The Great Mexico Holiday

My wife and I just returned from a three week holiday, mostly in Mexico, but with a side dish of Los Angeles to see the Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood (USH).

We chose Mexico because a) we’d never been, b) we’d heard amazing things, and c) we wanted to see whether it was a viable place for us to spend a chunk of our retirement years (still a long ways off, but this kind of “planning” is fun). We spent time in Mexico City and Zihuatanejo, which are just a tiny slice of a massive and fascinating country. It left us wanting more.

All in, the holiday was amazing, and not what we expected. There were some downsides, but far more pros than cons.

Reflections on “Mexico” vs. “Los Angeles”

It’s equally unfair to compare all of Mexico to anything based on our small slice of the country, and also unfair to compare it to the US as a whole, as states are variable, but I’m going to give it a shot. This should be especially fun as I’m a New Zealander; our country has a population of about five million, which means that even if all of us believe something super hard, no one in the USA or Mexico will give a shit. However: where angels fear to tread and all that.

People and Culture

I like to think of New Zealanders as a grounded culture. We work hard, but don’t want to work too long. We are honest in our dealings with other people – if you’re a dick, we’ll be sure you get the memo. We like good service, but not servitude. Our economy is pretty decent for such a small plot of land in the South Pacific; our success in turning sunlight into protein has generated respectable wealth for many people, without generating society-corrupting billionaires.

So, let’s start with:

The Welcome

Pretty much everywhere we went in the US and Mexico, we felt very welcome. This took different faces; the guy you met at the rooftop bar in Anaheim might empathise about travelling to the US, in the same way your tour driver in Mexico will help you order the right ‘Mexican Gatorade’ (beer). Most people, most everywhere, were delighted to welcome us in.

I’d say the Mexican people as a general rule felt warmer. This was most often felt outside of customer service interactions (which we’ll get to in a minute). Despite the tremendous volume of people in Mexico City, people were aware of each other. No one walked into you. The traffic was surprisingly sanguine for such a city. It felt a lot like a supermassive Wellington, with generally nice people going about their day.

The rumour mill around Mexico City was, “It’s a noisy, dirty shithole.” Friends, it is an astoundingly beautiful city, with wonderful people, plenty to see and do, and I think if you lived there for ten years you’d still not see all it had to offer. Sure, there are socioeconomic partitions within the city – some parts are better than others – but overall, it had a super nice vibe. That continued to Zihuatanejo, which is more or less a tourist town with some local fishing industry. Unlike some places, Zihua is where many Mexicans go to holiday, and their in-country tourists were charming as well.

I promised customer service, though, didn’t I?

Customer Service

I’m just going to come out and say it: I am not a fan of US customer service. It feels… servile? I’m sure this is in direct response to the population density of Karens, coupled with the poor labour protection laws. I never really felt like I was having an interaction with a customer service person; you could replace them all with astromech droids and see no decrease in service and an increase in personality.

Pro tip: the answer to, “Thank you,” is not, “Of course.” It’s, “You’re welcome.” In the US, people who are in customer service use terms like “of course” instead of taking an honestly meant compliment on their service. I feel like these sorts of servile verbal tics are designed to get around the true rage of a charging Karen when there’s insufficient ketchup in the bottle. These poor bastards are so pistol whipped there’s not really any hint of a sense of humour (although that one bartender at the Westin – you know who you are, brother, and you will be remembered).

Contrast to Mexico, there is real charm in the people waiting your table. They have a sense of humour. They’re not afraid to tell you they don’t understand your Spanglish. They are quite aware of what it must be like to visit their country; they speak slowly and clearly when it’s apparent you’re not proficient in Latin American (or any other kind of) Spanish.

Philosophical Outlook

Despite the before-you-go promise of both poverty and corruption, there was a buoyant vibe in Mexico. The country has no real middle class to speak of, and 2/3 of the citizens are poor. Despite this, they seem fairly positive about life; certainly, more positive than I’d be in their shoes. I’m certain much of this is based on where we were and what we were doing, but as an example: our tour guides were not part of the Mexican Illuminati, yet retained humour and positivity.

Which brings us to:

Caricatures: the Preconception of the Other

Prior to us hopping on the plane, there was a tragedy where four tourists went missing, then were found, very dead. Friends asked us if we were sure we wanted to go to Mexico, like, because of the cartels, bro.

