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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Rethinking Mexico

There is that first time that you go to Mexico. You get off of the plane full of anticipation. Some of your fellow travellers have changed into shorts in the plane washroom. You have been forewarned about responding to anyone at the airport trying to sell you something or trying to redirect you. You make your way out of the airport and start searching for the bus that will take you to your destination, most likely an all-inclusive resort. Once out of the airport you spot the palm trees right away and immediately are aware of the warm tropical temperature. This is sure going to beat the hell out of the frigid cold back home in most of Canada. You can’t wait to get to the beach.

Everyone is in great spirits. You recognize some people from the plane who are going to be on the same bus as you. It always takes some time for the bus to leave the airport. Sometimes the bus driver and a cohort or two will try and sell you a beer for 3 bucks a pop before you are on your way. If you are really observant you might notice a crucifix or rosary beads hanging by the bus driver’s seat. A man in a coloured tee shirt (red for Air Canada) makes a few announcements to the bus passengers after everyone has been accounted for as the bus finally pulls away from the airport. He tells you of some of the dos and don’ts in Mexico.
You try to get the lay of the land as you peer out of the bus window. You quickly realize that you are indeed in a third world country. You see rundown buildings, some of which look like they were never completed. You see rebar sticking out of the roofs.  Often these buildings house restaurants that never seem to be very busy. There are no grass lawns because of the dry climate. Locally owned vehicles are often secured behind metal fences. Mounds of dirt can be seen along the roads, giving the appearance that someone just dumped the dirt there and abandoned it. You may well come to the conclusion that most of the land in the area is of little value including the prospect of growing anything on it. You get the distinct feeling that there is a lot of poverty in Mexico.
But this is not your problem. You are here on vacation. Eventually the bus pulls up to the resort you will be staying at. The reception area is always enormous. Big is meant to impress you and your fellow travellers from north of the border. People have come from all over the US and Canada to get some rays and to forget about the snowstorms and digging out their driveways. It seems that in this tropical paradise there are 2 Canadians for every 1 American.
You check in and are offered some kind of colourful looking watered down cocktail. You can’t wait to get to your room and slip your sandals on. The room turns out to be better than you might have expected. They are usually quite large. Now it is time to check the place out. There is usually a really large pool, often contoured with a bridge. There is also a smaller “adult” pool nearby. You wander passed the pools to the beach. Most Canadians live nowhere near a beach and just being on any beach in the tropics in the dead of winter is part of the dream. You’re here. You made it. It is time to relax and enjoy.
You find your way to the large dining room. All the meals are buffet style. As you are led to your seats by the hostess you notice that the other guests have varying degrees of being exposed to the sun. Some are beet red. If food is your thing there is plenty of it. It is hard not to notice rather the number of rather large people with loaded plates waddling back to their tables. Being overweight is almost the norm at Mexican all-inclusives. To some the buffet is an all you can eat place. More discerning eaters look for the fresh fruit and salads. A little bit of cilantro goes a long way. Mexican cooks seem to take delight in torturing meat cuts. 
If it is your first time in Mexico you are probably going to let the minor annoyances slide a bit. After all this is a different country. You learn very quickly that you should get your pool towels early so you can reserve one of the more choice spots by the pools. Sometime around 11 a.m. the music starts. Usually it is some kind of fast paced techno stuff. A couple of things some of the poolside disk jockeys have as part of their routine is the Looney Tunes cartoon theme and the strange “ooah ooh” exclamation. I’m not sure if the “ooah ooh” is meant to startle or as encouragement to get in a party mode.
