Thursday, February 28, 2008

My favorite city all the world

Merida, Mexico
People are always asking me my favorite place to travel and they are usually surprised at my response….Mexico!
I began traveling to Mexico back in the 70’s. My husband and I had traveled across the border to Juarez and Monterrey and on one occasion my sister and I had taken our father to Tijuana to undergo Laetrile treatments for cancer. After those trips, I thought I had seen all that Mexico had to offer and really wasn’t interested in returning. But later, quite by accident, two friends and I had an opportunity to visit Mexico.
My friends and I didn’t have much money as we walked into the Travel Agency to inquire as to where we could go on a tight budget. It took some searching but finally the Travel Agent came up with Merida, Mexico, located in the Yucatan. I had no idea where Merida was although I had heard of the Yucatan Peninsula in grade school. It really didn’t matter though because all we wanted was to get out of town. It sounded good to us.
Just as darkness was spreading over the land, we touched down on a Mexican runway, having shared the plane with returning Mexicans and only two other Americans (remember this was the early 70’s).
As spokesperson for my little group, I soon found myself trying to communicate with “no English spoken” taxi drivers while fumbling with a handful of Mexican Pesos that I had no idea how to use.
It was nothing less than a miracle that we arrived at the hotel. I held out my handful of Pesos and the driver took what he wanted. I was relieved. We were home safe.
But little did I know that my problems were just beginning, for the hotel was overbooked and we had no room. It seemed the entire hotel had been taken over by the Sixth National Convention of Credit Managers of Mexico. Night had fallen and there was no room at the Inn. What would we do? I had no experience as to what one does in this type of situation. I had gotten myself and my friends into a real mess.
Welcome to the world of travel.
I shook my head, unable to believe this was happening. This just couldn’t be possible, or at best wasn’t acceptable. After all, I had a confirmation number which meant we had a room…didn’t it? I would find someone who spoke English and take care of this. I would explain that we had never traveled before, did not speak the language and didn’t know anything about this city, or the country. As I looked around for another American it hit me that I hadn’t seen another American since we got off the plane. I was scared. I was trying very hard to keep my composure and save face in the presence of my friends. I certainly wanted to appear as if I knew what I was doing or they would never travel with me again.
I was relieved when the manager arrived. I was sure we could work this out. But my relief was to be short lived because it was almost impossible to communicate with him. He spoke only a few words of English sprinkled with Spanish and the more excited he became the faster he spoke. But it was easy to understand that he didn’t intend to displace anyone in this important convention for the sake of one hysterical American female, reservation or no reservation.
It was at this point that I got excited…he got excited. No, I would not find another hotel. I had already paid for this one and I didn’t have enough money for another one. No, I would not go home.
Embarrassed and frustrated that I was getting nowhere with this little “macho” Mexican, my mother’s stubborn side started to surface. Grabbing my bags and giving the Manager my most intimidating glare, I snapped instructions to my friends and we went to the lobby sitting area. As I shoved our luggage under the couch, I explained that we would be just fine. Just bring us a pillow and blanket. The bathroom was nearby for bathing and dressing so we would have no problem living for a week in the lobby. We would cause no trouble, but we definitely were not leaving. And with that, I curled my legs under my body, crossed my arms and refused to budge. I would show him. He couldn’t treat us this way.
By the time security arrived a crowd had curiously surrounded us and by the look on the security officer’s face I felt sure we were about to get a different type of accommodation in Mexico.
I realized that had lost the battle and I didn’t know what else to do but throw in the towel. Then just as I was about to give in, an Angel in the form of the President of the Sixth National Convention of Credit Managers stepped up and in perfect English apologized for the inconvenience and for taking our room. He spoke with the Manager in Spanish and in a few words we became American delegates to the Sixth National Convention of Credit Managers of Mexico. He gave us a program of events for the coming week and invited us to join them on their tours of the Mayan ruins. We were given a delegates room and an invitation to attend their banquet. That week is one of the nicest of my memories of travel. We were indeed treated as delegates and as guests and by the end of the week had seen all there was to see in Merida. We had learned a lot about the Mayan culture and had made numerous friends. When the week was over, we attended the farewell banquet and I will never forget the moment when we were asked to stand and the President of the Convention said “thank you for attending the Sixth International Convention of Credit Managers.” For the moment we had managed to change a national convention into an international convention.
That week gave me a deeper understanding of people and made me a better traveler. It created a hunger for travel as well as changing my feelings about Mexico. A simple act of one compassionate person led me to pursue travel and thus write this article.
Since that first visit, throughout my travels in Mexico, I have found the people to be hospitable and kind, Mexico has been good to me. I have visited about half of the 31 states of Mexico, traveling from the Baja in the north to the Yucatan in the south, usually by second class bus. I learned to love the Mexican people, their rich culture, and their oppressive history. I was always treated well and made to feel welcome. I was fascinated by the Mayan culture and visited numerous ruin sites, some accessible only by jeep, by walking or even riding in the back of a sugar truck (I’ll tell that story later). But with the help and patience of the Mexican people, I was able to broaden my horizons and, in the process, even master the Spanish language.
I will always be grateful to the people of Merida and the Sixth National Convention of Credit Managers for giving me that opportunity…well, almost all of the people. There is one little “macho” hotel manager that I intend to look up someday…and kick in the shins.
Watch for my next article on Mexico