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?
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.