There’s an old piece of advice about getting big things done that asks you, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer: One bite at a time. In a similar way, if you ask us, “How have you made it through three months in Mexico?” you’ll find the answer is pretty much the same: One day at time.
By which I mean that it’s a bit befuddling sitting here 90 days in, realizing that we’re halfway through our six-month tourist visas for Mexico. We’ve doggedly been focusing on enjoying the moment for what it is and really just concentrating on one day at a time, so to look back and summarize three months here feels about as daunting as eating that proverbial elephant.
After one month in Mexico, all I felt qualified to say was that the country had some really nice sunsets and that we had discovered our personal limit on what constituted “too many tacos”. After three months, you may be wondering whether we’ve had any changes of heart or gleaned any deeper insights.
Well, yes and no; some of my initial impressions are definitely still true, but some have certainly shifted.
On the one hand, the sunsets have continued to impress, even away from the Pacific coast.
On the other hand, we (happily) found moving away from a small beach town did wonders for our diet and our enthusiasm for the local food too. Spending a month in Tlaquepaque was really wonderful as the food was cheap and generally quite varied and although we still ate more than our daily recommend dosage of tacos we were able to mix things up a bit more, which definitely helped. Also, maybe corn tortillas are something you just have to OD on in order to eventually come around on and begin to appreciate. We’re in Morelia now where tacos are weirdly difficult to find (tortas are much more popular and there isn’t much of a street food scene at all), and if we go a couple of days without eating a corn tortilla we feel oddly empty and bereft. On the plus side, we are currently living two blocks from a vegetarian lunch buffet that we hit up a few times a week, so we no longer feel like we’re at risk for vitamin deficiencies or early coronary disease.
Of course, we do still find ourselves frustrated at times on the food front—vegetarian buffet not withstanding, I still think Mexican food features an unacceptable paucity of veggies. Although I occasionally read things that claim that most Mexicans eat meat very rarely, nothing that I have seen in reality backs this up at all. True story: We once grabbed lunch at a cheapo Chinese food place just to mix things up (in our Spanish teacher’s words, Chinese food is acceptable to Mexicans because “most of it is fried”) and I watched a grown man at the table next to us systematically pick out and eat all of the beef in his beef and broccoli and then throw the broccoli away! Morelia is a teensy bit better on this front (I think its large student population is part of this), but apart from actively seeking out places that serve real salads (not just iceberg lettuce + tomato + onion), your non-carnivorous options when dining out tend to be limited to potatoes, beans, cheese and occasionally peppers. Once we ate at a comida economica place for lunch where the set menu was cheap and all vegetarian and featured carrot fritters (alongside—what else?—corn tortillas!) but that was noteworthy only because of how unusual it was. I still lovingly clutch packets of tofu to my chest whenever we do runs to Costco for dog food, but vegetable and fruit options are at least better at the local markets now that we’re not on the coast, so we have been getting our fruits and veggies in at home. Maybe this is what locals do too? (Eat their veggies at home, I mean. Not the tofu clutching… I suspect that’s ALL ME.)
We continue to find Mexican people extremely kind and welcoming, and our feelings about this have only deepened following our month of Spanish classes as we are now in a better position to actually talk with the people we meet. As exhausting and demanding as our Spanish classes were, being able to hold up our end of an hour-long conversation with our neighbors in Tlaquepaque or the friendly lady who owns an ice cream shop here in Morelia has definitely proven their worth. We still don’t understand everything that is said (especially if we’re not really concentrating), but less and less do we feel like people are speaking especially fast (though they do still speak fast!). We still have a lot to learn and can always stand to practice more as we still bungle up our replies and have to effortfully conjugate verbs in anything but the present tense, however everyone is patient and encouraging, whether it’s the lady at the market we buy our cactus salsa from or people in the park who come over to meet the dogs.
Speaking of the dogs, it seems like the three month mark has also been the turning point for them too. About halfway through our stay in Tlaquepaque, they seemed to relax and really adjust to their new reality and their confidence and comfort has only increased as we’ve moved to Morelia. I’m sure the wide sidewalks and big park nearby and cooler climes here (as well as the lack of aggressive offleash dogs) have helped as their walks here are the least stressful of any place we’ve been and they’re back to getting plenty of exercise, but I think they’ve also just gotten used to the rhythm of their new reality. They get excited on travel days as they always have, but now they seem to settle into their new surroundings within a day rather than maintaining high vigilance for a week or so… pretty much wherever their toys and beds are automatically becomes home. Rory’s health issues have also been addressed and although he turned 10 while we were in Tlaquepaque, he is back to barreling around with tons of energy and being feisty as all get out, so that has been a huge relief too.
