Boat People

Oh, Those Evil Mexicans!

For this post to make any sense, you’ll need to know the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Mexican peso around the time of my trip. When I was there, the peso ran around 17.5 to the dollar, or about 6¢ each.

There is not much love lost between cruise ship passengers and Mexicans. (In fact, there is not much love lost between cruise ship passengers and me, for that matter.) They tend to be retirees whose idea of paradise is to rot on some beach somewhere. They know next to nothing about the countries they visit. In fact, they don’t know the language; their wallets are stuffed with dollars; and they basically listen to what their handlers tell them.

I was in Izamal when for a brief moment, I was mistaken for a boat person. I hand just seen the Church of San Antonio de Padua and wanted to get back to my room. There was a taxi tout next to the Centro bus station who said a taxi would cost 100 pesos for the five-block ride. I glared at him, said that was demasiado caro (“too expensive”), and hoofed it back to my room, which I would have done in the first place if I weren’t recovering from a nasty blister on my right big toe. The tout looked surprised: These boat Gringos weren’t supposed to know any Spanish, and certainly wouldn’t know that the in-town taxi rate in Izamal was only 25 pesos.

Cut to Progreso, which has two or more cruise ships call each week. The malécon fills up with American cruise ship zombies, who quite naturally have to relieve themselves from time to time. There are bathrooms (sanitarios) in the alleys off the malécon, costing 5 or 10 pesos each. The equivalent price in dollars is 30-60¢, but U.S. coins cannot be exchanged for pesos in Mexico, so the bathroom is charging $1.00 to Gringos. (The sign on the right side of the above photo sets the price in Mexican currency for a bathroom visit to be 10 pesos.)

Finally, also in Progreso, I saw a scene that annoyed me to no end. I purchased a one-way ticket to Mérida for 21 pesos. At the same time, a tout was selling round trip tickets to Mérida for $10.00 each, about four times what I paid. The boat people were grabbing them up as if they were a bargain. Several, seeing that I spoke Spanish while looking like a Gringo, came up to ask me questions. I smiled and answered them … in Hungarian. I have no intention of being a cavaliere servente to a bunch of brain-dead Yanqui tourists.


The Beach at Progreso, Complete with 4-Mile-Long Pier

Although I’m not much of a beach person, I decided to end my vacation in Mexico with three days at the Gulf port of Progreso, essentially doing nothing. Well, that’s not exactly true, because on one of those days I hired a taxi to take me to the Maya ruins at Dzibilchaltún (about which more in a later post). I spent my days looking for a nice shady place to read while escaping the heat, and my evenings relaxing in air-conditioned comfort at the Playa Linda Hotel, which was right on the beach.

Progreso is an odd town. When a cruise ship docks at the 4-mile-long pier, the town is overrun with retired American passengers looking for places to eat and things to do. On days when no cruise ship is socked, many places choose not to open at all: Only a few restaurants right near the centralized Calle 80 can be depended upon to welcome diners. There are no museums in Progreso, no really old churches; but there is a nice market with some interesting cheap dining places.

Good Cheap Eats at the Local Market

I had been to Progreso twice before, but only on day trips from nearby Mérida (about 25 miles south, or 43 km). What I remember most vividly were the fish dinners I had there. Now, on my third—and longer—visit, I can say that the fish is indeed wonderful. I remember a place of ceviche de pulpo, raw octopus marinated in lime juice and served with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. The lime juice in effect “cooks” the octopus. On my last day in Yucatán, I had a ceviche de pescado (with fish this time) at the Marlin Azul in Mérida.

From the Beach Looking Down Calle 80 (with Lighthouse)

One final note: Why is the local pier 4 miles long? Apparently, the Gulf of Mexico is too shallow for shipping at lesser distances. If I were a more of a beach person, I would have waded out into the water to check it out—but alas, I never even so much as got my feet wet.