Rhythms Of Mexico - Some Personal Thoughts

Updated: Oct 26

In a previous post, I covered the history of daylight saving in Mexico.

On a lighter note, over the time I’ve been living in Mexico I’ve discovered a number of other… cycles of time. Circadian rhythms, maybe. You can’t help noticing that certain things tend to happen around the same sort of time… and they’ve now passed into the travelling lexicon of Mrs Wench and myself.

Everyone's heard of Beer O'Clock - and it's true, Mexicans enjoy their beer as much as anyone else - but here are a few such markers you may not have encountered before. There are plenty more, I’m sure - feel free to suggest any I’ve missed out.

(For the avoidance of doubt - I've nothing against dogs, religion, roosters, rain or tacos. Mosquitos, on the other hand, can go do one 🙂)

Bark O’Clock

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you don’t like dogs, Mexico isn’t going to be for you. Everyone has a guard dog - from the respectable sorts like the German Shepherd and Doberman, through a range of rough and ready cross-bred mutts. (Back home we call these 'Heinz' dogs - 57 varieties).

Not sure if this is all or part Chihuahua, but I refuse to be intimidated by something that weighs less than a kilo

Then there's the downright ridiculous. I’m sorry, but anyone who thinks the Chihuahua is a good choice for a guard dog clearly thinks I’m more easily intimidated than I am. The Mayans are rumoured to have bred them for meat - which, frankly, I consider no more than they deserve.

The point is this - there’s a kind of ‘street telephone’ that kicks off a few times a day. Most commonly in the evening, not long after it gets dark, one of the local mutts will start barking. (“Hey Fido - how’s your day been?”)

Another, a few doors down will reply (“Not so bad. They’ve finally changed that crappy dog chow, at least”) prompting a kind of canine chain reaction which can last for minutes, or hours on a bad day.

Bark O’Clock can be a bit annoying, but it helps to realise that there’s bugger all you can do, and you may as well just close the window and go with it.

(And yes - literally as I finished that last line, it’s Bark O’Clock in Oaxaca 🙂)

Cock O’Clock

What you call this says something about you. But more likely where you come from, rather than the puerility of your humour! Image credit: Opzwartbeek / Wiki Commons

(Stop sniggering at the back, you filthy people... )

Lots of people keep chickens in Mexico. That means keeping cockerels (OK, roosters if you’re from north of the border…)

These tend to be more regular than the dogs. Some time around 5.30 - 6.30am, the little darlings demonstrate their zest for life with a loud Sun Salutation.

Often they carry on all morning.

Bless them.

If you’re within a few hundred yards of them, you’ll know.

Here in Oaxaca, there’s a coop behind the house across the road.

Anyone know where I can borrow a fox?

Bite O’Clock

After an hour in a restaurant, making the rookie mistake of shorts and no DEET around sunset, I class this as 'getting off lightly'.

There’s a reason the locals wear long trousers, even if it’s 40°C and 100% humidity. Yup, mosquitos. Nothing says ‘tourist’ more loudly than walking around in cargo pants, proudly displaying ankles which have been reduced to pincushions by these annoying little bastards.

That’s to say nothing of the risk of dengue and malaria.

Luckily, most of them bite at certain times of day - usually from an hour or so before sunset, through into the late evening. So it’s not as if they're going to sneak up on you wearing tiny mosquito balaclavas.

Remember the DEET - even with jeans and socks, they seem to manage to get through.

(Seriously - I didn’t believe this until I came home and my leg looked like it had been used as a dart board. I think they must have armour-piercing teeth).

If you’re in a state that’s prone to dengue, during rainy season make sure you turn over anything that can hold water. They use them to breed, and they do it quickly. I'm told dengue is rarely fatal - you just wish that you were dead 😐

Rain O’Clock

Hurricane Genevieve

We’ve now spent an entire rainy season in Mexico, between Guadalajara and Oaxaca.

Naively, I assumed that for 4 months of the year it just rained more or less constantly. It doesn’t.

First of all, it's probably worth pointing out that we avoided the real threat - hurricanes and tropical storms. The closest we came was probably Hurricane Genevieve, which passed a couple of hundred miles south and caused flooding along the coast from Colima to Baja California Sur.

(I decoded the image from the NOAA weather satellites using a cheap radio and home-made antenna).

So, absent hurricanes, in general the days are clear and dry, the clouds bubble up and start looking ominous in the late afternoon or early evening.

Rain O’Clock in GDL, for instance, was usually around 5-7pm - or alternately, about 5 minutes after you sit down on the terrace for your Little Caesar's Super Cheese-Cheese pizza.

