An Archaeological and Anthropological Adventure at Cañada de la Virgen

We have visited the pyramids at the Cañada de la Virgen site several times. It is one of our favorite places to take visitors when they come to see us for two reasons: because of its close proximity to León (where we live); and because of the impressive large pyramid that we can climb. It is definitely a favorite for our children to visit because they like to pretend that they are mountain goats as they navigate the steep, narrow steps of the pyramid.

In our past visits, we have always used the Spanish-speaking tour guides provided by the government. The cost of these guides is included in the price of the tour. The guides we have had have done a great job of explaining things and, after visiting a few times, our understanding of what they are saying in Spanish has drastically improved. However, we decided that when we visited the pyramids with my non-Spanish-speaking sister and her family, they would enjoy the experience more with an English-speaking guide.

 

On one of our previous visits, we had overheard a dynamic, knowledgeable man giving a tour to a couple of people in English. What we could hear was impressive and we were interested in procuring him as our guide. This man,  Alberto Aveleyra with the Artisans of Time Cultural Project, is an anthropologist who is actively conducting research at the Cañada de la Virgen site, among others. He uses the funds from the tours he gives to help offset the costs of his research. This sounded exciting to me because not only would we be able to understand the entire tour at Cañada de la Virgen and be free to ask questions in English, we could also support local research in the area that contributes to the understanding of this region’s cultural heritage.

We had several children in our group of fifteen ranging in age from kindergarten to middle school, thus the range in attention span of the kids was vastly different. Alberto did a wonderful job of engaging the adults in our group as well as the kids. He was very knowledgeable of the site and was able to answer so many of our questions for which the other tour guides we have had could not. It was interesting to listen to the scientific speculation about what happened to those ancient peoples, why they used the materials they did, or what the purpose was of so many of the things we saw. We really appreciated his complete and thoughtful insights and explanations throughout the entire tour. His vast wealth of knowledge made this the most exciting tour that we have had at this site and it greatly enriched our understanding of the culture and the area we were visiting. Additionally, it was incredibly fun to watch how captivated our children were by the things he was describing. He was able to make history come alive with his stories, and the visuals that he brought with him made it easy for all of us to understand. The kids (and adults) were full of questions and his patience with answering these questions seemed limitless.

There were several really cool things that we learned during our tour. First of all, the people that visited Cañada de la Virgen walked through the canyons to get there. There are a lot of canyons that wind through the countryside, hidden from sight, and it’s mind-boggling to think about how they made that trip. The second interesting fact that we learned was that the remains found in the largest pyramid at Cañada de la Virgen pre-dates the pyramid by hundreds of years. Alberto had a photograph with an image rendered that could give an approximation of the appearance of the man whose remains were found there. The third most memorable fact that we learned was that as we looked out over the landscape, in the areas where there were large clusters of trees, there were probably the remains of some kind of structure still existing there. There are many potential archaeological sites that exist just in that small region alone. Mexico owns the rights to explore and research those sites, no matter who the owner of the property may be. A final piece of interesting information that we learned was that we visited the site on a very important day of the year that marked the change in seasons – the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season. The structures at the pyramid are aligned in a way that the sun shines right through an opening on that day at sunrise. We, of course, missed seeing that, but Alberto had photographs that showed the phenomenon happening. 

There were many more things that we learned that day that have stuck with me since we went on that tour. It has made us much more eager to get out and travel to more archaeological sites and continue learning more about the culture and how the native Mexicans lived prior to the Spanish conquest.

Placard found at Cañada de la Virgen
Placard found at Cañada de la Virgen in English and Spanish. Photo by Angela Grier

Everyone in our group really enjoyed the tour and the children were so interested that they continued to discuss some of the things they had learned even after we left the site. I highly, highly recommend using Alberto Aveleyra if you are interested in learning about the history and culture of this beautiful region. We will definitely ask him to lead a tour with us again the next time we take guests to Cañada de la Virgen. I know this post reads like an advertisement, but we had the most amazing experience and I had to share it with everyone. If you have the opportunity, this is one tour that should not be missed. Check out the short video clip below for a sample of the kind of engaging, story-telling that our children especially enjoyed. 

Cost of the tour: 950 pesos per person

What this includes: An approximate 5-hour tour, the cost of a ticket to enter the site, and a ride to Cañada de la Virgen from San Miguel de Allende. 

