This Mexican Life: Reflections on our First Month in Mexico

This week marked two big milestones for us: We celebrated the eight year anniversary of the day we met, and we also happened to do it while marking one full month of location independence in Mexico. As we quaffed icy cold beers and watched the sky bleed from cotton candy pink into a glowing fuschia,...

This week marked two big milestones for us: We celebrated the eight year anniversary of the day we met, and we also happened to do it while marking one full month of location independence in Mexico.

As we quaffed icy cold beers and watched the sky bleed from cotton candy pink into a glowing fuschia, we remarked to one another that it’s crazy to think it was EIGHT YEARS ago that our lives intersected and consequently changed profoundly and irrevocably. All at once, it feels like the years have flown by and barely any time has passed. But it also feels like we are each other’s constant, like we’ve been together for way longer than “just” eight years, and it’s impossible to envision a world or a life in which the other person isn’t there.

In its own way, life in Mexico has been much the same. Logically, I know that we’ve been here for a month, but it feels like we’re only getting started. After a month here, I feel like we should have something insightful or, at the very least, decisive to say about Mexico.

Instead, all I really feel qualified to say unequivocally is that Mexico sure gets some pretty sunsets. Oh, and that there is, in fact, such a thing as too many tacos.

La Peñita, Nayarit, Mexico

I’ve made no secret of the fact that our first few weeks in Mexico were a wee bit rocky. To the extent that one can anticipate and prepare for that kind of thing, we were as ready as we could be, but it was still a struggle as we were thrown well and truly from our comfort zones, and one that we simply had to tackle day-by-day. Happily, things have indeed gotten easier with each passing day and, although there has definitely been a learning curve, our first month in Mexico has armed us with plenty of information and things to consider that will hopefully make the months that follow even better. One month in, I can’t honestly say that we are head over heels for Mexico, but I still see glimmers of that potential.

We’ve spent the bulk of our time in La Peñita, a place we have developed complicated and ambivalent feelings for. There are things that we have really come to love about this service-oriented town, but there are things that we decidedly do not love and will hopefully be able to improve upon in our next destination.

La Peñita, Nayarit, Mexico
Our favorite taco vendor, Oscar, and his daughter.

We love how friendly and welcoming the locals have been (though I should mention that this has been true pretty much everywhere we have been in Mexico and is certainly not exclusive to La Peñita). We live in a really local neighborhood, and whenever we go out, people always smile and greet us, even if it’s just a quick “Buenos días/Buenas tardes/Buenas noches” in passing. We know the names of the owners of our favorite restaurants in town, and they always wave and holler hello when we pass, and make time to chat with us when we stop in for meals. People have been very patient and forgiving when we inevitably mangle their language, and if our Spanish hasn’t improved as much as we would like, it’s because most people are eager to practice their English with us. It’s always nice to feel like a country is welcoming you with open arms and Mexico’s people have absolutely done that for us.

La Peñita, Nayarit, Mexico
The main drag in La Peñita. It actually looks more charming in photos than in real life!

Because La Peñita is not quite as saturated with tourists as many of the nearby beach towns, it’s also quite affordable: We’re renting the top floor of a gorgeous casita for just $700US/month (slightly more than we were hoping to pay, but with two dogs, we have had to make some concessions as finding dog-friendly rentals is necessarily more challenging and limits our options) and the restaurants and shops in town are cheaper than trendier Sayulita or San Pancho. Another bonus? The crowds that you find elsewhere along this coast are pretty much non-existent (even during the tourism explosion of Semana Santa) even though, as I said, the sunsets are just as pretty here as they are further south.

That said, we’ve experienced some growing pains in La Peñita that have made it clear that this town and this area of Mexico probably isn’t the right fit for us long-term.

For one thing, La Peñita isn’t much to look at on first glance. Truthfully, it’s not much to look at on second or third or any subsequent glances either! We’ve done our best to wander the town (which is not very big) and take photos, but we just don’t find ourselves visually inspired by it. It’s rather shabby and hasn’t been gussied up (gentrified?) the way that the better known towns in this part of Mexico have been. It’s a town meant for locals and although it does have some expats and foreign tourists, that’s not who it’s catering to. I told Tony that I feel a bit superficial knowing I would like La Peñita more if I found it more aesthetically pleasing, but if my truth is that I prefer things to be pretty, then I suppose I have to own that!

