Tag Archives: Expats in Mexico

Viva Mexico!

 

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The following blogpost was written by Terry Denton. As a recently arrived resident of Mexico, I found it well worth sharing.

 

The Media’s Myopia

If you look up myopia in the free dictionary.com you will find it defined as ” . . . a visual defect in which distant objects appear blurred because their images are focused in front of the retina rather than on it; nearsightedness.”  What you won’t find there, but probably should, are pictures of almost every major U.S. cable and broadcast news network.

Most of us have long since figured out that the 24-hour news cycle demands a relentless stream of drama dripping, nerve-jangling “Breaking News” alerts every half-hour. God forbid eyeballs should be allowed to wander. That reality is unfortunate on a number of levels, but nowhere more so than here where an entire noble nation is callously maligned.

Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that the media “has it in for” Mexico. Not at all. This is not another rant against media bias. What I do maintain, however, is that in their insatiable thirst for the salacious, Mexico and its 112 million proud people are in the minds of the media – assuming they bother to think about such things at all – unfortunate collateral damage. Just like the definition above, the media’s image of Mexico is blurred precisely because their focus is on one relatively small, admittedly ugly reality and thus falls woefully short of the retina of responsible reportage.

As an unrepentant lover of Mexico, I confess it is hard not to take this personally. What if day after day you had to read gross exaggerations, half-truths and outright, and often outrageous, lies about someone you cherished? You don’t need to respond to my rhetorical question because we both know that it would make your blood boil. So imagine how I feel, laboring away in the vineyards of travel and being subjected to a flood of negative news reports about Mexico, a country of incredible beauty, rich history and some of the finest people God ever planted on this planet.

 

The Three Metrics That Matter

Let’s turn our attention to three practical metrics you can use for measuring the safety of Mexico.

Metric One:  Geography

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Allow me to share a couple of realities that seldom get mentioned by the media.  The first is the fact that the vast majority of the security problems in Mexico are restricted to towns along the border and a few other scattered sites. It is worth noting that Mexico has over 2500 municipalities, and security problems have been concentrated in just 18 of them. You probably won’t run across this embarrassing little jewel either, embarrassing to the US that is. It almost makes you question the wisdom of staying at home.

The second fact rarely discussed is the immense size of Mexico (roughly the size of Western Europe) and the distances between historical hot spots and resort cities. Take a look at the map below. You may be surprised to discover that it is roughly 1000 miles from Juarez to Cancun, and almost 800 miles from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. How head-scratchingly strange we here in the U.S. would find it if a potential visitor from a foreign country shared with us that he was apprehensive about visiting San Diego because he had heard of a recent ugly incident in New Orleans.

 

Metric Two:  Statistics

4-305-Cancun Mexico Beach

Here are a few interesting facts you probably have not heard in the media:

1)              The Mexican Ministry of Tourism revealed that 2011 was a record-breaking year for tourism with 23.4 million international travelers visiting Mexico in 2011.

2)              The Mexican Ministry of Tourism announced that 4.99 million international tourists visited Mexico between January-April 2012, representing an increase of 5.3 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

3)              Mexico is currently rated 10th in the world rankings for most international visitors, and has publicly set a goal to be in the top 5 by 2018.

4)              There are currently no US travel advisories in place for popular tourist destinations like Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya and Tulum, the Riviera Nayarit, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende, Leon or even Mexico City.

 

Metric Three:  Experience

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If you were to ask me the number one reason I believe Mexico is safe I would say it is based on my own personal experience. I have been traveling there for over 25 years, multiple times many years, without ever once being threatened or harassed. My story is but one of millions as the statistics above corroborate.

If you would like to hear some real stories from real people talking about the real Mexico, just visit the Mexico Taxi Project. These are unscripted comments from consumers just like you on their way home from the airport upon returning to the US. OK, there may be a couple of folks in those clips still feeling the negative effects of over-indulgence but hey, hangovers don’t reach the threat threshold set for this blog post.

 

SUMMARY

I hope I have demonstrated that striking Mexico off your list of vacation destinations based solely on money driven media reports is, dare I say it, illogical, irrational and well, myopic. The real shame is that you are depriving yourself of one of the most value centered travel experiences available anywhere in the world. Mexico has world-class hotels, incredible dining, exciting activities and rich traditions, all tendered to the world by humble masters of unparalleled service.