What you will get: An in-depth look at the peoples that once populated the region and a better understanding of their culture and beliefs. An expert guide with intimate knowledge of those peoples and how they might have used Cañada de la Virgen.  An incredible teacher with a passion for sharing that knowledge and preserving the heritage and culture of the region. 

Contact Information:

Phone: +52 1 415 100 0947

Email: artisansoftime@gmail.com

Website: www.artisansoftime.mx

 

A Misadventure – Dealing with the Local Mexican Police

After living in León, Guanajuato for eight months and enjoying a relatively care-free lifestyle with few worries (unless you happen to be one of my children and it’s exam time again), I have had my first negative experience. Negative is a relative term here. Neither my children nor my husband and I were harmed during the course of my misadventure. However, the whole situation left me feeling very frustrated and angry.

My husband was invited out to dinner with coworkers one night. Because we only have one vehicle, and I use it to transport our children to all of their activities, he asked us to pick him up after the dinner was over, around 7:30 pm. 

The sun had set around 7 pm and rush-hour traffic in León at that time of day is very heavy. I missed reading a sign that indicated no U-turns until 8 PM. I queued up in the long line of cars for the U-turn (I was one of many that did not see the sign) and waited for the light to change. I then noticed what looked like an accident in the line ahead of me, so like some of the cars in front of me, I edged back out into the traffic flow to go around it and cut back over into the lane for U-turns without seeing the sign with the U-turn times. As I sat at the red light, a police officer walked up to our car. I rolled down my window and he asked for my license. I gave him my US license and thus began a 30-minute “discussion” where he spoke only Spanish and I spoke mostly English. My Spanish vocabulary at the time did not include any words that would help me understand what the officer was trying to explain. He, however, kept looking at me with significant looks and waggling his eyebrows indicating that he wanted something more. It must be part of a universal language because I understood him without understanding the words. Because he kept insisting my license was invalid, he refused to return it.  There was an officer on the other side of the street who kept the light from turning green. My husband had given up waiting for me at the restaurant, saw where I was on our location tracker, and walked down to see what was going on. However, because the traffic was so heavy, he could not cross the street to get to us. The officer would not allow me to call anyone for help with translating and continued to explain that the only way to get out of this situation was with a bribe (eyebrow waggle). Essentially, my children and I were held hostage until I finally paid the man the amount of money he wanted and then, miraculously, the light turned green and we could go.

 

The entire experience was extremely frustrating. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was targeted and profiled and the police officers exploited me because they knew I was a foreign citizen. My lack of Spanish did not discourage the man and he was apparently in no rush to get out of there. My children, on the other hand, were exhausted from a long day at school and my husband was stranded on the side of the road in the dark.

 

Based on my frustrating experience, I have a few suggestions to offer on how to handle being pulled over.

 

  1. If you get pulled over, your US driver’s license is valid for driving around Mexico. They are lying if they tell you otherwise.
  2. Do not give them your license. Only crack the window enough to speak to the officer, be polite, but do not give him/her anything.
  3. Ask for the ticket ( called a multa) and insist on getting it.
  4. If you want to call for help, they cannot prevent you from making a phone call. We are allowed to call for translation assistance or consular assistance if necessary.
  5. Avoid situations like this by not driving in unfamiliar places at night. Take an Uber or licensed taxi instead.
  6. Do not carry a lot of cash with you. If you insist on paying with a credit card and not cash, they cannot receive a bribe that way.
  7. Bear in mind, these suggestions are really only appropriate for the local, municipal police. We have been told that they are the less reliable or trustworthy out of all levels of police in Mexico, probably because they are the most underpaid. If you are pulled over by federal police or higher for any reason, your best bet is to comply with what they tell you. They are much less likely to ask for a bribe.

 

If you have any other suggestions, please let me know. Good luck and safe travels through Mexico!

Adventures in the Wild Places of Mexico: Comanja de Corona

We were invited to tag along with some friends on a day trip into the Sierra de Lobos, a mountain range that is adjacent to Leon and extends north into Jalisco. That spontaneous invitation also included another set of friends who were happy to get out of the city for the day. Within minutes of departing from our home, we left the pavement and drove down a beat-up dirt road that looked like it didn’t go anywhere except to the surrounding farms. We never imagined where that road would lead us.

