Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Some Interesting Things about Living in Mexico

Well it had to happen sometime...I committed a traffic violation and got busted. I was coming out of the big Mexican department store, Sorianas, and trying to get back to the town of Chapala. Although there is a clearly marked, "no left turn" symbol on a sign as you come out of the driveway, a friend had told me that they don't "enforce" it, and, indeed, I have seen many others go out that way. Well, of course, when I tried it last Saturday, after having done it successfully several times before, I was pulled over by a municipal "Policia." He was very nice and explained in broken English how I should go out around another way. I was very polite and thanked him for the information.

Then, he pulled out his pad and said, "But, Senor, I have to give you a ticket for this."

"Okay," I replied. "How much will the ticket cost?"

"Two hundred pesos." (About $20).

Now, I remembered several people telling me that if you get a ticket, they may take your American drivers license and you will supposedly get it back once you pay the ticket. I was not anxious to give up my drivers license, but I replied, "OK. Then I guess I get a ticket."

He looked at me and waited. He was not writing anything. This was, it became obvious, the time for me to offer to pay him instead. I did not want to encourage corruption, yet I also did not want to lose my license. I understand that these local police officers make very little money, and this is a way they supplement their income. After a quick internal ethical debate, I caved.

"So, Senor," I asked, "Could you pay the ticket for me?"


I thought later I should have told him I only had 100 pesos, but instead I dutifully produced a 200 peso note, whereupon, he politely returned my license. I had paid my first "mordida." I had come of age as a gringo in Mexico!

Driving, in general, is a bit more challenging here. Traffic laws seem to be more "suggestions" than laws, at least for the Mexicans. I get the feeling that driving a foreign-plated car in Mexico puts you at more risk of getting pulled over. Mexicans seem to violate the ridiculously low speed limits in some areas. I try to follow the limits, but the Mexicans whiz by me when I do. I feel like an old feeble driver driving so slow, but I don't want to get pulled over either. So, I try to keep up with traffic, within limits. I often see Mexican drivers, usually young men, take great risks in passing on hills and such. We frequently see a pickup truck full of young children in the bed of the truck, sometimes sitting on the edge of the body. Someone mentioned that their deep faith, and perhaps fatalism, leads them to put their lives "in God's hands." I do see evidence of this.

We went to a fiesta last week in the neighboring town. At about midnight each night, they set off amazing fireworks on a wooden scaffold with spinning wheels, rockets, and even animated moving contraptions (we saw a butterfly flapping its fiery wings). They make absolutely no attempt to clear people away from the fireworks scaffold before they light it. The general rule in Mexico seems to be, "Pay attention. You are responsible for yourself." It's just very different from the US where we are constantly being "protected" from our own bad judgment by laws and regulations. No OSHA here!

Finding what you need here is probably much easier now than it may have been a decade ago, but there are still a few challenges. Good black tea is difficult to find unless you go to expensive import stores and buy small boxes of Bigelow tea, or some other expensive brand. We prefer Tetley's British Blend, which is nowhere to be found here. We'll have to stock up on that on visits home. Herbal tea, on the other hand, is plentiful and cheap. You can buy a box of 100 tea bags of chamomile, peppermint, spearmint or lemon tea for about 30 pesos, about $3. Also, no good microbrew beer here; everything is a lager, like Corona. They have a couple of darker lagers I do like: Negro Modela, and Indio. There IS peanut butter here, after all, cheaper than I thought: about 25 pesos.

Finding reading material is always a challenge. The stores do sell a weekly English-language newspaper here,
The Guadalajara Reporter. There a re a couple of English language magazines here, The Lake Chapala Review and Ojo del Lago (Eye of the Lake), published by and for the gringo population. Used English-language books are sold at the Ajijic weekly market, but they are never very good, and the same ones every week. The best option is the Lake Chapala Society library, which has about 20,000 English books. I now read my favorite newspapers and magazines on line.

We are venturing into Guadalajara tomorrow to see what we find! That should be an interesting drive. We drove in last week with a friend who knew where he was going to navigate. We're going tomorrow on our own.

Last night it rained all night, very hard, and we awoke to two big leaks in the house. Glad we are renting! No one knows how many leaks they have until the rainy season starts. I think it has started in earnest. I imagine people are discovering new leaks all over town! It's nice and cool here now.

I've posted a few photos to go with this post, but not many. Let's see what adventures another week or so brings!

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