One of the objectives of our trip is to experience firsthand what it would be like to live in different environments abroad, irrespective of what we thought we knew beforehand. We dubbed it the “Try Everything So You Really Know What You’re Talking About and What You Like Tour”, or for short, “You Don’t Know Until You Go”. Part of that experience was to get a feel for the locals. Herewith, our view of Mexicans and Mexican food.
Mexicans are Nicer Than Typical Americans in the US
Virtually everyone you pass will say “hola”, or “Buenos dias / Buenos tardes / Buenos noches”, and it doesn’t seem to be perfunctory or insincere. Perhaps I’m just naïve, but I don’t think so. It doesn’t look like they’re smiling just to try to sell me something. Why? Because in fact the vast majority wasn’t trying to sell me anything; they were just walking by.
Here are some other incidents I remember just in six weeks that cause me to come to this conclusion:
- We were walking on the beach in Tecolote just southeast of La Paz, and came across three young men and a young woman who were just setting up. It was probably obvious to them we were Gringos. In halting English, after saying hello, one of the men offered us a beer. When we demurred, he tried again. Finally, a bit exasperated, he brought out his trump card: “But it’s Tecate!”
- We had driven to the parking lot of Baja Ferries to ask questions about taking our dogs. Two men in the car next to us had evidently seen our Arizona license plate (or us) and as soon as we got out of the car, one of them asked us in not perfect English if we needed any help. Was he employed by the ferry company? No. Was he in the hospitality industry or trying to sell us something? No. He was just an ordinary Mexican trying to help out some evidently bewildered-looking people.
- I went to ask the veterinarian in our very small town, Christian Pozo if he knew a place I could rent some kennels for our dogs because the ferry requires them. He said he didn’t know any place to rent them, but they would probably be cheapest to buy at a members’ only big box store at which he was a member. When I told him I wasn’t a member, he told me he would buy them for us the next time he was there and we could just reimburse him for them. Would your vet do that for you? Later, when he discovered that I wasn’t clear on certain procedures on the ferry because I didn’t speak Spanish very well, he told me not to worry. He would call the ferry company the next day and ask them on our behalf. All I had to do was to come back and he would answer my questions, of course, at no charge.
- When we were getting our visa paperwork, we had to find a store with Internet access, which we did. The clerk (who spoke close to zero English) an hour or so to help us understand the forms. (Did you know that if you’re from the US, your nationality is “Estadounidense”? I certainly didn’t.) When we tried to give her 50 pesos (less than US $3) for her trouble, she refused. It took us several additional minutes to talk her into it.
Mexicans really know how to cook. And bake. In the entire time we were in Baja and on the ferry, the only average meal we’ve had has been on the ferry, and for a ferry, it was pretty good.
The restaurants are fantastic, and, if you stay away from tourist places, you’ll pay almost embarrassingly low prices for great food. Also, the portions are often slightly bigger than American portions.
The second best hamburger I ever had in my life was at Las Palmas, in La Ventana, for 70 pesos (about $3.75).
To her surprise and delight, my wife kept ordering fish she never would even have asked about in the States because it would have been “market price”; i.e., too expensive. 140 pesos (a little over $7) for yellowtail. 160 pesos (a little over $8) for sea bass.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the food is so good in Mexico is that it is so fresh and everything, it seems, is made to order. Even the tortillas are great, once again, almost certainly because they are so fresh. We became fans of a local tortilleria in La Ventana, where they showed us the production process and even let Jet try making some.
The prices in the restaurants are generally much lower in the non-Gringo places in Baja California than in the US and the prices at the supermarkets are just a little lower, so it’s almost cheaper to just eat at restaurants than to buy your food and cook it yourself.
One of the exceptions to this was one day, where at two different supermarkets, I saw a several elaborate and decadent cakes that looked to be maybe 10 inches to a foot in diameter, and about 5 inches tall for 50 pesos each (about $2.75). Unfortunately, we could only eat one at a time. These were on sale, so the usual price was about double that, at just about $5.50. In addition to these silly prices for cakes, the pastries are great, and the cost is about 40% less than in the US. Don’t go to Mexico and expect to lose weight.
We have three words to describe the pastries we’ve had in Mexico:
- I can’t wait to eat another one