Last month, I had relatives from Canada visiting my family here in Querétaro. We had a grand time driving all over the place and visiting tourist hotspots that we just haven’t had time to explore ourselves since arriving. The downside, of course, is the high cost of fuel that comes with so much travelling.
From my experiences in visiting Mexico many years ago, I recall a very different situation. At the time, Pemex (the federally-owned monopoly for all gasoline distribution in the country) benefited from government subsidies, which ensured that fuel prices stayed low. If memory serves, back in 2013 fuel prices here were equivalent to about $0.70 CAD per litre. That was far lower than what we were seeing in Canada at the time.
Pemex ran into serious financial problems and the government entity became a major drain on resources. To remedy the situation, the government decided to remove the gasoline subsidy, causing prices for the commodity to spike to the highest prices ever seen. The hue and cry resulting from the higher cost was predictable.
What people like to eat as a snack food varies wildly according to regional preferences and personal taste. What passes for good eats in some places in the world is considered quite repellant in others. Often, whether or not something seems tasty to you depends on what kind of food you had where you grew up. Comfort food means a lot of different things to different people.
In Korea, for example, dog is on the menu. Koreans consider it to be a delicacy, and there are restaurants that specialize in serving it. There are even canine farms where certain species of dogs are raised specifically for the food industry. In North America, thinking about eating dog is more than just unpopular. It is considered downright barbaric. Who would ever think about eating man’s best friend, right?
With our daily life in Querétaro now pretty much dialed in, I find that I am once again finding myself face-to-face with my old nemesis: Routine.
For most people, routine is just a part of daily life. Many people value routine to keep them focused and productive. I personally avoid it at all costs. Routine and I have never been on friendly terms. In fact, I will often go out of my way to avoid repetitively doing the same thing over and over again. As you can imagine, this makes may parts of life difficult. Let’s face it: There are a lot of things in our regular daily lives that require sticking to a routine.
Back in September, I decided that it was time to get more into the local food scene here in Santiago de Querétaro. There seem to be so many great eateries that choosing which ones to explore can be a challenge. Particularly along the narrow streets of the historic downtown, the choices are as varied as your imagination. Every block has countless cafes and restaurants, each with its own charm and tempting menu.
Besides the number of options making decisions difficult, the potential risk of food-borne bacteria in less than tidy kitchens makes just ‘guessing’ as to the cleanliness of a restaurant a high risk decision. The high daytime temperatures in the city mean that food prep surfaces need to be kept sterile, with food turnaround times kept very short. How, exactly, should a newcomer to the city figure out which places are clean and safe?
I do not subscribe to the ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ philosophy. As far as I am concerned, what doesn’t necessarily kill you CAN still leave you weak, nauseated and diarrhetic. Better to know the place is safe before throwing caution to the wind.
With each passing week, I get more and more comfortable with living in Mexico. I remember that when we first arrived, a drive across the city for a quick trip to the market was almost always a white-knuckle experience that left me exhausted and mentally distressed.
Besides the concerns with the hazardous road conditions, damaging wear and tear on my car and the fear of getting stopped by police who are attracted to the foreign license plate for a possible payday, there was just the general ‘newness’ of being in-country that made me feel anxious most of the time.
Now, almost six months into our stay, I just don’t feel like any of those things are as relevant anymore. What’s weird is that nothing has really changed. The road conditions aren’t any better, my car has squeaks, rattles and scratches it didn’t have before we left Canada, and although police are everywhere (with their lights permanently switched on) the risk of being involved in a traffic stop seems less likely. As with most new experiences in life, the ‘newness’ wears off and you start focusing on more important things.
One of the many ‘unknowns’ for us in relocating to Mexico was the type of food available in grocery stores. We weren’t sure what to expect as far as the varieties of foods available, the quality of them, or the cost. We knew food in Mexico was ‘cheaper’, but didn’t have much information to validate that. It was the kind of knowledge best gained by personal experience.
In Canada, it was always fun to try and find ‘authentic’ Mexican food. Everyone generally acknowledged that ‘Taco Bell’ just doesn’t cut it when it comes to the true taste of Mexico. ‘Authentic’ choices were few and far between. Let’s be honest: The so-called ‘nacho cheese’ sold in glass jars in Canada is completely misleading as being representative of Mexican food. (Ironically, here in Mexico, grocery stores market processed cheese slices as ‘queso Americano’. I guess they had to blame SOMEBODY for that terrible fake plastic cheese.)
No matter where on earth you travel, there are obviously health risks associated with the location, some of which are surprisingly common. Coming from Canada, this is a fact that is sometimes easy to overlook, as we have relatively few environmental health concerns (apart from a growing cancer epidemic, like much of the western world.)
Some tourists have a tendency to throw caution to the wind when abroad, and stop following some basic but important rules. They will eat at any roadside stand they fancy and forget about things like washing their hands frequently.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been known to eat at some rather dodgy-looking places from time-to-time as well (My wife still remembers with horror that little gem of a Chinese food place on King George Highway in Surrey, BC. So cheap! And who cares that the basement was flooded? One word: Buffet) It’s hard to resist when something looks really good. But for the sake of food safety, it is better to exercise some restraint. Continue reading “Health in Mexico – Don’t Drink the Water”
Nothing Takes the Heat Down Like a Good Heavy Queretaro Rainfall
Our first month in Queretaro, Mexico has been characterized by the one environmental feature we were hoping to avoid by coming to this part of Mexico: High temperatures.
I’ve never liked high temperatures. (Fascinating side point: Moose can’t tolerate temperatures above 22° C without serious health implications. )
Let me explain what I mean by ‘high temperatures’ so that I’m not misleading you. My favorite temperature to be walking or working outdoors is -10° C (14° Fahrenheit for our American friends.). At that temperature, a good jacket and a toque is all you need to be comfortable. In Calgary, when the temperature first starts to climb into the low teens (above freezing) in the spring, folks typically abandon their coats, because that is considered ‘t-shirt weather’. Anytime the mercury climbs above 25° C, that is getting pretty hot.
After arriving in our new city of Queretaro, one of the first orders of business was to find a place of our own to rent. As I intend to stay for at least a full year in Mexico, I was prepared to sign a lease to see if more favourable pricing could be secured.
It was very nice of our friend Linda to allow us to stay with her, but after a week in the city, it was time to start house hunting. Before leaving Canada, I had been put in contact with a leasing agent who would locate properties for us to consider, and then take care of the details necessary to secure a rental property. As with many things in Mexico, it seems that this is somewhat more complicated than it is in Canada.