Escapes: Mexico’s warm, wondrous welcome


Buenos días, readers. We have a treat for you if you’re a fan of good writing, undiscovered places, Mexico — or all three.

You’ll learn about how a placid trip to Baja turned out not to be; why Oaxaca, even if it’s new to you, feels like an old friend; a garden of Eden that grew out of one man’s obsession; and a weekend escape to a low-key Pacific Coast town.

We also have some ideas on what to do with that extra 24 hours you get this week, the reopening of a Hawaiian attraction, savings on Amtrak, and how you unwittingly cause problems for flight attendants. All of this, plus the End paper, which explains how you are almost guaranteed never to miss a flight.


All of this and heaven too? Life is indeed grand.

Oh, Mexico

I guess you’ll have to go now, as James Taylor would sing (slightly amended for our purposes). So consider:

— Almost immediately after arriving in Isla Espíritu Santo, Christopher Reynolds was swimming with sea lions. What could be better than that? Um, surviving a flash flood in your beach camp — an event that operators said they had never seen in three decades. All turned out well, except a mirror that broke. Omen? Read more.

— Sometimes, you go to a place you’ve never been and it’s like meeting a best friend you didn’t know you had. Staff writer Esmeralda Bermudez writes about falling in love with Oaxaca, which became such a favorite destination that she and her fiancé canceled their stateside wedding and got married there.

People dance to music played by Marimba del Gobierno de Estado de Oaxaca, in the zócalo in Oaxaca, Mexico.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

— Anne Z. Cooke was looking to find something that felt like the Mexico of her childhood, and she found it in San Blas, a Pacific Coast town that lacks the trappings of big, fancy resorts but has an air of authenticity that those places lack.

— Jeff Spurrier and his wife, Ann, took a road trip with friends to a sort of secret garden in San Luis Potosí in the town of Xilitla. There, they encountered a place like no other, born out of the brain of poet Edward James, who wanted to create something lasting within the jungle. Think concrete, and check out a place that will be cemented in your mind.


What to do on Leap Day in Vegas

Why not just jump 108 stories — and live to tell the tale? Or get married? Or see others taking a leap or, in this case, many leaps? Michael Hiller has the inside scoop on all of these adventures, some scarier than others.

All aboard for savings

Amtrak will begin rolling out deeply discounted fares next week. It’s the railroad’s version (sort of) of the airlines’ “basic economy” fares — big discounts but big restrictions too. Get a taste of how big in an article that mentions a $9 fare.

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It’s a dream job, so what’s the prob?

Being a flight attendant is at the top of many wish lists. The travel! The destinations! The free trips! Yes, there might be those perks, but there’s a real downside, writes Elliott Hester, who has been serving passengers as a flight attendant for more than three decades, and it’s you. Not the drunken you, or the loud you, or the demanding you. It’s the germy you. Hester writes about the consequences of all that customer contact.

How flight attendants cope with airplanes, which are flying germ factories.
(Loris Lora / For The Times)

Looking for the Travel section in print?

See the Saturday paper. Starting Feb. 29, the Saturday section and Travel will be combined in one section and will focus in its premiere edition on where to find a wildflower bloom that’s not going to be super but will be enough to, as Marie Kondo says, spark joy. Thoughts on the new combo section? Write to Or you can write to me at

What we’re reading

Tom Ough, writing for the Telegraph in the U.K., tells the tale of Bury St. Edmunds, known as Bury: “Bury, I estimate, has a 1:1 ratio of spectacular old buildings to horrific historical events.” Among them: witch trials in the 17th century; the slaying of St. Edmund, in which Vikings used arrows and a kind of unusual dismemberment before he was beheaded (redundant?); and monks who had a horrific mean streak and took it out on the townspeople. Otherwise, it seems like a pretty swell place.

This also gave me the shivers but for different reasons. Theresa Machemer, writing for, talks about Project Recover, which is searching for remains of those missing in World War II. They recently found three aircraft that crashed in a lagoon in Micronesia. If an aircraft’s cockpit isn’t badly damaged, it may contain remains that can be recovered. To date, 13 sets of remains have been returned, the article said.

You’re on a road trip and you’re thinking things over, so what do you do? You pull over and go to church. At least, some people do in Switzerland, where a new roadside church, called an autobahnkirche, is being designed for people who need to take a spiritual break. Anne Quito, design and architecture reporter for Quartz, notes that Switzerland may have been inspired by Germany, which has more than four dozen “prayer pit stops.” Good heavens.

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I’m just glancing at and I’m impressed with what I’m seeing: a report on home prices (up); a decision by the Ahmanson Foundation to stop giving to LACMA; a new chief executive for Disney; fears about a triple homicide in Perris; and 25 years of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” as a podcast. And this is just one afternoon. Don’t just consider subscribing; subscribe.

End paper

You may recall cartoonist Dick Guindon, whose single-panel cartoons ran for many years in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers. He drew a lot of carp and older people. One of my favorite panels depicted an older couple dressed in travel clothes, seated on a couch, luggage at their feet, his hands wrapped around tickets, her hand wrapped around her purse strap. The caption reads, “The Bensons are ready for their trip to Eunice’s cousin in Arizona. They have to be at the airport in nine hours.”

When I saw that, I about spat my coffee across the room. The Bensons! My parents were the Bensons!

They lived about 30 minutes (max) from John Wayne Airport, but if I had a flight to wherever I happened to be living, they would leave about four hours before the scheduled departure time.

That is how Joseph and Genevieve Hamm became “The Bensons.” Whenever we discussed having to be somewhere, I would ask, after they proposed some ridiculously early hour, “Is that Pacific Benson time or real time?”


In their defense, I have to say no one who ever was a houseguest ever missed a flight.

My father died May 7, 1990, and was buried in Riverside National Cemetery. Some months afterward, my mom, one sister and I returned to see his newly placed marker. We trooped past grave after grave, slowing down as we got closer. From the corner of my eye, I saw the marker about four graves away from my dad’s. And there it was.

I started laughing and couldn’t stop. My mother and my sister turned in horror with that “what’s so funny at this grossly inappropriate time” look. I pointed to a grave marked “Eugene Benson, May 6, 1990.”

“Look, look, it’s Mr. Benson!” I gasped. “And he got here a day before Dad!”

They convulsed with laughter as well, and pretty soon, we were a hysterical, sobbing mess.

I visited on Sunday — my mom is buried there now — and besides leaving flowers for them, I also took some to Mr. Benson and his wife, Irene, who has joined him.

Nowadays, I spend a lot more time in airports than I need to, but I’ve also never missed a flight, thanks to the Bensons — all of them.

May you always travel safely and well — and be on time — and remember, we will be here to welcome you home.