This was supposed to be a different story, one that I’d begun to tell in my mind before it even started. It was a story of early morning sun, of Pelicans, and maybe a dolphin or croc or two. It was a story of a birthday trip down the Rio Palizada to a tiny but magical town of the same name, where colourful houses with French-tiled roofs line the river to create an out-of-Mexico feel.
Instead, I’m sitting in the backseat of a silver mid-sized sedan. Geoff is riding shotgun, and we’re weaving through the infamous (at least in these parts) congestion that is traffic in Ciudad del Carmen, an oil city in the northwest of Campeche state, right on the Gulf of Mexico.
Our driver is Rudolfo, and he is not a driver by trade. In fact, he’s a cook at the Courtyard Marriott in which we’re staying. The sedan he’s driving, if I understand it correctly, is not his, but the personal car of a staff member at the Marriott.
And this is a last-ditch effort. After the Internet failed us and our taxi abandoned us, the Marriott’s staff stepped in to help us get from Ciudad del Carmen to Palizada. And we’re running out of time.
Rudolfo pulls over alongside the malecon, the seaside boardwalk in many of Mexico’s coastal cities, and calls the front desk. We can’t find the dock from which the boats leave, and the only scheduled departure for the day leaves in 10 minutes.
At 7:53 am, all hopes of a boat trip are dashed as the news comes in: the boats aren’t operating right now. Maybe broken, maybe striking captains…no one is really sure. The boats simply stopped operating this month, and there’s no news of their potential return.
With the ferry out of the question, Rudolfo presents us with two options, as devised by him: hire a lancha, a small, wooden speed boat used for fishing and river travel, or find a bus. A 2-hour ride down a river with unknown creatures, a highly active imagination, and a captain and boat of unknown safety feels like too much adventure for the day. We choose the bus.
I’m going to skip to the end of this story, and tell you the punch line. We didn’t make it to Palizada, despite Rudolfo’s best efforts.
After visiting 3 different bus stations – the second of which elicited an “I don’t like this” and a grimace from our new friend – we call it quits, and decide to spend the day working and swimming on the hotel’s rooftop terrace.
So why am I telling this story?
Ever since arriving in Campeche state, we’ve felt warmly welcomed in a way we didn’t even know we were missing in other parts of Mexico.
Yes, we’ve said all along that Mexicans are vibrant and friendly, and that’s still true. In general, locals say hello to strangers, and it’s standard to wish diners buen provecho when you leave a restaurant, or a food stall.
But now that we have a point of comparison, we’re also reminded of the fact that many of our interactions with non-Campechanos required us first to break through a stone-faced barrier and cautiousness that doesn’t seem to exist here.
In Campeche, it seems, we can’t help but make new friends, and people are genuinely curious about who we are and what we’re doing here. It is the first time we’ve been asked by strangers to talk in-depth about our travels, our adult colouring books, and our experiences traveling in Mexico. And it’s the first time that strangers have gone out of their way – far, far out of their way – to help us with even small things.
In Campeche city, it was the family-run hotel we stayed at, where they offered to do our laundry, even though they didn’t, in fact, do laundry. It was the owner of a small breakfast shop, who chatted with us every morning as we ate, and it was the taxi driver who saved us from going to the wrong place, driving out of his way so we could visit the better of the two forts.
In Ciudad del Carmen, it was the staff at the Marriott, the most welcoming and warm hotel staff we’ve encountered, ever: Angel the shuttle driver who obliged our late-night goose chase through town to find an open store; Rudolfo, of course; and the front desk staff, who arranged birthday treats, and had actual conversations with us, beyond polite chitchat.
Travelling as quickly as we are right now — a few days in each city before moving on to the next place — can be disorienting and, frankly, stressful. When you arrive somewhere new, and you’re tired, it can be hard to keep a smile on your face and assume the best in people.
Unless you’re in Campeche, because this has to be the friendliest place in Mexico.
A note: BTWs, this IS NOT a sponsored post; we paid for our stays at both the Hotel Terracotta Corner in Campeche City, and the Courtyard Marriott Ciudad del Carmen, and didn’t receive any compensation for the mentions.