Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Honeymoon in Mexico, pt. 1

On December 7th, when Karen and I flew into Mexico city, we didn't quite know what to expect. We were told that the next 11 days were bound to be filled with communication problems, pick-pockets and/or violent thievery, backwards locals, stabbing intestinal pain, disoriented navigating, and filth galore. Riding from the airport to our hotel in a "secure taxi" we prepared to meet the country of Mexico, in it's capital, Mexico City, the second largest city in the world (18 million, just behind Sao Paolo, Brazil). What we found was awe-inspiring and shame-inducing. I found it hard to believe how much ignorance there is out there about the country of Mexico.
(a section of the Diego Rivera mural in the National Palace)

Well, first I'd like to thank my fellow American citizens for all the sensationalized cautionary tales and fear-mongering. Several people warned me about the prevalent violent crime and a general sense of danger that pervades Mexico City, and that it is not safe for gringos, because people will identify us with the money the they don't have and then we will be victimized, and so on and so forth. Well, Karen and I encountered nothing of the sort. We went everywhere by foot, bus, and subway and never once felt threatened, although often clearly out of place. The city is an enormous metropolis that is cosmopolitan and busy. The people sometimes looked at us with curious interest when we stepped off the established tourist path, but they were understanding about our limited Spanish and responded to us with a warm and helpful demeanor, especially when we showed some effort, and conveyed our respect and appreciation for Mexican culture. All in all, the Mexicans we talked to were extremetly decent and kind people who are weary of American hostility and prejudice. However, when we said a kind word, show some deference, and we were back on good footing (if we weren't already).

(Karen shopping at the artisan market)

At first, we took extra precautions by using money-belts and clutching our bags tightly, but over time, we started to feel a little silly and overly cautious, if not just plain rude, and so we developed a more general commonsense about our belongings and our surroundings and made a conscious decision to relax and enjoy ourselves. The biggest problem that we had with getting taken advantage of was in our minds (thanks to all the nervous nellies out there fanning the flames of anti-multiculturalism). And of course, this was particularly the case when it came to paying for things. Greed and prejudice tend to go hand in hand. Anyhow, since the exchange rate was roughly 10 to 1, pesos to dollars, all we had to do was move the decimal over once to figure out what something cost in dollars. However, it didn't keep us from getting confused and suspicious when a trinket or a whole meal cost fifty bucks. Duh! It's only $5. Smile and say gracias, Jason.
(We bought one of these hanging hammock chairs for our porch - nine bucks! wow! )

Back home, I recall hearing other concerned Americans saying that Mexico is dirty and disorganized. Well, Mexico City is enormous, so of course we didn't see all of it, but what we did see was gorgeous on a grand scale, absolutely majestic, and spotlessly clean. At every turn, someone was sweeping or mopping and there were tasteful little trashcans seemingly every few feet. The dirtiest element that we encountered is one that we didn't see with our own eyes. We never felt like we were actually seeing smog in Mexico City, but considering the prodigious production of crusty buggers collecting in our noses, we knew there must be a few more particles in the air here than we were used to. Further research showed us that the mountains and volcanoes that surround the city trap the pollution that is emitted from the city's 8 million cars and 50,000 factories. The combination of pollution and altitude meant that we were always slightly short of breath in Mexico City as well. So, that was a minor drawback, but it helped us get drunk quicker.
(the brightest, shiniest wooden bowls ever)

In terms of organization, I'm sure that there are all kinds of cultural phenomena in Mexico that don't make sense to outsiders. Maybe corruption in Congress, stolen elections, and unrestrained development for some reason doesn't sound familiar to those of us in the U.S. On the other hand, disorganization can sometimes be a good thing. Karen and I both felt like there was always something going on around us. The country is filled with life and liveliness that you just don't see in the US too much. There was seriously never a dull moment. Although Mexico suffers from an enormous wealth gap and poverty is widespread, we were taken aback with the level of industriousness of the people. Everyone in Mexico seems to be selling something, eager to negotiate, and proud of their wares. Much of the excitement came from street merchants hyping their reggaeton compilation CDs, alpaca panchos, and diez tacos por diez pesos (my personal favorite). Contrary to the stereotype of "lazy Mexicans" it seemed to us that the people go to great lengths to fill every gap in time and space with their colorful culture and attempts to better their situation. Mexico's open and free society results in solutions as well as problems, which also sounds familiar to me.
(pinatas grow on trees in Mexico)

This posting is mostly intended to get the ball rolling on reporting back on my honeymoon in Mexico. The next week and a half went down like this: three days in mega-metropolis Mexico City, three days in the overgrown beach-town of Veracruz, three days in idyllic and Spanish-styled Puebla, and another three days chasing the spirits of radical Mexican artists back in Mexico City. In my next post, I'd like to start a highlight real, with particular attention to the food. For a sneak preview, check out Fancy Toast to see the recent Mexico trip foodie report that inspired me to get to work telling these stories. I tried to post a little teaser there about my eventual blog entry about our honeymoon in Mexico. Eventually, in this space, you will be treated to a run-down of menus, flavor combinations, amazing bargains, a tour of Frida Khalo's house, a food class, pictures of delicious dishes, and tales of treats that we brought home and are eager to share.
(mole powder and spices)

Thanks for waiting for me to get around to this and stay tuned.
(dried chili peppers everywhere)

7 comments:

  1. What a great choice for a honeymoon! My husband and I went to Barcelona for ours (a very long time ago) and it sounds like you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed we did ours. Congratulations!

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  2. How very embarrassing to mis-type your own name . . .

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  3. Brandon, you are a smart one, no doubt. Mis-spelling your name was probably clever dig at me for all of my careless errors in the comments I've left on your blog. Touché.

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  4. I'm so glad I cleverly fooled you with that one, Jason. At least, briefly. Ha!

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  5. Wow...looks like you had a lot of fun. Never been to Mexico, but would love to go there. I agree about the fear mongering...all big cities have their crime problems so you just have to use common sense.

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  6. Cool to see that you went to several of the places we did! What an awesome place, sorry so many people told you otherwise, and glad you went anyway!

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  7. Not only was my visit to your blog painless, it was entertaining, informative, creative, and left me craving the wondrous cuisine , and the sights, smells and sounds that are Mexico. Glad you two were able to, and that you are sharing your experiences. Regarding Limes:they definetly have their place, in tequila and cervesa. No--for real, I missed my cocktail sauce for shrimp and oysters and swore I would pack my own the next time....

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