Cheap way to spend a month in Mexico?
December 29, 2005 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Any ideas on an affordable way to spend 4 – 6 weeks in Mexico this summer?

My boyfriend is in his last year working on a degree in Spanish and is overdue for some time in a Spanish speaking country to polish his conversation skills. He has experience working in a translation center and doing both graphic and web design. I will have a master’s degree in biology as of May and have experience doing ecological assessments, using GPS and GIS, and with molecular techniques ( PCR, RT-PCR, etc). I also have some teaching experience. Does anyone know of any internships / volunteer programs / summer positions where we could use our skills and he could get exposure to conversation with native speakers?

We’ve thought about WWOOF (willing workers of organic farms) but are worried that exposure to the language would be limited. We’ve also thought about going to one of the Spanish language immersion programs but there are so many it’s hard to sift through them all to tell the good from the bad. Does anyone have experience with these programs or recommendations? Anyone have interesting ideas on other ways we could spend a good chunk of time in Mexico without spending too much money (we’re hoping $2,000 or less including airfare/driving there ourselves). We do not have any aversions to hard work or roughing it and would be happy in either a rural or urban area.
posted by a22lamia to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go to Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosi.
Find an expat. There's plenty (from Germany, Swtzerland, Italy, the States, etc.). They can direct you to someone who can rent you a home, furnished, for that long. It'll be cheap. Maybe 500-700 american. It might be kinda "rustic."
Spend time eating in the expats restaurants and drinking cofee in their cafes. Always talk in Spanish and they will 98% respond in Spanish. Get confused, the expat familiarity with English can smooth over problems if needed.
Eat in the locals restaurants (Try La Esquina Chata on the corner of the square). Hire a horse and guide and go to the desert, or go on foot. With some veggies, tortillas y queso you can make it a couple day hiking trip for cheap. Take long hikes around the Ciudad Fantasma or up to the Huichol pilgrimage mountan, El Quemado. Explore the mine where they held a film festival a decade or so ago.
Hike in the mountains. Avoid the scam where someone takes you to the desert to get peyote; you'll find yourself confronted upon your return by some seemingly omniscient local police.

It's pretty remote. It's in the desert mountains (I think officially the Alta Plana between the Sierra Madre Occidental and the SM Oriental. It's a great place to go if you need to be practice Spanish on the cheap. It's a little too hippy for me, but the folks are nice. The officials are corrupt and the town is filthy, but what do you expect, it's small town Mexico.
Bus from Austin to Matehuala is about $60 (two way). There is a smaller bus from Matehuala to RdC for about 15 pesos.
I think that you could do this easily within your budget and not even need a car.
There are about three main hotels in town. It's been growing ever since they filmed "The Mexican" there. (Julia Roberts, right? It sucked, but you can see the town.) There are probably more by now. But they can tide you over until you find a house to rent. Unless you manage to arrange one beforehand, which is possible now that the town has gotten a phone line that can handle internet traffic.

It's a hell of a lot cheaper than coastal Mexico and just as sunny.
Good luck
posted by Seamus at 11:02 AM on December 29, 2005

Stay away from tourist places! If you are not destined for beaches, and you like cities, Mexico City is a fantastic place with more areas to explore than any place I can think of. Check out El Centote Azul which is a hostel near the area Frida Kahlo stayed. It is only $10/night. The nearby Coyoacan has a great plaza. The subway is "safe" and better than many here (quiet!!) and goes to a zillion museums. Any questions?
posted by _zed_ at 11:33 AM on December 29, 2005

We found the entire state of Guanajuato to be quite lovely and really very easy to get around by bus. I've heard the same is true for Zacatecas, which is nearby. We used the Lonely Planet guides for recommendations on cheap hotels, and while nothing was awesome, they were all very reasonable. Best thing, since they are in the mountains, temps in the summer hover in the 60-70s!
posted by Gilbert at 12:14 PM on December 29, 2005

If you stay away from the touristy places and make a concerted effort to speak only in spanish, you should get the kind of experience you're looking for.

The bus system in Mexico is pretty extensive, so it might be fun to take the bus down somewhere south like Oaxaca (beautiful and worth the trip but touristy) and stop along the way at places that strike your fancy.

I have a friend who did a WWOOF a bit north of Mexico City and seemed to have a good time. She said that the other folks who were there were from europe and didn't speak English very well, so she ended up speaking to them in Spanish because that was the best they could do. I'm sure it depends on the people you meet. You could do it for a short period of time - say a week or so - just to get acclimated and then move on if you like. It might be a good place to start.

Another route would be to volunteer with a nonprofit - particularly one that could use your skills in ecological assessments/GIS. That would mean you'd need to work on more specialized language, but you certainly would have the chance to speak in spanish.

Anyway, good luck and have fun!
posted by mulkey at 3:47 PM on December 29, 2005

Can't tackle the first part of your question, but for another way of spending a chunk of time without lots of money, try the Yucatan. It's been over ten years since I backpacked around that area, but I remember Merida and Valladolid (Chichen Itza is right in-between the two) were very cheap and easy to immerse yourself in, and feel like you're experiencing the real country rather than a tourist projection (I had lots of fun conversations with kids and families in Valladolid's zócalo). The Yucatan's all limestone, too, so there are plenty of cool cenotes to explore along with the amazing Mayan ruins. Also, the ruins at Tulum are on the ocean but far enough south of Cancun/Cozumel to avoid tourists and the prices they attract. It's now billed as an "eco-resort;" when I was there, you could sleep in a hammock on the beach for a couple of bucks a night, there was a great cheap restaurant, open-air showers and lots of cool people. Nose around at Lonely Planet-type sites for updated info.
posted by mediareport at 11:21 PM on December 29, 2005

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