10 Jan, 2016

The Land Of A Million Colours: Backpacking Mexico, Part I

10 Jan, 2016

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Have you ever been to a place that was so different from anything you’ve seen before that it felt like you were suddenly in a completely different world?

For me, that place was Mexico.

The beauty, the diversity und cultural uniqueness of this country completely swept me off my feet.

 

This is the first post of a 3-part series containing general information about Mexico, advice on what to consider when backpacking in this country and some stories and anecdotes from my trip to Mexico. And believe me, it won’t be the last time I’ll be traveling to this amazing country.

 

Sunset in Mexico

 

 

Part I: How I fell madly in love with Mexico

Mexico.

For a long time I had wanted to visit this wonderful country.

A few weeks ago I finally made my wish come true.

Once I had decided to travel to Mexico and had booked my flights a few months back, it became clear that many people in my family and circle of friends did not approve.

 

“Are you crazy, backpacking in Mexico all on your own?

Do you have any idea how dangerous it is there?

Don’t you watch the news?

Do you know what can happen to you there?”

 

At this point I will admit: Sure, I had my concerns and doubts. And of course it was clear to me that not every part of Mexico is safe. In fact, there are some pretty dangerous parts, which even the locals don’t travel to!

However though, I also know that especially in the media people like to exagerate a lot!

And one thing I can tell you, which you might already know:

Our world is by far not as bad as people, or the media, might want you to think.

Of course, I understood the worries my family and friends had, but I believe firmly that if you read up on the places that are safe to travel to, ask locals which areas or activities to avoid and also travel with a clear mind and common sense, you will be just fine.

So, I packed my backpack and went on my way.

 

You can read up on what I take with me on my trips and how I pack my backpack here.

 

 

Sunset in Zipolite, Mexico

 

Fact is, there are 120 million people in Mexico, 9 million of which live in the capital, Mexico City (more than 20 million counting the entire region).

Nearly half of the population live beneath the poverty level. Especially in rural areas people partially live in extreme poverty. These people make up almost 10% of the population.

The average income per person is at about 10.000 $ per year, counting the richest 20% of Mexicans though. These upper 20% on the other hand earn 13 times more than the bottom 20% of the population.

 

As you can see by these numbers: Mexico has some pretty serious problems to battle with.

What these facts do not tell you though:

How indescribably beautiful Mexico is. How versatile and rich in history this country is and how caring and full of joy its inhabitants are.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to spend all that much time in this wonderful country, but for the short period of time I was there I experienced so many great things and was able to see a lot. I know for sure I will be back soon.

 

Here are a few of the things that impressed me the most:

 

#1     The religiousness and devotion

I myself am not a religious person. However, what really impressed me was the heart-felt way mexicans are devoted to their god.

We saw people from everywhere going on pilgrimages to Mexico City. They made their ways on foot, by bicycle, by car, by horse, in wheelchairs and even with baby strollers. We saw pilgrams riding all along the highways on their bikes, large Maria statues tied to their backs. Caravans of believers with intricately decorated trucks filled with people. Whole families walking to the holy shrine of Santa Maria de Guadalupe, carrying their kids on their arms.

Not only that was impressive to me. The way people prayed and sang to god was also very moving. On my first day, after arriving in Cancun, I saw a very simple-looking church. On the outside it looked like a completely normal building! The church was so crowded that people were actually standing outside of the church doors and out onto the streets. They were singing and praying, either standing up or sitting down and partially, even on their knees!

I don’t know what church services are like in your country, but in Germany our masses are pretty damn boring compared to that!

 

In the streets of Zipolite, Mexico

 

#2     The amazing attitude towards life in spite of poverty

In many parts of Mexico, especially in the countryside and the outskirts of Mexico City, peoples’ living conditions were shocking. Especially when you’re from Europe and have mainly traveled in that area it is hard to imagine how severe poverty can be.

Many people in Mexico live a simple life with simple living conditions- and yet they are so open-hearted  and content with their lives, that I really had to ask myself: How is it that we in Germany mope around and complain so much about the littlest things?

This just comes to show that we do not need a lot to be happy- there is so much happiness in simplicity.

 

#3     That picture-perfect postcard scenery actually exists!

Picturesque blue skies, sun shining, turqouise water, hammocks, seemingly endless white sand beaches, cocktail in hand..

Alright, many of you might already know this and you might have seen it with your own eyes.. I myself had only seen this type of scenery on postcards.

In Mexico this paradise actually exists. You just have to be sure to avoid the masses of American tourists, but when you do and you find that secluded beach (maybe not completely secluded, but far off from big hotel chains and mass tourism).. you’ll never want to leave again!

 

Scenery in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

#4      The presence of police and military

Imagine you arrive at a place and you see loads of cops and soldiers all around. Some are in their pick-up trucks, some just standing in the middle of town, seemingly ready to shoot at any given moment.

Maybe you’ve experienced situations like this before. I found this constant presence of the military pretty uncomfortable. It didn’t scare me or anything and it shouldn’t scare you either but I kept asking myself:

“Are they just trying to make people think that they are ready to fire when necessary or is there an actual risk of something happening here?”

I decided that they were probably just showing their presence and that I wouldn’t let it make me feel unsafe. We also only saw this in a few of the places we went to.

 

In the following parts of this Mexico-series I will tell you about some other interesting encounters we had with the police during our trip. 😉

 

#5     The food is incredibly delicious and cheap..

I absolutely loved the Mexican food.. just remember to be a bit careful when eating in Mexico.

I learned this the hard way when I came back from my trip with E. Coli.

Yeah.. it really wasn’t as fun as the word sounds.

Before my trip, I read and heard that especially with a European stomach you should be really careful in Mexico. I guess I underestimated the danger a bit (I literally ate everything, including some grilled crickets) and tried to eat all the same things my Mexican friends did.

Bad idea. 😉

Don’t let it freak you out though. Just keep in mind: Don’t eat at just any taco stand you encounter, especially when it’s hot (Ask yourself: How hygienic does it look? Is the meat being kept cool?) and try to avoid drinking tap water. (That includes rinsing your veggies with it and using ice cubes for example).

If you keep an eye out for those things, you will be just fine. Don’t pass up the chance to enjoy the yummy Mexican dishes!

 

#6     The many, many colours everywhere you look

In Mexico you walk down a street and the houses you see are painted in bright colours.. Green, pink, turquoise.. When you visit a market you see handmade jewelry, spices and herbs, fresh fruits and vegetables, in all different colours..

And it’s not just the visible colours. It’s the colourfulness of the people, the fiestas and the general attitude towards life that captures the eye.

All this pops into my head, when I think about Mexico and it’s one of the many reasons you should definitely go and visit!

 

Colours in Oaxaca, Mexico

 

In the next two parts of this blog-series I will get into..
  • ..the troubles that Mexico faces, how they make themselves noticeable and some personal experiences I made.
  • ..what you should consider when backpacking in Mexico, what you should take with you and more.

 

Have you ever been to Mexico? Were there any other things that impressed/shocked/inspired you? Which experiences did you make?

 

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