Current Photos and Essays
about Traveling and Living in México today; a México primer
Essays and information on a México near the border with United States
Mexico is the only country in North America with a language and culture that is totally non-Anglo. America is multi-cultured but within a generation or two most will identify themselves as Americans. Canada has a 20% French Canadian population and about a third of the population consider them selves of French decent but Mexico is border-to-border ocean-to-ocean Mexican. True it has a few pockets of Chinese, Amish, and Lebanese influence but not enough to change it's the culture. (not like French in Quebec or Cubans in Miami). México was under Spanish colonial rule and briefly French for three hundred years and has extensive old European architectural influence, Spanish Colonial to Baroque. It contains 33 world heritage sites more than anywhere else in the Americas. It has foods and drinks that are unique and recognized world wide as "Mexican'. When you visit México you are in a 'different land'. México is about 1/5 the size of The United States or Canada. It has about 122 million people, metro México City being the largest in Mexico and the western Hemisphere with over 21 million people. Amid the congestion it contains more museums than any other city in the Americas. It has been inhabited over 10,000 year and some of México’s archaeological ruins date back 2000 years. Building and highway projects still uncover new sites. Over 7 million of its inhabitants still speak one of 68 pre-Spanish native languages, most century’s old. Méxican geography varies from mountains, volcanoes, rain forest, deserts, to 5800 miles of coastline.
5th Ave Playa del Carmen
To understand how México got where it is to day lets look at some Mexican history. Franciso Hernández de Córdoba is said to be the first European to land on Mexican soil in 1517. He was followed two years later by Hernán Cortéz the first of many conquistadors and thus began the end of the indigenous empires. The Aztecs were the first to go. In the next 100 years 20-30 million of the natives died in battle, by enslavement or disease. Just as in the United States of America small pox and measles killed more of the population than soldiers. It was a bad time to be a local.
Arches of Queretaro
This was the start of the colonial building period in Neuva España as it was called in Europe. The Spanish built to protect themselves, protect trade routes then to protect souls. The first monasteries were started, built and financed by the Jesuit and Franciscans orders. They believed their mission was to convert the indigenous to Catholicism and spread the word of a Christian god. This was helped by a decree that unconverted ‘savages’ could be used as slaves while converts were just hired help. The Jesuits were granted huge tracts of land to help support their converts. In 1767 after a power struggle between the kingdom of Spain and Jesuits of the Vatican, the Jesuits lost and were exiled to Italy. Their lands later auctioned off by the crown, the 'hired help' got to stay and work.
The downtown sections of these old colonial cities comprise the now chic historical districts that businesses, artist, tourists and retirees flock to. Most have strict building codes that keep these areas looking old colonial. They regulate the physical appearance of doors, walls, visible roofs, and some dictate what building materials can be used. The old warehouse is now a BaNorte, the silver miners mansion a hotel. and the horse stables a parking lot. The cobble stone streets built for horses and carts now deal with an overload of cars, trucks and buses. Each city deals with this differently, most turn city center streets into pedestrian walkways either on weekends or full time.
Ready for 'El Grito'
Many people 'up north' have a preconceived view of the United México States. They have been here a couple of time on vacation, did little Mexican travel. They flew into the airport, rode a bus or taxi to their tourist hotel and visited the areas near the beach communities. They enjoyed the slow, relaxed pace, friendly people. Practiced a few Spanish words, smelled and ate the food, listened to the music coming from everywhere. They enjoyed themselves. To them Mexico is all beach, sun and drinks. Others have never been to Mexico, afraid of violence from the narco wars. They have seen the nightly news of murders and mayhem from drug cartels. They think anyone visiting or living in Mexico is crazy. The truth lies in-between.
Early morning streets
Many tourists decide to move to Mexico permanently. They were lured by the weather, cost of living, and the beauty; stayed because of the people and the culture. Some will begin by taking extended visits of several months then return to their homes up north. A few years later their concept of where home is changes and they look into various forms of residency. The basic is visitor, a six month visa good across the country. You can qualify for longer stays using FM2 or FM3; temporary resident and permanent resident.
No one is really sure (including Mexico) of the number of retires, vacationers or expats in country, but it is thought over a million Americans and about half million Canadians are in Mexico. Mexico City has the largest expat population of least 600,000 working and retired.
The interior of Mexico has some of the most temperate locations in the world. Puebla, Cuernavaca, Lago de Chapala and Morella to name a few are fantastic. Mexico City also but with it size it is in a class of its own. A few colonial cities once forgotten have seen resurgence in the last 20-30 years by artist, expats and retirees. San Miguel De Allende, Guanajuato, Patzcuaro, Alamos, Taxco are just a few. The small town feel, restaurants, shops and the antiquity give these places an easy charm and livability.
The beach cities large and small offer another and more common Mexico, the one of postcards and pictures. Some beach resorts are also old colonial cities like Campeche in the Yucatan while others like Huatulco were designed as resort areas. Few counties have the coastal exposure of Mexico, 5800 miles of ocean front. Both sides of the Baja peninsula, Sea of Cortez, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico. Names known around the world Acapulco, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas. Others are more sedate and unknown to the masses Tulum, Sayulita, Barra de Navidad, and Loreto.
An interesting aspect of living in Mexico is many expats live in areas that are rated ‘dangerous, caution, civil unrest, narco problems’. They will tell you how they love their town and have never had any troubles. Narco vilonece has ruined tourism in many cities. Mexico has crime problem and many areas it is getting worse. To the locals crime is their major complaint. Many do not trust the police or the army and feel like reporting crime is a waste of time. You do not flash your money around, leave your keys in the car, or hang out in bad neighborhoods after dark. These are things you don’t do anywhere in any country and increasingly in Mexico.
I also knew a preacher from America who lived in Mexico all his adult life. He would talk to me in Spanish; he talked to everyone in Spanish. As he got older, unable to work and needing assistance, his distant family showed up to help. They wanted him to go to a rest home in America where he could get ‘proper health care’. He didn’t want to go and members of his church in Mexico wanted him to stay offering their assistance. His family took him back to America anyway and placed him in a care facility. He died soon after; from a broken heart I’m sure.