As we followed the lead car in our minivan, we forded a couple of small rivers that, thankfully, were not very deep where we needed to cross. The dirt road was very narrow in most places, and meandered through small towns and collections of houses. After about 30 minutes of bumping along the road, we found pavement again and, while the road was not in great shape, it was better than the dirt road. We continued to wind our way through the dry mountains where the views of the scrub around us and the city behind us were spectacular.

Eventually, we found the small town of Comanja de Corona. The streets and the buildings were quaint and characteristic of the small villages we have seen when traveling across Mexico. We wound through the town and then out the other side, following signs for a hotel, campground, and spa called Echological. As we approached, a giant, monolithic rock hill became visible. The name of this monolith is Peña de la Bufa. It dwarfed the countryside around it. My children were impressed and very excited about climbing to the top. When we arrived, the small hotel parking lot was quiet and calm. We had packed our lunches and decided to leave everything in the cars in favor of immediately getting out and hiking to the top of the giant rock structure. In order to access the rock hill, we had to cross onto private property. The man that opened the gate and admitted us charged us 10 pesos (50 cents US) for each adult. He said children were free. Once inside the property, there were a few nice Australian shepherds running around and requesting attention from everyone. The farm looked well kept and the men were very nice and welcoming.

We started our climb and realized quickly that while it was not a difficult hike to the top, the footing was precarious because there was so much loose rock. The view from the top was beautiful. This is the highest point for miles, so it was easy to see the landscape and the other small farms that dotted the countryside. Our children (and the adults) enjoyed scaling every inch of the rock hill. It was a great deal of fun to explore the area. I think the kids could have stayed out there playing and jumping around the rocks for hours.

But we eventually descended back into the farmyard where an adorable Australian shepherd puppy was waiting and starving for attention. To say that our children were enchanted would be an understatement. We all had a difficult time leaving. We enjoyed conversing with the farm hands while the kids played with the puppy and the dogs.

When it was finally time for us to leave, the puppy also made his escape under the fence and ran after us. Sadly, we had to return him. The hike back to the hotel was easy and very scenic. When we returned to Echological, we retrieved our coolers and claimed one of the tarp-covered areas next to the river. It was nice and cool in the shade and there was plenty of room for the kids to run around and play.

After lunch, there was a lot to explore in the area. The hotel inside served tea and coffee (café olla, specifically, made with piloncillo and cinnamon, and served in a clay mug). They also had hand-crafted jewelry for sale. Several salon services are offered at this hotel/campground such as massage, a jacuzzi, and a steam room (called a Temazcal). For people that are staying at Echological or visitors without a picnic lunch, the hotel offers a substantial breakfast buffet until 12 PM as well as La Comida later in the afternoon.

My friend and I decided to go horseback riding for a half hour while the children and our husbands took turns rowing the boat around the river. It had been several years since I had last ridden a horse. Unfortunately, the horse I chose seemed to know this and, for the first 5 minutes of our ride, did the opposite of everything I wanted him to do. However, I rose to the challenge successfully and did not get thrown off of the horse or scraped up on the thorny bushes and cacti bordering the road, thank goodness. I do not recommend horseback riding here unless the person has some experience. The horses are not acquiescent to the demands of inexperienced riders.

We decided to leave later on in the afternoon once our children showed signs of exhaustion. We packed up our belongings and our tired children and headed out. On the way home, we stopped at a small bakery in the town of Comanja de Corona to buy sweet bread. It was wonderful, soft, and fresh out of the oven. It put everyone in a great mood for the return trip through the mountains. It was a lovely day spent with friends! Next time, we will stay at the hotel to see what it is like.

Once again, we were shown just how amazing Mexico can be when we leave behind our fear and explore places that are off the beaten path. Thanks for reading!

Shopping Adventures in Tonala

One of my favorite places to shop here in Mexico is Tonala. It is well known for its blown glass and metal sculptures…and for its Sunday market! Tonala is a small suburb on the east side of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, approximately 2 hours from Leon. The Sunday market in Tonala is a grand shopping adventure. I will share my tips, tricks, and experiences here so that if you ever have a chance to wander through the Tonala Sunday Market, you have some idea of what to expect.

