On a big trip through Mexico five years ago, it was once my job to pick a lunch place. I tended to go with the flow and this was my chance to step up and help guide the journey. I found a restaurant on Google Maps, led us to the town, and the place simply didn't exist. Just a dirt lot. This happens sometimes in Mexico. Mexico is a place best experienced for what it is, rather than what you want it to be.
We walked around this beautiful, colonial town, and found a random restaurant where we sat at the last open table. The place was full of people with various handicaps, illnesses, and infirmities. This random town, it turned out, was a pilgrimage site. Some miracle or another cured someone a while back, and people flocked to it, hoping to replicate the experience. Lunch may have been the stated objective, but being at the center of an obscure pilgrimage site, so much suffering and so much hope, with no tourists anywhere to be seen, was the experience to be had.
A MacGuffin is a flimsy plot device, a reason to motivate characters, but not necessarily important in itself. Our trip next month to Mexico will be over three months, growing to six months in subsequent years. Three months still feels like tourism, but we'll see. We will be visiting Mexico's pueblos magicos, or magical towns. The pueblos magicos for me are a MacGuffin.
Pueblos Magicos might even be a MacGuffin for Mexico, as the government's tourism board created a list of neat places for internal tourism consumption. They want Mexicans to experience the best of Mexico. For others on our trip, Pueblos Magicos may have more significance. For me, the PMs are an excuse to visit new places, experience new culture, but I honestly don't care a whole lot about any particular pueblo magico. The UNESCO World Heritage sites are more interesting, and they're a mutually exclusive list. Become a UNESCO site and they drop you from the list. The Pueblos Magicos are a lunch location in search of a pilgrimage site.
If you think you know Mexico, you probably don't. My amazement around every corner is why I keep going back. I had the same experience in Rome and Venice, although Mexico is a victim of colonialism rather than a beneficiary like Italy. It's not uncommon to come across a wonder, like a Mayan ziggurat, only to learn 80% of the ruin is still covered by jungle; because of course it is.
Mexico is cursed and blessed with difficult geography. It makes travel an adventure, although Central America is about ten times more adventurous. Difficult geography means isolation, both culturally and economically. Cultural isolation means diversity, the chance to come upon a wonder over the next mountain. Economic isolation means I can afford to have lunch there. It also means infrastructure and transport are always a challenge, and there are few economic synergies that spread. Mexico is inherently isolated from itself, a mixed blessing.
Geographic isolation also makes security a concern, as many will warn us about murders and kidnappings. Lack of central control in the hinterlands (which is most of Mexico), means crime and law enforcement is primarily a local matter. If you were going to build a diverse fantasy world of regional wonders and lack of central control, you couldn't go wrong using Mexican geography as an example. Far off deserts with bandits, jungles with separatists, steamy coasts where pilgrims flock, and a central government high above in temperate highlands, where half the population lives and most of the treasures are hidden. I could run a campaign there.
We leave next month with our 30' travel trailer and just enough confidence to give it a shot. The better set up would be a van or truck camper, but it would be hard to live and work out of one of those for months. Instead we've got something far more comfortable and less practical. It's a fools errand, a search for magical towns with an impractical rig. My friends give the odds of a return trip at around 30%. I'm sure it will be an adventure, provided we enjoy the experience, and we're not insistent on finding the MacGuffins.