Rich and I’ve been living in downtown Cancun for about two months now, and we’ve grown pretty comfortable here. It’s funny how quickly you can adopt a place. The locals make it easy to feel at home, as they welcome us pretty much everywhere we go.
Because of this, we get to experience a side of Cancun that you don’t see in the news or travel brochures. Our overall impression of the people in the Yucatan is very different from that portrayed in the media these days.
Speaking of news, of course we read the negative press about the violence in Cancun and in Mexico. I’ll digress here for a moment to recognize that Mexico certainly has its’ problems. There’s the poverty and the drug cartels,possibly fueled by the poverty. I realize that the war on drugs is the real news target – rather than Mexican people. Yet, that continuous press does cast an unfair and unfavorable slant on the country as a whole.
We haven’t seen any dangerous situations, but we do try and use common-sense. There are armed policemen who discreetly stand on several of the busy corners, and trucks of “tourist police” passing by off and on. Perhaps because of this, I really feel comfortable walking around here with Rich at night on the main streets.
Okay, enough talk from me about that subject. On a lighter note, here are some glimpses of the friendly people we’ve met here.
First, there’s the lady who does our laundry. She’s got a bustling and efficient storefront near our hotel . She’s always smiling as she moves energetically amongst the multiplicity of washing machines that line her place. The last time we stopped in, she was salsa dancing to a cheerfully-blaring boom box. She helps us with our Spanish each time we visit, and she knew me by name really quickly.
Then there’s the young guy who runs his own tamale cart, El Paisa. He parks his umbrella-topped pushcart at the lot next door to us, and every night he wheels it onto the busy street corner at around 6pm. We’ve chatted with him several times, and he says he stays there until about midnight, since that’s when his customers are out. He studies English, and I wish I spoke Spanish as well as he does English. (We’re working on that.)
On Saturday nights we treat ourselves to a yummy Mexican meal at a place down the street. It’s an open air setting, and our favorite waiter seats us in a cozy spot, then brings out the nachos, guacamole, cerveza, margaritas and fajitas. They encourage us to hang out for awhile, as you always have to ask for the check. Last week they were showing a wrestling match on TV, and a friendly stranger named Armand politely asked if he could join us and watch it. Such fun!
Sometimes we just soak in the neighborhood. Yesterday I took a break from work and meandered down to the little park, called Parque Boheme. It rests at the end of our street and I sat on the bench, tucked in between large Cypress and palm trees, listening to the birds. I saw a man on his bike coming toward me, and recognized it was Denny. He’s from Montreal, and is a former renter at our hotel who now lives down the street. He vagabonds about 9 months a year, traveling pretty much everywhere.
At night we dodge the rather large bats that waltz out of the trees near our heads.We see the young couples kissing and hugging so openly all around the park, which is not something you’d ever see where I come from. I haven’t traveled abroad that much lately, but I understand this is common in many European towns. Vendors walk around carrying a dozen roses, and I imagine they’ve got good prospects.
There’s also the traffic guard who always greets us as if he knew us for years. He’s out in the hot sun, waiving people on, and taking the day in stride.
When it’s early evening and the air is slightly cooling, we’ll walk over to the Parque Palapas a few blocks away. There’s always a ton of people milling about, no matter what day it is.
When we first got here we assumed there were periodic events that drew people in. There certainly is a wide cross section of events – such as flamenco dancers, choir singing, clowns, native drummers, and even a ‘drag queen’ beauty contest.
I’m sure there’s some organizers for these events, but here’s the funny part. We wonder if we had it backwards -maybe people simply love to gather there, hang out and socialize -and then entertainers and vendors are lined and ready to go. In any case, we enjoy it.
The other thing we’ve noticed is how the storefronts are always in flux. For example, there’s this tiny little corner market near us. Just a few days ago they put on addition to it, and suddenly two days later there’s a new burger joint. People crowded in that night, taking advantage of the “2 for 1” opening special.
Businesses close up just as quickly. One night our neighbors were dining at this established Italian restaurant, and the next day there’s a big “Se Renta” sign out front…just like that. I’ve read that the swine flu scare and the war on drugs have hurt the economy over the past few years.
Despite hardships, I really appreciate the enterprising nature that many people here possess. They also seem to keep things simple, and appear pretty relaxed, regardless of circumstances. It seems the lively music helps nurture this spirit.
Oh, when you’re living here, there is one downside. As a non-native couple, we continue to get accosted from vendors at every turn. From excursions to Xcaret, to t-shirts, jewelry and all-inclusive deals, we’re a target. I understand the sellers rightfully believe we’re strictly tourists, but nonetheless it does get to us when we’re trying to have a conversation while walking.
Oh well, it’s a minor thing. So now we’ve learned another Spanish phrase, “no gracias, estamos bien”, or “no thank you, we’re good.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed some of my highlights about the locals in Cancun. I’ve gotta run now, to see the lady at my favorite juice stand near Mercardo 28. She’s saving my freshly-made carrot-beet juice for me like she does for me every day.
Until next time, cheers!