Visiting Cuernavaca, The Real Mexico
by Elaine; July 10, 2011
Cuernavaca is a little-known town in central Mexico, approximately an hour’s drive from the capital, Mexico City. This small, quaint city is truly Mexico, not like the more well-known, Americanized resorts such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cancun – tourist meccas – with shop after endless shop of souvenirs, t-shirts, and the corner Senor Frogs bar.
I fell in love with Cuernavaca the first time I visited friends who live there. There are NO signs in English to be found anywhere: not street signs, bank ATM machines, restaurant menus, or price tags in shopping malls . . . no, mi amigos, even those are in pesos not dollars, so be prepared to convert the currency as you shop.
Here, if you do not speak or read a little Spanish, well, you will either learn very quickly or find the next flight out to the nearest English-speaking resort, so that at least you won’t go hungry! Because, not only are the restaurant menus fully in Spanish, you can’t even ask the waiter what the items are because they only speak Spanish (nope, not even a little English, por favor.)
It was an interesting experiment as tourists for my husband and I. I speak some Spanish and picked it up more fluently as the days went on, even catching on to their local idioms, (such as “mucho gusto” when you first meet someone), whereas my British husband was completely “lost in translation”, a la Bill Murray. He commented many times on how stuck he would be if he were travelling there without me. For the life of him, he could not pick up on the language.
But the one comforting thing is that the local people are absolutely lovely. They make you feel very comfortable and like it is the most natural thing for you, an obvious tourist, to be there. They never looked down at us, or made us feel bad for not knowing the area or ever got impatient with us. That is probably one of the things that stuck out the most to me – the Mexican people here are never in a hurry or stressed out.
Even in rush hour traffic (which is not for long in this sleepy town), drivers never honk or give the “universal sign” to each other. They bravely come within inches of each other but politely either give the other the right of way, or just seem to know that they can go. And NO accidents! Without traffic lights, or marked lanes, they seem to instinctively just know where each other is at any given moment and when and where they can proceed. This would be an impossible feat in North American cities, where even with structured laws and clearly marked traffic lanes and signals, accidents seem to abound.
Besides, the Mexicans here cannot afford to get into accidents and injuries, because in Cuernavaca it is still a third world country, and you cannot just pick up a phone and dial 911 and have an ambulance there within minutes. There is no 911 Emergency line to call and there are no ambulances! Also, to our horror as North Americans, not many, if any, drivers there have such a thing called “auto insurance.” They simply cannot afford it. So, the solution is . . . do NOT get into a car or pedestrian accident!
Speaking of pedestrians, unlike in most major cities in North America, where the pedestrian has the right of way the moment they so much as put a “toe” into the roadway, in Cuernavaca, drivers have the right of way at ALL times, and I do mean all. Even if you are crossing the street at a marked intersection, with a green light to walk, if a car is coming your way, you best get out of their way first because they are not stopping or even slowing down for you!