The Start Of Our Adventures in Mexico

fruits-from-market

As I’m writing this at our house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the house maid laboriously scrubs all horizontal and vertical surfaces in the kitchen and just finished washing the dishes.  It’s taking some time to get used to having a maid deep clean the house every other day while we lie around the house, stuff our faces and head out for a day of adventuring.

When I say “house”, I should really say “compound”.  There is a main house and a separate apartment above us where the kids sleep.  Each house has its own kitchen, living room, bathroom(s), and patio.

main-patio-casa-turquesa

Main house’s patio

We’ll be staying at this house for two weeks before moving on to Mexico City for another two weeks (full trip outline).  This was our most expensive weekly rental at $62 USD per night plus a few bucks per night to tip the maid.  The maid comes four times per week for four to six hours each visit which seems like overkill to me.  After we arrived we found out that the maid washes the dishes in the kitchen for us on every visit.  Which is awesome.

We decided to spend a little more on lodging during this trip after last year’s bad Airbnb experience when we rented a very cheap but very dirty dump in Quebec City.  When housing is as cheap as it is in Mexico, an extra $100 per week means a lot nicer place.

The house also provides virtually everything we need to get by day to day other than food.  The only household goods purchased so far are laundry detergent, shampoo, and paper towels.

 

The Food.  So Much Incredible Food.

One of the key reasons we wanted to visit Mexico was the food.  It’s cheap, it’s delicious, and offers a lot of variety in flavor combos (sweet, sour, salty, spicy, creamy).

Our first meal in Mexico City was at the Restaurant Without a Name.  That’s not it’s name, I mean it didn’t have a name.  Not a lot more than a hole in the wall.  The bathroom door was an upcycled shower door and the flooring and walls were constructed from reused shipping pallets.  I’m assuming these were cost saving efforts and not an attempt at some silly hipster irony (in spite of the fancy Roma neighborhood we stayed in the first night in Mexico).

The restaurant without a name.

The restaurant without a name.

This joint is straight up Mexico.  Inattentive wait staff with a blaring telenovela on the TV behind us.  I asked the waitress/chef/hostess if I could photograph the kitchen and got declined.  This Restaurant Without A Name might also be a Restaurant Without A Valid Operating License.

Chilaquiles with chicken.  Sort of like a really wet version of nachos.

Chilaquiles with chicken. Sort of like a really wet but delicious version of nachos.

My chilaquiles and tacos were really impressive but the rest of the family gave it mixed reviews.

Now that we have settled in San Miguel de Allende, we are mostly ordering take out and bringing it back to our house to enjoy.  I can’t get over how cheap the food is.  Here’s a pic of the chickens I picked up on the way home from the market.

two-chickens-with-fixings

2 whole chickens neatly wrapped “para llevar” – to go.

$8 USD ($120 MXN pesos) for two roasted chickens, potatoes, roasted chiles, pickled cabbage/carrot/jalapeno, and tortillas.  The chicken was pulled off the rotisserie spit and chopped then neatly wrapped right in front of me as I fumbled to pull the right number of pesos from my pocket.  We didn’t manage to eat all of this in one meal. Or two meals.  Or three meals.  So far we aren’t spending the $40 USD per day that we budgeted on food, but it isn’t because we aren’t eating well.

20 pesos ($1.33 USD) for 5 tacos and a bottle of Coke in the metro station.

20 pesos ($1.33 USD) for 5 tacos and a bottle of Coke in the metro station.

30 pesos ($2 USD) for a huge ripe coconut.  The vendor put the juice in a bag with a straw and after cutting up the coconut meat, placed it in a second bag.

30 pesos ($2 USD) for a huge ripe coconut. The vendor put the juice in a bag with a straw and after cutting up the coconut meat, placed the meat in a second bag.  It was so much coconut we couldn’t eat it all!

We also visited the grocery store Bodega Aurrera which is a subsidiary of Walmart.  It looked like a Sam’s Club inside but didn’t require you to buy anything in bulk.  I picked up some yogurt ($0.16 USD each), local chipotle and avocado salsas ($0.75 USD each), domestic Oaxaca and Asadero cheeses (about $2.50 USD/lb), crema, chorizo sausages, mole paste, and a mixed bag of breads and pastries.

grocery-store-run-mexico

Fresh fruits and vegetables are available from the open air markets, vendors sitting along the street, or in small stores all over.  Prices are crazy cheap.

fresh-fruit-market-san-miguel-de-allende

Mini bananas!!