Our media doesn’t help; Mexicans in popular culture are cut of a type. You’re trained to expect drive-bys on every street, and if there’s a guitarista, that dude’s guitar case will be packed with guns.

This is, of course, all shit. Mexicans will talk with you about the cartels – they’re aware of the problem, and the government corruption that led to many of the things they have to live with (and the cartel-led executions that have replaced much of the corruption, because it’s cheaper to kill a good person and replace them with a puppet you didn’t have to bribe). But in the main centres there is a significant armed police presence designed to deter any fuckwitery.

There is, sadly, a caricature that holds true, which is of the larger size of some US people. After spending time there, I was left wondering why more of them weren’t McMassive. The diet options are … not amazing. Portion sizes are … large. And in places like LA, you will drive everywhere, because public transport is where hope goes to die. I feel like someone in a position of power should help people lead healthier lives; I can’t see it being easy for the average Joe.

Let’s go a bit more Mexico specific.

Government and Society

We had the great fortune to be in Mexico during their general election. As explained to us by a local, this was a pretty big deal; allegations of corruption against a party that held power for 70 years meant a change was needed, but when the changed arrived a few years back, the Dude of Change™ was assassinated (the implication being, by his rivals or the cartels).

This didn’t stop Mexicans wanting change, and the top candidate in the recent election was someone cut of similar cloth: a proponent of change. The previous potentially corrupt party allied with another two parties to get enough votes, but the election we were there for was a landslide with about 2/3 of people voting for the top candidate if memory serves, not the triumvirate of potentially corrupt power.

Ref: above comments about upbeat attitude, this was all told to us with great humour and introspection, rather than pissing and moaning.

Somewhat related, it seems there’s been a big push to improve Mexico for all, starting with public safety. There was a hyooooge police presence in Mexico City, and during the election in Zihau, a lot of military dudes rolled on in. We felt very safe – the military weren’t thugs, despite cruising around in flatbeds with a SAW mounted on top. I’d call them professional.

It made me reflect on safety here at home; there have been times where I haven’t felt that safe at all, because we’ve cut back on police spending. The thin blue line here is very thin indeed, and even in parts of major cities you can get a decent punching if you’re wrong place, wrong time. This reflected my times in NYC (which is rife with grifters), and that one hilarious time in San Francisco when we walked in on a legit drug deal (lots of smiling and backing away).

There’s probably an argument that an armed response, or armed police, is suboptimal, but I get it: the cartels are unlikely to be civil, so ensuring citizen safety and preserving the rule of law during an election is paramount.

Which brings me to another hilarious point: ley seca. This is a dry law that bans sale of alcohol to ensure public order (typically the day before and after a general election). As a tourist, this was fascinating to see; Mexico takes this quite seriously. The corner local store we got our beer from stopped selling it. Restaurants didn’t even offer a liquor menu.


The night of the election, I asked for a margarita – forgetting ley seca – and they politely explained hell no. But then, ha, my margarita arrived – “una taza de cafe.” It was served as a cup of coffee in a mug, so any casual observer would see I was merely enjoying a hearty brew of Joe with my dinner. This is apparently fine in some places, and more fine if you’re a non-voting tourist.

So, yeah: you can make it work. Also, I had mezcal that night for the first time; I quite liked it. It made me want to make a cocktail with it. It’s one of the few liquors I could see myself drinking straight on a regular. It was disturbingly pleasant, and led me to understand how you could have 12 of those without really thinking about it, and why they might have a ley seca.

Daily Life

Who am I kidding: I have no idea what daily life is for a Mexican.

However! I can see how some of it works, and it made me wonder a lot about the economy.

In Zihua, there is a tremendous number of grifters on the prowl. Stay the hell away from anyone with a white T-shirt and a clipboard; those guys are like sharks. Our first walk into el centro from our hotel was like a cow dropped into piranha-infested waters. About every 3 metres, someone would try selling us something (a boat charter, a dinner, a tour, a massage, mezcal despite it being 8am, and so on). The flesh was stripped from our bones 🤣

There is a challenge in not looking like a tourist; the locals didn’t seem to wear sunglasses, and they are miniature compared to us, so we really stick out (literally – I’m not a particularly tall dude, but I was easily 1/2 to a head taller than most Mexicans). There’s not a lot of avoiding it, but it turns out they respond pretty well to, “No, gracias,” and on you go.

