Even though more than a year has passed since I spent a month backpacking in Mexico, the memories are still fresh. When I close my eyes I can almost feel the salty tang of the Caribbean Sea, hear the lapping waves on the pacific shore, and feel the searing sands of Playa Boca de Pasquales on my feet. It’s as though I never left.
I remember celebrating my birthday on the Xochimilco canals with a dozen people from the hostel where I was staying. We drank chili beer, languished in the sun, and waved to the families drifting along the canals that day with as many as four or five boats tied together and mariachi bands on the bow regaling them with lively tunes.
I remember going to the Luchador match and revelling in the excitement of wrestlers bouncing off ropes and flying through the air, tearing the masks off their opponents faces, and the final bout of Ultimo Guerrero contra El Valiente; what a match!
I remember going to the Mezcal bar in Merida and having my first taste of that distinctly Mexican drink, then chasing it with a beer and dancing on the crowded dance floor late into the night. I ran into Laila there, a friend I made in Mexico City who was also backpacking the country with plans of going beyond to the rest of the continent. What a night!
I remember swimming in cenotes and snorkelling in the sea among schools of tropical fish, walking the white sands of Tulum, reading Game of Thrones on the crystalline beach, and meditating on the soft sounds of the waves, becoming one with earth and sea.
I remember exploring Comala with Dany, el pueblo magico. With the priest’s permission we climbed to the roof of the cathedral just as the bells began to ring at noon and looked to the beautiful countryside and Spanish town square. We visited the hacienda of Miguel Rangel Hidalgo that day, a famous artist from the town whose family home is now a museum.
I remember the road trip I took with Dany’s family. We crossed into Jalisco and went to Playa Melaque where I bought my Stetson hat (which I still have) from a kind lady on the beach. We ate at a restaurante al fresco by the water where I ordered a pescado platter. Later, we visited a vacant beach with lone and level sands littered with the ruin of a recent hurricane, and then we ended the day at Barra de Navidad, a tourist town where I saw an indelible pacific sunset.
I remember the Volcan del Fuego, visible from Dany’s backyard, and the plume of ash and smoke rising into the stratosphere. We rode in the back of Ramiro’s truck to Boca de Pesquales, wind ripping through our hair and blasting our ears the whole time with a great view; its peak hiding behind white clouds.
I remember climbing the ancient Mayan temple of Coba in torrential rainfall. Today they don’t let people climb to the summit of that temple for safety reasons; the steps are very steep and when slick with rain one could easily slip. My legs felt like gelatin after the arduous climb, but that view of the jungle canopy shrouded by heavy mist was an amazing sight worth the risk and my two exhausted legs.
I remember exploring the famed ruins of Teotihuacan and climbing to the summit of the Temple of the Sun, a long ascent with several breaks on the way. The giant pyramid is one of the biggest in the world and at the top I sat before the valley floor, the mountains beyond, and the expanse of the city, thinking how incredible it was that humans built the entire complex with their bare hands alone and we still don’t know much about them and what became of them. Even now archaeologists are still unearthing secrets hidden deep inside the structures.
I remember all these things, and many more. But most of all I remember the incredible hospitality I found in the Mexican people and how quickly they were to offer friendship. Even in my own country I don’t find people so quick to take me in as though I were part of their own family and make me feel at home.
For five days in Colima I stayed with my old friend Dany who I had not seen in 10 years at his family home where I met his parents and his sister. For those five days it was as though I were their own son, and by the time I had to depart for Guadalajara, the next leg of my trip, I found it difficult to leave. I shed a few tears then, and I promised to return some day.
In Merida I stayed with someone I found on Couchsurfing; a señorita named Zary. Her English was limited, and I knew even less Spanish, so I wasn’t sure how things would work out, but she met me at the airport and immediately it was as though we were old friends. There were a few communication problems, but we worked it out and taught each other a few things about our native languages.
Her apartment was small so I was surprised when she offered me her bed while she slept on the couch. It was incredibly generous, and she cooked quesadillas for breakfast too. On our first day she took me around town showing me the most interesting sites, and in the afternoon we met up with some of her friends and went to the Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltun. Since then, I have always called Merida “the meridian of my heart,” because of all the great friends I made there with such ease.
Whenever people talk about going to Mexico I’m always disappointed to hear they’re staying in one of the resort towns because they’re missing out on so much of what the country has to offer. Mexico has its problems with drug gangs and political corruption, but we should not be so easily brainwashed by the media. They’re quick to tell us about the latest drug cartel gunfight, or about a tourist that was killed, but they never tell us about all the amazing things Mexico has in store and what a warm welcome you’ll receive if you go outside your comfort zone.
Mexican history, culture, language, and food are world class, but most of all it’s the people that make the country great. In Mexico you will find the most outstanding hospitality you may ever find anywhere. I may have been a “gringo,” but I was willing to learn their culture and embrace their ways. They welcomed me with open arms, and I’ll never forget it. It won’t be long until I make my second trip and discover more of its hidden wonders.