What is it about Mexico that so entrances (fill someone with wonder and delight) me? After a five-year hiatus, due to complications of Gregory’s Alzheimer’s, I am back in Mexico and it continues to entrance me and invoke my corzón Latino (my Latino heart!)
In the past, over a period of ten years, we spent up to one month in Puerto Vallarta at Susan and David’s Casa de los Arcos, up the mountain from the old town. Puerta Vallarta is a large, bustling city of 500,000 not counting tourists and boasts all the activity and businesses any large city would have as well as a multitude of bars, dance clubs, souvenir stands, guest houses, small and large hotels, condos, restaurants, the beach, and more.
This time, I am staying in San Pancho with Jill and Lincoln, friends from Evanston, who live in Mexico for half the year. San Pancho is a small fishing town of 2,000 permanent residents and others who come for short or long periods of time. For the most part it consists of one main street, running from the main highway to the beach with shops, restaurants, businesses, local houses, condos, small hotels, and guesthouses.
The two cities are quite different yet both entrance and I wonder why I feel so at home here. I am not ready to give up my U.S. citizenship and move to Mexico full time but the people, the culture, the history, the food, the Catholic religion, the sense of family … all beckon me.
One thought I had today is that maybe it gives me the sense of living in a different reality, one with which I am not familiar, and I find this challenging. Being in Mexico presents a reality I cannot take for granted, cannot understand fully, one I must study and process, and one which continues to surprise me with each observation, experience, and interaction. Perhaps it makes life bigger, or renews, and at least refreshes my reality.
Mexico seems to live “closer to the earth,” a more basic, simple life in which each day matters for what it is and where little is taken for granted. People are friendly and seem rely on and truly care for each other. It is easy to stop on the corner when encountering a friend or neighbor and spend time catching up or sharing the latest news. People are easy with their smiles and their waves, even to seeming strangers and visiting “gringos.” Passing strangers on the street make eye contact and share an easy a “Buenos Días: or Buenos Tardes.”
The air carries Mexico like radio waves broadcast from the studio of life. Smells, sounds, music, birds and animals conversing, flies buzzing, trucks driving slowly down the street advertising an upcoming event or the sale of shrimp or water or natural gas off the back of a truck. They all compete for your attention if you allow yourself to slow down enough to listen. Right now, I hear waves, several conversations, a rooster mis-crowing dawn, chickens clucking, birds chirping, and “Gringo the Cat” softy mewing for something to eat (she is a beggar!)
During my massage today, as the therapist put more cream on my back the odor of the neighbor’s frying bacon filtered in through the open brick fretwork, along with the families conversation at lunch, confusing my senses a bit before I was able to separate the lavender cream from the neighbor’s bacon. Open wood and coal fires add the fragrant flavor of food cooking as well as the pungent smell of smoke. Even if you have just finished your meal, the odors tempt you to eat a little more and cause your stomach to yearn for whatever delicious it is that you are smelling. Sometimes the scent of sewage mingles with the cooking smells. YUCK you may say (or think) but one eventually is able to accept this unexpected combination as part of MEXICO!
Often people ask, “Are you worried the dangers of being in Mexico.” My observations lead me to believe that the “hype” of a dangerous Mexico are overplayed in the U.S. I feel no more in danger in Mexico than I might in Chicago or New York. If I was a member of the drug cartel, a pusher or user, I might get myself into hot water, but I am neither. I have only once felt threatened when a cab ride in Puerto Vallarta seemed to be taking me into a “dark” part of town one night when I was seeking a particular restaurant. Turns out I gave the cab driver the wrong address and when he realized I was looking for the restaurant “Tapas Barcelona,” he was able to get me to my destination without my help!
Leaving all my belongings at home and “distilling my life” into one suitcase and one “carry on” is a challenge but once in Mexico, nothing at home is missed or craved, except maybe a good hamburger! And if you forgot to pack enough clothing, you can always buy a close substitute. If you run out of a medication or personal care item, there is always a facsimile available at the pharmacia where the person behind the counter, who is professionally qualified to prepare and dispense medicinal drugs, can look up your need on his computer and see the Mexican look-alikes he is able to provide.
The food in Mexico is not like food from Mexican restaurants in the states. Chicago’s restaurants are more authentic, Tex-Mex isn’t (which you would think should be more authentic if only because of the close geographic relationship of Texan and Mexico – but in my opinion isn’t.) The food in Mexico is Mexican, is all I can say. At times it can cause Mr. Montezuma to visit, at times the food seems to take a toll on my system; but even with that, the food is delicious and tastes “like more.”
In all honesty, many of the same comments can be applied to my travels in Italy, Spain, Paris, Hawaii, and Canada. My style of travel is to be in a location for at least two weeks and more, desirably for a month. I like to do the tourist things but more I like to submerge myself in the culture of the location I am visiting. I like eating at the local joints, I like shopping at the local food stores, I like sitting at a table on the street and with my coffee, watching the world go by as translated and informed by a culture not of my own.
But in all fairness to Mexico, it continues to be my favorite place to spend long periods of time. I love using the language. I remember the first time in a college Spanish class when I realized that I was thinking in Spanish and no longer translating. Eventually, to my amazement, I found myself dreaming in Spanish. The final arrival at being literate in Spanish was being able to tell a joke in Spanish to a native speaker and having them laugh at the punch line!
Bienvenidos a Mexico.