This family did! Read their story in the Washington Post, here.
This family did! Read their story in the Washington Post, here.
One of my favorite experiences in Oaxaca was visiting the workshop of Jacobo & Maria Angeles, where they make their incredible alebrijes. Video is in Spanish but it is a delight to watch whether you know Spanish or not.
Una de nuestras experiencias favoritas en Oaxaca fue visitar el Taller Jacobo & Maria Angeles. Un must del shopping para nuestros tarjetahabientes World Elite® o Platinum MasterCard®. http://mstr.cd/PricelessCitiesOaxacaPosted by MasterCard on Monday, August 31, 2015
Love this! A Mexico City pizzeria makes pizza crusts with blue corn dough and Mexican ingredients… and also gives away a slice of pizza to the needy for every five sold.
Curious about Mexico City? Here is a foodie’s couple of weeks in Colonia Roma Norte.
Try these on for size, we think you’ll love them. Matador Network is always fun and interesting. Here’s the article “13 Phrases only Mexicans Understand.”
Linda Lou blogs about life in Alamos, Sonora. She had an interesting and unexpected encounter during Semana Santa (Easter Week.) You can read all about it here.
Friday April 25, 2014, 2:00 to 4:00pm, Manzanita Hall 130
Jill Anderson and Nin Solís will present their forthcoming book: Los Otros Dreamers, about young people who have been deported or made the difficult decision to return to Mexico in response to obstacles in the US.
We just read (and really enjoyed) this 97 page pdf book written by Yucatango in Mérida. While some of the information is specific to Mérida, most of it would be useful for anyone considering life as an expat in México. Especially interesting are all her insights into interpersonal relationships. Here’s the link to her blog post with the link to the free book.
Photographer David Hageman was in Mexico City recently on assignment and he shared his thoughts (and photographs) of the city on his blog Sky Blue Sky. His piece, Muchas Gracias, Ciudad de México is a glimpse into the city that so many of us know and love.
By John Scherber
An American Voice in México
DRIVING IN MEXICO: NO COUNTRY FOR NEW CARS
The thought of driving in México strikes a deadly fear into the hearts of many Americans and Canadians alike. Of course, they purchased Méxican car insurance when they crossed the border. Yet somehow this only made them feel legal, not safe. Now here’s the reality as they ease their $46,000 BMW onto the pavement and point it south.
They have heard that there is no rhyme or reason to the driving there, and any clown can get a license. There is some documentary evidence for this belief. (See the photo) But they are tourists in the classical sense, they want to cruise from town to town and stop when the spirit moves them. Serendipity is a proven value in their lives, and they would never be caught taking a package tour, even to Antarctica. Furthermore, they hate what air travel has become.
Isn’t that the dilemma for many travelers to Latin America?
Before my wife and I moved to San Miguel de Allende in 2007, she was driving a Saab and I drove an Infiniti. We knew they couldn’t easily be serviced in this mountain town of 75,000, so we sold them and bought a Ford when we arrived. There was the choice between a car and a pickup, and we had heard that license plates were much cheaper on new pickups, but we felt because of the limited passenger capacity, we had to choose the car. After all, wouldn’t hundreds of our friends and family from the US soon be flocking down to see us? We hadn’t yet reckoned on the crusading American media, obviously.
Unfortunately, our estimate of the pickup’s passenger capacity was wildly off too. We’ve since been keeping a running count on the record for the most passengers in a pickup. It presently stands at sixteen people and a dog. This can be very handy running back and forth to the countryside with your extended family, but it occasionally results in some astounding highway accidents.
San Miguel is a great historic town, and appropriately, it has no traffic lights. Major intersections on the outskirts are handled by roundabouts, which are called glorietas here. The idea is simple, although it looks daunting to many. The center island is about a hundred feet across. In the middle is a monument to a patriotic figure, although some believe the statue represents Chaos, the god of traffic. Four streets converge at the circle.
Within, traffic moves counterclockwise. You enter after yielding to the left, and continue around to the right until you exit on the first, second or third street. Or you can go completely around when you’re doubling back. If you can keep your wits about you it works well. People are generally polite and orderly. The worst move you can make is to freeze up, come to a complete stop within the circle, and cover your face with your hands. I have seen this happen and it’s never well received.
This town has a number of stop signs, none of them in the central part. They are treated as advisory in nature, and I have never seen anyone stop for one unless the failure to do so would result in a collision. This includes me.
All other intersections are handled on an alternating basis. You go, then I go, etc. Everyone understands this and it works well unless the other car is driven by a person from México City or the northern border states. In that case you are regarded as a fool and a victim for letting him through. This attitude will be well understood by people who drive in the US.
In general there is an attitude of live and let live. I have not seen road rage here among Méxicans, only Americans. Indeed, people are tolerant of what I regard as free-style driving. A certain amount of improvisation is customary. If you see someone approaching in your lane, the natural thing to do is change lanes yourself into oncoming traffic, which will then slow down to allow your eventual return to your own lane.
The concept of speed limits is understood only by the transit authorities, and is the object of crude humor among the general population.
Flashing colored lights are appreciated for themselves, but using them to signal turns when mounted on cars is a concept that has not yet caught on in México. One exception is their use on trucks in highway settings. Say you are behind a truck signaling with the left blinker. This means either, Pass me because it’s clear ahead, or I am going to turn left now. Your life depends on how you scan the nuance of this.
Streets are generally constructed from the two most common compounds on earth: dirt, and stones about the size of a large grapefruit. The stones are simply set in a matrix of dirt. Over time, the dirt is pounded into a fine dry powder that floats upward and seeks the interior of your electronic equipment, where it settles once again in the tiny connections between wires. Over time the cobblestones loosen and have to be repacked in more dirt. Driving over this rugged surface, charmingly suggestive of medieval London or Paris, gradually loosens all the nuts and bolts in your car until your new BMW sounds like a 1960s jug band as it lurches down the street.
