ihana.com - big trip - diary - mexico summary
Mexico is rich in natural resources, being the sixth largest oil producer worldwide. Food is varied and plentiful. It is the third most biologically diverse country in the world, behind Brazil and Colombia.
The modern day culture is heavily based around two things: family and the catholic faith. There are 4 main events in an average persons life: baptism, confirmation (at around 10 to 12 years old), coming of age (15) and marriage. Every event is a grand affair with the whole family present. Its normal to live in the same town, street or even house as ones uncles, cousins, brothers in law and grandparents.
Mexicans are mainly very friendly and relaxed although there is a bit of a macho culture among the men. We didn't encounter the stereotypical devious Mexican, most people are honest and genuinely helpful to the best of their abilities. The arrival of the landy and its occupants always turns heads, people wave back at us and ask us many questions about the car and where we're from, what we're doing and how much various things cost.
There are some very beautiful women in Mexico - hotspots being Mazatlan, Culiacan and Guadalajara. Despite their beauty, they are generally open and friendly and willing to chat but anything more is a rare occurance.
For young people there is only one night a week, Saturday. Theres no bar or cafe culture like in Europe, the discos are full at 11pm, people just go straight there from home and return at around 2 or 3 in the morning. There are some bars but those not in big cities are brightly lit bad cafe style populated by old men. One surprising place to meet girls is in pool halls, especially one in Guadalajara.
All Mexicans give plenty of advice on the local culinary delights. European Mexican restaurants are completely unrepresentative of the good quality food here. There are plenty of chillies but they are always given in an additional plate or as a salsa so you don't have to eat them. Taco stands are plentiful and offer normally excellent, cheap, fast and filling food and are a good place to have a laugh with the locals. The variety of food available is massive, from cactus 'leaves' and fruits to potatoes. Food hygiene is good everywhere too.
Tequila seems to be drunk in public less than in Europe but we're told that it is often drunk in the home with friends. The other popular spirit is mescal, the one that sometimes has the worm in the bottle. It smells like petrol and tastes worse. Beer is normally drunk from the bottle with lemon and salt - popular brands are Sol, Corona, Modelo and Dos Equis (XX). Non alchoholic drinks that we enjoyed are the common Jumex cans of pure fruit juice which are fantastic. In restaurants a refreshing 'naranjada', watered down orange juice, is good, as are freshly squeezed juices blended with milk.
Traditional music is supplied by the sombrero wearing mariachis who sing and play guitars. Popular music is split into bearable dancey stuff or terrible wailing sort of country and western Mexican style.
In the discos there's a mix of salsa and mainly latin pop music sprinkled with European and US mainstream sounds, there are techno and trance places too.
Mexico is the most populous Spanish speaking country in the world. Mexicans use a lot of slang and their regional dialects are difficult to understand. There are 50 other indiginous languages to further confuse us. Hardly anybody we met spoke English.
Popular words and phrases are:- chido = excellent, chava = doris, chinga su madre and vete la verga are more unpleasant examples.
There are many diverse police organisations enforcing the 'law'. Being road-based travellers, we mainly got hassled by transit and environmental police who eyes light up with dollar signs when they see a foreign vehicle coming their way. In the main we refused point blank to pay anything and this approach worked most of the time, we had to pay only once when falling foul of a little publicised pollution-limiting law in DF whereby certain cars are restricted entry to the city on certain days of the week. In general, any kind of traffic policeman is solely interested in personal financial gain from real or fictional 'infraccions' by the unsuspecting motorist.
During other police contact, such as after we were robbed in Mazatlan, the police went out of their way to help us out and did a great job. Tourism is important to the Mexican government and crime against the individual is investigated vigorously.
There are many road blocks but the army gets paid more than the police so we were never asked for money and never had to worry about petty theft by the troops searching the landy. The searches were not exactly thorough and mainly consisted of the men asking us curious questions about our stuff or offering to buy things from us. They're all relaxed and we normally ended up laughing and joking about 'cultural differences'.
