I just turned in a few chapters of the guidebook, two of which were devoted to Cancun.
I can feel you all shuddering from here. I don’t think I personally know anyone who says, ‘Right on, bra!’ when the word Cancun is uttered. The name is just associated with the worst kind of package tourism and college kids ralphing in the gutter.
But of course that’s all wrong.
I actually didn’t realize this after my first couple of visits (one of which was during the WTO meetings last fall, and that Korean farmer stabbed himself to death as I was locked in my low-rent, baby-shit-brown, soul-killing all-inclusive resort), but when I visited again on this last trip, I’d had the benefit of reading Cancun User’s Guide, beforehand. It’s a little book, now pretty out of date in the guidebook part, written by an American guy who’s lived in Cancun since 1983. That’s when there were still only about ten hotels, and a lot of the infrastructure still had some serious kinks in it. This was serious swashbuckling territory then.
So the book has some great details on what Cancun was like in the early days (I’m actually a couple of months older than Cancun, I think), and a smart reminder that what snobby independent travellers think of as a tourism disaster is actually a fantastically prosperous place for Mexicans, who are perfectly happy to be making money hand over fist off a bunch of sunburned, drunk idiots. (A governor of the state of Quintana Roo once said, “Only pendejos don’t make money here.”)
So it was fascinating to go to Cancun and see it as an economic marvel, and to cut the downtown area a little slack for being all made out of concrete–it’s not its fault it was built thirty years ago. And it’s not like there’s not culture there–hell, I saw a ska band playing in someone’s front yard for a bunch of 14-year-old punks, and if that’s not culture, I don’t know what is.
Moral of the story, I guess I’m realizing, is that ‘independent’ travelers who are trying to get at the ‘real’ culture are really just looking for a scenic backdrop like everyone else–but they want to feel like they worked for it. As Lars von Trier would say, you have to take the good (pretty little colonial Merida) with the EVIL (concrete towers and Senor Frog’s). Not everything should have to look nice just for the benefit of visitors.