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Dave and Jan's travels, day 155:

21st October
So, ten hours into Mexico and time for a first impression. The first thing is relief at a remarkably straightforward day, our path smoothed by several charming Mexicans that we met today. We arrived at the border, slightly confused, and approached a policeman who happily listened to our broken Spanish, helped us fill in forms and then directed us to the insurance broker who typed out our policy on a 20 year old typewriter. Then we got more forms twenty miles into the country, then drove uneventfully 200 kilometres to the town of Hermosillo. We checked into the hotel - more forms and helpful people - and spent a few hours looking around the town.

It surprised us that as soon as we crossed the border there was virtually no English spoken. Every conversation happened in Spanish and few people speak any English. I had expected (hoped for) a bit of a buffer zone where we might be able to speak a bit of English as well as try our Spanish but no such luck. Luckily, a lot of people are 'playing the game' and are willing to speak slowly and one word at a time so that we have a chance of understanding, and are also willing to take our English phrases translated word for word into Spanish and try and make head or tail of them. Hopefully we at least are a source of entertainment for a few people.

Hermosillo is an unpretentious provincial town, that just happens to be more reminiscent of Europe than just about any town in the entire United States. Narrow streets with people walking. Leafy squares with people sitting on benches, chatting to each other. One thing that has always struck me about the U.S. is that people basically live in private. They only leave the privacy of their own home to do some task, like work, or shop, or watch sport. They never seem to just 'be' in public. We loafed through one square, picked up a yogurt drink from a convenient stall and loafed through another square. Then a tasty vegetarian meal with menu advice from other diners, and we strolled back to the hotel. It was dark, but the number of people around made it feel safer than a lot of U.S. cities.

Two things that strike you immediately you enter the country are the amount of space, and the affluence. Mexico is a huge country, and even with its currently fast-growing population, it's still a lot less densely populated than much of Europe or Asia. That immediately makes life a little less fraught for city dwellers, and those in Hermosillo all seem somewhat relaxed. There are plenty of people that have to hustle on the streets to make a living, but they're a lot better dressed than their counterparts in most of Asia and they actually take one 'no thank you' as an answer and go elsewhere. Not like Asia at all.

So, all in all a pretty good first day. One fly in the ointment is that I feel exhausted. This might seem odd for someone whose day hasn't actually involved much exertion at all, but the catch is that the day happened in Spanish, and it's suprisingly hard work speaking a language that you essentially don't know. And harder still to try and understand it spoken at the breakneck pace customary in Mexico. Five minutes with the hotel clerk and I needed to sit down. Hopefully either we'll get the hang of the language, or (more likely) the struggling will become less tiring.