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Bumps in the Road

Friday, July 15th, 2011

By Allison

Well, we are back in Mexico again. This time I will be here for 5 weeks with all 3 boys and Matthias is here for the first 2 weeks. We did this last year as well, but last year we spent the time outside of Guadalajara. This time, with the help of a long-time family friend, we decided to spend the majority of our time outside of Mexico City in the town of Cuernavaca. In the first 4 days in Mexico City I was flooded with memories of our year-long trip – the smells of the showers, men’s hair gel sold by the tub, stores that specialize in one commodity (you buy umbrellas at the umbrella store, raincoats at the rain jacket store, cleaning supplies at the cleaning supplies store, …, you get the idea). I had forgotten what it is like to stick out like a sore thumb. In the subways in Mexico City I never ever saw another gringo once. With the exception of the Zocalo or the world-renowned Anthropology Museum we were the only white guys around. This draws the range of stares: friendly, suspicious, amazement, shock, curious, loving, and on and on and on. With all the bad press Mexico has had recently it is comforting to see the random people who look out for us. People in the seriously crowded subway were holding others off and asking them to be mindful of our little ones oblivious to the crowds cramming their way into the subway. Two (not particularly clean-cut) men walking close to us saw that we turned the corner and Julian continued to walk straight ahead. They tapped him on the shoulder and pointed him in our direction. These are just two examples and we could tell more. In this daunting city of 24+ million people (2nd largest in the world) we still have the same experiences that we have had throughout our travels in any country (including the US): you WILL encounter swindlers, if you are looking for trouble you will find it, and a bit of humility and common sense will lead you to millions of people who are nice and decent.

However, nothing in Mexico seems to come off without a hitch. Part of the fun is adjusting plans and adapting to these bumps in the road at a moment’s notice. After Mexico City our first obstacle was to find a place to live. We had two places lined up that we were going to check out and decide. We arrived at the first place much too early and sat around for close to an hour waiting for the woman to arrive. Once she got there she realized she forgot the keys, so we sat and waited some more. The situation with this first apartment was a bit delicate, as the woman who was showing us the place is 21 years-old, her mother passed away some time ago, and her father died about 2 weeks ago. The apartment we were looking at was her father’s apartment, and we knew it would really have been a great financial help for her to have the place rented out. On paper everything sounded perfect – cul-de-sac with almost no traffic so the kids could play, great central location, tortilla lady down the street, next to a park and walking distance to the bus station. Alas, so perfect on paper, but in reality so very, very bad. The apartment felt like they had removed the deceased, shut the door and we were the next people to return. The bed was slept in and not made, half-full glasses on the table, dishes in the sink, garbage cans full, dead roaches on the floor. The “pool” had no working filter and you couldn’t even see the bottom in the deep end because there were so many leaves and sticks settled at the bottom. In retrospect it is not surprising that a 21 year-old in mourning is not ready to step in as landlord and think about prepping the place to show to prospective tenants. Also a bit unfortunate because we would have been happy to help her out in this hard time for her, but there was no way this was going to work with us.

We decided to take a look at the second place, but of course I forgot to write down the phone number or address. A few hours later we were this close to checking into a hotel when Matthias finally got a hold of the owners of the second place. We got the address and taxi and were on our way. We were looking for house #28, but for the life of us could not find it anywhere. The house numbers are by no means sequential in Mexico. You may find 20, then 22, 24, 28, 14, 103, 22 (again), 8. Although the numbers we were random, we did find 28, but it was a car wash. No one seemed to know what place we were looking for. After about 30 minutes of driving up and down the street we found a woman who offered to call again. It turns out we shouldn’t have been looking for 28, we should have been looking for 20H. In English both sound quite similar, and we’ll just attribute this to Matthias’ language barrier. Once we made it to this bungalow we knew right away we wanted to stay. The bungalow is just big enough for us, and we have access to the pool, basketball court and the owners George and Ines are very helpful. They have an enormous garden and our kids are really enjoying the dogs, bunnies, birds, geese, cats and 4 peacocks on the grounds.

The next day our only agenda item was to pick up the rental car. Through a Yahoo group we found a woman who was willing to rent us a 1998 Ford Windstar van. Now this car is usually a piece of shit, but the price was reasonable and she was flexible, so we decided to give it a shot. We met Gloria at the bank to get insurance (which involved a lot of time, waiting around and many hand-written receipts on scraps of paper). We checked out the outside of the car and she showed us everything we needed to know. With the engine running, hand brake dis-engaged and the car in Drive she returns, “Oh, one more thing, when the automatic transmission switches gears it is bit rough, but it is ok. Just slow down or accelerate and maybe move it into second gear and you’ll be fine.” Huh? Well, whatever. It doesn’t sound so bad, let’s just get a move on because this whole ordeal has taken nearly all day already and we were anxious to get home. We get on the road and when the transmission changes gears it JERKS into gear and we lurch forward in our seat. When you press the accelerator it backfires nearly every time, it takes about 10 seconds from pressing the gas to the time the car actually starts to accelerate. This car is the true Mexican experience, and after about 15 minutes Matthias gets the hang of it. The next morning we get everything loaded up and are about the head out for the day when this Mexican man comes running over waving his hands and pointing at the tires. The left rear tire is completely flat. We inspect the tires and there is a huge gaping hole in the tire. The other 3 and the spare are also completely bald and I realize we didn’t check the tires before we left. The jack in the back is missing parts and there is no tire iron. Luckily George has one, and the neighbor’s gardener, Mario, came out to help. None of the jacks were tall enough on their own, so by propping up one tire after another on cutting boards and wooden planks, we finally lift it up enough to get the old tire off and the spare on. We ended up returning the van and got most of our money back. In the end it cost us about 80 dollars and two days of time. Sad for Matthias because this is his vacation where we could have been doing other fun stuff. In the end it was a good lesson to learn and we now have a solid list of things to check when renting a car: take a look at the care BEFORE you start agreeing to charges, check the body, check the tires and take it for a test drive. It may seem obvious now, but at least it was a cheap lesson to learn.

In the meantime the kids have started summer camp and Matthias and I have had two days to ourselves. We went downtown, did some shopping in the market, and on Tuesday we had a cooking class. We made 3 fabulous salsas, marinated onions, cochinita pibil, a great marinade, tortillas, gorditas and have learned the fundamentals of cooking with chilies. Regardless of the bumps to come we will already take a lot with us from our visit here.

Mexico City

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

Wow, what a city!

When we started our trip a lot of people warned us not to go to Mexico City, because it’s dirty, chaotic, polluted and dangerous and we decided not to go. Then again we have been warned of almost any place we visited that it’s too dangerous, so statistically speaking, the odds of getting hurt in Mexico City are slightly higher than in Seattle, but not as great as in Detroit.

Street Side Scene Under our Room in Mexico City  

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