Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mixed Mexican 'Motions

Last week, at the start of my vacation on the Mayan Riviera (a disappointing destination that will not be repeated), I dropped off a bunch of little backpacks, school supplies and toys with a small local charity run by transplanted New Yorkers. I wish I had waited...

Playa del Carmen is a very cute tourist trap. I resented paying full American and even near-Manhattan prices for pretty much everything, trying to sign up for day trips only to find out it was a timeshare pitch in disguise, and being hassled to buy silver jewelry every time I set foot out my door. I've come to the conclusion that the smart Mexicans did an illegal stint here in the US, got fluent in English, and went back to fleece tourists. I did not see poverty...

...Until the drive back from Chichen Itza. On the way there, we took a pricey toll highway and decided to save the $25 and take the free road back, since reports I'd read said it only took about half an hour longer (lie - it took an extra 2 hours). But I'm glad we took that road because otherwise I wouldn't have seen the Third World destitution that is hidden from those who never leave beach resorts or cling closely to the bus tours. Holy cow. Despite having seen lots of businesses on Kiva that are run from the front room of someone's home, it was very different to see it in front of you. The homes were concrete blocks the size of a one-car garage, and by "front room", I mean the front half of the only room. Doors were open, and next to the refrigerated drinks or cell phone display case, you could see hammocks where the families slept and the thatched hut out back where they, I don't know, ate? bathed? In a couple of the towns, when cars slowed down for the vicious and plentiful speedbumps, entrepreneurial kids would come to the window offering oranges. And it was at those moments that I wish I had the little kites and paint sets and bookbags and checkerboards to hand out on the spot.

Ultimately, I felt the tourism industry in Mexico was creating a wealth/class gap that I felt very uncomfortable contributing to. Besides, beach vacations never really were my style. Lesson learned.

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