If you don’t like surprises, living in Mexico is probably not for you. BUT…if you love to be surprised, astonish and amazed by how different life can be in another country, and be exposed to culture around every corner, then a trip to Mexico might be the right thing for you!
There are so many differences between Canada and Mexico. These differences are not negatives. Many are positive differences! I have fallen in love with the life here in Mexico. On the other hand, I never cease to be amazed by the way of life either. My family and I are learning a lot about culture and ourselves while living here in Mexico, in less than 200 square feet for 6
Here are some of the astonishing truths we have discovered so far along our travels.
1) You can drive here safely without harm or foul. No matter what the media in the USA and Canada say, driving around Mexico can be done! Yes the roads are curvy, bumpy and filled with speed bumps. But if we can do it in a 23 ft motorhome, then driving a van or other vehicle would not be a difficult feat. The way the road system is devised in cities, and the way people “cut each other off” and “pull out in front of each other” just works! In Canada and the USA, drivers have to watch out for pedestrians, which gives the pedestrian a sense of entitlement. In Canada, if I’m at a cross walk, many people think “I don’t have to look because the driver has to stop”. It’s rather backwards, don’t you think? In Mexico, each and every pedestrian and cyclist looks out for the driver. Yes, people walk between cars, but they’re crossing when it’s safe to do so. Drivers, however, also respect other drivers, bikers and pedestrians. No, they don’t have to yield to the pedestrians but they will swerve to miss you.
2) Mexico loves topes! As mentioned before, there are many speed bumps, or, in Spanish, topes (pronounced toe-pays). We were told before leaving Canada that there are a lot of topes, but we had no idea to this extent. There are unlabelled topes in the middle of highways! There are small topes, one after another, large topes that bottom out a car, topes with rumble strips, topes made of cobblestone and even just large thick ropes as topes! These speed bumps will take a toll on your suspension and must be watched for carefully and diligently. Often, as B drives, I’m on constant lookout for topes. There are sometimes signs as warnings, but not always (much of the signage in Mexico is at the last minute, even for when and where to turn). Sometimes when there is a sign, the tope doesn’t even exist. We have encountered a few topes at speeds that were less than desirable causing cupboards to open, the fridge to pop open, and if our kids were not safely secured in car seats, I’m sure they would have hit the roof! (As B wanted to add…remember, if you hear “tope! Tope!! TOPE!!!” from the passenger seat, you might be too late!) But other than exercising the suspension, no harm was incurred to either the motorhome or any of us, thanks to seatbelts!
These topes are quiet ingenious, really, when used in the right spots. This might not sound like the case, I know. But, in actuality they replace yield or stop signs and slow traffic enough at an intersection that traffic flows without the necessity of lights. There are signs saying “una y una” which tells you to take turns one for one at the intersection. It works! People aren’t upset by other drivers and the road rage is minimal compared to what we witness in Canada.
3) If you don’t speak spanish, you can generally still travel around most parts of Mexico quite easily. Obviously having any amount spanish would be a huge asset. Thankfully we both speak some spanish, B more than I, which has been beneficial for sure! It is respectful to the people of Mexico to try, and most people really seem to appreciate it. But if you don’t speak any spanish, don’t fret, travel is still possible. With the use of translation apps, and the fact that most people speak at least some english, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting around. Many are even fluent in french, as well as english. And depending on how international the tourists are in your desired location, supermarket aisles and restaurant menus just might be bilingual.
4) Once you start speaking with the people, they are so welcoming and generous, especially when they hear you are Canadian! Overall, through our travels, we have met many people from Mexico. Many of the places we have traveled so far don’t see a lot of caucasian tourists, so people tend to stare. But by being friendly, however, they quickly warm to a smile, and adore the blond hair of our children. Be warned, Mexican people love to touch the faces and heads of our children. And in our most recent fiesta, during the parades of the Virgin of Guadeloupe, the children and I were kissed in the crowded streets. It is still slightly shocking, endearing and overwhelming to be touched. But we love being welcomed, and it is part of the culture. We embrace it as when we return to Canada I am sure we will miss the love and adoration. Many times we are also asked by complete strangers to take a picture of their kids with ours. Below is a photo of a family that comes to this specific place every year for their Christmas picture. And this year they asked our kids to be in the picture! What an honour!