After a day or two of lounging around the pool and baking yourselves, you decide to venture into the downtown core of the city and get a feel for how the locals live. You notice that the sidewalks are higher than back home and you have to watch your step when you get to a curb. The high sidewalks were built to direct flood waters during the rainy season. You are accosted relentlessly as you walk towards downtown with offers to look at condos, fishing trips, or restaurant coupons. Store owners try to convince you to come on in. All the while on your walk you can smell car exhaust and you hear a lot of cars honking their horns. Not exactly peace and tranquility.
You decide to check out the Catholic Church with the huge steeple. Often this is where beggars with missing limbs like to hang out. Not quite an uplifting sight. You know enough to stay away from street food as our northern bodies are not immune to what may be in some of the ingredients. You quickly realize that almost every small shop is selling the same stuff as every other small or big shop. You are hard pressed to not want to bring home a blanket with the Green Bay Packers logo on it. Mexican straw cowboy hats are quite popular for some who like to hang around outdoor bars.
Back at the resort you venture out past the pools to the beach. To actually get to the water you have to get by the poor people dressed in white who are hawking everything from jewelry to mini parachutes. These poor folks stand out in the hot sun for hours on end hoping to take home a few bucks from a day of pleading for attention with “touristos” who mostly want nothing to do with them.
You decide that you would like to explore a bit more, have an “experience” or two. Deep sea fishing usually costs an arm and a leg and what would you do with the fish if you caught one? Taking in the Mayan ruins is well worth it but you can usually get to these destinations for a lot less by using public transportation instead of being part of an organized tour. Organized tours often include stops at jewelry stores and other places you hadn’t planned to visit.
You might consider swimming with the dolphins as a once in a lifetime experience. You pretty well have to do a booze cruise or a sunset cruise at least once when in Mexico. There are some other off the wall adventures to be had like a camel ride in the desert. Linda went on one of these where the tourists were not allowed to take their own pictures of the camels but were welcome to purchase photos taken by the tour company.
Booze Cruise Cabo San Lucas
The First Few Times In Mexico
Most Canadian and American tourists seem to end up in either Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlan on one of their first trips to Mexico. Both cities have beaches that are nothing to write home about. If snorkeling is on your list of to do things, forget about it at these destinations. For all intents and purposes you are smack in the middle of a huge tourist trap.
Puerto Vallarta
A lot about visiting Mexico is about what age you are. If you are single and in your twenties getting pissed in some nightclub in Cancun during spring break or getting wasted in Sammy Haggar’s Cabo Wabo in Cabo San Lucas could be a blast. You kind of look like a bit of an idiot with arrested development if you are still hanging out in these places in your forties.
Cabo Wabo Cabo San Lucas
There are family friendly resorts that seem to work and it can be a lot of fun to enjoy the tropics with your kids. All-iclusives are a good deal for families as dining out for four or more can be quite expensive.
My experiences tell me that most who travel from Canada and the US to Mexico in the wintertime are usually over 50 years of age. Disco until dawn is usually not on their radar. In fact Mexico is crawling with Gringo tourists who are passed 60 years in age. Most are fat. There I said it! Most are well past the point of giving a shit what they look like. They just yank off that XXL tee shirt and let it all hang out by the pool. The one thing they know is that there is always somebody a bit fatter a few chairs away. I could lose a few pounds myself.
If you are retired and live somewhere like Red Deer, Alberta, Toronto, or Northern Ontario you might start thinking after a few visits to Mexico that you could handle several months in the wintertime of sunshine every day and not freezing your ass off. You could get a big hat and stay in the shade as much as possible so your old skin doesn’t wrinkle from the sun and avoid getting skin cancer. Somehere there has to be some small town away from the tourist areas that you could while away your remaining winters? What if?

