In 1974 or so, my parents and I drove to Morelia, the capital of Michoacán. I remember relatively little about the trip, but the things I do recall suggest that I have bad vacation karma when it comes to Mexico.
- My crayons, stored in a clear plastic box and stashed in the car, melted into a delightfully fragrant waxy goop. No more could coloring be counted upon to distract me during the 3,000-mile round trip.
- At a pottery stand, a goat butted me in the stomach.
- After covering myself in shaving cream and using my father’s razor, although sparing myself any cuts or hair loss, I ran away from the babysitter and found my parents enjoying dinner on the terrace of the hotel. End of relaxing dinner away from the kiddo, and no tip for the sitter.
At some point around 5th grade, our family joined several others for a break on South Padre Island. We all went into Matamoros for the day, fathers by themselves doing who knows what, moms and kids strolling through the mercado. How on earth did the dads get away with that?
I can’t recall what it was that my mom and I went back to get at the end of the day, before going to the Cadillac Bar to meet the dads – something large enough that we hadn’t wanted to carry it around all day. While everyone else waited outside the market, we went in, and I was promptly tackled and groped by a scary older teenager whacked out on something. No delicate way to say this – I was traumatized enough that, I discovered when we got to the restaurant, I had started my period. For the first time. Ever.
The next trip across the border? In my early 20s, I took a bizarre road trip through South Texas with a colleague from work, our intern from France, and a very kind architect who volunteered at our office. We crossed into Reynosa from McAllen and did not go on a drinking binge in border bars. We might not even have had a single drink stronger than a Mexican Coke. That failure to drink too much tequila when in Mexico, in my early 20s, properly counts as a disaster.
Finally, last year, we spent the first week of the year on Isla Holbox. We arrived in Cancun, secure in the knowledge that a driver from the hotel was waiting to take us to the ferry. No driver. Suitcase zipper broke in the airport while we tried to figure out what to do. We ate airport food because we were hours behind and desperately hungry – Berryhill Baja Grill, with locations throughout the greater Houston area and the Cancun airport. Ugh.
A $400 cab ride later, during which we toured the residential side of Cancun, we arrived at the ferry in the middle of a driving rain storm with winds gusting up to 45 miles per hour, steady at about 30. The ferry terminal, such as it was, had room for a couple of freezers, 7 50-gallon oil drums of diesel, 8 tourists, and a couple of local fishermen.
When the wind dropped down to about 20 knots, the fishermen declared we could safely leave. We piled onto the ferry, and I sat next to an open window. I wanted to be able to get out into the Gulf quickly when the boat sank. We made it across in about 30 minutes, despite the fact that the guides we’d read said the fast ferry took 45 minutes, and the slow one, over an hour. A German woman, who turned out to be heading to our same hotel, shook with so much terror that her whole bench rocked, and her husband grimaced in agony as she held onto him for dear life.
I assumed, from our speed, that the trip was a straight shot. I learned, on the trip back, that we had zig-zagged through a harbor with numerous buoys, rocky shoals, and sand bars. So glad it was dark that first night.
We let the German couple check in ahead of us – how could we not? She seemed near death! When the hotel staffer finally lead us to our bungalow, I noticed his and hers flip-flops at the bottom of the staircase, and thought it was awfully nice of the hotel to provide this little gift.
Allen opened the door first and quickly surmised that the his and hers flip-flops belonged to the younger, naked Germans therein. The same storm that kept us trapped in a shack on the mainland for 2 hours kept them from making their plane, so they stayed, but neglected to tell the hotel. When we told the hotel desk staff that our room was occupied, they told us that was impossible, because that was our room, and the only one they had left, to boot. Ahem.
The trip got better from that point forward, because really, how could it not? We didn’t see actual sun, or waves, or whale sharks, or cenotes, but we both sunburn anyway, so didn’t feel like we missed much. We spend the last night in Cancun, however, instead of on the island, determined not to get trapped the way the naked Germans had. I insisted on the Westin, because I knew that unlike the one at Holbox, the Westin bed would be long enough that Allen’s calves and feet would not dangle over the end of it.
Allen did take one quick dip in the ocean, ignoring the yellow flag on the beach. The angry sea toyed with the idea of pulling him out to the deep, but instead just ripped off his suit and slammed him on his head in the shallows. We tried the pool next, but really, the joy was gone.
Our 10th anniversary trip to San Miguel de Allende … what could possibly go wrong?