Our Mexican Adventure

April 26 - May 4, 2008

As always, this first page contains no pictures, just some introductory material about how this trip happened, general observations, and self-indulgent ramblings. If you want to skip this stuff and go straight to the pictures, click here.

Several years ago, when Terry was still working as an interpreter, she and a friend of hers, also an interpreter, took a trip to Mexico City. While there, she met Hector Olivera, a Mexican gentleman who also works as an interpreter, primarily for the Mexican oil industry. Over the years since then, Terry and I have become good friends of Hector and his wife, Malena (Magdalena), and we've had them as guests at our house several times. So it was about time that they returned the favor.

A couple of years ago, Hector introduced us to his friend Martha (pronounced "Marta") Espitia. She's also from Mexico City, but has been living in the U.S. for the last couple of years, getting her Master's degree in Rehab Counseling from Cal State Fresno. While living in Fresno, she met and married Andy (Andrés) Garcia. However, due to some complexities of immigration law that I never fully understood, even though she's married to an American citizen, she recently had to go back to Mexico for a few months, before she could come back to the U.S. to stay.

So we decided to go visit Martha and her family in Mexico, before she came back. And then we decided that while we were there, we would also visit Hector and Malena. Although actually, as it turned out, we ended up spending more time with Hector and Malena than with Martha.

Hector is a very interesting person. He's lived in Mexico City all his life, except for a few years he spent at a school for the blind in New Mexico. His English is fluent, although his slang tends to date back to the 50's, when he lived in the U.S. He's also extremely knowledgeable about Mexican history and politics - I think he knows more about Mexican history than I do about U.S. history. In fact, I sometimes suspect that he knows more about U.S. history than I do. He also cheerfully refers to the Mexican American War as the American Invasion - but he doesn't hold it against us. (I wasn't born at the time, after all... heck, my grandparents weren't even born at the time!)

This trip was an incredible adventure. It's not the first time we've ever been to a foreign country - Terry and I went to England in 1983, and to Canada just last December. But of course, going to a place where they speak the same language that you do, and have essentially the same culture, isn't the same thing at all. This was our first experience with a totally foreign country.

(I say "our" first experience, because Terry has been to Mexico before, and to Costa Rica. For that matter, I've been to Japan, for a Boy Scout World Jamboree, when I was 16. But this was our first shared experience.)

And of course, this isn't the first time we've been to Mexico together. We've been to Tijuana any number of times, and even spent a weekend there. We've also been on Caribbean cruises that made stops at various places on the Yucatan peninsula. But those visits were sort of "nibbling around the edges." This was our first time spending any real length of time, in the heart of the country.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I told a friend of ours that we were going to Mexico City, she said, "Why? It's big, it's dirty, it's noisy, there are too many people, there are too many cars, and everyone speaks Spanish - it's just like Los Angeles!"

Well, not quite. In L.A., it only seems like everyone speaks Spanish. In Mexico, everyone really does speak Spanish!

Now, most people reading this probably know that Terry speaks fluent Spanish. She's no more Hispanic than I am, but she majored in Foreign Languages in college, and she has a definite talent for languages. In addition to Spanish, she can also manage passable French and German. And she worked for fifteen years as an interpreter for the L.A. Superior Court.

I, on the other hand, am essentially monolingual (the only languages I speak fluently are computer languages). Still, living with Terry for all these years, and hanging out with her Spanish speaking friends, I've absorbed quite a bit of Spanish vocabulary, and a good command of pronunciation, but very little grammar. Consequently, I can understand the language better than I can speak it. I can't read a book or a newspaper, but I can generally make out road signs, store signs, billboards, etc. And I can string together some simple sentences, although I can't carry on anything resembling a real conversation.

Terry says I know just enough Spanish to be dangerous.

Spending a week in a country where I don't speak the language, and where not many people speak mine, was another part of the adventure. Of course, I always had Terry with me, and Hector was with us for most of the week, so I always had ample professional interpreters on hand. Terry, in particular, did a very good job of keeping me "in the loop."

Actually, my protestations about my lack of Spanish notwithstanding, I didn't do too badly. Between my fractured Spanish, and the fractured English of the people I encountered, I was usually able to do business. I think my Spanish actually improved during the week. Hector and Terry both complimented me on my ability to communicate, and my willingness to make the effort.

But they weren't above being cruel to me occasionally. One night, I was reading a menu, and I came across the word "pie." I assumed it was a Spanish word, and pronounced it "pee-ay," which is how it would be pronounced if it were a Spanish word. But everyone started laughing heartily at my expense, and I discovered that the word was not Spanish at all, but just the English word "pie" - as in apple. Well, heck, how was I supposed to know that?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Another major difference between the U.S. (particularly L.A.) and Mexico is that Mexico doesn't have nearly the ethnic diversity that we have. Here in L.A., there are people from nearly every country in the world. In Mexico, just about everyone is... well, Mexican.

We spent much of our trip in Mexico City, and some time in Veracruz. These are major cities, of course, and big cities are big cities, anywhere in the world. But driving out of the city, particularly driving between Mexico City and Veracruz, you see more of the rural character of Mexico, and you can get a greater appreciation of the fact that you ain't in Kansas anymore, Toto. For example, here are some things I saw:

There's also quite a lot of poverty in Mexico. We didn't see much of it up close - the people we stayed with are all middle class professional types - but I did see some of it through the car windows, particularly on the outskirts of Mexico City. Hillsides crammed with small shacks, along rutted dirt roads. How the other half lives. Or probably even more than half.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Driving in Mexico City was an adventure in itself. There are several factors that contributed to the adventure:

Still, I had several factors working in my favor:

I did make several wrong turns - including one spectacuarly wrong turn while heading to Veracruz, about which more later - but we always got where we were going. We didn't necessarily always get there by the most direct or efficient route - but we got there!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As you read this log, you'll see this symbol scattered throughout: (w) . Those symbols are links to Wikipedia articles giving more in depth information about places we went and things we saw, for those who are interested.

Click here to start reading the actual trip log.