Oh, where to begin with Campeche? What to say about the city! They have a tradition of making their Jesus statues from black wood; they also all have hammocks in their living rooms. And so concludes what I can say about Campeche.
The city itself was a destination I chose because I needed to get my head down and do some applications without too many distractions. It is easy to shirk the work when you have a whole city of sights, flavors and sounds to draw you away. Campeche provided very few of these, it is a city that can be seen in a day, and even that day is vapid. It was perfect for what I needed. I joined a gym, eventually found a hostel that wasn’t completely overrun with vermin, and settled in for some work.
I arrived at my first hostel after a rather long bus journey. It had been mostly uneventful, besides one instance in which border patrol pulled us over. They wanted to see my passport, which happened to be in my bag under the bus. Rather than just wave it off, they insisted I get into the luggage compartment and dig for it. I didn’t find it, and I had to be very careful not to reveal a rather large bag of yerba verde I had rattling around in there. Cold sweats were a welcome relief from just the regular sweats. I didn’t find my passport; I was too stressed.
My first hostel was a hovel. It had been badly advertised and consisted of the hardest beds in the world with pillows the size of shredded wheat. There was no kitchen, a sorry excuse for a bathroom, and nowhere to work. I took leave and looked for somewhere else.
What I replaced it with was marginally better. The room she showed me was small, but it had air con. The garden was huge and had birds, parrots, rabbits, and fish. It also had a pool which was a welcome relief after having to readjust to real Mexican heat again. I found a deal for the room and booked myself in.
It turns out the room she showed me wasn’t the one I would be staying in it turns out. They shelved me away in a room with fans rather than air con. The beds had rubble on them for some reason, and it took me three beds before I found one that didn’t feel like it was stuffed with the bones of the previous occupants. Still, it was just me in there, and it was only a week. I have put up with worse.
The host for the evening shift was curious. She liked to sit by me while I worked and stare. Despite my best efforts to chat, she didn’t have much to say. She just liked being close and staring a lot. It was very sweet, really. She seemed to find me quite amusing; I took it as flattery.
My time at Campeche was brightened somewhat by the chance meeting of an Englishwoman. We spent a few days together, drinking, eating, and doing the one excursion that can be done in a place like Campeche. We went to the beach, or the sorry excuse for one that the oil-soaked crater of the Gulf has.
We took a taxi way up north to Playa Bonita. It was as far from Bonita as I have seen so far on my journey, and I would even go as far as to say that it isn’t even a Playa. Did it have the sea? Yes. Did it have a beach? A very loose example of one. The sea was warm, but it was warm in the same way piss is warm, or flat coke that’s been sat on a pub table in the sun is warm. It felt like it could be a little sticky and was transitioning between two different temperatures. It was also still, furthering the similarities to a cesspit. The lack of tide, waves, or joy meant that the shit people threw into the sea just sat there. The seaweed lazily oozes up to the coast and rests against the ‘sand’ without moving, just slowly composting.
The sand was not sand. It was a grey concrete that had been ground down to powder. It may have also been the slag from the local mines that lined the hills as the backdrop to this veritable feast for the senses. Either way, it wasn’t possible to sit on; it stuck like fuck to your skin and hair for days and offered only forced epilation to an industrial level. After our brief and horrifying dip, we sat in beach chairs and wondered what horrors from the depths had brushed against our legs. I say let the Gulf go back on fire. Nothing of value could come from it.
The local delicacy for Campeche is shark pulled from that primordial ooze. I was tempted before I took the chance to have a swim. But, post-dip, any seafood unlucky enough to have been raised in that water was not going past my lips. The damage from all my years of drinking, smoking, and drugs would barely be a scratch compared to the chemical warfare eating whatever they yank from those oily depths would do. I ate a few shrimp the first day, and the parasites I picked up in San Cris tried to sue me for domestic abuse before packing up and leaving for greener pastures.
I spent most of my time in the beautiful yard of my hostel, soaking up the sun, taking a dip, working out in the roughest gym I’ve ever seen, and applying for more employment. I even signed up to teach English, it’s good to keep my options open, and I have more than enough in qualifications.
On one of my last nights, I took my usual evening by the pool with a few cans and my book before the weekend revelers joined me. One was a guy from Monterey. He spoke English and used it to tell me about his trip around Europe with his now ex, girlfriend. He told me she slept with different men in almost every volunteer position they went on, and it took him nearly two years to find out. She broke his heart. I didn’t even ask, it was a bit of a downer, but I hope sharing helped. After that, he didn’t really hang out much, just spent his days laid in the un-airconditioned room, watching animated movies on his laptop. Coming to Campeche is an escape for more than just me, I guess. I’m escaping distraction, and he’s just checking out completely.
The other guy that came to join me for the evening was a 29-year-old trucker. He was passing through and wanted to spend the night in a bed rather than his truck. He spoke no English, and I spoke minimal Spanish. Nevertheless, we spent a solid four hours that night smoking, drinking, and exchanging tunes. We chatted away way into the night, having little to no idea what the other was saying, but as long as the cans and cones kept coming, we were tight. I had honestly not enjoyed the company of another man one on one like that for a long time. It was easy, funny, and the conversation somehow flowed better than it had any right to.
Campeche got me back on track in the gym and with work. It was a perfect non-place to readjust to my own speed and company again. Would I recommend anyone ever goes there? Absolutely not. Campeche is an oil state, and they have no need of your tourism. They don’t cater, and they don’t care, and that’s okay.
I hopped on the two-hour bus to Merida, still with the conspicuous bag in my luggage. This time we got stopped by armed police. I was already stressed because I had missed my previous bus due to Campeche not having a single taxi for me in 45 minutes; I had to bribe my way onto this one. I was armed with my passport this time, but that wasn’t what they wanted. They pulled me off the bus at the side of the road. They had my bag opened, the innards sprayed out like a messy autopsy. He was showing me the king skins in his hand, running his finger along the crook, which I use to roll. Where is the good shit? He was asking. I feigned complete ignorance.
He continued digging in pockets, shaking out rolled-up clothing. I stared at the small pair of shorts that were wrapped around the bag and grinder and quickly looked away. I helped him dig, opening up my various other pockets and bags, pushing my shorts further from his hands as I did it. He moved from the main compartment to the sides, totally missing my knife and the shorts. He dug to the bottom of the side pockets, pulling up more little green flakes dropped by the grinder when it had opened before. He showed me his fingers, laughing a bit. “Marijuana, weed, donde esta?” “I don’t understand, lo siento,” I replied. He found nothing, he knew he had missed it, but he didn’t push further. I think I may have learned my lesson by this point. No more traveling with contraband. Saying that, I think Mexican jail is probably better than the hostels I stayed in.