A sampling of produce prices in the markets:

  • Bananas – $0.21 USD/lb ($7 MXN pesos/kg)
  • Broccoli – $0.30 USD/lb ($10 MXN pesos/kg)
  • Mangoes – $0.36 USD/lb ($12 MXN pesos/kg)
  • Oranges – $0.18 USD/lb ($6 MXN pesos/kg)
  • New potatoes – $0.50 USD/lb ($17 MXN pesos/kg)
  • Avocados – $.75-1.05 USD/lb ($25-35 MXN pesos/kg)
  • Limes – $.30 USD/lb ($10 MXN pesos/kg)

Most produce is less than half of the going price in US supermarkets.  Mangoes are about $0.20 to $0.25 each for example while I’ve never paid less than $0.50 for individual mangoes in Raleigh.  Limes are incredibly cheap with small ones around two cents each.

If you want to see what I usually pay for groceries in Raleigh, check this out.

 

Transportation

Getting around Mexico hasn’t been a problem at all.  We flew into Mexico City then caught the metro to our hotel.  The metro is only five pesos ($0.33 USD) per person and kids age four and under travel free.  The metro can be crushingly busy during rush hours however we arrived in the middle of the day and didn’t feel crowded at all.

We spent the first night in Mexico relaxing at the Four Points by Sheraton Roma (another free hotel night from our Starwoods Preferred Guest points thanks to travel hacking credit cards!).  The next morning we traveled by metro to Mexico City’s northern bus terminal (the city has four bus terminals!) and boarded a first class Primera Plus bus to San Miguel de Allende.

Fresh pastries in the bus station?  Don't mind if I do!   And check out those bookbags that are light enough to allow us to go shopping while carrying all our gear.

Fresh pastries in the bus station? Don’t mind if I do!
And check out those bookbags that are light enough to allow us to go shopping while carrying all our gear.

First class buses in Mexico are roughly the equivalent of business class seats on US airlines.  You get food and drinks for free.  The bus had two bathrooms on board for men and women and both were very clean (yes, I peeked into the women’s room for investigative journalism purposes).  Lots of leg room and soft cushioned seats were a nice upgrade after flying coach on US Air from Charlotte to Mexico City.

Sandwich, cookies and a fruity beverage for lunch.

Sandwich, cookies and a fruity beverage for lunch.

After a very short and punctual boarding and departure process in Mexico City, we arrived in San Miguel de Allende at the exact scheduled arrival time in spite of a long traffic jam in San Miguel de Allende.  After suffering long delays while riding Greyhound in North Carolina to get to Charlotte, we appreciated the on time performance of the first class Mexican buses.

This is all we packed for seven weeks in Mexico.

This is all we packed for seven weeks in Mexico.

We didn’t pack a whole lot for this trip since we are moving around every two weeks.  Each person in the family carries one backpack.  The total luggage weight for the whole family is 52 pounds.  That’s an incredible figure since airlines typically allow checked luggage up to 55 pounds (for one suitcase).

Our family has hopped on and off local buses, long distance intercity buses, trains, planes, and subways in the last week.  Packing light helped make it all easier.

 

How are the kids doing?

They are loving it here and having a great time.  However when I ask them if they want to move here they say “no”.  I’ll give it a few more weeks and see what they think.

We are taking it easy and generally go out for a few hours of exploring then head back home for a meal and some down time.  Sometimes we make it back out a second time in the afternoon or evening, even if it’s just a quick shopping trip to the market.  We’re really applying the concept of Slow Travel to make our trip easier and more relaxed.

These kids are troopers!

These kids are troopers!

Our approach is more of living in different spots for two weeks at a time instead of being tourists.  We are still managing to hit most of the cool places on our list, but there’s not any angst over missing out on some of the attractions.  We can always come back in the future if we want to see even more.

