Interviews & Editorials / The Dark Side of Yucatan

The Dark Side of Yucatan

The Dark Side of Yucatan

19 May 2007 Interviews & Editorials 39

At the insistence of some of our more pragmatic readers, we've been working on an editorial we were going to call, "The Dark Side of Yucatan". We thought it might offer some balance to our Merida Moments article. But the truth is, we've given up. We just can't think of any useful and original negative observations.

Many others have written about conditions in Mexico that they find unpleasant. It seems there are whole websites devoted to the subject, and the major media certainly seems fond of reporting bad news about this country. Their list of criticisms ranges from the ridiculous to the profound, including: loud music, crazy drivers, lazy or careless workers, crime, poverty, trash in the streets, poor treatment of animals, unemployment, drug wars, corrupt govenment and abusive law enforcement.

The list of complaints is as long as you want to make it.

But upon reflection, it seems to us that everything "wrong" with Mexico can be observed to some degree in almost every country. We've witnessed some pretty wretched examples in the United States. In fact, Mexico's problems have been stereotyped for so long that people from Gringolandia tend to overlook many of the things we've come to appreciate about our adopted home, the things we do write about.

After living here for several years, we've concluded that much of the "mess" in Mexico - the inconvenience and disorganization - is simply a symptom of liberty, something that far too many "developed countries" seem ever more willing to sacrifice so that their "trains run on time". Comfort, convenience and security are awfully nice, but we prefer free expression, healthy struggle and frequent visits from the unexpected.

Apart from Mexico, Yucatan does have its own special problems, like the vestiges of a caste system that tend to isolate various groups and hinder social change, but this subject is very political, and there are better people than us addressing it.

We have written about many of the challenges of living in Yucatan, including the heat and humidity, Moctezuma's Revenge, insects, the language barrier, stray dogs and city traffic, but we try to approach these subjects in a way that is useful to potential expatriates, not as reporters trying to sell papers.

Most of the items on our unpublished "Dark Side" list are about growing pains. The indigenous Maya, the working-class Yucatecos and the casta divina are all enduring swift changes brought about by the accelerating invasion of the modern world. Meanwhile, retired expatriates are experiencing consternation as younger (and wealthier) gringos move in. It's seldom easy to accept or appreciate change, especially in a place with a history like Yucatan's. Not all of the changes that modernity brings are for the better, either. We are seeing that here first-hand.

The purpose of Yucatan Living is to provide information that is helpful, honest and (hopefully) entertaining about living here. On a practical level, we are trying to make it easier for people to choose Yucatan as their new home. We also believe that if people have the imagination, inspiration and courage to escape situations that do not truly serve them, then something quite meaningful has been achieved. We're big fans of Reality, both dark and light. And we're big fans of liberty. It takes a special talent to write about the dark in an original and useful way, but when it comes to this website and its subject matter, we are exercising our freedom to write about the light.


  • Roy bruyneel 6 years ago

    Great research! God Bless.

  • Katy Busby 7 years ago

    I am looking for current expats who live in smaller towns, south of Cancun. I'd like to hear about availability of rental houses as well as 'for sale', about safety, health care, cost of living and such, along with any negatives that are consistent with most of you.

    I haven't been in Quintana Roo in many years but was enchanted with it in the early 90's and am looking for a permanent retirement home with easy access to SE USA.

    Thank you.

  • Working Gringos 10 years ago

    Thanks, Mike! Wise words...

  • mike 10 years ago

    I have lived, worked and traveled for 25 years in Germany, Croatia, India, Nepal and Thailand and 'passed through' almost countless others. I have come to Merida and Mexico in search of a lower cost of living and warmer temps and an easier way of life than to be found in either Western Europe or in the USA. I also enjoy living in foreign countries! My research among Mexican expats in the USA and on the Internet only confirmed what I expected in thinking conceptually of Mexico as a 'type' of India in Latin America. This might be well said of many other countries in Latin America--but I have not visited them yet! Those expats and travelers who gripe should simply move on. You have a choice. The locals, generally, do not. Take heed of the power of focus. The bromides have some pertinence: 'your attitude determines your altitude', 'live with with gratitude' , 'focus on the positive', 'your life will tend to become what and how you think about it'. Live joyfully. Seek to add value. mike

  • Working Gringos 10 years ago

    Thank you for your comments, Amalia. We really appreciated reading your story and your observances, and we are sure others have as well.

  • Amalia 10 years ago

    One very late addition to this lovely article I just happened upon now.
    I agree with the writers 100%, but that's probably because I come from Naples, Italy, possibly THE most-maligned (and stereotyped) place in the world—or, at any rate, in the (so-called) Western world.
    I bought a house in Mérida after 28 years of living in Anglo-Saxon countries—England, Canada, the USA, and I intend to move here as soon as I can. In making this choice, I was seeking to go back to my own roots, and I was not motivated by any romantic or "exotic" notion of what Mexico could be. When I walk in the streets of Mérida, and interact with its people, I am all the time reminded of my home town, in its good and bad aspects. Also, as a European, I guess I have a somewhat different perception and opinion about what "society" means.

