Monday, December 15, 2008

Cruiseship Tourism and Progreso

I have been saying lately, and after having lived here for 20-plus years, that the real name of Progreso should be Atraso, since the word progreso means progress (atraso means the exact opposite) and that is the last thing that this little town has seen in the 20 years of my living here.

Cruise ships arrive at the port and disgorge inordinate amounts of somewhat curious tourists (they can't be that curious if they are taking a cruise) who then either take some sort of guided tour or amble about the town, Corona in hand, oblivious both to the stares of those locals who are working or going to school and also the shouts and whistles of the simian-like vendors trying to bring the tourists' attention to whatever trinket they are hawking on little tables set up on the crumbling sidewalks.

The tourist busses from the ship arrive at the Casa de Cultura (House of Culture, or Cultural Center) which as its name implies, showcases the culture, or in this case complete lack thereof, of the town. While I am not dissing the people of Progreso per se, I certainly am dissing the authorities that over the last 20 years have done nothing tangible for the people of Progreso, nor have they made any effort to make the port attractive in any visible way.

The "Cultural" Center itself is a maze of pseudo market activity (it only materializes on cruise ship days), with everything from honey to stone to clothing. Anything produced in the Yucatan in it's infinitely limited variety is on display, one booth differentiatable (is that even a word?) from the next only by a different yawning or gum-chewing and completely bored person staring listlessly into the distance, numbed by the sheer number of chubby foreigners walking by.

There is a long lineup of tourists waiting to have their turn at purchasing one of the many 'authorized' tours available; Dzibilchaltun, Merida and points beyond. One couple mentioned they had paid 28 USD for a trip to the Marina Silcer, presumably to drink themselves into oblivion or something since I cannot for the life of me imagine what else they would do there.

Another table set up sells the Progreso tour, which takes place on giant, partially painted metallic structures on wheels that in a previous life had perhaps been busses, but are now double decker open air cattle corrals with blue seats upon which the hapless tourists perch their generally ample bottoms, while enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Progreso. The 'guide' is up front, microphone in hand, pointing out the few highlights that remain after decades of neglect, which logically includes those shops that have good prices (and have most likely previously paid for the privelege of being named in the tour) in a Cancun way that anyone familiar with the 'hey amigo' time share crowd will recognize immediately and with some concern.

You can buy Cohiba cigars right there on the street! Yes, authentic cigars for those victims of USA foreign policy and addicted to tobacco. I am unqualified to judge whether or not these are real, but we are in Mexico and anything is possible; therefore, I have my suspicions.

Back to the 'Cultural' center; inside, there are barely-painted walls with works of art ie paintings hanging on them along with a plastic nativity setup complete with Chinese lights. The paintings are minimally lit. Not minimalist. Minimal. Some flourescent tubes here and there.

In one corner, and deserving of a very special mention, are the bathrooms. These are a particularly 3rd world welcome for those tourists needing a WC. There is a table featuring the lady with a shallow basket containing previously torn pieces of toilet paper (there is none inside) and another basket that sports a hand-lettered black felt pen sign: "Tips". You must tip to pee. Men are waved into their bathroom (which has a sign, but perhaps you will miss it and this gives the lady a chance to 'earn' her tip from you) while the women are stopped as they enter their bathroom by the outstretched arm and hand holding a basket full of toilet paper pieces. They stare at the basket, then at the lady and back at the basket, unbelieving and not comprehending the gesture. That is, until the lady authoritatively says - in what is probably a major portion of her English vocabulary - "toilet paper!" Then it suddenly dawns on them as to what they can expect inside and they gingerly take the pieces they feel will be needing.

I did peek inside the men's stall and was able to confirm that there is no semblance of an actual toilet seat, just the bare porcelain over which you will suspend your anatomy as... well you get the picture.

Washing your hands will also present the no-soap and no paper towel dilemna, unless of course you ask the lady outside - I am sure she can help.

This is the environment in and around the Progreso de Castro Cultural Center. A truly retro and cliche-reinforcing welcome for the very people Progreso claims it and the Yucatan government is trying to attract so that there can be some economic trickledown.

Bullshit I say.

As citizens and residents of the state of Yucatan, we should be insisting that all that money being wasted on the promotion of the Yucatan should be put to better use and all those doing the promoting, via trips to New York and Barcelona tourism shows, should be fired and then jailed for fraud. Other immediate steps should include:
  • firing without any indemnization of whoever is in charge of the Cultural Center; this is a shameful disgrace and absolutely disgusting and the department of health should shut it down
  • bulldozing all abandoned and wrecked buildings on the beach front; they are an eyesore
  • immediate firing of whoever approves new building plans for beach front and other areas properties. Some of the new constructions are so god-awful ugly that Fidel Castro would be ashamed to have them in Cuba and would look actually better in some war-torn place like Fallujah. It says a lot when one of the nicer buildings on the beach is an OXXO
  • send whoever is left to Campeche to learn how make a malecon (boardwalk) properly so that tourists and locals can enjoy the beachfront safely and in comfort.
There are more of course. But this would make a great start.

All in all, a very entertaining morning!

1 comment:

Grant said...

When I was a kid, my parents took me on a cruise that was supposed to go to Athens, Istanbul, ports in the Black Sea, with an excursion by plane to Moskow.

Well, the Greeks and Turks started a war, so instead of the promised itinerary, we bobbed around the Med, hitting the familiar middle class sunning spots of the Brits and Germans. One morning, I got up early enough to see by the wake that the ship had been sailing in circles all night, killing time.

A cruise ship is just a floating jail if there's nowhere to go. The only reason to go on one is to see something spectacular that has no accommodations (glaciers in Alaska or Antarctica, perhaps) or if you are crippled and can't manage normal terrain.

Making Progreso a cruise ship destination is really overreaching. Not to put Progresso down--it is a pleasant excursion from Merida to have a picnic on the beach and a walk through the fish market, but it is unfair to hold it up as a travel destination.

At least load the tourists on a bus and let them see something like Uxmal, or take them for lunch at one of the Haciendas outside Merida. I'd be very disappointed if I shelled out beaucoup dollar for a cruise and all I got was Progreso.