Visit During the Off-Season If You Can…and Wander — By Jennifer Shipp
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Visit During the Off-Season If You Can…and Wander — By Jennifer Shipp

Just off the malecon in Progreso, there are plenty of interesting and friendly people to meet.

Everyone seems very hung over and distant today. The streets are covered with trash. People are still wasted from their Dionysian escapades. I feel tired just congregating with them, probably in part because I didn’t get any sleep on account of them.

Now that the New Year has hit, the on-season is starting here. Tourists are getting thicker along the malecon. More vendors have set up their wares along the beach. More guys are out walking around with trays balanced on their heads, marketing baked sweet treats. There are fake nurses asking for donations (at least I’m pretty sure they’re fake) and Mayan women carrying big handfuls of scarves or other embroidered clothes for sale.

There’s a lot of gross girl-boy hormonal stuff going on along the beach. Men wearing t-shirts that say things like, “I love my girlfriend,” (a gift given by his girlfriend who wants to brand him as ‘taken’ because she knows he has a wandering eye). And women wearing scanty little sundresses with frilly shawls, walking super slow, teetering along daintily in high heels. My favorite, and perhaps most sad, is the aging tourist who puts on a special safari-type hat in order to take on an entirely different identity while on his (it’s usually a man) big adventure. I recognize the hats from some of the vendors we jog past daily. They’re Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-hats. Often, they buy the hats in pairs (because they travel with friends…afraid to go to ‘far-flung’ places alone), afraid to take on the new identity ‘alone’. The safari-type hat is indicative of a special sort of hopelessness. It screams, “I am totally lost, both inside and outside of myself. Rob me.”

But the water is especially blue. A lovely teal color. The prolific gaggles of swooping birds are also a nice touch. They remind me of a little music box my grandma had when I was growing up. It was just a framed mirror with a magnet behind it. On the front was a little magnetized sea gull that would follow the magnet behind the mirror as it moved. The plastic sea gull would swoop and dive into the ‘water’ (a part of the mirror that was painted blue). I’d wind it up and watch it for hours. She also had a cylindrical lamp-thing with a waterfall scene depicted on it. You’d turn it on and there was a circular grate that turned and moved across the light bulb, back-lighting the waterfall, making it look like the water was really ‘flowing’. Grandma was a big fan of music boxes and other gimmicky things like that. She’d probably love it here.

Right now, it looks and feels like a Latin American-style renaissance festival along the malecon. It’s all about selling to the tourists. The vibe is good. So far, the people-watching opportunities are superb. I’ve heard that it turns into an ongoing Mardi Gras sort of atmosphere as the winter wears on. That would be unfortunate in a way, at least for people who only visit during the on-season. The malecon is such a pleasant place to just stroll when it isn’t overpopulated with people. I always feel sorry for the people on the cruises to Progreso who fail to wander off the beaten path into the city. It’s such a cool community. But I suppose the character of the place would suffer if it was overrun by outsiders.

I always feel sorry for people on cruises and tours anyway. There’s so little wandering. Sights are fed to tourists like baby-food…pre-chewed. Wandering is so much more productive and surprising especially off the beaten path whenever possible. Stepping off the malecon into the rest of the city opens up a plot and the possibility for a good story at least and I highly recommend it for anyone stopping in Progreso on a cruise. At least go see the vegetable vendors and buy a green chili or something.  Then you can get back on your cruise ship with some authentic stories to tell and at least a little taste of what Mexico really has to offer.

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