Parking Tips:

During my first trip to Tonala, I went during the Buen Fin weekend, which is similar to Black Friday in the US. Parking was very difficult to find that day and I would recommend arriving early – maybe before 9:30 AM – in order to find a good place to park and shop the Buen Fin deals.  On my subsequent trips to Tonala, parking was not an issue. My favorite parking place is easy to find on Google Maps and it is the first one right off of the main road (on google maps, it is called Naztlin), but they fill up fast. They make you pay 40 pesos (US$2) in advance no matter how long you are parked, but it is worth the price. As is always the case in Mexico, when you park, do not leave valuables in your car. It is always advisable that if you have to leave bags in your car, they should be out of sight. An alternative type of parking lot in Tonala will provide a paper on which you list the items left in your car. These tend to be the really small parking lots where you have to leave your vehicle key. Essentially, they keep an eye on the vehicle and your belongings, plus they have the vehicle key so that they can fit more vehicles in the parking lot. You use this at your own risk, but I have not had any trouble from the parking lots that do it this way. Simply make sure that everything in your vehicle is still there before you leave, and don’t leave anything valuable (electronics, jewelry, money).

Finding the best prices in the shortest amount of time:

The market is an overwhelming display of items, with vendors crammed together under tarps and crowding the sidewalks that line both sides of the main road as well as many of the side streets that branch off. One of the first things I noticed is that the permanent shops along the main road typically have higher prices than the street vendors that are lined up along the sidewalks. However, the permanent shops have a much larger selection of items to choose from than the vendors in the market. With this in mind, I recommend winding through the tarp-covered walkways first to check out the things they have on display and check prices, and then circling back around to look at the permanent shops on the way back. Another thing I noticed is that the shops and vendors further from the main road also have better prices. I highly recommend walking on those side streets too, because you never know what you may find. There is more to see here than there is time to see it, even in the three visits I have made to this market. One thing to keep in mind though – for anyone that does not like the literal press of humanity against their body, walking through the vendors and through the crowded, tarp-covered walkways might be a horrific experience. It is a tight fit and the forward movement is often slow and requires much maneuvering around and between people. For this reason, I also do not recommend trying to push a stroller or wheelchair through the main street of this market. It is not very handicap accessible and there are several places where the sidewalk changes height all of a sudden, causing people to stumble and almost fall – which they would if there weren’t so many people in the way.

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The way I have described this so far, I know, probably does not make this market sound very appealing. However, the things I have seen and found and the prices they charge make the entire experience very worthwhile. And if you are looking for “authentic” Mexico, this is a great place to find it.

Examples of great prices:

  1. Large, colorful, blown-glass hearts are 40 pesos (US$2) each from a nice vendor in a tiny, corner shop located off of the main market street.
  2. A vendor in a shop a few streets away (business card in the photos) from the main street of the market sells large, heavy-duty, blown-glass pitcher and tumbler sets for 350 pesos (about US$17).

Tips to increase your shopping enjoyment:

There are so many interesting, colorful, and unique items and artwork that can be found in the Tonala market. I am constantly amazed by all of the different things I see every time I go. In addition, every time I go shopping, I find more beautiful things that I want to buy than I can possibly carry (or fit in my house). To make this part of the shopping experience easier, take large bags, that can be comfortably carried on a shoulder or back, in which to carry purchases. I cannot stress the importance of this enough, based on my own experience.

Yes, those are toilets
You never know what you will find in Tonala. Photo by Angela Grier

Tips on finding food:

The food smells in Tonala are absolutely amazing! There are many places to get food in Tonala as you shop – from a sit-down restaurant inside a building, to a sit-down vendor cooking in the open air in the middle of the shopping alleys, to the street vendors selling food on the go. I have tried a few of each of these. I discovered my absolute favorite food in Tonala and it comes from street vendors that you find strewn throughout the market. The food is called a gordita and, in Tonala, it is filled with something sweet. I have had gorditas elsewhere, and they are delicious, but the gorditas in Tonala are different. They sell them plain but they also sell them with a variety of fillings – chocolate, cajeta, or vanilla cream. The dough is sweet, so even the plain ones are delicious. Hands down, this is the best food in Tonala, and every time I go, I buy a few bags. The best price for these is typically 10 pesos for 5 gorditas. Sometimes, I have seen vendors charge 15 or 20 pesos for 5 gorditas, but I typically skip those vendors and find the ones with a better price.

