Best of the Blog, Mexico, North America, Stories from the Road

Mexico: Our Lovely Southern Neighbor

Growing up we were told that Mexico is a dangerous country filled with drug lords and violence, but that can’t be further from the truth. These past two weeks have been my first real visit to our next door neighbor, discounting the trip I took with my family one Easter many years ago, and I couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised. Two Saturdays ago we hopped on an overnight bus from Xela to Oaxaca and entered a world of relative safety, amazing food, and even nicer people. I spent a week in Oaxaca with the program, but could have easily spent more time there. James and Kate, two of my friends from Somos Hermanos, were seriously talking about finding an apartment in Oaxaca after the program ends in June. The beauty of Oaxaca lies in the fact that it is a safe, prosperous city were I can run without being harassed, walk alone at night with little of the fear I have in Xela, and eat some of the best food I have ever tasted for less than $20.

On the food note, it really is amazing. Mexico has phenomenal food and Oaxaca has the best food in Mexico so you can see what I’m talking about here. I ditched the group meals most nights to explore the culinary scene with Kane and it was so worth it. The Oaxacan wedding specialty at Casa Oaxaca, lengua (beef tongue) with red mole, was divine. Of all the nice restaurants we tried Casa Oaxaca was the best and I highly recommend going there. Everything from the roof top terrace ambiance to the perfection of their moles was worth the nominal expense. Seriously, we had a starter to share, two drinks each, two entrees, and dessert for about $20. It was amazing.

While in Oaxaca we did do more than eat, even though at times I didn’t want to. Our days were packed with activities from touring migrant shelters to listening to a presentation about women’s health from a midwife. The midwife’s talk was particularly interesting to me because it was so vastly different than the midwife talk we listened to in Guatemala; she focused on the science of home births and repeatedly referenced the insane amount of c-sections performed in Mexico. Mexico has some of the highest rates of c-sections in the world and this isn’t because all these births need them, it’s mostly for the sake of getting a doctor home for dinner. It was very interesting to hear her thoughts on common birthing practices and of course the less common, such as eating the placenta, which apparently is very healthy for the mother and baby. When the time came to leave the wide, clean streets of Oaxaca I was very sad indeed, but Mexico City loomed enticingly in the distance so we boarded our bus and off we went.

James, Kate, Sam, Danny, Lien, Logan, Kane, and I all were in Mexico City for the weekend for a variety of reasons; Danny and Lien were flying out to who knows where, Logan (Kane’s brother) was ending his trip in Mexico and was headed for a stop over in Las Vegas before making it home to Australia, and the rest of us were waiting for our flight to Puerto Escondido on Tuesday. Our waiting turned out to be very enjoyable. We watched a lucha libre fight on Friday night, a soccer match between Club America and Leon on Saturday, drank lots of Scotch on Sunday night, and recovered from our escapades on Monday night. Mexico City is a more expensive place than Oaxaca, but also strangely more varied. While Oaxaca is a relatively small, wealthy city, Mexico City is a huge, sprawling city that simultaneously contains slums and high rises. We stayed in the nice areas and to me Mexico City seemed like any nice big city in the world, complete with a lovely inner city park for running and a city bike rental program.

Enjoying the game at Estadio Azteca.

However, we got our taste of the rougher side of Mexico City when Kane, Logan, and I decided on a whim to go to the Club America vs Leon match. We left a bit late so we took an Uber cab there (best mode of transportation in Mexico City) only to find more police in and around the stadium than were employed in the whole of Western Australia, or so Logan said as he’s a cop in Perth. As we approached the wall of riot police, complete with armored tanks and a herd of police horses, we were informed that we couldn’t wear belts into the stadium so Kane ran up ahead to see about tickets while Logan and I retreated to find a little old lady making quite a living off storing belts. While dealing with the belt thing five policemen tackled a guy about 5 feet in front of us and dragged him off kicking and screaming. I still don’t really know why. Relived of our belts we were patted down 10 separate times, directed to our seats in a “go up, down, right, up, left, down, cross a continent” manner, and finally sat down just left of the Club America fan club that was waving flags and chanting while surrounded by riot police. Turns out our 110 peso tickets were the local tickets. The game was quite entertaining, no one else was tackled by police, there were lovely people who would bring beer to your seat, and Club America (the home team) won 2 to 1.

Come Tuesday we had spent more money than anticipated, the food is still really good in Mexico City and so is the mezcal, so we decamped for cheaper waters, aka Puerto Escondido. Puerto is a lovely little beach town on the west coast of Mexico that consists of an adorably tiny strip of restaurants surrounded by hotels and little villas. We were lucky enough to fall into an amazing cheap condo rental, because Kane and Logan had been here a week early and talked to a lovely German guy about renting his beautiful home. So that’s how I am now writing this on a terrace table covered with a palapa, Corona in hand. The beaches here are beautiful, some of the best I’ve seen, the water is bath tub temperature, and the piña coladas are plentiful. We watched a free movie on the beach last night and are headed into town tonight to walk the beach at sunset then go for a pre-dinner drink at one of the beach bars.

And now I have to bring this post to an untimely close due to the fact that I am moonlighting as an all you can eat buffet for the local mosquitoes and need to go inside, but I leave you with one last thought. People from the US often see the whole of Latin America as one big Mexico and at that as a dangerous, uninviting, backward place. This is just not true. Mexico is not Guatemala and it certainly isn’t all dangerous (there are some dangerous bits, but everywhere is like that) or uninviting in the least. So I ask, in the name of understanding, that before you make sweeping statements about a place or believe said sweeping statements please see it for yourself first. Mexico is a lovely, beautiful country that I very much want to return to someday; it is not a country filled with drug dealers and rapists like some politicians would like us to believe. Let’s try to think better of our wonderful neighbor to the south.

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