As part of her gap year my daughter will travel to Guadalajara, Mexico, for three months. She has travelled without us before but only in the UK. Do you have advice or information on travelling in Mexico - costs, vaccinations, health and security risks etc - and also about working in Mexico?
The Travel Editor replies: Mexico is not as cheap as it once was; the cost of living is generally more expensive than other places in Latin America. Should your daughter run into money troubles, it is best to call home collect or with a calling card as the telephone system is reasonably efficient but international call charges can be outrageous.
Most of the health risks in Mexico, like many other hot or poor destinations, stem from mosquito bites, untreated water and poor hygiene, though the lack of sanitation in Mexico is usually exaggerated. Sensible travellers are unlikely to contract anything more serious than minor intestinal troubles (known as Montezuma's revenge). There are no vaccinations required for Mexico but you should check that your daughter is up to date with polio, typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A. Some sort of malaria preventative should be taken in low-lying inland areas. Mexico has a variety of snakes and scorpions and a sting from the latter can be dangerous.
Despite the high crime statistics, travellers in Mexico are unlikely to encounter any more threat than the average European city. Petty theft is the biggest problem and mugging less so.
The Mexico and Central America Handbook (Footprint, pounds 16.99) has good general information including a section on Guadalajara. The Rough Guide to Mexico (pounds 12.99) has extensive practical information including a small section which gives advice for female travellers. The Central Bureau of Education and Exchanges (tel: 0171-389 4004) publishes The Year Between (pounds 9.99), which gives general advice about gap-year travel, types of projects available and listings for more than 200 organisations. Vacation Work publishes a wealth of titles on working abroad, such as Summer Jobs Abroad (pounds 8.99), Taking A Gap Year (pounds 10.99), Traveller's Survival Kit: South America (pounds 15.95) and The International Directory of Voluntary Work (pounds 10.99).
Can hepatitis vaccines give you BSE?
Is there any truth to the suggestion that you can catch Mad Cow disease from hepatitis vaccinations? If so, is hepatitis such a worrying thing to catch anyway?
Dr Larry Goodyer replies: There are two ways to be vaccinated against hepatitis A. Until a few years ago the only product available was gammaglobulin, which is extracted from blood. This should be given as close as possible to the time of travel, providing up to a few months' protection, depending on how much is injected. Gammaglobulin contains antibodies against hepatitis A and will protect as soon as it is given.
Much more reliable is the more modern hepatitis A vaccine, which is not derived from blood products and provides up to 10 years' protection after a full course. The main drawback is that it does take about a week after the first injection before it starts working.
No link between mad cow disease and gammaglobulin has yet been proven, but this is a contentious issue and it is difficult to give any guarantees that some association will not be found in the future.
In general, I would recommend most travellers at risk choose hepatitis A vaccine, though if you are paying privately this is much more expensive than gammaglobulin. A vaccine is also available against hepatitis B, which does require some advanced planning as a course of three injections is required and is not usually given to short-term travellers.
In answer to the second part of your question, hepatitis A is caught mainly through contaminated food and water. While it can make you quite ill, most healthy people will recover without any complications. Hepatitis B is caught in much the same way as Aids, through sex, unscreened blood transfusion, contaminated surgical equipment or shared syringes and can lead to serious complications such as liver failure.
Dr Larry Goodyer is a lecturer in clinical pharmacy at King's College, London. Contact the Nomad Travel Health Helpline (tel: 0891 633414; calls cost 60p per minute).
There's plenty in the Med for spiritual tourists
My partner would like to take part in a workshop, retreat, or other programme of activity informed by authentic Buddhist or any other well- founded spiritual tradition, in a sunny Mediterranean location, preferably Greece. She would like to travel at any time between now and October 1999.
The Travel Editor writes: The Buddhist Society (tel: 0171-834 5858) publishes a directory of Buddhist groups in Europe, some of which have retreats and centres in the Mediterranean.
Neal's Yard (tel: 07000 783 704) arranges a variety of holidays at retreats in the Mediterranean (Turkey, Spain, France and the Canary Islands). Most of the holidays offered are non-denominational, using a broad variety of spiritual traditions and therapeutic techniques. Holidays start from pounds 275 per person, per week, including full-board accommodation and courses but excluding flights.
Skyros Holistic Holidays (0171-284 3065) has two centres on the Aegean island. Its accommodation ranges from bamboo huts to whitewashed villas. There are 18 therapeutic courses, including writing, music, art, yoga with meditation and dance. Two weeks costs pounds 545 per person with full-board accommodation, excluding flights.
West Crete Holidays (tel: 01943 604 030) has a centre in a 17th-century olive mill run by an English couple who are both holistic practitioners. Courses include painting, yoga, belly dancing, massage and the Alexander Technique. Treatments include massage, aromatherapy and Reiki. The holidays run between April and October and, for pounds 300 per week, include full board and the course, excluding flights.