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Morelia, Mexico

Living like a native in Mexico

The beautiful and rustic colonial city of Morelia, Mexico is located about halfway between Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico. Boasting a thriving population of approximately one million people, Morelia has everything from monuments and historic buildings to modern-day conveniences such as restaurants, shopping centers, movie theaters, universities, etc. Quite simply, she is one of the shining stars of Mexico.

But what makes Morelia, Mexico special is her people. Their backgrounds include native Indian, Spanish, and French as well as many other national origins. Collectively, their greatest asset is a tremendous personality filled with warmth and friendliness.

What Brought Me To Mexico

I have studied foreign languages and other cultures for most of my life. As a child, I spoke Spanish but quickly went on to study other languages. In 1996, I was taking classes at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. I wanted to obtain a degree in order to validate my business experience.

Then, one day a visiting international programs speaker addressed one of my history classes. She shared her experiences about living in the tiny island country of Sri Lanka (just south of India). This piqued my interest.

Since I was in a transitional period of my life and desiring a change, I did some research on nearby countries where I could go on an exchange program to re-establish my Spanish language skills. My school happened to have just such a program with Centro Mexicano Internacional (CMI) in Mexico that really appealed to my sense of adventure and deep interest in foreign cultures. In the Spring Quarter of 1997, I signed up and headed off to Morelia, Mexico.

Mexico is a magnificent country! Morelia was my home from March 1997 till August when I relocated to Guadalajara so that I could enroll in a more advanced Spanish language program. But even now, if given the choice of living in Morelia or Guadalajara, Morelia would win out.

The old city is vibrant, sporting a deep sense of culture and history dating back to the 1500's. Every day, on my way to school and back, I would walk past old Spanish colonial style buildings, statues, monuments, fountains, and parks, each telling a story about the past.

For instance, an aqueduct (El Acueducto in Spanish), built in the 18th century to supply the city with water goes right through the center of town (El Centro). I walked by this wonderful structure every time I strolled along the avenue (Calzada Fray Antonio de San Miguel) leading up to my school. Of course these water-bearing structures are common throughout much of Mexico.

Alongside the Calzada is a wide cobblestone pathway with rustic benches where I would sit and relax, read, or visit with my friends (the people in Mexico are very friendly). On one side of Calzada Fray Antonio de San Miguel are historic churches and schools. On the other side there are art galleries, shops, and a restaurant or two. All of the buildings are probably at least as old as the Acueducto (or maybe even older) and remain fairly well maintained.

Paying the bills in Mexico

When I first arrived in Mexico, I had to depend on financial aid from my college in America. About a week after arriving at my new school, I was asked to fill in for an ill professor to teach Mexican students enrolled in CMI's ESL (English As A Second Language) program. I quickly discovered that I loved teaching my Mexican students. The school seemed very impressed with my teaching skills, so they offered me a part-time job teaching English (all levels) and Linguistics classes.

I also began working in the school's computer laboratory as a supervisor in the evening after classes were finished for the day. Both of my positions together paid me about $3 per hour. Including the surplus from my financial aid, I lived on approximately $500 a month. Out of this $500, I paid for rent, food, entertainment, travel, and obligations I had back in the US. After taking care of my US expenses, I usually had about $300 or less left over for my day-to-day living expenses.

My monthly out-go was approximately: $50 rent, $150 food, $25 transportation, $25 clothing, $50 other personal expenses (laundry, haircuts, entertainment, etc). Of course most Americans probably think that one can't do too much on $300 - $400 per month. But it can be done if one doesn't have to worry about the expenses required to maintain a car.

Granted, money was tight at times, but I always managed to take in a movie at least a couple of times each month. And Mexico offers lots of free or low cost events such as concerts put on by some of the local schools or musicians. Movies, haircuts, and restaurant meals only cost me about $2.

Finding a place to live in Mexico

Even before I left the US, I researched Morelia's hotels on the Internet and obtained recommendations from several officials at my new school. The first place I found that I really liked and stayed at was the Mintzicuri Hotel at Vasco de Quiroga No. 227. At a rate of about $8 a night, the rooms were very clean and comfortable.

Within a week of arriving in Morelia my school's housing director, Charly (who is a dear, sweet lady), took me to look at some local apartments. I was able to find one for about $150 a month at the Posada de Villa located at Padre Lloreda No. 176. But after a few weeks I decided to see what I could find in the local newspaper. I found a quaint rooming house that for about $50 a month offered a nice room at Vincente Santa Maria No. 1925. When I went to take a look, I found a large, comfortable room complete with a bath shared by 3 other renters. We also had a mini refrigerator and cooking facilities in each room.

