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Visiting Mexico, My Country in Law

I just finished a week off with some of my family on the beach in Mexico, specifically at Villas del Sol in Zihuatenejo.

Mexico is my country in law. My wife of 37 years is Mexican, born and raised in Mexico City. We lived in Mexico City from 1971 to 1979. Three of our five kids were born there. and again for several months in 1981.

I was once a “Mexico expert.” I was with UPI in Mexico City for three years, and with McGraw-Hill World News in Mexico City for six years. I accurately predicted the 1976 currency devaluation, in Business Week, months before it happened. That was the first peso devaluation in 28 years. I covered the Mexico oil discoveries of the middle 1970s. I was a consultant with McKinsey Management Consulting in Mexico City in 1981. During the 1980s I consulted with Apple on it’s ill-fated Apple de Mexico venture. I still speak fluent Spanish. I can still give a two-day business plan seminar in Spanish, which I’ve done twice in the last three years.

Expertise, however, doesn’t last. The Mexico I knew no longer exists.

Loyalty, on the other hand, does last. Mexico was very good to me as a young man just starting a career and a family. I was writing for UPI at the age of 23, and for Business Week when I was 26.  Strangers were generally easy to deal with, accepting of a young American. And for that I feel like I owe Mexico the respect of reminding you, gentle reader, what it used to be.

When I first lived in Mexico City in 1971 it was a city full of trees and music. I drove my car from the Hotel de Mexico area to the downtown newspaper district every day in about 15 minutes, and, miracle of miracles, parked it on the street in front of the office. Today the drive would take 45 minutes and parking on the street would be impossible. We used to go to the Satelite area for a movie on a Friday night, a 10-minute drive on the Periferico; the same drive today would take an hour or two each day.

An interesting fact: a few years ago my wife’s nephew, who lives in Mexico City, swore he dropped his girlfriend because she lived in one of the northern city neighborhoods and he lived in the south of the city. Just as well, I suppose, because now he’s happily married to somebody else, and they have a daughter.

And perhaps the most disappointing change is the safety. My in-laws worry about me when I visit: “Tim, it’s not like it used to be, it’s not safe anymore. Be very careful.” I’m not supposed to get into the wrong taxis.  I’m not supposed to walk around the streets. When we lived there, Mexico was a very safe city, much more so than any US city. It was almost like Tokyo. We could walk in the evening anywhere, and feel safe. No longer.

Ah, but then there is also the bright side of it, the fact that natural beauty like the bays of Zihuatenejo doesn’t fade nearly as fast as expertise. It was a village back then, it’s a city now, and I hate cities; but it’s still beautiful because it sits on the warm Pacific ocean surrounded by hills. Villages grow into towns,  but some manage to keep some of their charm. Aside from the beaches you have some beautiful colonial towns and cities in the interior, like San Miguel de Allende, and Guanajuato, both of which I’ve visited in this millennium and are still beautiful.

Mexico City is one of the three largest cities in the world. It’s Anthropological Museum is amazing. It’s full of great restaurants. People there like foreigners. But like all large cities, the traffic is miserable, and the smog depressing. Living there is very hard, but it’s worth a visit. Stay in the main places and you’ll really enjoy it.

And Mexico still loves its tourists, treats them well, and respects them, more so than most of the countries I’ve visited lately.

My ending thought, another amazing fact: when I first lived in Mexico City there was no one-word Spanish equivalent for the word “smog.”


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