Campeche, the spirit of Mexico

From an article by Sophie Cook in The Guaradian (UK):

While Mexico’s tourist resorts are still reeling post swine flu, the beguiling city of Campeche and its surrounds is as enchanting as ever.

Mangroves and lagoons stretch along the northern half of Mexico’s Campeche coast, home to countless flamingoes, while to the south the narrow bands of white sand beaches have always been cordoned off for turtles, not tourists. In the aftermath of the swine flu outbreak, Cancún, on the opposite side of the Yucatan peninsula, has been missing its usual planeloads of holidaymakers. But Campeche has never courted vast numbers of visitors and, while welcoming the few that come, can get by just fine without them. Lacking the Yucatan east coast’s turquoise seas and sweeping beaches, this ruggedly beautiful western coast epitomises independent spirit. It’s certainly safe again to bring your body here for healing winter sun; but more to the point, this area has always provided a unique medicine for the soul. Its inhabitants are justifiably proud of their abundant wildlife and rich cultural inheritance, while Campeche city itself is one of the most beguiling places in Latin America.

Beat-up cars rattle through the narrow cobbled streets, a rusting Dodge parked up outside the pastel blue manicured splendour of a colonial house. The whole city centre is listed as a Unesco world heritage site: a perfectly preserved 16th-century Spanish colonial streetscape, where the fierce tropical sun tears shadows through curving wrought-iron balconies and window grilles, across the painted walls. Despite its overwhelming beauty, historical importance, and extreme safety, Campeche city is no stuffy museum piece. The vigorous thrum of Mexican daily life beats everywhere just beneath its stuccoed skin. The streets are filled with independently-owned shops selling pens, or tinsel, or radios. Women and old men pray beneath the chandeliers inside the finely-kept churches, or come to read their newspapers in the pews, finding sanctuary for the flesh as well as the soul in the cool limestone walls. Pelicans dive into the navy waters of the Gulf of Mexico beyond the city’s sea walls, splashing down between small fishing boats, while Mayan women from the countryside sell mangoes on street corners and lanky boys shoot pool at battered green tables in antique colonnades.

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