Pumping Up Mexico

Travelers worried about maintaining octane levels south of the border can fuel up with "Magna Sin," an unleaded gas now widely available throughout Mexico at Pemex, the Mexican state-owned oil company. With an octane level of 87, the highest ever available in Mexico according to Pemex officials, the gas costs $1.28 per gallon.

Besides encouraging tourists to take driving trips in Mexico, making unleaded gas available is part of the country's attack on toxic emissions, particularly in megalopolises with mega-pollution, like Mexico City -- which has about 3 million vehicles. Beginning this year, all new cars countrywide must have catalytic converters, and strict enforcement of the one-day-a-week driving ban will continue in Mexico City.

New York, Underground

If you laid all the tracks in the New York subway end to end, it is said, they would reach Detroit. On second thought, they're bad enough where they are. And where they are is arguably the most complicated (some might say Kafka-esque) subway system in the world, with ever-changing, complex train schedules -- some express and some local lines -- that leave even veteran subway riders scratching their heads. A New Yorker's worst fear, says subway mapmaker and urban historian John Tauranac, is overshooting his or her stop. On some lines there is literally no going back (you can't transfer back from whence you came).

So what hope do you, a mere visitor, have of mastering Das Subway? Tauranac's "The New York Traveler Subway Map" solves the problem with three maps in one -- one for weekday schedules, another for evenings and weekends, and a third for late nights. Available locally at Travel Books Unlimited in Bethesda, the map costs $2.50.

Shakespeare in the Dark Forget brushing up on your Shakespeare in London this winter: For the first time in the company's history, the Royal Shakespeare Company, which plays the Barbican Center, is dark. It closed in November because of a lack of funding and won't reopen until March 21. Meanwhile, the RSC Stratford is still playing. Reservations and information are available from Edwards & Edwards in New York, 212-944-0290, or by calling 011-44-789-295-623. And when the London company reopens in March, call Edwards & Edwards or 011-44-71-638-8891.

TRAVEL TRIVIA When and where did snow domes make their first appearance?

AT THE PARIS UNIVERSAL EXPOSITION, 1878, GLASS PAPERWEIGHTS OF HOLLOW BALLS FILLED WITH WATER AND "SNOW" WERE FIRST EXHIBITED.

Wanted: Senior Stay-at-Homes

Seniors Abroad, an organization that sponsors international home stays for seniors, is looking for hosts to sponsor visitors from Scandinavia (April 7-25), Japan (May 5- 23) and Australia and New Zealand (June 15-July 8). Hosts pick up their guests at the airport and entertain them for six days -- providing meals and introducing them to American culture. The program allows both hosts and guests to observe their foreign counterparts' post-retirement lifestyles. Seniors Abroad will also sponsor trips this year to Scandinavia (Aug. 16-Sept. 7) and Japan (Oct. 3-25). For information: Seniors Abroad, 12533 Pacato Circle N., San Diego, Calif. 92128, 619-485-1696. FREE FOR THE ASKING A trip to Bermuda in shorts order? The Bermuda Department of Tourism has three new color brochures available: "Where to Stay," the "Golf Guide" and the "Sports Guide." Call 800-223-6106.

* The Southwestern Oregon Visitors Association's 51-page "Vacation Guide" to lodging, scenic attractions and entertainment in the region -- including the spectacular coast, Medford/Ashland (with its famous Shakespeare Festival) and Cascades areas -- is available free from SOVA, 88 Stewart Ave., Medford, Ore. 97501.

* The "Alberta Winter Vacationer's Guide" details accommodations and ski-tour packages for the province's six major ski areas -- among them Banff and Lake Louise, Calgary and Edmonton -- in the Canadian Rockies. It is available free from Alberta Tourism, Box 2500, Edmonton, Alberta T5J 2Z4, Canada, 800-661-8888.

BUG ALERT

A reader reports in the November Conde Nast Traveler that you need never battle mosquitoes again. All you have to do is stop using soap. Dana Burden of Wickenburg, Ariz., learned from the Havasupai Indians on a Grand Canyon trip that if all exposed skin is washed with plain water only, the pests neither light nor bite. If this works on the bottom of the Grand Canyon, what about in Foggy Bottom? Never mind, the prospect of a soapless summer may be worse.