And when it does rain: by god, but it rains:

This is actually a fairly tame shower, and during daytime too. Mrs Wench narrates the terrace

This is the first time I’ve seen tropical thunderstorms, and they are violent. It’s easy to see why people use the term ‘biblical’. Vertical torrents so thick you can’t see more than 5-10 yards; lightning 3-4 times a minute, or more, sometimes lasting for hours. Rain that turns streets into rivers, and blows the power for blocks on all sides.

As ever, with most things Mexican, the best approach is to go with the flow. Do what you need to do during the day; keep some candles, beers and a good book for the evening, just in case.

Prayer O’Clock

Parroquia Santiago Apostol, Tequila. As far as I know, this one isn't wired for sound - but I could be wrong

I’ve been to Muslim countries where the call of the muezzin can be heard throughout the day, calling the faithful to prayer. Until now, I’ve never heard an analogue in other countries.

Mexico is a deeply Catholic country. The conquistadores did their job well - though there are many local rituals and prehispanic beliefs woven into the fabric of religion here, you’re never in any doubt that it’s a firmly Christian place.

In Oaxaca we have semi-regular prayers broadcast by loudspeaker, which must reach at least a mile or two from their source. The one we have here in Xochimilco has a morning edition - sometimes very early in the morning - as well as a later performance around 6-7pm. As well as the Pater Noster and Ave Maria, there are frequent prayers of intercession for the souls of the dead.

I understand that the time and content varies over the year, according to religious feast days and so on. As a confirmed atheist, it feels strange to have religious beliefs so loudly and publicly cast into the daily routine. But no more so than in Turkey or Egypt; and certainly no less culturally enriching.

Fireworks O’Clock

Fireworks o'clock. Pretty, but in Mexico they're more often concerned with the bang than the flash

This is a tricky one; like Prayer O’Clock, it’s very much a moveable feast. Let me explain.

Mexicans love fireworks. It’s probably fairer to say that many Mexicans love fireworks - lots of people actively hate them, for the noise, pollution, for scaring their pets - but nevertheless, fireworks are a fact of life here.

Obviously, people let them loose for Independence Day, Revolution Day, New Year’s, and other national holidays. Or for their birthday. Or maybe just because it’s Thursday.

I’m serious - when we were in Chapalita, in Guadalajara, for some unknown reason Thursday night was the night for kids to drive up and down the main drag letting off fireworks. It tended to run between 9pm and close to midnight.

In La Paz, on the other hand, it seemed pretty random - less group cohesion, more random personal enjoyment.

In Oaxaca, it’s at least partly tied to the prayer schedules (see Prayer O’Clock above). We had a round of them around 6am through the week.

And we’re not talking about the damp squibs or pocket bangers you can buy legally in the UK. These are shells - all sound and no light - which can almost waken the dead. (I think that may actually be the idea).

You get used to them, of course. But even after a month, it’s still possible to be walking down the street, having a lovely post-breakfast conversation with Mrs Wench one moment; the next, crouching in the foetal position on the verge of soiling yourself.

Again - it ain’t gonna change, so buckle up and learn to go with the flow 😉

Tapas / Pan / Gas O’Clock

My favourite thing about Oaxaca is that it still operates on the old-fashioned idea that sometimes it’s better for the business to come to you, rather than the other way round. There are as many taco stalls as in the rest of Mexico, but compared to where we’ve been before, Oaxaca has lots of these peripatetic hawkers.

There’s a van doing the rounds selling gas. No big deal. (Mexican houses don’t have mains gas supplies, they have bottled gas or a tank on the roof). I’m sure Gas de Oaxaca is a perfectly professional outfit.

But why do they have to advertise themselves with a mooing cow noise? Is it organic gas? Is there a green movement to harness methane recovery? Who knows:

Fresh from our front window this morning - Gas de Oaxaca, in all its moo-ey goodness!

Then there’s the bread man - Don Pan, as I’ve come to call him. He’s a young designer by day, and a bread/cake vendor in the afternoon and evening. We can hear him coming from 2-3 blocks away. Eight to ten squeezes on his bicycle hooter, followed by a deep, booming voice: “Paaaaaan! Paaaaan... DULCE!

A really nice man, according to Mrs Wench, and his sweetbreads are perfect for breakfast the next morning.

Add in the omnipresent tortilla sellers, the odd marisco guy - the fireworks, the mutts, the prayers, the distant rumble of thunder - and Oaxaca just has the richest, most wonderful soundscape.

That’s true at any time of day or night.

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Mexico Travel Blog | marco@jocksaway.com