Both tires and shock absorbers have the life expectancy of a butterfly in a hurricane. What the streets do not do to your car, the sun and weather will.
By now I hope I have established that what at first appears to be random and senseless is really a functioning system that can be understood by most visitors with a knack for improvisation and a broad sense of humor. I should point out that I have written mainly about driving in San Miguel. Regional differences exist.
A final word about parking. Someone once asked me how my detective character always finds a parking place in San Miguel. That, I replied, is why it’s called fiction.
The Calgary Herald is asking its readers about their experiences living and traveling in México. Please read their article: What is your experience with safety in México? and don’t forget to share your experiences!
By John Scherber
An American Voice in México
One of the points I made in the Conclusions section of my book on the expatriate experience, San Miguel de Allende: a Place in the Heart, was that the United States appears somewhat different from outside its borders than from within. As both a painter and a writer, I spend a lot of time and thought as an observer, and the discrepancy between the inner and outer perspectives is noticeable. Having lived in México for more than four years, the outsider perspective is easy to see.
One of the things I struggled with for some time was the constant negative drumbeat from the American media on the subject of México. Should I make any reference to it in my books? I saw many opportunities to do so. Ultimately I concluded that the bad press emanating from the U.S. is political in origin, and since I consider politics to be one of humankind’s less serious amusements, about as weighty as a game of marbles, I decided not to mention it. Instead, I would only paint the México that I see and live with, and not honor the fictions of the American media by repeating them.
But this blog is different.
Imagine that every day the Méxican media brought out reports on the two or three highest crime areas in the U.S., and by repeating the stories again and again, created the effect of looking in ten mirrors at once. It wouldn’t take long before you started to wonder what was happening. Do these undeniably true problems in the U.S. characterize the entire country? Is Davenport, Iowa no different from Detroit? Is that the only thing going on worthy of notice?
This is what the U.S. media does to México every day. The drug issues at the border are real and deplorable, violence a daily event, but people who live in México do the same thing that Americans do. We know our trouble spots and we avoid them. They comprise a fraction of one percent of the country. Méxicans tend to have the same aims and goals that Americans have: to lead a reasonable life, have a family, pay their bills and enjoy themselves in the process. I live in San Miguel de Allende, a town of 75,000, and it is about as dangerous, or less, as a town of the same size in the American Midwest. I can walk down any street at any hour of the day and not feel at risk. We live a normal life here in a place that is perhaps a bit more exotic and romantic than most of the U.S. So what is the problem? Statistics will tell you that you are five times more likely to be murdered in the U.S. than in México.
I don’t know what the American media gains from this distortion. Some have suggested that it’s a plot by the American travel industry, trying to keep the tourist dollar at home. It’s hard to know whether this has any merit. I do see that the media is mostly liberal, but how this kind of constant misrepresentation serves the liberal interest––or indeed any interest––isn’t clear to me. Most of the expatriates here are Democrats, but my conversations with Americans of any political stripe who live here has not given me any persuasive answers. No one has been able to tell me with conviction what this is about.
I started out my writing career years ago in journalism as well as short fiction, and I recall that there were standards in writing for periodicals, and people of integrity were highly visible on the TV news––Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, among others. I realize, as I will suggest in a later blog, that the truth is a moving target, but that should be a challenge for any writer, not an excuse for blatant dishonesty and distortion.
I recently saw a TV panel discussion of the drug problem. Of the three contributors, one was conservative, one liberal, and one independent. I’m not sure why it was a political issue. In the entire program none of them mentioned the American involvement in the drug trade even a single time. It was as if the problem only existed on the Méxican side of the border. Later I saw a program on opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, an operation that largely funds al Qaida. Once again, there was no mention of the American drug users who supply the customer base.
Let me state the unstated obvious––there is an American customer on the other side of every one of these drug transactions. Méxicans are deeply complicit in this problem, but they are not more than 50% of it. I can’t help wonder if there is an element of self-indulgence among the same news media. Can’t we state an inconvenient truth? (Someone else’s phrase.)
Let me go a step further. The American media, by declining to state the American dimension of this problem, is complicit as well. It allows many of us to keep our heads in the sand, as if the whole thing is an offense that someone else is committing against America. It allows us to see ourselves as the victims of another cynical nation’s evil plan. The liberal media now begins to sound like Ronald Reagan’s characterization of the Soviet Union as The Evil Empire.
In a recent Time Magazine article, I read that Americans now spend more on illegal drugs than on higher education. This is one of the few frank admissions I’ve seen that Americans are half the problem.
It is sad enough that most of the American news media has abandoned objectivity and allowed itself to become politicized. But to help us lie to ourselves about one of our most fundamental problems is an even greater disgrace.
Wake up America. Stop blaming others. You have it in your own hands to stop the drug trade––stop buying drugs.
And let’s start telling the truth about México.
We searched high and low for a video to explain the Mexican posada, and this one is fantastic! Enjoy!
I love México… but I especially love Mazatlán. Over the years we have had hundreds of special and memorable nights. Free performances of every kind. Moderately priced opera and symphony tickets in a renovated theater. Nights where the air is warm, the people stroll the plazas, and the music has a beat that makes everyone tap their foot or get up and dance.
Last Friday was another one of those nights, I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. Here’s my blog post Flamenco in Mazatlán.
Marc has lived in the Yucatan for a number of years. When you read his post, be sure to continue on and read the comments, too… many of them by folks who have lived in México a long time, too.
Betsy McNair of My Mexico Tours is passionate about México and has recently been working hard to share information about the work of Don Sergio Castro in Chiapas. There has been a film made about him and the tireless volunteering he does treating the illnesses of Chiapas’s poor. The trailer for the movie, El Andalón, is below:
Betsy wrote previously about the Sergio and the fundraising project in San Miguel, and she wrote a follow up post recently that includes the amazing fundraising results. I hope you’ll read both posts and be willing to donate to such a worthy cause. Gracias a todos!
