By Hana Kram
In May 2011, I bought a fancy BMW SUV. The only thing I honestly loved about it was the little emblem in the middle of my steering wheel. I drove it around in my thousand dollar shoes with the red soles to my well-paying job working for a developer and back to my two bedroom condo in Kits Point which cost more than any reasonable person would spend on such a small tiny place (but it’s in the most sought after part of town, right??). I was in an obsessively destructive relationship that ended, as these types often do, in a massively dramatic fashion in early September of the same year where the only reasonable next step was to book a next-day trip to Mexico to visit my girlfriend who had recently moved there (promises of lots of margaritas and no mean boys were major factors that influenced my decision).
My expectation for my trip was simple: I will visit with my friend, I will lay by the pool, I will relax for a few days, add some colour to my fading tan, and then I will go home and start a new job I had recently accepted. Life will go on as normal.
I was unprepared for how I ended up feeling about Mexico. I didn’t expect to fall head over heels in love with it as I did. I came home after my six days and was sitting in my mothers living room explaining to her my newfound infatuation:
“You will not believe how it is there, Mom. Everyone is so happy. They care so much about you. They don’t need the same stuff we do to be happy. They are just content with what they have.”
“Maybe you should move there,” was the response my mom gave me. I was obsessed. If only my new job hadn’t exceeded all my expectations I had going in, I probably would have showed up on the first day, apologized, and been on the next plane to resume this carefree, possession free, life in the sun. But as it often does real life got back on track and I continued down the expected road of my life. I went to work, I contributed to my pension, I volunteered, and I continued to travel. In the next twelve months, I visited New Zealand, London and India, plus a plethora of other destinations for work. I forgot most of Mexico and all of my infatuation and summed it up to the fact that it was the best thing for me at that time in my life.
But luckily, that isn’t where the story ends. I returned earlier this year for a vacation that was planned because I needed a beach holiday and not to escape a tumultuous relationship that was shedding its skin quickly. I had gone back to school in January, and after an exhausting four months of studying, working, travelling and then (attempting to but not really succeeding at) maintaining a sense of normalcy in my life, I needed a vacation. My expectations were similar to those the first time around – but this time, I would NOT fall in love. I’d been there already – nothing would surprise me this time.
My friends ask me: “Why Mexico? It is so dirty. It is unsafe. The food makes me sick. It is the land of diarrhea. Why on earth would you go there?”
Let me tell you something, friends and others with the same thoughts: Puerto Vallarta is one of the cleanest cities I have ever been to. It has been granted the stamp of approval for clean drinking water 17 years in a row. Walking down the large sidewalks, not a speck of garbage was in sight. And staying at my girlfriends house, where cooking is as regular as an eclipse of the moon (unless it is her famous homemade salsa, which is created and consumed daily), I rely on 50 cent street tacos to sustain me during my trip – and I have yet to get sick. But let me tell you what the real Mexico is about …
On my second day, four of us took a drive into the mountains to find an oyster restaurant that allegedly had $10 all you can eat oysters. As we were driving through the mountains looking for a potentially non-existent address, the car slowly chugged to a stop. Turns out, the gas gauge was broken and we had run out of gas. We were just a few feet from a corner store, and the owners shuffled us in to the back room (through a kitchen, a storage room and possibly a bedroom) where Sunday night family dinner was taking place (complete with about 8 extended families, a blaring jukebox and tons of food) while the father of the family walked to the nearest town with a jerry can to get gas. There was no arguing about who would go to town – they were a warm, welcoming family who just wanted to make sure the poor people with the broken car and broken Spanish would make it back to town safely.
It took an hour for the father to return with the gasoline as we played in the river with the toddlers, helped pick out songs on the jukebox with the teenagers, and drank beer with the adults. It was surreal and homey and comfortable. It was what Mexico is all about.
On my third night in Puerto Vallarta, after spending the better part of the day enjoying cervezas and fancy drinks with umbrellas, my friend and I were walking along the malecon to find somewhere for dinner.
A man selling tours for boat trips stepped out at us. In the haze of my bottomless cocktail glass, the conversation is blurry, but was apparently opened with a compliment on my eyes. Flirting makes me uncomfortable and I kept walking.
Two days later, I was walking along the same section of the malecon and was approached by the same man. After much persuasion, I joined him for a drink. Turns out, he had lived in New Jersey and Texas for 20 years, only recently moved back to Puerto Vallarta (because, get this, the standard of living was substantially higher) and we ended up having an wonderful conversation for the next three hours. The next day, when asked what I wanted to do, I told him: ‘Something that the other tourists don’t do.” When I relay the next part of the story to my friends and family, they are just slightly more than worried about some of my decisions. I followed him, trustingly, to his apartment, where we listened to local music and later he cooked my girlfriend and I an amazing dinner of aguachile.
We sat, playing Texas Hold-em overlooking the ocean, watching the cruise ships come and go, listening to salsa and talking about life experiences. I couldn’t be happier. Or, contrary to most media reports, safer.
I am not saying everyone should walk blindly into unknown situations in foreign countries. But I am saying, don’t always believe the sensationalized news when you see it on television at home – there is often more to the story than we are being told.
It isn’t the cheap beer and margaritas, the amazing food or the sunshine and beaches that have me returning to Mexico so frequently (although it helps). It is the kindness of the people.
And who knows, maybe one day I will take the advice of my mother for once.
At date of publishing, said BMW had been sold and the expensive shoes are on ebay. Author is getting ready to embrace a more simple style of life focused on what is important.