Tacos, La Peñita, Nayarit, Mexico
Breakfast, lunch & dinner.

Another extension of La Peñita not really being a hardcore tourist town is that we have found dining options fairly limited here. When I said this has been the month of tacos, I was not joking; we tend to eat them at every meal, and on the off chance we order something that doesn’t come wrapped in a corn tortilla, they tend to accompany them so you can turn whatever you have ordered into an ad hoc taco. I kind of hate corn tortillas at this point and last night when the restaurant we ate at to celebrate our anniversary served our mains alongside a basket of buttered toast, things almost got ugly as we each tried to secure more than our fair share of something that wasn’t a tortilla. The local food is also very meat heavy and vegetables other than shredded lettuce/cabbage, onions and the sad watery avocado sauce that passes for guacamole here are pretty much non-existent. One restaurant in town actually offers mushroom tacos, and we gave them a try the other night, only to discover the mushrooms came straight out of a can… I have actually made Tony drive me the 25 minutes to San Pancho so I can eat overpriced “white people” vegetarian food and I, a renowned dismisser of salads, have never been so happy to shove leafy rabbit greens into my face!

Sandwich, San Poncho, Mexico
Pictured: Food in Mexico not served on or near a tortilla! Worth every peso (& the 25-minute drive!).

We’ve done our best to self-cater to make up for the seemingly unbalanced diet proffered by the restaurants, but that hasn’t been as easy as I would like either. There are a bunch of mini supermarkets around town but, unsurprisingly, their produce is pretty much limited to basic veggies like potatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, carrots, radishes, onions, tomatoes and avocado… Whither art though kale, sweet potatoes, morning glory, spinach, beets, bok choy, asparagus, green beans, peas, eggplant, and any fresh herbs other than cilantro? I walk into Mexican grocery stores, my mind goes blank, and I wind up coming home with three avocados and call it lunch. Cooking fail! There are a few bigger grocery stores just past Bucerias, but that’s a 40-minute drive and we’ve only done the drive once when we went to Puerto Vallarta so we could buy the dogs food at Costco.

Market in La Peñita, Mexico

I guess what I’m saying is that although Mexican food is generally delicious, we are strong advocates of the old “variety is the spice of life” adage, and have found the local offerings in La Peñita a bit monotonous and not as heart healthy as we might have hoped. We’re thinking this might be a good indicator that a slightly bigger/more cosmopolitan destination would make a good next stop for us, somewhere where it’s more convenient to head to larger grocery stores to pick up things to fill in the gaps the smaller Mexican stores don’t offer, and maybe a wider range of cuisine on offer as well for those moments when we are certain we can’t eat another taco/tostada/quesadilla.

Also, I know I mentioned it in my last post on Mexico, but we live in a super local neighborhood, something we thought would be awesome, but has turned out to be a little less idyllic than we had envisioned. We found out from the tenants who live below us that apparently locals refer to this area as “the crotch”, which certainly paints a picture, doesn’t it?

La Peñita, Mexico
La Peñita, Mexico

The roads here are uneven and obscured by a constant fug of dust that makes walking around unpleasant and occasionally hazardous. There are so many street dogs that after Rory was attacked by an aggressive one during our first week here and we acknowledged how stressful walking our dogs had become, we now drive them five-minutes out into the countryside twice a day so that we can walk them without fear. (It’s also much prettier and distinctly un-crotchlike out there, so despite the hassle, it’s worth it.) To get into the main town, we have to cross the main highway which means either playing Frogger and sprinting across, or going under a bridge that puts us right next to a river where the body of a dog has been decomposing for the entirety of our time here. Needless to say, we choose to dodge traffic every time.

Pineapple fields outside La Peñita
A five-minute drive from our casita, but it feels like a world away.

And the noise! We had been warned that Mexico was a loud country, but felt confident that after so much time in Asia, the land of roosters and early morning calls to prayer and all other kinds of vibrant street life, that we would be fine.

