I've noticed lately the tourists that make their way to central Mexico (Guanajuato) tend to be either the loosey-goosey backpackers or the tourist elite who tend to have a lot of experience in coming to strange and new places.
The backpackers (and there's nothing wrong with loosey-goosey, I would like to add) seem to be a highly adaptable group that can, more or less, stay almost anywhere, under most conditions, and more easily go with the flow, no matter what the flow throws their way.
The tourist elite group has the money to stay in places that cater to every wish. This group can shell out the bucks to stay at places that cater to every whim and make the accommodations feel safe and secure. Because of this group's vast experience at traveling, these people are not rattled much when they encounter new and strange things within a culture.
What has become apparent to me is there is a missing class of tourists. It is the middle-class income group of Americans and Canadians who, although they've heard of central Mexico, have never visited. They might want to check central Mexico out as a cheaper alternative to the classic resort areas of Mexico, but are terrified to come to a place where Spanish is the predominate language and where they might have a bit of a rough go at managing their trip.
In March 2007, while tooling about the smaller towns looking for article fodder, we met an American woman sitting quietly on a bench reading. She told us she and her husband take the time and effort to come to central Mexico to escape the traditional Mexican resorts with their sky-high prices. She also told us of friends who vacation in the resort areas and would never think of coming to central Mexico because of the language factor.
Whenever I think of the language issue and tourists, I am reminded of the travel writer, Bill Bryson, and his book, Neither Here Nor There. This man went all over Europe despite being devoid of language skills. Yet, he did it and produced a very funny book because of it.
Spanish, though immensely helpful for the central Mexico wannebee monolingual American traveler, is not necessarily a major requirement. Now, admittedly, we've seen some tourist meltdowns in some foreigners who miraculously got to Guanajuato only to discover that "everyone speaks Spanish here." You can read these all-to-frequent comments on many travel forum websites.
The misconception is that English is going to be spoken by the locals involved in the tourist service industry everywhere in Mexico. Unfortunately, it's not so.
My belief is that if central Mexico wants to attract more and more Americans and Canadians, it should begin the process of becoming bilingual in English. I remember being so amazed in the resort areas of Mexico that so many were bilingual. In central Mexico, they've yet to get the vision that English will attract more visitors who want to spend a lot of money in their establishments.
What those who could vacation in central Mexico don't generally know is there are ways of overcoming their fear of the language factor. They don't realize there are places other than the hyper-expensive places that can easily set you back $150.00 to $250.00 USD a night. We saw this American man, who, again I say, miraculously showed up in Guanajuato, have a meltdown. In an act of desperation, he whipped out his cell phone to call home. His conversation went something like, "I'm turning around and leaving this place…no one speaks English." While it is not true that no one speaks English, I can understand his frustration because in the town where I live, English is not widely spoken.
How these tourists end up in central Mexico seems to me to be the greatest miracle!
One way to overcome this sometimes-paralyzing handicap is to, of course, learn some Spanish. There are home study courses that can offer you far more versatility in the language than you might think.
Another way is to stay in one of the high-quality Bed and Breakfasts that are scattered around town. Some of these establishments have Americans who are totally bilingual and bicultural. They will take care of you and alleviate your fears about getting around town where you would be hard pressed to find English speakers. There are also some Mexicans B & B owners who are totally bilingual and bicultural who would offer you the same peace of mind as well as fine accommodations at considerable savings over what you would pay in the resort areas.
I really think this is the way to go. There have been some B & B's in Guanajuato for quite a while that could set you back the equivalent of your children's college tuition. If you can afford to pay resort prices and want to, the uber-rich places are here for you. However, if what you want is a cheaper, high quality place with a home-like atmosphere where not just your sleep and eating needs are met but one in which the owner can set you straight on cultural issues and guide you through the rough spots, then you want the smaller, and in my view far more versatile, Bed and Breakfasts.
And, let's be honest, if you want to venture out and try stretching your vacation muscles by coming to Guanajuato, you need more than three hots and a cot when your vacation legs feel a little rubbery in a place where Spanish is predominately spoken.
More Americans and Canadians could come to central Mexico and take advantage of the mind-expanding experience of visiting the birthplace of the Republic of Mexico. Colonial Mexico exudes history and culture with each step you take. This is the place where it all began. The resort areas, fun as they most certainly are, having seafood to delight your tastes, expenses to break the bank, is not all Mexico has to offer.
There's far more to see and it's right here, in central Mexico.