The moment we finally arrived at our home for two weeks

The moment we finally arrived at our home for two weeks

 

Checking out San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende is a fairly compact city which makes traveling on foot to visit tourist destinations around town very easy.  Buses and taxis are also cheap at $0.33 and $2.50 USD respectively, though we haven’t needed either one yet.

The Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel

The Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel

Inside the church

Inside the church

 

Thoughts on the trip after one week

There was a small part of me that said taking a seven week trip to Mexico with three kids was either crazy or stupid.  One week into the trip, I realize my fears were unnecessary.

Life on the road is occasionally challenging but mostly laid back.  We aren’t following a strict itinerary other than the milestones of moving to a new city and new apartment every two weeks.  We go out exploring, sometimes with very little planned, and usually come back home hours later entertained, amazed, exhausted, and feeling like we earned the relaxation back at the casa.

I wrote about safety in Mexico a couple months ago then forgot to worry about safety until a few days into the trip when I was staring out the window at the placid countryside.  I cracked a smile and realized that some folks back home in the US think all of Mexico is this horrible, dirty, dangerous craphole (outside the disneyfied resorts of Cancun at least).  It’s hard to reconcile that negative image with the reality we see on the ground here.

As we were walking out the door one week ago, I reflected on what I thought we would miss about home.  So far, there isn’t a whole lot I miss since I know we’ll be back in six more weeks.  The lack of air conditioning in our rental isn’t an issue at all since the weather is moderate and fairly dry.  Even though the outside temperature climbs into the mid 80’s every day, the inside temperature hovers comfortably in the 70’s due to the shade trees and heavy thermal mass of concrete and brick walls.  We often go out in the hottest part of the day and the heat isn’t that bad.  If we were at home in Raleigh with temperatures in the mid 90’s and high humidity, we would be housebound nearly every day because those temps just plain suck for doing anything outside.

Overall, this trip is a great way to spend a summer.  Mrs. Root of Good will use up two thirds of her sabbatical during the trip.  The kids will spend two thirds of their summer vacation on the trip.  We can already see an improvement in all of our Spanish skills.  We’re active and outdoors for hours each day seeing new sights and trying new foods.

 

 

Are we having fun yet?  🙂

 

 

52 comments

  • Great post. Thanks for writing and sharing. I love the detail in your post. It really allows the rest of us to be able to see how you live your “way of life” out. I think the best part is the memories that you’re collecting with your family. They seem to be more real and helpful to me than a trip to Disney might afford. The kids are getting to see the in’s and out’s of a cultural experience. Hopefully it will cultivate a greater sense of gratitude for what you’ve provided for them as their father and mother and give them a humble heart for those who might have less than them. Let’s face it… it’s a different standard of living that many Americans wouldn’t even consider 🙂

    • I’m always on the search for the anti-Disney while traveling. Canned experiences, in spite of being expensive, always seem cheap to me.

      I hope the kids get something out of the trip. It’s definitely a different way of life down here.

  • Those are the same brand of grapes I buy at Walmart… Either Walmart deserves more credit or that cute banana stand you were at is cheapin’ out! 🙂

    So how have you gotten used to the maid being around? Does it just come gradually? I’d feel like I should be helping…

    • Walmart probably deserves more credit. 🙂 The grapes might be grown and packaged in Mexico and shipped north to Walmart. I know some of the produce we buy at Aldi is grown in Mexico.

      We are getting used to the maid being around. It’s her job, so I’ll try to let her do it. Although I couldn’t prevent myself from cleaning up after breakfast and putting the food away. The maid helped but I guess I should have let her do it all and propped my feet up? 🙂

      • When I was living in small-town China, we used to go to an outdoor food market. There were a bunch of different vendor stalls with a bunch of tables in the center. The first time we went, I threw my own trash out because that’s what you do, right? I was strongly told off by my translator/guide that there were people whose job it was to clean the tables….if I did it myself, what would those people do for a job.

        It was eye opening to me in that something that seemed like an intrinsic value (clean up after yourself) was something very different when viewed through a different cultural lens.

        That said, I’ve still never gotten feeling awkward when lounging around while someone cooks my food, cleans up after me, and/or does my laundry.

