Travel is an exercise in controlled change. You research, plan and spring for tickets, get your shots, bleed your bank account and go. You choose, to the best of your ability, the settings, food, experiences, then rush off and enjoy them. Fiestas and new friends are welcome additions to the mix; mudslides and kidnappings are not. Travelers, of course, vary in their ability to tolerate novel experience. Some throw a fit if their soap isn’t wrapped; some don’t think they have really traveled unless they have lived with the natives. I fall somewhere between these poles.
I just had nine glorious days Mexico with my younger son. We spent most of our time in the state of Chiapas, visiting Maya ruins, many of them deserted 600 years ago; then we ended up in Mexico City, one of the largest (and reputedly among the the most polluted) cities in the world.
I worried about everything before we left. Would we get kidnapped in a taxi? Would we contract malaria, miss our connections, get lost? Would I lose our passports, tickets, and generally prove myself to be an incompetent duffer? How about all of the above?
Everywhere the people were gracious, courteous, relaxed, and amazingly patient with my Spanish. You catch someone’s eye on the street and he says buenos tardes, good afternoon, even in the city!
Here is what the Mexicans are great at:
- Manners, see above.
- Appreciating, guarding and showing off their amazing indigenous cultures. The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City is beautifully done, with the ancient cultures each having a room on the ground floor and their descendants on the floor directly above.
2a. Palenque, too, was astonishing. Coming upon it, in the middle of the 90 degree jungle, is like stumbling upon the Acropolis. I was not prepared for its beauty. Yaxchilan and Bonampak were both lovely as well, outstanding for their stellae and brilliant murals, respectively.
- The plants! Coming from the land of maples, rhubarb and lichen, it was amazing to arrive in mango season (also banana, guava, orange, lemon and lime trees were loaded down with fruit. Sitting under a huge tree in Yaxchilan, I looked up and saw bromeliads, giant philodendrons, and orchids hanging off its branches. In fact ,you could have filled a florist shop with all the stuff growing on that one tree.
- The colors. Many of the houses we saw in Chiapas were simple cinderblock affairs, but they were painted wonderful, exuberant colors. Looking down the street in San Cristobal was a delight for the eye.
- The food, of course was wonderful. Great breads, great moles, ultra fresh fruit and vegetables were all a treat. What Mexicans can do with caramel alone (cajeta!) is mind-bending.
- Las Artesanias--I loved the native crafts, the embroidery everyone seemed to be doing, the crockery, the tinwork, leatherwork, weaving, and wooden masks were all terrific.
- Bus travel-- Mexican bus stations are fun, colorful, clean and busy. This is he way Mexicans seem to travel. We took a six hour trip from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Palenque. The first class buses are very comfortable, have movies and people coming on board to sell drinks and snacks at many of the stops. The only downside on our trip was a terrible movie (in Spanish only-- maybe I missed some of the subtlety) called Hellboy featuring a lot of really ugly droids and a blonde nogoodnik brother and sister who were chasing after magical doodads. Endlessly.
I was really glad not to be driving those perilous switchbacks. Maybe that’s why they have movies, so you won’t be tempted to look down.
We had a blast. We came home to cool temps, buds barely inching along, and two members of the extended family having been in the hospital. None of these changes could I control.