Wind tangles through a flag suspended high above the central square. Red, green, and white, it wrinkles and snaps, catching the attention it deserves. A symbol of its people, it is a reminder that Cozumel, Mexico does not belong to the tourists who roam the streets.
The cobbled pathways are crowded with colorful shops filled with the most intricate of handmade crafts. However, the people standing behind each counter are the ones who call this place home. This is their livelihood, catering to the whims and fancies of foreign travelers. They spend their days peddling gifts and negotiating prices for items containing not only time and effort, but heart and soul as well.
â–º FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
There is the weathered face of a woman who has seen many things in her lifetime, watching with keen eyes to ensure the teenagers perusing her items do not run off without making a payment. Across the street, a young woman stands quietly while a belligerent vacationer deems her jewelry cheap quality. A gentleman accepts an offer of two for the price of one on jars of salsa he made from his ancestor’s recipe just so he can make a sale for the day.
The majority of those who fill the square carry sunscreen and passports, easily concealing the true identity of Cozumel. But then, a young boy walks down a crack in the sidewalk. He wears a white polo with navy shorts, a school uniform. No older than six, baby fat still clings to his tanned cheeks and dark features. Smiling a grin of innocence, he extends his arms like a soaring bird and closes his eyes as he toddles down the street. All the way, he sings a nursery rhyme in Spanish.
Just as he’s about to collide with an elder couple consulting a map, his frazzled mother calls to him from a nearby counter displaying embroidered beach bags. She shouts a scolding to him, and he opens his eyes just short of the strangers. Taking in the scene from a distance, he catches me watching, grins shyly and waves his small fingers. When his mother calls a second time, he runs to her obediently. Shaking a finger at her son, once she’s gotten through to him, he sits on a chair beside her and sucks on a red colored candy. When it starts to drip, red bleeds across the white cotton of his shirt.
Bright, shiny travel brochures fail to present the true points of interest within Cozumel. They neglect to include the people who breathe life into this destination. Commercializing historical ruins and snorkeling wonders, the culture of its people is easily overlooked by visitors. Yet, it is these people and their ways of life that make a vacation to Mexico such a pleasure. The residents are those who make each visit such a joy, who cater to the needs and wants of those who do not belong. It is not the beauty of Mexico that we should be marveling at, but the beauty its people bring to it.
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