We don’t really think of The Truth About Mexico as a blog, but we are flattered nonetheless to have been nominated for a Versatile Blogger award by the talented folks over at Latin Journeys. Versatile Blogger award tradition requires us to then tell you seven things you might not know about us… as well as introduce you to some blogs that we especially like.
So, here goes!
1. There are 122 registered users at The Truth About Mexico. Of those 122, 22 have contributed blog posts or links.
2. There have been two editors of The Truth About Mexico during its almost three years of existence.
3. Editors have lived on the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean.
4. We really love Mexico.
5. We have a weakness for Mexican street dogs.
6. We like collaborative work, like we do at The Truth About Mexico.
7. Our beer is Pacifico and our wine is Monte Xanic.
And now, let’s see… a few of our favorite bloggers….(also check out our blog roll at the right, I just hate to play favorites!
Blogger Ann has lived in México for years, most recently in Zihuatanejo and Puerto Escondido on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Like many people who live in a country with violence in some areas, a recent blog post explored her thoughts on life here. What she has to say might surprise you… but only if you don’t live here. If you do, I bet you feel the same. Thanks for writing, Ann!
Here is her blog post Mexico, For Better or Worse.
We not only moved to Mexico, but we started a business in Mexico. While many of the steps to working legally in Mexico are easy to find on most forums, we thought it would be helpful for us to explain what we did – and why.
There are two ways to legally work in Mexico. You can get a work visa if a company (Mexican or foreign) proves to immigration that they need your expertise. They take care of the paperwork and costs. Perhaps this might happen in your case, but it isn’t that likely.
The second, and most common method, is to own a business. You could have a Mexican partner who handles the paperwork and we were told there are advantages to this as far as paying taxes. But, there are potential pitfalls, not least of which is that you have a partner.
If things go badly with your partner, do you (as a foreigner) really want to have a legal dispute with a Mexican national, or have to sue a Mexican national? We didn’t. If decide to set up your business with a partner, have an attorney that you trust draw up a bilingual contract to protect your investment.
We decided to start our own corporation. This will require filing legal papers in Spanish. They will be created by a notario, who has more power and responsibilities than a notary in the U.S. The best advice we received was to hire a good attorney who had experience with this type of legal work and who is fluent in English (since we are not fluent in Spanish).
Our attorney came highly recommended and we liked her immediately. She had experience setting up corporations and helping people apply for working FM3 visas. First you create the corporation. Once that is completed, you then apply to immigration for the right to work for your corporation. She also advised us to create an Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) (in Mexico S. de R.L. de C.V.) since it is less expensive to create and the tax liabilities are not as great.
Your corporation will need an accountant to set up your account and file your taxes with the Mexican tax authorities (Hacienda). We didn’t select an accountant quite as easily as our attorney.
The first two we interviewed probably weren’t crooks, but we heard different stories about procedures from each. One told us we would be required to transfer anything we earned to a U.S. account (with him getting a % each time), then access our money by using an ATM. This was bogus and we walked quickly from his office.
Finally, as usually happens in Mexico, we interviewed a good friend’s nephew and he was the real deal and spoke clearly about our obligations and procedures.
After our corporation was approved and our papers were issued (about 4 – 6 weeks depending on when and where you file), we applied with immigration for “working” FM3 visas. These took about six weeks. Our attorney prepared the applications, we had to present copies of our corporate papers, our college diplomas and letters of reference or recommendations. Since we are photographers, we even included a book that I had photographed for National Geographic with our application.
We started our process in mid-November, which might be one of the worst times of the year to begin. In our case, the process was interrupted by the Christmas and New Year holidays. Government offices shut down for 2 -3 weeks and we practiced the art of patience.
Our attorney also accompanied us to the immigration offices for our interviews.
Total costs for getting all of this completed break down like this:
Attorney fees, notario fees, government filing fees for Limited liability corporation: $2,200 usd
Attorney fees, immigration fees for two Working FM3s: $1,200 usd
Accountant fees for setting up paperwork with SAT for taxes: $875 usd
VERY IMPORTANT ! ! ! ! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO WORK UNTIL YOU HAVE YOUR PAPERS IN ORDER.
We know one American on the island who has had several visits from immigration in the past couple of years, because jealous competitors complain to immigration that she is working without a permit. Of course, she isn’t, but that’s just an example of the risks you run working illegally. You don’t want to get caught without the proper paperwork!
Has anyone dealt with these problems? Please add your experiences or correct any of my errors.
Posted by Michael and Jennifer Lewis, Cozumel Photographers and bloggers on Latin Journeys.net
I have lived in México for four years now, and have written two blog posts that might be helpful to others considering making México their home.
Not everyone is suited to life away from their home country, and the decisionmaking process involves a lot of honest thinking about your needs and wants.
The first, How to Be a Successful Expat, was very popular and I received a lot of positive feedback (and ideas for a follow-up post!)
The second was written after an American expat here in México insulted our decision to live at the beach, as he considered his choice of location in the mountains “right.” That one I called We’re all Looking at the Same Moon, but could just have easily been called More on Being a Successful Expat.
I hope you find them both helpful.
After more than twenty-five years of dancing around the idea of being an expat, a year ago I became one.
In the previous post, we mentioned several things that we love about Mexico after living here for one year.
It occurred to me that I should tell you why. Why did we move? Why do we love it?
Flash back to 2008. My 16-year marriage had just ended and the photography world was changing faster than I was. I sat alone in a new apartment, in a new town for three months and tried to figure out where my life was headed.
