first post about our trip to Mexico, I touched on the private misgivings Sylvia and I shared regarding the morality of the tourist experience in developing countries. About halfway through the trip we discussed our feelings about what we'd seen: malnourished, prematurely aged citizens, homes made out of rubble, freeways overflowing with luxury vehicles burrowing through vast slums. On the resorts, tourists are isolated from these realities, but even on the short trip from the airport to the riviera the evidence of a great divide between rich and poor is abundant and unavoidable. The reality becomes even more evident when you venture beyond the tourist enclaves.
We asked each other some troubling questions: how do the Mexicans here really feel about the tourists they're serving? Are they happy to have relatively good jobs? Resentful that rich Europeans, Australians and Norteamericanos make repeated visits to luxury resorts on Mexican soil - resorts that the vast majority of Mexicans can't afford to visit?
I'm not saying that a nation's attractions should be limited to citizens of that nation; as a humanist, I think the world belongs to all its citizens. But it does seem somewhat unjust that the world's rich peoples have so much more opportunity to enjoy Earth's cultural and geographic treasures.
There's no question that tourism is vital to the Mexican economy and contributes significantly to their GDP. It still seems unfair that I suffer less economic hardship to visit the Yucatan than, say, a poor Mexican from Mexico City would, despite the hypothetical Mexican living thousands of kilometres closer to the Mayan Riviera and all its attractions.
When Sylvia and I were in Valladolid, our supper stop after Chitzen Itza, we separated from our tour group and were caught in a sudden torrential downpour. Taking shelter near a hole-in-the-wall shop, we found ourselves conversing with a very talkative and friendly Mexican, apparently the shop owner or manager, eager to practice his English. He carried a well-worn Spanish/English dictionary with him, and we talked about fish, of all things. While we spoke, an ancient and withered woman hobbled up to us in an effort to sell us - well, I'm not sure exactly what. She spoke no English and her Spanish accent was too thick for Sylvia to penetrate, but it was clear she wanted us to buy whatever was in the heavy bags she lugged around. With only enough pesos left to cover tips for our tour guides and the staff back at the resort, I passed, though I still feel bad about it.
But that being said, I wonder if my guilt is misplaced or even paternalistic, condescending. The woman wasn't at all disappointed our put off by our disinclination to purchase; she simply moved on to the next person on the street. Her advanced age and independence suggested that she didn't need the help of rich tourists to survive, so isn't it self-indulgent to feel guilt? Or is that simply the rationalization of a comparatively wealthy person looking for excuses not to help?
These issues bounced around in my head continuously during our trip, and I still don't have any clear answers. I can say only a few things without ambiguity: first, all the Mexicans we encountered, off-resort and on, were unfailingly friendly, helpful and interesting, and they made the trip doubly rewarding. Second, Mexico possesses great natural and cultural wonders that I feel privileged to have witnessed. And finally, I hope that tourism will eventually help all Mexicans enjoy a far greater standard of living than many of them currently enjoy.