5) There are a lot of fiestas and celebrations, many based around the Catholic religion. With many of these fiestas there are parades, dancing, music, rides, food and drinks! But you don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy or be part of them. B and I are non-denominational, and have walked amongst the crowds, in through the cathedrals, and have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We simply display respect, learn about the religion, and teach our children along the way.
6) Tequila is truly enjoyed by many! Need I say more? Once again, embrace it as part of the culture!
7) There are many family friendly places to visit that are not at resorts. When you looking for where to take kids in Mexico, the internet generally tells you resorts. If you want to see the real Mexico and experience the culture, you need to venture outside of the regular resort cities. We have been shocked at the fact that we love inland Mexico. A lot of our favourite spots have been inland, not by the coast where much of the tourism is. By travelling inland where it is not all resorts, we have been able to experience typical Mexican celebrations and fiestas, not geared to North American tourism, but rather toward local Mexican tourism. What better way to see the country than to immerse yourself in the culture! And I mean real immersion, and real culture!
(Picture of indigenous dancing at a festival for the Virgin of Health)
8) We had no idea Mexico gets cold. No, it’s not cold like Canada in the winter. But it is cold! Inland, away from the coast, it’s chilly, like the fall in Canada. We have experienced nights with a low of 2 degrees celsius! Who knew? It’s a good thing we packed a few pairs of pants and warm sweaters to get us through Canada and the USA as it was cold in October when we left. If we hadn’t packed for the fall weather, we would have only expected hot weather for our travels, which means we would only have had tank tops and shorts with one sweater each.
We have actually enjoyed being in some of the cooler climates as it is a nice reprieve from the hot, humid weather. We love the heat but it’s nice to not be constantly sweating, and to be able to cover up at night, cozy in bed. We love to snuggle but the heat often makes it impossible and uncomfortable to cozy up with your love. Also, with the cooler climate comes less bugs! We have enjoyed a bit of a break from the constant worry about bugs in our motorhome.
9) As just discussed, Mexico has many different climates, and with that also comes many different topographic regions as well. We have driven through luscious rainforest, dry cactus ridden desert, tropical beaches, and even evergreen forests where you would believe you were in Montana or Alberta! Driving through Mexico is so educational for the whole family. There is so much diversity in the geographical regions, as well as in the culture, throughout the country.
(Picture overlooking Pátzcuaro with the trees and lake)
10) Each region has its own culture, traditions, and food it is known for. For example, we have gone from one region, where a certain food is called chaskas (corn in a cup with mayonnaise, lime, cheese, salt and chilli pepper sauce), to a couple hours down the road, where the people have never heard of chaskas! Down the road, this same food has a different name (Elotes en vaso, or corn in a cup). With each state we visit, we get to encounter new flavours, culture and traditions. Just to list a few of the culinary pleasures there is ponche (hot fruit drink), tacos, gorditas, tostadas, torta ahogada, mole, tamales, and enchiladas. There are a few foods we haven’t been able to bring ourselves to try such as eye tacos, deep fried grasshoppers or chocolate covered ants. But overall we dive into the food and immerse ourselves in the culture as much as possible. Best way to toadstool the kids for sure!
11) A’s initially discussed you can drive in Mexico. This may be a shocker to many people, but…you are not going to drive into Mexico and instantly have to dodge dangers and violence. The media back home portrays Mexico as a very dangerous place. Yes there are dangerous areas, as with any country. But if you follow the general rule to not be out late at night, and stay away from certain areas, it is safe. There is a large police and military presence which can be intimidating. They often are carrying large caliber weapons and travel in packs but so far other than the police asking for a bribe on the side of the road, we have had no issues with the authority figures. Even when we have gotten pulled over (once we were driving in the wrong lane and once we made an illegal turn), we didn’t feel threatened and they were happy to explain the rules for future reference. We even woke up one morning with 5 or 6 military trucks as our neighbours when we camped at a Pemex gas station and they were just doing their thing having breakfast and chatting like anyone else. They were not concerned by our presence whatsoever.
This list of shocking and amazing truths could continue but I am sure you get the point. Mexico has a lot to offer, not only to people looking to party at a resort, but also to families wanting to travel through the country to see all of it’s diversity. If you ever think about doing a trip like this, take a second and ask yourself “what’s stopping me?” Then if you really want to do it, step back and make a lot of obstacles and ways to overcome them. And if your answer is money, then remember things are cheaper here in Mexico and you only live once. So take the plunge and make the memories now. You will be amazed!