I’ve had quite a life: traveled to more than 45 countries, lived in Paris, hiked the Himalayas, criss-crossed India by train, skied expert runs in Colorado, and indulged myself with good food and wine at every opportunity. I have made a comfortable living as a photographer since 1981. I have traveled into the Sahara, been swarmed by bugs in the Cameroon rain forest and boated down the Niger River for National Geographic; shot assignments for books and magazines; and have always been grateful for my photography career.
But, here I was, single and middle-aged (hell, late 50s is middle-aged if you are going to live past 100!). The thought of dating in my 50s was about as much fun as being nibbled to death by ducks. The economy at that time didn’t add to my overall mood.
Jennifer and I had met in a small mountain town in Colorado a few years before we started dating. She was leaving as I was arriving, making changes to her life at the time. Jennifer had worked for several years as a massage therapist and owned a day spa. She wanted to pursue her dreams of travel and photography and was leaving Creede for Brooks Institute in California.
Three years later, I spotted her, loaded down with camera gear, working a 4th of July parade. I asked her out on a date, she said yes, and we have been together since the summer of 2009. Business partners, life partners, best friends.
After a couple of months of dating, we talked about living in a Spanish-speaking country. The U.S. was feeling less like home and we both wanted something new, someplace we would be passionate about, a place to start a new life and a new business. A three-month road trip (rental cars, buses and trains) through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina gave us wonderful experiences and a decent library of photos to submit to National Geographic, but no great prospects for a new home.
A series of discussions and inquiries led to a drive through Mexico, with the intention of living on the island of Cozumel for six weeks, working, shopping and test driving the town, island and country. My travels over the years have taken me to Oaxaca, Michoacan, Chiapas, much of the Yucatan, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Cabo, D.F. (Mexico City) and numerous trips to Cozumel for diving. I already had a serious love affair going with the country. It was Jennifer’s first visit. Luckily, she fell in love, too.
What We Love and Why
We love the architecture and setting of San Miguel de Allende. Our first meal was posole and chile rellenos at the rooftop terrace at La Posadita. The quality of the food and the setting across from the Parroquia has made this our obligatory stop when we are there.
Posole at La Posadita, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
We have been to Chiapas twice together. Hands down, it is our favorite place away from the ocean. The small, charming, cosmopolitan city of San Cristobal is a visual and edible feast. It has Argentine, Italian and Mexican restaurants; wine bars with good wine, bocaditos and fair prices (don’t get me started on a rant about inflated wine prices at restaurants) and great coffee bars. Surrounded by mountains and permeated by a rich, indigenous culture, there is something about the place that keeps pulling us back. We hope to be there soon. If there was Caribbean water within a couple of hours, we would probably live there and not here. (see December 2010 posts)
Real de Guadalupe, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
But, we are here – in or on (I’m never sure which is right) the island of Cozumel. Why?
It’s the water: warm, calm and clear with stunning coral reefs on the leeward side; wild and treacherous on the unspoiled, windward side. We like looking at it, being in it, being on top of it and being underneath it. There is not enough money in the world to get me to live in a humid climate (reared in Missouri, college in Florida) if there is not an ocean and ocean breezes to moderate that climate.
North lagoon, Cozumel
Artificial reef, Dzul ha, Cozumel
There are interesting people here, too. Not just the usual tropical, hard-living beach bums, but people who are artists, creative cooks/chefs, and entrepreneurs. The relaxed pace of life seems a world away from the hustle of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
The free salsa music in the plaza on weekends, the astounding quality of the costuming and dancing at the Carnaval parties and parades, and the feeling that the island is large enough to be diverse, but small enough to feel intimate are a few more reasons why we live here.
We followed our dream. We took some chances.
In the summer of 2009, neither of us imagined that two years later we would be living on an island in the Caribbean. Many times, I have imagined I would live in an apartment in Paris or a villa in Italy, or on an island in the Caribbean, but I never believed I would.
We started a Mexican corporation and have been busy promoting our photography business. We are shooting destination weddings, family portraits, advertising jobs for resorts and restaurants, and we still contribute images to National Geographic. We have never been happier.
Family portrait session, Cozumel
So, here come the cliches: follow your dream, take risks, open your heart to love, don’t fear failure, work and play hard, and live every day as if it is your last. I used to place a saying at the bottom of my emails, but I stopped because I think everyone had seen it.
“Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt and dance like nobody is watching.”
That is how we try to live everyday and it works for us.
EIGHT THINGS WE HAVE LEARNED LIVING IN MEXICO
One year ago, Jennifer and I left the United States with a fully-loaded Toyota 4Runner and moved to Mexico.
Our first year as expats was eventful and full of surprises. Looking back, we have wonderful memories, several new friends and an enthusiasm for the future.
Jennifer had more experience with the expat life than me. She had lived in Germany and London for four years during high school, but attended international schools and never quite became an expat. My summer in a Paris apartment hardly qualified me as an expat, but I did get a taste of it and wanted more.
We have been content to rent a house on the island of Cozumel while we went about the business of setting up our photography business. We interviewed lawyers and accountants and started the process of creating a Mexican corporation, which would allow us to work here legally. While the paper work was making its way through the system, we attended language classes in Chiapas, saw some of Mexico and made new friends. One month after arriving on the island we got married. So, a big year.
Here are a few of the high points and things we have learned in the last year:
1) We loved driving here, have done it three times, and highly recommend driving as the best way to see this beautiful country. Get a Guia Roji, the best road map for Mexico, a Mexican chip for a Garmin GPS (sometimes helpful, sometimes woefully inaccurate) and plan your trip carefully. We were coming from New Mexico, so we could essentially cross the border at a number of places. We crossed early on a Sunday morning at Laredo. A quick pass through customs, then immigration, then getting our car permit and we were on the road by 8:30am, arriving in San Miguel de Allende before dinner. More than 80% of our route was on four lane roads, many of them cuotas (toll roads). A bit more expensive, but you make good time. Our second night in Fortin de las Flores, third night in Palenque (if the road to Villahermosa isn’t flooded – it was last year at this time, see the blog post of Oct. 1, 2010) and we catch the 6:00pm ferry to Cozumel on the fourth day.
