Progreso | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Progreso

From Mérida, the nearest ocean is thirty minutes to the north, at Progreso, on the Gulf of Mexico. Fifty years ago, I would have loved this place, but back then, burritos, beer and bikini-clad girls were my entire universe. (Sorry. I had to do that. I'll behave from now on.) I mean, I once thought that the Santa Cruz Boardwalk was a beautiful place. That a seaside community might be a little shabby was not an issue.

But it is today. I want miles of deserted, palm-fringed white sand, clear turquoise water, waiters in white bringing me drinks in hollowed-out pineapples and pelicans drifting across the setting sun. Places like that are out there. It's just that the only ones I've found are either expensive or hard to get to. Progreso is neither, so it doesn't have to try very hard.

Stepping onto the málecon, the first thing you see as your gaze sweeps west is not the sea, not the beach, not the marine sky. You see the pier.

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It's the longest pier in Mexico, and it's not there for the pleasure of tourists. Actually, I don't think tourists are even allowed on it, and if they were, there's nothing out there for them. The pier serves as the shipping terminal for the entire Yucatán Peninsula. Semis roll up and down all day and night, hauling loads to container ships. It gives the waterfront a gritty, industrial feel.

The beach in front of the málecon is pleasant enough, uncrowded with gentle, safe surf. But as on any popular Mexican beach, the vendors are out there.

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You can't really lie out in the sun and doze because someone is always coming up hawking their wares. This woman wasn't pushy and actually was sort of sweet, but if I had been sitting there daydreaming, she would have annoyed me.

(I love it that the Spanish word meaning "to bother" is molestar. Por favor no molestarme, Señorita. Hey! Don't be molesting me!)

Beachfront businesses have the typical sleazy look. Apparently, when you start a seaside souvenir store, you're advised to make it good and tacky, and to be sure to skimp on the maintenance. Here it's even worse: something about Norteamericanos vacationing on Mexican beaches brings out the worst in both cultures.

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Fishermen still go out in the early morning, bring in their fish and sit around drinking beer in the afternoon.

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You can get the day's catch in the local restaurants. Unlike the previously-frozen "fresh" fish that you get most everywhere else, my lunch consisted of a whole sea bass that had been caught only hours beforehand.

But the fishermen's days are numbered. To the east of town, the seafront is being bought up by Canadians, Americans, Europeans, and wealthy Mexicans, bent on building vacation or retirement homes. Living on the coast is becoming too expensive for fishermen.

The Government of the State of Yucatán is building a modern, limited access highway from Mérida to Progreso. It will expedite transport from the growing Yucatecan industries. And it will facilitate access to seaside hotels and vacation houses from the airport. The fishermen will be driven off the coast. Well, they can always go work in the factories. Or as gardeners for your McMansion. Or they can reopen El Cheapo.
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