Mexico summery – some thoughts and our best moments

We are getting ready to leave Mexico, and we have some concluding thoughts about it.
The first and most important thing to say it that Mexico is a beautiful country, and the people are kind and welcoming. We’ve had the privelege to meet some amazing people and to see truly magnificent places. There is much diversity, and we’ve enjoyed it all.

It’s funny that I normally think of myself as someone who enjoys more the people and culture than the nature in a place. If given a choice between another week on the Caribbean or driving through the villages of Chiapas, I would probably pick Chiapas and the political turmoil of an atmosphere there (Itai would choose the opposite..). But when I think back at the long time we’ve spent in Mexico, some of the best moments were the quiet, nature-surrounded ones we enjoyed alone in this beautiful land..

Our first night camping on the beach of the Pacific ocean, Itai called me out of the tent and said – “look up”. There were millions of stars in the night sky, more that we’ve had a chance to see for a long-long time. It was beautiful… (not to ruin the romantic moment, but we also saw what we are pretty sure were two UFO’s that very moment. But that’s another story).
We saw similarity beautiful night skies in Punta Allen on the Caribbean coast, where the absence of town-lights (since there’s no electricity!) made for lovely star-searching.

The Caribbean coast is beautiful. It’s just like the postcards, only it’s not… After having traveled through most of the Mexican Caribbean coast, we think that the best beaches and the best spot was without a doubt Isla Mujeres; but we know we had a unique experience there – the influenza and off-season left the island practically empty of tourists, and we had it mostly to ourselves…
We’ve been to many other beaches and towns along the coast, and this is the bestest of the best. It’s the cheapest place we’ve seen, offering the most beautiful beaches, no competition…
However, though not sporting the clear waters and white sand of Isla, the Punta Allen experience was the best time we spent on the coast.

In the Mayan ruins at Palenque, nested deep in the lush tropical jungle, we heard (though did not see) the famous howler monkeys. They sound like tigers roaring, it’s frightening; but they’re really cute little chimps. In any of the ruins we’ve been to, where it is possible, we’ve climbed the highest pyramid and sat at the top, admiring the view, trying to get a feel for how it used to be 1000 years ago.. The climb up is always exhausting – it’s hot, very steep, quite long. But once we reach the top, it’s all worth it. There’s always a cool breeze, an amazing view and a sense of accomplishment that is beyond the loss of breath…

When it comes to blue (azul, in Spanish) things in Mexico, we are quite sure that Cenote Azul (in the state of Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, a little south of Tulum) is much cooler than Playa Azul (a beach of mainly local tourism, south along the Pacific coast from Puerta Vallerta, in the state of Colima), but Agua Azul (natural mineral pools en route from San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque, in the state of Chiapas) is absolutely cooler and better than even Cenote Azul. However, there is another “Cenote Azul” in Quintana Roo, near Laguna Bacalr, and this one is sooo cool and it’s 90 meters deep.. So between Agua Azul and Cenote Azul (the one near Bacalar), it’s a close call.

In general, the whole Mexican experience was great and we were happy not to have been faced with anything we were warned of. Although we’ve heard scary things about the police and military in Mexico, we had no problems with them what-so-ever. The police hardly ever bothered us for anything, but we were stopped by the military on many occasions. Especially in Chiapas there are many military posts on the roads. This is the most politically active region in Mexico, where the War of the Castes in the 1800’s began and is still, in many aspects, going on. The indigenous people in this state are in bad social-economic standing, and the Zapatists are still very active – throughout the state there are many posters and signs in favor of their political group, AZLN. We recently heard that many volunteers from Europe and North America are invited to Chiapas, to do anything – teach English, water plants or whatever – just for their presence. With white people around, they told us, the army doesn’t dare to hurt the indegenous people as much…
But coming back to the military encounters we had – they always stopped us, asking everyone in the car to exit so they can search it. Sometimes they’d go as far as checking in the bags, sniffing a perfume bottle or Lu’s Mate leaves (the Argentinian tea that looks, with a little imagination, like marijuana…). But in any of these cases, the soldiers have been super nice and considerate, always asking us where we are from and how we like Mexico (and they were always so pleased to hear we like it alot!).
We know the other stories of the army and police, always looking for bribes and picking fights, but we were lucky not to have encountered anything like this.

