Monday, March 2, 2009

View from the Balcony

This is a shot from the balcony of the hotel I'm staying at in Playa del Carmen. I look out over the beach and the turquoise blue Caribbean Sea (for those of you suffering late winter weather back in the States, sorry). Every time I come here, I'm freshly amazed at the intensity of the blue waters. Bluer than the Pacific, bluer than the Atlantic (or Lake Michigan). It's as though some heavenly painter spilled his paint pots with every pure shade of blue across the canvas of the sea and sky.

With this stop I've covered the complete length and breadth of Mexico: from Nogales, Sonora at the northernmost point, down to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas in the south. From La Paz, Baja California in the west (on the Pacific) now over to Playa del Carmen, Qunitana Roo at the easternmost point (on the Caribbean). Do I get an award now?

I've come to Playa del Carmen with my Chicago friends off and on for over 15 years, and it's changed substantially in that time. It used to be just one short pedestrian street (5th Avenue) with a few shops and hotels. It tapered off into unpaved path. Today, it's Las Vegas, Miami Beach, and Acapulco. Very glitzy. 5th Ave. has sprouted hundreds of shops, all seemingly selling the same sombreros, ponchos, Cuban cigars, blankets, onyx, and carved masks. Cruise ships dock here during the week, and the town fills up. You can look down the main drag of 5th Ave. and see throngs of people filling the street for as far as you can see. Wandering (weaving) around with yard-of-beer plastic beverage containers. Bright pink sunburns. Folks, both men and women, in unfortunate clothing choices which make them look like stuffed sausages. Please: No spandex after age 20! And nonstop NOISE-- It's like a great big frat party on steroids. Maybe these were spring breakers, but it's seems a little too early in the season for that. And a lot of the revelers were waaaaayyyyy past college age (but still acting silly).

As I write this, there is a mariachi band playing just outside the hotel lobby, in the middle of the pedestrian street. If I hear "La Bamba"or "Guantanamera" one more time, I'm going to shove a burrito down their throats. And there's also the guy with the whistle. Not a cop. But he just uses his whistle in short bursts, over and over. Perhaps a cleverly endearing sales technique to get shoppers into his store? Once again, I'm on the verge of putting his whistle somewhere whistles don't fit so well.

It's very clear there is a difference between Mexican towns that are real towns and those that are simply creations for the purpose of tourism. The contrast is clearest between Campeche and Merida and Playa del Carmen (all on the Yucatan Peninsula). Tourism is hardly a factor in Campeche (although they'd like it to be a more important factor in their economy). Folks largely leave you alone. Very few of what you'd call "tourist shops." Merida, a little more tourism. Of course I was there during Carnaval, so there were more tourists at that time. But it has been a town for 400 years, with real people going about their real lives. And then there is Playa. It's 100% tourism. Every single shop on the main drag sell tourist junk. It's not that that is so surprising to me. It's that people actually BUY it.


Teeshirt shops selling shirts with shameless witticisms. These were sighted:
"Take Me Drunk, I'm Home"
"Objects Inside Are Larger Than They Appear" (woman's section)
"Give a Man a Fish, and He'll Eat for a Day....
Teach a Man to Fish, and He'll Take a 6-Pack and Sit in a Boat for Day"
"I Love (heart) to FART"....(my personal favorite)
"FBI....female body inspector"