Tonala Market
Tejuino Vendor. Photo by Angela Grier

On my first visit to Tonala, I tried a beverage from a street vendor called tejuino. It has lime juice and fermented corn in it. It is delicious! This is a drink that is very popular in Jalisco state (which is where Tonala is located). I highly recommend trying this unique beverage.

Another fun street vendor, if you can find them, are the ones that sell street margaritas. The experience is really fun to watch and the margaritas are sweet. It is funny to watch them make the drinks because, since they are not supposed to sell alcohol on the street, they hide the tequila in a bottle of soft drink. They sell these very large margaritas for around 90-100 pesos each, but you can get some of your money back if you return the really cool clay mug it’s served in. (I never do that.) There is usually a small crowd of people around the vendor, watching and joking about the experience. I don’t know how sanitary the margarita-making station is, and I’m sure that the guys reuse the mugs that people bring back without washing them well, but if you think about it just a little, alcohol kills germs. As long as you don’t think about it too much, it’s a much more enjoyable experience. The last time we went to Tonala, we took my husband’s parents with us, and while their stomachs had not yet acclimated to the food, the street margaritas did not bother them. I think they enjoyed Tonala even more while enjoying the very large clay mug full of margarita.

One bit of advice that we were given when we first moved to Mexico was that if there are a lot of people waiting to eat at a place, then it probably has excellent food. While walking through the alleys of vendors, the amazing smells from all of the food vendors grilling meats and veggies are mouth-watering and most, if not all, of these places have crowds of people surrounding them. I have only eaten at one of the places, one street over from the main crush of people, and the food was delicious. Waiting for seating in the middle of a crowded alley of vendors is not something I really want to do, so I have not stopped at other places yet.

Tonala Market
Delicious tacos from a side street vendor. Photo by Angela Grier

While walking down a side street on my second trip to Tonala, I found a hidden restaurant called El Jardin (The Garden). The only reason I found it was because I heard a lot of birds chirping nearby and looked over to see an aviary. On the fence of the aviary, was the sign for the restaurant. We were hungry and decided to check it out. As we wound through a sidewalk between the aviary and building, we found ourselves in a little portico filled with tables. The staff is very friendly, they serve alcohol all day, and the food is delicious. It is now our go-to place to find respite from the crowds. There is also a restroom nearby that is free if you go from the restaurant. The only problem is that there are no toilet seats or toilet paper, so be prepared!

Overall tips:

Tonala is a beautiful place, filled with art in the most unexpected places. There is more to see than can be seen in one, two, or twenty visits. The Sunday market feels like it stretches on forever. If you find that you have bought too much but you have only made it through a small part of the market, the vendor that I have bought the glass pitcher and tumbler sets from will let you leave your purchases with them under the table, along with the box(es) of glassware purchased from them. I am sure they are not the only vendors willing to do that. If you are not comfortable with that idea, some of the parking lots will watch your car for you if you leave purchases in it and return to shop. By 3 PM, many street vendors start packing up their tables. The permanent shops stay open longer, but the market starts to disperse after 3 and if you saw something that you wanted to purchase, you need to get it before 3.

Sometimes, you may see large carts being wheeled through the streets by guys. They will carry your large purchases for you in these carts for a price. If you go shopping for furniture, this is definitely the best option for “carting” it around.

No matter what you decide to shop for in Tonala, you will likely go home with more than you expected. Let me know if you have any other suggestions for shopping in this wonderful town. Enjoy!

Wrapping up Week 3 of the Mexican Gas Shortage – an Expat Perspective

It’s hard to believe that it has already been about three weeks since the gas shortage first started. At the beginning of the shortage, speculation about why it was happening and what caused it ran wild through the news media, Facebook, and the WhatsApp groups of the expats and my Mexican friends, which naturally spilled over into the awareness of our children. It has definitely been a challenge to remain positive and not help the spread of rumors and panic that this incident has incited. But with the bombardment of all of that information, speculation, and panic, how do I show my family that our life here is still great, despite the challenges? How do I communicate to my children that this situation is not terrible, even though it changes the way we think about making trips to the store or school or how we spend our weekends?  