Driving in Mexico was a much easier task than we expected.
Road signs in Mexico are pretty good, although we’ve had some confusions due to unclear marking. There is no use made of a “yield” sign. For us, “yield” means slow and make sure you can go, while “stop” is come to a full stop, and then make sure you can go. In Mexico, no “yield”, just “alto” (stop), but you’re not really meant to stop, just to yield (and if you can’t cross, than stop, or at least slow..).
And traffic-lights are generally obeyed, but if the road is clear, there’s really no need to stop at red, right?
Drivers here don’t follow the letter of the law, to say the least, but there are clear road rules, and it’s so easy to get a grasp on them and join in.
Some stuff are really advanced and clever – if there’s something slowing the traffic, each car getting closer to it is “notified” by the car in front of it, which switches on the double blinkers, as an alert. Once the slower-thing is cleared, each car in turn stops the blinkers and everything goes back to normal.
When it comes to cross-roads, it gets trickier. Sometimes it’s “uno y uno”, the equivalent of the US “stop 4 ways”, in which the vehicle that arrives first to the junction is the first to go throught, and so on. Sometimes it’s a little messier, but everyone’s patient and it works itself out.
One thing is clear – pedestrians never have the right of way. Once we slowed to allow someone to cross the road, and almost caused a chain-car-crash..
Only in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan traffic rules are followed more closely, and sometimes even pedestrians have the right of way. And motorbike riders actually wear helmets (even they are sometimes only bicycle helmets..).
The one really annoying thing about driving in Mexico are the “topes” – speed bumps. The topes are usually unannounced, unmarked and even hidden, so as to catch you by surprise. This would be bearable, if they were “normal” topes, but they’re not. They’re little mountains – very high, very steep, and if you miss one and drive over it too fast, they’ll through the vehicle in the air, and Itai usually hits his head on the top of truck.. If you’re lucky enough to notice them on time, you’re always slowing and speeding, and it must be a serious gas-spender…

And something on the similarities between Mexico and Asia…
Already during our first days in Mexico, we realized, very much to our surprise, that there are so many similarities between here (Mexico) and other places we’ve visited in Asia. Some of these similarities are most probably the shared qualities of fastly growing, developing countries, but others we just don’t know how to explain…
So indeed, as other developing countries we’ve visited in Asia, realizing in the past few decades that tourism from the developed world is the best way to earn money, the cities and towns show growing spurs that leave a small-village feeling and buildings in a now-city of 2 million people. There are so many places that obviously were built to the taste of foreign, “first world” people, and just behind them – the more typical and local-serving sites. True, this is more so apparent in Asia, but also here.
Furthermore, many buildings seem to have been built haphazardly, or so renovated. Nothing is done really all the way, and the little details are sometimes simply ignored. The funniest are the re-done rooms in hotels; maybe there was greater demand for private bathrooms, and the rooms are re-modled to include them. So there’s a foundation log in the middle of the floor that has been chopped, and the ceiling is in changing heights, and the new window overlooks a wall only 5 centimeters away…

In the way people live and eat there are also surprising similarities to Asia. Consider chili – they put chili on everything. Every food comes with really spicy salsa, of course, but also other snacks sold on the street are offered with chili, salt and lemon (just like in Asia!) and this is also true for the sweets (just like in Asia!). They add chili to potato chips (deep fried potato slices or ready-made, commercial Doritos – they open the bag and pour spicy salsa into it), to fruits (pineapple, mango, jicame, cucumber) and to different candies. Anyone who’s been to Thailand remembers he first time you realize that the seductive, cool orange juice you’ve just bought is made with salt… And after that, you always have to remember to ask for it “natural”, and you’d always get a funny look from the vendor for that.
And apropos Doritos – they are so common here. In Asia also – everyone’s eating Doritos…

Besides snacks – meals here and in Asia as well are relatively small, but people eat during all hours of the day. It’s like they are always eating something.
Many meals are eaten outside, at little street vendors, who make a few small meal-snacks, and this will hold you just until you get to the next street vendor and have another meal-snack.
In Asia the portions are small, and here they just go down on only three or four small tacos.

Oh, and the meat. They eat meat for every and any meal of the day, including pastries (that are sold in the “sweets” category – these are with chocolate, these are with pork!). Meat is served from morning to night, and they have it for every meal. This is very hard to get used to. Not to mention attempting to order something without meat at all, or meat that’s not pork; there’s a real adventure…

And we’ve even been served drinks in a bag. That’s very Asian style – over there everything goes into small bags, with a straw. Here it’s not that common, but we saw it around.

Mexico has been great. It’s easy to understand why so many people come here and stay – the kindness of people, everyone’s so easy-going and yet emotional and passionate, the music, the good food and the most beautiful scenery, the many different cultures that make up what we know as “Mexico” or “Mestizos” and also the cultures that remain loyal to their individual pasts.. the little Mayan pyramid-remains scattered all over Yucatan peninsula, many times unmarked, just sitting there between the store and the hair salon..
We are definitly planning on coming back, and Itai is already compiling a list of places we’ve missed and those he wants to go back to.

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