        • I joke about this. Even about our current maid. I said let’s leave plenty of trash lying around so the maid would have something to do. Job security and all that. 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing your trip (I’ve read the previous entries too!), this looks great. Your food from the restaurant with no name looks delicious. I can’t get over the prices you are paying for all that food though, it seems so cheap. 5 tacos and a Coke for only $1.33?!

    It seems like a great way to travel, because I feel like it’s the opposite of a standard weekly vacation. You try to hit as many places as possible and it’s a lot of “go go go” and compromises of skipping things that you really wanted to see because there just isn’t enough time. With the way you are doing it, you can really slow the pace down and still get to see what you want.

    • The 5 tacos were on the smaller side (about enough for 1 meal), but still an incredible value. A bottle of Coke alone is more than $1.33 at restaurants in the US.

      As for the slow traveling, it’s the way to go. I don’t really like the standard 1 week vacation formula if you’re visiting a new place. You’re constantly on the run, trying to maintain a schedule and squeezing in as much sightseeing as possible. You get tired and burned out quickly. Throw three kids into the mix and it’s a disaster.

  • Awesome writeup and the photos help add to the feel you explain. I never thought about traveling in Mexico for the safety reasons and perceptions you mention. I will have to give Mexico a chance based on your travel posts.
    Thanks Man, nice to learn a few new things first thing in the morning.

    • It’s funny. I have to consciously remind myself about the stereotypes of Mexico and then compare (and laugh) at the reality on the ground. I mean it’s not all puppies and rainbows here, but where is it all puppies and rainbows?

  • Looks like you guys are having a great time. I’ll be doing something similar with my family starting next week in new england for 3 weeks!

  • The trip is off to a good start. It is amazing how cheap food can be sometimes.

    Glad to see the points are being put to good use with a hotel before switching to Air BnB. It goes to show how putting in some effort on the front end can save you a ton of money, but still leave you an open schedule to explore and enjoy the vacation.

    • Yeah, those points are great to have in my back pocket. We did 1 night in Mexico City and have 5 more nights in Cancun for free. Sometimes airbnb is a great choice but if you’re just staying a night or two, hotels are easier and often cheaper. And they are definitely cheaper when they are free.

  • I am glad you touched on the fact that you feel safe. As a non-traveller who watches too many news programs I really wondered about the safety of your family.

    Have you been advised to avoid certain areas of town or to avoid certain parts of the country? Do you make a point of being back at your rental before dark?

    • Bloody gang shootouts make for great clickable news. Imagine if the news story led with “99.999% of Mexicans were entirely safe all week and were completely free of any criminal activity”. I wouldn’t read that story, would you? 🙂

      The truth is that guns are much harder to come by than in the US. There is still a good bit of crime down here, and there are shootings. But much of the crime is petty like pickpocketing or theft. Violent crime still happens so we sort of stay out of the more dangerous areas and think about where we will be if we are out late. Kind of like at home in Raleigh. At 3 am you can find trouble plenty of places.

      I also put together a full article on safety in Mexico if you want to check it out. Basically, we’re following the travel advisories from the US Dept. of State. We aren’t going to any areas that are listed as dangerous.

      • Financial Planner Dude

        Just spend a few weeks reading the front page of the Huffington post you’ll never want to cross the border again:) but seriously we have friends who spend half their time in Mexico (other half in Madrid) and they just love it, in their area there are loads of Canadians, all the sun and none of the IRS hassle 9too many days in the US and you have to file) The issue of crime is much like America just have to know where to avoid. The wife isn’t so keen on Mexico but it certainly appeals to me

        Rob Canadian living in Europe since 1999

  • Looks like a great beginning to your adventure. I spent a month traveling through Mexico by bus back in the late 1980s and it was quite an adventure. Reading your post and seeing the photos makes me want to get back down there! The Mexico Tourism office should be sponsoring you! Have fun and stay safe. OK HW

    • I bet that trip was awesome! Mrs. RoG and I did a six week trip around Mexico by bus 15 years ago in 2000 (without kids). We were on a much tighter budget so had to really pinch pennies and sometimes stayed in absolute dumps. Definitely a lot of adventure though! This time around we’re traveling in style comparatively speaking.

