The rider eases his ambling horse along the cobbled street. He stops at the intersection. A few seconds later, I catch up and stand alongside. “Buenos Dias,” he shouts, tipping his cowboy hat while showing a gap-toothed grin. We watch the parade go by. Perhaps half the town is in it. The other half is watching. Kids sit on their fathers’ shoulders. Others stand on rooftops—sharing the view with their family dogs. People eat barbecued corn or yams that they buy from roadside stands.
Parades in Mexico are a fun mixture of what’s great, amusing or downright bizarre. Polished mariachi bands. Unpolished horn-blasters. Shirtless potbellied dancers in aboriginal ware, sporting loincloth, face paint, moccasins and head feathers. Eight year olds pass soccer balls. Two buses roll behind them. Yes, they’re also part of the parade, with the drivers blaring horns. Men behind shoot firecrackers. And in the backdrop, almost always, is a church or a massive Baroque-style cathedral.
Mexicans celebrate. Whether it’s the day of their city’s saint, Columbus Day, Revolution Day, or The Day of The Dead, Mexicans whoop it up. Even the enchilada gets its day in the sun. In December, my wife and I stumbled on its annual celebration in the city of Morelia. Locals honored the food with speeches, dances, dramatic plays and art displays.
Mexico is much more than beaches in the sun. You could tour European style architecture, ancient ruins or abandoned haciendas. You could also celebrate their culture with the locals.
But is it safe? Everyone asks. The northern border regions can be sketchy. But Mexico is a big country. It’s larger than England, France, Italy and Germany combined. Most of the country is safe. According to the United National 2013 Global Study on Homicide, there were just 8.4 homicides per 100,000 in Mexico City.
That’s as safe as a daycare, compared to some U.S. cities. Based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, the murder rate is 3 to 5 times higher in Kansas City, Missouri; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Oakland California; Cincinnati, Ohio; Birmingham, Alabama; Baltimore, Maryland; Newark, New Jersey, New Orleans, Louisiana; and Detroit Michigan.
As I write, return flights to Mexico City from Dallas, Texas start at $350. From Seattle, you could fly there and back for $480. A two-week trip for two, including flights, accommodation, entertainment and restaurants could cost $2,500 or less.
Jim and Carole Cook have spent seven years in Mexico. Jim shares his travels and experiences at the blog, Jim & Carole’s Mexico Adventure. When I asked him for trip ideas, he said we should see Mexico City, Morelia, Patzcuaro, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. So we followed his plan. We traveled on first class buses-- Mercedes Benz’s and Volvos. Greyhounds would tuck their tails in shame.
Seats recline a lot, much like those on a better business class flight. Every passenger gets a T.V. monitor with a selection of movies (in Spanish). Some of the buses have touch screens with free Internet. Bus company staff provides a drink and a sandwich to everyone stepping aboard. And the prices are reasonable. The five-hour ride from Guadalajara to Morelia, for example, cost $50.
During our December tour, daytime highs hit 70 degrees. Evening lows dropped to 50. Hotel prices can be bartered, especially offseason. We paid $39 at Morelia’s Hotel Casa del Anticuario. Other mid-range hotels offered similar rates. And Wi-Fi is free.
Much has changed about Mexico. But unlike many countries, its history is everywhere. Thousands of abandoned haciendas remain. Men and women still ride horseback, sometimes side by side with automobiles. Pre-Hispanic Aztec culture doesn’t cling in vain. It’s celebrated at the crazy, noisy, wonderful parades that every town embraces.
In the early 1500s, The King of Spain reportedly asked Hernán Cortés
what Mexico was like. Without saying a word, the conqueror of the Aztecs picked up a piece of paper and crumpled it. Perhaps he was alluding to the hilly landscape. Today, news reporters might take a magnifying glass to a dangerous northern crease.
But remember the size of this country. And the various warm, welcoming folds within it.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad currently living in Chapala, Mexico. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.