South of the Boarder, Down Yucatan Way
"The more you get to know Mexico to more you love it," was what a California couple, just completing a month-long exploration of the Yucatan peninsula, told me, as we were landing at the Merida airport.
The second thing I learned upon my arrival to Mexico was the prevailing, nonchalant attitude about time. That includes everything, from airplanes, buses, restaurants, you name it. In the short flight from Miami to Merida, Mexicana Airlines — with some help from the Mexican customs officials — managed to be 2 hours late. If a waiter tells you that your meal will be ready in 30 minutes, don't be overly surprised if it takes an hour.
It's obvious that if one is going to enjoy Mexico, shedding the gringo attitude about promptness and liberating oneself from being a prisoner of time is paramount. All schedules and time estimates are just that--relative approximations that are usually vastly optimistic.
Merida, the largest city on the peninsula has the smell of cosmopolitanism; there is the flavor of an old European city about it. It is also a city of contrasts: somewhat narrow streets but numbered on a very modern odd/even grid scale, making everything extremely easy to locate.
Extraordinarily diverse architecture lines both sides of the huge boulevard that divides the city. The tree-lined square is a focal point for Sunday family outings, where they celebrate their weekends by taking in free folk dancing and singing exhibitions.
Unquestionably one of the highlights of the entire trip was a performance by Ballet Folclorico de Mexico. Adjectives such as "spellbinding", "dazzling" and "breathtaking" fall short in describing the spectacular cacophony of sound, motion, color and costume. I still get chills down my spine remembering the ominous, booming drumbeats accompanying the kaleidoscope of motion as the brightly costumed warriors executed a rapidly moving native war dance.
The performance illustrated the cultural diversity of Mexico: the blend of the numerous local, indigenous civilizations merged with strong European influence.
For a comparable performance at Washington's Kennedy Center one would have had to shell out a small fortune, effectively barring the poor from participating in such a cultural experience. In Mexico this was not the case. Even though our seats were the worst in the house — so high that it activated my agoraphobia--the visibility was good; and it only cost the equivalence of a few American dollars.
Mexico may have its economic problems, but it is very rich culturally. And the very poor are not excluded from participating in that richness, as they tend to be in the U.S.
The ruins at Uxmal, Chichen Itza and Tulum have a special splendor that in their own way rival the grandeur of the Egyptian pyramids. I'm surprised they didn't make the exclusive list as one of the Wonders of the World. Besides being monuments to engineering and architectural feats they attested to the organizational skill and religious zeal of its creators.
It's awesome to be standing in the identical spot where 500 years ago captured warriors' pulsating hearts were torn out of their chests, splattering blood over the craggy cobblestones that still retain their crimson color. Or looking down into a huge well where human sacrifice victims were thrown to placate the gods. I climbed to the platform in the "Temple of the Bearded Man" overlooking the "Ball Court". This was the exact spot from which the high priest officiated the game where the losing captain literally lost his head, while his team members were shorn of all their earthly possessions. For both teams that possibility must have concentrated their minds wonderfully" on the game, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson.
Mexico is a study in contrasts: Its rich culture is juxtaposition its shaky economy — huge debt to foreign interests and widespread unemployment. The U.S. dollar may be taking a beating against the European currency, but the exchange rate against the Mexican peso has been fairly stable during the past year. It's heartbreaking, however, to see all those children begging and selling no consequential products wherever one goes.
What happened to me on the last day there indicate that I must have taken to heart the maxim espoused by the friendly couple about getting to love Mexico as one got to know it better and disengaging myself from the anal retentive attitude about time.
I was in Playa del Carmen waiting for a scheduled 8 am bus to the Cancun Airport. Eight-thirty and 8:45 rolled around ... still no bus. At this point I was feeling glad that I had given myself plenty of time to get to the airport. The 9 am bus surely will be here shortly, I remember thinking. As it turned out, both, the 9 and 9:30 buses were no-shows as well. Ten o'clock, still no bus! A hurried 45-mile taxi ride did get me in time to catch the plane. What's amazing is that all this didn't seem to bother me.
Anyone for visiting or expatriating to Mexico and joining the estimated 600,000 Americans already living there?
The best way to get to Barbados from the U. S. is by way of American Airlines – Quality from the Ground Up, as they like to refer to themselves. And I certainly can attested to that from by experience with them.
Al Louis Ripskis, Editor