How to Enjoy Mexico: understand its background first!

Dear Reader,

It’s been almost three since I moved to Mexico and I don’t feel I have fully explained this wonderful country. I wrote several posts on it and it will probably take several chapters to even slightly envision what Mexico is and it’s worth doing so. I want you to feel it as if you were here with me exploring this remarkable land.

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The beautiful and shining Guanajuato town.

It sounds so basic and futile when you think about it, as if by reading the title the imminent thought would be “oh come on, no need for guidelines”. But believe me, there is a science behind the enjoyment of a new city or even country, especially one you hope to survive without stress and melancholy. You might also think that all it takes is to join a tour or simply read about it on a travel guide.

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Learn how to make tacos. It’s fundamental in order to understand how delicious they can be…

Let’s take Mexico as an example. Mexico is a huge country full of colours, culture and above all contradictions. They say that here in Mexico you will find four stories: the one the Government wants you to believe, the one academic institutions want to teach, one that foreigners want to explain. And the last one, the one you have to discover yourself. And this is mine.

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Cute little restaurant in Mexcaltitán, the Venice of Mexico

Certain beliefs and conceptions of reality characterise some populations more than others, and Mexico recalls images of ancient civilisations, plundering Spanish conquistadores and moustachioed revolucionarios. The many contradictions of this vibrant country lie in its unique history and are deeply reflected in the character and personality of the people. The expansive friendliness of norteños (Mexicans from the northern states) compared to the more defensive and rebellious southern Chiapanecos (people from Chiapas state). Mexicans can be intensely fatalistic, resigned even. And when the mood takes in, they are hedonistic and carefree. A reserved poker face will suddenly give way to astonishing warmth and familiarity.

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Indigenous children from the sort of forgotten state Chiapas

We know Mexico’s first hundred years were bloody while the last eighty-five years have been at peace; it shares a long land border with the United states and yet they couldn’t be more different.
When the Spanish brought Catholicism, the missionaries took a very pragmatic approach to it and incorporated many beliefs from earlier religions. That’s why there are so many religious festivals here like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Muxis (gay/transgender divinity festival), the Guelaguetza and many others that blend Catholic celebrations with indigenous rituals.

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Mexico is dual.

It emerged from its bloody history and claimed its place in the modern world. And now globalisation and free trade is altering Mexican society once again.

 

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Be a Local, not a Tourist

Dear Reader,

if you enjoy my adventures and follow my blog, it is probably because you and I share the same travel style. We don’t behave like common “tourists” but rather like “travellers” who walk a lot and enjoy a place like locals do. For this post I’m using the photos I took in Iran as it depicts what an off the beaten track destination is.

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Being a tourist is perfectly fine when you are a person who is more comfortable around other foreigners and want to document every sight and corners with your camera but, even then, with very little effort you can make of your journey something special if you pack accordingly and merely use your guidebook as a generic reference and no more. When you travel, curiosity will always be your best friend. Off the beaten tracks are always so much better than the regular trails because they’re cheaper, more interesting, and most likely you will not feel oppressed by sellers and beggars.

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Stanito in Abyaneh, sleepy town in central Iran

Look around you. What are locals doing? Where are they eating, drinking and shopping? The more observant you are the more real the experience will be.

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This is kashko badem-jan, the best eggplant dish I have ever had…

Start by finding locals who speak English and ask for advice on what untapped sights you should see.

Eat what locals eat. It sounds obvious but it bears repeating. If you want to feel like a local eat and drink like one. Ask around what are the local typical dishes, the ones that are low key and far from being posh. In case you can’t find anybody to ask, have a look around  markets and bazaars and look for those spots where you see locals lining up for food.

Walk on foot as much as you can and use local transportation to get to really know a town like locals do. This is how you find about the best places, personal experience speaking here 🙂

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A lovely evening with Qashqa’i nomad friends near Chemarhahijn

Unless you go to sporty countries, conflicted places or nations that are hard to access, I suggest forget about bus or guided tours.

Try to immerse yourself in the local culture rather than standing out everywhere.

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The nomad tent used for supper and entertaining the guests.

Explore the less-beaten areas and explore locations where tourism simply doesn’t drive the economy and people. You’ll interact with locals. This way your objective will turn into learning and experiencing new things, rather than to take a relaxing break from everyday life filled with selfies. A traveler may consider a trip a journey rather than a vacation.

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If you already consider yourself a traveler, it’s likely that you are already surrounding yourself with locals. And even then, you can still improve your trip 🙂 try getting more involved with them.

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Find a spot in town where locals seem to gather, like a town square or popular restaurant, and spend the day there. Strike up conversations with people of all ages. Ask questions about the local culture and talk about common interests; at the very least, you’ll leave with a broadened worldview. Don’t turn your nose up at tourists, and don’t avoid popular attractions simply because they’re packed with foreigners. This because ok, the Colosseo is constantly packed with tourists, but then, how can you go to Rome and not see this wonder?

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Stanito in Esfahan, Iran, photo taken by Alicia Venegas.

 

 Do you want explore in depth what off the beaten track destinations really are? Check these other two amazing blogs: The Velvet Rocket and The Unusual Traveler.