      Why not take another trip down to Mexico? 🙂

      • It’s on the list. My wife and I love Isla de Murejes off the Yucatan and hope to get back there soon, but first have a trip to Japan coming up in a couple of weeks, then Ireland in the fall, so maybe after that! 🙂

  • Wow, what can I say except AWESOME! I would love a compound someday. $65 per night is so cheap! That’s why South and Central America is a great option for early retirement. Your $ goes so much further there. Great pictures too.
    It’s fantastic that your kids are into it. Love it!

    • I chatted with a lady yesterday that was doing roughly what we are doing – spending a week or two in a few different cities. She’s scoping out retirement spots too and likes the lower costs. Virtually all of the western conveniences are available here. As I mentioned in the article, there’s a Mexican Walmart subsidiary grocery store 1 mile away and offers roughly what walmart at home does (except it honestly looks and feels nicer 🙂 ). Half a dozen different brands of diapers, hair care products, paper towels, soap, etc along with all of the staples we’re accustomed to.

      The only thing I haven’t seen much of here versus at home are the Asian grocery stores, although I know there are a few in Mexico City and I bet the Walmarty store near us carries some basic Asian grocery stuff. I’ve seen a few Chinese, Japanese, and Thai places here and in Mexico City so that cuisine is available in the more metropolitan spots (probably due to the number of expats and foreign tourists in the places we’ve been).

  • I love how light you guys packed! Good to know you can do that even with kids (maybe not an infant?).
    Glad to hear your travels are going well so far. Feliz viaje!

    • It would be a little harder with an infant since we would need more diapers, possibly a stroller or one of those baby harness carrier things, and baby formula (if they are still on the bottle). At age 3, our guy is rocking and rolling and doesn’t need most of that stuff other than diapers while sleeping (and he’s about done with that).

      For the kids, we told them that they are responsible for carrying their own stuff. We bought a single tablet for each one of them which has games, books, music, and movies/tv (via netflix and youtube), so we can skip other electronic devices and books. For the kids they only have their clothes and the tablet plus possibly a bottle of water.

  • Wow you really packed light! Probably not missing any of the stuff you decided not to pack. I knew food costs were low in Mexico, but you guys are making out like bandits! Glad the family is enjoying it.

    • A second full size laptop would be nice but not worth the 5-6 lb weight. Otherwise, we aren’t really missing anything (yet).

      Food is surprisingly cheap. There’s also a lot of variability in prices in that a meal could be $3 USD per person or $10-15 depending on how touristy the restaurant is. If they speak English then you’ll probably pay 2x the price. 🙂

      • Financial Planner Dude

        What about wifi and such?

        • It’s been pretty good. Our house has 3-4 mb service so it’s decent but not quite as much as at home. Our tablets have a hard time streaming HD content over the connection for some reason, but the laptop seems fine. Elsewhere, wifi seems to be available much like the US. The intercity buses we take tend to have wifi (at least when we’re near cell towers I think). Even in the public park at the playground, there’s wifi (but rather slow).

          I don’t have cell service here, so I’m relying on wifi and having the data I need offline on my phone when we’re out navigating. It’s working well so far.

  • Great post. Love your pictures. Thanks for sharing.

    • We’ve been negligent in that department. Zero beers even though week 1 has drawn to a close. We did buy a small 355 mL bottle of aguardiente (from the latin “fire water” says google). It’s a local product of 100% sugar cane and has a slight sweetness to it (I think it smells a little like molasses).

      We’ll have plenty of time for beer in the next 6 weeks, although from past trips I recall many of the Mexican beers have similar US or imported counterparts. I’ll have to verify that since my knowledge is 15 years old now. 🙂

  • Oooh, are those the mini bananas I see? Those grow in my neighbors yard and are so tasty! Might I recommend sticking a popsicle stick in one end, freezing them, and then coating them with some DIY chocolate magic shell? A few more minutes in the freezer for the magic shell to really set and you’ve got an amazing frozen chocolate banana. =)

  • Maybe you’ve done this and I missed it, but I’d be very interested in what you decided to pack/how you went about narrowing the list down.

