22 years in Mexico
Today I celebrate 22 years living in Mexico. I arrived in the evening of 9 July in 1991 and Mexico was definitely a different place then.
The first time I ever set foot here was way back in 1977 having just graduated; I decided to have a bit of a holiday before deciding on a career. Not knowing a word of Spanish meant that it was more challenging but I was young and without fear and full of hope for the future. Mexico City was then a place of few tall buildings but already lots of people; there were only 2 lanes on Avenida Insurgentes and the Periferico and there was enough space for everyone. The national university campus was a long way away and great for visiting the grounds for a picnic. Going to Cuernavaca was practically an adventure although the road was one of the best in the country, at the time. I remember missing good chocolate and good cheese, for some reason, and the lack of these 2 ingredients in my diet definitely contributed to my losing weight. There were a few supermarkets but with few imports and life was actually quite simple. Probably the most challenging thing was driving places. I remember I went on a big trip to Acapulco and then south towards Oaxaca and Chiapas, on the most terrible roads, and it took us ages to get there. But that was normal so you just had to press on. We drove along unmade up roads through the jungle from San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, via Ocosingo, arriving at Palenque at a time when few people were visiting this extraordinary Mayan site. There were pyramids magically sitting in the vegetation, barely visible, a guide appeared and took us around, but we were part of just a handful of people. I will never forget how marvellous it was. To this day Palenque is a special place for me.
Now the capital of the country is a huge metropolis, full of very tall buildings and too much traffic and too many people; one can spend a lot of time sitting in a traffic jam. We have a second floor on the Periferico to cope with it all and Avenida Insurgentes still has 3 lanes as well as a Metrobus only lane, amazing. What was removed you might ask, well, of course, the trees had to go….
We have internet, mobile phones, a million channels on TV, videogames, we are all connected as never before. We have supermarkets and gas stations all over the place, anything you want is imported, there’s plenty of good chocolate and excellent cheese. It’s difficult keeping slim. We have shopping malls and endless restaurants with many of them coming from north of the border. We have motorways enabling us to travel more easily round the country although there are many more that need to be built and are causing ecological groups great stress because of the cutting through of great swathes of virgin forests and jungle. We are living in a democracy, apparently, although old habits die hard and no one is quite sure how true that is. There are a lot of doubts and questions unanswered, a lot of drugs and violence… Mexico is now a developing country and has one of the biggest economies in the world.
There are many things that have remained the same in all that time, thank goodness, and I refer to the cheerful and incredibly friendly nature of the Mexican people, the delicious food, the wonderful climate, the fantastic coasts and all that tourism has to offer, the extraordinary art and culture, the music, the Mayan remains, the pyramids at Teotihuacan, the tequila, the lemons, the salsas, the chilis.. so many things that make this country so interesting and so attractive to not just Europeans but also Americans, Canadians, Chinese, Japanese, everyone everywhere.
As an Englishwoman living in Mexico there are moments when everything drives me round the bend, but I know that it would also be the same were I at home. I think the people, the sun, the sea, and the food and the culture here are what keeps we foreigners here, or at least that's what I think today. Roll on the next 22 years!