We were so wrong. After our first week in sleepy San Blas, we felt cocky as the occasional dog barking or horse whinnying in the night didn’t seem bad at all… but the noise in La Peñita is like no other racket we have ever experienced. Trucks that are loud in their own right barrel past our window at all hours of the day and night, often playing loud ads for water or gas or grilled corn or jaunty Mexican polka. Roosters crow, cats yowl like they are being strangled, and a piercing dog rumble breaks out on our street every night between 3 and 5 am, often prefaced by one dog barking incessantly all by his lonesome for an hour or so beforehand. We have both taken to sleeping with earphones in and music/soothing meditation mantras on (Tony tried ear plugs but they didn’t cut it), and we still get woken up two or three times a night. Given that we are of an age where most of our friends are beginning to have children, I heartily recommend that anyone considering taking that step come and spend a month in our casita first to get a taste of what prolonged sleep deprivation feels like.

Sometimes we ask ourselves whether we’d be having a better time if we were staying on the other side of the highway, or maybe in a different town altogether. Despite 99% of the restaurants and many of the shops being located on the other side of the highway, there’s less noise, less dust, and the roads are better, so we probably would find it more relaxing than our present barrio. We’ve done day trips to Sayulita and San Pancho both, and personally found the insane crowds in Sayulita oppressive and prices much more expensive, which really detracted from the city’s otherwise obvious charms. San Pancho was definitely more our speed, though I wonder how much longer it will be lazy and laid-back as tourism has clearly boomed there too and I imagine it will only get worse as it catches the overflow from Sayulita. It is not really any more “real Mexico” than Sayulita if the quirky boutiques and many international restaurants lining its main road are any indication to go by, but it’s a pretty town that reminded us a lot of Pai in Thailand (which we LOVE) and, as I’ve already established, authentic Mexico can sometimes be rough, so I could see us happily spending a few weeks there. I’m hoping before we pull up stakes here we can visit a few more times.

San Pancho's beach
San Pancho’s beach

But, truth be told, we are not small town people. Undoubtedly we would go stir crazy if we spent too much time in San Pancho or Sayulita, just as we have a little bit here in La Peñita. For our first week here, I wanted nothing more than to hide under the covers and watch Netflix, in part because of how overwhelming the world outside seemed to be, but also because it just felt so good to finally have our own space again and be 100% in control of our schedule again. But after a while of mimicking a turtle tentatively poking her head out of her shell while reluctantly venturing out to walk the dogs or find food, I started to get casita fever and found myself excited to explore. What that amounts to here is going to the beach. We can either walk to the main beach here in La Peñita (which is, honestly, not that nice as it is often littered with trash) or, if we are feeling ambitious, walk to the neighboring town of Guayabitos which is very popular with older Canadians and enjoy that beach. Or we can get in the car and drive… to a beach.

This may be controversial, but Tony and I are kind of ambivalent about beaches. We sort of subscribe to the whole, “once you’ve seen one beach, you’ve seen them all” mentality, and while we can (and have!) enjoy a few hours lazing in the sand or frolicking in the ocean, we just don’t have the interest or enthusiasm to spend a whole day at the beach. A couple of hours of fun in the sun and surf and then we are pretty much asking, “OK, what’s next?” It’s been wonderful to have the car so we can explore, but it also feels like everywhere we’ve visited along this coast has been variations on a theme. If not for the more diverse dining options on offer further afield, I can’t say that we would feel super motivated to venture forth from La Peñita. This makes us terrible travel bloggers, I realize, but we do find ourselves having to psych ourselves up to get outside (even though I know too much time indoors is not great for our mental health). We have plenty of work to keep us busy, but we didn’t come to Mexico to spend 12 hours a day cooped up inside working and marathoning The Good Wife. After many months of prioritizing work and building our business over the travel side of things, I know we need to work a little harder to shift our mentality and regain a healthier, happier work-life balance.

I also know we will gravitate back to the beach eventually but, for now, we’ve decided to sample a different slice of Mexican life when we leave La Peñita in a little over a week’s time. We want to see whether somewhere a little more cosmopolitan and cultural, with a wider variety of diversions and day trips and a richer food scene works a bit better for us. To that end, we’ll be heading to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city, renowned for its slamming local dishes, mariachi music, rodeos, and beautiful architecture. We’ll actually be staying in the nearby artists’ enclave, Tlaquepaque, which is supposed to be a little more gentrified and manageable, but is still close enough we’ll be able to make easy trips into the heart of the city but can escape the chaos at the end of the day. We’re also hoping to do a day trip to Tequila and maybe some other pueblos mágicos during our visit, but we’ll figure out those details once we’re there.

