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Friday, February 27, 2009


In our provincial way of thinking, we believe that everyone speaks English to some degree and that everyone takes American money. To some extent that is true, but if you really want to get a feel for the country, there are some things you might do.

See if you can pick up some of the language. I used a program called Onlingo for some months before we headed to Cancun. I can’t say I was diligent, but I was able to bring back enough Spanish so that I could have an actual conversation with a taxi driver. We discussed the price of gas—higher in socialized Mexico than in the U.S., his feelings about President Calderon, his feelings about government corruption, and the beauty of the area around Cancun. It was wonderful, and it wouldn’t have happened without Onlingo. True, he slowed down his Spanish considerably, but he was very willing to help me communicate with him.

If you’re not interested in buying a program like Onlingo or Rosetta Stone, go to and click on “Free on-line courses and education” under step 2 for free on-line courses. It will pump you up for your trip.

Many of the people in charge at the hotels speak English, but the serving people, etc. often know just enough English to do their jobs. But they appreciate it if you try, and they try to help you out. People are nice.

We had a great experience in a restaurant. Rob ordered bourbon without ice. The waiter brought the drink, placed it in front of Rob and said, “Bourbon, nice.” Rob knew the waiter wanted to indicate there was no ice. Rob and he then began a somewhat convoluted discussion that ended with the waiter knowing the word was “neat” when you indicated no ice. They actually shook hands at the end of the discussion.

A second hint concerns money. Yes, many people will accept American money, but the exchange rate is not always equal. For instance, from our hotel, the taxi fare to the airport was $27.00 US. However, when we converted that to pesos at the going exchange rate, our real cost was $18.90 US. That’s quite a difference even with the ATM fee factored in.

When you use the ATM, there will be fees, but it may still be worth your while to do the math. At the hotel desk, the exchange rate may not appear as advantageous, but there are no fees. It doesn’t take long to figure it out, and once you do, the rest of your vacation will be smooth. It’s also kind of fun, and a good travel experience to use the country’s monetary system.

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