We made the mistake of buying a mobile phone in Baja. It cost 1100 pesos, 1000 of which was call credits meaning that the phone itself was 100 pesos...pretty crap. It never really worked properly due to the Telcel phone system - we couldn't receive calls and couldn't add credit to the phone either. It ended its life in a dustbin in Chetumal.
The Telmex public phone system is equally bad. They all use phone cards, the maximum vale of which is 30 pesos. This lasts mere seconds on a call to Europe so the only option is to call and use a credit card. This only works during normal office hours giving calls to European businesses a window of about an hour before they're closed. Most of the time the visa processing of Telmex didn't work and when it did our credit cards got hit with big bills.
Internet availability is widespread and cheap, averaging at about 10 pesos per hour with a low of 5 pesos in Chiapas to a high of 25 in Cancun hotel area. Every town with more than about 5000 people has at least one internet place and they were all quite happy for us to plug our laptop into their network.
All main roads are tarmaced single carriageway, smooth and in good condition just like in any other developed country. There are fast but expensive motorway toll roads which are almost deserted and have few entrances and exits. The prohibitive toll costs force the local traffic and lorrys onto the normal roads through towns and villages which makes these slow progress.
In and around all towns and villages are liberally scattered 'topes', known as speed bumps or sleeping policemen in Europe. These range from low 'vibradores' which a landy can comfortably take at 50 kmh, to huge vertical sided obstacles which can only be driven over at a crawl and still shake the car to bits. The worst part of Mexico for topes was through Chiapas and Oaxaca where they are unsignposted and in the middle of nowhere, especially good for nighttime surprises.
More surprises are provided by the many farm animals, children, people sitting on the roadside waiting for lifts, unlit nonreflective cyclists legally on either side of the road, paralyticly drunk drivers, potholes, road subsidance, roadworks with 2 metre drops either side. These things coupled with having the weakest landy headlights (and no spotlights after DF theft) on record meant that of course we always camped before dark and never drove at night, honest mum.
Baja was mega hot and sunny every day, as was most of the pacific coastline. DF was normally overcast with some rain, not helped by the dense pollution which sits in the mountaintop bowl that the metropolis sprawls over.
Generally the insect level was not high except near Acaponeta where we got bitten loads and were laid low with a sort of sleeping sickness for 3 days afterwards. The mozzies dont carry malaria in Mexico, at least not the ones we met.
Our preconceptions about Mexico were that it is mostly cactus covered desert. This was true in Baja (and in the North of the country which we didn't visit). The rest of country is extremely diverse, we passed through everything from tropical lowlands and swamps to high mountains.
Diesel was about 4.5 to 5 pesos per litre. A decent meal can be had for 30 pesos. Cost of living is low but so are the wages. Some places in DF were the same as, if not more expensive than Europe.
Baja beaches are almost all excellent, quiet and clean. The pacific side of Baja is pounded by big waves while the gulf side is much more salty and has no waves at all. On the mainland, the pacific side is the same but the Gulf of Mexico side is waveless and the beaches aren't much to speak of. The Caribbean side from Cancun southwards has long white beaches and clear waters.
Entering Mexico was easy - we could've driven straight across the busy border at Tijuana and nobody would have noticed. Leaving Mexico was smooth too, we just had to hand in our tourist cards and landy passport and we were out.
We never felt threatened, most people seemed to be afraid of us rather than the other way around. The incident in Mazatlan was partly our fault and we could have avoided the theft in DF if we'd kept the landy off the streets every night.
The 'in' car is the Volkswagen Jetta, or Bora in Europe. One guy we met told us how his Jetta was stolen at gunpoint in DF. The Beetle is around in vast quantities, mainly old style and both types are on sale side by side. Landrovers are pretty rare and we only saw one series 3 and a few Freelanders and Discoveries.
Pesos. Exchange rate was about 9 pesos to one US dollar.