August 16, 2016 - 12:17 PM
I'm in Lake Chapala, Mexico, and thinking of a few kind words about Mexicans.
You have heard about the drug and violence problem in Mexico. Perhaps you've heard nothing but.
Most of the violence is along the U.S.-Mexico border states. It will surprise you that the overall violent crime rate in Mexico is one-third that of the U.S. That's according to the UN, not the tourist bureau. Mexico is not just one country any more than the south side of Chicago is Iowa. My daughters in Canada remain dubious so feel free to do the same. Also, I confess to touching wood (my head) when I say something that might go wrong, but that happens after most of my assertions.
Mexico is trying to do something about the trafficking. It probably isn't working but, boy, are they trying.
I joined the 21st century and bought a smart phone. To get a plan for the phone through the near-monopoly TelMex, I had to provide the following:
1. Proof that I'm residing here, a bureaucratic ordeal unto itself.
3. Three local references. I paid with VISA for the phone and plan so it wasn't a matter of credit worthiness.
4. A visit at my residence by "authorities" to make sure I wasn't a cyberspace robot or had a meth lab in the kitchen.
My dog and I flew coach from Vancouver to Mexico City on a red eye by Aeromexico, which gave me a couple of glasses of scotch for free on take off and a hot meal before landing. Good airline.
My plan was to drive a ways out of Mexico City, crash in a hotel for some sleep in a city called Tepotzotlan and carry on to Chapala the next morning.
As I was waiting for the rental car and prepping my TomTom GPS, a Mexican who was also getting a car asked me where I was going and if I'd ever driven in Mexico City, which I had not.
"You'll get lost even with that (the TomTom)," he said. "Follow me and I'll give you a thumbs up out the window when I think you are OK on you own."
I followed him for a full 15 minutes through berserk traffic that had me thinking of the maze in the movie The Shining. That's because I was screaming.
He finally gave me the thumbs up and a wave forward. Then he took an exit to wherever he had planned to go. I wish I had gotten his contact information to thank him.
TomTom figures that sending you within a kilometre of your destination is close enough. The voice said I was at my hotel in Tepotzotlan but I could see with my own eyes that I was at a feed store.
Two Mexicans at the feed store jumped in their truck and sign-languaged me to follow them. Many twists and turns later, I was at the hotel. I tried to tip them but they wouldn't take it. I must admit that was a new one on me but their goodwill was much appreciated.
As for the TomTom, it's been retired to the back of a drawer in favour of the Google maps on my new phone. Why these GPS companies still stay in business is a mystery.
There is a very large and upscale mall in Guadalajara called the Galerias. One of the anchors is Liverpool, a Mexican retailer that the shopping crowd equates to Saks Fifth Avenue. The other anchor is Sears, which in Mexico sells much higher quality (and priced) merchandise than Sears in Canada or the U.S., strangely enough.
The only thing that had me in an upscale mall was a search for a jacket and a couple of ball caps. Mexicans don't wear caps like up north; they're hard to find.
I saw a teenager in a store wearing a cap, backwards, of course, and asked him where he got it. His mother was with the kid and told him to walk with me to the store and show me where the caps were at.
All of this fuzzy, feel good news from an unexpected source, namely me, is because Mexicans get a bum rap from Canadians and Americans.
I've been to Mexico many times, and lived here for a couple of years awhile back.
Mexicans who live outside the tourist destinations are generally friendly, almost always helpful people with a very good sense of humour.
Of course, there are exceptions, but I dare say they are friendlier than your average Canadian.
Chuck Poulsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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