Our last week or so has been spent in the state of Quintana Roo. It's the southern half of the Yucatán Peninsular And probably the most frequented state for tourism (particularly from the US). It's even in a different time zone to the rest of the peninsular, we're told because they wanted to be in the same time-zone as New York so that it made it easier for US tourists.
We arrived in the town of Tulum and when we explained to our host at our hotel that we'd been in Mexico for nearly 4 months she said something to the effect of: "Oh, so you've seen the real Mexico then. Welcome to the US Mexico."
We spent a few nights in the town of Tulum which was actually quite nice and not too touristy. It's a more relaxed alternative to Cancun. We finally made it out to a Cenote, the Grand Cenote no less. There are plenty of Cenote's in the area and this is one of the more popular ones because it's so picturesque and a bit more open than some of the other ones which can essentially be caves. This one also housed tortoises, bats and little fish that liked to pick at your feet.
On another day we made our way to the Tulum ruins. Almost all of the towns on the peninsular are associated with some sort of ruin (Rio Lagartos being a notable exception) - your standard Spanish territorial piss. These ones are notable because they are right on the beach. The main temple aligns with a gap in the reef just off shore to aid navigation. Incidentally the reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef of course) and stretches all the way down to Belize.
The weather was starting to turn on us though. It poured rain the whole time we were out at the ruins which didn't bode well for our the beach-front resort we had booked five nights at on the coast of Tulum.
The resort was the Papaya Playa Project which is one of the more eco-friendly resorts along Tulum's 13 km beach front. And the weather actually behaved itself most of the time, bar the odd thunderstorm which was often just quite exciting. Our time there was largely spent reading on the beach with the occasional dip in the warm Caribbean sea.
So here we are. Sitting in a hotel room in Cancún, our last destination in Mexico. We're just here for a couple of nights while we get everything ready for our flight to Cuba. Cancún is a notoriously trashy 'Spring Break' destination for rich US kids who party it up on the beach front resorts. We're staying down-town. It has an airport with flights to Cuba.
It's a strange feeling to finally leave Mexico. We've been here for just shy of four months and are well and truly in the rhythm of it. We've both absolutely loved it. In a funny way it's a shame to have travelled it so extensively because we now lack an excuse to come back... although we never quite made it to the Oaxacan coast.
Some parting thoughts on Mexico:
The counter-reformation in Spain was as much a conservative reaction to emergent capitalism as it was a Catholic revival in the face of the increasingly industrious Protestant Reformation. It was a landed gentry and church that quite liked feudal rent-seeking arrangements which maintained existing power structures. The invasion and colonisation of Nuevo Españia explicitly harked back to the crusades and a middle ages that Europe was emerging from with Spain actively dragging it's heels.
All this set the scene not only for a horrendous massacre of millions and the systematic dismantlement of entire cultures, but also meant that any possible advantage that could have been gained by contact with Europe was certain to be withheld. Instead they suffered centuries of being treated as little more than a source of cheap labour and natural resources. There was no industrialisation and any money generated from the silver mines or the cochineal beetle never materialised in Mexico itself. In fact the Spanish were doing such a good job of cocking everything up that none of the money was ending up in Spain either - it was being used to pay British and Dutch creditors.
Despite all this, Mexico maintains a rich and diverse cultural mix and a clear sense of pride in a history of rebellion and fighting for justice. The challenges continue of course with the US now acting as imperial overlord, providing a market for violent drug cartel product and imposing trade agreements like NAFTA which destroy local industry. But where else do you get resistance movements like the ELZN, inspired by Emiliano Zapata from one hundred years prior - still militantly fighting for land rights with a clear and ethical political agenda:
Mexico's hour of revenge struck in 1910: the country rose in arms against Porfirio Días. An agricultural leader headed the insurrection in the south: he was Emiliano Zapata, purest of revolutionaries, most loyal to the cause of the poor, most determined to right he wrongs of society.
For agricultural communities throughout Mexico, the last decades of the nineteenth century had been a period of ruthless pillage...In Anenecuilco, where Zapata lived and to which he belonged body and soul, the plundered peasants claimed the soil they had worked for seven continuous centuries: they were there before Cortés arrived. But those who spoke up were marched off to forced labor in Yucatán. Throughout their state, whose good land belonged to seventeen families, they lived considerably worse than the polo ponies the latifundistas pampered in luxurious stables. A law in 1909, providing further seizure of land from its legitimate owners, was the last straw. Zapata, taciturn but famous as the state's best horsebreaker and respected by all for his honesty and courage, turned guerrillero. The men of the south quickly formed a liberating army.
Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five centuries of the pillage of a continent
One doesn't like to generalise too much about a people or a culture - especially when it's as diverse as Mexico's. I'm also aware that despite being in the country for four months what one sees as a tourist is far from the entire picture. But I can't help but notice there's a warmth to this country, a spirit that is just so endearing. There's no one ever really hassling you, despite tourism being a major form of income for so many. You notice people giving beggars money all the time. Only one taxi driver ever tried to rip us off (and we caught a LOT of taxis). We never felt threatened. You rarely see a drunk Mexican.
They're hard working and just trying to get by on a shitty wage most of the time but are always laughing and making jokes. There's a particular outbreak of laughter that becomes so familiar when all the 'lads' are hanging a bit of shit on one of their mates - in the best possible taste of course. There's rarely any sleaziness and same sex couples walk hand in hand even in the most rural backwaters. Of course being a catholic country they were one of the first to legalise same-sex marriage.
As someone that likes to look for positive expressions of masculinity, I feel most Mexican men do a fine job of it. They're strong and stoic, but also gentle, kind and respectful. Sunday is 'family outing' day and it would always strike us that it was the men caring for the crying child or running around keeping the kids entertained while the mother would sit back and relax - a welcome break no doubt. Every time a young boy served me in their parents absence for whatever reason, I'd always make a point of saying 'gracias señor' just to see a big grin come over them, so pleased to be considered a man.
Then there's the dancing. It would almost choke me up every Sunday night when bands play in main squares right across the country and all the old folk get up and dance - sometimes hundreds of them, all bouncing along in unison. It's beautiful.
And let's not forget Lucha Libre!
We're really sad to leave such a wonderful place. We've been so privileged to have been able to 'do' Mexico 'properly'. But my communist idealism lays in wait to be crushed by Cuba's failed experiment. Right?