There Is Always A Trade
I have to confess that I have never really spent any time in one of those small places in Mexico that some Canadian tourists rave about. The closest I came was renting a condo on a golf course once in Mazatlan where we had to buy our own food. The main drag was very busy and the beach sucked so I ticked Mazatlan off as somewhere I never wanted to back to. We did find a good rib place for dinner but that wasn’t enough to cut it. A few days ago a Mexican billionaire drug king pin was arrested in Mazatlan.
Over the last several years we kind of settled on Cabo San Jose about 45 minutes up the road from Cabo San Lucas. Between Linda and I we have been to Cabo San Jose 9 times in the past several years. One thing we really liked about the area was the long white sandy beach. Up until our last trip we would spend a day in Cabo San Lucas as a change of pace and walk along the waterfront with the huge crowds, often people from the cruise ships. It is a pretty town with a lot going on. We would take the “local” bus to Cabo which cost us under two bucks each. We would stop somewhere and grab some lunch.
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Jose
Cabo San Jose
Cabo San Jose
Cabo San Jose
Back in Cabo San Jose we would usually spend part of a day walking back and forth to the village. There really isn’t much there other than shops selling Mexican souvenir junk but the walks got us away from our hotel for a while. We would also walk up to a giant Mexican supermarket close by and pick up some sun tan oil or something else we might need. We would grab a Starbuck’s coffee next door. You might say we kind of had a routine.
After this last trip and coming down with a cold I got to rethinking our visits to Mexico and whether the whole deal was worth it. I’ve been there about 15 times now. I’ve known for some time that spending a whole winter in Mexico is simply not my cup of tea. I like where we live on Vancouver Island a way lot more than frying day after day in the sun in Mexico.
#1 Most Mexican people in resort areas could give a rat’s ass about tourists. We are simply marks that they can try to extract cash from. Try taking local bus transportation and you will notice right away that there aren’t many smiling local faces on board. On our last trip I bought a Bob Marley tee shirt. The vendor stuffed a sun faded tee shirt in the bag which he had substituted for the one he had shown us. Luckily we took the tee shirt out of the bag and discovered it was faded before leaving.
#2 Mexican food just sucks. At resorts it is horrible. It kind of kills any anticipation of enjoying a good meal. Meals are something one should enjoy on vacation.
#3 You kind of have to wonder a bit about a place where you have to drink bottled water. This includes brushing your teeth.
#4 If you have ever ordered a drink at one of those thatch covered bars by the pool and looked over the bar you just might notice how unsanitary the whole deal is. Pretty well everything behind the bar is a mess with things thrown all over the place. The drinks are poured sloppily and the liquor is watered down. Nothing ever seems to get cleaned up. There is no charge for the fruit flies.
#5 If you want to watch TV in your room you are stuck with mostly Mexican stations with lots of yelling in the TV ads. Without a laptop you are pretty well out of the loop as to what is happening back home.
#6 Mexican stage shows are mostly boring. Seeing one is more than enough. You also know the performers are being paid peanuts. 12 guitars is not better than one when the players hardly have a clue about how to play their instruments.
#7 Your hotel person from the airline you took is often full of shit and tries to direct you to places he gets a kick back on. On our last trip we were told to ignore time share people in the hotel. What are they doing in a privately owned hotel in the first place?
#8 At one resort we went to there was construction going on all day until 6 in the evening. On our last trip we had to get our room changed because they were shellacking hotel furniture below us and the fumes were coming into our room.
#9 At the end of your trip you always seem to be waiting for hours in the airport before you can go home but they still get one last kick at the can by selling you a slice of pizza for 10 bucks. On our last flight home the plane was delayed for hours because of the shortage of one oxygen bottle. 23 people had to volunteer to stay another day before the plane could leave. We weren’t one of them.
At this point in our lives we don’t care to ever go to Mexico again. It is one of those been there, done that kind of things. The history of the country is interesting but so much of the touristy stuff is just fake.
When we were leaving Vancouver for Mexico we ran into a couple from Campbell River, BC in their mid-sixties. They were about to go to Panama with no hotel reservations and just travel around the countryside. We admired their adventurous spirit but we know that’s not us. We are well beyond staying in 3rd rate hotels in a 3rd world country.
We had originally planned to go to Hawaii this year but thought it could get pricey with having to eat in restaurants and renting a car. We also considered Cuba but the best hotels are quite pricey and nobody who comes back from there raves about the food.
So what is the answer?
Next winter we plan to fly to San Antonio and rent a car. We will visit Austin and Padre Island. We can do it all for about the same price as going to Mexico. Sounds like a plan.
And….what’s the deal with Corona beer? You can stick a slice of lime in the bottle but it still isn’t beer to anyone with any taste buds.
Adios Mexico!
Mexican camel?


  1. Haha, wow, talk about a list of #whitemiddleclassproblems. :) On another note, most of your descriptions could flawlessly be transposed to Cuba as well.

  2. The story is about my opinions. I don't expect everyone to agree with me. I don't get the white middle class stuff. Am I supposed to apologetic for being one?