We had delayed exploration of our vast and fascinating neighbor to the south far too long and now as we close our 6 month, 16 state odyssey we felt inclined to write a brief Reflections on Mexico. Like many in the US who have not experienced the breadth and depth of the Mexican culture we had no idea what we were missing. Finally, we’ve had a taste.
First off Mexico is huge! Its border with the U.S. alone is almost 2,000 miles long. Pivot the country around and lay it across the US and it would run from Texas to Maine. It is the most populous Spanish speaking country in the world.
By and large the Mexican people have been kind, courteous and helpful. It is sad that the media focus has been on the drug cartels and the horrors that have been perpetrated by them in the country. News coverage about the US also reports on gang and drug wars and yes there are dangerous places in Chicago but the vast majority of the city is safe including some extraordinarily beautiful areas. Some US expats joke that more folks from the US will be arriving in Mexico because it’s safer. To be sure, we used common sense security precautions though we never felt endangered during our time in the country.
The length and depth of Mexico’s history and culture is astonishing. The Spanish colonial era alone dates back to 1519 and the architecture and layout of the towns and city centers reflects this. The pre-Hispanic civilizations, hunters, gatherers and tool makers date back some 10,000 years while elaborate cities, some of which grew to be larger than European cities at the time had their beginnings hundreds of years before Christ. The Native Americans (yes Mexico is in North America) had huge populations estimated at 25,000,000 at the time of the first Spanish landing. Their advanced understanding of the solar system is reflected in the many remaining temple ruins. After the Spanish conquest the demise of the indigenous populations went quickly due to disease and enslavement which produced great wealth for Spain in silver and gold. The complicated ebb and flow of Catholicism over 500 years has dominated within the culture and the eventual release from Spanish rule with Mexican independence in 1821 was promulgated by the revolutionary Father Miguel Hidalgo. And just in case anyone forgot-California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and most of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and even a bit of Wyoming were all a part of Mexico until 1848!
The peoples of Mexico reflect its long and varied history from indigenous people who are the decedents of the pre-Hispanic civilizations to the descendants of the Spanish conquerors. Then there is a beautiful mix of peoples called Mestizos who are the result of centuries of mixing between the races. They are by far the majority of the people in the country. Though most peoples’ features lean towards Native American or Spanish, most have a bit of both bloods in their veins.
The diverse landscape includes deserts, forested highlands, high mountains, rain forests, plains and thousands of miles of ocean front. Flora and fauna is diverse. We’ve marveled at the size of cactus and trees and flowering plants. The annual great migration of the Monarch Butterflies to Michoacan , the fish species in the Sea of Cortez, the Puma crossing the road in front of us and the bone chilling Howler Monkeys outside our window in the jungle of Chiapas were just a few of many encounters to mention.
We appreciate the delicious, fresh and cheap street food-the tacos, tortas, sopes, gorditas with pork, chicken or beef with bowls of fresh chopped onions, cilantro, tomatoes, chiles (sometimes fire roasted) and red and green salsas. The variety of regional cuisine is enormous and we gained increased exposure to so many new flavors of which we were unaware.
The expression of the culture and national psyche through its art forms is vast and wonderful.
Most all of the towns have at least one beautifully landscaped town square with a gigantic elaborate church on one side and a large gazebo at its center where people congregate for relaxation and social interaction. Shoe shine stands are prevalent so there’s no excuse for shoes that are less than gleaming.
In any culture different from one’s own there are things that are just plain baffling.
There are places in Mexico that are so clean you could just about eat off of the sidewalks and others that are so full of trash it’s hard to fathom.
The concept of undisturbed peace free from loud music, huge loud speakers perched on top of cars blasting advertisements at all times of day and night or a prolific use of loud blast fireworks is common in some areas.
Starving or neglected stray dogs and cats can be seen in many areas which tug at the heart strings for animal lovers like us.
Topes (speed bumps) by the thousands liter the roadways. Many are built by local people wanting speed control or increased commerce for their refreshment stands. It’s really hard on our vehicle and our gas millage.
Many of the roadways are in excellent condition but the custom of driving on the shoulders and passing on curves and hills can be terrifying.
Our heads are still spinning from all we have seen and done on our whirlwind ride through Mexico. When we received our 6 month visitor’s permit we never thought we would need that much time. Well we’ve used the whole of it and there is still so much more for the next time.