Don't drink the water. It's the first thing I'm told in response to, "I'm going to Mexico."
Well, it's still true. And yet it's easy to forget. Well, not really.
I looked around the airport while I was waiting for my bus to Mérida to arrive. I wanted to refill my water bottle. I searched up and down the arrivals hall, but found not a single water fountain. That was the first time (and certainly not the last) I remembered "I can't drink the water." I was tired from a flight full of coughing people; I quickly bought an orange juice. Because bad tap water accounts in part for Mexico being the highest consumer of bottled water and soda, an average of 43 gallons are consumed per person every year. That's alarming.
The Cancun airport looks like Miami's airport. It's hot and humid outside, and air conditioned inside. People are dressed up, dressed for the beach, traveling with their families. The signs are all in English and in Spanish. The announcements are in English and in Spanish. I could be in any major city in the US. But there are no water fountains. I am in Mexico.
Without getting into water engineering, I just want to say that I don't know why we can't partake in the tasty beverage of tap water. I spent my first full day in the Yucatán, in a village on the Gulf of Mexico coast, known as Chicxulub Pueblo, and the first home I walked into had a giant 5 liter gallon of potable drinking water. For the family. For everyone. Apparently, the water does not discriminate. Man or woman, foreigner or indigenous, the water is not for drinking.
A quick Google search about why to not drink the water (is it still true or an urban legend?) sent me on a shocking path of learning and discovery. Did you know Mexico had an outbreak of Cholera in the 1990s (and water was named the culprit)? Or that Mexico city's giant 1985 earthquake burst water pipelines and sewers, increasing waterborne diseases? Not to mention that years of water traveling through underground pipes on to dirty rooftop water tanks before heading into consumer houses have led to public doubt that tap water is currently safe enough to drink.
Much of Mexico is not any different from its fellow North American neighbors. Streets are paved, there's running water, electricity, and flushing toilets. There's even a Costco in Mérida. There are businesses that happily accept dollars, and resorts that look no different from an Island Getaway in Hawaii. Except that you can't drink the water. I pass people in nice cars, on cell phones, going to school and work, playing with kids, swimming in their own pools, and drinking coca cola with their lunches. But not drinking the water. They still just can't. And they never forget. I just hope I don't.