I honestly felt a little guilty taking a vacation in the midst of a teaching series about living more simply. How were we to experience a Just Christmas while sitting on a beach and taking in the sun? Sounds more like a Spoiled Christmas. This was my concern when we boarded the plane earlier this week. I’m glad to say that I have been pleasantly surprised. While we are certainly enjoying many luxuries, I’ve actually learned a lot about simplicity.** In many ways, we have been able to see firsthand what a community looks like that makes simplicity a priority. While I am in no way an expert on Mexico or simplicity, I do feel like it’s worth sharing some observations from my week here.
I feel like if it’s anyone who understands the joy of simplicity, it’s the people we’ve met. They own businesses attached to their homes and strive to make just enough to live. The culture is simple; and built on being content. There doesn’t seem to be the ongoing conversation about “more and better” that I see far too often in the States. Back home, I often come across the attitude that just assumes more is better. It’s wired into our culture and I’m not always opposed to it. Some times more is better. Yet, sometimes it’s not. Some times “more” just means more stress, more selfishness, more sleepless nights, and more of the bad stuff. Some times less is more. Some times patience is better. Some times doing without is better.
It’s not entirely fair. In this part of Mexico, they have it pretty good. In part, they don’t have to fight and strive to enjoy some truly beautiful things. They enjoy organic and locally sourced food but don’t bother to call it such. The cooks almost always know the farmer who grows the food, and while that’s something we strive for in the states more and more, it’s just wired into the culture here. They have access to some of the best produce for prices that are rather ridiculous. Yet, even with their resources, they strive towards simplicity.
Instead of trying to do everything, they try to master a craft. Our guide for the bike tour in Bucerias pointed out the fresh fruit guy, the fresh juice lady, the place that makes good pork tacos, and the place that makes good fish tacos; the best baker in town, the best barista in town, and the best coffee bean roaster in town.
He explained that in Mexico, if you learn to do one thing really well, you will stay open. If you do pork tacos really well, then all you need to do is buy more pork, and when you run out of something, you go and buy it. So everything is fresh, always. We ate at one place, and because so many people showed up, we saw the delivery guy leave and come back from the market with some fresh produce. There’s no competition for fresh produce.
I’ve eaten in some truly grand places, with great cooks and expensive tickets, from all over the world: Israel, Scotland, Thailand, Vietnam, and some great American cities: Memphis, New York, Kansas City, Chicago, Nashville, Athens…, but none have compared to the food I’ve eaten here. You wouldn’t guess how beautiful and rich this food is. The surroundings don’t seem to match the experience. With buildings that appear to be in ruins, you walk up the cobblestone, and grab a table in the street, and the food comes out of a small kitchen from what appears to be an old garage. I had to use the restroom at one place we ate at. No problem: they walked me through the kitchen, which was about the size of my kitchen back home, to get to the bathroom. The cooks smiled as I weaved in and out of them to get through. My presence didn’t seem to bother them—and I realized just how often I feel like I’m bothering people in other settings. I don’t want to feel like I’m a bother. When our food finally came, it was beautiful and delicious. Allyssa and I couldn’t eat without making sounds of delight. Seriously.
We went on a Jeep tour to a number of small villages out in the country. We learned about the center plaza and the way the community works, visited a local tortilla plant (and tequila plant… shhh…) and watched the kids play in the school yard celebrating the last day of school before Christmas while others hung their clothes on the lines. A neighbor climbed a coconut tree to cut us down a fresh coconut. The guide explained that the people live simple lives—but they are safe and happy. I’m sure he was just trying to make it sound better than it actually was, but still, it seemed legit.
What is clear is that they don’t mind leaving their houses unfinished. Nearly every house we pass seems to be under construction, with rebar sticking out on top. I was given a couple reasons for this: 1. There are tax benefits if you can claim your house is under-construction – so every house is basically under construction. 2. People finish the houses when they can afford to, without always borrowing money to do it. So they build as they can afford it. It’s not offensive to the neighbors, or culturally unacceptable, to leave your house unfinished for years as you save up the money to finish. Wouldn’t that be nice?
One of my favorite parts is the public buses. We always struggle to figure out how much we owe the driver, and I feel bad for holding up the line, but once we get on, we’re transported to a variety of nearby towns. While on the bus, we watched a young man, who wore a tank top and baseball cap, joke around with his friends. He looked like a typical teenager, but when a mother boarded the bus, he was quick to get up and give her his seat.
More than once, while navigating the bus routes, someone asked me, in broken English, if I knew where I was going. Thanks to Google, I nearly always did, but the gesture was always appreciated.
I’ve overheard many visitors talk about how safe they feel here. I don’t want to speak too soon (or be unwise), but I agree: it feels generally safe. In fact, as we were walking by a restaurant the other night, it was getting late. The owner was looking for a few more customers and yelled at us from the street. We said “no thanks,” and kept walking. He yelled back, and must have thought we were nervous or scared, so he said, “nothing to be afraid of! Just watch out for the crocodiles and dogs!” He was joking… I think.
Well, there are a lot of dogs, but none have barked at us. I’m not sure why they are so nice… either way, Allyssa certainly loves that part of Bucerias. There are dogs everywhere. Don’t worry, I tell her not to pet them: I don’t want to bring anything else home (dogs or otherwise).
The people are friendly beyond comparison. In fact, we’re staying in a part of Mexico where a lot of Canadians visit (and live). We’ve basically been around Mexicans and Canadians: one is know for their hospitality and the other for their politeness. For the most part, they’ve both lived up their stereotypes.
Well done, Bucerias, you’ve captured my heart.
So if you want a great vacation, try this: buy a plane ticket to Puerto Vallarta (if you’re flexible, the tickets are really cheap), and rent an Airbnb in Bucerias (30mins north of the airport). Don’t rent a car; take a taxis when necessary but otherwise, ride the bus. Eat local. Drink bottled water. Wear sunscreen. Do a few tours. Take a siesta. Walk the cobblestone roads… then get a massage, because you’ll need it. Sit on the beach. Swim in the ocean. Try to get to know people – I recommend it.
P.S. This website was especially helpful for planning our trip: http://www.bestofbucerias.com
** I’m not saying that you have to learn something while on vacation to make it worth while. Last year we went on a cruise and I didn’t learn much of anything, but it was just what we needed. Having said that, I am very glad we chose to do something different this year, and got to experience real world stuff, like riding the bus or bumping into a local chef while trying to find the bathroom.