001.  Explorica offers an outstanding package of destinations and activities, lodging, airfare and meals for a very reasonable price- $1807.00.  (See “Price Quote”).  The trip duration will be 10 days.  The itinerary takes us around the Yucatan seeing ancient ruins and colonial cities.  The final few days are spent in and around Playa del Carmen enjoying the sites and activities of the Mayan Riviera.  Students and chaperones will be very busy for the first several days seeing the fantastic ruins of Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, etc., and then a few relaxing days at the end, although there are excursions on two of the three days, will be welcomed.

 

Explorica online: 

  1. Explorica organizes the trip online.  The information about the trip is available at www.myexplorica.com/Holman-2546.
  2. All payments can be paid online with a credit card following an Explorica-created payment plan.
  3. During the trip, photos can be uploaded so parents, friends, etc. can view what’s going on.

 

Lodging/Travel Information from Explorica, Inc.

 

Airlines:

 

“We only use major airlines – never charter flights.  Delta, American, US Air etc.”

(Response from company representative regarding airlines)

 


 (Response from company representative regarding lodging)

Hotel Examples:

 

Hotel Sotavento
Blvd Kukulcan Km 4
Calle Pescador lotes D1-8
Cancun 77500
Mexico
Telephone: 52 998 8497642

Hotel Sotavento is a recently renovated hotel located 20 minutes drive from the Cancun International Airport and 5 minutes from the city center. It’s next to the beach and very close to a shopping area and restaurants. The Hotel offers 90 rooms with bathroom with shower, AC, telephone, satellite TV and a safety deposit box. Hotel amenities include a restaurant/bar, swimming

Hotel Del Gobernador
Calle 59 No 565 x 66 Col. Centro. Merida Yuc.
Mérida 97000
Mexico
Telephone: 52 999 9304141

Hotel located in the historical centre of Merida, the capital of the State of Yucatan. There are 86 rooms and suites with cable TV, A/C and telephone. The hotel has a restaurant, bar, 3 Meeting Rooms for banquets and conventions and a car park. Close to the city’s main attractions. Local events on the spot.

Hotel Meson del Marques
Main Park, Vallodolid
Valladolid 97780
Mexico
Telephone: 52 985 8562073

It’s located in Valladolid, Mexico, on the Yucatan Penisula, 2 hours away from Cancun and Merida. There are 20 Standard Rooms (one double and one single bed, exterior window overlooking the swimming pool courtyard, telephone, cable television , wardrobe, desk and chair, small bathroom), 47 Superior Rooms (larger than Standard, some have small balconies overlooking the swimming pool terrace, most rooms have two double beds, three rooms that have three double beds, telephone, cable television, wardrobe, desk and chair, bathroom), 8 Junior Suites (king bed or two double beds, special feature: location close to a large terrace or particularly good view or a very spacious room) and 1 Master Suite (large room, step-out balcony with views towards the cathedral, lavish bathroom, king bed). A restaurant and a swimming pool on the spot.

CARIBBEAN PARADISE HOTEL
5th Avenue Norte Esq. Constituyentes
Playa del Carmen 97000
Mexico
Telephone: +52 (984) 803-2032

Situated close to the Playa del Carmen beach, on the Caribbean coast, 30 minutes from Cancun International Airport. It offers Standard Rooms (1 king size or 2 double beds), Deluxe Rooms(1 king size or 2 double beds, balcony) and Junior Suites (1 king size and 1 sofa, connected rooms, balcony). All rooms have A/C, Cable/Satellite TV, Safe Deposit Box, Shower and Telephone. The Hotel facilities and services include a swimming pool, gift shop money exchange and a laundry.

 

 

Attendees: 

 

Students:  An exploratory meeting was held on Friday, June 8 to see if there was student interest in the proposed trip.  100 students attended.  After reviewing what we will do on the trip if it is approved, and some general guidelines (see “PowerPoint”), emphasizing that this will be a school trip following school rules, the students were given a survey.  They were asked “If the trip is approved…will you 1) “definitely go?” 2)  “probably go?” 3) “maybe go?” Or 4) “don’t know.” 

 

 

Students in the classes of 2008 & 2009 who have completed at least Spanish 3, and who behave responsibly in school will be invited to enroll if the trip is approved.

 

Additionally, Garrett and Daniel Holman, Chuck’s children, will be traveling in the group.

 

Chaperones:   There will be minimally one chaperone for every ten students, as required by School Committee Policy.  Chuck Holman, Karen Ferris and Diane Ciolek have committed to chaperone, as has Joan Holman, Chuck’s wife.  Several teachers have expressed an interest in chaperoning.   Non-teachers will complete a CORI.

 

 

 

 

Taken from Frommer’s OnLine:  http://www.frommers.com/destinations/yucatanpeninsula/0371023852.html

 

Not all of this is applicable, but it is worth reading.

