Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Natural Born Driver and Jedi Navigator in The City

The last few times we were in Mexico, we stayed close to home, but last week, we rented a car and headed up towards Guadalajara.

Big Dog does not like Big Cities and I have yet to step inside DF Mexico. However, just south of Guadalajara is an area called Tlaquepaque and Tonala and it was here that we found dealers and makers of the most incredible furnishings when we traveled around the country 5 years ago.

"Yeah, we're finally getting new furniture for our ranch house," I emailed my best friend in Tokyo. "After an entire life of hand-me-downs and other people's trash, I feel kind of guilty actually buying something new. It's so not eco."

Previously, we had driven down Mex 80, a steep, curvy, sometimes scary road. This time, Big Dog wanted to try the cuota (toll road) that goes through Colima.

"I'm not sure why. We've never been on toll roads before," he started muttering as we approached the second of 3 toll gates. Then, as we got stuck in road construction delays, the muttering became louder.

"This totally sucks! I thought the cuota was going to be a multi-lane highway! I can't believe we're stuck behind this exhaust belching truck!"

We could see other cars whizzing by on the libre, the free road just parallel to us. It made no sense. But not much does on Mexican roads and once you approach cities, it only gets worse. Thank god Big Dog was used to deadlocked traffic in Tokyo.

One clever thing they have done in Guadalajara, an innermost "express" lane and many overpasses, became my bane.

"Crap. I think we were supposed to turn there. OK. Let's see if we can move into the outer lane and turn onto Lazaro Cardenas." It was my turn to start swearing under my breath.

Just as much as Big Dog is a Natural Born Driver, I think of myself as a Natural Born Navigator. I've prided myself in being able to navigate us everywhere. (Betcha I can take you to hell and back, too!) But with only the most rudimentary of maps showing us only the very biggest of Guadalajara's roads, it required more than Natural Born Navigation. It required Jedi Knight Navigation!

City roads tend to change names. One side of the town square is one name, the other is another. Many of the streets are named after people with incredibly long names and these name are abbreviated. (There are also many streets named after commemorative dates, so many towns have an Avenida or Calle Cinco de Mayo, 18 de Marzo, 16 de Septiembre, etc.) Street signs may or may not be there. Many streets are one way. And very narrow. And there are people all over them. Or you think you're on one road but you find out 10 dusty miles later that it's the wrong road and there's nowhere to turn back. You really DO need The Force. But sometimes The Force fails you.

"Oh, #$%^&! This is turning into the highway for Mexico City!!" I panic as we drive through an intersection...right onto an on-ramp.
"What do you want me to do?" asks Big Dog who, thankfully, doesn't wait for an answer but quickly executes a dramatic U-turn (actually a Y-turn) right in the middle of this on/off ramp with cars speeding up to us from both directions. I was impressed.

There were many hairy moments like this, but it is always entertaining. In crowded traffic, you can buy newspapers, candy, individual cigarettes, sunglasses, religious icons... You can get your windshields washed. One night, we were entertained by a pair of fire twirlers! (That one earned my pesos!) There are topes (speed bumps) everywhere and sometimes in the most unlikely places.

Next time, though, I will probably print out a detailed map beforehand. A GPS? Nah. Not for a Jedi Navigator.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Land o' Smiles

I feel so at home here in Mexico, despite my inability to communicate with anyone very well. Up north, the media keeps filling the airwaves with reports on narco violence, scaring everyone with scenes from the "growing tidal wave of crime." Here on the coast, though, it is muy tranquilo.

"You need to go back and tell everyone not to believe all those fearmongers," pleaded D., our resident gringo friend. "So many people here now depend on the touristas but we're seeing fewer of them than ever before!"
"We could talk ourselves blue in the face, but I doubt people who've never come to Mexico before will do so now."

Which is a shame because this country is one of the most welcoming countries in the whole world. Everyone talks about Southeast Asia being a "land of smiles" but while they smile, they also have an eye on your tourist dollars. What I absolutely love about Mexico and what I think makes it unique is that capitalism just doesn't have that big of a grip on the place. At least not yet.

Yes, in the bigger picture, the country is as capitalist as the north. And with fewer restrictions, corporations can probably get away with a whole lot more. It absolutely disheartens me to travel around the country and see Big Ag's fingers everywhere: Corn, cane, avocado and mango plantations surrounded with picket signs advertising (or warning of!) seed and plant brands. GMO? Highly likely.

But the average person seems to value many other things over making a buck.

Family is one, for sure. Faith is another. And most of all, FUN! Those with money tend to share with those who don't have much, even as they complain how having to help out so-and-so strains their finances and they'll never get too far ahead. There is an air of contentment here. (Which is strange because in North America people have so much and yet there is a huge cloud of discontentment over everybody. Or so it seems.)

(Japanese people are pretty content people, as well, though in any survey, they always score as the "least happy/satisfied people." I think it's just Japanese humility, making us put down our own lives in front of strangers.)

You would think that with all the drug trafficking activities, there would be a huge drug problem, too, but there just isn't. Oh, sure, there are people with drug problems -- they are everywhere -- but it's not the kind of epidemic that will destroy the fabric of Mexican society. My theory for it is, once again, the Holy Trinity of Family-Faith-Fun.

So come on down and see for yourself. You may never want to leave.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Melting Time

Seconds, minutes, hours, days melt away
Not as Dali's lethargic clocks
But as ice on sizzling sidewalk
Gone in an instant

What day?
What month?

Nice to be back home
in La Bahia

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