I just got back from Mexico on a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula along the stretch known as the Mayan Riviera. Before I went, I did a fair bit of research about the region. And I found two very common threads.
In the Mayan Riviera, there are tons of accommodations and attractions. And secondly, I should be AFRAID.
Everyone seemed to have some warning to give. To name a few: they will rip me off; the police will rob me; the gas station attendants will trick me; and I will get sick from the food.
I see myself as a savvy traveler, I speak the language and I am familiar with the culture. So I figured Iâ€™d be fine. But to a certain degree, all those warnings and cautions colored my view. And it wasnâ€™t until experience after experience contradicted them that I saw how irrational and contagious fear can be.
Certain warnings I was given created real anxiety for me.
When I told friends and family Iâ€™d be renting a car. They said that was crazy because the Mexican police will stop me, bribe me and take my money. This evoked scary scenarios in my head where they made me give them all my money and took my jewelry and camera equipment too. I even had a bad dream about it before my trip.
But the reality that I experienced was vastly different. We never got pulled over.Â And often when we went through a checkpoint the officers would smile ear to ear and waive. I guess they saw our car full of chicks and their natural reaction was to flirt.
One day on the trip, I was in a restaurant on my own. I had left my girlfriends on the beach to grab a bite. And I was waiting for la cuenta, the check. Knowing how much it would be and eager to get back on the beach, I pulled out my money.
But as I paid, I was surprised to see I was 50 pesos short. So I put another 50 down. As I was getting up, a busboy saw a bill on the floor behind me. He brought it over, saying it must be mine. After I counted my money, I realized, it was.
He could have easily pocketed that money without anyone noticing.Â But he didnâ€™t.
Another caution that stuck in my head was to be weary of the gas station attendants. According to forums online, they are known to rip you off in various ways. People say they will neglect to zero the gas pump before they start pumping and charge you for your gas and the gas of the person before. And when you hand them a 200 pesos bill theyâ€™ll switch it out when you are not looking. And theyâ€™ll say you only gave them 100.
So I was kind of worrying about that inevitable gas station trip weâ€™d have to take to fill up our rental car. But then, on the second day of the trip, we got a flat tire. And we had to go to the gas station to get it fixed – at night!
Immediately, I flashed back to those advisories I read online. And my mind went to all sorts of places as I thought of what weâ€™d have to go through to get a flat tire mended.
So, as we pulled into the Pemex, I psyched myself up to be strong and look on top of it.
An older gentleman, maybe in his 50â€™s, was our attendant. I explained we had a tire problem. At the least, weâ€™d need air in it. At the most, weâ€™d need to put the spare on.
The man pulled over the air hose and filled up the tire. He said he couldnâ€™t find an obvious hole and thought it was probably a slow leak either seeping through the rubber or out of the spout.
Then abruptly, he stood up, ran across the station, grabbed something that was on a ledge and then jogged back. He knelt down to the tire and screwed a spare cap onto the spout. He said, if the leak is in the rubber the tire will be flat again tomorrow. If it is not, then the leak was through the spout.
I thanked him. He nodded. And then he walked away â€“ expecting no payment whatsoever.
Of course, I went and dug in my bag for some money. I had to walk all the way across the lot to give it to him. He was genuinely surprised about the tip. I thanked him again and we left.
As we drove down the road back to our hotel, I was overcome with emotion. This man was so kind and so dear. And he was invested in our plight. He took a situation that could have been a big hassle. And he fixed it and gave us a clear and easy action plan.
Most of all, the image of his kind eyes kept flashing in my head juxtaposed with the negative comments and derogatory terms Iâ€™d read in the forums online. And it made me sad to think I prejudged this man or anybody because of something I read.
It was an important lesson learned. I do understand that you have to be cautious wherever you travel. And if there is genuine war going on, it is probably not the best idea to show up. But my experiences in Mexico made me realize just how much we can be swayed, corrupted and crippled by fear.
And I donâ€™t want that to happen to me again.
P.S. The food was delicious and I did not get sick from it.