It’s been about three weeks since we returned to Mexico after our visit back to the U.S. While the plane ride between the two countries is short, it feels like they are worlds apart. The feeling is especially acute when you compare our suburban life in Louisville, Colorado, with our village life in Chacala, Nayarit (pictured above). One life is relatively predictable, neat, busy, and easier in some ways, while the other is anything but predictable, neat or busy, but easier in other ways.
When we were back in the States, one of the things I noticed first as being a lot easier was not having to rehearse everything I wanted to say before I said it. I never realized how much my inner dialogue in Mexico is figuring out what I want to say in Spanish before I say it. I silently practice speaking Spanish on my runs up the volcano, in the shower, in the car, walking down the road. It’s always in my mind.
How easy it was in the U.S. to walk into a store and make a purchase, or have a casual conversation with a neighbor, and not have to think so hard! I never realized how much I took for granted how easy it is to be a native speaker of the local language in your home country, and how hard it must be for those who are not. In the U.S., native English speakers are not known to be very patient with non-native English speakers. Yet in Mexico, everyone has been infinitely patient and helpful as I butcher their language.
Another thing I noticed was how complicated it was for some of my friends with kids navigating their hectic schedules between school and after-school activities. Take my friends with kindergarteners, for example. For some, sending their kids to public kindergarten meant they were in school for only 3 hours a day, plus they needed to be shuttled to pre-care, after care, and after-after care if both parents worked a “normal” day (until 5pm). To add injury to insult, they are spending between $450 and $1,200 USD a month for the privilege of educating their children and ensuring they have a safe and fun place to be all day.
Here in Chacala it is so much simpler. Maya’s school is literally two doors up the road; it is open from 8am to 1:30pm for preschoolers & kindergarteners, and elementary kids stay until 2:30. After school, there are organized on-site activities like karate, chess, music and guitar. Shuttling Maya around after school literally means we walk her 2 minutes back down the road to our house for lunch, then walk back a little later for whatever activity she is doing that day. If she doesn’t have an activity, then she simply relaxes at home, goes swimming, or plays with a friend until dinner time. There isn’t much to do in a small fishing village other than hang out or play at the beach or pool, so there isn’t much need to shuttle kids back and forth (or to spend money, for that matter). In this regard, our life in Chacala is much easier than in CO.
In the weeks leading up to our trip back to the U.S., I was excited to get back to all the conveniences I had missed living in rural Mexico – drinking water right out of the tap, flushing dirty toilet paper rather than throwing it in the garbage, smooth paved streets and sidewalks, air conditioned homes, shops and restaurants and, gasp, a dishwasher!
But what I didn’t expect is that I’d also miss many of the conveniences of small town Mexico as well, such as, and please excuse the political reference, taco trucks on every corner. While taco trucks are not literally on EVERY corner, they are definitely on every street and man do they serve the most delicious tacos you’ve ever tasted, for less than a buck a piece.
It’s not just tacos you can find on every street, but carne asada, pollo al carbon, tortas, fresh cut fruit, fresh squeezed juices and more – all being sold out of the back of somebody’s truck or cart or even wheelbarrow. For about $2.50 USD, you could have two of the best tacos you’ve ever tasted in your life, plus an ice cold can of Coke sweetened with real cane sugar (aka, “Mexican Coke”) in about the time it takes you to think you MIGHT be getting hungry. It didn’t take long being back in the U.S. (read: the first time we had to pay $10 USD for a sandwich and drink at a fast food chain) for us to miss the street food of Mexico. Nowhere else in North America can you get such fresh, delicious, fast food at such a bargain.
It’s not just access to good, cheap food that is more convenient in Mexico than in the U.S., but access to just about everything else. In most Mexican towns, shops are densely packed along streets that are clustered together into a walkable downtown, usually with a plaza in the center. This arrangement makes it super easy to do all your shopping by foot, as well as enjoy a rest or conversation in the plaza. For us, shopping in Mexico is an infinitely more pleasurable and social experience than driving from one big box store to another like we typically do in the U.S.
Chacala itself is too small to really have a downtown, so we do most of our shopping in the neighboring town of Las Varas about a 10-minute drive away. On a typical day out, we will hit the produce stand, dry goods shop, papeleria (stationary/art supply store), cell phone store (to add credit to our phones), bank, hardware store, and maybe the salon (for $3 USD haircuts), and of course grab some delicious street food. We can do all this in about 2 hours or less on foot, and then we are done for the week with all our errands.
Sure, we can’t get all the goods we are used to from the U.S. in Las Varas. I miss natural peanut butter, organic berries and lettuce, good wine, imported cheeses, gourmet chocolate and dill pickles (although I’m starting to make my own pickles now). I could get all these things if I was willing to make the four-hour round trip drive to Puerto Vallarta every week, but I’m not. So I guess I don’t miss them all that much. Instead, we embrace and relish in what we can get locally that we can’t get in CO – like fresh fish and seafood, tropical fruit and cheap avocados.
Hands down, one thing that’s much easier in the U.S. than Mexico is driving. Maybe it’s that I’m not yet accustomed to Mexican driving norms, or maybe it really is much crazier here. In Mexico, you pull off to the right to make a left hand turn across traffic. Passing in no passing zones is a national pastime. Shoulders are basically non-existent. It is common to encounter people walking down the side of major highways, as well as dogs, cows, horses, goats and chickens. In Chacala, all the streets are dirt or cobblestone. They are riddled with potholes and deep gullies carved by rainwater runoff. Driving from one end of town to the other will leave your insides jumbled. (Maya loves it.) When we were back in Louisville, roads I once thought were plagued with potholes were nothing in comparison. I was amazed every time we took a drive at how smooth and easy it was, and how wide all the lanes were.
I could go on and on with examples of how things are easier or better in one location vs. another. But suffice it to say, going back to the States reminded us of what we appreciate about BOTH places. At the end of the day, we are so grateful to be able to call both Chacala and Louisville our home.