Health & Safety(In the Yucatán)

Staying Healthy

General Availability of Healthcare--In most of the Yucatán's resort destinations, healthcare meeting U.S. standards is now available. Mexico's major cities are also known for their excellent healthcare, although the facilities available may be sparser, and equipment older than what is available at home. Prescription medicine is broadly available at Mexico pharmacies; however be aware that you may need a copy of your prescription, or to obtain a prescription from a local doctor.

Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; tel. 716/754-4883, or 416/652-0137 in Canada; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns in the countries you're visiting, and lists of local, English-speaking doctors. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/311-3435; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on health hazards by region or country and offers tips on food safety. The website www.tripprep.com, sponsored by a consortium of travel medicine practitioners, may also offer helpful advice on traveling abroad. You can find listings of reliable clinics overseas at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).

Over-the-Counter Drugs in Mexico--Antibiotics and other drugs that you'd need a prescription to buy in the States are available over-the-counter in Mexican pharmacies. Mexican pharmacies also carry a limited selection of common over-the-counter cold, sinus, and allergy remedies.

Common Ailments

High-Altitude Sickness -- Travelers to certain regions of Mexico occasionally experience elevation sickness, which results from the relative lack of oxygen and the decrease in barometric pressure that characterizes high elevations (more than 1,515m/4,969 ft.). Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, insomnia, and even nausea. Mexico City is at 2,121m (6,957 ft.) above sea level, as are a number of other central and southern cities, such as San Cristóbal de las Casas (even higher than Mexico City). At high elevations, it takes about 10 days to acquire the extra red blood corpuscles you need to adjust to the scarcity of oxygen. To help your body acclimate, drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcoholic beverages, and don't overexert yourself during the first few days. If you have heart or lung problems, talk to your doctor before going above 2,424m (7,951 ft.).

Bugs, Bites and Other Wildlife Concerns -- Mosquitoes and gnats are prevalent along the coast and in the Yucatán lowlands. Insect repellent (repelente contra insectos) is a must, and it's not always available in Mexico. If you'll be in these areas and are prone to bites, bring along a repellent that contains the active ingredient DEET. Avon's Skin So Soft also works extremely well. Another good remedy to keep the mosquitoes away is to mix citronella essential oil with basil, clove, and lavender essential oils. If you're sensitive to bites, pick up some antihistamine cream from a drugstore at home.

Most readers won't ever see a scorpion (alacrán). But if one stings you, go immediately to a doctor. In Mexico you can buy scorpion toxin antidote at any drugstore. It is an injection and it costs around $25. This is a good idea if you plan to camp in a remote area where medical assistance can be several hours away.

More Serious Diseases -- You shouldn't be overly concerned about tropical diseases if you stay on the normal tourist routes and don't eat street food. However, both dengue fever and cholera have appeared in Mexico in recent years. Talk to your doctor or to a medical specialist in tropical diseases about precautions you should take. You can also get medical bulletins from the U.S. State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can protect yourself by taking some simple precautions: Watch what you eat and drink; don't swim in stagnant water (ponds, slow-moving rivers, or wells); and avoid mosquito bites by covering up, using repellent, and sleeping under netting. The most dangerous areas seem to be on Mexico's west coast, away from the big resorts.

Treating & Avoiding Digestive Trouble--It's called "travelers' diarrhea" or turista, the Spanish word for "tourist": persistent diarrhea, often accompanied by fever, nausea, and vomiting, that used to attack many travelers to Mexico. (Some in the U.S. call this "Montezuma's revenge," but you won't hear it called that in Mexico.) Widespread improvements in infrastructure, sanitation, and education have practically eliminated this ailment, especially in well-developed resort areas. Most travelers make a habit of drinking only bottled water, which also helps to protect against unfamiliar bacteria. In resort areas, and generally throughout Mexico, only purified ice is used. If you do come down with this ailment, nothing beats Pepto Bismol, readily available in Mexico. Imodium is also available in Mexico and is used by many travelers for a quick fix. A good high-potency (or "therapeutic") vitamin supplement and even extra vitamin C can help; yogurt is good for healthy digestion.

Since dehydration can quickly become life-threatening, the Public Health Service advises that you be careful to replace fluids and electrolytes (potassium, sodium, and the like) during a bout of diarrhea. Drink Pedialyte, a rehydration solution available at most Mexican pharmacies, or natural fruit juice, such as guava or apple (stay away from orange juice, which has laxative properties), with a pinch of salt added.

How to prevent it: The U.S. Public Health Service recommends the following measures for preventing travelers' diarrhea: Drink only purified water (boiled water, canned or bottled beverages, beer, or wine). Choose food carefully. In general, avoid salads (except in first-class restaurants), uncooked vegetables, undercooked protein, and unpasteurized milk or milk products, including cheese. Choose food that is freshly cooked and still hot. In addition, something as simple as clean hands can go a long way toward preventing turista.

