Clearly, the lack of loose change is not something specific to Mexico, but rather, something that's widespread throughout the Latin world. Today, on my first day in South America, the no tengo cambio saga reached maddening heights of frustration, as a taxi driver refused to accept a 50-sole bill from me.
I was catching a taxi from the Flying Dog to Lima's Chabad House, for my Peruvian Seder night. When we arrived at the Chabad House, the driver requested the already-agreed-upon amount of 7 soles. I offered him a 50-sole bill, and he gave me a look like I was from Mars. "Sorry", I said, "that's all I have".
"Why don't you go inside and ask for change?" he suggested. "I'll wait here". So I reluctantly went inside the Chabad House, and asked everyone around for change. No luck.
When I came back out, the taxi driver was just about to give up and drive off; but I signalled him to stop and to wait a bit longer. I ran up to anyone walking by on the street, and asked if they had change for a 50. No luck.
Finally I found someone who didn't have change for a 50, but who was generous enough to spare what I needed. A religious mother was backing her people-mover out of the driveway of the Chabad House. I asked her for change, and after fumbling around in her purse, she fished out 2 US dollars, and handed them to me. The going rate is USD$1 to s/3, so that was 6 soles. I was able to make up the rest from my own loose change.
After, I decided to prepare myself for the next time I'd need change, by getting some now, in advance. So I walked around to about 5 shops in the area, asking for change from a 50. Everybody refused. Finally, I went to a bank, and after standing in line for 15 minutes, they gave me my change. Even the shop that shared its retail space with the bank refused to give change — I mean hell, it must be sooo hard for them to get change, I bet they're always running out!
The really crazy thing was, I did try to avoid this right from the start. I actually asked the hostel for change, before I left and caught the taxi. But guess what? They didn't have change either. Argh! So goddamn frustrating!