(November 25 – written by Dave)
Our time in La Paz is flying by with days filled with 3 hours of immersion Spanish class and mucho Spanish study. Nancy has always been a great student and not too bad of task master. Me, well, I got by. Now that we are working together, my only study breaks are when I sneak in a quick look at The Ashes (famous Australia – England cricket fixture being played in Australia currently). As long as I remember to mute my computer when switching from online study/tests to the sports page, then I’m ok. Anyway, it seems to be working. After only three weeks of study, it feels like we are getting it – little by little.
A couple folks have asked us about our life here. It is easy for strange new things to become routine so we thought we would share some of the things that caught our eye, at first at least…
Water – specifically, water in the house. We don’t drink Mexican tap water. Heck, Mexicans don’t drink Mexican tap water. We started buying 6 litter jugs but decided that all that plastic was a waste. So now we are taking our empty jugs to one of the ubiquitous water purification stores. For 20 pesos, we get our bottles washed and filled – that’s 24 litters for about $1 USD. The only hassle is carrying the full bottles back from the water shop (remember those uneven sidewalks from the last post!). We will probably not be in a country where we can drink tap water for the rest of the trip – another year or so. Next time you turn the tap and get a glass of water, think of us schlepping water from the shops – and spare a thought for the folks in Latin America who will do this their entire lives.
Hard-working Mexicans continue to amaze us. We were out early for a walk yesterday morning – Saturday morning at 7:15, the road crew working on the boardwalk was already down there hard at work. And they don’t knock off at 2 or 3 because they got an early start. They work until at least 6PM when it gets dark – longer if they have flood lights. And their tools – lots of shovels and wheelbarrows. If that’s not enough, check out the guy below. He’s out there every day with his broom made of a palm leaf. Not overly efficient, but it gets the job done eventually.
We went to the dentist last week. We both needed cleanings and as luck would have it I broke a crown while we were on the extended break here in La Paz. We found an English speaking dentist and got everything sorted. The dental standards were basically the same as in an Australian dental office, except for the cost. We paid $25 USD for each cleaning and a full new crown was $300 USD. We would have been looking at 10 times the price had we done this back in Oz. I’m pretty happy so long as the crown stays in place for the rest of the trip.
We eat one of our three out most days. We have found a couple great fish taco restaurants and alternate between them and a great little cafe around the corner from our apartment. We leave stuffed wherever we eat for all of 150 to 200 pesos – that’s about $8-11 USD for two people. Speaking of food bargains (and culture) we stopped at one of the many tortilla baking shops the other day. Aside from it being great fun talking to the cooks and watching the whole process, we picked up 23 fresh, hot off the grill flour (harina, for those Spanish speakers) tortillas for a bargain 23 pesos – that’s a little more than 1USD.
We are eating a lot of meals at home as well. We like cooking and we’ve found a number of places that we can get good fresh and healthy food. It takes a little bit of work as not everything is in the same store – unless we go out to the big stores in the suburbs.
We’ve figured out the local buses to get out to the burbs and the shopping malls but it’s still a bit of a journey and shopping local is more fun as you get to know the shop owners. We haven’t yet gotten enough courage up to purchase fresh meat. Most places that sell meat have the processing right out in full view of the customers. This means that there is a lot more “fresh” meat smell than we are used to. This smell kind of puts us off. We’ve found 3 or 4 stores that “sometimes” carry tofu and don’t mind it as a substitute. I say “sometimes” here simply because you just never know in Mexico, many things are randomly stocked with orders due in “mañana” (or maybe never….)
The roads are not too crazy here but Mexicans have definitely mastered the art of what I’d call a “California stop”. We have not seen any accidents but hardly any cars stop at the stop signs, with 4-way stops being the worst. And by stop, I don’t mean roll up and slow until your wheels almost stop, I’m talking about barely lifting your foot off the accelerator and just blowing through. When cars approach from perpendicular directions it is always a bit of a game of chicken to see who will blink first. You could sell tickets at some intersections as a spectator sport.
Needless to say, we are really careful on the roads with our bikes as we ride them to and from school every day. In a “I don’t get it” sort of way, many car drivers who wouldn’t have slowed otherwise, actually stop to let us go and sometime even let us go before our turn. There doesn’t seem to be any car / bike aggression here.
With so many road rules simply ignored, we have been surprised many times at how people react when someone double parks. Even on a two lane, one way street with a full open lane, all the passing cars start honking at any offending double parker. We’ve even seen police turn on lights and sirens to get a car to move along. Having lived Mexican roads from a bicycle for almost 2 months now, and seen most road rules broken and/or completely ignored, watching Mexican’s react to the heinous crime of double parking is almost as entertaining as sitting at the corner of a 4-way stop sign. Drive with your children in your lap in the front seat – no problem. Load up the back of a pick-up with 50 workers – no problem. Drive the highway with almost flat dual tires on your semi – no problem. Speed – no problem. Ignore stop signs – no problem. Double park – call the police and arrest that man!
Anyway… We are having fun. Learning. And generally enjoying our time in Mexico. And it all starts getting to be more interesting when can understand conversations and interact with people. Staying here for a few months to pick up at least minimal Spanish was a good call. Next update – life in the tortilleria…..