It’s taken us all about three months to really get comfortable out on the road, and although this time in Mexico doesn’t really feel like traveling in the way our previous trip did, when I look back at previous posts, I find the timeline to adjust was about the same then as it is now. We are not darting about manically, trying to take in the country in one desperate gulp, and most of our time is spent working or hanging out with the pups, really just living our lives in a familiar way in an unfamiliar place. Sometimes I feel guilty that maybe we’re not making the most of our circumstance, that every weekend should be filled with epic day trips and ambitious explorations where we shed light onto some hitherto unknown but fascinating facet of Mexican culture, but I also know we have to trust ourselves to do what feels right and allow this trip to evolve as we need it to. Right now, one of the greatest gifts we have been given is the freedom to shape and live our lives exactly as we want, and if that means watching a telenovela (to “practice our Spanish”, obviously…) or tucking into a novel rather than working our way through a guide book’s “must see” lists, then so be it.
A game we always used to play during our Big Trip was “Could we ever live here for real?” Pretty much the highest praise we could give a place was that we could, in fact, see ourselves living there some day and hoped we would have the chance to come back and do so. We’re now more actively and purposefully playing that game here in Mexico, trying to find somewhere that we believe would make a good base for us for as long as we have our furry ball-and-chains that keep us tethered to this contiguous stretch of land. So far, I don’t think we have found our perfect home base in Mexico (if we had to pick right now, then Tlaquepaque/Guadalajara would probably be our top choice), but it’s still early days and there is still so much more of Mexico to explore. Thankfully three months in, we now have the perspective to see just how bad a fit our first stop in Mexico really was for us; we probably would have a better time in La Peñita now than we did then, but… it’s just so clear to us now that it wouldn’t ever be a love match for us. We were worried that Mexican cities might be too gritty or grim, but they’ve actually been beautiful and charming and even if they keep to Mexican time, they feel much more our speed. We couldn’t have known this, of course, when we started out, but the last three months have been all about learning and adapting.
In a similar vein, looking back at that stressful first month, I am increasingly grateful that deciding to travel with the dogs meant tackling Mexico by car as the ability to move around and try on different bases has been invaluable. Not only are we gaining a deeper appreciation for how HUGE and diverse Mexico is, but simply having the freedom to explore at our own pace on our own schedule has been fantastic. I am so glad that we didn’t feel pressured into picking a destination sight unseen and committing to it for six months only to feel trapped. I think it would have been unrealistic for us to expect that we’d nail Mexico on our first try—we needed time to figure out what didn’t work for us in our new surroundings as much as we needed to figure out what might lead to happiness. Moreover, a place that works for a one- or two-week vacation won’t necessarily cut it for a long-term base. Having the car means we can go where we want, explore it to our hearts’ content while we’re there, and then leave when we’re ready. I know plenty of travelers have made it through Mexico relying on public transport and flights but, expensive tolls excepted, I can’t think of a better way to tour Mexico (Tony would say motorbike, but the dogs and I are standing firm on this one for now!).
As our confidence and familiarity with the language and how to carry out the basic tasks of daily life have increased, so too has our happiness and appreciation for Mexico. I think at first we were jarred by how Mexico wasn’t like Canada or the U.S., but it also wasn’t really like Asia (somewhere we still miss so much), and it just took us time to unclench and open ourselves up and let it work its magic. There are definitely still some things that drive us batty here, and they change from one place to the next, but I think that would be true for any place we spent an extended period of time. There are always drawbacks and annoyances, the key is finding somewhere where the good bits make up for the rest. I remember feeling like I had turned a corner while we were in Tlaquepaque; I suddenly felt deep inside me that we had the potential to be very happy here in Mexico (and perhaps Latin America beyond!) and that life could be very good indeed.
Three months in Mexico empirically seems like a lot of time has passed, but truthfully, I feel like we’re just getting started and still have so much to learn. Mexico is huge and every place we’ve been has had its own vibe, its own food scene, its own culture, its own rhythm… we’ve really just started to scratch the surface of all that Mexico has to offer. Though we have started to think ahead to visa runs and the next few places we’d like to visit, we know six months exploring here won’t be enough and can’t even fathom moving on to a new country. Right now it feels like Mexico is one big tasting menu and we’ve only now finished up the amuse bouche portion of the meal, the little surprises the chef sends out to warm up your palate and get you ready for the real meal.
Also, I know that content on our actual adventures (such as they are) here in Mexico have been a bit thin on the ground, but now that I’ve finally finished telling you about our U.S. road trip, I can catch up on the fun we had in Tlaquepaque/Guadalajara and environs as well as here in Morelia and beyond. At some point, I will also start going through our backlog of European (minimal) and Asian (substantial) adventures too!
Time will tell whether we actually do find a place that feels like home to us here in Mexico—after all, three months is both a good chunk of time and also not very much time at all! Perhaps after all is said and done we will return to Guadalajara, or perhaps our dream destination still awaits… What I do know is that three months in, we are much closer to finding home in Mexico than we ever have been. We’ll know it when we get there, but until we do, we’re happy to be at the point in our adventure where we can enjoy the journey in its own right.