Random Notes from Old Mexico

o Taking a car, even a ’74 Volksy pop-top, across the U.S. border far into Mexico requires an import permit which is paid for at the border by posting a bond on a credit card. The windshield sticker which serves as evidence of the bond is good for six months and must be removed by Mexican customs before its expiration. It doesn’t take too long, and the lady that handled it was efficient. Presto, you’re driving in a foreign country with a different culture. That means narrow roads with no shoulders where the multitude of roadside crosses and shrines say: Pay attention.
o The first problem came soon. We got temporarily lost in the entry city. There were no signs. If you don’t know the way you shouldn’t be there! Next came the lengthy and repeated road repairs, requiring extensive travel over rutted dirt paths behind creeping semi-trucks. There seem to be two kinds of roads in Mexico (toll roads excepted), those being rebuilt and those that should be! I exaggerate. I later found that the vibration from the rough trail had loosened and removed the (tightened, I had checked it) thumbscrew that holds my starboard air filter together, with the possible ingestion of dust into the engine. Oh joy.

o Our first notable stop was in Copala, an old gold-mining town founded by one Francisco Ibarra in 1565, with its small zocolo (plaza) and its “new” church built in 1624. Copala’s steep and narrow cobble-stone street piercing a hilly jungle setting with pigs and chickens running free enabled us to forget the dirt paths and toll roads that got us there. We stayed at David’s, a quirky hotel built more recently by an American. After the most tasty chile rellenos (stuffed pepper) and salsa we’ve ever enjoyed we retired to a comfortable hacienda-style room ($25).
o In the morning, after some bird-watching along the mountain road we drove to Restaurant el Granero, down the mountain in a nearby Spanish colonial town, Concordia. It is a comfortable hacienda-style eatery dating from the 1800’s with various farm implements displayed and a large street-scene mural. Before the delicious huevos rancheros (ranch eggs) arrived we were visited at our table by the owner who shared with us some enlargements of old-time photos. One was of his wife’s great-uncle, a general, and most of the others were of steely-eyed guys with 30/30 Winchester rifles staring into the camera before their next foray against the national army of the Porfirio Diaz government. Diaz was president for 35 years (1876-1911) and was most noteworthy for selling one-fifth of Mexico to wealthy Mexicans and foreigners, which heavily impacted poor Mexicans. This led to a revolution involving most notably Francisco (Pancho) Villa and Emiliano Zapata. We left the restaurant with a personal gift from the owner, some of his mother’s home-baked cookies done up with a red ribbon.
o One main attraction for Anita and I in Mexico is bird-watching. Camping on a peninsula 700 miles down with little development and lots of wetlands around not only gave us a world-class view of gorgeous pink sunrises and orange sunsets over the distant palm trees but also our first exceptional birding. We were treated to flocks of Groove-billed Ani, Roseate Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Egret, Crow, Lark Sparrow, Frigatebird and Pelican, as well as individual Caracara, Blackhawk, Magpie Jay, Kiskadee, Woodpecker, Phoebe, Kingbird and others. Oh — because of the many bright flowers on trees and bushes the butterflies are also plentiful, of many colors and designs, some with big “eye” markings to scare potential predators. I saw one with both moving and stationary wings. Never saw that before!
o Camping in a coconut grove requires caution as a falling coconut can shatter a windshield or a skull. And there may be other falling objects. During a previous trip earlier in the year we heard a WHUMP under a nearby palm tree. Looking over, we saw that a large lizard had fallen to the ground. After several moments he shook it off and lumbered on his short legs into the bush, probably vowing never to sleep in a palm tree again. Last Saturday we had a treat — it was coconut harvest day. Looking over the chief harvester who had arrived at the base of a nearby palm tree, I saw: a teen-age boy, cap reversed, ear-ring, confident look, and moving downward, longish arms, hip-hop pants and bare feet. He stretched out his arms, placed his hands on the opposite side of the trunk, and then walked up the tree! Soon nestled in the palm fronds some forty feet up, he pulled the end of a rope from his waistband, hauled up a machete and cut the fruit off the tree, letting it fall. Then he reversed the procedure and with gravity assist was shortly back on the ground.
o While traveling in Mexico one can’t help making a comparison with travel in the U.S. On the principal north-south (toll) highway in western Mexico one notices the scarcity of traffic. Where are all the semis? Less economic life has its benefits. We also saw few recreational vehicles, and certainly in the trailer parks we generally stay in there are few other travelers. (The ones we do see tend to be from British Columbia.) Tourism is ‘way down. How much of this is due to the economy and how much is due to the scary stories (with the object of keeping US dollars in the US, methinks) being published about Mexico in the U.S.? We don’t know. Everyone we spoke with almost without exception prior to our trip mentioned that it would be “too dangerous” for them. Sure, I’m sitting here enjoying free wi-fi in a park restaurant patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean with a huge tree to my left and a a sweeping vista of a bay to my right and I “tremble with fright” as the waves roll in. Not.
o One of Mexico’s joys for us, as you’ve no doubt already gathered, is the food. The fruits and vegetables are simply marvelous, which we as vegetarians particularly appreciate. The flavor of oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, cucumbers and other produce is so much better than what we can usually get in the States. We’re looking for some large, flavorful radishes like we bought earlier this year from two girls who had set up a roadside stand. We sliced them and with cheese on top they made a memorable snack. We did get a small loaf of tasty banana-bread yesterday from a favorite road-side stand. This is in a village of (mostly) banana-bread and coconut-bread roadside stands. That’s the way it’s done. Other villages will have wood carvings, furniture, etc.
o The Mexican people who live in urban areas seem to be as uncertain as the rest of us as to where this economic recession will lead. Many full-time workers have been cut to part-time. In the countryside many people still live off the land and the sea, and for them the impact should be less severe. An old guy behind a horse- or donkey-drawn tiller (both of which we have seen recently) will no doubt view the economic contraction differently than a wage-slave will.
o Of particular concern in Mexico, as in the U.S. (after Wall Street), is the automotive industry, amounting to one-fifth of the manufacturing sector and a similar portion of foreign exports. The U.S. Big Three have plants here and while they have not yet cut back on their investment plans they do have plans to cut the workforce. Investment plans currently include $3 billion for the new Ford Fiesta and various GM investments totalling $3.6 billion. However they are projecting a loss of over 27,000 automotive jobs here.

