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When taking the road less travelled backfires

semi-overcast 33 °C

Our son Dan commented once that we don't seem to have a plan for life. Not sure if that observation was spawned by my many jobs, or our many moves, but he has a point.

Most of this trip has been "planned" to a certain extent, but somehow, after leaving Campeche, we got lost. Not lost in the fun and exciting ways we have been getting lost all through Mexico, but lost as in "we've lost our focus." With just a month left in Mexico, there is so much to see - so much to do - so little time. Sprung from that reasoning, we chose to drive past Merida, a delightful colonial city filled with museums and art, and head to the coast - to Progreso. We thought we could use it as a base for day trips, escape the steamy city streets and spend a little beach time.

To borrow Bette Davis's famous throw-away line - "What a dump."

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Mexican towns can be scruffy and dirty - we are well used to the rubble and the pungent smells and the noise. But with the taco stands and the techno-pop, we have always found friendliness and curiosity among the people, and bright spots in the towns. Progreso - this is a part of Mexico we can't relate to, and can't wait to leave.

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These fellows are charter members of the "start drinking at 10 am, and continue until you pee your pants or pass out" group. As sad as this is, even worse (and scarier) are the younger men in Progreso who appear to have little to do but hang out and drink - they look mean and angry. We have not seen such blatant hard-core drinking in other parts of Mexico, and we have never encountered hostility or been checked out in such a forthright manner. It is uncomfortable. We don't feel threatened, but we don't feel welcome, either. I have a theory, but first - a description of where Progreso is on the map. Progreso is at the top left of the Yucatan peninsula. There are not tourists in great numbers, except for long-term snowbirds parked in beach rentals just out of town, and the cruise ships.

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The pier leading out to that ship is seven kilometres long. Every two or three days a cruise ship docks here, and several hundred passengers are bussed into Progreso. They have the choice of taking excursions or of staying in town. There is very little to do in Progreso - walk along the malecon, or go for a swim. Beyond that, the beach is lined with vendors selling beach dresses and shell jewellery and restaurants pumping out loud music, 2 x 1 margaritas and cheap food.

Here's where my theory comes in. Progreso is a port town, with a fishing and container industry, so being pretty was never a goal. But in recent years, business from the cruise ships has brought in six-hour tourists, and while there is money to be made from them, these are not tourists that will likely be back. I think it has created some disrespectful attitudes, on the part of some people here, and to be fair, for good reason.

Not a pretty sight we day we arrived - hawkers vying madly for sales, passengers looking for stuff to buy, and a contingent of twenty-somethings just wasted in the late afternoon. Then we came across this sight - bodies lined up to be pressed and prodded in plain view. It is not the best photo, as I snapped it quickly. The words "Special Price" say a lot - it is vendor-speak for extracting money from gringos.

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On the plus side, the beach is broad, the sand is white, the water is murky, but it does the trick. The water is quite shallow, so even when the wind kicks up the waves (which it does in gale force most afternoons), it is fun to play.

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Yesterday, we took a collectivo to Merida, which is just about 40 minutes away. The collectivos are entertaining - 15-seater vans - 16 pesos a trip (less than $1.50) - rosary swinging from the rear-view mirror, music playing and driver just givin'er. Took away the fuss and stress of us driving in, parking, etc. Merida is a large city, with Sam's Club and Home Depot and suburbs ringing the edges, but the historic centre is lovely - with a spectacular plaza and cathedral - what I have come to think of as " The Mexican Twins".

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Before we began to make the rounds, we grabbed a cold drink and sat in the park to gather our thoughts. There are at least two fabulous museums here - both requiring several hours at least. We decided just to walk the downtown area,and see as much as we could in one day.

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We started with the buildings around the square. The Governor's Palace will almost always take up one full block in most cities - it is usually quite ornate, open to the public and well-guarded. I asked for permission for this photo, but could not get a smile. Maybe it's because they were in full regalia in 90+ degree heat. Stephen followed with his own macho stance.

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Inside, the walls are covered with murals by artist Fernando Castro Pacheo, telling the story of the Maya's clashes with the Spanish.

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So much of what we've been seeing - the art, the Maya ruins, even modern-day politics comes back to the sentiments on the plaque below.

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The Palacio Municipal was once a private mansion, with quite ornate carvings on the front door and windows. The interior has been refurbished to showcase rooms with 17th and 18th century antiques.

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The Museo de Arte Popular de Yucatan was fun - explanations in English as well as Spanish. Display cases were filled with folk art found here, but also the rest of Mexico. However, there was no explanation as to why there were two magnificant jaguars guarding the toilet and bidet.

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Time for lunch - La Chaya Maya had come highly recommended, and as you know, we were keen to have a great meal. When we arrived - my heart sank a little. A table at the front of the restaurant displayed laminated menus and saran-wrapped sample plates - not usually a good sign.

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Great success! A delightful room, complete with inner courtyard jam-packed with flowers, shrubs and artifacts, very attentive service, and best of all - really good regional cooking.

We wandered the streets a great deal, enjoying the little parks, churches, and converted mansions along the way.

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We left wanting more, which is about the best approach for anything in life, I suppose. This rather inhospitable sign scrawled on a wall gave me pause.

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Are we the double-edged sword - us tourists? Or was that writer just having a bad day, and tourists were as good a target as any? A conversation that we frequently have - how do we travel without doing harm? How do we give at least as much as we get?

Back to our "plan". We leave tomorrow for Rio Lagartos - a breeding ground for flamingos, and a prime area to view dozens of other birds. From there, we're off to Tulum for a week - swimming, snorkelling, cenotes and ruins. It seems we've found our focus again.

Posted by millerburr 16:11 Archived in Mexico

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Comments

Can't believe the change in Progreso, of course it has been 25 years, when we were there it was a sleepy little village, with a few shops the pier and lighthouse.Happy travels.

by Joy Reeves

We spent a couple of months in this area and loved it! The people were great and lots to see and do.
Just goes to show...different strokes for different folks! S&J

by Hawkson

Yesterday, we ran into a number of Canadians who spend their winters along the coast, in towns just outside Progreso. Maybe they find their communities there - we drove by as we were leaving for Rio Lagartos - it looked nicer.

by millerburr

Wow! I am so saddened and surprised on your take on Progresso. I have travelled there annually for many years. My experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. The people kind, helpful and friendly. I don't stay out in the "gringo" areas, but in a lovely apartment near the beachside outdoor theater just off the malecon. I do agree, cruise ship days do seem to bring out the worst in everyone, whether it is the hawkers who come to the beach for the day (most are not locals) or the boat people who get off the ship and are drunk and obnoxious by noon). Those are days to walk the beautiful beaches away from town? Heading there again, later this month, and looking forward to the safe, friendly and beautiful area.

by Catherine Gilroy

Hi Catherine
Thank you for your comments - it really adds another perspective. We chose Progreso as a base for day trips, so it was more of an "accidental' destination. We were looking for peace and quiet! l guess our timing was bad - there for 4 days, and two of them had cruise ships.

Happy to hear there is more to this town than what we experienced.

by millerburr

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