Straddling the Line between Tourist and Local

Adjusting to my new 6 month home

~ By Elena

In total, this is the 3rd time I have visited this quaint Mexican Island I now call home for the next 5 months. The first time I came as a Community Ethnographer with the Isla Mujeres Ethnographic Field School and the second as a tourist with intentions to catch up with friends. And now being back for such an extended amount of time, I find myself feeling as though I’m straddling a line, stuck in this grey limbo between tourist and local.

Feeling unlike a local and unlike a tourist first hit me after multiple interactions with taxi drivers. Clearly having a group of young women get in the car all speaking English, no accent whatsoever, brings up assumptions. We give our destination, a neighborhood outside of the typical tourist’s radar except for the highly-rated restaurants on TripAdvisor. From there we converse in Spanish, making small talk about high season, his work day and anything else that comes up. Sometimes we talk about our 6 month stay, other times not.

When we reach our destination we nicely ask him to turn down the street and he does, pointing him towards our house where we tell him “aqui es perfecto, muchas gracias”. Handing him a 50 peso note is always a little nerve wracking because we have a guess based on past rides as to how much change we will receive but are never 100% sure until it is in our hands and he is driving away. We hope to be charged what is called the local price – 15 pesos a ride, but that doesn’t always happen. One evening coming home from downtown we were in a full cab and were charged 100 pesos which is the highest I’ve ever seen. Sometimes we are charged 15 pesos for all three of us, which is always a pleasant surprise.

Taxi rates always remind me of that weird semi-tourist feeling. I’ve only been here for a month and still have 5 more to go. I’m sure that feeling will fade after the school year starts and I’m excited to welcome it with open arms. We all have adjusted to living here, however for me, that feeling of home has not set in yet. I still wake up every morning with this intense grateful feeling for the opportunity to be here and make an impact on this island. I’m excited to stop that hesitation when handing the cab driver only 15 pesos for my ride, however I’m even more excited for what is to come and the amazing opportunity that I’ve been given through VolunQuest.