Tuesday, 9 June 2015

some practical things

As we leave, some practical things for others.

This is based on our own experience.

You will also find that Jim Johnston's book has practical advice on D.F. and is of more general value elsewhere.

[1] expect to find more right in front of you, need to travel less.

We do not run everywhere, we soak into where we are.

I discovered in my head a very useful response when a taxi driver asked and asked: "Have you been to [this, that, the other]": "Somos Australianos pero non somos los canguros." (We are Australians but we are not kangaroos). Thereafter I used this often and it had warm effect.
Where we have been, the Centro Historico of Mexico City D.F. and Guanajuato, simply walking puts you in touch with an extraordinary world. Which changes by the hour and from day to day.

In Mexico City
We first entered the Centro Historico from the Metrobus from the airport, in the dark at 6.30am. A delight, so cool and still. By 9am some workers arriving, a shouted "Bienvenido a México!" from one. By 11, commerce open, but still fresh morning. By lunchtime, approaching CentroHistoricoworldliness. By 4.30 there is such a crowd and as we go out towards the west on Avenida Madero there is an amazing surge, of wind and of afternoon light, which is notable at this altitude and, because the traffic lights at the end of the street launch people in from the west in gusts of 300 at a time, there is a sort of surf-surge of life, Mexican life, relatively few foreigners. By 9pm, quiet and romantic. Just walk, go into the bookshop or the coffee shop, or the icecream shop, or pick up a bottle of tequila. Had I not lost my wallet and passport and thus had to make visits to the Australian and US embassies (the latter for visa) we might not have strayed more than a kilometer or so from home. Compare living in the centro of Rome and then multiply by two in terms of being away from milling tourists and multiple places of interest.

Everywhere so much to see...go to the blog entry called donde es el museo señor?

In Guanajuato
Helen felt it very safe to go the market by herself in Guanajuato as not in D.F.. It's a positive, safe town. Again every day is a little different, every time of day. Mornings are cool, I've been wrapped up warm by wide windows with breezes, writing before dawn. Church bells begin at least by 7.30, by when also people are carrying bread and other things on their heads, down to sell somewhere. School is from very early till early afternoon.

The day warms and by 2 (in mid-June) the humidity rises and you will begin to know if it's going to rain by 4. When the rain comes eople wait in doorways or scamper. The showers are soon gone, the evenings cool.

It's a university town and a tourist town, but mainly the town of people who live here. The only pedestrian quality is that everyone walks everywhere.


In D.F.'s Centro Historico you will become aware of a close-in area at the perimeter of which are Auxiliary Police in rows with shields and helmets, the helmets up. This is a passive perimeter. The city is huge,  many are poor, were there no efforts to contain a centre, it would be submerged. Beyond this semi visible perimeter the pot plants diminish, life is less tourist shiny, you need to consider where, as a stranger you should think about safety. Though you can travel out to modern parts and pretend you are in an expensive part of Sydney.

This is how we slipped beyond safety and my wallet was stolen.

This is about what to do if you lose something or have some other safety event. Stay cool.

Since then I have gone out with a photocopy of passport and not the original, and with just minimal cash (efectivo) in my pocket. If going to an ATM (cajero automatico) a money holder round my neck under my shirt for credit card (tarjeta de crédito) and for the larger amount of money to bring back to accommodation.

In Guanajuato only one disconcerting moment. Two somewhat glossy young men in the street when we went out seemed to be looking up at our place. Probably just admiring. But two hours later, in the street, across town, asking me now if I knew where they could change money. I said I only got money from the ATM and that I did not think they could change money at 7pm Sunday. They said they had ten dollars to change. I said good luck, we went away, no problems. I did not get out my money and flash what I had, offering to change their ten dollars.

Hygiene and health

We have only been in high country, above 2000 metres. Life towards the coast may carry more risk.

You should arrive with vaccination against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. If you have any expectation of exchanging body fluids with a stranger, Hep B — and protection against the rest. If going to low altitude, especially in the south, you need to understand malaria and that if you get it you've got it. Read about the life cycle of malaria and realise what simple lives we lead.

See this formal advice from a British authority which resembles other.