As expats, we live on the fringe of Mexican society in a way that is difficult to explain and define. While the gas shortage continues to be a huge problem in terms of safety and security for the Mexican people that need gas to support their families, for my family and other expats, it is simply an inconvenience or a minor disruption in our daily routine. It’s an opportunity for us, as expats, to reevaluate what we need in life versus what we don’t really need; to determine what kinds of things provide us with long-term happiness and make good memories versus the things that just distract us from what’s really important; and to experience our new country from a different perspective, instead of driving past it quickly and never really seeing it. Access to a reliable source of gas is important for many things, but it’s not the end of the world if we do not have it, especially if it’s only a temporary loss. Having to skip a book club meeting, a breakfast, or going out with friends is not anything to get upset about. Reorganizing life to make room for new friends and activities within walking distance is an excellent alternative, especially if it enables us to see more of the country and culture around us that was previously missed because we were moving too fast to see it.

Despite the difficulties that arose as a result of the gas shortage, there were several positive things that did happen. One of those positive things is that we changed some of our daily and weekly habits, and I can’t help but think it was time to change those habits anyways. For example, we have spent more time together as a family, exploring our neighborhood in a way that we did not take the time to do previously because we always drove through and never stopped. In addition, the company arranged for a bus to transport people to and from work. Now my husband has been arriving home from work earlier than normal so we get to see more of him in the evenings. Plus, my children have been able to continue going to school because we have been carpooling with a couple of other families, which has led to some creative seating situations in the cars that do not have enough seats for everyone, and above all, it shares the burden of driving among more of us.

Because we do not have easy access to gas, we have to walk, which provides more opportunities for exercise and family time together. Walking up the mountain, of which we live near the bottom, is really good exercise, and there are many really interesting things to see along the way (the leafcutter ants are a good example).

In our neighborhood, there are a couple of grocery stores and carnicerias (butcher shops) that are located near the summit of the mountain where I frequently shop for meat and vegetables. There are also two liquor stores that sell beer and wine, as well as plenty of tequilas. There is a pharmacy, a convenience store, and, most importantly, there is an ice cream shop. At this ice cream shop, they make their ice cream, popsicles, and agua frescas (iced fruit drinks) themselves. They have numerous flavors and when I bite into them, I can tell they were made with real fruits and/or real cream. They have the best ice creams and popsicles I have ever tasted. I happily treat my children to an ice cream cone on the way home whenever we go exploring in our neighborhood. According to my children, this was the best discovery that we made during the gas shortage.

As we wrap up this third week of the gas shortage, things seem to be normalizing in other parts of the country, the news and speculation has calmed down, and I am hopeful that in another week, we will not have anymore lines at the gas stations. 

But the thing that I hope for above all, is that this part of our Mexican Adventure was a happy memory for my family, not a negative one.

I really hope I have accomplished that.

Ice cream happiness
Ice cream happiness. Photo by Angela Grier

Another Crazy Adventure in a Mexican Gas Line

Let me share a description of a day during this crazy, Mexican gas shortage.

 

On a dark, dreary Tuesday morning (today) at 7 AM, I received text messages from several friends that the gas station just outside of our neighborhood had started pumping gas and the line was not terribly long. As soon as my children were picked up by a friend of mine, I hopped in my car and got into the line for gas. Another friend of mine was about 20 cars ahead of me (she was one of the people that had texted me about the short line). The friend that had taken my kids to school eventually got in the line behind me, but because she was much later, she was much further behind me in the line. My friend ahead continued to text me updates about her position in line and whether or not all pumps were still pumping. She eventually pulled into a pump after an hour and was told she could only get 500 pesos of gas and that the pumps were pre-programmed so that no one could get more than that. About 30 minutes later, I finally made it to the pump and when the attendant asked me how much gas I wanted, I was confused by the question because my friend had said we were only allowed 500 pesos. So I told him I would like the tank to be filled. He looked at me funny and then I realized I had misunderstood what he was asking. He had wanted to know which type of gas I wanted. But then he said that he could reset the pump for me and give me more gas if I wanted it. I, of course, said yes. He filled my tank for 738 pesos and then sent me on my way. I continued to check in with my friend that had been behind me as she continued to get closer to the station. When she was the fifth car in line from the gas pump, they ran out of gas and stopped pumping. I felt so guilty about taking the extra gas! She immediately left that station and found another station in which to sit in line, that was supposed to be getting a truckload of gas later in the day.

