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From Cartels to Cultura
How 'Narcos: Mexico' Gave Us an Undiluted Vision of Mexico

Words: Robbie Woodward

28 Sept 2023

WARNING: PARENTAL ADVISORY: The following subject and transcript may be considered sensitive material, discussing mature themes, drug use, violence and crime. The television series "Narcos: Mexico" is referenced throughout and is rated unsuitable for viewers under 18.


If the internet has taught us anything, few things remain private, and nothing is truly hidden. Just ask the Kardashians. Discovery used to be an art form reserved for the intrepid. Messrs Columbus, Magellan, Polo, and a few centuries' worth of adventurous counterparts, to name a few. The New World, as we now know it, mapped by industriously crafted sails and the promise of favourable winds. Oh, and a boatload of sauerkraut if you were invited/forced to board a Captain Cook vessel back in the day. Apparently.

Pungently acidic, sopping wet cabbage aside, and while, as people with disproportionate nomadic tendencies, we're very grateful - we've moved on. We don't mind crossing an ocean or two to encounter something new, but we're more inclined to do it on well-timed intervals of 150º Fahrenheit ready meals and a few movies we failed to catch at the cinema.

You're wondering, what is the point of this impromptu history lesson? It's a loose, borderline irrelevant segue to what you came here for. Still, the mind kept wandering, and the keys kept tinkering, and you can't deny it's refreshingly different to what you'd usually find on the www.

Rest assured, there is a synergy; you're not lost. Gripping and authentic depiction of how "Narcos: Mexico" gave us an undiluted vision of a dark chapter in Mexico's history and how its relevance in pop culture made the kool kids want to visit a raw and real Mexico coming right up.

"Narcos: Mexico" - Netflix

In the fabricated world of Hollywood or, in this case, Netflix-wood, Mexico is repeatedly cast as the location for portrayals of drug-running borders and cartel wars. It's a record that obscures this vast nation's breathtaking beauty and cultural richness. Expressive of a storied reality, there is a considerable fragment of truth and understandable grounds as to why. But these screen adaptations often fail to mention that narcotics and tequila are not the only two exports out of Mexico, and there is far more depth to the Estados Unidos Mexicanos than comparative screentime would have you comprehend.

But then came "Narcos: Mexico," the cult Netflix spin-off that ripped the veil of stereotypes away. It delved into the gritty world of narco-trafficking Mexico during the tumultuous 1980s and early '90s, unearthing a tale that has been spun too many times to count, but it refused to dress anything up. The show's producers took a hefty dose of creative liberties to make the series binge-worthy; however, the critically acclaimed storylines delivered an unapologetically accurate account of sociopolitical cultura back then.

The mere fact that three-quarters of the show is delivered in Spanish tongue, starring a predominantly Hispanic cast of Spanish-speaking actors, speaking Spanish and subtitled in English makes "Narcos: Mexico" nonnative to every other drug-fuelled American crime drama ever produced. There's something additionally precise about it, even when, at times, we'd be taken on a journey that fringed verismo. It's doubtful there was ever a consideration to restrain or bite lips; if the glamourisation of bad men making tons of money doing bad things ever got too, erm, glamourous, Scoot McNairy's ironically English narration would intervene and smash us back to reality with a history lesson that reminded us that 80's Mexico was disorder epitomised.

McNairy delivering arguably one of the most relatable lines ever, 10 minutes into season 2:

"Just cause things have stopped shaking, doesn't mean there isn't some serious structural damage—underneath the surface."

And, in doing so, it inadvertently did something more—it gave us a raw and genuine image of the ugliness, and what that does is make us lean in, often in the most unexpected ways. Intentionally or not, it put Mexico back on the map, not as a mere backdrop but as a star in its own right on the world stage. The show's notoriety among sub-culture aficionados triggered conversations that rippled through mainstream culture and crept its way to luxury travel enthusiasts, inviting them to explore an authentic Mexico that had long been overshadowed.

Not the drug-running capital of the world but the beautiful, multifarious and mysterious Mexico. In the age of sprawling, hotel-laden resorts like Cancun and the bohemian vibes of Tulum, "Narcos: Mexico" presented a new narrative—an invitation to dive deeper, traverse the landscapes of Mexico's soul, and unearth the diverse cultures that called this land home. It filled an emotional void, for luxury isn't just about plush accommodations or gourmet dining; it's about the heart and soul of a place. And that's precisely what the show furnished—a Mexico that's as diverse as its people, as rich as its history, and as captivating as any Netflix thriller.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - A major filming location for the series

As the opening credits rolled, it wasn't just a story of drug lords and law enforcement that began to unfold—it was a revelation of the essence of Mexico itself. Filmed mainly on location and not in a simulated studio, from the vibrant street markets of Guadalajara to the gritty urban sprawl of Mexico City, the series took viewers on a rollercoaster ride through the nation's dramatic topography and, yes, its complex relationship with narco-trafficking, but past that, it supplied a mosaic of stunning visuals that transcended flying bodies and bullets. For luxury travel enthusiasts seeking more than curated experiences, "Narcos: Mexico" provides a subtle invitation to explore actual Mexico, a place where cultural richness and authenticity thrive.

And as any good series would, we'll park that cliffhanger right there. In the following journals, we'll embark on a journey that peels back the layers of Mexico, just as "Narcos: Mexico" did. We'll dive into the vibrant cultures, the immersive experiences, and the luxurious authenticity that await those willing to embrace the real Mexico. From cultural hubs like Oaxaca to the artistic haven of San Miguel de Allende, our exploration begins—a journey inspired by a series that did much more than entertain; it ignited a passion for discovery.

Stay tuned for the next chapters as we delve into the cultural riches of Oaxaca and uncover the soul of San Miguel de Allende.



From Cartels to Cultura
How 'Narcos: Mexico' Gave Us an Undiluted Vision of Mexico

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