In recent years, Mexico has acquired an unsavoury reputation with travellers because of the escalating problems with crime gangs and the robberies and in some cases, the brutal murder of visitors to Mexico. In addition, the relentless crimes against Mexican women – including sex slavery and hundreds of women who every year who ‘disappear’ – raped and murdered – has also understandably added to Mexico’s dubious image. Mexico serves as a widespread example of a failed state – an elected central government which is mired in corruption and powerless to deal with a nation spiralling out of control and at the behest of drug cartels and unable to defend its citizens and especially its women against the worst elements in society. Visitors to Mexico hence often confine their stay to over developed tourist havens such as Cancun in the south and even that place is not immune to outbreaks of gang violence.
Anya and I spent a month in Mexico on our way from Australia to Amsterdam. We landed in Mexico city and visited the pyramids south of the city and then head east towards the coast and then back, making a circle. We travelled by bus and stayed where ever possible in back street hotels in small towns, although sometimes, given the distances to be covered, we had to stay overnight in large cities. Mexico is certainly a place to experience a different culture and whilst no doubt there is an understream of a society which the foreigner never sees, for us the Mexican people were consistently helpful and friendly.
These pyramids are located at the site of Xochitécatl in the region of Tlaxcala south west of Mexico City. Xochitécatl was built between 300 and 400 A.D. by the Tlaxcalans, a pre-Columbian culture which reached its peak between 600 and 800 A.D. and in the 17th century aligned itself with the Spanish colonialists to defeat the Aztecs. In modern times Tlaxcala has a reputation somewhat less attractive than its ancient pyramids: it is a thriving centre for the sex trade, with thousands of girls being sent to the U.S. with the connivance of the police and local government. The export of girls and cocaine to the U.S. by organised crime is one side of a deadly transaction – the sophisticated weapons used by the gangs are bought in the U.S.
Whenever you took a bus in Mexico, every stop brought a wave of vendors, hawkers, salesmen, con men and musicians. Sometimes you struck it lucky. This man got on our bus whilst we were travelling through the big city of Guadalajara. With the bus lurching around corners and stopping and starting, he stood in the gangway and played his guitar and sang – and he was good. He had a rich baritone voice – which sounded all that more beautiful because he was singing in Spanish and his guitar playing was outstanding. It was a stunning performance and I wondered how it happened that a man of his talent ended up playing in buses running the slums of Guadalajara. In this a capsule story about Mexico.