September 10th, 2011
My family and I (including our boys) are just back from a great visit to Mexico. It was my first time there, and also the first time our boys have been outside the USA.
I’ll be writing about all the fun stuff in the posts to come, so you’ll have to bear with me on this one as I describe why we did something that appears to horrify a segment of Americans.
About a year ago, I wrote a review of Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves. Rick’s point wasn’t actually directly political in the conventional sense, but summed up as:
I’ve taught people how to travel. I focus mostly on the logistics: finding the right hotel, avoiding long lines… But that’s not why we travel. We travel to have enlightening experiences, to meet inspirational people, to be stimulated, to learn, and to grow. Travel has taught me the fun in having my cultural furniture rearranged and my ethnocentric self-assuredness walloped.
He speaks of giving onesself permission to have a conversation with someone that doesn’t speak a language you know, for instance.
I got an email this spring from my longtime friend Jonathan Hall, who had moved to Mexico a couple of years ago. He invited my family and me to go to Mexico, generously offered to host us and show us around, and specifically mentioned my review of Rick Steves as a reason to do so, this was immediately intriguing. Due to his other plans, it was also something of a limited-time offer.
Those of you that don’t live in the USA may not know what sort of stories we get about Mexico over here. Most of them involve either illegal immigration to the USA or the Mexican drug war. Occasionally there is some sort of drug-related violence on the US side of the border as well, which always makes the news. There are a lot of people that have the perception that Mexico is a dangerous place to be. Terah even knows some people that grew up in Mexico and are too afraid to return.
So we did some research, asked some questions, and it became pretty clear that yes, some parts of Mexico are dangerous, but many parts are really quite safe, and Jonathan had invited us to one of those.
The reactions we got from Americans when we told them of our plan ranged from excitement that we would get to visit a beautiful country to concern and worry about our safety. Besides that, I knew almost no Spanish and Terah had a few high school and college classes years ago to go on. And, we knew that Mexico would, in many ways, be more different from the USA than Germany was.
We concluded that this would get us out of our comfort zone in a significant way, have lots of great things to do, be a good experience for the boys, and something that we wouldn’t do without Jonathan. So we bought the tickets for it!
As you might notice, I’m quite glad we did. I’ll follow up with the details in the next stories, but for today I’ll end with the story of getting there. It involves two cute boys, so of course it’ll be interesting. Jacob is almost 5 and Oliver is 2, and neither one of them had flown for over a year. Despite leaving home at 5AM to drive to the airport (about an hour away), they were both awake and alert. Jacob was jabbering away the whole way there. He enjoyed the security process and found it interesting — I had to explain that they were checking to make sure everyone was following the airplane rules.
Then as we walked to our gate, he pressed his face against every window, looking at the parked airplanes in the dark. Oliver would see him doing this and run over to join him. With a bit of help, he noticed some airplanes had “United Express” painted on them, and others had “American” with an “AA” on them. He would talk about “American AA” and United Express airplanes for the rest of the week whenever he heard one in the sky.
I sat between the boys on our flight to Dallas, and Terah was in the row ahead of us. This is how Jacob spent most of the flight.
And Oliver, who had the aisle seat, enjoyed paging through the inflight magazines, safety brochure, wifi instruction card, and airsickness bag.
The real highlight came at the Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW) airport, where we had a connection. And the reason: we needed to take a train to get to our connecting gate. The DFW Skylink system really works very well — but the boys cared most that it’s a TRAIN. It was difficult to get them both away from it when we got off. They wanted to see it leave, stay and watch the next one come, etc. Jacob was only happy when he realized he could see the Skylink trains running high above the window at our departure gate for Guadalajara.
The 2.5-hour flight to Guadalajara got a little long for them, but they managed OK. We struck up several conversations with friendly people that knew English as we waited in various lines. It seems to be something of a rarity for American families with young children and no Mexican heritage to visit Mexico. People went out of their way to be friendly and welcoming — even the customs officials. It felt like a great start to the visit. One Mexican man who was chatting with me encouraged me to learn some Spanish. I said my wife knows some, and that I had tried to learn some German back when I took foreign language classes. Laughing, he said, “Why would you do that?” Not as an insult; it just genuinely didn’t seem useful to him. I think they were happy and proud that someone wanted to visit Mexico and was excited about it!
More to come.