Experience It Yourself!
Most of the time, unconsciousness and lack of knowledge drive to fear of the neighbourhood, that make new rumors, incorrect or partial information. Thanks to or because of bad information the TV and other medias, supported by governments.
Also, talking to people and informing about the country you are visiting is well worthy when traveling, in order to prepare your journey, immerse yourself in the culture, understand some traditions, situations, conflicts, problems that you will face soon, or not. It is all about learning from your virtual or living experience, keeping your critical abilities.
About Mexico, we found out many things that were false, partially false or completely true, from OUR 6-months experience. Because the experience of anyone is unique. Something that sounds great and unique for you can be horrible or disgusting for someone else… We can say that we know a little of Mexico after spending more than 6 months all along this big and beautiful country.
So here are our 10 truths about Mexico.
1. Mexican Food is all about tortillas y tacos, burritos : Partly TRUE
It is true that it is difficult to escape from these corn-based food. Maize is even revered in the traditional Mexicans culture. That said, it has nothing to do with the tacos you can eat outside Mexico. And do not ask burritos because it is a fast food developed by North Americans only. Tortillas handmade, with a blue cornmeal are a treat (in Puebla). The same for some taco street bar that will offer you most of the time chicken, beef or giblets with various seasonings mostly spicy with delicious chopped onions, cilantro and lime. My best taco experience was on the central square of Amecameca, DF .
Products made with maize flour are derived to infinity and take different names depending from Mexican states (sometimes it is almost the same despite it has a different name!). This is also true for beverages such as atole . Mexican cuisine is recognized as universal Intangible World Heritage by UNESCO like Mediterranean cuisine or French cuisine. Mexican cuisine is also about beans and chili (our stomachs finally managed to get used to after few weeks) and sometimes fresh fruits and vegetables (depending on the season, delicious avocados, mangoes, pineapples, papayas, etc…).
2. Mexico = corruption : TRUE
This is generally what is said about Mexico. We can hardly say that it is wrong. This is an endemic problem in Mexico (and more generally of Central America). Corruption seems infiltrated in all levels of government and power. It is related to illegal drug traffic transiting through Mexico. What evidence do we have? Interested officers who offer services against remuneration whereas they are doing their job, or trying to charge you more when crossing Mexican borders or at toll stations, watchers on street corners in many public places, embezzlement, favoritism of some groups or persons. But again, this is not all black! We met also nice policemen!
In Michoacan, even though is one of the most sensitive states, we had a lovely time. Sharing a few days in a family has allowed us to learn more and see how corruption is part of everyday Mexican life. There, the authority is not the local representative of the state (mayor) but rather the Chief » El Jefe » , the local representative of the clan positioned in the area known as » The Knights Templars ». He decides whether you can expand your home, open your business in the town, hold a position of responsibility … and also to cut the electricity in the night (as it happened 4 months ago), or to prohibit the sale of tortillas on weekends. Crazy, isn’t it? Little to say that it is important to establish good relations with these people and networks. The mayor himself is a puppet. It is unclear whether a resident is one of them or not. This is what protects the system of influence and prevent revolts of opponents. What we also discovered is that this system is not 100% bad. Indeed, some Chiefs can be very attached to the harmonious development of the local community and facilitate favorable projects for the collective benefits, like would do a good mayor.
3. Mexico is unsecure and Mexicans are gangsters or bad persons : FALSE
Oh no! After all the bad news from the US, this is not what we have lived or seen from Mexicans . Quite the contrary ! Whether through hospitality networks like Couchsurfing or Warmshowers that we used throughout the trip, or with few words exchanged in the street with the locals, the doors were often opened to foreigners like us. Mexican gave us a big lesson of hospitality and generosity. This is often summarized in the sentence « Mi casa es tu casa » ( my house is your house).
We retain the particularly warm welcomes of Lourdes, Blanca and Abe , Sara, Glenda , Nathalia, Goana family , Daniel and Jahaziel , Valentin , Jorge, Paola , Edgar , Stephanie and Mao , Rodrigo and Lupita , Beti and Rodrigo, Alejandra , Luum Ayni, Javier , Victor, Stéphane , Oscar, Paco and Ursula among others. We again thank each of them through this little acknowledgement for helping to make our trip through Mexico a great human adventure . And experience following in Central America shows that these values are shared by many people in Central America. Yes , the world is full of good people! Leave your televisions and newspapers full of terror to go out and meet them!
« Mi casa es tu casa » ( my house is your house )
This is also what we sometimes hear Mexican that they are nice , but I must say that we’ve heard more easily the opposite about the insecurity of the country. It is riddled with corruption and fights between gangs of drug trafficking and public authority puppets (police , army, local authorities … ) . It is true that there are bad people in Mexico, but ultimately isn’t it the same in all countries ? Simply, it is about « not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time » , not to have bad luck, which you must associate the famous » What dios los bendiga ! » (God bless you ) when on the departure.
4. Mexico is a big country, diverse : TRUE
One can easily realize even if you do not bike ride. 6 months to ride and we still could not have a complete view of the extraordinary diversity of the country, both natural and cultural. Deserts of Baja California or Puebla, flat rainforests of Nayarit and the Yucatan Peninsula to the turbulent reliefs, sometimes volcanic, of central lands of Chiapas and Michoacan, always breathtaking panoramic views.
Vivid cultures, indigenous languages often spoken than Spanish, notably in the Mayan area, handcrafts wonders transmitted from generation to generation.
Be aware: Mexico will disorient you, delight your senses. It is best to spend at least 3 weeks to have a good look and take the time to share the daily life of Mexicans!
