I went to Mexico.
That sounds like such a small and bare statement for such an adventure. We take for granted everything that goes into that sentence: the planning, the money, the infrastructure that shuffles people ceaselessly around the globe. If, like me, you haven’t traveled much in many years, it can all be a little overwhelming. Airports. AIRPLANES. My god.
It takes 17 hours to get to San Miguel Allende, Mexico from Asheville, NC, USA. This is not what the websites will tell you, but I have come and gone now and I say 17 hours each way. That’s a flight from Asheville to Atlanta and a flight from Atlanta to Monterrey and a flight from Monterrey to Queretaro and a shuttle bus or car from Queretaro to San Miguel Allende. Reverse the procedure on the way back. That travel time includes a delayed flight from Atlanta: “We apologize for the inconvenience, but the pilot never showed up, so we are locating a replacement who should be here momentarily.” (Oh good, you think, are you just, like, randomly grabbing people who were perhaps vacuuming or something?) Thus you get to spend five hours in the Monterrey airport, which is a nice airport but not, perhaps, five hours worth of nice. On the way back you will land in Atlanta and have to go through first customs “We don’t care, ignore all signs, everyone in one line, yes it is half a mile long, we don’t care, we don’t know where your luggage is, did we mention that we don’t care?” and then security again, despite the fact that you haven’t been anywhere but in an airplane or airport since 6 am. (At security they confiscated one of my hot sauce bottles from the duty free shop in the Monterrey airport and I am still bitter.) Then your plane to Asheville will be delayed. Then it will be delayed again. And again. Ah, the wonders and the glories of air travel.
Still! All of this was worth it, because it took me to a different world. It has been so long since I left the US – specifically, the last time I went outside the country, Fiorucci was the height of my fashion desires, there were no cell phones, and Boy George was widely considered to be pretty rad – that I had sort of forgotten that there were other worlds. A few minutes in Mexico will cure one of that delusion, thank the gods.
“Oh, everyone there speaks English.” I heard a lot. This is not true.My Spanish, which was never fluent despite several years of teenage life on Mallorca, (everyone there actually does speak English and besides, I was 17. Who needs words when you’re 17?) is rusty as hell but as I struggled through, day by day, it started coming back. It was cool feeling forgotten words surfacing from the bottom of my brain, even when they were words that don’t work in Mexico, like bocadillo, which means sandwich in Spain and nothing in Mexico or chocolate, which means, well, chocolate in 2017 Mexico but meant hashish in 1981 Mallorca.
I was not in Mexico for very long before I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about Mexico. That was a bit daunting and I am retroactively furious with my American education, which barely ever mentioned Canada or Mexico but spent a whole lot of time on the succession of the kings of England and the Industrial Revolution in such ways as it benefited capitalism. I think I went in expecting the Frito Bandito, dust, poverty and people lying around draped over burros with blankets over their faces. So much for TV. There was hardly any dust and the poverty I saw wasn’t any worse than I see here. Beggars on the street aren’t exactly a novelty in the US. Nobody was wearing a sombrero or a serape, I saw one burro who was clearly there for a photo op and, although it was way cheaper, I might otherwise as well have been in Barcelona. In fact, by my third day I had fully realized the uncomfortable truth: I hadn’t really come from a first world nation to a third world one: it was pretty much the other way around.