I have gone over to the dark side. I can’t help it. It’s too nice over here in the dark. I’m staying, not in Cancun, but with a much more nuanced view of tourist areas like this. I have been accompanying by day — it’s a conference — and watching Narcos by night, hoping they hurry up with the Mexico episodes. I know all about Mexico’s strict environmental laws and lax enforcement. I’m taking a break from all that earnest concern, in some ways just for the week and in others, forever.

I was in Cancun some 40 years ago. Am I that old? Yep, guess so. I was backpacking along and we had read that Isla Mujeres was the place to be. It wasn’t, but that’s a different story. The knock on Cancun was that it was just too ersatz. They imported the beach sand, imported the palms, imported everything to this barren, soulless spit of land. Then they charged you a fortune to sit in a place that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

So on our stroll to that jetty you see in the second photo, which is where you catch the ferry to Isla Mujeres, we detoured to take a look at this very hotel, I think. We were horrified. We agreed: it was all just so fake, such a ripoff of local culture. Were those fresh-from-the-pot palms a native species? Picnic table-sized palapas? Palapa bars? What could be worse? We didn’t call it cultural appropriation then, but if we’d thought of it, we would have and we’d have been even further appalled.

Well, a palapa bar with no tequila, that could be worse, though thankfully we have not encountered it. And now that the palms and I have grown and the palapas and I have weathered, I find that I have a whole new take on this place. I’m more than okay with it. And look, there are even palapas for folks in wheelchairs. How cool is that?

outdoor seating

No locals were displaced to put in this bank of massive hotels. I wish more of these places were locally owned, but sadly few big hotels are; that’s not unique to Cancun. Surrounding these big hotels are many smaller ones and many small businesses, so not all the profits are leaving town. The outlying reef is being protected; it’s good for snorkeling and that’s good for the economy. No turtles have been prevented from laying their eggs in the sand. If turtles tried it, they’d be protected, even celebrated. Remember, not so long ago there was no sand and besides, tourists love that stuff. Ecotourism has become a big part of the economy here, aided by local pride in the area, the environment, and the Mayan heritage.

True, it’s a little odd to see a guy in full ceremonial dress just outside the Haagen-Dazs. Strange juxtapositions happen. But he really is of Mayan heritage and if he weren’t maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. Cultural appropriation is one way cultures change. Imported sand, mini-palapas, I guess those are others. When I get back to France I’ll have a lot to think about. For now, I think I’ll just enjoy the breeze.

11 thoughts on “Cancun

  1. Lynn

    Glad that you are enjoying without too much angst.

    Now don’t forget to reapply sunscreen! 🙂

    [I like the Mayan on his way to get some ice cream – great photo!]




    1. Too late! I’m already sunburned. It doesn’t take long here.

      Lucky for me, it’s too hot to worry. We leave tomorrow; the 4-degree temperature in Paris will be quite a shock.


  2. I like these places…we used to go to similar in Turkey…built on the arse end of nowhere, as artificial as they came, but great bases for exploring by bus and taxi….
    Don’t catch a chill on your return.


    1. Funny. I have been thinking of the resorts in Turkey, the way they pop up out of nowhere. That’s exactly what it’s like. And yes, I hear that Paris is super-cold right now — not an incentive to return.

      I finally read something about Nicaragua, about refugees flooding into Costa Rica. I hope things aren’t as bad as they made it seem.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Since discovering your blog a few days ago, I have now read almost every single word you have written. First off, may I say: WELL DONE, YOU!! What an amazing job you have done with your house!! It really was interesting to see it take shape…Thanks for sharing the good, the bad and the ugly! It has ended up beautifully. I came away with a question, and a request: Your house is amazing, now I want to see your Paris apartment! And: What is this accompanying you do? Are you a tour guide? A companion for the disabled? Somehow I missed this explanation, and I am so curious to know what this is….it looks like a fabulous occupation!

    Thanks for a great blog. Looking forward to future posts!


    1. Hi. Thank you very much. I have been meaning to do better “before and after” posts, but of course I never think I’m really finished. Maybe it’s time for a few “before and during.”

      I don’t do much with the apartment. I redid the last one, but I sold it and now we are renting. I can’t say I’m motivated to drop serious money on someone else’s place.

      I live in France on a visitor’s visa, so I can’t work. I accompany the guy I live with, who often travels to conferences and the like. No complaints, but alas, no money. We are headed to Zurich now. Let’s hope I find something interesting there.


  4. I have absolutely zero qualms about living it up in ersatz hotels with faux palapas while culturally appropriating the crap out of whatever is on offer providing the food, booze and service are of high quality. But then again I call Hawaii home so maybe I’m a bit calloused about tourism in general. As the kids say ( or used to say a few weeks ago,) YOLO…you only live once.


    1. The food was a little bland, but that only meant that when we came back I made some real pozole, black bean soup and the like. As for the rest, yeah, I spend half my life in Paris, another tourist town. The other day I went for a haircut, to my Belle Epoque salon run by an Australian. My hairdresser is half Vietnamese and I’m American. I stopped for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien, which I think is French-owned, hard to say when they’re all over the place, and ordered the vegan brunch, probably an American or English concept, and which would have appeared on no French menu even five years ago. Of the passersby, who was a tourist, who was a local? It wasn’t always easy to say, though I will say that no self-respecting French person would go around looking like some of those tourists. Then I bought some face cream from a young German woman.

      So what’s the story? Is it fair to say Cancun Isn’t really Mexico or Paris isn’t really France? I think it’s more fair to say that we’re in the midst of some kind of sea change. Long after you and I are gone, folks won’t even relate to a question like that. Maybe living in California, as you do and I did, where millions of people live but hardly anyone is really rooted, we should be used to it.


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