Thursday, April 11, 2013

The "Real Mexico"?

One of the local tourist news websites reported that Puerto Vallarta had placed first in a poll of favorite Mexican getaway destinations. Facebook followers were asked to comment on whether they thought PV deserved the honor.

Since the responses came mostly from people who chose Vallarta for themselves, most naturally endorsed the poll results. But one guy wrote that he preferred San Patricio Melaque, a much smaller coastal community several hours south of here, because it's "so Mexican."

I hardly ever comment in public forums, but I wondered what made Melaque more Mexican than Vallarta. So I asked him. It turned out that he likes Melaque's small-scale beachfront hotels and restaurants with their "reasonable prices" and the fact that most of the town's streets are unpaved.

That was it. Melaque is "so Mexican" because it's a great place for a visitor to loaf on the cheap, undisturbed by time-share salesmen, while the locals make do with low pay and lousy infrastructure.

Where to start? In the first place, there's an abundance of small beachfront hotels, inexpensive restaurants that are also charming, and unpaved streets in Vallarta. If those are your preferences, I say you're welcome to them, here or anywhere else. Melaque looks lovely.

What I object to is the foolish conceit among a certain kind of foreign visitor that the discriminating traveler achieves a more authentic experience just by dismissing the glossier attractions and amenities laid out for him by a host country.

When we invite new friends for dinner, we'd be insulted if they scorned our good china and our party clothes in favor of raiding the refrigerator for our lunch leftovers and looking under the furniture to see our dust bunnies.

Of course you can get to know a place better if you stay longer, explore farther, pay closer attention, meet more people and learn the language. It's rewarding if you're willing to make the effort. But if you're really just a tourist, don't imagine there's any virtue in pretending you're not. It's all Mexico.

We like it here a lot. We're leaving for the summer on Monday, and we're sad about it. We've made some good new friends, gotten Elizabeth started in a wonderful school, seen a little more of the country and improved our Spanish. Now and then we ask ourselves why we're going back so soon, or at all.

Then we remember they've changed the rules here so you can't convert a six-month tourist visa to a temporary resident certificate without returning to your home country and applying to a consulate for the upgrade. So we've got to go whether we want to or not.

That's Mexico too.

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