Hubby and I are home from Mexico and already we're dreaming of our next visit. This place, its people, and its culture, stole my heart. We spent days driving the countryside in our rental car, wanting to see Mexico beyond the confines of our resort. In all, we logged about 1000 kilometres.
We became fast friends with security staff at our hotel's main gate, possibly because we were the only ones venturing out each day to explore - and not on a tour bus.
We made use of our meagre Spanish at the local grocery store, gas stations, taco joints, and national parks.
Road signs were so good that we barely used our GPS. We had the good fortune of not being stopped at any of the police checkpoints we passed in our travels, which as a pretty unseasoned traveller, I was grateful for. We quickly learned the Spanish word for "bump" is "tope", the region's favoured means of slowing traffic on the highway.
We drove through entire villages where people lived in ramshackle huts with no floors, with palm thatch or tarps for roofs. Next to their homes were carefully tended altars to Santa Maria. Loose dogs, chickens, roosters, and even a hog roamed about.
We saw breath-taking ancient Mayan sites where current-day Mayans eke out a living by hawing cheap mugs, t-shirts, shot glasses, and replica artifacts as you explore the ruins. "Good price! US dollar!"
Despite the abject poverty faced by most everyone we encountered, almost every single person smiled as they decoded our broken Spanish. Yes, some would try to take advantage and you needed to have your wits about you. But these people had so little that I honestly didn't mind paying a bit extra for things here and there, or slipping them a few more pesos than they'd asked for.
Their reality certainly puts our privileged Canadian lives in stark perspective. My home has a roof. A floor. A front door. Plumbing. Electricity. Real windows.
Those warm and hardworking people are now 3,000 kilometres, away but I know we'll head back to see them soon. And in the meantime, we'll work on our Spanish.