We NEVER drive at night. We don’t know the roads, there might be a few vehicles on the road without lights, there are pedestrians (sometimes inebriated), animals and hundreds of topes. Plus, eight hours a day should be enough. Slow down, the journey can be as enjoyable as the destination.
You don’t want to see the room!
If, for some unseen circumstance, you don’t end up in the town where you planned to stop and it is getting dark, look for a “Love Motel”. You’ll recognize them by the fence that obscures the entire motel and the curtain or garage door that covers the parking area for each room. Created for couples who want privacy, the rooms are available for four hours or for the entire night. The secure parking for an auto full of your stuff is invaluable.
2) We lived here as locals for a six-week test run before moving. Being here as a local, going about your work, shopping at the markets and stores, arranging for cable tv, a cell phone, etc. will help you to decide if you will like living in the place where you had only previously vacationed. We made the decision to rent until our business will support us. The island is loaded with houses and condos for sale by people who bought while on vacation and then decided that the expat life was not for them.
3) When setting up a corporation, ask other expats who they have used, then interview a couple of attorneys and accountants. You will need both. If you don’t speak Spanish well, make sure your accountant and attorney are fluent in English. You don’t want miscommunications when setting up your company. Our entire process was smooth and we now shoot destination weddings, advertising photos and contribute travel photos to the National Geographic Image Collection.
Mark & Miranda on the east side of Cozumel after their wedding.
4) Learn the language!!!!! Take classes, read the newspapers, keep a dictionary close by, watch television in something other than English. Change the language settings on DVD movies and watch it in the language you are learning while using English sub-titles.
5) Travel and discover the amazing country of Mexico. Long coastlines, rugged mountain ranges, vast deserts, mysterious jungles, lush rain forests, bustling modern cities and beautiful colonial cities, are only a few of the reasons to leave your comfortable home and see Mexico. I am constantly amazed at the number of expats on my island who don’t try to speak Spanish or who have never seen any of the country.
Descending into Fortin de las Flores on the road from Puebla
6) We love: the island of Cozumel with its relaxed atmosphere, colorful Carnaval celebrations and clear Caribbean waters; small, lesser known Mayan ruins like Ek Balam and Calakmul; the architecture and sophistication of San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato; the vast number of Reservas de las Biosferas; everything about Chiapas; tacos al pastor, Bohemia beer, Centenario tequila, sopes for breakfast, jamaica, pork any way it is cooked, Campeche camarones, warm handshakes and cheek kisses when we greet our friends; the love shown to children; salsa music; and the general love of life that permeates the country.
Dance competitions during Cozumel’s Colorful Carneval
Uxmal, Yucatan – Palacio del Gobernador
Mexico’s Bicentenario in San Miguel de Allende
Downtown San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
Las Gemelas Antojitos in Cordoba – open 24 hours
7) If you are an animal lover, adopt a pet. Although don’t be surprised if one adopts you first. While more and more Mexicans have pets and are responsible pet owners, there is an overpopulation problem, due to the lack of a spay and neuter program in most places. You can practice your Spanish on the dog or cat who shows up on your doorstep.
Squirt, the bilingual cat
Don’t be in a hurry to get things done (mañana doesn’t mean tomorrow, it just means “not today”), don’t compare habits, rituals, government, service providers or drivers to the country you have left. Prepare yourself for a change in thinking to go with your change in address.
Fiesta of the Virgin of Guadalupe in San Cristobal, Chiapas
Let us know if you have any questions about living in Mexico!
We’ve just discovered the blog The Changelog as the family recently visited México for the first time. If you’ve been wondering about whether a trip to México is right for your family, you’ll enjoy these posts:
There may be more posts to come after Part 3, but even the three posts above will give you a great feeling for enjoying México with your family.
The author has advised me that there WILL be a couple more posts, and that all of them will be grouped together here.
My husband and I moved from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon to Ciudad Juarez in late February 2011. We were frightened throughout the process, were we jumping from the frying pan into the fire? After spending six unemployed months in Monterrey, we decided yes, but we’re doing it anyway.
I arrived at the airport, solo, my husband had left the day before with the moving truck and was supposed to meet me. I didn’t know what to expect, decapitated corpses on stakes lined up along the runway wouldn’t have surprised me. My mother-in-law’s stern warning, “we will never visit you in Juarez”, echoed in my mind. Well, it can’t be that bad if she’s not coming, I straightened myself, shoulders back, “just act like you know what you’re doing”, my father’s advice has carried me through since we moved here, no Spanish, no clue, almost no hope, that one line has worked so far.
I met my husband, got in the truck and we drove to the bank to withdraw some money to pay the poor moving guy who had to sit next to my growling German Shepherd, Heidi for 18 hours. Here, ahead and to the right, two navy blue trucks race and then come to a screeching halt. Police, bulletproof everything and armed to the teeth approach a single man outside his car, one officer remains in the back of the truck, standing, AK-47 pointed right at the suspect. It really is horrible here, I’m thinking all the way to the home I’ve never seen before.
The house we are renting is beautiful; nothing special by my previously spoiled American standards but it is heaven compared to my Santa Catarina hovel. It has kitchen cabinets and countertops! It has real flooring! A water heater! And let me check, not a cockroach in sight. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.
The days progressed, our gated community is quiet, there is a park in the middle of the street where children play like normal children do, throwing rocks and using bad language because their parents are out of earshot. These kids don’t hide in the house, in the dark, cowering in the bathtub to avoid a stray bullet. And it’s not just because no one has a bathtub here either. We walk Heidi in the park that runs for blocks beside Juan Pablo, it’s much cleaner than the one near our house in Monterrey. No one herding goats here. Just people exercising. We go to the Soriana for groceries. The Army is outside in their camoflage covered trucks. I expect foul play as I go in, ready to duck and cover with the cart. They stopped to get Cokes. Probably for free too. And flirt with the cute, skinny girl at the register.