However, once you start buying things at different rates, you get back to that whole economy situation. My wife bought a bracelet for ten pesos (about a dollar of our local NZ currency). Something like that would take (IMO) more than a dollar’s worth of materials and labour to make. If you look at a local restaurant for locals, you’re going to be seeing a plate of 3 tacos for about $13 of our local NZD.

You need to sell a lot of fucken bracelets to buy 3 tacos.

One of our guides showed us some local culture and the trader economy that goes on; there’s plenty of food if you know how to fish, for example, but they get a brutal fisting for things they need to import (he cited shoes as an example, and truth, a pair of shoes I saw in LA for about USD$45 at an outlet were about USD$90 in Mexico; that’s a markup for sure, but if you’re not earning USD, that’s a lot of bracelet sales).

It seems (from our guide’s explanation) that as long as you’ve got one earner in the family (say, attached to tourism) then you’ll do okay. The rest looks like supplemental income – but it really drives home the lack of a middle class. These people are so far from being lazy it’s not funny, but it’s still super hard to get ahead.

Speaking of Shopping!

Let’s duck back to a wider conversation about NZ, the USA, and Mexico.

We came primed to turn dollars into T-shirts, and this … was quite hard to do. There wasn’t a great deal that excited us at Disney or Universal, or even in Mexico City. There was a lot you could buy, sure, but it wasn’t radically different from what you could get in New Zealand.

Disneyland Resort was quite surprising; there was endless plastic tat (the toy du jour was some plastic battery-powered bubble blower that every child seemed to have), but we had trouble getting souvenir T-shirts. Don’t worry, we managed it! But we would have spent up large with Disney if there was more that seemed worth buying.

Universal was a far better story. The clothes were cooler. There was a wider variety. We probably spent a million dollars on various things at USH, including our matchy-matchy Hogwarts Allumni hoodies.

This theme continued to Mexico; there was precious little that we couldn’t get at home, right until the last day when we hit the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, which was fucken rad. But it also had a rad gift shop, where I went totally mad and bought, like, the entire store.

Back to the US briefly – we went to three malls. One was on our list – the Orange Outlet. The other was off list – Air New Zealand mutilated my luggage, and we couldn’t find a replacement suitcase at Orange, so we needed a ‘real’ mall (thanks to JC Penny, I got a replacement hardshell suitcase without having to trade a kidney). We also checked out a high-end classy mall, which was about as you’d expect: limited, expensive selection, and populated by wankers.

But seriously, check out the Orange Outlet near Anaheim.

Flights and Airlines

Bit of a mixed bag here. We used three carriers in total – Air New Zealand, American Airlines, and AeroMexico.

  1. Air New Zealand comprehensively dropped the ball 🤣 I could was lyrical on what it’s like to have your luggage put in a wood chipper, or how it feels to lose your phone and not be able to get any help for that, or the experience of running for your flight because they forgot to tell you it was boarding in the lounge, but hey, we made it out alive and that’s the important part.
  2. American Airlines were … awesome, actually. Their kiosk system just worked, and there was a dude who helped us out just to make sure we were okay. They didn’t charge us for checking most of our bags even though that wasn’t part of our fare*. The flight was comfortable, on time, and had that cool thing where you can use your own tablet to watch movies (I far prefer this, as airline screens are pickled ass compared to an iPad).
  3. AeroMexico were pretty good. There was a lot of inconsistency between what they charged for (checked bags, etc.) despite the ticket being the same. They had great ground and cabin crews though. The downside here is their kiosks were were designed by Vlad the Impaler, who is still alive, working in UI design, and continues his lifelong love of torture. Just use a human; the kiosk will try to charge you about NZD$240 to check a bag, even when it’s supposed to be free.

* A change is needed in airlines. Checked baggage costs extra, so everyone carries their luggage on… which leaves insufficient space. The trick is to sweat ’em out; take the maximum carry-on you can, and before boarding they will announce free check-in for any bags. I can’t help but think the late-stage capitalism that’s lead to trying to nickel and dime people for every tiny flight service has backfired here. Airline guys? If you’re reading this, maybe consider just letting people check a bag.

NZ airports were universally awesome, and I tip my hat to the new immigration system that took us less than 30 seconds (no hyperbole) to traverse. Scan the passport, get your photo taken, and you’re through.

LAX? Terrifying. Took 90 minutes to get through immigration the first time, and 60 minutes the second. Lots of people shouting at you, not a lot of signs, and I can’t but help wonder if someone shouldn’t use this airport as an example of how not to design airports. The Star Alliance lounge is awesome, though.