 

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Unfortunately, this poor blogger doesn’t have a prayer by himself of making the least dint in the news coverage of Mexico. Unbowed and undeterred, however, I shall keep on lending my own voice to many others crying in the wilderness. I shall attend Mexico, I shall defend Mexico, I shall recommend Mexico!  My only hope is your decision, fellow traveler, when it is made, will be based on a basic grasp of geography, a familiarity with a few simple statistics and a confident reliance on the consistent testimony of a legion of travelers to Mexico with irrefutable firsthand knowledge.

Whatever you eventually decide, I will fully respect your decision. But please—and again I say please, don’t let a myopic media’s thirst for mayhem rob you of experiencing one of the world’s great treasures. Take if from one who knows, you will be the poorer for it.

Thor

The ears may be embarrassing right now, but just wait ’til he’s the size of a small pony!

I pulled our old Silverado up to the closed chain ink gate in Camp Verde, Arizona and read the sign:

Don’t trespass unless you can outrun a dobie who will cover the distance from the house to here in 2.5 seconds.

OK, that’s not exactly what the sign said, but the message was clear. We had found the home of Thor, the Doberman Pinscher puppy we had purchased via the Internet. I gave him his name, and so far, it looks as though it fits.

I had previously owned an Akita, but she passed away after 13 years. We were moving to Mexico, so I decided I wanted a replacement, another large dog, primarily for protection but also as a companion on my walks along the malecon beside lovely Lake Chapala.

Searching the web for a suitable puppy, when I came upon http://www.bigdobies.com, I was intrigued, especially by the “big” part of their URL. I soon learned that Suzan and Paul Baker indeed bred large dobies, pups that would grow to 30 inches at the shoulder and weigh as much as 130 pounds. I was hooked.

All went well with the Bakers. We drove from our home on the Oregon coast to Arizona to pick Thor up, then headed south. To make certain he imprinted with me, I insisted that Barbara do the driving until we got to Rio Rico, a small town about 14 miles north of the Mexican border. This gave me some crucial hours in the car to make sure our new puppy knew who was boss.

The next day I took over the wheel, convinced Thor now knew who was in charge. For three days he was subjected to the sights, sounds, and sensations (including the ubiquitous topas, Mexican speed bumps) of a typical road trip south of the border. He had company in the car, as we also have two small papillons, a male, seven-pound Beau, and a female, 14-pound Teri, as well as a two-year-old, 16-pound male schnoodle, Chico. What can I say?

The long and short of it is we arrived safely at our new hacienda. We’re still adjusting to life below the Rio Grande.

Teri has always been tormented by Chico, who constantly bites and holds onto her long, feathery tail. There is justice in this world, however, as now Chico is having to contend with Thor, who delights in glomming onto his little pal’s tail and giving it a good tug.

It’s hilarious watching the already 20-pound, ungainly Thor, sliding along on the stone-tile floors, holding on for dear life as a seriously miffed Chico drags him all over the house in an exasperated attempt to break free.

Poor Thor.

I say this because of his trimmed ears. Originally, I had opted not to have them cut, but wanting to have him look the part of a protector, I changed my mind. To ensure the ears will stay erect takes at least two months, and involves keeping each ear taped to a round post made of foam, and then looping the tape around both to hold them steady. If puppies are capable of embarrassment, Thor’s in trouble.

Somehow, on our trip south, we lost the Elastikon bandage tape the Baker’s had provided, forcing us to find another brand of elastic-adhesive tape to replace it. Turns out there’s a reason Elastikon is what savvy dobie owners use. Our replacement tape has led to an ongoing ear-taping nightmare.

Instead of leaving the ears wrapped for five days, with a two-hour air-circulating reprieve sandwiched in, we have to re-tape the ears daily, because Thor scratches the bandages to the point they look like earring balls. I’m I worried we’ll get to the point where we feel so sorry for him (not to mention our own frustration), we’ll give up on the whole ear thing.

So if in future you happen to run into Thor, and notice his narrow, pointed (because of the cutting), limp ears you’ll know why he looks so pathetic.

But please don’t laugh or tease him about it. Remember, floppy ears or no, he’ll be the size of a small pony, and can cover 50 yards of ground in 2.5 seconds!

Mexican Train

Not this.

 

This.

 

Mexican Train.

