What Mexico Has Taught Me


Taxis in Mexico. 

I’ve previously written about taking the municipal buses up and down the coast from Ensenada. I’ve used them to travel north to my favorite breakfast spots, afternoon beer pubs, or breweries and then south down to La Bufadora early in the morning before the crowds arrive. They are easy to use and incredibly affordable. Plus, I get to enjoy the scenery and leave the driving to Pablo or Carlos. However, I’ve also occasionally taken taxis in Mexico and found them to be a great asset, despite my limited Spanish skills. There’s just one minor issue I’ve encountered, which I’ll explain later.

Taking a cab from my hotel to the auditorium or gymnasium where lucha libre wrestling events are held is straightforward. I’ve done this in Puebla and Oaxaca. Simply tell the driver the name of the venue, mention “lucha libre,” and he’ll know exactly where to go. Agree on the fare before you enter the cab and then you’re off. Always carry your hotel’s business card with you. After the event, there will be several taxis waiting outside the venue. Approach them with your hotel card and negotiate the fare you prefer. Bingo.

In Guadalajara, I frequently take taxis to visit the outlying neighborhoods. Tonala, known for its daily open-air market and pottery specialization, also boasts numerous pulquerias where you can sample the pre-Hispanic fermented agave drink, pulque—a taste of history in a glass. The drink, slightly less potent than beer, is often flavored with fruit to balance its natural tartness.

Zapopan is home to the Huichol National Museum. The Huichol tribe is renowned for creating stunning art pieces using beads or yarn on flat wooden boards or carved figures. I own several pieces that always capture my attention when I spot them in shops. Like Tonala, Zapopan also hosts a daily open-air market.

Tlaquepaque is celebrated for its hand-blown glass, upscale gift shops, fine dining, and the vibrant El Parian at the town center where wonderful free public events take place. Venture off the main streets on foot, and you’ll easily find a glass-blowing shop to observe artisans at work. Don’t forget to carry your hotel card for the return trip.

Once, I took a taxi with a friend from Guadalajara to Tequila, about 30-35 miles northwest. We rented the cab by the hour after negotiating with a driver outside our hotel. Opting for back roads over the main highway, we enjoyed the changing scenery from urban to rural, passing through neighborhoods and fields of blue agave. We visited several distilleries by simply showing up and knocking on their doors, enjoyed a fantastic lunch in a scenic outdoor restaurant overlooking a vast canyon west of town, and even treated our driver to a meal. The day was nothing short of spectacular.

In Tecate, I once discovered a large scorpion statue made from rock and metal that wouldn’t fit on my bicycle. After returning my bike to my van across the border, I walked back, hailed a taxi with a large trunk, purchased the sculpture, and managed to transport this impressive piece across the border, joking with Customs that I was importing a giant agricultural pest into the States.

However, the best ride was in Oaxaca. I wanted to explore the mezcal-producing areas around Santiago Amatlan and visit the famous rug-weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle. I hired a driver by the hour at the town plaza, and we headed south. We visited palenques where agave is cooked, crushed, fermented, and distilled. Arriving unannounced, we were welcomed warmly and purchased several bottles to take home. After a delightful lunch, which I shared with my driver, we visited the small village to meet the weavers. I fell in love with a wool poncho that a weaver promised to send to Los Angeles after their annual festival, the Guelaguetza, but it never arrived. I still wonder what happened to it. The village also houses a lovely museum. Our return drive to the city was relaxed and contented, and I made sure to tip my driver generously.

My only advice: always agree on the taxi fare before getting in. If possible, ask a few drivers in the same area to ensure a fair price. Once in Guadalajara, a driver tried to charge me “600 pesos” for a short ride, taking advantage of my limited Spanish and assuming I didn’t understand the currency value. This was when the exchange rate was ten pesos to a dollar—clearly an attempt to overcharge what he thought was a naive tourist fresh from the airport with newly exchanged pesos. I refused and found another driver who agreed to a more reasonable fare of fifty or sixty pesos. Always carry a map, your hotel cards, a pen and paper, and negotiate the price beforehand. And don’t forget to end your ride with a hearty “Gracias, amigo!”

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