So close, I can almost smell the gas!
So close, I can almost smell the gas! Photo by C. Donaldson

Meanwhile, I was sitting at home trying to figure out carpooling strategies for my kids and the others in our neighborhood when, around 11 AM, I started receiving text messages about a station at the opposite entrance of my neighborhood that would be receiving a gas truck sometime later in the day. I realized that this would be the perfect opportunity for one of the other families in our carpool group to fill up the gas tanks in their two cars, which would then lighten the load for everyone in the group. So I called her and proposed that we both drive their cars, a suburban and a small SUV, and get in line to wait. She agreed and off we went, her in the Suburban, me in the small SUV.

 

We got in the line and sat for a while. When it was too hot to sit in the car anymore, we stood outside of our cars on the highway and chatted with another friend of ours who was just ahead of us in line. Periodically, men would walk past us headed towards the gas station to get information about the truck. One guy told us that the truck would be there soon, another guy mentioned that the truck would not arrive until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. I had to be home by 3 PM to meet my children after school, so I was concerned that this trip was not going to work out for me. But we continued to wait. I had been advised earlier that this particular gas station was very organized about how they distributed gas and they did not allow any room for cheating (unlike the station I went to that morning). I was told that I needed to be in my vehicle when they walked past with numbered tickets. They only had a certain number of tickets and if you did not get one, you knew you would not be getting gas there. Eventually, after about two hours, we saw the gas truck pass by and everyone gave a cheer. We went back to our cars and continued to wait until the tickets had been passed out. When they came to my car, I found out that I was the 49th car in line. While I was waiting for the line to start moving, I found out that my friend, the one who had not been able to get gas at the station earlier that morning, was the 6th car in line and her husband was the 28th car. I was so happy that she had received a ticket! A few minutes before the line started to move, my friend in the suburban walked up to the SUV and asked to switch cars. She wanted to drive to the school to pay the monthly tuition and since we were halfway there, it would be a good chance to get that done, in the vehicle with better gas mileage. So I got into the suburban and she got into the SUV.

 

A few minutes later, the cars in front of me started moving forward. Yay! I turned the key in the ignition…and nothing happened. Nothing. Just a click. Oh no. OH NO!!! I started to yell at the car to start. My friend had pulled forward already and there was a large gap between my vehicle and the car in front of me. The guys in the car behind me got out and walked towards me to figure out what was going on. They knew something was wrong because I was loudly yelling at the car. I explained that the car wasn’t working. They first thought that the car had run out of gas. I had no idea what had happened! They had me pop the hood and I told them I thought the battery was dead. They said that could not be it because it wasn’t even trying to start, it was just a tiny click. But they looked at it and used some of my water and a rock (don’t ask me why because I do not know) to try to get the battery working again. Nothing happened. So they started to push my vehicle towards the line far ahead of us. Meanwhile, my friend finally noticed that we were not behind her and ran back to the Suburban as we caught up to the line. I told her I was pretty sure the battery was dead. I, laughingly, asked her what she had been doing the whole time we were sitting in the line. I finally told her that I would drive the small SUV to the gas station and get the mechanic there to help us while she stayed with the Suburban. I was within a few cars of the station when one of the guys came running up and said they figured out that the battery was dead and one of the guys had jumper cables. They would push the suburban up next to the SUV and try to jump it. In the meantime, their own vehicle was way behind us. Amazingly, no one tried to jump them in the line. Everyone behind us seemed to be very patient while they waited for us to figure out a solution to this problem. After the guys hooked up the cables to the cars, it took several tries before she could get the Suburban engine started. Apparently, the battery had been drained completely. Those four guys were absolutely amazing! We were so thankful for their help!

Getting a jump!
Getting a jump! Photo by A. Thompson

I finally pulled up to a pump in the SUV and then tried to figure out how to open the gas tank door. The gas station attendant and I could not figure it out. Finally, my friend pulled up behind me and it took her a few minutes before she could figure out how to open the gas tank door on the car. I guess we should have figured that out during the three-hour wait. I finally got 500 pesos (and no more!) of gas and drove back to our neighborhood. As I was pulling into my friend’s driveway, I received a phone call from one of the students in our carpool. Apparently, the person who was supposed to give them a ride back to our neighborhood changed their mind and decided to drive to the other side of town instead. So I was about to go to the school to pick them up when I remembered that my friend in the Suburban was headed in that direction. Luckily, she was able to pick up all of the kids and everyone got home, safe and sound, with more gas in the tank. Truly, a happy ending after a crazy day of sitting in gas lines. I wish I had taken pictures from this day (thankfully, my friends had taken some), but I wish I had pictures of our rescuers. Mexico is occasionally full of craziness and chaos, particularly with this gas shortage going on, but always full of good people willing to help out. I absolutely love this country!

