Tag Archives: Mexico City

Solo Travels in Mexico

Many years ago, on a whim I decided to go to Mexico because it was cheap. So up I went and flew to Mexico City for a week. This was the first time I had travelled on my own and I figured it would be a safer country to try my solo travel in than farther away in Asia.

I knew pretty much no Spanish and had a little phrase book at the time with your essentials. I arrived in Mexico City, finding a hotel to stay at that was also a residence for some people. I don’t even remember if I had a guidebook but somehow I got around. Mexico City was huge, at something like 25 million people, and the pollution was so bad I could taste it. Still I went to the Zocalo (the city center or public square) to see some of the buildings. And of course to a few churches as well.

The first night I went down to a local restaurant to order something to eat. I wanted to avoid the Zona Rosa, the tourist zone, as much as possible. After all, tourist areas tend to be pricy and don’t give you a real slice of the local haunts. As I sat in the restaurant with my tiny phrase book, I looked at the menu in bewilderment. Another customer must have seen my consternation. He came over and talked to me and told me what the food was so I could order something.

I was only in Mexico a week and even before I tasted the water my stomach started to suffer from Montezuma’s revenge. The airport had actually had people giving out pamphlets saying you could be affected from the altitude and so it was with me. I also had tummy troubles in India and Nepal (from dysentery) curtailing some of my gastronomic adventures. So I don’t remember much about Mexican food but there were a few highlights.

One day I asked a street vendor for naranja–orange juice. He asked, con huevos? And I said si, not knowing what it was. I received an orange juice with a raw egg floating in it. Gah! I drank around it and left the huevo behind. I also wandered into one market in the city that had various vegetables and tortillas and cactus. I never did try cactus. But at one booth there was a basket of white nuts. When I looked closer I realized it was grubs. Thankfully I never ordered those by mistake. I did get to try pulque (pullkay) which is a fermented cactus juice, very thick but tasty. It was considered to be a drink of the gods and I guess the old kings used to imbibe.

At that time my hair was nearly to my waist, blonde and brunette. As I walked through the city of brown-skinned Mexicans I stood out with my white skin and lighter hair. The men would hiss at me and call out, “Muy buenita.” I didn’t know what this meant and I found it disconcerting. It turns out that in certain countries they don’t whistle, or wolf whistle as we call it when men whistle at women. Instead they hiss their appreciation.  And muy buenita meant very beautiful. I began to realize how latin lovers got their names.

In fact, every day some man hit on me. There was the guy living at the hotel who tried to tell me he had met me at a party in Vancouver. It didn’t work but what he had done was ask the desk manager what my name was and where I was from. There was the hotel owner in Taxco who wanted me to accompany him on his holiday to a town that had a church for every day of the year, and another young guy looking for someone to buy him dinner. There were the guys at the restaurant in Cuernavaca, and a guy at a cantina who wanted me to go to Puerta Vallarta with him, but I wasn’t about to embark on trips with strangers.

My second last night, no one hit on me except to rob me on the train as I returned from Chapultepec Park which houses the world-class anthropology museum. It was the least invasive robbery, my bag being slit with a knife and my wallet taken. Lucky for me, my passport was tucked behind my camera lenses and the wallet held only about ten dollars and my Visa card. Even my traveller’s cheques were back at the hotel. No Mexican would look like an Anderson but I cancelled the card. I ended up not eating that night as it was a Sunday and I had no cash left for dinner. Most of the places wouldn’t take the traveller’s cheques.

Then on my last night I did go for drinks at a cantina with a Mexican man, named Fernando. He tried to get me into bed, pretty much like all the other guys, except the thieves. I wouldn’t give in and he proclaimed I wasn’t like all the other American women, many of them teachers who came down for a good time with the Mexican lads. But he did give me a ride back to my hotel. Before we got there though, the cops stopped him though he wasn’t speeding.

It seems they wanted a little bribe. So Fernando came back to the car, passed me money below the view of the window and then had me hand it to him visibly in view so the cops would think we had given all our money. Then we were free to go.

Fernando and I did exchange addresses and continued to write each other for years. Now we both have email and Fernando and I still keep contact. Some day one of us might actually travel to the other’s country again. There’s a lot of Mexico I never saw.

