My American adventure: Toronto and Mexico City

Hola mis amigos.

As I write this I am on my flight out of Mexico City to Tapachula, a town in Chiapas in the South of Mexico and on the border of Guatemala. I spend two nights there before I make my way across the border into Guatemala, to live with a Guatemalan family and start my Spanish classes.

While it is still early days on my adventure, I could not have asked for a better start. My conviction for my decision to leave everything behind in Ireland and hit the road again has grown stronger every day.

Captain Vincent to the rescue

The first leg in Toronto with my brother was always going to be the safe part of my trip, eating and drinking like kings for a week recounting memories of years gone by. Ending up on stage in the Second City comedy club in Toronto on a Thursday night was not part of the plan.

Chaperoned to seats in the front row of the comedy club – my brother, his girlfriend and I – was the first red flag. I drew the short straw, the seat right beside the steps to the stage. We debated asking to be moved but we let it go and ordered a few beers.

Captain Vincent at the Second City Comedy Club, Toronto

The show was going well, with some hilarious sketches, but then all of a sudden one of the female comedians placed a captain’s hat on my head and brought me on stage for an improv sketch where I was the stand in captain for the drunken captain. ‘Speak to your passengers to let them know everything is okay. “This is Captain Vincent speaking, I have everything under control.” 

I’ll save the details for a podcast but all I can tell you is that I got the laughs, intentional or otherwise, as it was a case of saying or doing the first thing that came to mind.  My brother and his girlfriend can testify to me not sinking. The fist bumps from audience members during the intermission was further confirmation, as was the ‘Vincent, Vincent, Vincent’ from the comedians who had gathered together after the show. Adrenaline coursed through my veins; then I knew the adventure had started!

On to Mexico City

As ever, I had to say my goodbyes. After a week of living the good life in Canada I was already starting to feel settled and attached. The pre match nerves (nervous tension) the night before the early morning flight had me on edge for what lay ahead in Mexico City and beyond. At the airport the nerves gave way to tiredness and I slept most of the way to Mexico City.

The security process at Mexico City airport was straight forward and my first use of Spanish was to order a coffee at the airport while I worked out the best way to get to my B&B. I decided to go get a Mexican SIM card for my phone which turned out to be a great decision, because I made good use of it ordering Ubers.

The first Uber I got was from the airport, Miguel Angel. The cost was around €7 for a half hour journey to my accommodation. Ubers in Mexico City are ridiculously cheap. For me, the great thing was also that each Uber trip was an opportunity to practice my Spanish, given that one of my main objectives of this trip is to become fluent in Spanish.

Cada día es una lección – every day is a lesson

To my surprise, the basic Spanish I had going with me came together and I found myself picking up new things very quickly. Each day in Mexico City the various exchanges in Spanish were a series of highs, continued motivation to speed up my learning and an excitement to start my Spanish classes in Guatemala.

I am convinced learning is just as much about a conscious effort to turn your brain on to whatever you put your mind to. It might sound crazy but the example I have heard before is where you plan to buy a new car and all of a sudden you see that make of car everywhere. It was always there but your brain just didn’t register it because it was a meaningless input before you decided you wanted to buy one.

Likewise I think of all the times I went to Spain. I made no conscious effort to open myself to the language. I saw the signs in Spanish but nothing registered. This thought occurred to me as I walked the streets of Mexico City, logging every sign I could see. “Siempre listos, siempre ahí” read one supermarket sign as I pondered on the capacity of our brains. “Always ready, always there”. Maybe we need to use our brains more.

Ciudad de México: un poco loco pero increíble – a bit crazy but incredible

If you don’t like cities then Mexico City might not be for you. They call it a megalopolis given its size, with a population in excess of 21 million including the metropolitan area around the city. I loved the place, street after street of activity, the city is truly alive!

Safety often gets mentioned when people talk about Mexico City but I felt safe there. As always, it’s about having some cop on in terms of how you go about your days and nights in a new and unknown city.

I don’t have the space to elaborate in this blog just how great Mexico City is, all I can say my experience was a fond one.

The historic centre has much to offer, particularly if you appreciate architecture. At Plaza San Jacinto – where you get a taste of old school Mexico, a personal favourite – the Irish soldiers, known as the San Patricios, who fought and died for Mexico against the United States in the mid-19th century are honoured with a memorial. This story is something all Irish people should be aware of and proud of. (If you haven’t heard of them, I encourage you to look up the history; see link).

El Estadio Azteca, an impressive stadium. It is only by chance that I am wearing my old school Liverpool jersey!

Of course, I had to visit the famous Estadio Azteca, the largest stadium in Latin America and where the 1970 and 1986 world cups were held. These were the respective world cups defined by two players, Pele and Maradona!

Then there is the Chapultepec Castle, an impressive sight in its own right but the art inside is spectacular.Bottom line, there is so much to see and do in Mexico City!


The investment angle

On Wednesday I met Gustavo Lozano, the Country Head of Pioneer Investments, for lunch. 30 years’ experience in financial markets, 20 years as a trader, this was a guy who had much to share. We clicked and over a 2 1/2 lunch (as Trump might say, ‘the food was amazing’) we talked about everything from the Mexican economy to the future challenges posed by technology, particularly the replacement of jobs.

Of note on Mexico, he said corruption is still rife in the country, permeating the system, top to bottom. ‘No rule of law is the issue and has always been the way’. The current President has 18 months left to his term and we will see what direction the people take. The leftist leader who has previously run for President has gained support. The right leaning candidate is the wife of a former President. Sound familiar?

Above all, what I gathered is that Mexico is facing the same issue that is dominating the Western world, a growing inequality. The rich get richer, the middle class are getting squeezed and the poor continue to be marginalised. The deteriorating situation in Venezuela has dampened some of the revolutionary spirits in Mexico that might otherwise challenge the current system. Nobody wants to be a Venezuela. Still, governments around the world need to lead change or change will be forced upon them.

Castillo de Chapultepec

As an investment case, Gustavo summed up Mexico perfectly. ‘Mexico is paying you for the risk’. The example he gave was the Mexican 10 year government bond yielding circa 7.2% versus the comparative US Treasury yield of 2.2%. He believes this is a reasonable spread for a country that has been known for lurching from crisis to crisis in the past.

The people you meet make the experience

The beauty of any adventure is the people you meet along the way. I was lucky enough to meet some lovely people. There is nothing better than spending your time in good company, chatting at ease about this crazy world we live in. Mexico City is not short of nice coffee shops, bars and restaurants to sit and enjoy the City. The La Condesa/Roma area where I was staying is a bit like the Ranelagh of Dublin, only bigger.

Talking philosophy one evening with a nice Mexican girl, in a coffee shop full of books, she shared her favourite quote from Nietzsche. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”. I love it.

Many people would think I am insane for pursing this adventure at 35 years old rather than subscribing to the same path society deems the natural one. Right now I’m dancing to the music I hear; my mind is open to the possibilities. Not everyone has to dance to the same music. But dance to something. Live life!

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