Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Surprises and Insights from a couple months on the road in Mexico

Some random things that have come up that you might not think about when sitting at home and planning a trip like this.

Walmarts are EVERYWHERE at least as far south as Mexico City. Plan for what you’ll need but don’t go overboard. You have a month or so on the road where you’ll be able to pick whatever it is up. You will also have access to MEGA grocery stores as well as Sorianas which have just about everything so you have a while to figure out what your staples are going to be.

The Central Highlands of Mexico can be COLD in winter. If you’re planning on Tierra del Fuego, you’re probably ready for the temps, but just know that if you want to see places like Copper Canyon, Patzcuaro, Guanajuato, the butterfly sanctuaries, etc, you will likely be in jeans and a sweatshirt and under a down sleeping bag more than in shorts and flip flops. Of course, if you prefer the heat, you can always lateral out to the coast.
It’s said over and over but, learn Spanish. Being able to ask what something is or for directions or even start a simple conversation is invaluable and will completely change your trip. Can you get by without? Yes, miming works and most people generally know what you want, but you won’t have the same experience, IMO.
Another one that should seem obvious but, choose an inconspicuous vehicle. Drive a basic Japanese or American truck with an understated camper or an SUV and no one will give you a second look. Mid 80’s conversion vans also seem to be very popular among locals in Mexico and would be a great platform for touring though I’ve heard they’re less common the farther south you get.
Keep no more than 200 pesos on you while driving. While we haven’t had *any* issues with cops or shakedowns, we’ve heard that while they’ll start up at a couple hundred US dollars, 200 pesos ($17 or so) is the “magic number” if you are willing to pay the bribe to get on your way.
If you camp out of the Church & Church book or stay in hotels, you could have internet connectivity every night if you wanted (at least in Mexico so far). Connections are generally of decent quality but don’t expect your T1 back home.