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Kissing couple in Villahermosa, Mexico (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)
TravelTraveler Magazine

Villahermosa Valentines

There is no such thing as a kissing bird.

Although for a few seconds in the park at Villahermosa, I was convinced there just might be. Walking under the towering palm trees, I was surrounded by an outlandish chorus of tropical birdsong. Among the chirps and whistles and cackles and hoots, I heard the very distinct sound of kissing.

Kiss, kiss, kiss. Slurp. Kiss, kiss.

I wondered what kind of bird that was, even tried looking it up on my phone, until I turned a corner and spotted a young teenage couple on the grass, merging their faces into one.

“Ah, young love,” I thought, and carried on . . . until the next corner, where another young couple was locked in a puppy-eyed embrace, punctuating the silence with tiny kisses.

“So much kissing!” I mused to my Anglo-Saxon self, perhaps a bit shocked by the overt Latin expression of love all around.

And I mean ALL around: everywhere I walked in the park, there were lovers embracing, kissing wildly and sensually, gazing into one another’s eyes with much love and longing. It kind of reminded me of high school, except this was the biggest park in a city of some 700,000 people.

Unlike in Washington, D.C., where I live,  it was only kissing couples who had parked on the benches, so that I felt myself walking through a park of passion.

Traveling to foreign countries reveals the vast spectrum of tolerance for PDA (Public Display of Affection). In London and Tokyo, you’ll see a lot of handshakes, but you won’t see much kissing (or even hugging). On the other hand, Paris and Budapest are some the most romantic cities I’ve been to, if only because I can’t walk five blocks without catching a couple smooching. Now I’m adding Villahermosa to the ranks of world’s most affection-displaying cities. Surely, this is the kissing capital of Mexico.

When tweeting about the phenomenon, several commentators explained that since so many young Mexicans live with the parents and relatives, they must take their lovemaking out on the streets and that ironically, public parks offer the privacy they seek.

As a city filled with at least a dozen spacious (and clean) parks, and probably the best climate in the country, Villahermosa offers an optimal habitat for teenage love. Although, it’s not just teenagers out kissing. Even walking in the street, I saw older couples–some much, much older, who were holding hands, or walking arm in arm and then stopping in the middle of the sidewalk for a kiss.

Nobody cared that I was watching them. In fact, none of them cared when I started taking pictures.

Then I opened my notebook to add some notes: Villa hermosa . . . translates as “pretty town” . . . They like to kiss here.

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Teenagers enjoy a tender rendezvous in Parque La Venta, Villahermosa (Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)