Rabies: understand that wild animals (including squirrels, add dogs in the city too) do not rush up to people. Rabid animals do approach. And bite. Act warily in such situations, don't think it's cute. This is serious, understand. Rare, but to die from a rare moment is to be avoided.

There is considerable practical awareness everywhere we have been that productive soils, dust in the air, etc, dirty objects, poor water delivery all present hazards to health.

There are baños (toilets) in restaurants and cafes. These are generally well equipped. In many places there are large signs WC as you go along the street. Here you may find an attendant and a need to pay 4 or 5 pesos. You will be issued toilet paper on entry, paper handtowel on departure, passing through turnstiles. Perhaps add one peso for the attendant. Wash basins generally have disinfectant dispensers. Tourists in Australia certainly are not offered such decencies in public amenities. One unexpected thing was instruction not to put toilet paper in the toilet but (to protect the sewerage system from blockage) in a bin provided. This easy to comply with when the bin is beside you in your cubicle, a more daunting exercise when there is just a bin by the washbasin in the anteroom.

Wash your hands before eating in a cafe or if eating on the street keep a paper napkin between food and hand. Everyone else does. Of course you realise at some point in the restaurant that, doh, you washed your hands, came back to the table and touched the dirtiest things you own: phone or camera... or nose. You'll figure it out, don't go crazy. We kept toothbrushes in a glass with a little water disinfectant. Maybe not essential but, well, it wasn't difficult and it was safe and our stay here was short and not to be caught shorter.

Help children get the routine without anxiety.

Your hosts, your hotel staff know all this stuff.

We had a kitchen: bowls with water and a couple of drops of disinfectant to slip fruit and vegetables in for a few minutes before preparation. If you are planning, for example, to peel an apple or a papaya, it's safer to treat the whole skin for several minutes first. Good fruit shops in D.F. wash the fruit before giving it to you wrapped. But this does not generally happen in markets.

Don't drink tap water. Wash up utensils and plates etc in a bowl with a suitable disinfectant. If other resource not at hand and you need water to drink, boil a kettle for some minutes, or boil it twice. Keep the water clean, in the kettle, cooling.

In working between stove and cooking items and knives etc, I had a couple of bowls to put my hands or implements through as seemed appropriate.
(I am reminded that Helen's sister, with a degree in chemistry, long ago did an undergraduate experiment to check bacteria on plates. This was the post-washing bacteria-quantity-order they found, from cleanest to worst:
  1. (best) from dishwasher
  2. left in drainer
  3. given to dog to lick clean
  4. (most bacteria) dried with cloth
At street stalls someone who is not preparing the food should be handling the money. Or if one person alone, using a plastic barrier to handle the money. Great demonstrations of dexterity, looks of horror if you try to give money to the wrong person.

Fresh juices (aguas frescas) can be very good. But there is a risk if you don't see it juiced right now in front of you or if ice or water added are not clean.

If at altitude ensure constant rehydration and beware of increased effects of alcohol. There is an Oxxo shop on lots of corners and you can get bottled water and juices there.

Leaving aside viral or bacterial infection, a sudden shift to very different foods can have dramatic effects.

Living for a time at altitude may reduce your hemoglobin levels. We were at 7000ft altitude and only after two weeks did we begin to find stairs difficult. Daughter Liz suggested the hemoglobin issue, read some here. We were back at sea level by the time we had this advice. Iron supplements may be useful.... do your own research.


[1] We had no problem entering the country with my medications, there was no inspection of our bags. Had they been inspected my codeine medication may have raised questions. I carried my prescription for all prescription drugs and a signed letter from my doctor listing medications. Codeine related (narcotic) medications may not legally be carried into Mexico without such prescription.

[2] Should you even months later be fatigued, nauseous and have bowel irregularity, check with your doctor about giardia.  You can be infested by giardia organisms anywhere (I have been, at home in Australia, some years ago). The risk is higher in crowded cities with hygiene issues. The treatment is not difficult.


This is a country where people are smart and tough and survive. You are watched, this is an alert world. Don't presume you can rush in from city life elsewhere, get into the mayhem and win.

Enough then now..............

Photo by Helen: Two Diegos.... note the similarities in stylish red bandanas and attitude!
My Diego sleeping comfortably after long writing session, while I sat on the rooftop, watching the sun set.

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