Mexico’s Old World Charm
I wake up each day in Cancun to the song of a cheerful bird I have yet to identify. It makes a sweet, high-pitched, melodic chirp unlike anything I’ve heard before followed by a few short guttural sounds. The ocean breeze from the Caribbean Sea whispers through my window, enticing me to arise. As I amble about the old Mayan style house I rent, I hear a voice outside exclaiming, “Empenadillas, salbutes, chicharron!” (small stuffed pastries, miniature tostadas, and fried pork rinds). It’s one of the local peddlers on his oversized tricycle riding through the neighborhood, selling authentic Yucatan foods, including my favorite: tamales.
Since most locals in Cancun don’t have their own cars, and walking and public buses are the primary mode of transportation, corner markets and convenience stores can be found every few blocks in residential neighborhoods, in addition to the peddlers who sell delicious Mexican foods, such as sweet breads (pastries), elote (savory seasoned corn on the cob), and esquite (corn kernels in a cup with lime and chile mixed with a hint of mayonnaise and cojita cheese) – all at your doorstep. A little further in town, street vendors line the main roads selling their Mayan food specialties, ranging from sweet-sour to savory-spicy foods that are surprisingly safe to eat.
Mexico is like the ‘old country,’ a place where neighbors and families interact daily with each other; where locals buy fresh fish from the town fishermen; where people haggle and barter for products and services; where newspapers and foods are sold to drivers at traffic lights; where mechanical and electronic items can still be fixed instead of replaced; where they only provide full-service gas stations since service in Mexico is the cardinal rule; where business is primarily done in person; and paying cash is the norm. It reminds me of the wonderful stories my grandparents would tell me about life in Europe.
Although some inconveniences exist from time to time given the country’s archaic infrastructure, Mexico has an old world charm reminiscent of European culture. It’s a historic place where the influence of indigenous Aztec and Mayan cultures and Spanish colonists can still be seen and felt through the remaining ancient ruins and colonial architecture, and their enduring traditions and practices. Some roads are still made of pavers and flat rocks similar to cobblestones when only a few blocks away are paved, asphalt streets with modern, luxury condos and beachfront hotels.
For the best of both worlds – the historic and the contemporary – there is nowhere else quite like Mexico, and I look forward to starting each new day with a morning wake-up song from my delightful neighborhood bird.