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The International Writers Magazine: Our Man in Mexico

The New 2007 Mexico Diary Starts here
Dermot Sullivan in Mexico

I am in Mexico. I left home on the 7th of January, flying via Houston in Texas. I am working in a school in the city of Pachuca in the State of Hidalgo. The school is bi-lingual (supposedly) and I am trying to whip the standard of English into shape! I often ask myself how on earth I ended up here, especially as I was set on going to Japan. Well, I shall undertake to explain to you … though I never really wrote about when I left Chile …

The last time I wrote was after my friend was swept over a waterfall and cheated death. To be honest, this played on my mind for about six months afterwards. As when one switches off a computer and the machine whirls and whizzes and sifts through the day’s work, it was as if my default setting as I drifted off to sleep was replaying the events of my friend’s misfortune. It seems that powerful events make a strong impression and they are not so easy to smooth over … well, the ‘waterfall incident’ happened on the 18th of September 2005 and much has happened since then.

Before I left Chile in December 2005 I had a frantic fortnight bidding adieu to the friends I had made during my time there. I spent my time being made dinner or taken to dinner and given presents … all in the searing heat of Santiago in summer (around 37 degrees Celsius). On my penultimate Saturday I held a huge party in my flat where somewhere between 80-100 people showed up. I don’t think I could rustle up half that number in England!

I left on 18th of December, having a quiet dinner with my flatmates the night before. I had planned to pack immediately afterwards only for a whole posse of friends to show up and start drinking! I got no sleep that night as I had to stay awake packing until dawn.

I said goodbye to my flatmates at the bus station (they were kind enough to accompany me) and my bus left for Argentina. I went up into the Andes, crossed the border and departed the country I had lived in for two years … I probably would have stayed there if it wasn’t for certain factors, the main two being that I couldn’t make enough money to live and that the pollution in the winter was simply awful. Thankfully my health is usually good but my immune system took a battering in the July and August in Santiago. I couldn’t face a third winter of that sort of abuse of my body!

I have no truck with nostalgia. It is a liar and we shouldn’t indulge in it (the whole 80s revival shtick is a good example of the perils of nostalgia). As well as the two main reasons I’ve already stated for leaving, I also knew 2006 would not be so good in Chile. Most of the friends that I had made were leaving … still, I can’t help but miss the time I spent there … I arrived in Buenos Aires on the 19th of December, did some Christmas shopping and bought a suit for interviews that I might possibly have in not-so-sunny England. I flew out on the 20th of December and arrived home early the next day.

Two big things happened in Chile whilst I wasn’t there which I would have liked to have seen. Firstly a lady became President, something of a rarity in the machista world of Latin America. What made this woman, Michelle Bachelet, even more important to Chile was that she was a victim of torture by the military government. Both her and her mother were detained at the notorious Villa Grimaldi before they were exiled. Her father, Alberto Bachelet, was a brigadier in the Chilean Airforce but remained loyal to the constitution when Augusto Pinochet took power and subsequently had a heart-attack whilst being tortured and died. Someone like Michelle Bachelet becoming president would have been impossible in Chile ten years ago.
The thing that for which I most regret not being present is Pinochet dying! I only missed it by a year! Well, such is life … and such is death … Augusto would know a bit about the latter.

I arrived home in England on the 21st of December and into a world of darkness! It wasn’t wet just bleak, cold and dimly lit through the clouds: it was bloody depressing and I sank into what is described as ‘reverse culture shock’. The worst of it when I went into Folkestone town centre and tried to change my Chilean and Argentinean money into Pounds, as well as trying to put credit onto my phone. Nobody seemed to be able to do what I wanted and I felt that if I could just speak Spanish to them then everything could be made clear. Alas, I was confronted by idiots at every turn … plus I seemed to be the only person who wasn’t a chav with a tattooed head … breaking point came when the girl in front of me in the queue with her baby in a buggy was refused a packet of fags as she was under-age! Arrrggggghhhhhh!

My only relief was running in the countryside with my father and sister and regular trips to the gym. If I hadn’t had those I probably would have ended up killing someone … thankfully I found work after two months and alternated between my new job and the one I had before I departed for sunny Chile. I spent my time either teaching Japanese kids or mixed classes of assorted teenage nationalities. I have to say the oddest out of the latter were the Kazakhs (China meets Russia with an Islamic influence) and the worst behaved were the Catalans. The most trashy were the Russians who really are the ‘kings of bling’ and put London in the late 1980s to shame! The Germans, French and Swiss were most fun … and the Arabs were a good laugh too.