What To Do If You Get Sick Away From Home

Any foreign consulate can provide a list of area doctors who speak English. If you get sick, consider asking your hotel concierge to recommend a local doctor -- even his or her own. You can also try the emergency room at a local hospital. Many hospitals also have walk-in clinics for emergency cases that are not life-threatening; you may not get immediate attention, but you won't pay the high price of an emergency room visit.

If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before you depart. For conditions like epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems, wear a MedicAlert Identification Tag (tel. 888/633-4298; www.medicalert.org), which will immediately alert doctors to your condition and give them access to your records through MedicAlert's 24-hour hot line.

Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels -- otherwise they won't make it through airport security. Also bring along copies of your prescriptions in case you lose your pills or run out. Don't forget an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.

Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (tel. 716/754-4883 or 416/652-0137; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns in Mexico and lists of local English-speaking doctors. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/311-3435; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on necessary vaccines and health hazards by region or country.

Emergency Evacuation -- In extreme medical emergencies, a service from the United States will fly people to American hospitals. Global Lifeline (tel. 888/554-9729, or 01-800/305-9400 in Mexico; www.globallifeflight.com) is a 24-hour air ambulance. Other companies also offer air evacuation service; for a list, refer to the U.S. State Department website, http://travel.state.gov.

Staying Safe

Crime--I have lived and traveled in Mexico for more than a dozen years, have never had any serious trouble, and rarely feel suspicious of anyone or any situation. You will probably feel physically safer in most Mexican cities and villages than in any comparable place at home. However, crime in Mexico has received attention in the North American press over the past several years. Many feel this unfairly exaggerates the real dangers, but it should be noted that crime, including taxi robberies, kidnappings, and highway carjackings, is on the rise. The most severe problems have been concentrated in Mexico City, where even longtime foreign residents will attest to the overall lack of security. Isolated incidents have also occurred in Cancún, Ixtapa, Baja, and even traditionally tranquil Puerto Escondido. Check the U.S. State Department advisory before you travel for any notable "hot spots."

Precautions are necessary, but travelers should be realistic. Common sense is essential. You can generally trust people whom you approach for help or directions -- but be wary of anyone who approaches you offering the same. The more insistent the person is, the more cautious you should be. The crime rate is, on the whole, much lower in Mexico than in most parts of the United States, and the nature of crimes in general is less violent -- most crime is motivated by robbery or jealousy. Random, violent, or serial crime is essentially unheard of in Mexico. You are much more likely to meet kind and helpful Mexicans than you are to encounter those set on thievery and deceit.

Bribes & Scams--As is the case around the world, there are the occasional bribes and scams in Mexico, targeted at people believed to be naive -- such as the telltale tourist. For years Mexico was known as a place where bribes -- called mordidas (bites) -- were expected; however, the country is rapidly changing. Frequently, offering a bribe today, especially to a police officer, is considered an insult, and it can land you in deeper trouble.

If you believe a bribe is being requested, here are a few tips on dealing with the situation. Even if you speak Spanish, don't utter a word of it to Mexican officials. That way you'll appear innocent, all the while understanding every word.

When you are crossing the border, should the person who inspects your car ask for a tip, you can ignore this request -- but understand that the official may suddenly decide that a complete search of your belongings is in order. If faced with a situation where you feel you're being asked for a propina (literally, "tip"; colloquially, "bribe"), how much should you offer? Usually $3 to $5 or the equivalent in pesos will do the trick. Many tourists have the impression that everything works better in Mexico if you "tip," however, in reality, this only perpetuates the mordida attitude. If you are pleased with a service, feel free to tip, but you shouldn't tip simply to attempt to get away with something illegal or inappropriate, whether it is crossing the border without having your car inspected or not getting a ticket that's deserved.

Whatever you do, avoid impoliteness; under no circumstances should you insult a Latin American official. Extreme politeness, even in the face of adversity, rules Mexico. In Mexico, gringos have a reputation for being loud and demanding. By adopting the local custom of excessive courtesy, you'll have greater success in negotiations of any kind. Stand your ground, but do it politely.

As you travel in Mexico, you may encounter several types of scams, which are typical throughout the world. One involves some kind of a distraction or feigned commotion. While your attention is diverted, a pickpocket makes a grab for your wallet. In another common scam, an unaccompanied child pretends to be lost and frightened and takes your hand for safety. Meanwhile the child or an accomplice plunders your pockets. A third involves confusing currency. A shoeshine boy, street musician, guide, or other individual might offer you a service for a price that seems reasonable -- in pesos. When it comes time to pay, he or she tells you the price is in dollars, not pesos. Be very clear on the price and currency when services are involved.