Mexico or the World's Biggest Russian Doll
If your finances are in order and you have holidays coming up but you don't know where to go yet, head to Mexico — you will not be disappointed. Write down on a piece of paper all of what you think Mexico is and burn that piece of paper before you get on the plane.
Mexico is a big country that has a lot to offer. It is probably the biggest Russian doll you could find in the world — many backpackers agree to this statement: there is a beautiful cascade hidden in a biosphere hidden in a tropical forest at almost every corner of the country. We spent almost three months in Mexico and we would have needed at least another three to fully explore it.
And there is something for everybody in Mexico: if you live to eat — like I do — then Mexico has a menu that is as thick as the Guinness World Records; if you live for the outdoor, then Mexico is like a Hunger Game's arena that you built to your liking (without the killing); if you live for history, then Mexico is a three-dimensional living encyclopedia.
I love food — I really, really do. I grew up in France — the so-called World's capital of gastronomy — but my taste buds never got as spoiled as they did by Mexican food. There are three things about Mexican gastronomy that make it unique: first of all, each one of the thirty two states of Mexico (including the Federal District) has unique dishes; secondly, each restaurant in those thirty two states has a different way to prepare that dish; thirdly, you don't have to break the bank to have food that fill your tastebuds. The only thing that changes as the price goes higher is a more refined experience.
If you love the outdoors, Mexico is your one-stop shop for land and water adventures. Here you will find mountains to climb, countless hiking paths (in deserts, forests, volcanoes, jungles), beautiful white-sand beaches, and snorkeling and diving near coral reefs and in natural reserves to just name a few. Although we didn't climb mountains, we did climb many pyramids and hiked in the jungle several times in little-known natural biospheres to look at fauna and flora that are unique to Mexico.
If you love history — ancient or recent — you ought to go to the country that saw the birth, rise and fall of some of the world's greatest civilizations. From the Yaqui tribes of Sonora to the Aztecs city of Teotihucan in Central Mexico to the Mayan metropole of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula or even the complexity of the old and new worlds living together in Chiapas, you will find something to become passionate about. Furthermore, there is something magical about walking up and down the narrow streets of the many superbly preserved Spanish colonial towns of Mexico.
Mexican artisany is as varied as its food: each state is known for its pottery, wooden work or clothes. Each state has a distinctive dress, distintive musics and dances. So...when you travel from one state to another, you get to taste different foods, look at different arts and enjoy different live performances. That is why Mexico is the biggest Russian doll in the world.
Before I tell you more about Mexico, I need to tell you that it is inexpensive to do all of the aforementioned. A half-day boat ride in Mazatlan costs $15, so does swimming with sea turtles for one hour in Acumal, and a half-day hike in a natural biosphere in Catemaco costs $25 (including the tour guide and entrance fee). Any of these activities would be at least twice as expensive in Western countries.
There is one element of the Mexican world that is too often spoken about in negative terms, yet that element is essential to having a good Mexican experience: its people. Mexicans, for the most part, are welcoming, serviceable and very knowledgeable about their country. If you speak Spanish and if you are willing to listen, Mexicans will be more than happy to tell you about their history, their food, their art and the unfortunate politics of their country. (I am lucky to have married a Spanish-speaking woman.)
If you don't speak Spanish, you will feel welcomed nonetheless. It is in Mexico that I started learning the Universal Language spoken in all countries: a subtle combination of hand gestures, words (preferably in the language of the country you are visiting) and sound effects. Even if you speak little Spanish — and I encourage you to learn a few words — you will be able to get around, understand people and make yourself understood.
Mexico developed an amazing school of tour guides that are accredited by the Federal Goverment to talk to you about the history of Mexico anywhere at anytime. We met a fabulous guide in Mexico City's Museum of Anthrolopogy — rightfully coined as one of the world's best museums — who told us everything we needed to know about the Aztecs, Huaztecs, Totonecs, Mayans and many more. He answered all of our questions — in perfect English — for four hours and for the meager fee of $20. We were so mesmerized by his knowledge that we spent a whole hour talking about the complexity of Mesoamerica's history right in front of the map of Mexico.
In Mexico, you fill also often find people who care about your safety, your well-being and who want to show you the best about their country. We got stopped on the sidewalk by a police officer one day because he wanted to tell our friend to hide her faux gold necklace so that she would not to attract thieves. A taxi driver went out of his way to make sure to return my wife's jacket that she left on the back seat. When we got sick — which happened to me more than once — our host, a tour guide or taxi driver would inquire about my health, suggest which medication to take and walk/drive us to the nearest pharmacy.
Mexicans always eavesdrop — but with good intentions. If you are standing at a bus stop and asking the bus driver if he is headed to where you want to go, one, two or three people will jump in the conversation and help you go where you are trying to go. Either they will tell you where to catch the bus and where to get off, or they will show you the stop where you need to be in order to board the right bus.
Any essay or blog post about Mexico cannot be complete if it does not discuss the unjustified concern that people and the media have about safety in Mexico. Contrary to what is being said, it is very safe to be and to travel in Mexico (Mexico has, by the way, an amazing cross-country bus system). Of course, there are places where one should never go, and that is true of any country. There are times at which you should not be alone outside, which is also true of any country. We met people who moved to Mexico, to the beach town of Mazatlan, to the colonial town of Guanajuato, or to the megalopole of Mexico City, and they all agree that Mexico is safe. They also all agree that a dark alley in a bad neighborhood in Mexico is as dangerous as a dark alley in a bad neighborhood in Canada, Ireland and Peru. If you direct your conversation, then, to the dangers of drug cartels and other controversial topics, the simplest answer I can give you in this post is; don't do drugs, don't join a gang, don't involve yourself with shady people... just like any other country.
So...Mexico is beautiful, it has one of the most amazing culinary traditions in the world, fantastic art, a rich history, beautiful mountains, national parks and beaches, it is cheap, and the people are welcoming.
Why haven't you been to Mexico yet? Whatever you excuse you might give me, write it down on a piece of paper and burn that piece of paper and head to the aiport now.