So am nearly finished my fourth week here in Mexico. It seems as though what I’ve experienced so far hasn’t affected me in the same way that Nepal did. I’ve had no real culture shock, and it’s taken a while to get the measure of the place. I suppose you work out what you need, even if you don’t realise. Nepal was what my soul and spirit needed; soothing and healing. Peace of mind. But Mexico has given me the ability to slow down, guilt free.
Summer slipped away from me in a disastrous blur and simultaneously a never ending drudge of drama. Drama I didn’t want. Stress I absolutely didn’t need. I put my house on the market the day before I left to come here. Packing up while packing my bags. I barely had a chance to think about my trip.
I discovered that Mexico has a slow, relaxed tempo; mainly from the heat. “Mexico time” is a time zone in itself, where things are late, generally, for no apparent reason. You learn to be flexible, you relinquish control. “Should” and “must” have almost disappeared from my vocabulary, as has their guilt from my brain. So I didn’t practice Spanish, so I haven’t seen all the sights, so I haven’t written in my blog since getting here… so what? It’s hot. Too hot.
The siesta has worked its way into my day and into my heart. The heat is stifling and oppressive. Sapping you of all energy. Outside is blindingly bright, hot and sunny. I thrive in sunshine but Tulum, for instance, was hotter than Hell and the Punta Allen bike ride… Inside is clammy and sticky. This morning I woke up in a pool of sweat, with matted hair and 15 fresh mosquito bites. This I do not enjoy. Humidity is a curse and thunder is a most welcome sound, as are the refreshing rain showers it brings. My luxuries are now ice cubes in my water, air con and blow dried non frizzy hair. Once you’ve been here a while, you realise tourists seek sun, locals seek shade through lazing under trees or carrying parasols.
Para sol. For the sun.
My Spanish is coming on in leaps and bounds…
The Mexicans I’ve met always address you in Spanish first. (Not like Parisians who assume you don’t have any French and stare at you witheringly, before sashaying away in contempt as you order a Croque Monsieur in decent French, them answering you in English.) The people here are patient and gently correct you in a good humoured way. Some gems from volunteers include “I speak pepper Spanish”, and “Where are the toilets from?”
Flagging a taxi – “Buenos tardes! Vivemos en Bosque Real. Normalemente cuesten treinte cinco pesos. Esta buen?” Go me. My Spanish is good enough to start a chat or give directions but then they go double time and am looking at them like they’ve two heads. Back to English…
One particular driver caught me off guard, “You talk so faaaast Chica. You gotta slow dowwwn, relaaaax…” He literally drawls. I’m working on it, dude. “You’re here for 6 more weeks? You got plenty of time to work on that tan…” Am pretty sure I resemble a bronzed goddess at this stage but alas, my Irish skin betrays me. Still, nice guy.
Generally I get the bus or collectivo mini van to projects. It’s one of my favourite parts of the day. I’m usually the only non Mexican on it. People don’t small talk. They don’t pry. They keep their distance (metaphorically – these buses get packed!) But they are welcoming and look out for you. They offer their seats, press the bell if you can’t reach it, intervene if you’re out of your depth. Everyone smiles or says ¡Hola! if I make eye contact.
I love the bus time because I can observe the day to day normality of Mexicans going about their lives. I love how the mothers and fathers carry their children and sit them on their lap; play, cuddle, interact with them. No monstrous off road, all terrain utility prams here. I like seeing the school kids being lively, the girls with pencils in their hair. The people in work uniform. The chubby little old men. I love when musicians get on and play for us or when the driver has the radio on.
Playa Del Carmen is like Mexico Light. Cancun’s slightly classier cousin. This Mexican/ US hybrid is a sun drenched, white sanded, clear watered tropical playground for rich tourists. Why come to Mexico to eat over priced New York steak and shop in Forever 21? There are sleek designer shops and American labelseverywhere. The cynic in me raises questions about how fair this commercialisation is in what was a sleepy fishing village and who really benefits here? I question the hypocrisy of America’s border policy while its big businesses capitalise on Mexican land and suckers the natives in with consumerism… and Mexico certainly has a taste for high sugar and high fat. At times it looks like Playa has been recolonised, while ironically the red, white & green flags decorate the streets for the Independence Day celebrations.
What I like to do in Playa, apart from drink Margaritas and eat amazing Mexican food, is to chat to the artists who run the stalls at the end of Quinta Avenida, past the shiny America zone. This feels more authentic. I adore the craft work and colours of the clay sugar skulls and elegant Katrina skeleton figurines. I love how street art is in abundance here. Real art.
My heart truly swelled and I felt excited to my soul in Merida, the capital city of the Yucatan state. My head was constantly turned by stunning architecture, vibrant colour and the historical undertone that permeates through the narrow streets. The older, more delapidated buildings added to the rustic charm creating marbled beauty through flaked paint and rusted rails. The saloons transported you to a time of wagon wheels and cowboys. This place also oozes culture and pride of tradition with daily events, Sunday markets and over 50 galleries & museums.But night time is when it really comes to life with the Latin rhythm as its heartbeat.
Merida is the side to Mexico that I connected to, this is what I want to revisit and explore. I am learning that for me, travel isn’t about how far and wide I can go and how many sights I tick off. It’s about finding places where I feel Ibelong, that excite me and revitalise me.