Thankfully I didn’t have to teach many Belgians, though I taught one Belgian guy who was cool (an exception that proves the rule that all Belgians are horrible), plus I did teach some very nice Catalans too (note to other teachers: keep the different Iberian nationalities separate. Barcelona and Madrid hate each other – and pray to God that you don’t get any Basques thrown into the mix either!).

Anyhow, my original plan was to go to Japan. I had my interview with JET on the 1st of February and it took them two months to let me know that I didn’t get it. I have been told since that they prefer people with zero teaching experience who are straight out of university, though I find that explanation somewhat weird. That could indeed be the reasons as the Japanese have a tendency to the weird. One very plausible explanation is that my interviewers thought that I sucked! Well, too bad for them, but it pissed me off as I put in a lot of work preparing for the interview, including sending the application papers directly from Chile by super-rapido (i.e. super bloody expensive) post and then having to dig up my grades from university (they charged £50 – the bastards).

Being stuck at home I decided to do the sensible thing and buy a house. This was quite a good thing as it forced me to be really selective with the work that I accepted. If anyone told me that they couldn’t pay me much but promised me an ‘amazing cultural experience’ I had no choice but to refuse. Christ, if I wanted that I’d go and work on some collectivised farm in Bolivia and learn to speak Spanish properly. Having to pay £800-and-something a month as a mortgage is a good lesson in the harsh realities of life. Thankfully I have some Gurkha tenants (two families in one house!) who bear the brunt of mortgage with their rent, otherwise I’d be screwed. Alas though the evil Bank of England keeps putting up interest rates, meaning I have to pay more.

I was offered work in Japan by other schools but it was never what I wanted, when I wanted. One school simply didn’t pay enough for me to live and work in the centre of Tokyo, another wanted me to go to Chiba … however I had been teaching the kids in England and they were they were beyond ‘special needs’ … even the teachers were weird, sleeping and working in the same clothes and never washing! Needless to say that they stank to high heaven and there was no way in hell I was going to work them. The cool Japanese jobs didn’t seem to be starting until April 2007 and that left me with no work at home for three months. Having been unemployed for two months at home during the winter of the year previously I knew a repeat was not an option.

It was then that my Canadian flatmate Robert from Santiago (the nice one from 2004, not the psycho from 2005 whom I might slay if I ever come across him again) told me about the school where he was working in Mexico. To be honest, he had tried to sell me on Mexico since the time we were living together but I wasn’t having any of it. All if ever pictured Mexico as was ‘dust and corruption’, a line he’s thrown back at me from time to time. Faced with the prospect of an unemployed winter of discontent in Folkestone I sent my CV to the school where he was working and they pretty much hired me over the phone that day. I turned them down at first as the flight was too expensive, but they found a cheaper flight for me and offered me more money to cover the cost of flying from England. That and the fact that I’d have to pay no rent sold me on Kidnapping-Capital of the World (Colombia is now Number Two – hurrah!).


I’ve been here in Mexico for a little over a month now. I left England on the 7th of January and arrived late that night in Mexico City airport. I proceeded to lose my passport whilst waiting to be collected by my new employers, but amazingly it was handed in to the police and I got it back within no time whatsoever (thus challenging my preconceived ideas about Mexico City being full of thieves and the police being ultra-corrupt)!

Actually, the airport in Mexico City was a great relief after the prison-like treatment meted out to passengers in England and the States. My problem was that to fly to Mexico City I had to go via Texas and any flight to the U.S. requires one to be as inconvenienced as humanly possible. I had my return date on my flight changed by the airline to fit visa restrictions placed upon Mexico by the United States: it seems that the Americans consider Mexico their own and therefore decide who and who cannot enter the country. The other highlight in London was watching a young Vietnamese couple’s baby milk for their infant child be seized, leaving the child with no food. One can, of course, buy alcohol at the Duty Free but can’t bring baby milk through security … I would advise all passengers to travel barefoot in the future as you’ll have to take your shoes off about four times … flying used to be fun but now it feels like a trial by ordeal.

I would like to say that all has been peachy since I arrived but true to past form I have been ill here. My stomach did not take to the travel, change in temperature, different water, food and the altitude. The latter here in Pachuca is anywhere between 2500-3000 metres above sea-level, which can be somewhat tough when you consider that Folkestone is at sea-level! Quite often I’ve found myself sucking in the air, though I have been at higher altitudes (my personal record was in Bolivia at 5000 metres). So that I didn’t spend my life on the toilet I simply gave up food and drink and not surprisingly the weight dropped off me. I’ve started eating now but I have to be careful as so much of the food here is super-spicy … I’ll just have to get used t it.

