Progreso has very interesting towns to each side of it: Chelem to the west and Chicxulub to the east. We set out one morning to explore the small fishing village of Chelem. We took the short walk to downtown Progreso and caught a colectivo, a cheap transportation mode that runs between neighboring towns. Once you get on and pay six pesos (46 cents) each, you can ride as long and as far as you want. However, be prepared to stop a lot to pickup and drop off people. These late model vans have been converted into make-shift passenger vehicles and offer no seat belts or hand rails.
The day we went to Chelem it was hot and humid. The colectivos do not have air conditioning. We were dropped off in the center of town and left to fend for ourselves. Chelem is a small traditional fishing village along the Gulf’s coast with a population of approximately 4,000. It’s a municapality of the much larger city of Progreso. Its roads are dirt-packed with no sidewalks or gutters. The town’s entertainment is mostly made up of family owned restaurants and bar/grills. Shopping is rather limited, but home grown boutiques can be found in the town’s square. We walked down a road that spurred off from what seemed to be main street, towards the beach. The water was clear as the day’s sky and the temperature was a cooling 86 degrees. We took a dip next to a small wooden finger pier. A pelican kept a close eye on the water for any fish that we might have stirred up while wading in the mild surf. After our refreshing dip, we walked a little farther down the sugar white sandy beach. The shoreline is riddled with fishing boats called Pangas, a hand made wooden boat.
We came upon a lone fisherman having problems pulling his Panga onto the shore after a late morning return. I laid my bag down and walked over to help him drag the boat closer to land. After a few struggling minutes, we managed to safely pull the vessel up far enough so it wouldn’t wash back out to sea with the rising tide. Even though we couldn’t communicate in the same language, he thanked me and I managed to appropriately respond back. We strolled farther down the beach and admired the tranquil sites of a shoreline not cluttered with mega resorts. It was getting time to make our way back to the town’s center, where we waited for the colectivo to pick us up. My first impression of Chelem was that of something out of a Josie Wales spaghetti western. I was imagining Clint Eastwood swinging open the saloon doors, stepping out into the dusty street and asking us what our business was here in town. When you visit cities in foreign countries, take the time to explore the neighboring towns next to you. That is where your real adventures start.
Author: Anthony Scopel
Photographer: Maureen Scopel