Letters from Mexico
Letters from Mexico
This is the story of my experiences living as an ex-pat in Mexico since 2003. It's to culminate in a published book. With your help, I'll be editing, selecting a title, and cover art: a participatory project. Your comments encouraged!
Aug. 26, 2017
Mexico's Click and Clack Culture
I’m walking along one of the main streets in the center of Tepoztlan where I live. I bump into a friend. CLICK! We decide to go to a cafe to have a coffee and chat. What about the meeting she’s scheduled at this time with someone else? CLACK! Blow it off. Our getting together seems more important right now. No phone call is made to cancel that meeting or reschedule.
This is a Mexican cultural phenomenon I’ve observed—serendipity supersedes accountability.
Back in the US, almost everyone I know leads a highly scheduled and structured life with little free time. I wonder how this effects social interactions and relationships. At first, I found the serendipity in Mexico to be a very refreshing change. CLICK! Since I retired before moving to Mexico, I had a lot of free time. I love the novelty and adventure of serendipity.
As time progressed, I tired of just hanging out at the cafes. To meet certain goals, I tried organizing people: two attempts at starting summer camps for kids, facilitating workshops, organizing an anti-Trump group, planning a water quality testing business, and other activities involving organizing and networking. None of this worked. Folks would not show up for meetings, or would come late. There were no phone calls about it. CLACK!
In my opinion, the culture is more about fiestas, and the work is for manaña. It’s not laziness, but about independence. It’s not just the locals and other Mexicans. Expats—transplants from the US (like me) and from other countries eschew accountability soon after arriving.
An effect on me of this click and clack culture is a lack of deep relationships. For me, these come from regularly scheduled work with people on projects to attain goals held in common. Intimacy doesn’t come from chats at the cafe.
My Successes In Mexico
Aside from publishing my memoir in 2013, I’ve had success when I work alone promoting an event. This might involve a month of posting fliers and online notices, phone calls, and distributing promotional materials to everyone I meet. I need to keep my mind on and act on this every day. But I do it alone, not with others.
I promoted a Valentine’s Day event, with a gourmet Indian meal, a jazz pianist, and a fire twirler. It was a sell out. And I’ve promoted musical performances with bands I’ve played with. Once, a fellow scorpio and I had a joint birthday party. A band formed to play at the event, and would split the cover fees. I generated a crowd of 70. Everyone was happy—the audience, club owners, and the band.
I notice a difference when I am in the US. I’m working with others. Intimate conversations flow with much more ease than in Mexico. I used to think that this was due to a language barrier, but have come to realize it’s really a deeper cultural divide.
Why I Spend Most of My Time in Mexico
During my three vacation visits, before deciding to move to Mexico, I attended many different kinds of fiestas. Some are family oriented: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, confirmations, funerals. Others are by neighborhood. Each barrio is named after a saint, and on that saint’s day, there’s a fiesta. There’s food, drink, music, fire works, and a street fair. Then there are regional, religious, and national holidays, with parades, dancers, contests, art, etc.This alone is enough to stay constantly involved.
My favorite fiesta in Tepoztlan is Dia de Muertos, The Day of the Dead. Whole families fill the streets until late at night. Children have their calabasas (pumpkins) to collect candies. Many homes have a fire outside the house in the street to welcome the spirits of departed family. A path of marigold petals has been carefully laid out to guide them in. The altars are very elaborate and beautiful. Highly decorated with corn, candles, flowers, and photos of the departed, they even sport some of the favorite food of the dearly departed. Those spirits get very hungry after a year in spirit land without food. Lots of homes open their doors for public sharing of the altars.
Nature and Spirit
Tepoztlan has been designated a “magic city.” Because of its importance for tourism, it gets federal funds for infrastructure maintenance. Weekends see a big influx of tourists, mostly taking day trips from Cuernavaca and Mexico City. The main streets are lined with booths selling trinkets, clothing, jewelry, food, and drink. There are many street musicians, and some are very good.
A main street leads to a broad paved trail steadily rising to a lone pyramid with a view of the valley. It takes about an hour to get there.
I prefer hiking on the many mountain trails without the crowds of tourists. A few of these are broad dirt trails with landscaping and benches. Most are very narrow, overgrown, and with steep drop offs at the edge. From some of these you can get better views than from the pyramid.
The market has many stalls offering a wide variety of meats, fruits, and vegetables. These are much fresher and cheaper than in the US—more wholesome. When visiting the US, I always put on pounds and my belt goes up a notch or two. I return and lose that weight.
There’s also a wide variety of prepared Mexican food that’s very inexpensive in the market—quesadillas, tacos, chilis, and much more. There are assortments of salsas and choices of additions. The cafes serve regionally grown organic coffee and pastries, and some have sandwiches. The cafes are the best places to meet people. They are locally owned, not like Starbucks. In fact, Tepoztlan has very few corporate businesses. I’ve noticed more conversations and interactions in Mexican cafes than those in the States.
Outside of the market, there are restaurants serving all kinds of budgets and occasions, some small, others large. Some feature dining in a jungle atmosphere while others have elegant gardens. I’ve never gotten sick at any eatery in Tepoztlan. The main industry in town is tourism, and the food concerns wouldn’t fare well if their clientele contracted bugs from the food.
Tepoztlan is a very dry area, with the rainy season lasting only two or three months. The rest of the year there is no precipitation. At the end of the dry season, there are forest fires. Sometimes they burn for two weeks and the town fills with smoke. Also, it gets very dusty, and some are bothered with respiratory problems.
Some homes and businesses harvest rain water, collecting it in cisterns. Others may need to purchase a truck load to fill their cistern. The water from the cisterns is pumped up to a smaller container on the roof for gravity feed to the building below. These systems carry germs and are for washing only, not drinking. Once a week, the town delivers water from the mountain by a maze of pipes to homes and businesses that are not far from the center.
For drinking water, there are water taps in some streets at strategic locations—like the one near a major church. This water is untreated and comes directly from the mountain.
When I first moved here, I was unaware of the vast number of archeological sites spread all over Mexico. Many have been only slightly excavated. These stone wonders, created before the arrival of the Spaniards, still hold considerable spiritual power and energy, in my opinion.
Cost of Living
As I mentioned in the previous blog, the cost of living in Mexico is very roughly half that of the US at the same lifestyle. For me, on my limited Social Security budget, this is a great boon.
Given the click-clack culture, I enjoy visiting the US often, but prefer spending most of my time living in Tepoztlan, Mexico.
Scorpio Dance Party 2014, Mango Cafe, Tepoztlan, Mexico
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