|One of Progreso's Markets, where I talked to Bill|
My impression of the town was defined by two people. One was Bill. Bill is Canadian, about 50 years old, originally from an English speaking town in Quebec, who has been living in Progreso for 15 years. I was crossing a road and noticed a tall, thin man, about 50 years old, clean shaven and dressed in comfortable clothes (neither expensive brand names, nor badly worn or old), and a somewhat broad rimmed cloth hat; when he lifted the hat to wipe the sweat from his brow (which he did often), I saw he had short, light-red hair which matched his light-skinned, freckled complexion. In a town where 99 percent of the people I had seen were Mexican, he stood out, as I'm sure I did, and making eye contact he immediately said hello. He seemed ready to talk, as though we new each other.
Progreso is a still a small Mexican town, and the people – Mexicans and foreigners alike – are welcoming and friendly. Making eye contact with someone on the road is enough to prompt a friendly discussion. It is very relaxed, and everyone seems to have time.
First we talked about where we are from – typical of most Canadians from other parts of the country, when I told him I was from Southern Ontario, he answered with a polite, "Oh yeah," (which really means, "that's too bad.")
Since moving to Progreso, he had been buying old homes and fixing them up to resell. When I asked him what he did for fun, he said that he plays basketball, holding up the jersey he was carrying on his shoulder. Thinking of the Playa del Carmen crowd which tends to hang out according to nationality, I asked if he played with other Canadians or Americans. He said that he plays with a Mexican team. A friendly handshake and a warm smile ended the conversation, and he was off to his basketball game. Absolutely no rush.
While I do like Playa del Carmen, the feelings of the laid-back beachfront community or the procrastinating Mexican town no longer exist. This is both a bad thing and good thing – a bad thing when you want to enjoy that cafe-free lifestyle where nothing really matters, a good thing when you want to get something done, like having your home built, or, in the case of Bill, renovated.
The other person that helped define my the impression of the town was a cafe owner. Just off the town square, there is a cafe which proudly boasts that it was founded in 1895. I knew of places in Toronto that had been founded in the 40s, but had passed through the hands of various owners. This was not the case here. Sitting down with a cup of coffee, I began chatting with the waiter, who, seeing that I was interested in learning something more about this cafe's history, went for the owner, who explained that the cafe has been in her family since its founding.
|The Beach Downtown|
"If I weren't working today," she concluded, "I'd take you on a tour of these places myself." And I believe she would have. The Mexicans in this town are very welcoming of foreigners. This lady proved that it's not just money; I had only bought a coffee.
Most business owners, like this lady, were very relaxed, and took time to talk to visitors. Down on the beachfront there was a restaurant/bar where many retired Americans and Canadians hung out. These people were a slightly different style from Bill; they liked to spend their time in the bar, chatting with their old friends rather than play basketball. They were the only people I met who seemed worried that too many "gringos" were showing up to spoil the small Mexican town they had discovered and made their home for the past 20 years. When I sat down for breakfast there, the owner recognized me from the night before (I had had dinner there) and sat down to have a coffee, read a newspaper and chat. He didn't ask if it was OK, or if I minded; for me, it was great, and I assume in that town, it's just how you do things.
|One of the old Homes, Ready to Be Renovated!|
There are also some new condos and, along the beachfront outside of town, luxury homes with ultra-modern designs. There's no point in describing these, since they're the same in every beachfront tourist town from the U.S. to Brazil, and don't really define anything distinct about the town. (No complaints about them, I just didn't see anything that stood out as different.)
Both Bill, the lady who owned the cafe, and the restaurant owner all said that starting in November a lot more retirees show up from Canada mostly, and some from the States who live there for only 6-8 months ("snowbirds"). It would be interested in talking to some of these to see people to see what inspired them to choose Progreso as their winter home, and if, like Bill, they hang out with the locals.
|The Boardwalk Bench - The Lights of The Town's Long Pier are Vaguely Visible|
The people I talked to told me that about twice a week a cruise ship shows up, and the town is full of American and Canadian tourists, apparently so much that you can't even walk down the beach.
Overall, people say there's not much to do in Progreso. Personally, I enjoyed it, though. I love the fact that the people are so welcoming, and will always take time to talk to you. I'm someone who can be entertained by a good conversation much more than by expensive entertainment. The history which is visible throughout the town is also appealing for me. While it obviously can't compare to a place like Mexico City, it has a few more layers than the resort towns over by Cancun.