A Lesson in Mexican Gestures

We are slowly starting to feel relatively comfortable in Mexico: things don’t seem so unusual, and both of us are starting to notice subtle things. Well…if you can call gestures in Mexico subtle.

Chins tilting, cupped palms, and a version of the “OK” sign are only a handful of the gestures that I have noticed in Mexico. I wanted to find out what they mean, so we had our our friend, Iker (a Federali turned lawyer), help clarify the meanings. He was also nice enough to pose for photos.

Here are a few gestures you might come across in Mexico:

  • Hurry Up!
    This gesture, shown by rubbing the forefinger and thumb together, does not mean money in Mexico, it means you need to get moving!
  • Expensive
    Holding the thumb and forefinger up with the back of the hand to the viewer indicates that something is expensive. You’ll see husbands making this gesture to their wives in the markets or other shopping venues.
  • Cheapskate
    If you are haggling with someone and you notice someone else nearby tapping their bent elbow consider yourself insulted. Tapping on the elbow means “stingy” or “cheap” in Mexico.
  • Cunning
    You should watch out for someone who is “colmilludo”, which loosely translates to cunning or crafty. This is indicated by tapping one’s eyeteeth which are called “colmillos” in Spanish. This gesture refers to someone that is always looking out for himself. Iker told us that it is used both positively and negatively it just depends on the context — but I got the feeling that this is rarely used as a compliment.
  • Asshole
    Yup…the one gesture you need to know the most since it resembles the Western “OK” sign. It is formed by touching the thumb and forefinger together creating a very small circle. This is extremely rude and never used to someone’s face. See the gallery below to check out our friend Iker who kindly modeled all the gestures for us…even the rude ones.
  • OK
    As mentioned above the “OK” sign is the same here as at home. Just make sure that circle you make isn’t too small!
  • Lazy
    The gesture for lazy is a cupped palm facing upwards, like you are holding something heavy. One or both hands can be used in this gesture. This is highly inappropriate because it refers to lifting “huevos” (which is Mexican slang for testicles). Basically the meaning behind this gesture is that the owner’s “balls” are so big and heavy that he can’t get up!
  • What’s up?
    People will greet you with this gesture which is often just tilting the chin up or tilting the chin up with palms upturned and a shrug. It means “What’s happening?” but you will also see it used as a general greeting. I have found even the youngest kids know this gesture and use it in replace of a verbal greeting.


It might take awhile at first to recognize these cultural cues but once you have an idea of what to look for you will see them used all over Mexico. Gestures tend to vary from place to place so it’s probably best to use them when you are absolutely certain you know what they mean…after all, calling someone an asshole when you meant to say “OK” might not go over so well.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.

Mexico’s Green Angels: Your Road Trip Saviors!

Imagine you are driving happily along in Mexico, taking in the view, bopping along to some tunes, and smiling at how perfect your road trip is going. Then you notice a small noise: it gets louder and, with panic setting in, you pull over, let the car cool down and then try to start it up again to no avail. One look around confirms that you are broken down in the middle of nowhere on a desolate Mexican highway. Now what?

This situation has played over in my head since we arrived with our own car in Mexico. Breaking down in a city or town is one thing, breaking down in the middle of a deserted Mexican highway is a completely different story. We had one close call a few weeks ago when we sputtered into town after spending a couple hours surfing. We pulled into the local supermarket, got out of the car and watched as the car’s fan belt promptly fell off. We were lucky that it happened in town and that a mechanic was located only three minutes away. What if it had happened on the highway hours from town? Fortunately the Mexican government provides a “heavenly” service for motorists in distress.

The “Los Angeles Verdes” (Green Angels) are a federally funded service that provides mobile mechanics on federal and toll roads.They are available to assist with car breakdowns and accidents . Back in the pre-cellphone period, you had to wait around in hopes of catching a glimpse of one of the easily recognizable green and white trucks that patrol the highways looking to lend a hand. Now you can call the dispatch center from your cellphone to alert an “angel” of your whereabouts.

