May 16, 2011 | Ronda Jambe

Mexican surprises

Travel can reinforce or dispel stereotypes. Even personal experience needs to be tempered with constraining factors. Thus, our impressions of Mexico were far better than media scare stories led us to believe. But we only saw a small area, far from the centres of drug related crime.

My guess is that the culture and the general attitudes of the people don’t vary enormously across the wider country. We saw a lot of public canoodling, for example, and a pleasant flaunting of physical beauty. Hard not to feel good about that, even when it took the slightly kitsch form of a fashion extravaganza which combined good looking young students in garishly glamorous costumes vaguely reenacting famous scenes from Mexico’s long and violent history. Cortez in lycra, why not?

This light-hearted ability to exploit even tragic incidents in a joyous way says a lot about Mexico to me. It complements the protests in their plazas, and the seriousness of their approach to politics.

There is also an openness to experiment, and someday soon I hope that Australia’s cities will welcome the diversity of transport options that I saw in Mexico City. What I want is a modern took-took, a covered, motorised three wheel and maybe electric device that is also cool, like these:

Much as I relish the evidence of my own senses and reactions, it is also good to know that someone more knowledgable and experienced has said similar things. This was what happened in Merida, a Canberra-sized city on the Yucatan Peninsula. We stumbled one evening there on a dramatic presentation,¬† and wondered why the dialogue was mimed. It became apparent that it was a recording of a famous story, and was part of a campaign to encourage reading. ‘Reading doesn’t make you fat’ was one of the posters, cleverly combing two forms of social marketing.

Someone was handing out local newspapers, and an article by a former senior advisor to the World Bank and highly placed international expert on Mexico, Edith Wilson, caught my eye.

Her blogs on Merida can be found at, and she had an article published in the Washington Post about returning to Merida and finding much there that is positive and inspirational. She also noted the feeling of pride, community and culture, of being able to influence their own fate, including their drug crime and environmental problems.

Efforts at recycling in Mexico showed this can-do approach that¬† doesn’t have to cost a lot. We saw men sorting it at the garbage truck:

At Tulum, a Mayan site in the jungle, a fellow chatted happily while crushing tourists’ drink cans with a bat:

And the bike rental idea, here seen in Mexico City with the Latin American Tower in the distance, has spread in just a few years from Paris. Where is Canberra’s?

It’s always easy to assume that the highly developed first world has all the best answers. But maybe it’s just the willingness to act together that is the real key to progress.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 8:46 pm | Comments Off on Mexican surprises |

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