You might think I am referring to a locomotive that rattles noisily down steel tracks somewhere in Mexico. Well, I am not. I am talking about a popular board game using dominoes that I discovered through friends.

A year ago or so, when in Mexico, Tom and Dee Grant, along with another couple, Don and Leslie, introduced my wife, Barbara, and I to the game. I forgot about the fun event until our last visit to the Grant’s home. That evening we again played Mexican Train, but with another couple as Don and Leslie weren’t available.

During the game, funny little things occurred that brought chuckles. Soon the double entendres were flying. I laughed until my eyes were blurry. The game went on for five hours. Barbara won. She’s a games person.

Anyway, when we returned to our home in Oregon, I decided to buy the game. Fearlessly, I went online and found www.mexicantrainfun.com.

Wow! Check out the website and you will see why it nearly blew my mind. It’s not exactly the slickest website in the world, but boy is it ever filled with, well, content. I thought I’d find a simple game featured here — you know, a box full of dominoes,  the other necessary pieces, and some simple instructions. Wrong. Instead, I was faced with a a long list of choices.

First, which set did I want? here were five options: a Double 6 with threes and fives (the number of pips on a tile), the most popular size, along with a Double 9, a Double 12 with 91 dominoes with the tile pips ranging from blank (0) to 12, a Double 15 with 136 dominoes ranging from 0 to 15, and a Double 18 featuring 190 dominoes, with the tile numbers ranging from 0 to 18. This one allows you to play more complicated games.

The website features a video to help you see the games and the colors on the various sets. In addition to dominoes with pips, they’re also available  with numbers (makes ‘em easier to read). There are various racks and trays (wood or plastic), a rules and strategy book, tournaments to sign up for, and domino clubs to join. There’s even a blog site for players’ comments.

For example, a question was posed on the site about a player announcing that he wanted to “go out” on a double (a tile with the same number of pips on each half), but not having a tile to answer it. The rules were checked, and seeing a name of a recognized expert on the game they called her. Her response was that you must answer a double to go out. This changes the strategy of the game a great deal, since you should try to hold a tile that coordinates with a double, or be sure to play a double earlier if it doesn’t match anything in your hand so you can go out, or, if it is a low double, hang onto it to the end because it will be low points in your hand. Get it?!

You are wondering why I don’t explain the above in greater, more lucid detail, it’s because I really can’t, at least not yet. I am still a novice. Like I’ve said, I’ve only played the game twice. I’m not Barbara!

I have learned one important detail, however. It turns out that the owner of the premises where the game is being played is the final arbiter in all disputes. It might pay to host the game.

What’s available on the website doesn’t stop there. They sell train markers, a set of eight that come in solid colors or with glitter, or a Double 6 with black dots and brass spinners (don’t ask). You can buy a container (case) in vinyl, tin, wood, or aluminum, and carry it in a tote bag with a Mexican Train logo. Ot how about a yard sign for advertising that Mexican Train is being played at your place tonight?

They sell train hubs in clear plastic, or wood hubs for six or eight players. Some sets have train hubs that come with sounds. Even chicken sounds! And why not also get yourself a set of 10 colored chicken markers while you’re at it? Or there’s always the interactive yellow hub with chicken-foot and train graphics and sounds. Simply push “train sound” when you start a train, or “chicken crow” when you start a double (again, don’t ask!).

There are attractive red caboose pencil sharpeners, dominoes with jumbo sized pips or numbers, even a spiffy, four-fold domino tabletop. There are large train markers, the Mexican Train whistle key chain, and, best of all, a large glass train in a silver gift box. And of course you have to have scorecards, and an official train pen.

It’s apparently highly recommended that you cover your game table with felt. It makes for quieter play, and the tiles slide more easily. Also, since dominoes pick up dirt from table surfaces, people’s hands, food, and drink, over time they become dirty. You guessed it. The site offers cleaning remedy suggestions.

Being a party animal, I decided I wanted to be able to play with eight players, so I opted for the professional-sized Double 15. Hey, it was on sale, at a whopping 19% discount. I saved $16. Plus, bonus, it came with a faux cowhide Leatherette case with a snap closure. And the train hub is interactive. You know, with those funny chicken sounds.

I stopped short of purchasing the game night lawn sign. I like to think that shows a certain steely sort of masculine will and determination.

On the other hand, it could simply be because I don’t have a lawn.

Learning good manners, Mexican-style

Mexico — Viva la differencia!