After crossing the bridge for the first time, I could have told you what Ciudad Juarez’s problem really is: poverty. The bridge people! You alternately cringe because of their missing limbs or their ribs showing through baggy, torn shirts and then cringe again because they’re making a beeline to your car, filthy rag in hand, asking for a quarter for lunch if you just allow me to rub this disgusting, greasy thing all over your car. No thanks buddy, I’ll keep the sand and please get the hell out of here because you’re rubbing your poor all over my automobile. The indignant, entitled American shows through. Then you’re confronted with an indignant, entitled, bossy Border Patrol agent and pray, “please don’t let me be as much of a jackass as that guy”, so you’re a little nicer coming home.
Juarez is a place that is trying desperately to be something it’s not. It’s like when one of your nerdy friends in high school got a mohawk but still had a pocket protector and good grades. Juarez wants to be affluent, it looks over the Rio Grande to its’ sister El Paso with her 3 bedroom, 2 bath ranches with grass and real air conditioning, with a sting of jealousy. Juarez, try as it might, with shopping malls that glitter with overpriced, unnecesary trinkets, subdivisions that are tucked away with 24-hour security and a tennis club inside, here’s a Starbucks, there’s a shiny new hotel with a pool; it just can’t quite pass itself off as authentic. The subdivision is encased in a concrete wall, with barbed wire stretched across the top to keep the riff raff out. Unfortunately, it’s the same sentiment that El Pasoans carry toward the inhabitants of Juarez.
Juarez is valuable real estate for cartels because, as in all good real estate transactions, it’s got location, location, location. We are here at the portal, drug manufacturers, meet drug users. For a poverty-stricken place, 46% of Mexico’s population is at or below Mexico’s poverty level since Calderon has taken office; the promise of quick, easy money, making more money in a few hours than you could all month sweating away, performing mind-numbing, back-breaking labor in a maquila, drugs are glittering gold, hope wrapped in little foil packages. This could feed your family, buy your children new shoes or take your pregnant wife to the doctor.
If taking care of your family isn’t worth fighting, killing and dying for, then what is?
The drug war will never be won with brute force. No amount of Army tanks and helicopters can run down or stamp out the desire for a comfortable life. Especially when it’s right there, over the fence, driving by you and your dirty rag, headed toward easy riches, rubbing your nose in it every day. The war on drugs is as unwinnable as the war on terrorism – how can you kill an idea? Human beings are programmed to progress, to evolve, to adapt. To want more.
What is shocking is not the violence in Juarez and in all the border cities; it’s the terror and outrage of the American people at the drug war. Don’t want little bits of Mexican brains splattered on your pristeen US soil? Here’s an idea: make drugs legal. Or at least don’t bite the hand that feeds the DEA, the largest purchaser of illegal drugs in the world. Don’t be a hypocrite. Take some responsibility.
I know, I’m not holding my breath for that either.
In the meantime, Juarez stands in the middle, shaken, anxious, like a street dog that has been beaten, hungry and in search of shelter. Things remain quiet here in my little gated community, the worst thing that has occurred was that some teenage boys were drinking beers and peeing in the park. There was a neighborhood meeting and someone told their mother.
I am not fearful here. I continue to “act like I know what I’m doing”. Actually the only slightly scary thing that’s happened since the move was being pulled over by a Juarez police officer at 4 am. The Army came to Juarez because half of the corrupt police force had been fired. The remaining half are questionable. I stood my ground and didn’t pay the mordida, stupidly hanging on to my ideals to pay a lot more to get my license back. I am not fearful, I’m cautiously aware. I take the same philosophy as I did when I would list a house in a particular Chicago neighborhood. Don’t wear your colors, don’t wear a hat, don’t throw up any signs, like I knew what those were, don’t show your bling, don’t be flashy and don’t look scared. As long as you’re not here to buy or sell drugs, don’t own a business and don’t hang out with friends who do, you’ll be fine.
When you stop pointing the finger at the cartels, at Felipe Calderon’s awkward attempts and the acts meant to inspire shock and awe and look at it for what it is: people, just ordinary people, like you and I, except they have far fewer choices than you and I have. People just trying to do what they can to carve out a tiny piece of opportunity, a crumb really, compared to the opportunity that is handed out freely, just over there, in El Paso. People just doing a job they don’t particularly care for in order to bring home tortillas and shoes.
On my way, in the morning, in the dark, headed to another day of work, for a company that I don’t respect, just another number who serves no purpose whatsoever than to fill a black swivel chair, I understand.
Come along with Dianne and Greg as they hike up to Mazatlán’s lighthouse. At 160 meters above sea level, the El Faro de Mazatlán is said to be the highest naturally occurring lighthouse in the world. While they doubt that this is true, they do know that a hike up El Faro hill is WELL worth it. In every season of the year it is gorgeous!
Dianne and Greg moved to México with their junior high school aged son. This is the story of how he became bilingual, bicultural, and has developed into a incredible young man.
The following comment exchange appeared recently on my blog. It illustrates the fear many travelers to Mexico have before they arrive and shows how unfounded those fears turn out to be. I thought it would be relevant to share this exchange here.
Glad I found this website. We are leaving 4/8 for Cancun, Le Meridian, by husband, myself and 2 kids. I am scared to death that we will be in harms way. My daughter can’t wait to go to Sr. Frog’s and I haven’t told her yet, that we probably won’t go downtown. I need your honest opinion as to whether or not we will be safe. I have arranged for the hotel concierge to pick us up at the airport, thought that was the safest way to go and figured we just won’t leave the resort until its time to head home, but that doesn’t give us many dining options. Please give me your honest opinion on all this. Also, if you know anything about the Le Meridian that you care to share, I would appreciate it.