The Green Angels are equipped with gasoline, motor oil and spare parts for basic repairs. If you end up requiring more than minor adjustments they can assist with towing your vehicle to a mechanic. The towing and labor are free but you will be expected to pay for any parts you need. The Green Angels patrol highways from 8am to 6pm daily (though this information varies depending on who you ask).

Not only are these guys on-the-spot mechanics but they are trained in CPR and first aid in case of emergencies or accidents. And probably the best part of all, especially if your Spanish is still very basic, they often have a good grasp of English, making it much easier to communicate exactly what happened to your car. They can also provide information on the roads you will be taking as well as tourist information.

To contact the Green Angles dial 087 or 060 (the nationwide emergency phone number) from any TELMEX booth or a cellphone. This will connect you to the main dispatch line in Mexico City who will then radio the agent in your area. Keep in mind that they do not patrol the small roads so you should plan to stay on the main roads on your trip through Mexico. Here is a map of the routes that the Green Angels patrol.

The service is free, but it is perfectly acceptable — and greatly appreciated — to tip the agent who helps you.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.

Minding your Manners in Mexico

Being polite is the best thing you can do in Mexico to ensure good service and to also undo those nasty rumors that Canadians and Americans are generally rude and want everything “right now!”

In our time here we have learned a few tips that have made our lives easier while living and traveling in Mexico. As with all countries, making the effort to be polite will always work in your favor. Mexicans are very friendly people and are more than willing to assist you with whatever you need. However, being demanding, disrespectful and causing a scene are all great ways to not only lose whatever help you might have received but also furthers the unfortunate stereotype that all foreigners are impolite.

Some things to keep in mind when you explore Mexico:

  • Always Greet People First
    Always greet whomever you want to speak to with “Buenos Dias” (Good morning), “Buenas Tardes” (Good Afternoon) or “Buenas Noches” (Good Evening). It is customary to greet staff when you enter a store and to acknowledge them on your way out. If you launch into a tirade about what you want without a proper greeting you can expect mediocre service–Mexicans find this type of behavior extremely rude.
  • Shake Hands and Pucker Up
    Like some European countries it is customary to shake hands (for men) or kiss cheeks (this only applies to women) whenever you greet your Mexican friends. Men usually shake hands, though the Baja has some local handshakes which have a few flashy add-ons. Women are not included in the fancy handshakes — I asked a gentleman why he didn’t high-five me and he look absolutely appalled that I would even consider it. So ladies, get ready to kiss a lot of cheeks. Surprisingly, for a culture full of machismo, bone-crushing handshakes are considered impolite, a light grip is more than adequate.
  • Remember to Ask for the Bill
    Tom and I sat for ages in a café waiting for the server to realize we were ready to go. We finally asked for “la cuenta” (the bill) and quickly left the restaurant complaining of the poor service. A friend of ours enlightened us to the fact that it is considered rude to bring the bill to the table if it has not yet been requested. Instead of rushing you out of the restaurant, the servers give you time to relax and enjoy your meal, quite a change from Canada where the staff tend to push you out the door so they can serve more customers. Whenever you are ready to leave just nicely ask for the bill.
  • Address People Using their Titles
    Titles are a huge deal in Mexico. “Señor”, “Señora” and “Señorita” all show respect and it is best to use them until the person you are speaking with indicates otherwise. Education is highly regarded and it is a good idea to address people by these titles as well, “Doctor(a)”, “Ingeniero” (engineer) and “Profesor(a)” (professor)) are some titles you may come across. If you are a university grad you can always introduce yourself as “Licenciado(a)” in formal situations.
  • Say Adios to your Personal Bubble
    Mexicans tend to stand close when they are talking to you. This can take some getting used to but whatever you do try not to step back, it is considered offensive and gives the impression that you don’t want to be near that person.

  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T
    Overall, the best thing you can do in Mexico is to be respectful to everyone. From taxi drivers to business executives you need to make sure you treat everyone graciously. Those travelers who make the effort to be courteous and polite will experience better service, lots of smiles and a much better reception when traveling in Mexico.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.

How to spend your time in Todos Santos, Mexico

Todos Santos, once Baja’s sugarcane capital, is a small town located about an hour outside of Cabo San Lucas. Known for its laid back vibe, great surfing and large artisan community, this small pueblo has managed to retain some authenticity in spite of the huge growth of tourism here in the last 15 years.