The Mexican Gas Shortage – An American Expat Perspective

I have been sitting in a line of cars for 2.5 hours – since about 6 PM. I joined this line around 1.5 kilometers from the gas station. I have been telling myself during the last few days that I was not going to sit in a gas line and that I could wait for the supply to normalize. My children could miss a couple of days of school and they would be OK. I could walk to the grocery store nearby and replenish our food supplies. However, after reading and hearing about the news reports during the last two days, I now know that this shortage may actually last for a few weeks…or more…and my kids might miss a few weeks of school, not just a few days of school. So with that in mind, when I received a heads up about gasoline being sold nearby from one of my friends (whose ear is close to the ground about such things) I decided to act and I quickly drove off and joined the long queue. As I continue to sit here in the dark, watching lightning flash in the distance, slowly moving forward in the line, I start to be hopeful that I will make it to the pump before they run out of gas. I can almost see the glow of the gas station lights ahead of me. Maybe. I’m about 400 meters away and we are still moving forward, albeit slowly.

There is panic among some of the other expat wives that I know and their panic has been frustrating and irritating to listen to over the last few days. I just cannot figure out why they are so worried. I can’t understand why they seem to have forgotten that things like this happen in the US too. And that we are fortunate to now live in a place that is warm, where we are free to walk or ride our bikes without fear of frostbite from sub-zero temperatures, and that we live close enough to our food sources that distribution will probably not be a problem for a while. And it’s also unlikely that we’re going to lose power and freeze to death in our homes here. The worst thing that will happen is that our children won’t be able to go to school. Although after having my children home for two and a half weeks for winter break, I really need them to go back to school! But all joking aside, while I do think they need to be with their friends and prepare for their next round of exams, missing a month of school when the teachers send assignments out via Google classroom so they can keep up that way is not really so bad. So I am very confused by, and I cannot relate to, the panic that some of the other expat wives are feeling, especially the ones that do not have children at home. But I refuse to participate in the group panic and at every opportunity, I will continue to remind people that what we as expats have here is a much better situation than what many people in the US are dealing with right now.

Supply Run
Supply run. Stocking up so we can hunker down. Photo by Angela Grier

With that being said, however, while our situation is pretty good, the reality for people who do not have a salaried job is much more serious. Our maid depends on buses and taxis to get to our house everyday and if one of those modes of transportation falters because they do not have gas, and she cannot get to work, then she will not be paid. (I will not let that happen in our case, but I am sure that is what happens to other people in her situation.) I can understand why so many people are desperate for gasoline and so angry with the Mexican government and their fight against huachicoleros (gas thieves). And I see the situation between what is happening in the US and Mexico as being very similar. With the US government shutdown affecting so many people who cannot afford to miss a paycheck, people are desperate for a job where they actually get paid, especially if those people are being forced to work without being paid. Here in Mexico, people that cannot get to work because of the gas shortage will miss being paid and cannot support themselves and their families. Both situations are terrible. And while the situation in the US affects only a small subset of the population in terms of money, it has a far greater effect on people who are unable to transact business with the agencies that are shutdown, as well as the people who are trying to safely travel via plane. I am not sure which country’s government wins in the “Bad Idea” department – it may be the government that allows their farce to continue the longest.

As I finish writing out my opinions, I have come to the realization that the gas line has stopped moving. People carrying empty gas containers have started walking back towards their cars. That can only mean one thing – the gas station has run out of gas. And I wasted 30 kilometers worth of gas trying to get more. My husband did not think this adventure would be worth it and with the extreme disappointment that I feel at this moment, I have to agree with him. I have sat in this line for three hours and I feel like I wasted my time. I know, however, that many people have been waiting in lines for 10 or 12 hours at a time, hoping for gas. People are spending the night in lines, hoping that when the gas is finally delivered to the station, they will be one of the lucky few who gets to put some gas in their tank. With two small children at home, and a husband who is still expected to get to work everyday, that option is not really available to me. But my need is much less than most Mexicans and for that reason, I will not worry and panic about this situation. We still have a pretty good thing going on here. And I know that our situation here is still better than freezing in Indiana or not getting paid and still going to work anyways.