Tuesday, November 30, 2010

a beach kind of guy?

When I moved to Mexico, I thought I knew exactly where I wanted to spend my retirement.

On the beach.

I love the water.  If I had retired in Oregon. I would have lived in Pacific City or some other non-tourist beach town.

The Mexico beach is pleasant in my little fishing village.  Sun.  Sand.  Sea.  Enough scenery to fill an Ansel Adams library.

But Melaque is not paradise.  The mosquitoes are everywhere.  Especially, the pesky Aedes aegypti ankle biters that carry yellow and dengue fevers in the fluids they so willingly swap with us.  And bite they do.  I just killed two while writing that sentence.

Top them off with hellish summer weather and the lack of any cultural stimulation, and the pleasantness loses a bit of its shine.

In the balance, I still like being on the beach.  But I have found myself getting a bit restless.  When I travel, I audition new places as the next place Mr. Cotton may set up shop.

That is why my ears perked up at the bloggers' conference when I overheard someone say: "They are beach people.  Not city people."

Beach people and city people.  I had never thought of the distinction before.  Even though I instinctively knew I gravitated toward the beach.  But I was soon to discover -- with the first two cities we visited in Yucatán -- that there is a difference.

Not surprisingly, Mérida is populated by city people expatriates.  It is known as "the Paris of Mexico."  The comparison is a bit generous.  Much in the same way as Tulane's boast to be "the Harvard of the south."

But I can see the reason for the nickname.  The city takes an almost Gallic pride in its heritage as the provincial capital of Yucatán -- an area that was effectively independent of Mexican government control for well over a century.

Its streets are more Left Bank than Champs-Élysées.  But the place has the feel of well-placed monumental buildings and boulevardier-occupied parks.  The Parque Principal that ties together the cathedral, municipal buildings, and arcaded cafés is a perfect example.  Almost as if Georges-Eugène Haussmann stopped by for a little tinkering.

The expatriates who live there reflect the same sensibilities.  They are a social lot.  Resuscitating old colonial homes.  Moving from art gallery openings to theatrical readings to lunches with the ladies.  And purchasing books in glorious book stores.

It is the echo of a world that would be easily recognized by people from Manhattan, Denver, or San Francisco.  What some call "urban lite."

The congestion of narrow streets, bustling sidewalks, and crowded stores are merely the energy that fuels the city folk's dreams of the good life.

If Mérida is the Yucatán capital for city people, Progreso is the beach people capital.  Or, at least the symbol of the beach people.

The town is only a half hour drive north of Mérida.  But it is a world away from anything that could be called urban.  Lite or otherwise,

With a population of 35,000, it feels more like a large village.  And it was once far more than that.

It is still a container port.  But it was once Yucatán's commercial window on the world.  All of that henequen produced at Hacienda Yaxcopoil had to find a route to Europe -- and Progreso was the launching port.  When the henequen stopped, so did a lot of the port's business.

You can still see one of the remnants of the era: the world's longest stone pier jutting out into the Gulf.  A pier that now serves as a route to disgorge American tourists from cruise ships into Oxxo stores where they are bewildered to discover clerks speaking Spanish and who are unable to provide the tourist with dollars in change for the purchase of a bottle of water with a twenty-dollar bill.

You can see the pier in the background of the photograph at the top of this post.

The beach at Progreso is its money-maker.  A place where urban dwellers can come for a day or a weekend and then leave.  In the not-too-distant past, the first families (by that, I mean the ones with lots of Spanish blood and even more money) of Mérida would spend the summer -- in their impressive beach houses.  The rich now find other playgrounds to cool their blood.  But the not-so-rich continue to show up.

Islagringo and I arrived on a Sunday afternoon.  The beach was alive with young families.  Young women in string bikinis.  Young men fresh from the gym in their Speedos.  All enjoying Progreso's impressive new malecon.

But the bustle was temporary.  Once the sun gave its nightly sunset performance over the Gulf, the town shut down. 

I mean -- really shut down.  We had trouble finding a place to eat dinner.  The only entrainment available was an illegally parked car playing techno-house music for three teenagers on the beach.

It is no secret I am a beach person.  The same with Islagringo.  Our beaches are a bit different -- his on the Caribbean; mine on the Pacific.

But we enjoy the same things.  The peace.  The scenic beauty.  The water.  We tend to be contemplative people rather than a social lot.

And that is certainly true for Progreso.  We heard from several sources that the villages on each side of the town -- Chuburna to the west, Chicxulub to the east -- do not care for each other, and they are not very fond of Progreso, either.

I know that model.  Melaque is between La Manzanilla and Barra de Navidad.  And we seem to be rivals right up there with the Yankees and Red Sox.

I am not certain what my friend meant by "beach people" and "city people."  But I know from my experience the terms aptly describe the tension I have felt in finding a place to live in retirement.

I love the peace of the beach.  It is the perfect writing site.  And I have learned to abide the weather -- most of the year.

But I miss the cultural urban life.  The restaurants.  The concerts.  The museums.  The social blob slothing from party to party.

This trip has helped me focus on what I need -- to live the overly-examined life.

But that can wait -- because we need to finish up talking about our Yucatán adventure.