For now, we’ll take pleasure in our final days in La Peñita and the Riviera Nayarit. We have vowed that no matter what, we’ll be down at the beach every night to catch the sunset. I know I’ve only mentioned it a million times in this post, but they really are breathtaking. We sure will miss them when we’re gone, so we’d better enjoy them while we can. This may not be our perfect paradise, but some kind of paradise is still pretty great.

La Peñita sunset

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28 comments Leave a comment

  1. Awww happy anniversary!! Again, welcome back to the road, and it seems like you are really relishing this new experience – a whole new continent to explore!! 😀

    Apr. 17 2015 @ 1:58 am
    1. Tim UrbanDuniya author

      Well, technically Mexico isn’t a new continent for us as we’ve spent quite a bit of time in North America, but… we take your point! 😉 Definitely had some bumps in the road, but we know that’s just part of the adventure and we’re only getting started!

      Apr. 19 2015 @ 10:58 am
  2. very nice pictures!

    Apr. 17 2015 @ 2:46 am
    1. Traveling Rockhopper author


      Apr. 19 2015 @ 10:58 am
  3. I felt the same about the food when I was in South America. Same ingredients, same flavours, again and again. I worry Southeast Asia has ruined food elsewhere for good, haha (god! I hope not!)

    Apr. 17 2015 @ 3:00 am
    1. Emma author

      That’s actually one of the reasons we are less excited to visit South America—we know it’s a beautiful continent but everything we’ve heard about the food has underwhelmed us. We definitely didn’t expect to run into the same issues here in Mexico, but we definitely have found the flavors and foods on offer to be very repetitive, at least in La Peñita. Hopefully we’ll find a part of the country where the flavors really sing the way we know Mexican food can!

      Apr. 19 2015 @ 11:08 am
  4. We also found self catering difficult in Mexico. Our extremely basic kitchen didn’t help but we seemed to exist on a steady diet of simple pasta and a LOT of guacamole! And tacos – I never did get sick of them! I think inland is where you guys are going to find your sweet spot.

    Apr. 17 2015 @ 8:46 am
    1. Gillian author

      Our kitchen is not too bad, though it seriously lacks counter space and the knives are all dangerously dull… We have tried cooking a few times, but I admit that I haven’t been really inspired. We’ve been trying to cook vegetarian when at home, which is proving more difficult than I had thought it would be!

      We literally eat tacos every day, generally twice a day, and there are only about 4 different fillings you can choose from around here: carne asada, adobada, chorizo, birria, and chicharron. We’ve found one place that does cheap (though tiny) shrimp & fish tacos too, but most places don’t. It’s weird!

      I think inland Mexico might just be where the magic happens for us too… We shall see!

      Apr. 19 2015 @ 11:27 am
  5. Happy anniversary guys! Though our time in La Peñita was challenging, I am so grateful for the experience and look back on it really fondly. I think you will too at some point, when you find your feet. I found the food on the west coast a little disappointing, except for the obscenely cheap fresh oysters on the beach. Alas, I am a beach person through and through and though I don’t spend hours there either, there is something about knowing it is there which comforts me. Plus, a morning walk on the beach is pretty much my favorite thing in the world. Hope your next destination brings you more of what you are looking for! Buen viaje!

    Apr. 17 2015 @ 9:10 am
    1. Sarah Somewhere author

      Some of these tough moments I think we’ll be happy to forget (namely, all the rough stuff that has happened with the dogs), but I’m sure you’re right that a few months down the road, we’ll look back and laugh at what dummies we were here in La Peñita. 😉

      We do like being near the ocean as there’s nothing like the crashing sound of waves to sooth us, but we like to have a little more to do than just go to the beach every day, which La Peñita definitely doesn’t offer. It’s a good thing for us to know and remember and hopefully Tlaquepaque will deliver a little more of what we need to thrive! We’ll never totally quit the ocean, and I think the Yucatan appeals a bit more because there are ruins and cenotes and things other than “just” beaches to entertain us, so we definitely still plan to make our way there!