We chose to settle here for a few months so we could complete a work project before continuing on our drive. When we were looking for a place to stay we knew that a city like Cabo San Lucas was not for us, but realized the benefits of being close to a bigger city. With Todos Santos located only an hour away from Cabo, it was pretty much the perfect fit. So far it has been great; it’s easy to work here and, for a relatively small town, there is quite a bit to do. Those who prefer activity packed vacations will probably prefer to only spend a day or two here. But for the more laid back traveler who prefers to mosey through their holiday time Todos Santos offers a great mix of activities and allows for ample down time.

Here is what you can do in Todos Santos:


Learn to surf at Los Cerritos
The most popular beach in Todos Santos is Los Cerritos, which has a small beach club and restaurant on-site. With small waves and a sandy bottom this is the ideal beach to try your hand at surfing. Surfboards, skim boards, wetsuits, boogie boards and other water gear can be rented from either El Diablo Blanco Surf shop or Costa Azul’s small surf kiosk. One thing to be aware of at this beach is the rip tide which tends to carry one out to the rocks. Try to stay in front of the beach club when you are in the water to avoid getting too close to the rocks. This rip varies in strength daily. The road to Los Cerritos is located at km 64 and is marked with a sign, take a right and follow the road straight to the beach.

Relax in the Sun at Las Palmas
The very bumpy road located off the Highway 19, across from Campo Experimental at km 57 (all kilometers are marked in Baja Mexico), takes you to this secluded beach which is great for sunning and swimming. There are rip tides in the area and swimming is safest in the middle of the beach. This beach is open from 6am to 9pm daily. Be sure to lock your car and don’t bring any valuables as break-ins have occurred here.

Buy Fresh Fish at Punta Lobos

Also referred to as the fisherman’s beach, you can get to this beach by turning off the highway at km 54, watch for the old cannery to make sure you are on the right route. Between 1:00pm and 3:00pm, you can watch the fisherman return in their panga boats with the catch of the day. If you feel like a cooking adventure you can purchase fresh fish from one of the two fishing cooperatives in the area.

Watch Serious Surfers at San Pedrito

Unless you are a pro surfer you probably won’t be surfing this beach. Big breaks and a rocky bottom are a lethal combination for the beginner surfer. However, it is a nice beach to sit and relax on while admiring others, with much better surfing skills, take to the waves. To get here, take highway 19 out of Todos Santos and turn right at about km 60 (you will see the San Pedrito RV Park sign, this is where you need to turn.)

Getting to any of these beaches requires a car. There is a Budget Car Rental office in Todos Santos or, if you’d prefer not to bother with renting a vehicle, taxi rides to any of the beaches can easily be arranged. Don’t forget to arrange a pick up time as well!

Yoga: Stretch it out (if you can)

During high season, December to April, there are a variety of yoga classes available daily at La Arca, the community center which is located on Topete Street. Classes range in price from $50 Pesos ($5 US) to a donation (we tend to donate $50 pesos). You might want to find out how long classes run for, Tom and I learned this the hard way after a 2 hour yoga class which definitely stretched some muscles we both hadn’t used for a long time. The yoga class schedule can be found in the local publication El Calendario.

Like most tourist towns you will find an array of Mexican arts and crafts, all of which have been imported from the mainland. There are about 15 shops all carrying the same things, ceramics, cheesy t-shirts, shot glasses, tequila, silver jewelery and vanilla. But ,if you are looking for something that is actually made in the Baja region, try the small pottery shop right beside the bookstore called Catalina. Kathy, the owner, sells ceramic cookware handmade by local women who live in the Baja Mountains. These pots can be put directly onto stove-tops as well as in the oven and are extremely easy to cook with. If you have friends who are foodies these will make an impressive gift.

El Tecolote bookstore should be the first stop on your shopping expedition. If you are looking for a good read, books on Baja, postcards or little gifts this is the place to be. Traditions, a little arts and crafts store tucked away in the back of the bookstore, offers Mexican art from all over. If you need to know anything, Janet, El Tecolote’s owner, is the woman to ask. She will be more than happy to help you find whatever you need. But be careful as an avid dog-lover and dedicated animal rescue worker she might just try and send you home with a new pet.

