Monday, August 18, 2008

Musings via Mulege

Thanks to some friends here in Albuquerque, George and I were able yesterday to meet and visit with an American couple who live most of the year in Mulege, about an hour and a half north of Loreto.

The couple, who has lived in Mulege for the past couple of years, are obviously enjoying their retirement south of the border. Their enthusiasm for Mulege and Mexico as a whole was apparent as they described their lives in the sleepy little village (population about 3,500) where one of the social highlights of the year is the annual pig race and pig calling contest.

Over the course of a few hours visiting with this friendly and entertaining couple, we got some great advice and gained some valuable insight into the people of Baja California Sur.

On the practical side, we learned that it's best to apply for an FM3 Visa in Loreto rather than through a Mexican Consulate here in the States. The reason given was two-fold: Requirements even for a visa can vary from region to region and immigration officials have been known to take offense when a visa comes from outside their jurisdiction.

We also learned that one of the worst - at least in our Mulege friends' opinion - Web sources for information about Baja is, a site that George and I have visited on a number of occasions. They said the site's chat room is rife with misinformation about the Baja, especially relating to crime, which they said is virtually non-existent outside the border areas and, when it does occur, generally falls into the petty theft category.

As for the practice of "mordida" that many on the site claim is rampant throughout the Baja, our new friends (who also lived for a time in northern Baja about an hour south of San Diego) said their only experience with being asked for a "courtesy" payment came from a city police officer in Tijuana. Although that practice is not uncommon when dealing with city police, they said that it is almost unheard of when dealing with the Mexican equivalent of our state police. In fact, they said, visiting Americans are causing a problem by not paying traffic citations before leaving Mexico. All those travelers "skipping out" on their fines has led Mexican authorities to require immediate payment in cash for any traffic violation. And that can be something of a problem if the ticketed driver is short on cash and the banks are closed!

Since mail delivery is sketchy at best in the Baja, people in Mulege send outgoing mail back to the States to be mailed courtesy of anyone headed in that direction, while goods ordered on the Internet in Mulege are delivered to U.S. homes until arrangements can be made for pickup. Sounds like a good plan to us and one we hope is - or will be - in place in Loreto!

But the most valuable information our new friends gave us related to the cultural differences between our two countries. Too many Americans, they said, expect things to operate in Mexico like they do in the states and that's just not the case. An example, they said, was when they picked out upholstery for their new sofa in one pattern but received the finished product in a different but similar pattern. Those kinds of minor changes are common, they said, and it's best to learn to go with the flow.

They also spoke of the courtesy and kindness of their new Mexican friends, who value good manners and think cursing is vulgar and common, especially when in mixed company. And isn't that a nice thought!

The recurring theme in what this engaging couple had to say was that if you're willing to get involved, you'll be rewarded with a sense of community and sharing that makes all the little hassles worthwhile. And that sounds good to us, too!

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