      Apr. 19 2015 @ 11:34 am
  6. Sim

    I’m still very much in the “mmmm tacos!” state of mind. Mmmmm, tacos…

    I can’t believe you’ve been in Mexico a full month already! Seems like just yesterday we were playing board games at the condo in some ways. And that was before your stay in the other great white north! Then again, it feels like a lifetime ago in others.

    It’s too bad the first city you landed in isn’t the right fit, but hopefully the next one will more than make up for it!

    Apr. 17 2015 @ 5:16 pm
    1. Sim author

      Yes, time is such a funny beast, isn’t it? It does feel like we were just in Toronto, visiting Twin Ponds (and going for an icy swim!), playing board games (& LOVE LETTER!), but it also feels like so much has happened between now and then. I’m glad we have so many good memories of time spent together during our time back in Canada! 🙂

      We didn’t necessarily expect that we’d “stick the landing” as it were when it came to picking our first destination in Mexico… we’re definitely seeing this more as a fishing expedition, where we’ll keep moving around and trying things out until we get into our groove and find somewhere that really does work for us. I’m just glad we have the flexibility and freedom to do that!

      Apr. 19 2015 @ 11:39 am
  7. Okay, so I was going to start this off by saying there is absolutely no such thing as too many tacos, but then I read on and I can see that my logic might be a little flawed. The food situation sounds a little rough. But I can kind of relate. My diet in Jakarta has become so monotonous. One would think that I’d be spoiled by fresh fruits and veggies but these things are actually incredibly expensive in the grocery stores. And going to the local market is too time consuming to do on a regular basis. So I feel like I’m limited to eggplant, zucchini, carrots and tofu. I can understand feeling down about “cooking fails.” I feel that almost every day! Mexico sounds so incredibly loud too. I remember this from my time there but, oh man, it sounds really challenging to actually be living it. Hopefully the next place you live in will be much more comfortable and quiet. I’m sure you two will hit your groove. It’s definitely an adjustment. Happy anniversary and enjoy those sunsets 🙂

    Apr. 17 2015 @ 10:42 pm
    1. Justine author

      I would seriously pay a fortune if I could get my hands on some tofu and Asian seasonings. There’s actually one Chinese restaurant in town that is really cheap that we’ve been to a few times and while it’s quite tasty for being scuzzy American Chinese, it still suffers from a lack of vegetables… What I wouldn’t do for some mock meat Chinese food! 🙂 We tend to be fairly healthy eaters and really enjoyed getting back into the kitchen following our travels, so being somewhere that is so meat heavy is definitely taking its toll on us. If we were in a more touristy town, we could definitely get the kind of veggies we want, but good luck finding arugula here!

      And we have honestly never been anywhere that is so loud as Mexico. This morning we were awoken by someone standing outside revving their chainsaw for no apparent reason but for 20 minutes straight! At least it drowned out the rooster and the massive truck idling out in the road?

      Apr. 19 2015 @ 11:43 am
  8. I loved Mexico but I did find the dining options limited in a lot of places we travelled too. I had some delicious dishes but a lot of the time at the more local places I found the food a bit bland. I hate to say it but from my personal experience I preferred the Mexican food in California where it was accompanied with amazing guacamole, incredible salsa and better quality meat.

    Apr. 19 2015 @ 7:55 pm
    1. Katie author

      Yes! I kind of can’t believe that we’ve found Mexican food quite bland at times as I never thought those two words would be in the same sentence. We’ve noticed that most dishes taste very similar and don’t have the bold, rich flavors we were anticipating. Could just be the part of the country we are currently in, but we were definitely expecting Mexican food to be more vibrant.