Preparing for our move to Mexico, Barbara and I have read and reread Judy King’s article she published in the Lake Chapala Review in February of this year.

It contains valuable information that I am copying and offering to those of you planning to visit Mexico.

Judy’s advice is to start by learning her list of “basic etiquette tips and customs.” She says not to be discouraged, as it might take time to automatically respond correctly, and stop saying “Good bye,” when you think you mean “Hello.”

OK, here we go.

Adios: Whenever driving and you want to shout a cheery greeting to those you are passing, or when you meet someone on the sidewalk, but can’t take time to stop and visit, the correct greeting is “Adios.” The only time you say “Buenos dias,” (Good day), is when you have time to stop and chat. Coming or going, you are blessing those you meet by saying, “Adios.” In effect, you are placing the person in God’s hands.

Eye contact: I was taught to look one in the eyes when speaking to them. In Mexico, holding one’s gaze is deemed aggressive or flirtatious behavior. So, look at or near the other person’s eyes. With the opposite sex, intent eye contact can be considered a come-on. In some rural areas, looking intently at a baby can be interpreted as an attempt to cast the “evil eye.” You can show your good intentions and release the parents’ concern by reaching out and softly touching the baby’s hand or foot.

Introductions: When you meet someone new, be the first to respond vocally to the formal introduction. That way you can be the one to say, “Con mucho gusto” (with much pleasure). Your new acquaintance will then respond with one of the several more difficult phrases.

Handshaking: Men always shake hands at a first introduction, and at the next several meetings. Just a gentle squeeze, pr favor, as a bone-crushing grip is considered aggressive and invasive. Men’s handshakes evolve into a traditional abrazo (hug), where the handshake is used to move in closer as the men exchange a hearty hug, and three warm pats on the upper back. Women must initiate all handshakes. More often the handshake between a man and a lady or between two ladies is just a soft touching of right hands, and a kiss near the right cheek. Even the tiniest toddlers are taught to offer their hands for the saludos (greetings), often before they learn to talk. All girls and many little boys are accustomed to giving each adult un besito (a little kiss) when they arrive and as they prepare to depart.

Tossing and throwing: Never, ever toss something to a Mexican, even a close friend. The simple act of lofting a pencil or a key ring across a room is viewed as a harsh insult and can cause an immediate hurt and an angry reaction.

Physical contact: It might take you some time to learn to cope with being bumped, jostled, and touched in crowded situations. My cop street-wise side likely would have me immediately reaching for my wallet, thinking I was surrounded by pick pockets. In large crowds, as at fiestas, street markets, parades, and sporting events, I noted that when I paused to clear a space and waited for others to pass, those coming toward me never exchanged the courtesy, and often nudged me out of the way. When I realized that the constant contact was a normal situation, I wondered if they were being deliberately inconsiderate? My attitude changed, however, when I realized that many Mexicans grow up with whole families, including three or four children, sleeping in a single room. With the extended family living in a single dwelling, the inevitable and constant physical contact at home gave bumping and touching on the street a different context. Studies show that North Americans reflect their need for space by communicating most comfortably at a distance of 36-48 inches. Hispanics, on the other hand, move in closer to about 18 inches.

The shopkeeper: Try to remember to say “Buenos dias” or “Buenos tardes”  (Good afternoon) as you enter a business, even if the owner or clerk is not in sight. We’re accustomed to not “bothering” the clerk until we need help. Delaying that first greeting is considered not only unfriendly, but also dismissive to Mexican employees.

Put the money into the hand: OK, a small detail, but an important one. At the grocery store, the taco stand, even when paying the housekeeper each week, put the money directly into their hand. Placing it on the counter or tabletop for them to pick up is considered a snub—an indication that you don’t want to make direct contact with them.

The (even slightly) bad words and smutty jokes: Don’t learn to swear in Spanish (too late for me!), leave the Spanish words for pirates and parrots. That way you won’t be tempted to disgrace yourself, or even let a bad word slip accidentally. Today’s Mexico, even among the rich and famous, is more like it was north of the border in my grandma’s day—at least where language is concerned. Yes, you might hear workmen drop a string of expletives. So be it. While slightly off-color jokes and double entendres often are bandied about when the men and the women are in separate groups, it is extremely disrespectful in the presence of the opposite sex or in front of children.

Remember. Mexico is not North America. Viva la differencia!