Mexico City airport? Hm. It’s fine? Our first arrival from LAX was great, lots of signs, friendly people, and immigration was a breeze. On the way out, it’s quite efficient to get through security screening, and the people and services are very nice (there’s a place that sells heaven-sent almond croissants near gate 62). But the flights are not on time, and the gate areas are too small (and there’s no aircon). The planes make up for delays by dropping the hammer en route – we were never late arriving, so it all worked out in the end.

Speaking of aircon:

The Weather and Environment

Fuck me, Mexico is hot.

I mean, people know that, but it was 6-7 degrees C higher than the average temp for that time of year. It was pretty consistently around 35 degrees Celsius (about 95F), which is enough to make your eyeballs sweat if you’re from a temperate climate like we are.

Los Angeles was not hot. We were actually cold while there, and it rained. If that doesn’t tell you climate change is real, I don’t know what will. We had to double-hoodie at Universal, which I’m sure was hilarious to see.

The heat of Mexico was a bit of a challenge, actually – in Mexico City our hotel’s aircon did not get very cold, and in Zihua it was broken when we arrived. I can kind of understand how Mexicans might not notice. One of the locals said when it gets down to 24C his wife wraps up in blankets “like a burrito.” 24C is … actually quite hot for us 🤣 Their primary audience is Mexicans, so I kind of understand how aircon that’s not very cold happens.

The good news is that the beer is always (always!) cold. It’s like a religion. And because the air’s so hot, you will just sweat the alcohol back out, so you can freestyle your way through a six pack without noticing. We watched a (Mexican) dude at a table next to ours doing just this; he had a thermos/tankard thing, and just poured three beers at a time into it, and finished that in about the time it took me to finish one.


This weather variability got me thinking about climate change for real. There were a lot of cars in LA, but it wasn’t hot, and the UV exposure rating was almost always low (1-2). While the US (well, LA) has done a damn site better than NZ in converting people from fossil fuels to electric, there are still about eleventy billion cars on the road. I’m not sure how we can effect meaningful climate change unless primary sources of pollution are converted; it feels like we in NZ can change everything to green and it wouldn’t even dent the beast that is the LA freeway system’s pollution. And if you lived in the US, you might not see the problem. It is not hot! Global warming, what?

The vehicle pattern carried over to Mexico; there are a lot of cars! And not a lot of electric ones. I suspect this is because in Mexico things need to be simple to fix; not everything works (aircon, etc.), and much of it is old. I think if you had a Tesla and needed it repaired, well, it’s nice to want things. It’s weird for sure to contrast this with some other places I’ve been. In Japan, many things were old but everything always worked. In Hong Kong, almost everything was new, but many things didn’t work. And in Mexico, many things are old, and a lot of things break. It is for sure going to make me a little more tolerant of the reliability of our rail system in Wellington.

With the heat comes mosquitoes. JFC but the ones in Zihua are feral. I got bitten on my eyelid, guys. We got in the habit of insect-spraying our room every time we left (which helped). You’d think insect repellent would help, but only to a point. My wife found the most effective way to not get bitten was to have me nearby, as I’m a magnet for the little fuckers. God, why?! Here’s what ChatGPT had to say about it:

DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is a powerful and commonly used insect repellent. It works primarily by confusing the sensory receptors of insects like mosquitoes, making it harder for them to recognize humans as their next meal. Essentially, it blocks the neurons that detect carbon dioxide and skin odors, which are the primary cues mosquitoes use to locate us.

If you’re using a heavy-duty DEET product and still getting bitten while your wife remains unscathed without any repellent, several factors could be at play:

  1. Application: Even if you think you’ve covered yourself well, it’s possible there are gaps or thin spots in your coverage. Mosquitoes are skilled at finding those exposed areas.
  2. Sweat and Water: DEET can wear off with sweating or water exposure. If you’re more active or perspiring more than your wife, your DEET might not be as effective.
  3. Genetic Factors: Some people naturally emit more of the chemicals that attract mosquitoes. You might just be one of those people who mosquitoes find irresistible.
  4. Clothing: Mosquitoes can bite through tight-fitting or thin clothing. Ensure you’re wearing loose-fitting and thicker fabrics if you’re in a mosquito-prone area.
  5. Environmental Factors: The area you’re in could have different mosquito activity levels. If you’re closer to standing water or shaded areas, you might be more exposed.
  6. Personal Chemistry: Everyone’s skin chemistry is different. The mix of bacteria on your skin, your diet, and other personal factors can make you more or less attractive to mosquitoes.
  7. Product Effectiveness: Not all DEET products are created equal. Check the concentration and ensure it’s strong enough for the area and time of day you’re dealing with.

