Carnival parade: more beautiful noise. Carnival parade: more noise.

Mexico can be noisy, but it’s beautiful noise

From the tortilla vendor to the rooftop alarm systems, noise is part of island life

Shortly after sunrise a man on a motorcycle slowly cruises past our house on Isla Mujeres. He is singing a beautiful Spanish love song at the top of his voice, oblivious that we are eavesdropping from our upper-floor deck. The sound is beautiful, haunting.

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We frequently perch on this street-side deck with our feet resting on the aluminum railings, our toes wiggling a hello to passing friends. With a morning cup of coffee or an evening glass of wine in hand we listen to island life.

The island thrives on noise, and music, and laughter. Early in the morning the honking of a bicycle horn lets us know the tortilla vendor has started his route, weaving through the neighborhoods with his box of hot, fresh corn tortillas.

He is soon followed by the whine of motorcycles as they whiz past, depositing teenagers at the college. Still later we hear the squeal of brakes, the slamming of car doors and laughter as the preschoolers are escorted into the kindergarten across the street from our casa.

Walk through any neighborhood and you will hear the overhead noise of a rooftop alarm system, the family dog, peering over the edge and barking at anything or anyone that infringes on its territory.

As the day progresses the sounds change. Every vendor or delivery person has his or her own signal to let customers know they are nearby.

Want freshly squeezed orange juice? Just wait for the beep-beep of the moto horn outside your door. Need a 20-liter bottle of water? Two blasts from a truck’s horn and the squeak of the suspension, and you know the Cristal delivery truck has arrived.

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The delivery men for the small portable bottles of propane have a recorded song that reverberates from a speaker: Zeta Zeta, Zeta gas. The cheese salesman sings a short refrain offering queso Oaxaca, queso as he strides along our street, balancing the large wheel of cheese on his head.

Trudging through the various neighborhoods the knife sharpener tootles a set of pan pipes. Businesses like Super X-Press and Chedraui hire cars and drivers with loudspeakers to cruise the island advertising the weekly specials. The municipality uses a similar method for advising islanders of upcoming important public events.

The really intriguing part of this boisterous culture is the number of parades that happen, complete with music, costumes, decorated floats and hundreds of participants.

We have watched parades for Christmas, the Day of Kings, and Carnival stream past our house. We have seen political rallies, cowboys riding to the hastily-erected bull ring, caged lions and tigers complete with loud music advertising the circus, religious celebrations and parades celebrating Mexican national holidays.

And then there are the overloaded mufflerless dump trucks racing to catch the last car ferry of the evening, or the poorly maintained city garbage trucks that blat and grind and wheeze along the roads like old men struggling with a bad case of gas.

Some businesses, like Farmacias Similares, regale the general public with exceptionally loud music piped to outside speakers from early afternoon until late at night.

Even our favorite store, the Chedraui Super Store, has earsplittingly loud music blasting from the on-sale stereos, competing with in-store music, announcements of today’s specials, or requests for a manager to call the service desk. Oh joy!

We grew up in a relatively quiet country, Canada, where noise is strictly regulated. We have lived on country acreages, in rural homes and in a converted warehouse-condo located in the centre of Vancouver.

Living here is similar to residing in a big city where the ambient noise level is ever-present, but on Isla Mujeres we have a lot fewer people creating the noise — that beautiful noise.

When it all becomes too much for us we can retreat to the ocean side of the house and listen to our favorite noise of all, the sound of waves sliding in from the Caribbean Sea, swooshing up onto the beach, slowly receding and gently pulling the white sand back into the ocean. Ah! Joy!

The writers are Canadians who have been full-time residents of Isla Mujeres for eight years. You can read their blog here.

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  • RobertSDF

    An interesting read. But at times, seems to indicate these are sounds unique to Isla Mujeres island life. But, of course, they are not. You hear the same sounds echoing all over Mexico from the small villages to the big city. They are a people who seem to have made noise a part of their daily routine. And , to an extent, now I have also done so.

  • Beautiful noise. Yeah, right. When I moved to Mexico 16 years ago, the childish racket really pissed me off. Now, however, I have become much more used to it. Sure, my wife and I sleep with silicone earplugs some nights, but the pre-dawn explosions don’t even affect me. I wake up a second and go right back to sleep.

    None of which cancels the fact that it’s the lifestyle of children.

  • Happygirl

    Last night a house three calles (streets) away set up a disco and started playing music, the new techno music full of bass and drums, rising and dropping, strange electronic music with the occasional vocal..our casa throbbed, my heart didn’t know which beat to follow and we had to turn up the t.v. to hear what was being said…it was a long night. What had began around eight was still going strong at three in the morning, when my body had had enough and I finally was able to drop off to sleep.
    Mexico is loud, back in Canada I often have trouble sleeping because it is so darn quiet…oh how I longed for the sound of silence last night.

  • James Smith

    ….or the drunks in the street yelling and fighting in the streets outside your hotel. Or the dudes playing their banda music at full blast 24 hours a day. Friend to me upon first arrival in Mexicio years ago: “You will find that all Mexicans are deaf. And you will also find out that they assume you are also deaf.” Truer words never spoken.

    • AM

      Like we care about what foreigners think about our music. We also play it in California and Texas and many other places. What are you going to do about it? Nothing, so just be bitter for no reason.

      • James Smith

        And you street cholos wonder why people with a brain laugh at everything you say! As for what am I going to do about it…are you calling me out? Tough guy especially when he is hiding behind his mamas skirts , or more likely all dressed up in them! Get lost.

        • AM

          Haha! Why so perturbed?? All I’m saying is why get upset when they play loud banda music in Mexico? That’s like getting upset because Americans get loud and stupid over American football. It makes no sense. Btw, street cholos don’t listen to banda they listen to American rap, gross!

  • Francis Gallant

    One of the main disagreements with me are the cohetes any time of day or night. I call them sky bombs. They are a lot more disagreeable than the colorful fireworks and make a lot less sense. You mean you shoot these fucking things into the air just so you can make noise!!! And once or twice a year they start at 4:30 A.M. after having stopped since 2 A.M. I think common sense would tell you that this is ignorant and disrespectful. Why has this stupidity gone on for years if there are so many people bothered by it. As time passes I have become more tolerable to some moronic actions but these cohetes will always leave me with a disagreeing attitude.

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