‘The diversity of Mexico will appeal to your sense of discovery,’ reads the Apple Vacations website and I have to agree. The Mexico I visited three years ago was indeed diverse. Of course, as my mother, who traveled to Mexico City in the 1980s, would remind me, we were caught up in the touristy Cancun area, not in the real Mexico at all.
However, our vacation to Mexico provided me with enough inspiration to want to return this coming spring, this time to the ‘real’ Mexico. After an incredible flight over the Gulf of Mexico and an extremely long bus ride, we arrived at our resort, a much smaller one than the ritzy Hilton or the others that congested the strip with their tall towers and American architecture. This was a little resort, built in a typical Mexican style with a terra cotta roof and adobe walls.
With relief, we tumbled into our room and fell asleep. We woke up to an amazing sunset over something my siblings and I had never seen before: the ocean. We spent our first day lounging on the beach, swimming in the salty water, and enjoying the all-inclusive buffet.
My brother fell in love with Shirley Temples at the poolside bar. My sister delighted in the seashells. My overworked father slept.
In the days to come, we would visit Mayan ruins situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean, snorkel in a lagoon filled with enormous fish, and ride in a true Mexican taxi. We shopped in the local markets, picking up silver bracelets, swimsuit wraps, and postcards. We discovered the multitude of iguanas that called our resort home and scurried all over the sidewalks.
We watched a performance of traditional Mexican dances and bargained with street vendors. It was an amazing experience. However, our trip also opened my eyes to my good fortune in being an American.
We took a ferry to a nearby island called Isla Mujeres where we drove a golf cart from one end of the island to the other. While most of the island was covered in shops and beaches for the tourists, we also discovered houses that were as large as one bedroom in America with broken glass bottles stuck along the fences to prevent intruders from entering and tin roofs nearly collapsing from age and wear. We saw skinny children, half-naked, playing in front lawns overgrown with weeds.
One day we decided to go horseback riding. The brochure we had picked up advertised riding along the beach and even in the ocean. When we arrived, however, we discovered quite a different scenario than the idealistic one in the pictures.
The horses we were to ride were skeletal beings, saddled all day even in the hundred degree heat. Near the stable were two corncribs in which monkeys and some sort of wild goat were displayed in conditions that PETA would have been horrified to discover.
Our cowboys spoke no English and separated our entire family so that even my six year-old sister was by herself. At one point, my dad’s horse decided to fight with a nearby horse that had in some way offended it. From behind a hedge, all I could see was my dad’s hat bobbing up and down as the horse reared and bucked. Thankfully, he came out of the ordeal with all his limbs attached, but the incident gave us a slightly less rosy view of the tourist’s experience in Mexico.
My trip to Mexico was undeniably amazing. I swam in a beautiful turquoise ocean, kayaked from my resort to find starfish, viewed the temples of an ancient civilization, and floated down a river bordered by mangrove trees and swarming with giant, gentle fish.
However, I also know why my mother told me that Cancun is not the ‘real’ Mexico. Much of Cancun is a facade, sugar-coating the real Mexican experience in layers of brightly lit signs and glossy buildings.
The real Mexico is not far away. It is on the outskirts of the city where those who put on the show for the tourists live. That is why I am returning to Mexico this spring. Because, as amazing as visiting Mexico as a tourist was, it also revealed to me the real Mexico: the poverty, the hunger, and the ever-present danger. This spring I am going to enter the real Mexico, to try to help some of those who make the tourists happy.
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