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IT—Inside Traveler
By Jessie Johnston and Emily King

May 25, 2006:

IT Travels with Norie Quintos

Senior editor Norie Quintos has just returned from a hacienda-hunting trip. She reports:
 
"Mérida, in the heart of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, is not a museum relic from the 16th century. It's a modern city, completely comfortable in its colonial dressings and deep Maya roots. Mérida lacks a beach (the nearest one is 30 minutes away by car), which has probably saved it from turning into a manufactured funland like Cancún.
 
"What Mérida does have is true Mexican cuisine (not dumbed down for the American palate), non-touristy opportunities to encounter Maya culture (ancient and living), and a surfeit of historic buildings, many of which have been converted into hotels and restaurants.
 
"With all the colonial architecture, it would be a sin to stay at a chain hotel (the town has several, including a Holiday Inn and a Hyatt, clustered at the edge of the historical city center). Choose, instead, one of several meticulously restored haciendas outside the city or in colonial homes in town. Closest to town is Hacienda Xcanatun, where I stayed for four nights (rates start at $235 per room). It's an old sisal plantation turned small luxury hotel, set amongst a profusion of palms and bougainvillea. There's nothing better to put you in a Mexican state of mind than to lie in your hammock on the iron-grillwork balcony and listen to the call of the motmot birds.
 
"Five more luxury haciendas are run by Starwood Hotels (from $212), including Temozon and Santa Rosa. Too fancy? Try a modest bed-and-breakfast hacienda such as Santa Cruz ($140 and up), San Pedro Nohpat (from $85), or Yaxcopoil, a museum with guest accommodations ($60)."
 
IT likes the sound of the last option. We just hope it isn't a couch in the curator's office.

 
Guide to the Galaxy

Followers of Douglas Adams (and interplanetary travelers) have long bewailed the absence of a real-world equivalent to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Of late, it has been claimed that Wikipedia now fills that niche. It probably does. But we were thrilled to discover that two years before his death (and the birth of Wikipedia), Adams participated in the creation of h2g2
, a user-written online guide to Life, the Universe and Everything.
 
Classified under those three blanket headings, the articles are by no means as all-encompassing as Wikipedia's, but there is plenty to explore. We, of course, made a beeline for the travel section, where entries ranged from the practical (what to do if you're stranded at Heathrow) to the offbeat (gift suggestions for homesick friends living abroad). IT's favorite? Instructions for an in-car game to play on UK roadtrips. We'll never again be bored on the motorway.



From May 23, 2006:

Believe IT or not...

Somewhere beyond time (in the magical realm of SeaWorld Orlando), IT hears another* tale about whales. Killer whales, that is, splashing and twirling to "an original musical score" in the newly renovated Shamu Stadium. Twenty-foot-high LED screens, a high-tech sound system, and trainers in orca-like wetsuits are all part of the park's new, ten-million-dollar attraction: Believe, a 30-minute show about a young boy who dreams of killer whales.
 
While we haven't seen this show in person (it opened May 11), or any of the other shows at SeaWorld, we suspect, thanks to its name, that suspension of disbelief will not be required like in Whale Rider when Paikea began riding the previously-beached-and-thought-dead whale. Believe is free with the purchase of an admission ticket to the park; one-day passes are $61.95 for adults. The SeaWorld Communications rep wouldn't tell us exactly how many shows play per day—"Somewhere between three and five"—but she did make a point of mentioning their other new attraction: the Shamu Express roller coaster. IT hasn't been to Orlando since age eight, but we do have a fetish for whales—this clip seriously had us wailing.  
 
* "Somewhere Beyond Time: Wales, a Britian Less Traveled" is the cover story for our May/June 2006 print issue. For a copy, visit newsstands or purchase one here.

 
IT's Dangerous

In conversation with a college friend who studied abroad in Bolivia, IT was fascinated to hear about a working mine, open to tourists, where visitors are encouraged to purchase and detonate their own dynamite. Ever skeptical, we trolled the Web and did in fact come across numerous accounts of visits to the Cerro Rico silver mine in Potosí. Sure enough, stalls at the entrance to the 461-year-old mine sell not only dynamite and fuses, but the coca leaves miners chew all day to stave off hunger and exhaustion while underground.

It seems most tours ask travelers to purchase dynamite and other items as gifts for the miners, though, not for their own use. However, at least one company  appears to demonstrate the explosives on their tours. We assume their business is booming.


E-mail your feedback and tips to InsideTraveler@ngs.org.

Bookmark IT!
www.nationalgeographic.com/traveler/extras/blog/blog.html

Emily King, a native Utahn, is the Assistant to the Editor at Traveler. She hopes her colleagues won't find out about her fear of flying. Oops. Jessie Johnston is a researcher at the magazine. A Vancouver transplant, she currently has seaweed stashed in her desk. Yum.



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