This year, I spent an unforgettable Christmas in Bacalar, Mexico. Bacalar is a quaint bohemian town perched on the shore of a crystalline lake in the southern reaches of the Yucatán Peninsula. As the result of a slightly sulfuric lakebed and underground water sources the lake is a beautiful, crystal clear blue. It’s called the “Lake of the Seven Colors” because of the magnificent color gradients that occur as the water deepens.
I arrived in Bacalar around 8 PM on Christmas Eve, after the sun had set, and grabbed a cab to my lakeside hostel. As such, my first view of Laguna de Bacalar was at night. Even still, it was stunning. Everything I could see off the hostel’s dock was pitch black and starry, except a sliver of a moon and the bittersweet glow of light pollution from the nearby city of Chetumal.
I was immediately welcomed into the fold of the others at the hostel, who were celebrating Christmas Eve together. It was a welcome social interaction on a day when I would normally be with my family. I met some truly lovely people there: a Norwegian guy with whom I discussed the wide, under-acknowledged impact of American media; a pair of infectiously cheerful and enthusiastic travelers from Mexico City; and a foursome of German musicians and students whose intellectual and artistic conversation I enjoyed immensely.
I awoke on Christmas morning to the heavenly view of the sun rising over Lake Bacalar. After breakfast I rented a kayak and I spent the rest of the morning paddling around the lake alone. It was one of the most peaceful, beautiful, and introspective Christmas mornings of my life.
Lake Bacalar is astoundingly beautiful, with long-grass “islands” sprinkled throughout and the most spectacular array of colors in the water.
I spent another night with my friends from the hostel, this time out on the dock with an acoustic guitar. It’s a funny experience to try to sing songs with people from different countries. At first, it’s impossible to predict which songs will speak to whom; the go-to American campfire songs aren’t always a hit with Europeans or Central Americans. As the night wore on, though, we slowly gained a better understanding of the types of songs we would all recognize. The session ended with a set of Disney songs – as all singalongs should.
All in all, it was a lovely Christmas and a happy end to my time in Mexico. The next morning, I began the long and mishap-filled trek back to San Antonio, Texas, where I was expecting to meet my mother and brother for New Year’s celebrations. To my utter surprise and delight, my boyfriend (who lives in Philadelphia) was there to meet me at the airport.
It may have been untraditional, but it was a Christmas that I will cherish forever.
Closing Thoughts on Mexico
Although I knew I was going to enjoy my time in Mexico, I was still blown away by how much I loved it there. I realized that like many people from the States, I had a subconscious predisposition to be mistrustful of our southern neighbor. I heeded warnings from my loved ones before going and asked dozens of people for advice: “As a solo female traveler, do you think it’s safe for me to…etc., etc.” These precautions are of course good practice in any part of the world. But somehow Mexico, whose news coverage in the States consists entirely of gang violence and drug trafficking, seemed more threatening than other places.
I can only speak to the Yucatán Peninsula, which is admittedly one of the safest parts of Mexico. Still, I can honestly say that I felt safer during my time there than I have often felt in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, or Boston. The people of the Yucatán were unbelievably friendly and welcoming towards me and other foreigners. Perhaps because I was alone, they often actually went out of their way to help me. An example: on my way back to Belize, I needed to catch a bus to the border from a poorly marked intersection in downtown Chetumal. Sensing my distress over the confusing bus stop signage, a nearby fruit vendor caught my attention and told me not to worry, that he would let me know which bus I needed to catch when it was approaching. And he did–simple as that.
In general, they were willing–nay, excited–to help me learn Spanish even though I was clearly a complete beginner. Unlike in many other parts of the world, the Mexicans that spoke English wouldn’t blow off my attempts to speak their language. They were happy to slow down, simplify, and answer any questions I had in order to facilitate a conversation in Spanish. Even studying abroad in Italy, where my Italian was conversational, I found it difficult to conduct conversations in Italian with bilingual natives; most people simply can’t be bothered to invest time into the education of a stranger.
And to think, the Mexicans themselves were just icing on the cake of an all-around incredible trip! To sum it all up: the people are warm and fun-loving; the music is joyful and contagious; the food is fresh, cheap and delicious; the towns are somehow both hip and classic; and the landscape is stunning. I cannot wait to return to Mexico, and I hope I have inspired some of you to visit too!