This article is from the July 1998 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Book Review
Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury

(Second Edition), by Tony Burton. Guadalajara: Editorial Agata, 1994, paperback; ISBN 968-7310-44-8

Reviewed by Robert B. Simmonds, Ph.D.

Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury is not a travel book, but you certainly wouldn’t want to travel without it. Tony Burton, who wrote the Zacatecas article for the April 1998 issue of The Mexico File, is the preeminent travel writer on Mexico. He lived in Mexico for 18 years before moving to Canada in 1997, but he returns to Mexico several times a year to revisit his favorite haunts and to lead specialized tours. This book is subtitled "A Traveler’s Treasury," an apropos description of this little treasure.

Replete with detailed maps of day trips, overnight trips and three and four day trips if you use Chapala or Guadalajara as your base in Western Mexico, this book, instead of guiding you to recommended accommodations and touristy sites, lavishes the reader with detailed histories of the destinations in each section. And he provides fleshy sidebars with little-known and interesting facts. For example, he provides a page on the water hyacinth and why it poses a danger to Lake Chapala. Or how about the pastry war of 1828 in which the French demanded $800,000 from the Mexican government as reparation for the looting of a French-owned pastry shop. The French blockaded Veracruz until the Mexican government paid up, at which point the fleet sailed off. Or find out how Filipino seamen brought stills from Manila during the late sixteenth century which were used in the distillation of tequila (prior to that alcohol drinks were fermented, not distilled).

Burton focuses on the side trips every true Mexicophile wants to see, where the culture still exists intact. He has chapters, among others, on the Island of Mezcala (which is in the middle of Lake Chapala); the Riviera communities of Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec; the Fiesta in Cajititlan, a small village near the Guadalajara International Airport; Jalisco’s "Hacienda Highway"; the towns around the Tequila Volcano; the picturesque mountain town of Tapalpa; the cloud forest ecosystem at the Manantlan Biosphere Reserve; the beautiful town of Lagos de Moreno; a history of San Blas; the oceanside towns of Barra de Navidad and Manzanillo; the attractions of Patzcuaro; and the monarch butterflies.

All interesting facts are fair game in this work, whether from a geological, historical, religious, sociological or anthropological point of view. When you go somewhere in Mexico you want to know what you’re seeing, what it means, when it happened, how it fits into the larger scheme of things. And that’s why you need this book.