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Day 242 – A Taste of Home (Cozumel)

June 9, 2011

Location: Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Date: Thursday, June 9, 2011

I’ve come to the resort island of Cozumel because I want to relax and scuba dive. I am also here because Harry, a former investment banker who’s driving around the world in a Land Cruiser (seriously), was kind enough to give Belinda and me a ride to Playa del Carmen so we could catch a ferry to Cozumel. On the drive, Harry tells us about sleeping on the roof of his car, using his military-grade, dashboard mounted satellite tracking system to maneuver through unpaved parts of the world, and his weakness for buying cheesy tourist T-Shirts (e.g., Belize it or not!). He started over a year ago in London, drove through Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and Asia, shipping the car whenever he hit an ocean. He gave up corporate life right before the crash, which means he’s a lot like me except with 100x more money. (Big bucks guys like Harry paid guys like me.) It just goes to show that even when it comes to slacking off, there’s always someone doing it better than you. Harry has shown me that I’ve underachieved at laziness.

After quick goodbyes, Belinda and I hopped the next boat to Cozumel, an island that’s secretly gone a bit Filipino. There are Filipino divemasters, Filipino workers, and even a Filipino restaurant. A restaurant! Compare that to San Francisco which has tons of Filipinos but has hardly any Filipino restaurants to its name (you have to trek south to the less expensive Daly City to get your Fil-food fix). The question is: what are a bunch of Filipinos doing on an island in Mexico?

Upon further review, finding Filipinos anywhere shouldn’t be a surprise. The Philippines is a poor country. There is no oil or diamonds or gold. It didn’t get nuclear bombed, so no one felt sorry for it and gave it post-WWII money.

What the Philippines does have are lots of people—the 95% Catholic population has managed to cram 1/3 of the U.S. population into a country 1/30th the U.S.’s size. Gifted with this large, job-hungry labor force, the nation’s greatest export is its people; a people who, thanks to 50 years as an American colony, speak English. Some estimate that nearly 1 in every 10 Filipinos works outside their home country. Millions of men and women train as nurses, shipmen, Middle East petroleum construction workers, nannies, singers, and airport and hotel workers so they can sign multi-year overseas contracts to do work the locals would rather pay foreigners less to do. The Philippines is to the world what Mexico is to the United States, a source of willing, cheap labor; labor that sends much of its earnings to its families back home.

Cozumel’s strong Philippine contingent is, I suspect, largely made up of cruise ship workers that visit when their ships dock. The workers disembark with the passengers for a little R&R. They grab a bite at the local Filipino joint and by nightfall, they’re back on the boat and off to the next destination.

It is, I think, why I found myself today at an outdoor Filipino restaurant eating adobo, talong, and of course kanin. Sitting in white plastic chairs at the table next to me were a group of Filipino men. They ate, they drank, and they smoked Marlboro Reds. When a Filipino love song came on the restaurant’s stereo, they engaged in the Philippine national pastime (karaoke) and sang along; their voices hinting that their hearts where someplace else. No matter how much this market might resemble the markets in the Philippines with its open air butcher stalls, its tropical fruit stands, and the ladies selling curative herbs and pictures of a beatific Jesuses, these men were far from home.

In time, the singing wound down, the food disappeared, and the men ambled off, leaving in their wake a 1/4 bottle of cheap vodka and a table littered with half-empty cups, cigarette butts, and plates piled with chicken bones. It was evening and I imagined the men were headed back to the cruise ship; I imagined that they hadn’t been to the Philippines in months and wouldn’t see it for many months more, but that here, in a Mexican island market, they’d caught a glimpse of the homeland, if only for an afternoon.

GALLERY: No bonus pictures today.

Mervyn is a traveler who brings too much, eats too much, and writes way too much.  To learn more, read his overwritten FAQ or flip through the archives.  If you enjoyed this post, feel free to recommend it using the buttons below.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Marice Cruz permalink
    August 4, 2016 10:21 am

    Finally! We are heading to Cozumel in few days, I hope the pinoy restaurant is still there. Thanks for this write up! So helpful! 😊


  1. Day 243 – Blue Waters, Brown Guides, Green Money (Diving Cozumel) « The Overpacker

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