Day-to-day life in Mexico

I lived a basic, simple life in Morelia. I would stop at the local bakery and purchase rolls, bolillos (small loaves of bread), and galletas (large cookies) for breakfast on my way to school.

For lunch, I ate sandwiches and fruit at my school's snack bar. Meals were served along with friendly conversation.

Then, for supper I would either eat at a local caf? or buy a few groceries and prepare a meal in my room. My favorite item at the local caf?s was milanesa, a thinly sliced beefsteak, all chopped up and mixed with fresh avocado and served with tortillas. Sometimes I would enjoy milanesa sandwiches along with other local dishes. If I cooked at home, I would usually have spaghetti or fruit and vegetables.

Usually, on weekdays, I took my Spanish classes and taught English from 8AM till 2PM. 2 to 4 was siesta time (break). Afterwards, I taught and worked in my school's computer lab from 4 to around 9PM. Suppertime was after 9pm. This routine is typical throughout Mexico. Then, on Saturdays, I taught classes half-day. I then devoted the rest of my weekend to either resting or doing other personal activities.

When I wasn't busy working or studying, I would often walk around town or take a combi (Morelia's VW Van Mini-Bus system) or taxi to various cultural sites including the city library, the government buildings, other buildings of historical interest (ex: Mexican Patriot Jos? Morelos' birthplace and house), or the mercados (open air markets or sometimes housed in large buildings) and did a little exploring.

I almost always felt safe in Morelia because of the very low crime rate. El Centro (downtown) was usually always crowded and bustling. A lot of the side streets just off of Avenida Francisco Madero (Morelia's main downtown street) had numerous mercados with every item imaginable, including food, clothing, leather goods, and electronic items. Mexico is a bargain shopper's paradise!

One thing I soon came to appreciate was that I did not have to wash my own clothes. There are no self-service laundries that I am aware of in the city of Morelia. I usually took my dirty clothes to the laundry service just down the street from my room. The two nice young ladies that operated it were prompt, efficient, and always welcomed me with smiles. They helped me really enjoy being in Mexico.

The people of Morelia, Mexico

The people of Morelia, like most of those in Mexico, were very friendly, warm, and caring. Two of my good friends at a local caf? were especially helpful to me. When I first went to Morelia, my spoken Spanish consisted of only being able to speak in the present tense. I had never really learned how to properly conjugate verbs. Even though I could read and understand Spanish very well, I was very limited in my ability to engage in a meaningful conversation. And living in Mexico meant that I had to learn in a hurry!

At the beginning, I carried 2 very helpful books: Practical Conjugation of Verbs and a Spanish dictionary, both published by Larousse. For two months I carried these books everywhere I went and referred to them all the time. One day, my friends Genaro and Marcos took me aside and told me to put the books away, try to think and talk as best I could in Spanish and let them help me to correct errors in my grammar. That was the very best thing I could have done. It worked! It was not long at all before I was able to converse fairly freely. The key is immersion in a language ? thinking, speaking, and living it. And living in Mexico makes it very easy!

Some other people and families also befriended me and "adopted" me. Two of my students took to me like an older brother and included me in their family activities, meals, and recreation. They also served as my personal guides in and around Morelia. One of their favorite pastimes was gathering around a large-screen TV and watching f?tbol (soccer) which is very popular in Mexico. Sometimes, we would visit a local park or attend a concert. Another of my students took me to interesting events like the local fair and flea market.

Places of interest for tourists in Mexico

Here are a few places that I recommend that all visitors to Mexico see:

  • sidewalk cafes and food stands 
  • shopping bazaars and mercados
  • the Morelia Zoo
  • the annual Feria in April-May (a local fair)
  • the cyber caf?s
  • book stores
  • churches and government buildings
  • museums and art galleries
  • the parks and fountains
  • the local universities
  • any other areas of personal interest in Mexico

Do your homework before you go

If you're serious about visiting Mexico, do some research before you go. Many great hotel deals, information about points of interest, historical background, etc. can be found on the Internet. Just do a Google search for Mexico, traveling to Mexico, visit Mexico, or Mexican vacations. Another excellent source of information on visiting Mexico are travel guides. You can find these at your local library or bookstore.

My experiences in Mexico were generally positive, mainly for the following reason: I went there expecting (and wanting) to live like a native instead of a foreigner. And I believe it helped to have a good attitude and sense of humor. Take a trip to Mexico and spend some time there. You might never leave!

David Wix has lived, worked, and traveled extensively in Mexico. He holds degrees in history and foreign languages. Visit him at www.dave-wix.com.

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