When Tourism Becomes Intrusion.
Recently, my partner and I went on a week long vacation to Mexico. We spent a mostly enjoyable week lounging on the beaches of the Maya Riviera, at an all inclusive resort. On Tuesday of that week, we went on a ten hour excursion that included touring the Maya ruins Coba, a visit to an authentic Maya village, and swimming in a cenote, one of the thousands of fresh water sink holes that exist through out the country. Frankly, though the ruins were really cool, it was a long and troubling death march that neither my partner nor I were prepared for. The most troubling part to me was the visit to the Maya village.
When we first learned of the Maya village, we were both thinking that it was a public site, much like Cherokee Village in North Carolina. We thought that we would be taken to a place where Mayan history was to be re-enacted by people of Maya ancestry. We didn’t expect the harsh reality that we actually encountered.
What we were taken to instead was an actual Maya neighborhood that existed in a small, impoverished rural town outside of Coba. What we witnessed was no re-enactment: what we saw was actual Mayan families scratching out a living by allowing strangers into their one room huts, living on tips and the money that they made from crafts. Both my wife and I felt like intruders. It was more disturbing than cultural exchange.
Although the families seemed perfectly happy where they were, I couldn’t help but feel sad. I can’t help but think that they are not choosing to live the lives of their ancestors, but instead playing with the hand that they were dealt. They opened their doors to us, they shared their food with us, and they danced for us. Their Shaman even performed a religious ritual for us. I should have felt honored, but instead I just felt like a dirty, ugly American intruder. The whole experience was just disturbing.
I understand that every culture is different, that people must do what they have to in order to scratch out a living. I am in no way condemning how these people live, nor what they do to make a living. It is their way of life, and it is not up to me to judge. They could be perfectly happy for all I know. It just saddens me that a proud race of people who dominated the Yucatan Peninsula centuries ago now depend on tips and craft money to buy clothes and food.
I’m glad I met them, but again, I felt like a complete interloper.