    I’ve spent a few years traveling full-time in a carry on rolling bag + laptop bag + purse. I’ve been thinking if I didn’t need to carry professional clothes, work laptop, and all the other random work stuff (blackberry, chargers, notebooks, files) – I could easily consolidate into a smaller carry on bag/large backpack + purse. Seeing your backpacks is inspirational — now I’m wondering if I could get it down to a standard sized backpack.

    • I thought about a post on what we packed but figured it would be boring. Maybe I’ll reconsider. 🙂

      Here’s the basic list:
      4 shirts
      4-5 undergarments
      4 socks
      2 shorts/skirts
      1 pants
      1 swimsuit/trunk
      A laptop (me) or tablet
      cell phone (no service, just use for GPS/offline maps)
      shoes or sandals (wear one, pack the other)
      toiletries (not including shampoo and conditioner – buy it locally)
      Small pad and a pen
      hat
      sunglasses

      That’s for each person.

      We also carry one first aid kit (hand picked) with maybe 8 different kinds of medicine (tylenol being the most useful so far), bandaids, and the like. A sewing kit with some extra thread (already need to use it). Fingernail clippers and file.

      We could probably economize and pack maybe half the amount of clothes and do laundry every 2-3 days instead of every 4 days, but we had enough room so we went crazy and packed a 4 day clothing supply (assuming rewearing bottoms 1x).

      We have two smallish thin lightweight sacks (weighing 1 oz and 4 oz respectively) that we put any overflow into. Good for packing light stuff, maybe some snacks and water, and random crap that won’t fit into our backpacks. These backpacks are pretty big but easily fit into the airplane overhead bins. They wouldn’t fit in the bus’s overhead compartment but they fit underneath the seat fine. We really economized on luggage and used bags/backpacks we already had.

  • Congratulations on a great opening week of the trip. I’ll echo others here – the food prices are incredible, and you guys are scoping out some outstanding deals. Travel safe and we look forward to hearing more of your family’s adventure.

  • Wow! I sort of wish I lived in Mexico just for the prices on avocados and limes. Thanks for letting us travel vicariously through you 🙂

    • I can get avocados almost this cheap at home when they are on sale at Aldi. But not ripe ones. The limes are hands down dirt cheap here. Definitely some good cheap eats. And the food might be thing that motivates us to move here or spend more time here, too. 🙂

  • My wife is not going to be happy with you. She’s just now getting settled back into normal life at home here in Scotland but after reading this post, I think I need to start planning an extended trip for us to Mexico 🙂

    There’s nothing that tempts me to a place more than cheap, tasty, interesting food. Thailand definitely lived up to the hype and it looks like Mexico does as well so hopefully I can convince my wife to move there at some point soon!

    • My apologies to your wife. 🙂

      Yes, Mexico definitely warrants a long term trip. If you know even basic Spanish you can get a long way here. Buses between cities are cheap. Hotels are cheap. Apartment rentals are cheap. Food is really cheap. Street food is amazing. Local transit is cheap. In the central highlands area around Mexico City the weather is near perfect year round.

      And it’s a short flight from much of the US.

  • This is an amazing read, just what i was looking for. I have always thought of taking a holiday to Mexico after hearing stories of how wonderful it is there. Now this motivates me even to plan for my next trip to Mexico. I now know the basics i needed to know prior to my trip. Thank you.

  • Everything looks amazing! So glad to hear it’s all going so well thus far! The compound with a maid for $62 a night is just fantastic. And those food prices are fabulous. The cheapest I can get bananas for here is $0.39/pound! I feel like a trip to Mexico might be in my future…

  • Love the pictures! It looks like you and the family are having a great time.

    It has to be a great feeling to have achieved financial independence – enabling you to enjoy experiences like this in Mexico. A testament to the results of your years of planning and hard work.

    Can you order me the 5 tacos and a bottle of Coke for $1.33 at the metro station if you go back? They sound delicious and what a deal!

    • Sure I’ll order the 5 tacos but I might have to eat them. 🙂

      Yes, it’s a great feeling to know we can do trips like this for the rest of our lives thanks to our planning and effort over the last decade or two. I’ve thought that exact thing a few times on this trip already.

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