Thanks so much for your time and info.
Reply from RiverGirl – April 1, 2009
Stella – First off Señor Frog’s is not in downtown Cancun it’s in the Hotel Zone. Second, even if it WAS downtown it would be perfectly safe to go there.
I understand your fears Stella but they are completely unfounded! I’m serious!
I wander around in Cancun all the time, alone as a white American woman. I’ve never been at all nervous for my safety and only once or twice (in large crowds) was I nervous that some purse snatcher would try to grab my purse (though no one ever did).
Le Meridien is a lovely hotel, it’s one of the nicest here. I don’t think the beach near it is very good right now, so you will want to walk north or south to a better beach.
But do leave your hotel and go out. Cancun is perfectly safe for tourists. When you get here and see everyone wandering the Hotel Zone night and day you will relax, I’m sure.
Just wanted to let you know you were RIGHT!! Cancun was more perfect than we remembered. We had a blast and were completely as ease once we checked-in and got in vacation mode. There were no signs of violence at all and actually the people, employees and everyone in general were much more pleasant and accommodating than you will find in Pennsylvania.
Thanks again for this website.
Reply from RiverGirl – April 15, 2009
Stella – I’m really glad you had a great time!
After this exchange of comments I wrote to Stella asking her for permission to re-post our exchange. I also asked her some questions about her fears and her trip to Cancun, a post with her answers will appear here soon.
Thank you to Stella for permitting me to re-post her comments here.
Since I have traveled in Mexico for many years – and now live in Mexico – I thought that instead of discussing all the negative press Mexico has been getting lately, I would tell you why I love it here.
The Spirit of the People – This is usually the first thing that people notice about Mexico. There is an almost indescribable sparkle that you notice around the eyes. Smiles come easily. Kisses at greeting. Kisses when parting. You seldom hear a child cry and never hear a parent speak in anger to a child. Family is everything, and every evening, generations walk arm in arm in the plazas. People don’t get upset easily. Loud party? (So what, they are having fun tonight.) Litter on the sidewalk? (Sweep it up and enjoy a little chat with the people who pass by.) Barking dog? (Put on some music.) I love the phrase “ni modo” which means “oh well, what can you do?” and is the perfect answer to minor aggravations in life. Ni modo.
Generosity – There are many organizations in Mexico to help those who are less fortunate. But when I comment on generosity I mean all the small generosities I see daily. People know how to give with a grace that I can only hope to learn. One time in Mexico City, we went out to buy soup to take home. While we waited, a little street boy who was familiar to everyone in the neighborhood ran up with a coin and asked for a taco. The owner sent him to the cashier (his wife) to pay, and prepared a generous taco for the boy to take away. As he started to leave, the cashier pressed a handful of money in the boy’s hand as “change.” He ran off. A few minutes later his sister arrived, and the same interaction ensued. It was obvious that the couple happily made sure these kids had a little good food every day and were happy to give it. They would be surprised that I even think their actions were noteworthy. It’s just what they do, and how they relate to the world around them.
Ability to Make Do – I have a soft spot for people who can figure out a work-around when they need something. Not very much goes to waste here. And if you are done with something, just put it out on the curb and it will find a new home.
What is Fun? – You don’t need a money to have fun in Mexico. Of course, there’s the ocean, the best playground of all. Sunday is family day, and the beach is full of large family groups – from Grandma to the smallest baby. They may bring their own food, or buy mangoes and donuts from vendors walking by. But even in places away from the beach, people head to the plazas and parks to relax and talk and usually share a meal together. Balloon vendors stroll. Outdoor dances are common. People love to buy a song or two from the strolling musical groups. Mexico is a social country, when they have free time they usually head outside to get together with friends. Even late at night the streets are busy with people laughing and having fun. And I guess I shouldn’t forget that parades and fireworks can surprise you anytime, day or night.
Acceptance and Friendliness – We have a regular route when walking our dogs in the morning, and we greet and are greeted by many people every day. I thought for a while that they only greeted me because I said hello to them first – but you know – that’s not true. We are part of the fabric of the city and we are accepted – tattoos and imperfect Spanish and all.
Hard Working – The old stereotype of the sleepy Mexican under a sombrero couldn’t be further from the truth. Most people work very hard, and long hours, too. Five long days and a half day on Saturday. And wages are so low that once they are done working they have to work hard to do everything else. Many people have the simplest homes, with just the basics and wash clothes and dishes by hand. They either bicycle to and from work or have long bus rides. You’ll notice, though, that all school kids have gleaming white shirts and polished shoes. I have no idea how they do it all.
Efficient and Accommodating – We live in Mexico as retirees on an FM-3 visa. This visa is renewable for a year. We visit Immigration once a year with a bank statement showing we have adequate income (so that we are not a drain on their economy) and payment of a small fee in exchange for a new one year visa. When doing this I wonder what the same transaction would be like for a Mexican in the US, unfortunately I think I know the answer. Many of you also may not know that Mexico also has a national health insurance program. And guess what? They also make it available to foreigners. We are in the process of applying for the insurance and our experience has been efficient and way easier than a trip to the DMV in the US. Wouldn’t it be nice if the US had national health insurance available to all?
Living in Mexico has changed me for the better, too. I am more tolerant, smile more, am more relaxed and generous, and I actually like myself better. These are just a few of the things I can put into words about why I love it here. You really should come and see for yourself.
I got a disturbing call from a client in Texas the other day. I guess I should say calls. The phone started to ring fairly early, and just kept cycling between phones: home phone, cell phone, Vonage phone, repeat. We don’t keep any phones in the bedroom, but all the windows were open, so I could hear all the ringing coming from Chuck’s office directly above the bedroom. When I realized it wasn’t going to stop – ever – I got up to find out who needed to talk to us so desperately.
