Turquoise memoir

  • Dates
    2020 - Ongoing
  • Author
  • Locations Quintana Roo, Mexico, Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, San Miguel de Cozumel

On August 31st of 2020, I arrived at Cancun International Airport with a one-way ticket hoping to find stability.

After being stalled in Mexico City, I arrived at Cancun International Airport with approximately 500usd. Economy was just starting to reactivate, and things seemed to be getting better. Uninvolved until that moment with the tourism industry, I quickly grabbed a job at a call center that sells, or sold, attractive discounts at five-stars and five-diamond resorts. At least, those were the opening lines from our sales speech; it was all a scam to get easy money.

Unexperienced, stupid, and tempted by a relatively easy income source, I quit and looked for more honest options. I finally got an opportunity as a photographer for a company that produced luxury weddings at those same resorts I mentioned during those calls. For more less 30 dollars per shoot, I had to go to the hotels where there would be a wedding and take photos for that company's catalogue. Definitely not the best rate but was interesting and it gave me access. I could finally start to see what all the fuss about the Riviera Maya was; a place I visited ten years before, just for 5 blurry nights.

After two months of 3 shootings per week on average, wedding season ended, January 2021 arrived and I moved to Puerto Morelos, a small village right between Cancun and Playa del Carmen so I could "cover more ground". What I liked to call "assignments", so I felt better about someone who's got a major interest in documentary photography, suddenly stopped. The "following-my-dream-of-becoming-a-professional-photographer" persona I posted on social media was no longer sustainable, and with my online entrepreneurship to attract patients with my psychology degree not taking off, I grabbed a temporary job at a government institution for the upcoming state elections; it gave me a breather for two or three months, but nothing more.

Desperate, and with my 31st birthday a couple of weeks ahead, I got an opportunity as a busser at a 4- or 5-stars all-inclusive resort thanks to having a college degree, conversational English, and not having any criminal activity on record. I had improved my income to 150-175usd a week, taking into account tips, and had a relatively more stable lifestyle. Thursdays were my day off, which I used to do laundry, take a walk, or maybe going to the local beach.

Slowly and patiently, things started improving for me. After 4 months as a busser, I pushed for a different position, this time at human resources in a different resort thanks to my short but operative experience in restaurants and previous knowledge on personnel training; after a year at that position, I got a double promotion thanks to my performance, met a beautiful, young lady and moved to Playa del Carmen. Things went that way for 8 months, but I quit my job when the "becoming-a-professional-photographer" feeling struck again. Shit.

Today, in a province where its astonishing natural beauty has been exploited indiscriminately for the last 50 years to satisfy the tourism industry, deforestation in favor of development under the approval of federal, state and local governments, along with the degradation of the Belize Barrier Reef and careless manipulation of the aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna, and even the characteristic ground of the Yucatan Península, plus the drug trafficking route that goes through it along with Cozumel Island just under the gaze of authorities, connected to the already known party scene of destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, plus the commonly overlooked homicides and femicides, along with some notorious criminal episodes that occurred both in the suburbs and in populated areas of the 80 miles that make up the Riviera Maya, ironically, I've found certain stability. One I didn't have for some time.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Self-portrait at my first job in Cancun; an illegal call center. Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2020.
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Self-portrait at my first job in Cancun; an illegal call center. Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2020.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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With it’s all-inclusive wedding packages, the Riviera Maya has positioned itself as an attractive wedding destination with an average cost of 5,000 USD, offering a paradisiacal alternative for new couples. Cancun, Mexico, 2021.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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An estimated 6,600 hectares (66,308 acres) of the second biggest tropical forest of America, were deforested for the construction of the Tren Maya, Mexico's current President flagship project. Puerto Morelos, Mexico, 2022.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Hurricane "Grace" from my window. It was the 3rd hurricane I had experienced, after "Delta" and "Zeta" in 2020. Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2021.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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The exoticization of the Maya culture has stimulated the curiosity of travelers looking for an alternative approach to traditional resort-based tourism, but without proper supervision it results in the exploitation of natural resources and misinformation.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Self-portrait after my 3rd interview for the human resources position. I knew I would get the job, so I smoked a "bacha", a.k.a. roach. Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2021.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Crime coverage is limited to Quintana Roo’s local media, but some cases have gained national attention, specifically feminicides like that of Ana Gómez, a Hard Rock Riviera Maya employee whose body was found with signs of violence inside the resort.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Municipal Preventive Police isn't perceived by locals as supportive, with public slip-ups such as their response with firearms to the feminist protest over the femicide of Bianca Lorenzana, whose body was found in a bag on the outskirts of Cancun in 2020.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Civil associations of Quintana Roo organize search and rescue brigades for their missing relatives. Sometimes this results in the discovery of illegal burial sites, like this one inside an abandoned property during the search of missing José Luis Franco.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Year by year, millions of international tourists visit the Riviera Maya in order to explore its natural beauty through snorkeling and diving activities, many times unaware of the problematics massive tourism represents for the environment.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Gun cartridge found one day after employees of the main company that provides sewerage, sanitation and water treatment in Quintana Roo were arrested with drugs, a weighing machine and a firearm on board of a company’s truck. Puerto Morelos, 2021.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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The presence of the Mexican Armed Forces, including Army, Navy and National Guard units, has become common in areas frequented by tourists because of everyday and high profile recent criminal episodes.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Mexico's lax diplomacy, mixed with it's fame as a party destination, make it an attractive option for those looking to temporarily forget about international conflicts. Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2023.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Mexico’s Riviera Maya, located in the state of Quintana Roo, hosted around 47% of the total international visitors Mexico received during 2023, mostly from the U.S.A., Canada and UK. Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve, Quintana Roo, México, 2023.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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In addition to the global climate change problematic, the increasing and careless presence of humans, mostly attracted through massive tourism, represent a big threat to the ecosystem. Playa del Carmen, Mexico, 2024.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Although forbidden by local and federal authorities alike, feeding wild animals on protected areas is a common practice by tour guides to offer tourists a greater experience, despite the environmental consequences it has.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - A camouflaged Whitespotted filefish with coral formations in Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2024.
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A camouflaged Whitespotted filefish with coral formations in Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2024.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Barnacles on a sandal, one of many remains found floating, at the bottom or at the shores of the Riviera Maya, an international touristic destination that hosted around 20 million international tourists in 2023. Playa del Carmen, Mexico, 2024.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Image from the Turquoise memoir photography project
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Coral farming has been taking place in the reefs of Cozumel Island. Other measures like a calendar that marks the seasons where each reef can be visited, avoiding sunscreen or single-use plastics, intend to minimize the damage, but as in many places, concerns remain. Cozumel island, Mexico, 2024.

© Arturo Velázquez Hernández - Self-portrait in Cozumel Island, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2024.
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Self-portrait in Cozumel Island, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2024.