We could wax lyrical about Mexico all day. We had been to Yucatan for the typical short 9 day stint back in 2009. This time we were to spend 5 months there (North and South). Alas even with 5 months, there is still so much to see and places we yearn to return to. Distinguished by your history, dignified in your ruins, resplendent in your landscapes and emanating the effulgence of the Mexican people themselves, Mexico has something for everyone. Mexico you captivated us! Hasta la próxima vez…. (until next time….)
We entered Mexico on July 1st 2013, crossing the border at Tijuana, into the the frenetic chaos of what is the busiest land-border crossing in the world. When we left Mexico on September 24th 2013, our exit could not have been more different.
We found ourselves in Frontera Corozal weighing up our options on visiting the ancient Mayan site of Bonampak. We decided to press on to Guatemala and just like that we made the snap decision to leave Mexico. We would cross the Río Usumacinta into Guatemala. There was no final farewell beer, no long last look. It was a strange stark way to leave.
There were no paved roads in Frontera Corozal, so we walked out of Mexico on a dirt road to the river bank, in an extremely rural village with turkeys, pigs, dogs and all manner of livestock just pecking, grazing and chilling along the dirt road. Quite the contrast to entering Mexico through Tijuana! I fought back the tears as we told the immigration officer how much we’d enjoyed our stay.
We knew we would return North through Mexico but little did we know that we would also experience “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead ) in an impromptu “visa run”. Mexico and her people left such an indelible mark on us. It was here we spent Sunday evenings watching couples dancing to live music in the local squares. These squares are still a source of gathering where all age groups convene and where we often found ourselves happily whiling away hours just watching life around us.
We have spent hours rambling through deserted hills on goat paths, staying in a town where the only noises which punctuate the quiet are donkeys braying and church bells. Our travels have taken us through miles of desert with nothing but cactii and joshua trees for as far as the eye could see and also 6,000 feet down into a canyon which is part of a series of canyons that are larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. We have ambled through Colonial cities and marvelled at monuments, temples and ruins.
We’ve observed traditional Mayan rituals coexist in a symbiotic relationship under the same roof of a Catholic church. Here the floor is covered in pine needles and one has to precariously pick their way through the hundreds of candles in various stages of burning, without setting trouser legs alight. There are no pews or altar. The place is jammers with traditional worshippers. Through the haze of the burning copal tons of white flowers adorn statues, cornices and cases housing shrines. A mariachi-esque band adds to the aura. Suddenly the clucking of an unsuspecting chicken in a plastic bag who’s about to become the next offering reminds you it’s time to leave this mystical place.
On the other end of the devout spectrum we have witnessed the veneration of many a statue (usually the Virgin Mary), as Mexico is a predominantly Catholic nation. The statue is raised high on a platform above the shoulders of her bearers and is bedecked in flowers and ornate gold. After mass the procession with hoisted deity parade through the local streets.
Mexico City found us visiting a more controversial deity, what is commonly referred to as the “cult” of Santa Muerte. The Vatican is not a fan and no, she has not been canonised, rather they see her as quite blasphemous, or a threat if you prefer. Many of her followers also attest to being devout Catholics.
Mexico gets something of a bum rap in the media and it’s reputation (as reported by the media) wrongly precedes it’s true identity. Our personal encounters couldn’t have been further from these reported sweeping fallacies. Every country has it’s ignominies.
Regardless of our limited Spanish people were undeterred and patiently listened to our “Tarzan” Spanish. They were always eager to assist us and their kindness knew no bounds. Strangers have taken it upon themselves to personally walk us to our point of enquiry in major cities/towns and rural settings.
Whilst in Tapachula on our visa run, a chance encounter at a Halloween parade had us meet Samuel. He recognised us from being in the bank where he works. We met up the following evening and shared stories of our homelands and taught each other bits of Spanish and English. He very kindly bought us dinner and we hope some day to return and treat him to dinner and practice our hopefully improved Spanish with him. We are still in touch.
We have had our best hitchhiking experiences in Mexico. One of our many memorable lifts whisked us along the beautiful Michoacan coastline with a soundtrack that will always transport us right back to that exact moment in time. Another hitch-helper (Martín) came driving back to us five minutes after dropping us off, with a 2 litre of orange drink for us as it was so hot out.
As is customary “south of the border”, when hitchhiking one offers one’s hitch-helpers a nominal amount as a token gesture for the lift. Sometimes this is accepted towards petrol or more often than not it is dismissed. When we offered some money to our young hitch-helpers who took us to Xilitla, they refused and very sweetly said “Welcome to Mexico”.
_____ Route South, _____ Route North, _____ Water Route, _____ “El Chepe”, Copper Canyon Railway