Since 2009 Steve and Wendi have travelled extensively in the United States, Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, and Asia in their VW camper van. They blog about their travels at www.rweethereyet.com and also post articles on the VWHeritage blog. Here they treat us to some real life travel tales through one of the worlds most vibrant and diverse countries: Mexico.
Adventure and Experience Mexico
And it’s another winter wrap hanging, chilling, at some of Mexico’s finest beaches and visiting historic grand colonial towns of the mountainous interior. Our fifth Winter away from the frigid temperatures of Ontario Canada since we began our worldwide Odyssey in 2009. Let me see, this is our third winterin Mexico, to go with one in Central and South America, and another in India and Nepal while our trusty 1972 VW Bus, Pumper, rested in storage in Greece.
Mexico is so conveniently accessed being part of the great North American continent with all the diversity of landscapes and natural environments one could hope for. But it has to be said, driving through the wonderful Mexican terrains is not for the faint of heart… it has its challenges both natural and human made!
Not many people realize how mountainous and ecologically diverse this country is! The images of Mexico are either of indigenous peoples living in a barren dusty stinking hot desert with a few chickens running around an adobe mud or cinder block house, or, the endless white sand beaches lined with all-inclusive hotels and condominiums. Well there are those things, and, large modern cosmopolitan cities, usually overcrowded and chaotic but with everything you would expect to find in a European city.And for the adventuresome type willing to take a few risks to explore the less accessible Mexico either in their own transportation or on local buses, you can visit Spanish Colonial cities that ooze character and civility, and Mayan temples from 2 millennia ago.
There are enormous desert areasoften referred to as ‘Terra Caliente’ where you do not want to get stranded with temperatures well into the 40’s C. You had better ensure you have enough fuel before venturing into these parts. On one of our earlier drives through Mexico we rescued a Mexican family after 2 days on the side of a dusty road without fuel food or water. We gave them all we had but realizing it was still not enough fuel to get to the next significant town we drove off to find more fuel for them. In more remote areas you can usually find an entrepreneur with a 45 gallon drum of fuel that will siphon into your tank for a premium but not exorbitant price.
To truly experience the history and grandeur of the Spanish occupation, the centuries old architecture increasingly undergoing refurbishment, the millenniums old Mayan temples cities and artefacts’, the territorial conflicts with the United States, the fight for independence, and the few remaining areas where indigenous Mexicans still eke out a subsistence on small-holdings, clinging to the ways of the past, there is no better way than to drive yourself. There are expansive distances that need to be travelled, so we have chosen to experience specific regions on different road trips reducing the fatigue factor. For travelling in Mexico, although vastly improved with modern Autopista’s, or ‘cuotas’ (Toll highways) which are very expensive but time savers, can be a hard grind of mountains, villages protected by often unmarked speed bumps called Topes large enough to launch a vehicle into space at 60 KPH, and deserts that for most of the year offer little to wow, except perhaps in the spring when cacti bloom. And then there are the human hazards.
Stories abound about drug cartels, kidnappings, corrupt municipal police looking for bribes or ‘mordida’, and unfortunately these human challenges are true. The incessant roadblocks of Federal Police, Municipal Police, and Military, all heavily armed, occasionally with masks standing behind machine gun turrets, can be very intimidating but to the locals it’s an assurance that there is a presence to combat the unlawful bandido’s usually connected to one drug cartel or another. Then add the vigilante roadblocks to the list, they try to fill any void left by the police in combatting the cartels. Over the many months we have driven through Mexico karma has seemingly worked in our favour. The roadblocks you cannot avoid, just accept it is part of the experience of driving in Mexico, but we have never been confronted by bandido’s, and only in one area did we run into aggressive underpaid municipal police demanding a bribe for some trumped up driving infraction… which we refused to pay and demanded to be taken to the police station to see their superiors. It seems they wanted to avoid that conversation and backed down, but suggested we leave the city. “No problemo, we’re out of here”!
The reported incidents and our few experiences are a real shame as it fuels the fear mongering of foreign governments that seem to capitalize upon bad news by issuing warnings against travelling in Mexico. However there is enough data online that shows many North American and European cities have crime rates, including car high jacking, kidnapping, muggings, and violent behaviour well in excess of the rates in Mexico. The only earnest attempt to break in to our bus in the last 5 years was in France. We were shot at in the U.S., sure they weren’t trying to hit us or they would have, but none the less…! The Honduran police in so far as corruption goes make the Mexican police look like novices, and if you really want to visit a place where you feel unwelcome, try Albania where driving a stolen car is a status symbol!
Travelling to any foreign country where the laws, traditions, values, customs and socio-economics differ, needs to beundertaken with a high degree of respect and understanding of all those things. We are guests in someone else’s space and need to act accordingly. Bravado and brash behaviour won’t even get you a cup of coffee, but could well rile a national that thinks you are abusing his countries hospitality.
But beyond all the hazards and cautions, the average Mexican is extremely honest, hardworking, and family oriented and can relate to visitors on those levels. Which is why we always divert our conversations with the authority figures to family, both theirs and ours, we then have something in common.
We love the lack of rules and regulations that in most parts of the world are over-bearing and restrictive, for the good of whom, I’m not sure! But in Mexico you take far more personal accountability for your actions. There’s no opting out of responsibility because there was no sign on a cliff warning of the hazard or a fence restricting access. No, in Mexico you are free to fall off that cliff if you are dumb enough to fool around on the edge!
Festivals are a frequent event, not for the attraction of visitors but for pure enjoyment of the locals, a time to dance, sing, with the mariachi bands in full glory, all for the enjoyment of the family with children usually a major focus of any celebration. And rather than a tourist beach, to be on a ‘locals’ beach on a Sunday afternoon is sheer delight and a lesson in cross generational togetherness.
We have had the opportunity to work with local organizations in a charitable vein. Not one of those that ask for a few thousand dollars to cover the cost of getting you there and feeding and housing you, but those where the little things count like providing a few meals or some clothing to the less fortunate. In our most recent trip to Mexico we became involved with an orphanage in a small townwhere 14 children between 3 and 13, had been rescued from the streets or the rubbish dump where they had been abandoned and often abused, but now in the loving care of a Mexican couple accepting help from wherever they can get it. The school age children are now all attending school in uniforms washed and pressed daily, in a loving and nurturing environment where they now, thanks to volunteers building an extension on the house, each have their own bed with the boys and the girls in separate rooms. A humbling experience to watch the older children looking out for the younger ones ensuring they have enough food on their plates and that their behaviour is good.There are few tears, just lots of laughter and smiles. These kids have already figured out crying and complaining gets them nothing and nowhere! Another example and lessonin family values.
Mexico is changing, a developing country. The growth of the middle class, industry, and infrastructure development are all signs that this once 3rd world country is coming of age.The hard line on the drug cartels supported by the general population can only be a good thing. It won’t be an overnight morphing, but a long gradual journey that other countries do not help by encouraging people not to visit Mexico. It’s possible that a resurgence of Mexican tourism can help this country down the road of prosperity. Let’s hope the prosperity does not change the values of these wonderful people.
Photography by Wendi Robbins