Progreso has been far and beyond the hardest location for me to write about in regards to my cruise travels. It’s not because Progreso wasn’t beautiful and it has nothing to do with the serendipitous road that got us there. It’s because Progreso, as a city, taught me the most about what I should be thankful for. It also showed me how much of the world I have yet to see.
Cruises are a wonderful investment for people that want to see places quickly and efficiently, but there are often blurred lines between tourism and reality when you travel from port to port. Unless you go searching for real-world experiences at each port, you’re going to end up with a sugarcoated view of the places you visit.
Since our time in Progreso wasn’t initially planned, we decided it would be best to simply walk around the city and see what it had to offer on its own instead of booking a new excursion. There was a free shuttle into the city from our port, so we jumped on the first bus and headed into town.
As we drove into the city, it was obvious that this experience was going to be different than any of the others we had had over our ten-day Caribbean adventure. Progreso’s port is heavily monitored by Mexican military and they aren’t afraid to let you know it. From the military ships docked next to the Carnival Dream to the military gate we had to pass through to get into the city, we were quickly welcomed to a different side of Mexico.
When you get into Progreso, the ratio of vendor to tourist is about 10 to 1. There are a lot of beggars milling through the city as you work your way to the beach and once you reach it, many of the hosts at beach-side restaurants are trying to persuade you to come inside.
We saw glimpses of a similar atmosphere in Honduras, but we were going to an exclusive beach that hid away what the country truly was like. All we saw in Honduras were white sand beaches and happy-go-lucky tour guides. Progreso was full cultural exposure at its finest, and after a week of tourism overload, I was ready for it.
I like seeing a country for what it is more than I like admiring it through rose-colored glasses. This stop gave me that. While the vendors were persistent and slightly annoying, it showed me what an average day was like for a local in Progreso. Everything in the city wasn’t downtrodden either. There were glimmers of pure happiness that you wouldn’t notice if you let the vendors or beggars distract you.
While we were walking down the street, we passed an ice cream cart. There was a little boy hanging off the side, swinging back and forth with anticipation. He was shouting excitedly as the ice cream man scooped out a generous portion into a cone. He was the definitive of “We all scream for ice cream.” It was impossible not to smile and laugh a bit at his relatable joy for the frozen treat in front of him.
On a more adult and slightly raunchy note, there was also a guy wearing a gag apron claiming Mexican men where the best lovers. An extremely disproportionate prop penis was hidden under a flap in the apron, which he would flash whenever someone asked to take a picture with him. He had us all in tears before we walked away. It was wonderfully immature and is forever etched into my brain as one of the funniest moments on the trip.
The last, and most memorable moment from Progreso was more sardonic in humor. While we were headed to the beach, I noticed a tip box that said, “Help me Pay 4 the wall.” The wit and balls it took for that particular vendor to put that on the sidewalk of a tourist city was so epic, I took a picture as evidence.
While I got a good laugh out of the box, it also made me think. Out of all the things I could have passed, I was standing in front of a personal Pandora’s box of sorts. It had all of the things that were going wrong with the world tied up inside of it: poverty, ignorance and absurdity. It was a way that the vendor and I were connected. A reality we both faced, but from different angles.
I’ve always been amazed by the fact that some cosmic fate, like God, decides who we are and where we end up before we’re even born. The color of our skin is predetermined. The town we grow up in has nothing to do with our abilities or our drive. It’s all just some kind of cosmic luck (or joke).
Seeing the world for what it is can be jarring. My time in Progreso showed me that. However, this does not mean I think you should pass up an opportunity to visit this coastal city in Mexico. Quite the opposite.
Never hide yourself away from the grit of another country while you’re on vacation. Even though it’s nice to get away from the “real” world for a few days or weeks, resort-hoping is not going to help you understand or appreciate the world. It’s only going to give you a fairy tale understanding, and you’re honestly not going to learn anything.
Progreso wasn’t planned but it was beyond appreciated. It was real, it was honest, and I think everyone should experience a city like that. Going to places like Progreso, that are a little worse for wear, help travelers develop empathy and respect for other people and cultures. It reminds us of what we should be grateful for and also shows us what life might have looked like if we were born in a different nation.
I’m happy I got to see Progreso, from it’s beautiful beach front to its rundown streets. It’s a city I will never forget.