Bizarrely the local food of the area is the pasty! The city used to be a big mining town as there is a lot of silver in the ground. It seems that the Cornish came here en masse and as a result the pasty entered Mexican cuisine. Here though they are called pastes and the fillings are somewhat different. I’m obviously not to keen on the super-spicy stuff, though the rice pudding one is very nice! The Cornish also introduced football to Mexico through being here in Pachuca. Sadly I can’t see much evidence of English or Cornish surnames remaining amongst the local population, but I have only been here for a month. Most people have problems with my name, but that was the norm in South America as well. Anything that isn’t obviously English or deviates too much from the Latin Model is just utterly alien to Latinos.

Drivers Are Crazy here

As I said, I am teaching English at a bi-lingual school. It fancies itself as bi-lingual but the children just speak in infinitives all the time. There are some really nice students, but the place has a bit of discipline problem. It seems that Mexican children are about two or three years less mature than Europeans. I teach 13, 14 and 15 year olds, so I was rather surprised to find them act like babies – and after being told off burst into tears! I shall write more about my school next time … I don’t want to be fired (yet)!

One thing I found very surprising was how less developed Mexico was in comparison with Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. A major hassle for me has been problems with my accommodation, especially not having water … hopefully that has been resolved now … I’m not sure exactly what happened but I think one of the mains burst in the street. One morning I couldn’t get any water from the taps and I saw some indigenous-looking chap brushing up a watery mess outside my house. I asked him what had happened but it was a little difficult as my Spanish is bad and he had no teeth. I had to go to my neighbour and colleague from the school, Ryan, to have a shower or use the toilet. I then had water intermittently for the next fortnight.

From having no water I ended up sleeping in it the other night when I went camping with some work chums (including my Canadian friend Robert). Apparently it’s not supposed to start raining in Pachuca until April … I woke up in the middle of the night to have water coming in on top of me, a stream running to the right of me and my feet to be submerged in a puddle! It’s a rather grim feeling when you are out in the rain, cannot get dry and know that the sun won’t come up for another five hours. Even though I had fun on the trip I can’t remember a more miserable night in my life!

After rain abated we all stood around the campfire trying to come to terms with what happened. We then went and climbed some strange rockforms – a little more difficult as the altitude was around 3500 metres or maybe even higher. I noticed something weird as I was climbing – I had acquired a fear of heights since my friend was swept off the waterfall. I ignored it but it was disconcerting. I made it to the top but I wasn’t keen on being too close to the edge … I suppose that I’ve always been that way but I had the image of my friend being swept over the edge in Chile, making the feelings more intense … I found the descent rather difficult. A funny thing happened though when I returned back to my house: (after I had a shower and put on some dry clothes) I started writing this, and I haven’t written anything since September 2005 after witnessing his watery misadventure. It’s funny how the mind works!

I promise I shall write more soon. I haven’t mentioned my trip to Teotihuacán, nor have said much about my school or the general character of the Mexicans I’ve encountered.
On Tuesday the 13th of February I shall turn 30.
© Dermot Sullivan Feb 12th 2007
Dermot himself
(Hey Happy Birthday from Hacks Dermot and WELCOME back!)

 More World Journeys

Dermot Turns 30 in Mexico

Mexican Nationalism

Dermot Sullivan in Chile 2004/5
A Year in Santiago
Dermot Sullivan's Chile Diary
El Gringo - Diary Entry 2
Dermot begins teaching
Letter From Santiago No 3
Dermot Sullivan

Santiago Diary No 4
Dermot Sullivan

Santiago Diary No 5
The Naruda House

Chile Dog Nights
Dermot Sullivan No 6

A Week in Bolvia:
Dermot Sullivan's Diary No.7

Dermot Sullivan's Diary No 8

Chile Diary No 9
Dermot Sullivan explores

Chile Diary 10
Dermot goes North & South
Buenos Airies: Diary No 11
Dermot is back 2005

Chile Diary 12
Le Boca & Iguaca Falls

Chile Diary 13
Santiago - Politics and Religion
Dermot Sullivan

Chile Diary 14 - Sawdust
Dermot Sullivan in winter
Chile Diary 15
Dermot Sullivan - Floods, fruit and beer
Back to Life
Dermot Sullivan Oct 2005


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