By the time I got upstairs, I was awake enough to start to be worried. Did something terrible happen to a loved one? The caller wasn’t leaving messages on any of the phones, so I sat down to wait for the phone to ring again. I didn’t have to wait long.
I picked up the phone and was instantly greeted with, “Are you okay?” It took me a few moments to recognize the voice.
“Yes, Mark. I’m fine. What’s up?”
“When you didn’t answer the phone, I was sure something had happened to you.”
Mark and I met when he hired me to develop and manage his web site and became friends. Well, maybe not friends exactly. We have never hung out or called just to chat about non-business related matters, but we deal with each other on an extremely informal level. Some of the things I say to him during a teleconference make his employees cringe, being a group of dedicated yes men. They are quite sure I am going to be fired at any moment.
With no small amount of acid, I said, “I was asleep Mark. There is a time difference, remember? What’s the emergency this time?”
It turns out he was calling on a minor business matter, but got terribly worried when I didn’t answer the phone. Mark has been watching the American news media, you see. And I live in Mexico. He was sure I had been kidnapped, or caught in a narco shootout, or come to some other equally heinous end.
Mark is a very aware type of guy and is constantly plugged into the news: on the computer, on the radio, on the television. Lately, all he has heard are stories about how dangerous it is in Mexico. The U.S. State department sent out a very strong warning about traveling to Mexico. No one has mentioned that the warning has remained largely unchanged for the past 10 years. It just featured a few enhancements this year.
My annoyance at being woken up turned into annoyance at ignorance. But I quickly squashed it. What I was hearing was the product of genuine caring, and I appreciated that. But I am still annoyed at the media that is sensationalizing problems in Mexico.
Here is the ironic part: Violence here, where I live, is down.
I think the news outlets in the U.S are very aware that the people are stressed out and really tired of hearing about the economy, joblessness, and foreclosures. What do most people want to hear about at a time like this? Someone else who is far worse off. Enter the Mexicans.
I’m not saying that the murders and kidnappings don’t happen. They do. In certain parts of Mexico. The drug violence in the border towns is astonishing. But so was the violence in Dallas three years ago. So is the violence in Detroit, with 47.8 murders per 100,000 people. Gee whiz. I just wish the news would put things in perspective when they report it.
Mark’s daughter and her sorority sisters had booked a trip to Puerta Vallarta for Spring Break. But the news has made them scared to come. They recently saw the movie Taken, and that sealed it. The girls are going to Florida.
To his credit, Mark did not forbid his daughter to come to Mexico. He interviewed body guards to send with her, but he never even implied she shouldn’t come. She made the decision on her own.
Even the young, who usually believe they are immortal, are scared to come here. I think the first reaction of most of the expats who live here is, “good riddance. The last thing we need is more drunken gringos making fools of themselves and making us look bad.” But the reality is, we need the dollars they bring with them. Part of the Mazatlan economy depends on the money tourists bring, and when they don’t come, businesses fail, people lose jobs, and children go hungry.
I think the State Department warning is having the exact effect intended: it is keeping American tourist dollars in the U.S., something that could never be accomplished by any “See America” PR campaign, no matter how good. I think encouraging people to keep their money in the U.S. is a very smart thing for the U.S. economy, but I really don’t think using scare tactics is a responsible way to do that.
I told Mark how very safe I am here. I told him that our little city of 450,000 people was just descended upon by 800,000 partiers for Carnaval and the police handled everything very well. I told him that his one U.S. Dollar buys 15 Mexican Pesos, making a trip here a very good value. I told him his daughter was a lot less likely to make an appearance in “Girls Gone Wild” if she came here. She is still going to Florida.
Note: This article originally appeared here.
There’s been a lot of talk about safety among the expat community in Mexico lately. It seems like the press and the US government are going out of their way to discourage people from vacationing in Mexico. Those of us who live here – who love it here, wonder why.
I’m not going to try to figure out what their agenda might be. Some people speculate that it has to do with keeping American vacation dollars at home to help the economy. Maybe it’s just more of the nanny style of government. I really don’t know. But I do know it is taking a toll on Mazatlan and other communities that rely on tourism for a fair bit of their economy. I’ll talk about that in a minute. For now, let’s go back to the topic of safety.
We all want to be safe. What is that, exactly, though? Does that mean that there is a zero percent chance of something unexpected happening? I doubt that anyone expects that! I mean the world is full of random events – you come around a corner a little too fast and a truck is stopped in your lane…you hit it…someone is hurt…and everyone involved feels shaken and unsafe. But that doesn’t mean you never drive again, does it? And random events don’t just happen in Mexico, you know!
I have been getting numerous letters every week from people who aren’t sure if they should come on their long-planned vacations to Mazatlan. It’s good that they are looking for more information and need to decide for themselves whether they’ll feel safe or not. I tell people that write me that I feel safe, and that I love it here, and if they want a fuller explanation as to why they should read my blog.
We all know there is a war in Mexico between drug cartels and each other and drug cartels and the government. High ranking police officials have been killed. There have been graphic pictures in the media of bodies lined up where they were executed. This is horrifying, no doubt. But aside from the slim chance that someone would be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it feels far removed from everyday life.
But one thing that isn’t far removed is the effect that the loss of tourist dollars especially hurts the poor here in Mexico. Many people here are already living a very marginal existence, and losing a job or having hours reduced is an impossible situation. And here in Mazatlan we had already been feeling the effect of the financial crisis reducing the velocity of construction and hence construction related jobs.
I love it here. I love traveling all over Mexico. I take common sense precautions and keep my eyes open. But…you know, I do that where ever I am, and I imagine you do, too. Mexico is a delightful country filled with warm hearted, generous people who would like nothing better than to share with you the Mexico they know and love. I hope you choose to see for yourself.