Don Bacon is a retired army officer who founded the Smedley Butler Society several years ago because, as General Butler wrote, war is a racket.

4 thoughts on “Random Notes from Old Mexico”

  1. Two things I noticed in Mexico last year.
    1) There was almost no mention of the United States in newspapers and on television. This is quite a change from 25 years ago and from Europe, which still feeds the illusion of the hyper-importance of the United States. In Mexico, even the television shows were virtually all produced in Spanish, a sharp contrast from 25 years ago, when I turned on the TV in the hotel only to see the smiling face of Archie Bunker.
    2) There was an extensive effort to help the victims of flooding in Tabasco (Mexico’s Katrina), which received scant cover in the US media. Though the Mexican government seemed not to have much in the way of stocks on hand, they were able to crank up well organized collection efforts immediately. More impressive still was the attitude of Mexicans that if any Mexicans are hurting, all Mexicans are hurting. All in all it was a very impressive display of community spirit, which seems lacking in el Norte.

  2. In the one newspaper I bought, I noticed one news article and one opinion piece on the U.S. The first covered the Endeavor landing and the second was:
    “El Dream Team de Obama: ?continuidad o cambio?” (continuation or change)
    The author (Alberto Senes) wrote of the appointment of HRC as a contrast with the hope of progressives for a foreign policy change, and then quoted Obama as responding: “the change comes from me” (el cambio viene de mi). He goes on to suggest that HRC may be in a bit over her head (my words) with the likes of Iraq, Afghanistan and Bombay.
    Regarding the 12 million “indocumentados” he also covers the contrasting appointments of Tino Cuellar as a principal immigration advisor (good) and Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security (bad), and then Bill Richardson and Eric Holder, both good.

  3. One thing I would add: NEVER drive on Mexican highways at night, under any circumstances. It’s just too dangerous, because of wandering livestock and hazards such as the half-finished bridge, unmarked, in rural Chihuahua which just killed the driver and six passengers who tried to drive across it in the dark. (There were no barriers, no warning signs of any kind. The victims were visiting Americans who had relatives in the area. Their SUV landed wheels-up in the river.)
    Mexican bus drivers talk to each other and are aware of such menaces. Foreigners may not be as lucky.

  4. You got that right, Mary. The roads are hazardous enough during the day. I’ve driven (defensively!) thousands of miles on them but seldom at night when the drunks are about and other hazards are magnified. Again, it’s a foreign country with a different culture that calls for different behavior particularly when driving.
    And let’s be fair — there is a lot to see and marvel at when one drives in the daylight through the countryside and villages of old Mexico. Amusing things, too, like guys with push-brooms cleaning the highway shoulder and a herd of cows crossing the road.

Comments are closed.