The last six days have been Awesome. As can be expected…I’m on vacation in Mexico!
The name of the city I’m in now is Zacatlán and it’s reminiscent of an Idealistic Old Tyme Italy. The outskirts of the city are stereotypical Mexico (albeit much cleaner), but El Centro Histórico is paved with Venetian Stone. Every building is built with cedar or stone and roofed with Italian tile. Outside of Zacatlan, hundreds of square miles are reserved for the agricultural production of wine and every street corner store sells its own vinos.
I’m in love with the Latin American city structure, and this town fits it to the bill. The central plaza park is marvelous and the church is truly a thing of beauty. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone and no one is left out. The Spanish bells atop the church can be heard throughout the whole city.
The landscape is absolutely fantastic. The city sits atop a valley that would give Yosemite Valley a run for its money as the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I wanted to post a picture, but decided not to because I couldn’t get one that even came close to representing just how perfect it is. Just go and see for yourself 🙂
You can find much more info about the city here:
But this post is about adventure. My trip started at the Mexico City International Airport. There, I was conned into taking a taxi for 200 pesos (about 16 USD). The taxi driver spoke English when it was convenient, but didn’t when it wasn’t, and my Spanish wasn’t advanced enough to understand at the speed of a native speaker’s speech. Had I waited around and found WiFi, I may have found that I could take the metro for 3 pesos (about 0.25 USD). But as far as taxis go, I got a pretty good deal. I found later that most pre-paid taxis rides from the airport to the area where my hotel is, cost closer to 300 pesos. If you’re reading this in preparation for a trip to Mexico City, read this warning on Mexico City taxis. Not that you’ll be the victim of an “express kidnapping”, but it’s better to be safe and prepared.
I got to my hotel safe and sound. It was dirty and the bed was the epitome of discomfort, but what can be expected for $12.5 USD? WiFi was spotty, but they had it, and the shower was warm. I can’t complain much. If you’re traveling on a budget, but still want a private room, I recommend Hotel La Selva. It’s dirty and the beds are uncomfortable, but it’s literally steps from a large metro station, they provide anything you could need and the staff is very friendly (and very patient with broken Spanish). More on my trip later.
Poverty in Mexico/DF:
Americans generally think of Mexico as a very poverty stricken country. They think of it as 3rd world and/or beyond hope. There are several reasons behind that, but we’ll focus on one main reason.
Mexico may look extremely poor to Americans, but given its GDP per capita of around 10,100 USD, the average Mexican makes about the same as the average human being. Mexico City, or Distrito Federal, has the 7th largest GDP of any city in the world and the highest GDP per capita of any city in Latin America. Mexico is very far from “poor” by world standards. In fact, as of the beginning of this month, Mexico surpassed the United States as the fattest country in the world. This isn’t particularly a good thing, but the ability to consume enough food to make people obese has long been a general indicator of wealth.
Americans think of Mexicans as poor and Mexico as underdeveloped, poverty stricken etc..not because it’s generally poor, but because there is such great wealth inequality throughout the country. This problem is something more Americans have seen in the United States in recent years, but that’s a whole other topic. Mexico’s wealth inequality has been a subject of great debate all over the world, and it was the centerpiece of a political demonstration I recently marched in.
Mexicans are very dissatisfied with their government’s dealings (and they have every right to be!). The history of Telmex is one many people are familiar with and is somewhat analogous to Mexico’s recent history.
During the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century, Mexico became more socialist than its long-time trade partner to the North, The United States. Telmex began as a privately owned company, but before its services became necessary to modern life and widespread throughout the country, the federal government bought it and created a state-run monopoly on telephone and internet services.
In essence, the above is socialist, but not inherently “bad” so long as the people are given a voice in prices and how revenue is allocated. But in 1990, the Mexican government sold the company and all of its infrastructure (the only telephone and internet infrastructure in the whole country) in a very controversial sale to private investors, the largest of which was Carlos Slim Helú, who is now the wealthiest man in the world. Telmex controls almost all telephone lines in Mexico and charges among the highest rates in the world for phone and internet services, despite Mexico’s GDP per capita only being average.
Telephone and internet access were not needed in the past, but the two are an ever-increasingly vital part of modern life. Such high prices hinder Mexico’s ability to progress as a nation. Mexico’s well-being has been sold to the highest bidder on multiple occasions.
With that said, I have a story that illustrates the poverty that does exist in Mexico:
I hopped off the Mexico City metro in search of a specific bus station which I was told had daily bus rides to and from San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas – Southern Mexico. Shortly after leaving the metro, I was approached by two women who were in their early 20’s. After giving me directions to where I needed to be, they promptly told me that if I didn’t leave this part of town, I’d probably be mugged.
I didn’t think too much of it, but every time I walked passed a person, I pictured them putting a knife in my face. It was probably best to just turn back. After regaining my sense of safety on the metro, I headed to my hotel, but got off on the wrong side of the freeway. I knew it was the wrong side, but the correct side was difficult to get to, and I thought there was an easy way across by foot. I was once again in a bad part of town and to cross the freeway would also mean crossing a barbed-wire-electric fence. The best way across was back on the metro.
I had wandered a bit, so the exit I took was pretty far away. Luckily (or maybe not), there was another entrance nearby. The steps were dirtier than normal and the sign denoting the entrance was very run-down, but it very clearly said “Chabacano” and had the Metro logo above it. I walked down the steps and couldn’t even believe what was there.
About a hundred people were huddled together. It was damp, dark and there were several inches of water/sewage on the ground. Babies were crying and women were screaming. Here, people looked like rats. As I’ve seen, I’m sure many of them weren’t treated any better than rats. It seems petty in comparison, but as if I hadn’t seen enough, on the way back up, a very clearly male prostitute with breasts and lipstick whistled at me and then blew me a kiss. I high-tailed it out of there straight back to my hotel, laid on my bed and, for about an hour, just thought about what I had seen.
To recap: Mexico is an awesome country, but it deserves your respect. Some places are safer than others. The country is very modern, but due to corrupt politics and other factors, has great wealth inequality and therefore, poverty. Have fun and be safe!
A Few Tips for Mexico Travel:
- If the metro sign is dirty and run-down, don’t use that entrance.
- However, the Mexico City metro is among the most advanced (and cheapest) public transportation systems in the world. I would highly recommend it’s use. Also, use the buses. They’re awesome.
- Anywhere in Mexico: Use common sense; it’s there for a reason. Mexico is not as dangerous as the media plays it out to be, but there are definitely dangerous spots. Know when you’re in a safe place and know when you’re not. If you feel you’re not safe, leave.
- Know at least the basics of Spanish. Unless you’re in a resort or border town, you are not likely to meet more than a couple people who speak any English outside of the Airport.
- Don’t drink the tap water. Ever. Just don’t do it.