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Mexican Vignettes

December 2001

Observations from a couple of gringos

Mexico gets a bad rap in the US and Canada. Many of us somehow come to believe that Mexicans are lazy, untrustworthy, and dishonest, that we’ll be asked for bribes everywhere, and that our credit cards will be stolen as we get off the plane. After a couple of years cruising among the Mexicans, we can assure you that nothing could be farther from the truth. It is difficult to imagine a warmer, more industrious, or more hospitable people. Tony Cohan, the author of On Mexican Time, puts it this way:

“So how do you find Mexico?” Paul asks me.

“If I smile, people smile wider. If I say ‘buenos dias,’ they say it back, stronger. Sometimes they don’t even wait.”

“In Mexico,” Paul says, “you put out a little, you get back a lot. In human terms at least, you could say it’s a functional economy.”

We agree completely.

The Kindness of Mexicans

Would these incidents have happened back home?

Ferocious Federales

Friends of ours recently were driving back to Puerto Vallarta from a visit to the beautiful colonial town of Morelia, when they blew a tire at high speed and barely got the car stabilized and off onto the shoulder. As they stood there looking forlornly at the ruined tire, a big ‘black-and-white’ with Policia Federale painted on the side, roared up and stopped behind them. Our friends groaned inwardly at this new misfortune. Federales are the national cops, always pictured in the movies as pistol-packin’ burly swaggerers in mirrored sunglasses, ready to fleece travelers in a momentito. Of course, none of us have actually seen any such cops, much less seen them fleece anyone, but that’s their reputation. Well, guess what? They changed the tire for our friends, in the process burning their hands on the hot lug nuts. Then they refused any payment at all, even a cold drink. So much for that myth.

Medical Emergency

While sailing down from Cabo, we stopped in Chacala, one of our favorite isolated bays, and socialized with friends on four other boats. The next morning, the crew on one of the boats rowed over to say that the captain, a friend from Tacoma, seemed to have suffered a small stroke. What should they do? We all coaxed the captain into a dinghy and got him ashore, where two Mexican fishermen didn’t hesitate to drive him and his crewman to the local hospital. Of course, they wouldn’t take any money and just wanted to help.

That was at 8 a.m. By noon we hadn’t heard anything, so Jan and I went ashore to one of the palapa restaurants on the beach, asking if someone could find us a taxi to the hospital. No taxi to be found, so the owner just handed us the keys to her truck and gave us directions to the hospital. We didn’t know how long it would take, but she gave that great Mexican response, “No problema!” We never did find our friend, as the local hospital had stabilized him and ambulanced him right off to the best hospital in the region. So after a couple of hours’ searching, we got back to the restaurant (filling the gas tank along the way) to find that the restaurant owner wouldn’t accept even a peso. These were just a couple more examples of the kindness and generosity of the Mexican people. (Our friend is now home in the US and seems to be doing well.)

A Pangero Saves a Family

Our friends Bruce and April aboard their small catamaran ‘Chewbacca’ nearly ran onto the rocks last spring in Chamela, when a rope wound itself around the prop. Bruce dived in and struggled to cut the rope off the prop, but it was slow going and ‘Chewbacca’ was drifting straight to the rocks. April and their two small girls were frantic, but just then a fisherman came zooming past in his outboard-powered panga. At first, he thought they were just waving hello, but he quickly understood they were in danger and shot over toward ‘Chewbacca.’ Bruce threw him the first line that came to hand, the pangero cleated it, and he started dragging the catamaran (backwards, because it was a stern line!) to safety. By the time Bruce had cleared the rope on the prop, the pangero had waved and taken off toward his nets, not asking for thanks, much less for any money. Bruce and April still do not know who the good Samaritan was and are disappointed they never were able to thank him properly.

A Tight Spot with ‘Migracion’

After the Baja HaHa 2001, while we were all partying on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, two women crew on another boat, asked us some urgent questions about the immigration rules. It seems their captain had decided not to check in with the authorities in Cabo to save a few bucks. This is strictly illegal and left the two women crew with no visas, which was a beeeg problem as they were leaving Cabo by air the next day. That’s the type of blatant disrespect for Mexico and Mexicans that creates the Ugly American image, besides putting two women in potentially serious trouble with Migración.

We suggested the only idea we could think of, for the women to go to the airport early and throw themselves on the mercy of the Migración officers. The innate kindness of Mexicans would be their best ally, and tears would be their last resort. They did just that, told their tale of woe, and asked the officer for help. He hemmed and hawed and waited until all his official colleagues had their backs turned. The women thought this meant he was going to ask for a bribe, but he quickly handed them their visas, stamped their passports, smiled, and wished them a pleasant flight. Whew! And they didn’t even have to use tears ploy. Another good turn by a kindly Mexican, and an official to boot!

More Softie Cops

We had another encounter with officialdom in Oaxaca, this time of a social nature. While sitting at a café in the zocalo, having a drink and watching the passing world, we chatted with Francisco and Alberto, the two well dressed Mexican gents at the table next to us. Turns out they are very senior police officials from San Luis Potosi who were in Oaxaca for a conference on los ninos de la calle (street kids), a major problem here and in all of South America. They were very entertaining guys and we greatly enjoyed their company. Alberto had studied English in Michigan and spoke very well. Francisco loved mariachi music and sang along with all the musicians who strolled by. They wanted to make sure we enjoyed Mexico and Oaxaca, quizzed us about our impressions, and even tipped the mariachis to play favorite Mexican songs for us. Just an ordinary evening in an extraordinary country.

Problems in Paradise

Yep, there are a few. Apparently, Mexico City has some serious crime problems, including kidnappings, but we’ll confine ourselves here to things we’ve experienced ourselves.

Giving Directions

Mexicans are so nice and helpful that when asked for directions, they can never just say they don’t know. Very often they have no idea, but want to be able to help you somehow, so they wave vaguely in some direction. Maybe it’s a face saving thing. Sometimes we actually get directions to the place we’re looking for!

Timeshare Salesmen

With the shortage of tourist victims this winter, they are getting a trifle rabid. They are on the prowl as soon as passengers arrive at the airport, on busses, on street corners. Advice to visitors: just smile politely and keep saying “No, gracias.” And walk faster!


We’re spoiled in the US, where smokers have been driven outside and away from everyone else. In Mexico, there are no “non-smoking” areas in restaurants, or anywhere else for that matter. Even in open-air palapa restaurants, so many Mexicans smoke that it can really get to you. We just move on.

Beach Vendors

Just when you get to the exciting part of your mystery novel, a vendor comes by to ask if you’d be interested in buying silver jewelry, pareos, mobiles, wood carvings, puppets, hair braiding, tablecloths, or T-shirts. They usually back off if you give a polite, “No, gracias.” But there are so many of them! Sometimes when we’re lucky, there will be a sacrificial victim on the beach who will actually be in a buying mood, thus creating a vortex that pulls in all the vendors for miles around.

The Trash Thing

As a famous publisher of a west coast cruising magazine, “It’s too bad the Mexicans haven’t figured out the trash thing, because it kind of detracts from the beauty of the country.” Many Mexicans really are less than responsible about trash disposal, and foreigners’ impressions of the countryside and the cities do suffer.


Sorry, that’s all we can remember. Well, they do charge double fares for taxis from the airport, but I guess we can live with it.


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This page was last updated on 04/13/04.


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