Barbara Kastelein

Author, Travel Writer, Journalist

Barbara was born in the Netherlands to Dutch parents, and grew up in Kent in the south east of England. She lived in the United States in 1984/5 where she studied English and American Literature at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

She then returned to England, enrolling at King’s College London where she earned a BA first class honours in English Language and Literature in 1988. After working as a researcher at the Open College and press assistant at the charity Scope, both in London, Barbara registered at the University of Warwick to study for a doctorate under the supervision of Professor Helen Taylor. She completed her PhD on “Popular/post feminism and popular literature” in 1994 and taught women’s literature at Thames Valley University (now the University of West London). During this period she published her first journalistic articles, in The Face and The Big Issue.

In 1995 Barbara moved to Mexico, working first as a sub-editor and then a writer for the English-language newspaper The Mexico City Times. Here she became editor of the arts section, and started her first travel column (“Travel Talk”) as well as a bi-monthly food column, covering restaurants in Mexico City.

After working for the Toronto Star’s Latin American bureau as editorial assistant, from 2000 onwards Barbara devoted herself to freelance writing, specialising in travel and environmental law. She wrote for Fodor’s travel guides, covering both Mexico and Honduras, and for the Bureau of National Affairs in Washington where she wrote about changes in Mexico’s laws designed to protect the environment.

In 2003 her first book, Mexico Chic, was published and met with considerable success. In 2004 she began researching the lives and feats of the Acapulco cliff divers for the book Holiday in Mexico which gave her the idea for her forthcoming book Heroes of the Pacific.

As a journalist, Barbara has published extensively in the United Kingdom, Mexico and the United States. She has written for many different newspapers, magazines and websites, including The Times of London, The Houston Chronicle, The Boston Globe, Travesias and Gatopardo magazines, The Scotsman and The Sunday Express.

 


Heroes of the Pacific, coming soon …

Heroes of the Pacific, coming soon ...

DRA: BARBARA KASTELEIN

BARBARA: THE ROAD TO ACAPULCO

In spring of 2001, Barbara attended her first “Tianguis Turístico”, Mexico’s annual travel trade fair, held in steamy Acapulco – soon to become her favorite city. She published a comical report of the event in the magazine Business Mexico, whose success led her to be invited by the American Chamber to continue her review every year. Shortly afterwards, she began to contribute to the new monthly travel magazine Travesías. Later, when Editorial Mapas put out another glossy, BBMundo, she began another column, this time on traveling with children.

Inspired by her Tianguis-Acapulco experience in 2003, Barbara wrote an article on the resort to the prestigious newspaper, The Scotsman. That same year – thanks to her years of experience writing on Mexico for Fodor’s Travel publications – she was asked by the Mexican Tourism Board to write the book Mexico Chic: hotels, haciendas, spas. Published to much acclaim at the end of the year, this book paved the way to Bolding Books’ successful Chic Collection. On translation into Spanish in 2004, became a hit in Mexico and Latin America. Updated and reprinted in English for the European and US market in 2006, it remains the most successful book of the series.

Home 1Barbara’s Mexico Chic was the first to set the scene for Mexico as a country – newly the world’s 10th most popular tourism destination – to be regarded as “deluxe” and diverse, eliminating old stereotypes as misinformed and passé. It surprised readers with freshly-presented and digestible quality information, appealing to the imaginations and pockets of a growing high-end travel market. Initially designed to wake up a European readership to the appeal of Mexico, Barbara’s original texts led the book to success in a range of growing markets, including gay travel.

During this period Barbara further developed her interests in serious eco-tourism. Encouraged by Ron Mader of the pioneering website planeta.com, she participated in forums and gave talks on environment- and community-friendly tourism. She also assisted the Mexican Tourism Ministry on its “Pueblos Mágicos” project and collaborated professionally for a number of years with the government commission (CONANP) that oversees the splendid Izta-Popo nature reserve near Mexico City.

Barbara’s main interests to date as an author were sparked when she was asked to research a chapter for an academic book, Holiday in Mexico (published Jan 2010 by Duke University Press). She wrote about myth-making and authenticity, and hospitality and indifference, in the tourist destinations of Acapulco, Oaxaca and Amecameca.

Home 2Field-work for the book in 2004 led her to the community of cliff divers in La Quebrada, Acapulco. Their stories enticed her to focus more and more of her attention on the port and its specific tourism history. As a result, throughout 2005 Barbara published many articles – in Mexico, the US and the UK – on Acapulco. Her focus varied from touristic, business, cultural, historical and personal and her research took her from the CIIHA library in the Fort of San Diego, to individual interviews with influential figures in the development of the town, such as the late Don Miguel Guajardo and Admiral Alfonso Argudin, as well as characters involved in fashion, nightlife and society, such as the late Emi Fors and María Dominguez de Gadsky.

One report Barbara wrote for England’s The Observer newspaper in December 2005 led to a young Acapulqueña cliff-diver girl, Iris Alvarez, entering the Guinness World Book of Records, the first time the cliff divers and Acapulco had received this distinction in decades.

Specializing in this topic and focusing on this port-town – which coincidentally was receiving new investment and on the verge of a revival – led Barbara to additional production work with various TV programs and networks such as the BBC, Discovery Channel and Brazil’s TV Globo. Following an interview for Holiday in Mexico, prominent Acapulco realtor Mr. Ron Lavender requested Barbara’s assistance in writing his memoirs, offering her another insight into the dazzling past of Acapulco.

“La Quebrada” – A Foreign Journalist Takes the Plunge

“La Quebrada” – A Foreign Journalist Takes the Plunge

In 2006, Barbara was recognized by the then-Governor of Guerrero state, Zeferino Torreblanca, for her promotion of Acapulco in world media. On receipt of a start-up grant, she started working with photographer Rodrigo Vazquez on her book project, in collaboration with the Cliff Diver Association. At the end of that year, she was approached by the Fairmont Hotel Pierre Marques, built in Acapulco by Jean Paul Getty in the 1950s, to stay there and interview repeat guests and staff as well as prominent townsfolk, to create an anniversary book with-a-difference. This was released in 2007.

The following year Barbara was asked by Time Out to write a chapter on Acapulco as a get-away for their Guide to Mexico City, and by a-editores to write a book on the history of the Hotel Las Brisas, which were both published in 2009. In this year Nile G

The concentration of her writings on one town and its people and institutions led Mexico’s well-known radio broadcaster “El Castor” to invite Barbara to join his show on a number of occasions, describing her as an “Acapulcóloga.” At the end of 2010, Barbara was writing about Acapulco again, that time for Nile Guides. Currently, in 2012, she is finally completing her book on the cliff divers, called “Clavadistas: The Untold Story of Acapulco’s Cliff Divers / (in Spanish) Héroes del Pacífico”, with the full co-operation of the Asociación de Clavadistas Profesionales de La Quebrada.

 

Barbara is best known for her studies in the anthropological aspects of tourism and her interest in the growth of travel in Mexico since the 1920s.

Her writing is characterized by its lively and sometimes irreverent exploration of the complex, and often comical, relationship between guest and host.

The focus of her articles, vignettes and books forefront human relationships and the personal experience of the foreign traveler in the alien terrains of Mexico, as well as the Mexican hosts’ enthusiasm and ambivalence when confronted with an outsider.”

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