When our trip was in the early stages of planning our timeline was frequently debated. Unlike me, Jill had the advantage of a reference point. She had spent many hours on other travelers’ blogs and had a feel for a slow pace versus a quick pace. Envisioning what kind of travelers we would find ourselves to be Jill estimated accordingly. I on the other hand was shooting blind. And as is often the case, this did not stop me from defending my position fervently. I saw Jill’s position of allotting three months for Mexico as a gross overestimate. I considered the country a hurdle between us and the rest of our trip. For reasons unknown to me at the time, I found it easier imagining us cracking into cultures in Central America, and saw Mexico as an impenetrable wall. What I later came to realize was that although publicly I spoke skeptically of the perception of Mexico in the US, I was not immune to its influence. A part of me was, and I hate to say it, scared and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. Luckily for me, I have a stubborn enough partner who kept faith that once we were into the deep I would come around. And after stepping into our first municipal market, I did.
While traveling through Mexico, our first stop in many cities and towns was the market. Imagine having a year round farmers market open every day. Now imagine that everything sold there is dirt cheap. A visit to the market has become a part of our daily routine. The markets in Mexico reflect not only the local culture but also the abilities of the surrounding land and climate. We were constantly introduced to new and strange fruits and veggies with which to experiment. As a result we have had our fair share of failed meals and of fruits that have spoiled, but it has forever changed the way we shop. It is too easy, while at a big-box grocery store to slip into routine and ignore so much that is available. In addition to all the fresh fruits, veggies, spices, meats (a bit more graphic than your US butcher) and cheeses, the markets were also, in my opinion the best places to dine out. It’s not only the cheapest place to eat, but they would often have comfort foods specific to the region that are often overlooked in the restaurants. Whether or not we needed to buy anything, the municipal market was always a stop in whichever town we found ourselves.
The vision of the Mexican landscape I had in my head prior to travel lacked any hint of diversity. I knew of the beaches, but anything inland was a light brown with sparse low lying bushes and the occasional cactus. It was hot, and it was dry. It did not include lush pine forests, dense jungle, towering volcanoes or cascading waterfalls a shade of blue I had never seen before in nature. We have read that Mexico has more ecological diversity than any other single country in the world, and although I still find that hard to believe, after driving through the entire country, I find it at least plausible.
One of the things I found very difficult to get used to was the amount of trash in Mexico. It’s everywhere. It’s on the sides of streets, in unprompted landfills seemingly in the middle of nowhere and along every hiking trail we found throughout the country. I imagine part of it is a reflection of a weak infrastructure but the social acceptance of littering is atrocious. Nothing sums it up better than when I see an empty plastic bottle fly out the window of a bus. To me it’s not just the fact that someone was willing to toss the bottle onto the asphalt but that they felt comfortable enough to do so in front of strangers. Where’s the commercial with a Mayan standing in a landfill with a single tear running down his cheek? It shows how indoctrinated we are as Amercians as the sight of littering is the visible equivalent to nails on the chalkboard. Before the ship turns around in Mexico they’ll need to scale up their educational efforts until they reach the tipping point when public shaming takes the helm.
Another issue I found difficult to stomach was the treatment of dogs throughout Mexico. I’m not alone on this as it is frequently a topic of discussion among travelers. I’ve heard the arguments from a number of locals that to spay or neuter strays is an unfeasible expense. I’ve also heard the argument that to have a dog neutered is an insult to the famous Mexican machismo. Whatever lies on the surface beneath it is the fact that the culture here does not contain the same love for dogs as we do in the US. The hypocrisy of our love for dogs above others aside, it is deeply engrained in our psyche which makes viewing anything different very difficult. Abuse is regularly seen and the tactics used to control populations are so cruel I can’t find myself capable of putting them in type. Let’s just say they could use a Mexican Bob Barker. Both the dogs and the trash are similar in that they are reflections of a difference in culture and a difference in infrastructure. Although these issues are not only Mexico’s but all of Central America, Mexico is the most capable of addressing them through education.
When I think back to planning our itinerary over a year ago, I can still hear the arguments that Jill made to me, arguments that at the time fell on deaf ears. It’s easy for me to see now that my position was not based on facts but fueled by a general perception that even I found it difficult grasp firmly. I didn’t know why I felt the way I did which made it difficult for me to rationally argue my stance, a sure sign of prejudice. And prejudice is impossible to rationally win over. The only way I was able to change my mind was not through debate but by gaining experiences that showed my original perception could not be reflected in reality. Our reality was that we spent 3 months driving over 5,000 miles throughout the country. We fell in love with the landscapes, the food, the cultures and the people. We highly recommend Mexico as a travel destination. After only three months we feel as if we only scratched the surface and are certain that we will be returning in the future.