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Mexico Is a Land of Contrasts

Main plaza of Ajijic
Credit: AlejandroLinaresGarcia | Wikimedia Commons

Mexico is a land of contrasts. Expats and visitors who take time to look and see are rewarded with a constant parade of “Mexican Moments” that reveal both new and old Mexico.

Loaded with cutting-edge technology, today’s Mexico is dashing toward full-fledged first world standing. Still, around the next corner in the dawn’s early light are those who harness horses for a day of plowing, herd black and white cows down from the mountain and across the highway to be milked or push row boats piled with fishing nets into Lake Chapala.

Until they catch some of these “Mexican Moments,” visitors will continue to gaze at their surroundings with rose-colored lenses and be lulled into the assumption that life here is just like it is back home. You really can’t blame them for jumping to that conclusion. They stay in beautifully decorated and maintained B&Bs, eat wonderfully prepared continental cuisine, watch U.S. television via satellite and wirelessly search the web on phones and tablets. They golf, shop, swim, play tennis and do many of the other things they do back home.

Then one day, those visitors cum expats turn a corner and see an amazingly unique Mexican sight. The conversation at every expat gathering eventually turns to the sights they’ve seen but didn’t have the camera handy. You’d think that these assembled friends were telling fish tales of the ones that got away instead of missed “Mexican Moments.”

There’s always stories of the old milkman talking on a cell phone while riding a burro with the metal milk cans and dippers tied on behind his saddle. Or, there’s the tale of the herd of cows that crosses the highway at the same time every morning or of the elderly expat who drives a burro cart decorated with artificial flowers and streamers to the bar about the same time.

I love these “Mexican Moments.” Here are a few favorites of mine:

  • The local parish priest, still in his cassock, directing traffic in the church parking lot after Mass.
  • Workmen filling buckets of sand in the back of a dump truck and then carrying pairs of the heavy buckets as they walked across a plank suspended across the street from the edge of the truck bed to a building’s second-floor window.
  • An older man, pumping hard to ride his bicycle up a hill, respectfully removing his cap, and reverently forming the sign of the cross as he passed the door of a church.
  • Then there was the day a hot pink Rolls Royce stretch limo was circling the airport parking lot killing time before picking up WHO? Who orders a hot pink limo?
  • Bagpipers in kilts and ladies in the family plaids surely are on a list of “least expected sights in Mexico,” except when Lakeside Scots celebrate the January 25th birthday of poet Robert Burns.
  • An elderly gardener spotted in the street in front of his home mowing the grass growing around the cobblestones under an abandoned pipa (water tank truck).
  • Hitched horses outside homes and businesses, even bars, and being fed on sidewalks outside homes. The fun is spotting the horses in places where the background tells a story, like the horse hitched to a pay phone outside the Internet café.
  • I spotted the child of one of those riders in Mass one evening. The small boy was kneeling in the pew, looking back toward the door, with his lasso expertly coiled at the ready. Thankfully he didn’t rope the priest.
  • During renovation months earlier, there was a series of amazing sights at the church, including the small frontend loader that rolled up a ramp and through the church’s ancient six-inch-thick wooden doors. Then it descended into a seven-foot-deep pit as it excavated and revealed the foundations of the 350-year-old building.

Here’s a tip for expat residents, newcomers and visitors alike: keep a sharp eye and your smart phone ready to capture the delightful “Mexican Moments” that so aptly capture the contrasts of life in Mexico.