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Swine Flu? When Pigs Fly

Okay, that’s a little joke but I think we need to keep a few things in perspective when it comes to the spreading fear of swine flu. Fear is spreading faster than the flu and though it is a serious enough illness, it should be treated with level headedness, not paranoia. Panic can be a demon that brings on an epidemic of hysteria.

If the media had existed in its current form in the 14th century when the Black Plague first reared its deadly head, probably more people would have died from fear, from fear mongering, from ostracization than those already-high numbers. The Black Death killed an estimated 30-60% of Europe’s population, decimating society and economy for many years to come. Some 75 million people are believed to have died from the bubonic plague.

These days, we may not get to those numbers because medical care is better. Yet we might get to higher numbers because there are far more people than Europe in the Middle Ages. And many cities are overcrowded, not to mention that many nations still have poor levels of sanitation and health. An estimated 500,000 people die yearly from seasonal flus. Mexico City has 22 million people but the flu has shown in a few other areas of Mexico as well as in Texas. Still, there are only 7 confirmed deaths by the WHO as of yesterday.

That’s not many yet. In fact, 150 people out of a population of 110 million is a pretty small percentage. However, every death is a rent, a loss of life and grief for loved ones; that should matter. We do have to be cautious but not crazed. People aren’t getting these from pigs, no matter what the name indicates. Eating pork won’t make a difference. However, one thing that humans learned over the centuries that cut down on the spread of disease and infection was that cleanliness makes a difference.

We’ve moved out of the polite era, when everyone was taught manners, coughed and sneezed into handkerchiefs, washed behind their ears and washed their hands because parents instilled it into their kids. We’ve become lackadaisical in this modern, free age, but what you can’t see can indeed hurt you. When it comes to hygiene we must still be diligent.

Here’s the best thing to do to avoid swine flu, any flu or illness in general: wash your hands well, often, and with soap and water. Cover your mouth with your arm or a tissue if you cough. Use tissues for your nose. Wipe down surfaces with disinfectant. If you cough or sneeze, don’t do it on others. Wash your hands often. Don’t kiss pigs.

Usually influenzas hit the very young and the very old. So far, this flu has killed men in the 25-40 (or 50) age range for some reason. Tomorrow I fly to LA. I’m not worried. After all, I’m healthy. I don’t have a compromised immune system or any illness that weakens me. My lungs (the area to worry about most) are very strong. I’m not flying to Mexico. Even all the people that the flu infects each year do not die from it. Planes are very good incubators of infections/colds in general. A closed space with a lot of people. It’s best to be vigilant about hygiene whenever flying.

There have been questions why the mortality rate would be higher in Mexico than elsewhere. If it’s Mexico City, well, there are 22 million people, as I said. When I was in Mexico in the late 80s, the smog was so bad that birds were dropping out of the air and you could taste it. Add that on top of other respiratory problems and a flu that attacks the same area and it’s not surprising that more people may die in Mexico City (and any other overpopulated, polluted city center) than in other cities.

Flu shots have been given for quite a few years now, optional but encouraged for the young and old. I predict we’ll see more people getting flu shots this year in general. However, a viable vaccine for this current flu would take a few months to work out and perfect. If this doesn’t turn pandemic, then it will have abated by then.

Symptoms are similar to other flu symptoms, fever, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, nausea, possible vomiting and diarrhea, lack of energy and appetite. (More severe cases may deal with respiratory problems and death.) Don’t jump to conclusions if you develop some of these. If you have been to Mexico or in contact with someone who has, watch your symptoms, call  your doctor’s office if you’re worried, or if it is a child or elderly person who is ill. If the fever goes beyond a few degrees or you have trouble breathing, then you will probably want to get checked out. Children and the elderly are always at risk. Eating healthily, drinking plenty of water and getting adequate sleep will keep your immune system strong.

Becoming crazed with fear is a more likely way to get sick than just taking sensible precautions. And when the latest scare is over, continue following good hygenic habits. After all, in many ways we don’t want to go back to, or repeat the Middle Ages.

Update as of 10/15/09: There is an awful lot of hype about this flu and to this date there are fewer people who have died from it than from other flus. However, the high-risk group does seem to be 20-year-olds and early 30s. Each person will have to decide if they need a flu shot or not but as a healthy female, who isn’t pregnant nor in that age group, I’ll forego the shot and take my chances.

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