      Apr. 20 2015 @ 11:19 am
  9. First, congrats on your anniversary! Sergey and I will be celebrating 9 years in a few weeks — it does feel like it just went by in a whirl, and at the same time, it feels like it’s been forever! And second — I love pretty things in life too 🙂 And so while I totally support the idea of not writing a place off before your visit, I would say that I try not to give myself a hard time about moving on if the fit isn’t great. Excited to see how the rest of Mexico pans out for you guys 🙂

    Apr. 20 2015 @ 11:14 am
    1. Jenia author

      We don’t tend to get too bothered if a place doesn’t really click for us, but this is also why we rarely prebook/book ahead, so that we can really tailor our trip to reality rather than expectation. Unfortunately juggling work with two canine travel companions means we have to go much slower and are committing to places in advance so that we have somewhere to base ourselves. If it were just the two of us, we might not have wound up in La Peñita at all, or likely wouldn’t have stayed for as long as we did, but such is the reality of our new life. Still early days, and I’m sure we’ll figure out a good balance as we go along.

      Apr. 22 2015 @ 3:13 pm
  10. Happy Anniversary guys. I wish you both many more years together. 🙂

    It must be nice to finally be on the move somewhere and with your beloved dogs. I don’t know much about Mexico except that it’s in North America but you’ve painted quite a picture. I can’t believe it’s that noisy. When I think of a ghastly racket, I think of India. I pretty much couldn’t sleep the whole time I was there, what with the clattering, singing, chatting, mooing, screming and sellimg clay pots of Chai! Chai!

    Anyway, welcome back. 🙂

    Apr. 20 2015 @ 4:25 pm
    1. Victoria@ The British Berliner author

      We haven’t been to India so I can’t compare the noise here to the racket there, but having traveled to pretty much everywhere else in Asia (ok, not quite, but we’ve covered a lot!), the noise here is a million times worse. The volume is an issue, but unlike Asia where things would quite down during the night, it actually seems to get worse as darkness falls. I am on record for pretty much being able to sleep through anything and I’ve not been able to sleep through the night once since arriving in La Peñita. If India is somehow worse than this, I don’t know how I’d ever survive there!

      Apr. 22 2015 @ 3:32 pm
      1. Stephenie Harrison

        70% whisky and 30% cola, works rather a treat LOL!

        Apr. 23 2015 @ 10:45 am
  11. I love the way this post takes me to the local life of Mexico as if I was actually there. Thanks for your indepth post, and happy anniversary! 😀

    Apr. 24 2015 @ 7:05 pm
    1. Ethan author

      So glad you enjoyed the post, Ethan. Our first month in Mexico has definitely had us diving deep into the local way of life, so I’m glad I was able to convey that here!

      Apr. 27 2015 @ 9:08 am
  12. I’m not a small town person either. I like the sound of it, but a week would probably suffice. However, Riga (population around 750,000) has shown me that I am a small CITY girl. I hope that after you try on a few different places, you find the one that fits just right!

    And considering how long it’s been since I’ve had good Mexican food, I don’t believe for a second that there’s such a thing as too many tacos 😉

    Apr. 29 2015 @ 3:12 pm
    1. Heather @ Ferreting Out the Fun author

      Yes, I agree there is a world of difference between a small town and a small city. I sometimes find really big cities too overwhelming (especially when time is limited), so the trick is finding a place that has enough to keep us busy.
      I didn’t think there was such a thing as too many tacos either, but after one month of variations on heavy meats wrapped in corn tortilla we were desperate for something different!

      May. 3 2015 @ 12:20 pm
  13. Dr Steph, the “month of tacos” reminds me of some of my weeks in SE Asia. There were lots of towns that had access to one meal in slight variations. Hope you love rice!

    I love that sunset pic! Your macro photos are so sharp with great depth; it makes me appreciate the efforts to get the perfect aperture.

    May. 10 2015 @ 10:26 am
    1. Todd @ Visit50 author

      We definitely risked ODing on rice in certain places in Asia, but generally we found the cuisine was sufficiently varied in that part of the world that it never got quite so bad as the ubiquitous corn tortillas here. Perhaps because, in general, we found Asian food much lighter (though still very satisfying and filling) than Mexican food, which is very rich and very meat-heavy. I definitely miss all the bright herbs and spices from Asia, but we’re adjusting and definitely making up for two years of going without Mexican food!

      Also, thanks for the compliments on the photos. Most of these are Tony’s—he’s really a wizard with a camera!

      May. 11 2015 @ 3:45 pm
  14. Amazing pics. Reminds me of our trip through Mexico. It can be a culture shock at the start. It is such a rich and multi faceted society.

    Jan. 5 2017 @ 12:36 am

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