5. Tourism in Mexico is all about beaches and archeological sites : FALSE
Most of the people think about beaches when they think about Mexico. Cancun (and the Riviera Maya) is the world-widely known kingdom of mass tourism. Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta are its little brothers, with white sand beaches, warm waters, clear turquoise underwater. Also, it is known for its archeological sites like Tenochtitlan and Chichen Itza.
But no, this is not all about Mexico. If you are adventurous and curious of traditions and authenticity, there is much more than that. We really love the countryside, far from beaches, where precisely people are authentic, hospitable, friendly. There, you could enjoy traditional cuisine, experience unique moment with the real Mexico.
We particularly appreciated the lonely desert meeting turquoise waters in the Baja Californias (around Guerrero negro), the agave landscapes around Tequila and Oaxaca, protected natural areas of Chiapas, demonstration of nixtamalization in a maize feria in Puebla, swimming in a wild cenote in Yucatan, reaching tops of pyramids of remote Mayan ancient cities of Calakmul and Becan in Campeche. But of course, it depends on what you want to experience.
6. Nature in Mexico is generous : TRUE
In my memories from readings or animal documentaries, Central America and Mexico in particular have always been synonymous with me generous nature. Due to its topography, geology and latitude gradient (and relative low-development), Mexico is a mosaic of habitats, a hot spot of the world biodiversity.
It ranks 5th in the world as far as countries with the most species. It ranks first in the total number of reptiles, cacti, and pines. Its home to more than 1,000 bird species, 640 reptiles, 450 mammals, 330 amphibians and more insects than you could probably ever count.
But IN DANGER like in many tropical areas. According to INEGI Mexico has a deforestation rate of 1.2 million acres per year, one of worst in the world! Plus, Mexico has 242 species in danger of extinction, 435 considered threatened, 244 considered rare and 84 subject to special protection (INEGI Environmental Review, 1994, I cannot find an update!).
7. Mexico is little brother of the United States of America : TRUE
One could say that this is unfortunately true. Because we really felt and had confirmation that the Mexico develops (and is developing) on the US model. This could be good. Except that, given the high levels of poverty in the country , weak health and educational systems , public authorities undermined by corruption, only bad things seem copied. Results: 1st consumer country of soda , 5th country with the highest rate of obesity ( after Egypt , Jordan , Kuwait and Nauru, but ahead of the United States since 2013! ) , huge shopping malls and sprawling shopping areas, enormous 4×4, industrialization of agriculture using chemicals and GMOs, US TV series , etc. .
I must say that its larger developed neighbor is using Mexico as its dump and first playground of its multinationals with social and environmental disastrous effects : shame on Coca- Cola, PepsiCo , DuPont – Pioneer, and governments little careful to play with poverty and ignorance of the people in difficulties to make money. We are not fooled ! And their marketing campaigns and many » socially responsible » certifications will not change anything ! We wish Mexicans could soon wake up to defend their rights to another type of development and a healthy diet !
Fortunately, we have met also great initiatives that pave the way for another development in harmony with the environment and cultural diversity. And irony is that often North Americans are behind !
8. Mexico is pious and devout . TRUE
This is another image that we have of Mexico and Latin America in general . We have sometimes been stunned by the pervasiveness of religion in the lives of families, schools, media, etc… Religion is part of the identity of Mexico. Religions we should say, as they are many! We have seen admiring the pilgrimage of hundreds of cyclists and walkers towards the Church of the Virgin Guadalupe (Virgen Guadalupana). or the celebrations during the Death Day in Michoacan.
Although we have not adhered to proselytizing speech , we met these attitudes. It was sometimes difficult to understand the logic behind some very disrespectful behavior of practitioners or of Church itself that on the other hand promotes respect and peace. Example: songs and religious music in decibel disco until late at night disturbing the peace of a village (whether the church is catholic, evangelical or other), practitioners completely drunks in the middle of the day, adultery as a national sport or violence on women, and so on. But it is human nature that ‘s it!?? The great Mexican hospitality is maybe rooted in these strong popular beliefs ?
9. Mexico = Maya : FALSE
Mayan culture is only a part of the huge historical and cultural heritage of Mexico. It is true that the Mayans have left their indelible mark on their Worldwide advances in various fields such as astronomy, mathematics and architecture knowledge. But Mexico is much more than that . The Toltecs , Aztecs, Olmecs , Zapotecs and Mixtecs in turn played a major role in the history of pre-Columbian Mexico , and leave to see part of their legacy nowadays as you can see in the fabulous National Museum of Anthropology in the capital. If you are interested in archeology, history and culture , Mexico is a country worth a visit.
After our 6-months cycling tour , we have just touched its immense heritage . This cultural and ethnic diversity is reflected in the mosaic of Mexicans, after mixture with Europeans, Africans and Caribbeans (and more recently Asians) . We especially enjoyed the places where indigenous communities and culture remain ( including in Michoacan , Oaxaca, Chiapas , Yucatan states) because it was different. Indeed, in Baja California , Guadalajara or in the tourist areas , we almost felt like being in Europe or the United States.
10. Mexico is part of Central America : TRUE and FALSE
From what we have said before, there are some things that are common with other Central American countries , like the Castilian language basis (even if there are many different accents and jargons), hospitality, religious devotion , climate, cuisine based on corn, etc…
But if we consider the level of development, Mexico seems to belong rather to North America (in comparison with other Central American countries).
According to Mexican inhabitants, some consider more to belong to one or the other instead. Regardless, the important thing is that they are primarily Mexicans . Y Viva Mexico!
And if you want to review what we have seen in Mexico, click here