Despite your best efforts, sometimes mosquitoes just have a preference for certain people over others. It’s like being the popular kid at a very unpleasant party.

ChatGPT on Deet

So, essentially, if you sweat (it’s hot), and are wearing thin clothing (because it’s hot), and are trying to get into the shade (because it’s hot), and are also a genetic mutie that attracts them, well, you can get fucked I guess.

Tourist Attractions

Yes, we went full tourist a few times.


This place was amazing. We got up super early for a Dawn’s Crack tour, and this is the right thing to do; it becomes a zoo later in the day. We had an amazing guide who knew a lot about the place (hey, Paula). It is astounding that such amazing ancient civilisation structures still exist. Teotihuacan is the remains of a city with two pyramids. One pyramid had its top blown off by the Spanish because they had their dicks shrivelled when learning women were in charge, but the other one is intact and quite, quite awesome.

The fall of Teotihuacan is interesting given the above notes on weather. There are some prevailing theories, but it seems that there was a climate change issue, followed by lack of resources, leading to a civil war, and that’s all she wrote about this amazing place.

The Baby Turtles

Turtles are a little more endangered than they used to be, because they are apparently tasty. There’s a group that patrols a 30km stretch of beach, gathering and protecting turtle eggs from predators. They allow groups to release turtles into the ocean, which is about as awesome as it sounds.

It was not ‘on’ season for turtle sexy times, so there weren’t a huge number, but we still did our part 😉 When those little guys smell and/or hear the water, they go for it. You have never seen something so small move so fast.

Disneyland Resort

This was a bit of a down part of the holiday; it feels like Disney have increased occupancy of the park past all reasonable levels, and people are just smashed up against each other. Even with Genie+ and the Lightning Lane system, once you’re past 1pm in the afternoon there are no rides that have a shorter than four-hour wait. We started booking our next ride and going back to our hotel (the Westin was about a 15-minute walk from the park).

They’d turned Space Mountain into Hyperspace Mountain for May, which was fun. The Guardians of the Galaxy ride was spectacular. Rise of the Resistance was really cool too, but I didn’t dig so much on Smuggler’s Run. The old classics remain classic, like Star Tours, and I thought it was a great touch how they’d integrated a lot of the recent shows and movies into the old rides.

We got up early for rope drop and saw all the things. Galaxy’s Edge was astounding, and I made my own lightsabre. Most of these pics are just of me, as my wife will murder me if I put unscreened photos of her on the Internet. I learn – slowly, but I learn.

Universal Studios Hollywood

This was a surprising positive! I didn’t remember USH being that excellent, but it was surprisingly good. The Transformers ride was O U T S T A N D I N G. The Mummy ride was good but short. The Jurassic ride was fun but … wet, and it was cold 🤣. I didn’t dig on the Harry Potter rides; the roller coaster was for kids, and the other one was a concentrated motion sickness inducer. The Kung Fu Panda theatre was neat… Universal left me thinking these dudes know how to make experiences, probably due to their movie pedigree.

Cost of Living

We’ve made it here at last – where we answer whether somewhere like Mexico is viable for a future retirement destination.

The TL;DR: of this is, no, not really, assuming you’re starting with New Zealand Dollars. We didn’t find meals or drinks that much cheaper in Mexico. There are definitely places you can get better pricing especially if you’re paying with cash (which I’d highly recommend), but it’s not the kind of better that will make you move countries.

We understand from the locals this is because of the influx of people from the US and particularly Canada with exactly the same idea, which has had a black hole effect on their economy; Mexicans aren’t making much more, but migrant dollars have had an impact on the cost of food and goods.

So, as New Zealanders might say, “Yeah, nah.” We 100% want to go back – probably to the east coast next time. It’s a wonderful country and we only just scratched the surface. But I’m not sure it’s the ideal place to retire to (yet). We’ll keep trying Mexico though – I think, on balance, even with a higher cost of living, the people absolutely make it worthwhile.

If you haven’t been, you should. It’s marvellous.

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