    I, too, have heard quite a few expats in Mérida (who have lived here for many years) complain endlessly about the negative sides as outlined in this article. When I hear these comments, my first reaction (which I'm very careful not to verbalize!) is, "Why do they want to live here?"
    I have many qualms about life in the US, one of them being the exasperated individualism and indifference, at times even hatred, of any social programs that could better the lives of all. But, when I've come to find life really intolerable in one place (and that once upon a time included my country of birth), I've usually chosen to leave, because I learned from experience that staying there and complaining was not gaining me any friends and not making my life any easier. It saddens me, therefore, that so many expats remain here without much appreciation for the local culture, with scant knowledge of the language, and live an isolated life of grumbling about heat, laziness, inefficiency, etc... Why? Simply because life is cheaper here, I guess.

    But money isn't everything. Quality of life, on the other hand, IS. I've found a quality of life here that I've been hankering after for so long, and for that I think I will gladly (or, at least, patiently!) overlook the negative aspects.
    Which, as the article correctly points out, are to be found everywhere.
    For instance: in the US, I was screwed out of about $30,000 by a contractor, and a lawsuit yielded nothing because the guy promptly went bankrupt and had no assets or money in his insurance bond. Then I lost more money selling my house due to the vagaries of the real estate market.
    At present, I see much isolation, desperation, depression and insecurity in the US way of life, all compounded by massive unemployment and an economic recession that shows no sign of future abatement.
    Workers' conditions in the US are pitiful. Most people work for just above minimum wage—in the states where this is even ratified!—always too little money with respect to the ever-rising cost of living. Most workers have no unions, hence no rights and can be fired "at will". It happened to me in one of the jobs I've had, I was let go with no explanation and no warning and had zero legal recourse.
    In all the years I've lived in the US, I only had health insurance when I was a graduate student and teaching assistant, and the co-pay was absurdly high. I had to wait to move to Canada to have a much-needed operation.
    Not to mention the fact that, in the country of (alleged) best customer choice/service, the corporations are running amok and we consumers are getting worse and worse services and quality of products every day. I won't even go into my recent saga with the Home Depot and how it took two brand new machines and three months from the first purchase to finally have a working dishwasher!

    So... sometimes, when I hear gringos or other expats complain about Mérida, I wonder, how long ago did they leave their home country? Because everything is getting worse everywhere all the time in the way of standards of life, goods and services.
    Personally, I'd rather choose to be in a place where service and products may not be up to the "standards" Western people expect (and that's also not often true anyway—I've even found many things here I cannot find in the US!) but people have a smile on their face when they say "Buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches" to me, a perfect stranger, in the street; a place where I can have a fun conversation with a cab driver or shop-keeper: a place where family ties and community are not just words but an every day reality...Not to mention the wonderful weather which I, at least, happen to love (yes, even when it's 40C!)

  • Janick 12 years ago

    I totally agree with you, I have travelled in 28 different countries, and find Mexico no more dangerous then anywhere else. I have lived here for 6 years now and in my experience, find it safer than any other country!!!

  • Working Gringos 14 years ago

    Thanks, CY! We couldn't have said it better ourselves. We had to laugh about the boys throwing pebbles! The most we've ever had stolen here were two California license plates. We've left our door wide open all night (by mistake of course) and not only were we not hurt, but nothing was taken.

    We've never felt safer, frankly.

  • CasiYucateco 14 years ago

    Personally, I get bored being in a beach house relatively quickly. I like all the people of the city. But some people may prefer the peace, tranquility and constant wind off the ocean.

    Safety? Merida is so much safer than any US city, I don't know how to even compare them. The biggest worry I have about encountering a gang of teenagers is that they are all going to want to practice their English with me for too long. Sure, there are robberies here and there and all the regular stuff you find in any city in the world.

    As in many places with a disparity in wealth, protectores (iron bars or grills) are used to guard against burglaries. Car burglaries happen, but less frequently than in the US. (It sometimes becomes a big newspaper story if there are more than two car windows broken in the same neighborhood, if that tells you anything).

    Mugging of foreigners... Well, I've been visiting and staying in Merida for over 15 years now and I've never heard of any foreigners being mugged. I'm sure it's happened. And, for example, women should watch their purses around sidewalk restaurants in Centro, because that is an easy target. But purse snatching is not the same as mugging.

    I've stayed with Yucatecan friends in the poorest parts of the city and never felt my safety was at risk. And I've stayed in houses of all kinds in all areas of the city and never worried about a thing.

    Well, that's a lie. One time, I had a rental car parked on the street in a lower income area and these 7-8 yo kids were tossing gravel in the street for fun. I was so worried they'd chip the car and I'd have a repair charge, but they just wouldn't stop tossing that gravel no matter what I tried.

    Short story: I worry more about the mosquitos than personal safety from crime. It's the tropics, you know.

  • Rich 14 years ago

    Thanks for the quick unpolished view. My questions are really this:
    In general, how safe does one feel sleeping in their bed or walking the streets of the typical neighborhoods day or night? Is burglary or mugging more or less than one would expect in a typical US city in a typical commercial/residential area?
    M's revenge is a no-brainer, but what's this about the bugs?
    Finally, can anyone compare/contrast lifestyles in Merida vs Progreso in terms of restaurants, social activity, etc? I am torn between the cosmopolitan vs the Jimmy Buffet alternatives.

    Thanks for any info.

  • meg 14 years ago

    We have a home in Merida, one of the classics that has been redone. We absolutely adore it there. All of the drawbacks you have listed don't really bother us. You'll find the same in the Carribbean, especially those dang insects!

    It helps that we speak the language and are familiar with Mexico. We plan to live there someday, but for now are happy just to be able to go there. We love the slower pace. As a poster above said, I applaud you for pointing out our American failings.

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