I got through 2 weeks in the Yucatan with no illness whatsoever, including a hangover, and it took a trip to New York to get what I can only guess is a norovirus (the kind of virulent stomach ailment known for making cruise ships miserable). I thought that I would take an opportunity, between bed and bath, to list the many reasons I’m relieved (and even proud) to be an American, though my travel in Mexico was amazing and awesome and totally worth doing again!
- Potable water (and good plumbing). You’ve heard this one before. Don’t drink the water. This goes for EVERYWHERE, even in the tourist districts where they’ve Americanized the roads and resorts to look more like Las Vegas than impoverished Central America. There are warnings not to drink the water on the sinks in the bathrooms of Cancun airport. You HAVE to drink bottled water if you’re going to drink water. Thankfully, it’s plentiful.
In America, people choose to drink bottled water, ignoring the fact that we have the amazing gift of potable water out of every single faucet in almost every single place people live in America. We don’t need to drink bottled water in America! In Mexico, even the locals have to because it’s not just a matter of adjusting to the local flora in the water. It’s a matter of sanitation.
Then, it has to be mentioned – the fact that toilet paper (if available) cannot be flushed down most of the toilets that we came across outside of the resort areas.
- Submachine guns. Can I tell you just how nervous it made me every time we passed a police check point where the police were holding submachine or other assault rifles? I don’t speak the language, and even a routine stop, should we have had to make one, is not one I’d have to make when there’s a man with an assault rifle trying to talk to me.
Not to mention all the high-end jewelry stores in the Riviera Maya have private guards with submachine guns. Seriously.
ETA: This is not a statement with regard to the heated debate over 2nd amendment rights, but rather the fact that I view guns as tools, I prefer living in a world that doesn’t require an individual to carry a tool that can release a rapid succession of bullets in short order. Where that tool is absolutely necessary is a place I prefer not to be. If it’s not absolutely necessary, then I prefer that tool to be out of sight and out of mind. 🙂
- Guilty until proven innocent. The American ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ thing made us very unique in the world, and still makes us unique. Our travel guides warned us to get the full insurance on our rental car, and for good reason – a traffic accident will get you arrested and will necessitate a lawyer, and without insurance, you’ll have to find a way to get one on your own.
Also, as our travel guides warned us, it’s illegal to take photographs in the airport. This was something I almost violated as that it was so amazing to me that there was a pharmacy in the airport – selling Viagra, benzodiazepines, narcotics and antibiotics (and then some) over the counter, right next to the Hard Rock, Margaritaville, Harley Davidson and Senor Frogs stores.
- National security. Let’s just say that there are very few places in Mexico that aren’t experiencing problems with serious violence. All the states that border America, for instance, are heavily embroiled in a drug war where the casualties are extremely high, and not only locals, but especially Americans are in danger of kidnapping and murder. Then there are other states that have other issues with the Mexican government, where there has been periodic violence.
I can only believe that the lack of national security is the reason we saw the armed check points *everywhere* when we overheard that the President was in the Yucatan.
- Poverty. You wouldn’t know it unless you stepped outside of the tour bus traveled roads of the Riviera Maya. Cancun was our last stop, and the most jaw dropping, corn-syrup, deep fried, stomach-churning, three-days-after-a-middle-aged-alcoholics-binge of a place. It’s what Burning Man is to what Burning Man was. It is an authentic siphon of American money into the Mexican economy, done bigger, and better, with all the great hot resort places of America as its guide.
The roads are wide and well managed, the airport a triumph of bringing all the comforts of your town’s mall with all the access of an international airport. Many of the resorts offer you an all-inclusive option, where you need not even step foot out the door, and can enjoy the comforts of your all-American hamburger, fries and a large Coke (with cane sugar!) It’s a perfect bubble, and most need not leave the Zona Hotelera, the perfect strip of resorts on the most beautiful Caribbean sand and water.
Sure, you step outside of any American city, and you’re going to see poverty – but not like this. There’s poverty, everywhere. Everywhere, someone’s trying to make a buck off of you, the rich American, and other travelers will talk about it, and it’s definitely evident in Cancun, just with a little less outright desperation and a little more flash. Seeing sometimes how travelers would treat the locals, I couldn’t blame some of them for wanting to cheat them – because frankly, I saw some behavior of Americans that made me really understand how we can be negatively viewed in the world. Having been in the customer service field and experienced these same assholes, I can just imagine the glee that one might get when scamming an extra few pesos out of them. They weren’t going to tip, anyway, after all. But still, boorish travelers aren’t the only reason for the scams. Drive along enough of the back roads and it’s evident. Even impoverished America has it better (in some places, not all.) The roads are not well managed, sanitation is poor, the distances between towns is poor, most people don’t have a means to get around other than bicycle or taxi, and the roads are, to say the least, somewhat challenging to drive on even with a good, new car (such as what we rented).
- Roads. I guess this is going to be my last entry, but boy howdy, do I love well maintained roads! I love our grand, American highways. I love the fact that you can bypass little towns (unlike the days of Route 66), fly by at high speeds with convenient off-ramps, gas stations and food establishments you know passed basic health inspections. I love our well-signed roads that clearly let us know what major cities are which way, so you know which way to vaguely drive. I love clear arrows, telling us which way we need to go. I love signs, did I mention that? Signs that tell me more than keep safe distance, where my seat belt or speed bumps. Signs that tell me where I am, how far I am. I also like signs that help me figure out where I am on the map. Those are helpful. I like not having to contend with two-trailer semis barreling down a two lane divided highway at 100+ kph (65+ mph). My only gratitude was that in the Yucatan, it was mostly flat.
It struck me, while in Mexico, that the land that the Tea Partiers are so afraid that America is or is becoming, is not the America I know and love. Despite the Bush-led attacks on our civil liberties that are still in effect, we live in a wealthy, comfortable country that has remarkable freedom. The Tea Partiers that have ever visited Mexico probably only did so within the tourist bubble, and don’t know what life outside that bubble is really like. Tea Partiers, and those like them, take America for granted. It’s true that we need to do something about the encroachment on our civil liberties, that I agree with. We need to be able to check and balance are government’s branches. We need to have accountability. Freedom is a wonderful thing, and we still have an abundance of it.
I seriously believe that a person gets what they expect to get out of a relationship. I believe that if a person expects a person to treat them in a certain way, that there are subtle things they do to create that very reaction. I think the same goes for a person’s relationship to their society. You can create your own worst enemy. You can create the very thing you say you’re against.
Seriously, be grateful for what you have. Others in the world aren’t so lucky.