The most misunderstood country in the world

EDGAR sent a writer over "Trump's Wall" and onto the street to discover the real Mexico.

Gary Evans May 19, 2016

The pink and white taxi trundles through Mexico City's midday traffic. The driver turns right onto a street blocked by protestors.

With the palm of his hand he smacks the steering wheel. He shouts, gesticulates. Travels elsewhere have taught me that such theatrics usually foreshadow an attempt to bump up the agreed price.

The driver rubs his head, thinks up a new route and then turns the car around. He's singing now. 

He croons along with some old Mexican singer – Jose something or other – whom with my limited Spanish I understand to be "a very honest man."

We arrive at the hotel and unload my bags from the boot onto the side of the street. Not only is the price unchanged, but I have to run after the driver to give him a tip, which he receives very gratefully.

Welcome to Mexico: a country exactly as I thought it would be, and in many more ways, nothing at all as I imagined. 

Mexico is more a continent than a country, diverse in people and culture, climate and landscape. San Cristóbal de las Casas sits 2,200m above sea level, up in the highlands of Mexico's southern frontier. The cobbled streets and colourful buildings in the centre of this colonial city are backdropped by thick pine forests. Here old vaqueros, like the man below, rub shoulders with indigenous peoples and arty, bohemian types. 

Mexico's problems are widely reported – disproportionately so. The counterpoint to the country's conflicts – between bent politicians and straight ones, the very rich and the very poor, cops and cartels – is the agreeable people who live here. I spent two months travelling the country and found Mexicans warm and welcoming, laid-back and patient, honest and trusting. Moments of calm are not hard to find in Mexico. 

For all San Cristóbal's old centre is relaxed and charming, Mercado Lic José Castillo Tielemans is chaotic and brusque. Stallholders’ shouts echo through the hall, along the narrow aisles. There are stalls that sell nothing but bones, nothing but crispy meat snacks. These stalls grow smaller and smaller the farther away from the market you go, until they are just a wheelbarrow of fruit. 

You'd have go out of your way to find a bad meal in Mexico. Underpinning the country's great food are great ingredients. Mexico's torta is crusty white bread filled with black-bean spread, meat and salty white cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado. There's also a version known as a pambazo, in which the bread is dipped in chilli sauce. But my favourite was the tlayuda (pronounced clayuda), a pizza-size tortilla, best served with beef, melted cheese, cabbage and refried beans, folded in half and toasted over a barbecue. 

However long you think it's going to take to walk somewhere, double it. On almost every stretch of road you'll find stalls selling all kinds of stuff you going to want to look at: whole convenience stores contained within a single tray, cups of fresh fruit covered with chilli powder and lime juice, cakes and pastries, tubs of hot corn layered with cheese, mayonnaise, chilli power and lime juice, tacos, lots of tacos, dolls, ponchos and ornamental skulls, chapulines (fried grasshoppers) and potato chips fried in front of you and covered, of course, with chilli powder and lime juice. 

Edward Hopper, the great American realist painter, travelled to Mexico several times. Hopper's work often featured lonely, isolated figures. He completed several paintings south of the border. He liked the light and the colourful buildings, the exotic atmosphere. I remember the vendor in the below shot being a happy old fella – the photo just happened to capture him looking lonely, isolated and Hopperesque. 

Photography by Carolyn Stritch