Boy in the Better Land

When Shutter Island opened its doors, we had it on our toes. Destination México. Our plan, to earn online and see a few sights – in a land that loves freedom as much as we do. 

We started in Querétaro. A city unknown to me until I made a friend on a photography course in Madrid last year. It’s up in the hills and happens to be where Mexicans first declared their independence, so an apt place for a couple on the run.

After a month catching up with friends, we hit the road. First up, the artistic town of San Miguel de Allende, before the big smoke, Guadalajara. A city only on my radar for that Gordon Banks save in the ‘70 World Cup and that “good tackle by Moore”. Now, it’s the place I watched England’s run to the Euro final and drank at a pulquería where they put CBD in the lager.

In each of these places, I’m reminded that the Mexican mind is different to my western one. They do not hold themselves to the same level of expectation, commitments are loose, and the word no is rarely used.

Another big difference is the grub. The ingredients are fresh and local dishes are something to be proud of. My favourites are the gorditas with nopales. And the thirst-quenching Michelada – lager with salt, lime juice, chilli sauce and spices. 

Then, it was time for Mexico City, we stayed for a month. The pandemic response has closed some art galleries, museums and the Lucha Libre, but the capital was still enjoyable and full of history. The houses of Leon Trotsky and Frida Kahlo were still open. 

One thing I didn’t expect was all the big bellies knocking about. The penny soon dropped. They have a cultural addiction to Coca-cola. In some places, it’s cheaper than water, and the average person drinks 2 litres of the stuff a day. No wonder the rates of diabetes over here are through the roof.

Oaxaca was next. The home of Mezcal and a cheese that my cake-hole liked, but my exit-hole didn’t. The tamales were a safer bet, the cacao chicken wrapped in a banana leaf is a market must. But the big upside was the coffee, dirt cheap and strong AF, just how I like it.

Everywhere we go, people are warm and friendly. It’s a shame their smiles were covered by masks, even outside. But maybe with all the diabetes about, you don’t take chances.

While in Merida, they told us about an 11:30 pm curfew. It didn’t affect us much. The days of me rolling out of titty bars at 5 am, are on the back burner. My trotters are up early doors nowadays with a documentary or gangster flick.

That’s another thing I was told to watch out for, cartels, narcos, “you might get kidnapped Rookster”. Well, it does happen, but it all seems pretty safe to me. Or maybe my reputation precedes, and they gave one of their own a wide berth.

For our 14th wedding anniversary, we went to the open-air souvenir market, that is Chichén Itzá. Thankfully they put a pyramid in the middle to give us something to look at. Claims that it’s the seventh wonder seem far fetched. The cement was still wet.

You can’t leave Yucatan without a dip in a cenote. That’s a sinkhole with water in, to you and me. And they’re often found in the grounds of a hacienda, which I have learnt is not just a nightclub in Manchester – it is also a country estate built by the colonial Spanish.

Tulum was too lively. I’m not as loaded as I look. So we swerved the private beaches and their cover charges and stuck to the town with its street art and dream catchers. Live music bars and veggie joints were in good supply, all polluted with boho crumpet on the lookout for the next beefcake in a singlet and a top bun.

Cancun was not my cup. All-inclusive resorts, designer shopping, and caked up gringos getting striped to the max. Couldn’t fault the beaches though. The turquoise water was the perfect antidote to the relentless humidity.

As our 6-month visa runs out, we’re back in Querétaro plotting our next move. Our countries of birth and citizenship are still in the grip of tyranny, so we shall stick around in the Americas a while longer. It’s funny how you have to come to the third world to get back the things you took for granted. Times are strange.

And the future’s Colombian.

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