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Business Trip: Mexico

(Thu Dec 15 12:09:06 2011)

In Which I Become An International Traveller

Monday morning, my boss picked me up and drove me to the airport, where we hopped on a flight to Houston, then on to Mexico. The flight was uneventful; Mexico, on the other hand...

The first thing I noticed was the smell. Every place has a smell, obviously, but in Mexico, the smell has you. It's not a "trash" smell; it's not a "rot" smell. Sure, there's a distinct undertone of garbage, but the overtones are so overwhelming as to make it unnoticeable. That, and my nose adjusted to the garbage smell after a day or so. No, the overpowering smell is that of exhaust fumes. There are a lot of people in Mexico City; 21.2 million or so. And a fair number of those people drive. The cars here aren't like in the US - few SUVs and minivans grace the streets. Instead, there are all sorts of tiny cars. The VW Bug is one of the average sized vehicles. There are a lot of trucks, too; almost every street has a semi truck packed on it. And all those cars belch out fumes like you wouldn't believe. I've been here four days, and I can still smell it. I'm not going to get used to this smell. My throat is rough, my nose stings, and if I didn't take sinus meds every day, I would probably die.

The second thing I noticed were the driving habits. In the US, roads have lines on them. This is a two lane road, this is a four lane road, and so on. Most roads go both directions, too. Not so in Mexico city; most roads are one-way, and most traffic makes up lanes as they see fit. I am amazed that we are still alive after driving in that... cars will pull out into intersections and stop, or will make a left turn out of the right lane. What we would call a wide single lane road can be two or even three lanes, depending on how wide the cars are. It's pure, unadulterated insanity. Seriously. There are no yield signs; instead, there are traffic bumps that are a foot tall and about three feet thick. If you hit that bump at speeds over "near standstill," you will be fishing your axle out of the gutter. These bumps are put in place to force people to slow down for intersections and crosswalks; once a car is going slow, people and other cars will zoom in front of them, expecting them to slow down and let them through. If it were the US, the population would be half what it is simply from hit-and-run accidents.

Finally, there are the people. We drove through the heart of Mexico city; I have a video of people walking. Thousands of people. There were so many people that they were walking down the middle of the road, just because there wasn't enough room otherwise. Now, I'm used to being in what could be described as a "throng" or "crowd" or even "crush" of people. This was far, far beyond that. Imagine Black Friday, right when the doors open on your store of choice. Imagine that many people, only everywhere. Miles of roads, all packed to the brim. I couldn't take it; that many people would drive me to madness.

It's not just people, either; if there is a break between buildings, it's called a road. Every building is jammed up against the next. Where there aren't buildings, there are walls filling the space. Every square inch of the city is crammed together. Even the houses are crowded; shops have houses on top, and even the roofs are covered with hanging clothes or even tents.

One thing Mexico does not have is free Internet; in the States, almost every hotel has free WiFi. Starbucks, McDonalds, Wendy's, and even the airport have free WiFi. Here? There is nothing. The five star hotel we stayed at charged 173 Pesos (about $13.84) a day for Internet access. And that was from the port in the room! Even the Starbucks we drove past didn't have free Internet. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of WiFi hubs - one company has access points every hundred yards or so through most of the city. But, it costs money. And cracking the WEP encryption is against the law - really, REALLY against the law. What makes it worse is that my phone - usually on the Internet 24 hours a day - is about as useful as a brick right now. It costs 99 cents a minute for a phone call, 5 cents to receive texts and 50 cents to send them, and a whopping $20.48 per megabyte! That means it will cost me $10 to upload a single jpeg! As someone who uses the Internet every day of every year, turning it off is debilitating. Oh, I don't mind getting away from the Internet for a camping trip or something. But when I'm working, I need to be able to look up stuff. When I'm traveling, I really like to be able to use my GPS. Or, for that matter, to look up if there are any nearby gas stations, restaurants, or other useful businesses. Granted, a GPS is pretty useless in Mexico, but I still feel the loss of connection. I can't check in on my server unless I'm at the hotel or the warehouse; I can't look at Google Maps while on the road; I can't even look for geocaches. I can't just call my wife; I have to call over the Internet. I can't even text people without racking up a huge bill. Thankfully, I can use Google Voice to text and call for free - but even then, only while I'm online.

I know that Mexico City isn't Mexico; I'm sure there are many places that don't smell like smog, aren't stuffed with people, and might even have cautious drivers and free Internet. I'm willing to visit those places, eventually. But for now, I'll just be glad to get home.



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This blag is tagged: Internet, Mexico, Work, All