Monday, September 21, 2009

Mexico - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Lately I've been reading a lot of articles posted on an electronic magazine called Mexconnect. Generally, the web site is written by American ex patriots living in Mexico, and written for people who are either foreigners living in Mexico, or people thinking about moving to Mexico, or vacationing here. Collectively the articles have romanticized Mexico rather than giving a true picture of what it's like for a foreigner to live in this the farthest north, and dare I say, most North Americanized Latin American country. There's the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I'll start with the good. The cost of living is much cheaper. I pay $4000 pesos for a very nice bungalow situated at the back of a well maintained garden. Once a week housekeeping, a television with about fifty channels, high speed internet, and all other utilities are thrown into the bargain. $250 pesos, which is an exorbitant amount of money by Mexican standards, will buy a fantastic meal, two glasses of wine included, in Oaxaca's classiest, as far as I'm concerned, restaurant. Some things are more expensive like cosmetics and electronics, but with food and shelter being so inexpensive I can easily save enough to take a once a year trip up north to buy those expensive things at a cheaper price.

The weather is ideal.


Although Chihuahua, where I first lived, has a harsh climate with cold winters and hot summers, it is not the bitter prairie cold of the north. So, when the Mexican people living in Chihuahua commented on how cold it was, on the cold January mornings when the temperature hovered around 0 celsius, my reply was always the same, "You don't know cold." After all, I spent many years in the harsh Canadian prairie climate where 30 below celsius is an almost typical January morning. Besides, in Chihuahua, I knew that by mid-afternoon the temperature would be a rather pleasant 16 celsius, and I'd be shaking my head as I walked by the school yard where children would be dressed in winter jackets, scarves, toques and mittens.


Zacatecas, the place of cold, because it's 8,000 feet above sea level, was cold when it rained when I took my mid-May trip to this picturesque city of pink stone buildings and it's silver. But, it was cold like I needed a sweater, not a parka.


Creel, high in the mountains, was bitterly cold one day, the only day, so far, during my Mexican stay, when I wished I had the lining zipped into my Canadian manufactured winter jacket. But, for the two previous days of my February visit to Creel, I was comfortable wearing a light jacket in the morning and a short sleeved T-shirt in the mid-afternoon sun.


Oaxaca, where I now live, is the place of eternal spring. Well within the tropics but at an altitude of 5,000 feet, it's never too hot, and it's never cold. Right now we are in the throws of the rainy season, which means generally the day starts with beautiful sunshine, and then the clouds come. By about 6 p.m. we get a welcome downpour which cools and refreshed everything.

Friendly People

Another good thing about Mexico is the people, they're nice. They just are. In Chihuahua everyone offered a smile and a good morning or good afternoon. Here in Oaxaca people seem more serious, perhaps shyer. But always eager to help when the opportunity to be of assistance arises.

Friendly people, beautiful weather, cheap and comfortable living what more could a person want?

The Bad

Now for the bad. Dog shit. I try not to look at it. I try not to step in it. The other day I actually watched a man pick up after his dog, I clapped and shouted, "Bravo." He smiled. He's the only person in Mexico I've seen pick up after his dog.

Well on the subject of animals. Stray dogs and cats wander the streets, and it seems like every household has at least one dog. They bark. If you can't tune out the noise, it can be so annoying, it will send you packing. There's the other noises too. The gas trucks with their strange noise of identification, like nothing you'll hear anywhere else, the hawkers on bicycle with rigged up microphones loudly announcing what they have for sale. "Stom- bo - lee" is the cry of one. "Ag-ua" sings another. It's a jumble of sounds. It's the music of the street. It's Mexico.

Some people don't think the abundance of graffiti is a bad thing, but I do. I'd be very angry if one of these so called artists scrawled all over my nicely painted building. The graffiti is everywhere. It's a mess.

Narrow sidewalks, or no sidewalks, in Mexico pedestrians get little respect. Here in the south it's worse than in the north. The vehicles stop atop the pedestrian crosswalks seemingly oblivious to the dangers they are creating for those of us attempting to get across the street.

Limited infrastructure, ancient buildings left to fall apart, vacant lots full of garbage, weeds and I don't know what else, but if a person can look beyond the weeds and trash, there is beauty. The gardens, the museums, the art galleries, the well kept houses, the people who everyday go out and scrub the sidewalk in front of their place of business, or their home. Mexico is a paradox.

The Ugly

Now for the ugly. There's a serious drinking problem. Down the street from where I live alcoholic men lie in a drunken stupor under the trees that line the sidewalk. They seem harmless, but also pathetic. They are filthy zombies oblivious to everyone and everything. They aren't alive really. They are the living dead.

Beautiful, quick witted, little children, who ought to be in school, support their families by selling chiclets in the town squares. Elderly women with no means of support either sit and beg on the sidewalk, or wander the streets with their hand out.

I suspect some of the American and Canadian ex-pats living in Mexico, mostly us retired types, feel a little guilty because our lives are so privileged,  in comparison to the Mexicans  that are our neighbours and friends. Then there are the unspoken illegals from north of the border who seem to think it's their right to come to Mexico and criticize the country they are hiding in, but that's another story.

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