After a day of rain, the clouds cleared and another blisteringly hot sunny day dawned. Mérida bakes in the midday and afternoon heat so we headed early to Progreso, about an hour away on the Gulf Coast where it’s much cooler and often with a stiff breeze – perfect conditions for marauding gangs of sea gulls. Just be careful where you eat your lunch, ‘cause if one beady eye catches a slip up, and say a chip hits the floor, then all hell breaks loose, as we witnessed today on the beach when a young woman had a scary case of the ‘Tippi Hedrens’. Eventually her whole bowl of papas fritas con mayonesa was tipped out for her tormentors.
We took the AutoProgreso bus from Centro which costs the princely sum of A$1.40 each way. It takes about an hour and is often quite busy, as it was this morning, despite a bus departing from downtown every 15 mins. There are direct buses on weekends, but this morning we hit the milk run, stopping regularly to let ever more people on until it was standing room only, with the last pick up just before the motorway. From then on, the AutoProgreso hurtles towards Progreso, making a bee line through the Yucatan scrub with giant billboards advertising the latest condo developments and land releases lining the roadside. As you approach Progreso there are a couple of flyovers, passing over the Reserva Ecológica El Corchito – a wetland nature reserve of mangrove swamps and cenotes and home to coatis, turtles and alligators. Then before you know it, you’re in downtown Progreso, which as I’ve mentioned before, is a far cry from the sleepy little town we found some 30 years ago on our last visit here.
Today, Progreso is reasonably built up, especially around the Malecón (at 6ks, the world’s longest pier) and, at the time of writing, going through a beach-front transformation, with the road and sidewalks being totally dug up and re-laid as a wide pedestrian-friendly boulevard. There are some completed parts and it’ll make a world of difference when it’s finished, but for now, it’s rubble and dust. Just last week, a gigantic old anchor 3 metres long and weighing in at nearly two tons was discovered whilst excavating. The local papers were wild with speculation, including one theory that it belonged to an ancient pirate ship or another that it was from a British Colonial or Dutch ship. But, as it turns out it most likely belonged to a large merchant ship that may have run aground off the coast, with a hurricane surge pushing the anchor onto the beach.
Given today’s intense sun and heat, we headed towards La Antigua Restaurant and its beach-club, where for a few dollars you can rent a palapa and wooden beds and laze away the day, slurping away, as we did, on icy-cold frozen lime margaritas, between swims in the azure-coloured warm gulf waters.
But like many coastal places around the world, climate change is having a significant impact on beachfront communities, with the Yucatan peninsula facing dire consequences as the world-famous beaches begin to disappear. Over in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, the beaches have such significant erosion happening that in some places stretches of beach have completely disappeared, whilst in other spots, they’re having to shore them up with rubble and concrete blocks!
It’s noticeable here too, especially once you move away from the broad sandy main beach. In certain places, right where some of the more glamorous beach shacks and low-rise condos are, there’s barely a couple of metres between sea and shack. The other issue plaguing the Yucatan is the increasing amount of sargassum, a type of tropical shallow-growing seaweed that blows onto the shoreline, often as a thick carpet. I saw some of the condo residents raking away the seaweed into large piles only for more to wash up in front of them. There are good days and bad days. Today wasn’t particularly bad and swimming in front of La Antigua was crystal clear and lovely – but in the afternoon the breeze intensified and the sargassum started to blow in, the sea filling with infinite floating threads that cling to everything and pile onto the sand.
Time to hit the AutoProgreso and head back to the city.