After a momentous trip like the one to the Yucatan that we just completed, it seems appropriate to pause and reflect on what we saw and learned and conclusions we have formed.
Mexicans get a bad rap from our media and have a poor reputation that they do not deserve. Generally we hear about gangs, illegal immigrants stealing jobs from us, banditos, and drug wars. While those are certainly issues we need to resolve with one of our close neighbors, we saw so much more. Mexico is working hard to develop a middle class. We especially admired the value Mexicans put on family life. This was most apparent in the artisan communities we visited, but it was clear that parents are devoted to their young children and adults feel the same way about their elders. We saw many nice homes with decent cars in the drive way and people working hard to make a good living for themselves and their families. In the larger cities we shopped at grocery stores every bit as nice as ours, some with familiar names from home. Many of our larger franchise stores from Walmart to Office Depot to Sears have also made large inroads here. Commercial interests from other countries have a growing presence here as well. When people did not have a steady source of employment, they were resourceful about finding other ways to make money that did not involve crime. They might stand at the topes selling pineapple juice, put cardboard on our windshield in the parking lot so our truck wouldn't get hot in the sun and hope that we would give them a few pesos, build a little fire in a metal drum and cook chicken or corn in the husk, shine shoes, or crochet hammocks or carve figurines for sale. We felt safe wherever we went and never encountered beggars or panhandlers. For those Mexicans who do not own cars, a comprehensive bus system transported folks from one city to another. The buses looked modern, had A/C and moved rapidly. They passed us regularly. Getting pesos was easy. ATM's are readily available and the screens had prompts in English as well as Spanish. At first glance Mexico is a filthy country. Looking closer we noticed women sweeping the side walks and school children in gleaming white, well pressed school uniforms. Local infrastructure has let the Mexicans down. Once garbage collection is regular and Mexicans have somewhere to dispose of their garbage, the country will look much tidier.
That is not to say that we felt at home and comfortable at all times. Mexico, especially the eastern coast, is not equipped to handle RV's. Mexicans do not camp like we do. In campgrounds the water was never more than a trickle. We had to trickle it into our holding tank and pump it before we could take a shower. The electricity supply was uneven and unreliable. Very few of the campsites had concrete or asphalt and we alternated between worrying about getting stuck in the mud or fighting a never ending battle with dust and dirt coating the cars and rigs when the weather was dry. The campgrounds were not set up for large rigs and we struggled to wedge ourselves in. There were many places where there were no campgrounds and we had to boondock in parking lots. This was not always a liability and put us close to ruins and attractions. While Mexico is working hard on its infrastructure, many of the roads were narrow and in poor condition. While there were no rigs like ours on those roads, they were full of trucks and buses at least as large and heavy as we. Their drivers knew how to manage with these treacherous conditions and eventually we grew more confident and competent as well. Toilets were inconvenient and unpleasant. The plumbing cannot handle toilet paper and you were supposed to put the used paper that you probably supplied in nearby waste baskets. Toilets often did not have seats and flushing with no water pressure often did not accomplish much.
Cancun is not Mexico. This resort was created from the ground up as a playground for Americans and their greenbacks. Huge hotels, high priced restaurants and sparkling malls make Americans feel at home; that's because they might as well be at home. However, there are times when laying in a beach chair sipping a pina colada that the pool guy brought you may be just what you need. Just don't tell your friends you spent a week in Mexico.
While it certainly would be possible to complete a journey such as ours on your own and we met some folks doing so, we were glad that we took this trip with a caravan. Travel in a group involves compromise and is not for everyone, and some grew impatient with the time it took to pay tolls, get gas, and park ourselves every evening. For us the tradeoff was worth it. We enjoyed getting to know people who are as nuts about travel as we are and sharing the great experiences like snorkeling in a cenote as well as the flat tires and broken lights. Because maps for Mexico are not as accurate as we would prefer, road signs were iffy, and U-turns pulling a trailer are to be avoided at all costs, it was comforting to follow a leader who had driven these roads before and have a road log in our hands. Living in our homes away from home, makes life more comfortable than staying in hotels. This was as true in Mexico as it is in the US. We just had to learn how to manage with the resources available. Bottled water for drinking was always available; the locals drink it, too. A few drops of bleach in our holding tank, made the water we trickled in fine for brushing teeth and boiling noodles. Our Spanish only includes basic tourist vocabulary and many Mexicans speak little English, so it was nice to have some back up when logistics needed to be clear and firm. It was good to know that if we had a flat tire or broken radiator hose, someone would notice our absence and someone would feel responsible for helping us get going. Those folks in our group who got seriously ill, needed the help they received to get to the hospital and receive the care they required.
The Yucatan is far away. When we took out our maps, we realized that we had driven south of Cuba. We were less than one hundred miles from Belize and Guatemala. The Yucatan is a great tourist destination. Each of the ruins we saw were unique and there are many more we did not see. The rich and varied plant life was beautiful to observe and produced many tasty fruits and vegetables. The terrain hid remarkable caves and sinkholes that were fun to swim in and photograph. The beaches were spectacular. In this area the cowboy is not an anachronism and your chicken dinner is clucking across the street, not wrapped in plastic at the meat counter. We are grateful that we had the opportunity to visit this fascinating part of the world with our RV and hope that complaints about the lack of creature comforts will not prevent the caravan companies from providing this unqiue experience to others.