Before I leave, though, let me show you this bonus photograph.  At the east end of the Progreso malecon is an amazing art deco house I can only assume was once occupied by one of Mérida's fine old families.  It now appears to stand derelict.

We will come back to it.  Some day in the future.  And maybe I will find out a little more about the place by then.

Until then -- enjoy!


Karen said...

Thanks for the pics of Progreso, and the kind remarks of our home away from home. Come visit in summer when the town is truly transformed by all the "summer" people. You would not recognize it. Loving your blogs about the Yucatan.

norm said...

The cake house, last time down I saw people in it but it may have only been the help.

Calypso said...

So I am assuming no mordida in the Yucatan trip - that is cool. We have a number of elegant old hotels that are wanting to be restored too.

Tancho said...

"But I miss the cultural urban life. The restaurants. The concerts. The museums. The social blob slothing from party to party."

You owe it to yourself to rent a house in Acapulco then, it fits all your requirements and then some.

Or better yet, don't worry about the house, just have your yacht relocate to the marina there.....

Steve Cotton said...

Karen -- You are most welcome. It was an interesting stop. I always enjoy having lunch on the beach.

Norm -- Thanks. Now I know a bit more. I wonder what was up? The house has truly fallen on bad times.

Calypso -- We were not stopped even once. Well, once. But it turned out to be a tour guide trolling for jobs by blowing a whistle and looking like a traffic warden.

Tancho -- I am not that sort of beach people. I gave up The Jet Set -- before they could dump me.

Irene said...

Your travels in the Yucatan sound great, all I ever saw of the Yucatan was well south of Cancun. It will be interesting to see where you finally decide to settle in Mexico. You seem kind of restless.

NWexican said...

I was just asked if I was okay because I am looking a little green... I said, "No that's just envy......."

Marc Olson said...

I have always liked the beach but I am really more City than Beach, I guess. One of the nice things about Mérida is that the beach is so close.

I am enjoying the accounts of your trip.

Howard said...

Steve: When you get a few minutes free have a look at some of my shots from a recent trip.
Here is Guanajuato
but I think you would love Queretaro and Morelia too!

Steve Cotton said...

Irene -- It was a great trip. I need to do again. But not in the summer. The heat was terrible even in November.

NWexican -- You feel even greener now that I am in house and fully enjoying the fruits of retirement.

Marc -- Thanks. I hope you noticed I have started using some of your conference tips. Up loading photographs is real tedious with my dialup speed internet (advertised as high-speed, mind you).

Steve Cotton said...

Howard -- Guanajuato is on my list. As always, great photographs.

Anonymous said...

I think Puerto Escondido, in Oaxaca state, might be an excellent fit for you. It is a beach town, not too big, not too small, nice restaurants. some cultural events every now and then, and you'd be relatively close to the gorgeous city of Oaxaca. I've heard that the new highway connecting the two cities will be ready in 2011, it will be only a two hour ride.

Steve Cotton said...

Anonymous -- It is an idea. An idea that has bewitched Calypso. It is a bit too far south for my original plans. But everything is subject to change.

Barb said...

Hubs and I are both from small towns so are definitely beach people. While I love the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Merida, it's much too congested for us.

I'm really enjoying reading your and Wayne's posts about your road trip.

Joanne said...

The "Cake House" is just a few houses away from ours. It stands empty most of the year but is occupied in summer. It would be lovely if it was restored, wouldn't it? Apparently it was once the summer home of Pedro Infante.

If you couldn't find somewhere to eat dinner, perhaps you were too early. Most of the restaurants in town start serving dinner at 8pm. Between 6-8pm you may not be able to get anything as the kitchen is probably closed.

Beach people vs city people....I think I am a city person but my husband is a beach person. If we lived in Merida it would not be in Centro due to the traffic and heat.

Steve Cotton said...

Barb -- The heat and congestion would make it difficult for me to appreciate Merida. I enjoyed Progreso -- even though we had the worst hotel experience of the trip there. But that did not affect my assesment of the town. Of course, I am a Pacific kind of guy.

Joanne -- I agree with you about the traffic and heat. It would be great if someone would restore the white beach house. In its current shape, it would take a good deal of money.

Anonymous said...

HI Steve,
First visit and I love your blog. Love the idea of retiring on the beach. Appreciate you candor re; the mosquitoes. As a Canadian, we are mosquito experts!
I'm green you can retire as well. I'm 61 and would be retired but for some bad financial stuff ten years ago.
We survived, we didn't loose the house, but I'm still working. We all know the workplace has changed in the last ten to fifteen years. I hope to go in a year but the travel will stop at that time. My wife won't be thrilled.
Enjoy the beach! Look out for the mosquitoes!

Steve Cotton said...

Meandmy canon -- I am glad I did not wait on retiring. I recently went back to my former employer to assist for six months. I now know I made the correct decision. And I am enjoying Mexico.

Anonymous said...

I could read your blog until my eyes hurt!!!! Well written and very much appreciated. We retired about three years ago == I think I'm a beach person that needs the social stimulus. Hard, isn't it?

Carol from Michigan

Steve Cotton said...

Carol -- It is an interesting contradiction, And I understand it far too well.

Petwalker40 said...

Yes, this is a very interesting post. Thank you Steve and Happy New Year. I am limping around now. Patrici