Tour the Galleries

As an artist town, Todos Santos has many galleries full of everything from paintings to handmade copper work. Galeria Indigo, found on the main street, has a nice selection of work and Gallery de Todos Santos displays work by local Baja artists. For a list of all galleries click here.

Book a Local Tour
Fishing, surfing, hiking, visiting mountain potters, horseback riding and Sea Turtle eco-tours are just some of the activities are offered by most of the tour companies in Todos Santos. You will definitely pay a hefty fee to partake in these groups but it is a great way to explore the area if you have limited time. Try Todos Santos Eco Adventures or La Sirena Kayak and Surf Rental.

Todos Santos is generally pretty quiet after about 9pm, well if you discount the roosters and dog fights. But The Sandbar, in Pescadero (about 10 minute drive away at km 63, just off Highway 19), is a good place to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights. The young overly energetic bartender pours strong drinks and local reggae band, KL, gets crowds grooving on Friday nights. If you really need to get out there and party rent a car, and head to La Paz to experience some authentic salsa clubs….you might want to brush up on your dance moves first.


“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of
South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.

No Wrong Turns: Skip Cabo and Head to Todos Santos for a Unique Baja Experience

About an hour north of the cruise ships, the huge gleaming hotels and the Cabo San Lucas party crowd lies the small town of Todos Santos. If you are looking for a place to relax and unwind, minus the deafening party beats found in Cabo, this little town is it. It offers everything from amazing surf breaks and great restaurants to a lively social scene made up of Mexicans, ex-pats, old school hippies and those who just came and never left. Todos Santos offers a much different “Baja” experience than Cabo.

Tom and I ended up stumbling onto Todos Santos accidentally. Fueled by the need to start the work project we brought with us, we released a flurry of emails to many vacation rentals places in the Baja area. We knew that we didn’t want to live in Cabo San Lucas but realized the benefits of being near a larger city. Considering most of the replies came from Todos Santos we figured it would be a great place to start looking.

Todos Santos was founded in 1723 and, in the late 19th century, it was a wealthy sugar town – you can still see remnants of the old mills in the area. Recently, the town has been dubbed a “Pueblo Magico” (Magic Town) by the Mexican Tourism Secretariat. This decree is given to certain towns “that are of particular historic or religious value.” With this new title the town receives support from the government to help to promote the cultural uniqueness of the town as well as to show those who visit that Mexico is more than just sand and sun.

About twenty years ago a few dedicated surfers ended up stopping here in search of waves. They discovered many great surf breaks and, in their own way, they brought tourists to Todos Santos. After the surf crowd put this village on the map, artists started to flock in from all over…looking for a quiet place to focus, work and create. I heard through the town’s grapevine that one of the founding artists here just turned 86.

Today this small town (the population is around 4400 – most of the locals are related) attracts a mix of those looking to escape the more regimented Western world, Cabo San Lucas day-trippers, tour groups, backpackers, yoga gurus, organic farmers, art lovers and those looking to invest in property.

In the last three months, Todos Santos has acquired a new, large road putting its paved road total to three. Due to all the traffic between Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas this new road was built to provide an alternate route for the semi-trucks. With this new road they won’t need to drive straight through town anymore. As a visitor to the area it is not hard to see that the face of this Mexican town is changing quickly, much to the distress of many locals, so if you want to experience a more relaxed version of the Baja you might want to take a trip down here sooner rather than later before its fully gentrified.

Todos Santos does not have an airport which means you’ll have to negotiate a land route into town. Cabo San Lucas and La Paz both have regular buses arriving here all the time and tickets cost around $15 one way. Alternatively you can rent a car in either town and drive in yourself. Be warned that the highway from Cabo to Todos Santos is very dangerous and be wary of police officers looking to stop you for any minor traffic infraction in hopes of scaring you into paying a hefty bribe. Follow the rules of the road and stick to the speed limit….you’ll be fine.

Coming up next post I’ll let you know where to stay and where to enjoy amazing food in this vibrant pueblo.

“No Wrong Turns”
chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.